People who influenced my path in music

This is more of a personal perspective, rather than a label one – after all, being the founder, the label is an extension of me, and the direction I’m giving the it is directly influenced by all the things that I’m made up of as an artist, so there will be a tendency to channel that through when curating releases.

After writing the post on the most important tunes that influenced this label (and looking back, I realised that I left out a few, but that’s less important now), I figured it’d be great to write a post about the artists, musicians and people generally involved in the music scene, whose presence over the years has left an impression on me. In addition to that, I feel that I am documenting and thereby immortalizing the impact of some of the people I have deep respect for.

In some of the cases below, our paths had only crossed briefly, but the effect was lasting; In all cases, I ended up taking valuable lessons with me. So, in a way, this post is about me paying my dues, and if it wasn’t blatantly obvious, I am very thankful for all of these encounters.

While writing this, I tried to keep things in relative chronological order (with an exception) – based on the time of my first encounter with each of these people. So, let’s get started…

Nikolozi

Nikolozi

Nikolozi “Corona Sessions” Meladze

I met Niko during our university days (2002, I believe), and very quickly realised we had similar tastes in music. At the time I was already playing around with production software and was putting some demos together – admittedly, my production was pretty awful at the time, although I was happy with the level of creativity I was able to achieve. My main frustration was not being able to achieve the sounds I wanted, through my own limited understanding of how sound is manipulated.

People like Niko were ideal sounding boards for someone who was starting out, and very quickly we agreed to try and produce some tracks together. His approach was very academic, in that he was researching what key functions of synths and samplers could achieve, whereas my approach was to use the most basic functions and presets with a good dose of experimental attitude – click/press/hit/fiddle with that, and “see what happens”… which doesn’t always produce nice, coherent results. His other trait was to look after the sonic aspect of the tunes we were working on – ensuring the levels in the mix are well balanced – something that was only of secondary concern to me at the time.

In those early days we produced several demos together, which at the time I personally thought had potential as ideas. Of course, listening to them today, they are very basic, dated, not mixed very well (though not as bad as it would be if it was only up to my skills), etc, but it is interesting to note how we have both progressed since then. Despite that, I still feel that we could probably update some of those demos to become solid tunes today. Of course, we were both still learning – it was a period of growth for both of us I believe, an amazing learning curve, a good experience to share with someone.

Later down the track, Niko became part of the original Beat Dungeon Radio line-up on UP FM, together with DJ Romantech (see below) and myself. During that period, and even after he relocated to Sydney, we rekindled our partnership and he began contributing remixes for Newclear Music releases.

I find that even today, while I’m working on a tune, aspects of Niko’s philosophy will tap me on the shoulder, and ensure that I’m on the right path with my own approach. It is with him I learned about the endless possibilities of shaping sound.

Of course, I’m even happier to be in the position where I can release some of Niko’s work on Newclear from time to time (the next Newclear remix EP project is for Niko’s “Counter” – listen here). Over the years, he has grown into a producer I respect very much, and I still turn to him for advice from time to time.

Nikolozi’s site, where you can catch up on his thoughts, and listen to his work – http://nikolozi.com/

DJ Romantech

DJ Romantech

Matt “The Lawyer” Turner

Matt Turner is one of the first people I “met” thanks to MySpace. The mid-2000’s were the best years in what I like to call “real online social networking” – you were actually able to genuinely connect with like-minded people over the internet.

The best aspect of this for me was the potential to collaborate with people who aren’t geographically near you. Funnily enough, Matt was just across the bridge from me at the time, so it wasn’t like I was reaching out across time-zones, but he ended up being the first person I approached for a remix demo EP concept I was working on at the time. This ended up being the blueprint for many Newclear Music remix EPs to come in the years that followed, and what was particularly powerful is that most of the independent musicians that I came into contact through MySpace (and later, Twitter) were keen on joining forces and collaborating – the feeling was that, together, we’re stronger.

Back to the topic on hand – in late 2006, I dropped in to DJ Romantech and DJ Control’s weekly Soul Science drum & bass night at Foci, in order to pick up the pre-master of Matt’s remix of “Neutron Star”, in preparation for the demo EP launch. This was the first time I met the man, who at the time had already established an elaborate system in maintaining several interconnected profiles and secret aliases on MySpace. What had interested him was that I was open to working together with a wide variety of artists, and that I was also open to giving out music for free – something he was doing at the time – by this I mean giving out CD’s for free, not free downloads; we were actually investing our own money in creating a hard-copy presentation of our work and thereby making it more accessible to people who came to gigs, or listened to our radio shows.

Our link-up expanded to having Matt join the line-up on my weekly Beat Dungeon Radio show on UP FM, which commenced in July of 2007. The focus of the show was on electronic music produced in New Zealand, and through connections we both had, we started to build a humble artist community around the show. Thanks to the internet, this community spanned throughout New Zealand, and even reached out to ex-pats in some cases. In 2009, Ivan Ivanovic (aka Disha) joined the line up after Niko’s departure to Sydney. As a team, we started organizing smaller gigs in Auckland with versatile line-ups, and I even had the privilege of joining the Short:Circuit tour of South Island in late 2009 – a tour which brings together like-minded artists, from a range of genres, and brings the party to smaller communities in New Zealand.

This gathering of artists each year encouraged further link-ups amongst the people we brought together and further reinforced a philosophy Matt and I shared – working together is way more fun, and produces way more interesting results.

