Interview: Gordon Strange

Gordon Strange has just released his debut LP, Brittle via Absolute Loss. We sat down (virtually) with the man himself to get the lowdown on the album, his process, the fact that he is a total studio gear geek and what we can expect from him in the future.

ABLO: You're one of the most prolific producers on the label and you've sent so many tunes to us in the past, what was it about these twelve that made you want to package them into an LP?

GS: Well, most of them were started in the first lockdown and I'd just gotten hold of two new pieces of kit, the Akai MPC One, and the Bastl Instruments Microgranny. The Microgranny especially is featured across the entire release, it's not the easiest bit of gear to use but I love the lo-fi results that it produces. The sounds and distortion that you can get out of it and the way you have to work with it really inspired me.

The MPC One, was a result of me looking for something for live performance for the shows that I do with Grumb as Don Quong. I think that I've chasing this unicorn of a piece of hardware that had everything in it that I wanted and even though it is a great piece of kit, it's still not that perfect product. But it did push me to get into a different workflow, it's not like I was going to be able to go anywhere for a while so I took the opportunity to dive in and ended up really enjoying working with it. Chop Slops for example, was mainly produced from samples that I fed into it and just played with the pads. I felt like J Dilla!

The Bastl Instruments Microgranny

So getting my hands on those two pieces of kit and wanting to do something as more of a complete piece, plus obviously having the extra time that we have had to really get granular with each track and spend more time on each one and trying out new things really brought the whole thing together.

ABLO: One of our favourite things about new Gordon Strange material is that, we can never second guess what genre it will slot into (not that we want to pigeon hole). Do you ever go into a new track with a pre conceived vision of what you want to make or the genre that it will fit into, or is it a totally organic process?

GS: Yeah, kind of. Generally it starts with me fiddling around and creating a patch on the Argon8 or the Elektron Octatrack and just get something going and it will just build from there in an organic way. Other times I might just want to bust out some industrial techno, so I fire up and Octatrack and away we go.

But for the most part it's organic and that's what I love about production, I love creating something from nothing.

ABLO: But with that being said, do you have a set process that you approach each track with? Do you have a particular part of a track that you set as the bedrock and then build up from there?

GS: Not really, and I think the danger with that mindset is that you can become too formulaic. Which maybe works for 'dancefloor' friendly tracks, but not for me. I think that this is also something that working with Grumb in Don Quöng has taught me, he's always telling me to come off the grid, my past DJing experience has given me the natural affinity with where certain things should happen in a track but he comes at it from the other side, the wonkier the better!

I do feel like some of my arrangements are a bit boring, but I think that mostly comes down to me listening back to so much of my stuff and getting overly critical of it if I think it sounds repetitive.

Don Quöng performing live in 2020 (pre COVID).

ABLO: Yeah we certainly wouldn't agree with 'boring' and where you and others may say repetitive, we prefer hypnotic. Music that lets us get lost in a groove is what we love the most!

GS: It's interesting, it's a filthy word these days but minimalism, minimal techno whenever it was huge wasn't really minimal techno, minimal techno for me was just a drum machine and maybe a bass-line machine that you had to subtly tweak for the progression. Artists like Basic Channel, Rod Modell (Deepchord), yeah it was repetitive but across the length of the track it was evolving and changing. Whereas music that relies on loops can actually feel pretty static.

ABLO: And, do you find you struggle with any part of the production process?

GS: Yeah, mixing. I'm guilty of the cardinal sin of mixing, arranging and mastering all at the same time. I used to think that I had to be on the ball with mastering just from reading resources online where you have all the pros and the 'snobs' telling you that you had to do this or that or just not bother making music in the first place. But then I just realised that the most important part to me was the creation of the thing and if I really wanted to I could just export the stems and get it mastered.

I have some tools now that I use to get it to where I want and I spend more time mixing it to where I want it to be. I use my Beyerdynamic DT-770 headphones and I have pretty decent monitors as a reference, I still struggle a little bit with muddiness but I don't dwell on it so much, more time to spend looking at new synthesisers!

ABLO: Onto your new show, 'Space and the places in between' on Oscillatelive.org.uk. What can we expect to hear?

GS: The plan with the show is to do a live improvised session for each show. Every show will be different, some will be more 'DJ style' others will be improvised live performances. The next couple of shows will probably be focused around drone and dub or ambient techno. Not sure that I'll be taking to the mic any time soon though...

ABLO: And what else can we expect from you in the future?

GS: Well, there is definitely going to be a Don Quöng album, we know what we want to do and we have a place to record it so it's going to happen. The unholy trinity of Gordon Strange, Grumb and Irrelevant are also definitely going to get together on something.

On the Gordon Strange solo front, I've just started a new project which was spawned from watching a David Lynch documentary. I'm a massive fan of his film work, but I wasn't aware that he's actually a very well established artist outside of that and he does a lot of mixed media painting and other stuff like that. One of the things that I'd promised myself for this year was to do something that I'd never done before, I wasn't sure what that was going to look like and hadn't come to any decision on what it would be, but after watching this documentary I decided that I was going to create some art pieces and create music to accompany each piece. I want to access different parts of my brain and challenge myself with new disciplines.

