In speaking to Scottish electronic music stalwart, Neil Landstrumm, when interviewing him around the release of his new Montesa EP on Sneaker Social Club, what’s most evident throughout our conversation is how good he is at speaking a lot of sense. Honestly, that’s probably a bit of exactly what we were looking to him for, considering his position as something of a celebrated outsider, but for us, it’s not so much about him playing up to our expectations or all of us realising that we’ve got these shared outlooks as it was asking someone who we respect to give us a little bit of insight into the way he works.
Landstrumm’s a bit of an underground icon in terms of electronic music. Having released techno records on labels like Peacefrog and Tresor early on in his career, he flirted with grime and dubstep across a trio of albums for Planet Mu and singles on numerous labels including Stuff Records – one we’ve always heralded as something of a personal gateway imprint – creating some incredibly interesting and refreshingly raw music. With the emergence of his new EP on Sneaker Social Club and the recent 12” release of the third collaboration Landstrumm made with Optimo’s JD Twitch as Doubleheart, it’s evident that he’s still approaching his music in the same way as he always has, making stuff that comes naturally out of live jams, keeping his personal interest up and his musical evolutions progressive. And that’s what continues to strike about his recorded output, the genius is in way it unfurls and unravels itself without just stripping itself back to the core elements before adding a new synth line. It always seems to swell up and mutate so effortlessly.
That statement in itself is in fact a pretty apt summation of Landstrumm’s career to date. Once he’s worked in a style and produced a cluster of tracks he’ll often move on and explore completely different avenues. And that’s a big bit of what makes him so interesting to us, knowing that he will reappear at some point with a unique take on what’s going on around him. He’s like a little bit of an anti-hype merchant, just doing what he does because he wants to do it and that attitude and outlook, as regular readers should probably note, sits pretty well with us. To help promote his Montesa EP and stress that if you live in London you should come and see him live in Room Three at FABRICLIVE this Friday (1st March 2013) we asked him to make a mix for our on-going series. He went one further and recorded a live set. This is another one of those dream achieved kind of moments… we’re jubilant to be able to present Sonic Router Mix #154 by Neil Landstrumm.
Sonic Router: It’s fair to say that considering you’ve been releasing music since like, 1994, you’ve got a bit of heritage in terms of releasing electronic music and when it comes to interviews, I know people always kick it off in the same way by asking about your current work in relation to that that’s come before it. But what’s helping you enjoy music making at this moment in time? There’s was a little period of silence there, what made you start pushing buttons again?
Neil Landstrumm: I’ve generally always had the same relationship to making music. If I feel like it I get stuck right in, if I don’t I just leave it for another day and do something else. I think forging some new relationships with other artists and labels is keeping me interested and inspired right now alongside pushing into musical areas I haven’t navigated before. The Doubleheart project with JD Twitch is really starting to pick up some momentum after the three 12″s on NonPlus, Shipwrec and High Sheen so that is very satisfying. Both Twitch and I put a great deal of effort, time and passion into the studio sessions over the last few years so I’m pleased its getting some credit and attention. Aside from that working with Jamie at Sneaker Social Club has been productive and the first fruits of that have just appeared with the released of my Montesa EP last week to some pretty decent reviews. There have been periods of time during my career I really never wanted to hear another kick drum and high hat ever again but somehow, something inside me has just said “keep going and you’ll come through the other side”.
Personally, when the eight bar, sub lo and grime stuff appeared in the early 2000s it was like a breath of fresh air as far as what my view of techno at that time was. I just went with it. I just follow my nose with electronic stuff and flit around to whatever I am feeling at the time which is usually at the opposite end of what is fashionable. I also tend to cast off styles and records after completing them. I really hate making the same record over and over and it does nothing for my creativity which is perhaps at the detriment of popularity. I’ve also managed to release at least one vinyl record, sometimes quite a few every year since I started producing professionally in 1994 so I must be doing something right. My own view of what techno is and can be seems different to most people’s which can be frustrating at times as I feel much more could be included in the genre. Perhaps it’s that ‘alternative’ vision of techno though and that’s what keeps much of my music as ‘outsider techno’ and not fitting in with much else out there. I think I’ve always had a healthy distance from scenes by not getting too drawn into them which has helped with longevity also.
So what’s driving the Doubleheart project? Is it just you enjoying your relationship with JD? How do you think those sessions differ to what you’re doing under your own name? I mean, they’re kinda cut from the same cloth sonically… but I guess that’s just because of what each of you bring to it…
Yes sonically the two projects have many similar elements or what I would describe as my signature sound or production style, but I think the mood and atmosphere is much deeper, darker, more hypnotic and song like in structure with a distinct Latin influence in the beats. Both Keith and I have a deep admiration for the early Mute records and Jamaican dub amongst classic international dance music so the project has deep roots in experimental music. My studio has always had a few key pieces as cornerstones of “my” sound and we used nearly everything I had available on the project to give it that muscular, powerful sound. The Doubleheart tracks have really brought the best out of the OSCAR and Jupiter 8 synths I have which has been nice to finally hear come to life on the vinyl. Keith brings a wealth of musical knowledge and influence – way beyond mine – and it’s the structural choices he makes or the found sound, Latin rhythms and vocals that he brings that take the tracks to a different level, I think.