My time with Matt, through listening to his experiences has provided me with new skills, knowledge and insight into both the promotion and performance sides of the music scene. I also fondly look back on our years together at Beat Dungeon Radio, as we had heaps of fun clowning around while doing what we loved – Matt not only brought fresh tunes to each show – he also brought along his sense of humour – we didn’t want to do another show of 2 hour long DJ mixes, with barely a word spoken to the listeners – we wanted to engage with them.

Of course, Matt is one half of the Soul Science drum & bass duo, who are regular contributors to the Newclear catalogue – considering they regularly release tunes on a number of other international labels, I’m absolutely delighted to be able to release some of their work on my own imprint (“Positive Vibes” is one of our recent releases – see here).

Matt’s site – where you can keep up with his blog posts, video work, and of course, Soul Science productions – http://www.romantech.co.nz/

RalphE

Ralph'e'

Ralph Warren “I’ve been expecting you” Engle

Our paths overlapped for only a very brief time, when the multi-talented Ralph Warren Engle held a presenter spot on the weekly “Ouur Show” on UP FM, which at the time was one of Auckland’s leading dance music radio stations.

Around 2006, I began spending more time making tunes, and produced a 4-track demo EP as a giveaway for people attending a gig I was organized, which took place in May of that year. I put a couple of copies aside to reach out to anyone keen to give airplay to artists who were only just starting out. Through browsing online forums, I encountered one such show on UP FM, “Ouur Show”, hosted by Ralph’e’ and JP, and I decided to send them a copy of the “zero.point.one” EP.

I couldn’t catch the UP FM signal where I lived, but luckily they streamed live over the internet, so I tuned in during their next slot (late on a Sunday night) to see if any of the tunes made the cut… and there it was, smack-in-the-middle of Concord Dawn and Shapeshifter, “Sensitivity”, one of my early drum & bass demos. My heart was over-clocking from so much excitement!

As time passed, my tunes got regular playback, and after the show split into two after a schedule re-shuffle at UP FM, Ralph asked me to co-host the show with him. This only ended up happening briefly, until Ralph decided to quit radio to focus on other things, which suddenly left things in my own amateur hands. I re-branded the show into Beat Dungeon Radio (after the name of my own “studio” at the time”) and invited DJ Romantech and Nikolozi to join me on the line-up. While “Ouur Show” was striving to follow more of a “prime-time” format for the weekend audiences, I decided to switch the focus back to NZ produced music, and to strictly limit the topics to the music and artists themselves.

We also collaborated on a couple of demos, where I was able to get a good sense of his production capabilities. Following his departure from radio, we bumped into each other from time to time, but during that brief period of working together, I learned a hell of a lot about presenting on the radio and how to be clever about delivering content and engaging with the listeners, and I tried to carry that through to the Beat Dungeon years. Ralph had an amazing amount of energy, and he was always applying himself 100% to the task at hand. In addition to that, he blew me away with the versatility of his production – he was a very strong producer in his own right, and I wish he pursued more of that, in a more focused manner, though these days he seems to be pursuing bigger things with his band This Flight Tonight – which only further demonstrates how multi-talented this guy really is.

Ralph’s musician Facebook page, where you can keep up with his updates – https://www.facebook.com/ralphengle

The Proof

Kerry Adams

Kerry “The Proof” Adams

In Auckland circles, I got to know of Kerry as “the guy to turn to for advice on technology and mixes”, and he very much lived up to that and quite a bit more. Actually Kerry Adams was yet another person I encountered on MySpace, “hiding” behind a number of different production aliases – Tech, Bromide Dub, The Compressor Kid, Les Filterbrats, Unity Gain, etc – all coming together under The Proof banner.

During my radio years, I ran a couple of features on Kerry and his work, and he was always one of the most insightful guests to interview. He was interested in writing in a variety of styles, his production was slick, and he was well versed on the relevant music knowledge. Though Kerry could be justified for boasting about his expertise and achievements, I found him refreshingly humble, easy to approach, and always ready to share with others.

Kerry was one of the most respected contributors to the producers community in Auckland – he was always open to discussion and giving out advice to peers. When he launched the Technical Sessions at the Red Bull Studios, in many ways, I saw that as complementary to what we were doing with Beat Dungeon Radio at the time – while we were a channel for people to be heard, the Technical Sessions was an event which brought together musicians from different background to discuss various approaches to producing and performing music. Kerry brought people together and encouraged them to learn and to share their ideas and observations, and that is probably his single most important contribution to the scene.

The other thing I really liked about Kerry was that, in addition to DJing, he also performed his music live. I was fortunate enough to have him play at two of the events I organized during my time in Auckland (the Escape EP launch party – see highlights here – and the Panic Bells music video premiere gig)and each time he delivered a foundation-shaking set of live electronic music of various styles. His set-up was actually a number of hardware devices (Including I believe a Roland TR-808) synced through Ableton, and to this day, I haven’t been witness to a more “live” one-man electronic set, including my own, I dare to say.

If there was one thing that Kerry always reinforced, which stuck with me was that the tools, although important, are nowhere nearly as important as how you use them, and it’s a philosophy I’ve tried to stick with ever since I began writing music.

Kerry now runs a site called The Bloke, where he documents his outdoor adventures, posts reviews about various gear, and of course, gives advice to other keen adventurers – http://thebloke.co.nz/

Squeezer

Karl Howe

Karl “Juicy Pants” Howe

2008 was a pivotal year for my own music project. By this time, I had managed to gather around me a solid group of friends in the music circles, with whom I could freely collaborate and experiment on various ideas. One of those people was Karl Howe, who spearheaded the Squeezer project, which at the time was a collective of various Auckland musicians who were jamming together in the spare time to create a funky fusion of electronic and live instrument music.