I've also bought a really cheap old digital camcorder that I want to use to shoot some video and soundtrack it.


David Lynch © Dean Hurley

ABLO: Tell us about some of your favourite studio gear at the moment?

GS: Well, this is a difficult question as my studio is constantly changing, whilst I hunt for the ‘unicorn’ piece of gear, however something that will never leave my studio is the Elektron Octatrack Mk2. It’s a performance sampler, and Swiss army knife, midi brain, sequencer, FX box etc. versatile and fun.

In terms of recent acquisitions, the Argon8 Desktop module is proving itself to be one of the nicest synths I have ever owned. I don’t get into the analogue vs digital thing, but if that’s important to you, it’s a digital synth, and doesn’t try to be anything else. I love it for starting with an init patch and creating something new. It has lots of modes to choose from and a really nice digital distortion, plus it’s a wavetable synth, so creating something strange is very easily done.

ABLO: And what about some of your favourite releases at the moment?

GS: I’m a bit rubbish these days with new music, and don’t really follow new releases as religiously as I once did. I think I got bored with the staleness of electronica for a while and just fell back a bit. I do listen to a lot of DJ mixes though and currently Rrose and Rohad are my go to's.

That being said, the new Avalanches album (We Will Always Love You), is amazing. I am a big fan, and have been since the first album. They sound tracked a very important part of my life, and so when, after 14 years or so, they released a new album I was all over it. Now they seem to be releasing new music with some regularity and this new joint is really well put together - drenched in emotion and the kind of malaise that comes at the end of a long hot summer.

I’m on a Deepchord/Dub Techno kick at the moment (although saying that, it’s been a good 18 months, now...) and can thoroughly recommend Deepchord presents Echospace - Silent World, Incense and Blacklight, by Rod Modell (Temple is a tune), City Sleeps by Mike Schommer, and the latest Grayscale EP (Inner Waves).

I’m also into Demdike Stare again at the moment and would suggest their discography.

Revisited Knock Knock, by DJ Koze the other day, and the Death in Vegas discography.

But all this is filler, and really, I can’t think about other music, as I am just waiting for Boards of Canada to get their fingers out and release something new! (it’s now years since the last album!!!!!)

Demdike Stare

ABLO: Now just some horrible quick fire top 5's that no one really likes to answer...

Top 5 favourite artists (in no particular order)?

This list is forever in a state of flux, but Air will always be somewhere in the mix.

Top 5 favourite albums?

Again, another constantly changing list, and who can name just five albums?!?

Gs favourtie album artworks

Top 5 favourite album artworks?

  • Mellon collie and the infinite sadness- Smashing Pumpkins
  • Coco steel and Love bomb – It!
  • Rage Against the Machine - Rage Against the Machine
  • Led Zeppelin - Led Zeppelin
  • Computer World - Kraftwerk

Top 5 gigs?

I try to go to as many gigs as I can, when I can, but as we have been in a lockdown for almost an eternity, I have had time to reflect on things and asked myself this question. The ones I have picked are stand out ones that when I tell my grandkids about going out, these are the ones I will pick

  • Death in Vegas and Leftfield - Glastonbury 2000
  • Laurent Garnier - Homelands 2002
  • Sasha -Ministry of Sound 2010
  • Manu Chao – Brixton Academy 2009(ish)
  • Prodigy – Braintree Barn (Homecoming gig) 2005

And finally, One piece of advice?

When starting out with buying studio gear really think about what it is you're trying to achieve. Do you want to do things in a particular way? Do you want to be hands on? Do you see this as an investment, or a hobby that you’ll occasionally dip into? The point being, I see kids buying up Rev 2’s, Moog one’s, the entire Elektron collection, and spending far too much cash on things that are actually not for them, and they then resell. Avoid forums and message boards as you’ll be told to buy the latest thing and that may not be what you want. Also don’t be one of these DAWless gatekeepers. Going DAWless doesn’t make you cooler than anyone else and has its own set of issues. If that works for you then good stuff, but don’t preach to people like you’re right and they're wrong. Music can be made on a comb with a piece of toilet paper...

And for life advice just remember that everyone is entitled to live their life the way they want to, and if it’s not hurting you, why get yourself upset. Just enjoy your world and the people that make it that way, and leave others to do the same. You'll be happy, they’ll be happy, and we can all get through our time on this rock in peace. Oh and morality is a man-made construct, so when you feel bad or guilty about something, just remember that...

ABLO: AMEN!

Brittle CD - available from https://store.absoluteloss.com

Huge thanks to Gordon for sitting down with us. Grab your copy of Brittle either as a digital download or a limited CD from store.absoluteloss.com. You can listen to Gordon Strange's show Space and the Places In Between via oscillatelive.org.uk on the third Monday of the month from 7pm GMT.

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