The Doubleheart 12″s are very polished – which often my solo stuff isn’t – and they’re probably better organised for DJs to play out and fit into sets. The tempos we picked were much slower than my usual default ones so that was quite refreshing just having an anything goes strategy and trying to use sounds or techniques either of us usually wouldn’t. Bringing in Heather Craig on vocals was also fun, adding a different flavour to the project. There are still a few tracks from the early sessions that are the more experimental tracks which will hopefully see a release. We actually always envisioned the project being a LP so I look forward to seeing what next we come up with for it. Keith and I are old colleagues and friends from the early acid and rave days in Edinburgh through his Pure nights, which I credit as being very important in Scottish club culture. Both Twitch and Brainstorm were instrumental in bringing many of the great Detroit, New York, UK and European electronic artists to Scotland for the first time which created many a legendary night in Edinburgh.
The thing I love about your stuff is the evolutions you go through, like you don’t just repeat shit and add another hi hat line or an airy pad you know? It’s like the ideas are a little bit more real and spontaneous. I know you perform live a lot with all your machines etc (and this mix is a live recording) but I wondered how much of that process influences your music? Is it a continual cycle?
Yeah, make it and cast it off has always been my philosophy. I get really frustrated and frankly bored by the majority of same-samer techno or electronic stuff in general that is churned out. Sometimes I just do not see why some stuff gets such high accolades for its boring, predictable, safe mediocrity. I like music that either challenges you, draws you into the producers mind or just has creativity blasting out of it in a splattergun manner. Electronic music has become so commodified and boxed into holes over the years and now that those styles are repeating themselves it just seems rather dull to do it all the same way again. Certain producers should also know better, try harder and perhaps just play it less safe sometimes – even if it means less lose out on more commercial gigs. Either that or they should just give up and let someone new shine in the spotlight.
When people describe your music, they throw pretty much every conceivable genre name into a sentence to try and explain how far you’ve varied your sound over time. Where do you feel like you could take this new music you’re making? What other projects are coming up for you?
The new LP on Sneaker Social club is more focused on the roots on techno or ‘my techno sound’ at least. My Planet Mu era LPs explored my interest in fusing the original UK bass, hardcore and rave sound with the contemporary grime, sub lo, garage and dubstep sound that was just breaking at the time. I was satisfied I had taken that as far as I could – or wanted too – and I just fancied going back to a more 4×4 structure in the beats and concentrating on the hooks and production quality. I think it’s probably the most accessible LP I’ve made for a while so it should please the more techno orientated fans to see a return to a more traditional ‘Landstrumm’ sound, but it’s still pretty out there. It’s not another ‘Brown by August’ though: been there and done that in 1995.
Tony Surgeon recently sent me a recording of a pretty heavy and raw live set I did at House of God in Birmingham in 1995 which got a fair bit of attention on soundcloud and I suppose the live set was not a million miles away from what Karenn and Blawan etc are doing now in 2013, but I have no desire to go back there. I’ve nothing to prove. I don’t really feel I need to conform to anything as at the end of the day as I make music for myself and want to keep pushing forwards or sideways at least. I always enjoy dipping into the past and re-working it but you can’t go back and re-live it. It’s gone. Get over it.
As far as the near future goes I’m working on new Doubleheart material with Twitch and there is a new collaboration project with a producer called Hostage (also from Edinburgh) called GUTTS which sees its first release on Brooklyn’s Trouble and Bass label in April. I’ll also continue just bumbling along and making tracks in the studio and see where the mood takes me. I’m definitely up for doing more work in a fairly retro new-wave electro sound like the ‘HL_LM’ track off the Montesa EP which also has a really cool video. Its melodic, hooky and simple but when you get stuff like that right, it’s very satisfying. I had a track licensed from my Bambaataa Eats His Breakfast LP by Nokia for their new mobile phone advert and I’d like to pursue more bespoke composition work in that area which helps keep the wolf from kicking the door completely right in…
In turn, as someone who cut his stripes in it early on in your career, how do you feel about this resurgence in techno that’s going on at the minute?
Its inspiring when you hear a good original tune that sounds modern and where the producer has built on and mutated the original techno sound, but another part of me dies inside when it see how dull most of what is released actually is. It can be disappointing when you see how little research into the original techno and crate digging has been done by producers or current online ‘experts’. To be honest I don’t really follow with any great dedication what’s currently going on in the scene aside from checking new stuff out on Boomkat once in a while or just listening to music out in the clubs when I’m playing. I like being outside it all, it’s served me well. I’ve many outside interests from music so I don’t live or breath techno 24/7 which keeps it relatively fresh to me despite being in the game for almost 20 years now…
Can you tell us a bit about the mix? It’s tied quite tightly to the material you put out on the EP for Sneaker Social Club right?
Yeah, it’s really a blend of some of the upcoming LP tracks on Sneaker Social Club which will be called The Dragon Under plus bits of the Montesa EP and just sections and patterns I make solely for live gigs. I keep many of the patterns live on my hardware boxes after recording tracks so I can just jam them out live and chuck it into the mix. I’ve always made tracks by recording analogue boxes live so it’s relatively easy for me to translate it into a live set which just changes gradually from year to year following whatever I have out at the time. I do throw in some of my original Peacefrog and Tresor releases , depending on the gig as after all these years some of them have started sounding very current indeed despite the raw, straight to DAT production. But maybe that’s their charm… it’s all hardware, mistakes and heart. In fact I put up a whole load of the Tresor, Peacefrog and Sonic Groove tracks I made in the 1990’s up on soundcloud recently for a laugh and I was messaged asking when I was going to be releasing them…..
Any words of wisdom for our readers?
Don’t erase your past.
DOWNLOAD: Neil Landstrumm – Sonic Router Mix #154
Neil’s Montesa EP is out now on Sneaker Social Club. He plays live in fabric’s Room Three at FABRICLIVE this Friday (tickets/info).