Karl was also one of the “original MySpace crew” and we quickly got round to talking about doing some tunes together. At his home studio, Karl had an impressive arsenal of analogue synths and drum machines (which later made a cameo in my “Panic Bells” video), and for me it was my first real attempt at recording music, and then arranging it later in a DAW. It was through these sessions that I began to grow confidence in the material I was writing, and I believe we were both learning from each other significantly.

After about a year of working on music, we decided that what we had put together was worthwhile releasing and having people hear it. The business model changed significantly, and it allowed anyone with enough follow-through to release music to online stores independently, so in early 2009, I set up Newclear Music, and after a number of refinements, we identified two tracks we worked on together, to be our debut release – the double-A-side single “Juice of Life / West Coast Dub”. The latter song was a particularly interesting project, where we drafted in one of the regular Squeezer contributors, Justin Aitken, who performed the vocals, and most of the live instrumentation, which included things like the didgeridoo and a lap-steel guitar.

Though the original two-track no longer appears in online stores, “Juice of Life” has been given a re-release (along with a Soul Science remix) earlier this year to mark the inclusion of the Newclear back catalogue on Beatport, and while “West Coast Dub” was remixed by Dub Asylum for the Rescapé album, there are plans for an update to the song at some point in the future.

For me personally, this first release was an important step, and it was followed up by more singles and EPs, as the years went on. Going through this process together with someone like Karl, made it a lot easier – when you work as a team, you feel that you have greater abilities in taking on any challenge. Of course, ever since that first release, Karl has been an integral part of Newclear music – his work has appeared on numerous other releases (our next release is yet another Squeezer EP), and he has even designed the vast majority of artwork for our releases (which has on many occasions blown people away).

Squeezer’s SoundCloud page, where you can listen to a selection of works – https://soundcloud.com/squeezer

Stray Theories

Stray Theories

Micah “I’d hit that” Wolfe

Micah Woolfe is one of numerous people whose tunes I spun on my weekly Beat Dungeon Radio show on UP FM. His work struck a chord with me, as he was the first true downbeat/ambient musician I’d come across personally, though he was producing drum & bass, breaks and prog house tracks at the time.

In fact, it was DJ Romantech who enthusiastically pointed me in Micah’s direction just after they toured together on Short:Circuit in late 2007, and I was immediately impressed. As a producer, this guy is quite prolific, and he managed to maintain a high-level of quality in all of his work, and that remains true today. Back in the Beat Dungeon days, we’d spin almost anything he’d throw at us.

After running a feature on him, we invited him, along with Sharkweek, to the small Downbeat Syndrome gig we ran to showcase the more down-tempo music from New Zealand. The real delight with this guy was that, (as the picture would suggest) he could pull off a mighty improvisation on his saxophone – or at least that’s what Matt would say following their Short:Circuit tour.

Apart from performing a live set of his own production work at Downbeat Syndrome, Micah would also step up several times during the night to accompany the other performers on the night, and it sounded amazing – of particular note was the moment during the Soul Science DJ set where Micah let rip on the sax over the top of the liquid rollers, and Shane Hollands grabbed the mic and started spitting out beat poetry – it doesn’t get much better than that, and true artists live for moments like that.

I’ve had the privilege of Micah joining me on stage several times after that, and each time, it made me shiver – every time, his improvisations made our live jams unique, and I truly appreciated each and every opportunity (as did the audience!).

Over the years, we continued collaborating on various projects, he has been a regular Newclear artist (see Higher EP from 2012), and I’m glad to say that we’ve always got something in the pipeline. If there is one thing that blows me away more than the beauty of his music, it is Micah’s own love of music itself.

Stray Theories homepage, where you can follow all related updates – http://straytheoriesmusic.com/

Darcy Gladwin

Darcy Gladwin

Darcy “The Lawyer” Gladwin

I can’t claim to know Darcy as well as some of the other cool cats in this post. From what I have observed during the very short time our paths crossed, Darcy is an avant-garde artist in many different spheres (music, film, etc), who spends a significant amount of time on the road. I originally met him when he guested on my radio show, to showcase his Emu dub/electronica project, sometime in mid-to-late 2007. He also fronts the live electro outfit Cure Motel, which headed the annual Short:Circuit tour around New Zealand.

Darcy was the first person to ever approach me about performing live at a public event (my only “live appearance” at that stage was at a private gig for Karl Squeezer) – this was in late 2008, while I was still producing modest demos, so Darcy was taking a bet on an unknown quantity.

This encouraged me to “lock myself away” in the studio for a month, slice my tunes into a more flexible format for live presentation, and effectively build a basis for many future live performances. The Short:Circuit gig at Forde’s in Auckland may have been modest, but it was my springboard as far as live shows are concerned, and I haven’t looked back since.

How things would have turned out if Darcy didn’t approach me, I don’t know, but his gesture was an important milestone. As already mentioned, later in 2009, I joined Darcy and crew on their tour of the South Island, which was an immersive experience in itself. Of course, when the opportunity presented itself, I invited Darcy to perform as Emu at my Escape EP launch event at Rising Sun in Auckland in December 2009.

Godplex HQ – home to Darcy’s current moving picture project – http://godplexmovie.com/

Haszari

Rua Haszari

Rua “It’s Not Real” Haszard Morris

It is particularly heartening to know that you’re not the only one out there doing things a certain way. In the grander scheme of underground electronic music in NZ, the Cartoon Beats Reality crew from Dunedin was taking similar steps to Newclear – they were releasing locally made music independently, and they had strong DIY ethos, but specifically, they had the “team” approach to each of their releases.

The label was setup by Rua “Haszari” Haszard Morris, and Nic “SoNic Smith”, who were slowly building up a strong following in their hometown of Dunedin, following a series of seemingly rowdy parties they setup and played at down there.

I actually can’t remember how I came across the first set of Cartoon Beats tunes – maybe they were sent up to UP FM HQ and were handed to me, or maybe Matt brought them back after one of his numerous excursions to the South Island… in any case, we frequently played the material they sent our way and quickly became supporters of theirs.

During a visit to Dunedin in October of 2009, where the local gang joined us for a show at Sammy’s, I was fortunate enough to guest on a couple of radio shows, one of which was the Beats Reality show hosted by Rua and Nic. This was the first time we met in person, and we quickly got talking about collaborating on tunes, which is where the seeds for the third and fourth installments for their double EPs were planted.

Each Cartoon Beats release was centered around 2 tunes, each from a different artist. Both artists remix each other, which brings us to a total of 4 tunes. Then, a guest producer comes on-board and remixes both tunes, and we get a grand total of 6 tracks for the release. Though their format is unique, this is a similar path that I’ve taken with Newclear Music, in picking a tune with potential, and bringing together several people to contribute remixes for a nice 4-6 track package. The highlight of course, is everyone coming together and the resulting collaborative work.

So I contributed one original tune and three remixes to the next two Cartoon Beats releases. It turns out we had some reasonable success on JunoDownload, especially with CBR003, where Greg Churchill and Aural Trash guested on remixes. Although our release was dubiously placed in the Progressive House genre, the banging Aural Trash remix of Haszari’s “It’s Not Real” topped the chart for prog house tunes, which meant that the entire release also topped the chart for all prog house releases, and made it to #5 for all house releases. The other tune to get chart some action was Greg’s remix of “Neutron Star MMX” (by yours truly) which made it to #19. Though we didn’t have any “established names” join us for CBR004, we again achieved some respectable positions (again in a questionable genre) – #5 electro release, and #8 electro tune (for my remix of Haszari’s “Blood Orange”).

Bragging aside, through the process of releasing these two EPs, I had the opportunity to work very closely with Rua, who it was fair to say had the label end of the business tied down. Rua displayed great determination in pushing through with this projects, and there is something to be said about the teamwork aspect of it – if there was no teamwork, I doubt we would have managed to grab as much attention. Rua prepared most of the promo material himself, and he took great care in ensuring everyone was kept up to date with the major milestones in the release project. Although our personalities are quite different, I’d like to think we have a large number of skills (which I consider as essential in our game) in common.

I’m happy to say I’m still involved with Cartoon Beats, and hopefully the next fruits of our labour will appear sometime soon.

Cartoon Beats Reality HQ – http://cartoonbeats.com/

Optimus Gryme

Charlie Brown

Charlie “Optimus Gryme” Brown

I was a little late to take notice of the dubstep movement in Auckland, but what caught my attention between 2008 and 2009 was that Charlie Brown, a.k.a. Optimus Gryme, was the first person to release a dubstep EP (quickly followed up by a full-length album), fully produced by an independent artist from New Zealand, on an independent label of his own. Now, he actually followed up the milestones with some pretty slick production, with a very distinct sound, and he was quickly considered a pioneer of the genre in New Zealand – in 2009, Optimus Gryme was at the crest of a wave of amazing artists from Aotearoa, such as Truth, Ollie Bassweight and Organikismness, who defined the kiwi sound at the forefront of the dubstep genre.

Those that have been in the NZ music scene for some time will be aware that Charlie’s roots are actually in drum & bass – he also fronted Roll TV, a show dedicated to drum & bass culture, and of course it goes without saying – he was one of the key DJs in the scene.

When I finally did take notice, I reached out and invited Charlie to guest on Beat Dungeon Radio for an Optimus Gryme feature. It was one of the the most fun shows I ever did, and Charlie, very relaxed and likable, turned out to be one of the most intelligent and insightful guests I’ve had on the show.

Despite his achievements, he was incredibly humble, and was genuinely thankful to be on the show – I’ve had people with far lesser achievements (and seemingly much higher opinions of themselves) turn down my invitations and refuse to send me tunes (for us to actually promote their work). There’s a whole blog post I could dedicate to those types, but I’d be wasting energy…

Charlie was refreshingly easy to talk to, and to this day, I hold him in the highest regards – to me, he is one of the best living examples of someone who applies himself, does the hard yards, achieves his goals, seldom takes credit for it, and goes back to the dungeon to kick more butt.

Optimus Gryme HQ – http://www.optimusgryme.co.nz/

Greg Churchill

Greg Churchill

Greg “The Godfather” Churchill

In New Zealand, you’ll find a hard time trying to come across a more important and more respected name in the dance music community – Greg has been in almost every important role in the community – DJ, producer, promoter, radio show host, record store guy – you name it – and he has achieved considerable success both at home and abroad. Talking about Greg’s accolades would take up an entire new blog post, so I’m just going to cut straight to the chase.

I initially met Greg at one of the Technical Sessions episodes that was being filmed in Red Bull Studios in Auckland. Previously, I was witness to a number of his DJ sets, and in my teenage days would frequently pester him for some obscure back catalogue vinyl item at BPM. The Technical Sessions interview was an opportunity for Greg to open up about varies aspects of dance music culture, and how it has progressed over the years. Being a veteran in the scene, Greg has certainly experienced his share of magical moments, but he has also been witness to an amazing amount of bullshit too, such as the trivialization of the DJ role and skill set, the sudden overcrowding of the production game, and the dumbing down of the audience.

Over the years, Greg has made certain changes in his sound, both in his DJ sets, and his production, and it would be fair to say that he was following his nose into things he found fresh and interesting to himself. One such example saw him at the forefront of the electroclash movement in New Zealand around 2004. If you take a step back and realise that Greg has been at it for the best part of three decades now, to remain at the top of the game, and to be able to elegantly change course along the way, deserves some serious respect. Despite his stature, Greg never sold out, and he stuck to the things he believed in.

In 2010, we met again, this time as contributors to the third Cartoon Beats installment. Greg, and his then partner-in-crime Angela Fisken delivered a pretty heavy Aural Trash remix for Haszari which spearheaded the EP. It’s no secret that I was very honoured to have my own tune remixed by Greg for that release. In particular, it was very heartening to see him join a bunch of relatively unknown dudes – he had no obligation to us, yet he was up for the project.

For me, Greg is an epitome of someone who has been hard at it since day one, and has, despite many obstacles along the way, stuck to his principles. That type of impenetrable character is difficult to find these days, and I take my hat off to him.

Greg Churchill’s SoundCloud page, where you can listen to a selection of works – https://soundcloud.com/greg-churchill

Dave Underwood

Dave

Dave “The Fist” Underwood

Although Dave will humbly deny that he is an artist or musician, there is some evidence to the contrary – he did co-write a couple of my tunes, and has on occasion picked up an instrument… but that’s not why I’m writing about him.

Dave has been a long time friend of mine – our friendship formed during our school years after my arrival in New Zealand. Apart from shooting hoops in spare time, we also found common ground in music – although we had distinct tastes, at the time, we both dug acts like The Prodigy, The Chemical Brothers, Underworld and Radiohead, and we attended a huge number of gigs together in our youth.

So when I began tampering with production software, naturally, Dave would usually be the first person to hear a new demo. While Dave was no expert in the sonic side of the things, he was a music punter first and foremost, and he was the perfect person to observe for the first reaction. Of course, his opinion of something will be subjective, but our tastes had enough crossover for me to be able to rely on his feedback, and his honesty – if he thought something had an infection groove, or a really catchy riff, that was enough for me to know that what I was working on had potential.

Of course, Dave wasn’t just the first guy to hear most of my tunes. Together we organized our first gig in central Auckland (“Our Way” in May of 2006), where our aim was simply to play all the solid dance-floor numbers we loved at the time, regardless of genre. Despite being amateurs, we ended up having a great time, and there was a really lively vibe.

The gig ended up being a bit of a springboard for me, in that I prepared a demo of tunes to give away to the first 20 people on the door. Actually, the demo was originally intended to be a compilation of tunes from me and my friends, however, no one else was finishing their tracks, so it was up to me to slap 4 tunes on it and call it a demo EP – the destiny of which I wrote about in the section about Ralph’e’. The rest is history.

In the years that followed, Dave continued to heap encouragement on me, and was in many ways my right-hand man for various projects. He helped me with the organization of various other events, and actually created visuals for my live set at the Escape EP launch gig. He wrote about my work on his personal blog, he co-hosted some of my radio shows, and was always a strong supporter of my work… and that’s what friends are for, right?


Of course, I couldn’t fit everyone into this post – there’s so many people from the scenes in New Zealand and Novi Sad that I could name – so many people I’ve worked together with, and it’s always been a great pleasure. So if you feel you’ve been omitted, rest assured that you certainly haven’t been forgotten – the point of this post was not to name-check everyone, but to name a select few whose presence and philosophy have shaped me as an artist and label leader up to this point.

In early 2011 I relocated to Novi Sad, where met a great group of artists under the Audio Colours banner, so I’m sure that in the years to come, I’ll be writing about the effect of working together with the likes of Deepstoned, DJ Jelow, Virus and others in this region.

I guess the bottom line is – you never known how someone’s presence will influence your work, and conversely, you never know how your words of encouragement will affect someone else in what they love doing. Cherish that.

13 tunes that influenced this label

Newclear Music

Newclear Music

The best way to follow up the post about the motivations behind starting this label (and keeping it going for almost 5 years now), is to present some of the most influential electronic music from the last four decades, from our perspective, and perhaps say a few words about each of tune (other than “yeah it’s got a cool beat”, “mean bassline bro” and “sick drop”).

I appreciate that in this day and age, the general population has a reduced attention span, and that depth in communication is becoming somewhat of a lost art-form. Things like InstaCrap and #hashtags are much more consumer friendly than two or three consciously thought-out paragraphs, and that’s fair enough, but I always set out to cater to the types who prefer to have a deeper understanding of something, and appreciate the effort it takes (Sidenote: I began to compile this post on April 23rd). I’m also aware that there are those who, in order to be pulled in, require a small taste before they take the leap. In order to try and appeal to both schools of thought, I have:

  1. Limited my list to only 13 tunes (you have NO IDEA how hard that was!)
  2. BUT – for each of the 13 tunes, for those who’d like to get a deeper understanding, I put my deepest thoughts on paper, to justify why I thought each tune was important.

The best way to get through this post is to allow yourself time to listen to each piece. Close all the other tabs in your browser, shut out all the other distractions where you’re at – it is important that, as you listen, you try and visualise the ideal environment where the tune is playing, and how you are experiencing it, in order to get the most out of reading this.

So, let’s get started: I present to you the thirteen most influential, moving, groundbreaking, aurally-pleasing sonic creations that have steered our path in the world of music over the past few years:

Note: The order the tunes are presented is not intended to be some type of countdown towards the best tune – it was actually the order in which I wanted to take the reader for a musical journey – you could say this is the order I’d spin them in a showcase set.

13. Daft Punk – Alive

It seems that year after year, this French duo are growing in popularity, yet I don’t think they’ve ever reached the levels of creativity they achieved on their debut LP “Homework”. For this list, I had to choose between “Alive” (which was originally released on the “The New Wave” EP a couple of years before “Da Funk” and the album) and the menacing rinse-cycle-like “Rollin’ & Scratchin” (the magic begins at 2:55. Oh, and also – No. Fuckin’. Helmets!).

“Alive” sounds like clockwork – repeated, thumping sequences, with constant increase in presence of new elements, and the constant morphing of their sonic appearance. It is techno at its most natural – if you listen carefully, rarely does a new element appear strictly at the start of every 8 or 16 bars – they just creep in. Very rarely is an upcoming transition accented.

12. Soulware – Drawn Together

It’s difficult to describe Soulware in one paragraph, let alone one sentence, and given the purpose of this post isn’t to compile thirteen short biographies, all I’m going to say is that the apparent mastermind of the outfit is Harry Bretherton (aka Organikismness), one of the key players within NZ bass movement over the last decade.

“Drawn Together” is a beautifully crafted thirteen-plus minute masterpiece, which morphs from a subdued, deep, vocal-driven dub number, into a pulsating dubstep segment, laden with what sound like atmospheric guitars for the peak. The switch happens at the 5:15 mark, and it’s a textbook example of how to seamlessly transition between moods and intensities, within one cohesive piece of work.

11. Jagwar Ma – Come Save Me (The Pachanga Boys’ Jagwar Pawar Version)

This is the most recently released tune to make it into this list, mostly due to the fact that it has restored my faith in psychedelic music. I first heard it in a Nick Warren set from around the New Year’s period – I immediately dug deeper, and stubled upon footage of the Pachanga Boys spinning it during their Burning Man 2013 set. Seeing all those people, moving to this infectious, relentless groove, in broad daylight, in the middle of what is effectively a desert, was powerful.

Most people will, at their first encounter with this tune, dismiss it on the basis of being way too repetitive, and way too long (at twelve-plus minutes). But the key to this is the switch to the new bassline at 6:53 and 7:21 – it’s like the first 7 or so minutes have a sole purpose, and it is to slowly prepare the listener for the groove that follows that. Right after the switch, it seems like everything has gone up a level – like going from 5th into 6th gear, or outrunning a stitch: Suddenly, going faster feels easier.

Despite being released in 2013, it still has an overall feel like it could fit in at a 1960’s gig. So, I would certainly like to introduce some works with a more psychedelic feel into some of the future Newclear releases, if not even write them myself.

10. Sasha – Bloodlock

The first time I listened to this tune, I thought I was listening to an ambient tune. The warm, deep bass, which dropped out of nowhere, after the atmospheric intro, really left an impression. Very quickly, the beat dropped too, and suddenly, I was visualising people moving to this, in a remote field, under a clear night sky.

The entire “Airdrawndagger” album by Sasha is an impressive piece of work, where house, techno, breaks and ambient are fused into a single entity.

9. Leftfield – Release The Pressure

The version of the track I’m referring to here is the opening number on the legendary, and, arguably one of the most influential electronic albums of all time – “Leftism”. The album itself deserves a post on its own, but the reason I picked “Release The Pressure” was because of the way it introduced the listener to the remainder of what turned out to be an undisputed classic from the 90’s.

The heavenly intro slowly builds anticipation towards the reggae/dancehall rhythm and the deep groove, yet it somehow preserves the feel of a pop song structure. But it is drawn out, and feels more natural, than the shorter version released later as a single.

The vocal delivery itself plays a great part in pulling the listener in – there’s a message there, and it is beautifully blended in with the instrumental section; when Earl Sixteen sings about “unity” it’s almost self-referential.

8. Pitch Black – Urbanoia

Pitch Black was the first live electronic act I encountered while growing up in New Zealand. Their second album, “Electronomicon”, came out in late 2000, and I considered it an instant classic, due to the simplicity in how the 8 pieces were presented, and how they flowed seamlessly from one to another. They (seemingly) effortlessly managed to combine elements of dub and house music, together with other styles, while retaining their trademark electronic sound – when you hear a Pitch Black tune, you always know it is a Pitch Black tune.

The stand out for me (amongst other great pieces, like “Reptile Room“) was “Urbanoia”. Pitch Black are masters at creating really crisp sound palettes, and each element of this tune has incredible clarity, right from the deep dub bassline, through to the atmospheric textures. They can be regarded as inventors of electronic dub, and “Urbanoia” for me encompasses the genre perfectly. And when I listen to the tune, it feels like I’m floating in space.

7. Stray Theories – Higher

Most of you will probably think that it’s really peculiar, self-indulgent and “blowing-my-own-trumpet” to include a tune released by this very label, in the list of tunes that defined the label – of course, on first glance, I would agree with that observation, but then again, that’s why I am accompanying each tune with a couple of paragraphs – there must be a good reason for its inclusion. It has all my favourite elements rolled into one – energy, emotion, movement. It’s not drum’n’bass by numbers either, and that’s probably why I find it is such a powerful tune.

To be frank, I’m not sure how I ended up releasing this tune on Newclear – by that I mean, I have no idea why no other label picked up on it earlier. Of course, since hearing the first demo in early 2008, I was a big fan, and you could say that it played a big part in some life-changing circumstances – as a way of showing my appreciation, I asked Micah if I could remix the tune for my own live sets, as a way of showing my appreciation, and he obliged. The rest, is history.

6. The Chemical Brothers – The Private Psychedelic Reel

Not much to say about this, except that it was the number that Tom Rowlands and Ed Simons closed out their live sets with, and has always been a live favourite. It’s a majestic throwback to 60’s psychedelic rock, with all the signature drops and squelches by The Chemical Brothers. A trip to another place.

5. Massive Attack – Angel

Let’s fast forward to the defining moment in this song (for me, at least): pay attention to the build up that begins after 3:00, and the subsequent drop at 3:37; After the first part of the song, anyone listening for the first time, will not be expecting the drop to come back so quickly. The guitar riffs that follow, and bring the song to its peak, are a great reminder that the human feel can be taken for granted in electronic music, where repetition dominates.

Although Horace Andy’s delivery of the vocals is sublime, their main purpose here is to complement the guitar track – on their own, they’d be meaningless, but together, they are opposites working towards a common goal.

Looked at as a whole, the song is about slow build-ups and subsequent unleashing of energy, and each time, the patient listener is rewarded. To put quite simply, this is a lecture in how to focus and channel raw energy across to the audience.

4. DJ Rap – Stories From Around The World

Yet another tune which has played a big part is some of the defining moments of my own life. It is relatively simple in arrangement, yet it has a powerful blend of breakbeats, pads, vocals, and jungle vibes.

As a result, it is incredibly uplifting – the perfect tune to lift you up first thing in the morning, no matter how difficult the start to that day is.

3. Shapeshifter – Gravity

It’s difficult to pick the quintessential Shapehifter tune, because there have been quite a few over the years… “When I Return”, “One”, “Twin Galaxies”… the list could go on. But for me, “Gravity” is the culmination of of all the different flavours that the band brings through: soul, rock & roll, and of course, live drum & bass.

As a live act, they’re responsible for transforming the drum & bass genre into a raw, 21st Century rock’n’roll experience.

2. Massive Attack – Unfinished Sympathy

This one is a no-brainer. One of the defining tracks of a generation, and possibly, lifetime.

A lot of raw emotion and energy in this one. Beautifully executed, especially when you realise that two and a half decades later, it still sounds so fresh, and as relevant as it’s ever been. Timeless.

1. Future Sound of London – Papua New Guinea

I genuinely try to be spare and selective when it comes to superlatives – I hate overhyping anything, and I like to let the music speak for itself, but it’s really difficult to be conservative when talking about this particular number.

There’s an underlying epic tone that is being carried throughout, due to the combination of the heavy dub bass line, the uplifting pad/string combination, the ethereal female vocal (sampling Lisa Gerrard of Dead Can Dance) and the raw breakbeat loop. Its simplicity induces euphoria. Even today, I get chills down my spine listening to this. A lot of people use a term like “religious experience” to describe the feeling but I prefer to say it is a type of spiritual awakening: When you give your entire being into something, the only thing you feel is love.

Ironically then, the tune epitomizes the early days of rave culture – which some would associate with mind-altering substances and unrelenting, pulsating beats – yet it’s actually a throwback to when people gathered to dance and to collectively experience emotions that tunes like this awaken within people.

I guess it would also be fair to say, that I have always daydreamed about playing this tune during a sunrise set, at an open air event… that opportunity is yet to present itself, but I’ll be sure to fulfill that dream.

“Papua New Guinea” ultimately ended up as a seminal centerpiece on the “Accelerator” album, which itself was a particularly cohesive acid-house long player, that rightfully left its mark on the early part of the 90’s. For a special 21st Century treatment, check the NuTone remix.

So, there you have it – I hope you enjoyed the reading and the tunes. If you take a step back, and look at the 13 tunes I listed as a whole, there is a common theme running throughout – whether each number is a technical masterpiece is largely irrelevant in this context; Simplicity, and the ability to captivate the listener and their emotion, but also to physically move them. Not all have infectious grooves, and there’s certainly no “party anthems”.

Each of the above tunes have left a lasting impression on my imagination. And that’s what makes music essential to human beings: You cannot ever experience the same combination of events, emotions and circumstances physically, but music enables you to step back in time, and spiritually relive those moments.

Those of you who know me personally will probably ask “how come there is no tune by The Prodigy?” – which is a valid question, considering how much I listened to them in my youth. The simple answer is, while there are so many great numbers I could have picked, I have always looked up to the band’s attitude to music, and their approach to performing. I’ve always liked the way they channel their energy through the music, but I don’t think all those traits can be perfectly captured by any one single tune and the story within. Perhaps, they’re yet to write it…?

Motivation for a running an independent label

Newclear Music

Newclear Music

Perhaps there’s no better topic to kick off this blog, than to discuss what are the driving forces and motivations behind running a small independent music label, at least from our own perspective. In order to get to my point, it is important to provide a bit of background for context…

Electronic music, in all its forms since its inception, has survived several boosts in popularity over the last three decades. As with any other art form, a wide variety of individuals and groups get involved in the game. They get into it for a variety of reasons: some genuine, some questionable. Those in it predominantly for the profits are around when the times are good, and in general, care little for the artistic aspect. When cash is scarce, only the true devotees remain, and they continue to work hard to develop the sound and keep the community together.

These days, dance music is, more often than not, a vehicle for marketing campaigns. It is difficult to encounter an event which is not branded by alcoholic, or energy drinks or some other product targeting mass consumption. Take a step back, and the majority of the clubs will only stand behind profitable gigs. If you’ve ever been on the running/promoting end of the party, you’ll know what the score is when the gig went off, but the venue owners aren’t happy with the bar take. When rave culture was in its infancy, no one was preoccupied with how many tap beers and rum’n’cokes would be sold at an event – they were just looking forward to a good sound and good vibes. When partying in abandoned warehouses and out of town locations was outlawed in the UK, the scene had no choice but to adapt to the nightclub business model.

The Prodigy - One Love

The Prodigy – One Love (XLT-47)

Skip to 1997. In my early teens, and later, during my studies, I spent a lot of my free time (and what little cash I had) in the record stores of central Auckland. In fact, in late 90’s some music store chains still stocked vinyl, and my love for dance and electronic music came about through trying to source the entire back catalogue by The Prodigy on XL Recordings. The Prodigy were the first “non-rock” band that I cared to listen to, but their sound carried the edge and the ethos of what real rock’n’roll was about, with punk attitude. “Firestarter” and “Breathe” were doing the rounds before their third LP landed, and as I dug deeper, I discovered the origins of their sound; as I researched those origins, I discovered a whole number of different musical directions within the sub-genres that spawned.

For the generation too young to experience the birth of the underground rave culture, the 90’s brought The Chemical Brothers and Leftfield, but also some of the originators such as Orbital and 808 State, together with the pioneers of ambient music like Future Sound of London and The Orb. At the time, it seemed like my mission in life was to collect all releases by these artists, on vinyl and CD formats, which, if you lived in New Zealand wasn’t very easy. During one particular period, I would be pestering the likes of Greg Churchill and Nick D at BPM, week in, week out, ringing up to check if they received “Hey Boy Hey Girl” on 12″ as part of the weekly shipment.

808 State - Pacific.98

808 State – Pacific.98 (ZTT98T)

Fast forward to 21st Century, and with the advancement of music production software, making music suddenly becomes way more accessible for kids who can’t afford all the expensive gear. In addition to that, thanks to Apple, the online music retail business grows, people continue to buy music, and online distributors enable anyone who is motivated enough to release music digitally. After experimenting with writing tunes for years and attempting to perfect the production techniques, I decided to take the plunge and start releasing music independently, partly because I knew no established label would be prepared to invest in something that wasn’t instantly groundbreaking. I wasn’t going to kid myself and try to come up with a new sound – I wasn’t interested in that. I believe my main goal at the time was to perpetuate all my musical influences up until that point, and channel them through my output.

Combine that with my obsessive compulsive needs to have everything around me in perfect order, and the result is the desire to develop a catalogue of works, where I must be satisfied with every aspect of every release. Thankfully, my OCD doesn’t reach and influence (and subsequently constrict) the contributors of the cause. Without reservation, I can stand behind the statement that every tune, and every piece of artwork was crafted by its maker the way the intended to.

Future Sound of London - Papua New Guinea

Future Sound of London – Papua New Guinea (12TOT17)

Once the channels are open, one must apply a self-critical approach – does everything you’re putting out meet your own standards, first and foremost? Compromises have to be made too – how many projects will you commit to? Are you doing other things which are distracting you? Just throwing time and money at something doesn’t guarantee that you’re going to be happy with the end product, let alone the next best thing. Making the best of the available time sure as hell will improve the chances of success.

Are the rewards tangible? Can anyone honestly say that the success of the label solely depends on the money made from selling the music?

I don’t think anyone in our network is looking to “conquer the world”, but I do know that performing at festivals, open air parties, and having tunes played by the tastemakers are just some of the motivations behind writing and producing.

Greg Churchill - Budonkadonk / Body Slam

Greg Churchill – Budonkadonk / Body Slam (H2O 043)

Over the years, I’ve seen relationships form, friendships made – people who’ve never been in contact with one another, suddenly started collaborating on music. People would get on the plane and travel to another city to support an EP release show, spend time in the studio with others, exchange remixes, help out with artwork design, etc… The money may have been scarce, but no one can argue against how valued everyone felt once they became part of the community.

Of course, hats off to all those who can pay the bills and live off their creations, while still staying true to their own sound and approach, by following their heart – it takes guts and a lot of risk to this. To this day, I can count the number of people like this that I’ve met only on one hand. All of them are totally devoted, and they deserve utmost respect and recognition for their achievements. I’m very fortunate to have met these people, and to have seen the fire burning in their eyes.

Future One & Audit / Optimus Gryme - Hidden Level / Immortal

Future One & Audit / Optimus Gryme – Hidden Level / Immortal (OGR 001)

While I would never shy away from a nice pay-cheque, my approach however was to keep all artistic activities at an arms length from “real life” – for me it was the only way to ensure what I do with music remains pure, untainted by other motivations.

At the end of the day, starting this project allowed me to present my own perspectives to the world out there, and also help my friends in the music circles, and anyone I thought was deserving enough, to also be heard. I’m against shoving art down people’s throat in order to sell it: our best audience are usually the ones who take the time to take a listen, or come to the gig and to discover what we’re all about. In addition to that, building a solid catalogue is an excellent platform to prove to others that what you’re doing is serious. It’s a solid set of foundations to help all involved reach their next goal, and I’m proud to have been able to provide those means.

The fact is simple – if you want to succeed at anything, whatever your definition of success, you will have to make an investment in whatever you’re doing. And this investment may be in the form of money, or time, or blood, sweat and tears, but I prefer to refer to this as devotion.

…so if you’re doing music “for the love of it”, you better be prepared to give it some love too.