Tonight we have a special guest mix from Benjamin Muñoz. Formerly the guitarist in Hamilton synth/pop weirdos New Hands, and now resident in Montréal, he’s released on HAVN and Push & Run, with a very distinctive sound influenced by jazz, garage, house, and video game soundtracks. He graciously answered some questions I sent over about his sound and influences, check-ça:
Interview with Benjamin Muñoz
What can we expect on tonight’s mix?
Mostly leftfield techno and house, ambient tracks and a couple oddballs, this mix is a summary of what I’ve been listening to recently. It’s also a summary of my musical headspace at the moment. I’ve been trying to make music that is gestural, sparse and deconstructed. I’ve also been into sneaky, dark moods. So that’s what to expect here. No date on the next release yet but aiming for this autumn.
What got you to start producing?
I started producing very slowly. I’d always written music, for bands, for myself… producing was just the technical aspect of capturing and sharing that music with others. But the more I did it the more I realized it as an art form in itself. Then, slowly it became my primary interest within music.
What were your earliest influences and exposure?
My first exposure to producing was through a local Hamilton producer named Michael Keire who runs Threshold recording studio. My band at the time, New Hands, was recording an album with him. The process spanned over two years and in that time Mike and I became good friends. He taught me everything I know about recording, mixing and producing. At the time I was also getting into artists making music in their bedrooms on laptops, like James Blake and Mount Kimble. I realized I could take what Mike had taught me and apply it to my own music even without professional equipment.
Listening to your tracks it sounds like they’re about to fall apart or shatter at any second – it’s a very distinct sound, how did you develop it?
I don’t think I ever deliberately tried to develop that sound. I like to use light sounds and movement with an agile quality – which could be perceived as fragile. I never use sequencers and often push my drums off grid or work without a grid altogether. I can’t stand the way things sound when everything’s on grid. I think those two things paired together give the tracks a really unsteady sound. So it’s more a result of my tastes I guess and less a calculated sound.
What is your take on the scene in Montreal?
To be honest I feel I haven’t spent enough time there yet to have an informed opinion. For sure there’s tons going on and I’ve met a lot of great artists but I feel I haven’t found my niche or artists I fit in with yet. I’m sure they’re there though, Montréal is very diverse.
You’ve moved about a lot, spending time between here and parts of the UK. How has this displacement affected your music?
Good question, probably more than I’m aware of. Now anyone can find music from any part of the world through the internet. But living in those different places I experienced the context for a lot of music and the way in which people gather around that music. I feel that’s been invaluable to me and informs how and what I take to use in my own music.
Do you feel one place over another influenced your sound? How did each place you lived in affect you creatively?
Somewhat. As far as dance music goes, Canada doesn’t have its own genres, we replicate or put our own twist on genres that have been established elsewhere. The UK definitely has its own sound and history of dance music. Spending time in Leeds and Bristol I’d go out on nights and always be drawn to the creative rhythms of garage, dubstep and jungle. I was particularly into 2-step as a sort of intersecting genre. I decided to use it as a jumping of point for the weird dreamy music I’d always had in my head. So the UK definitely influenced me in terms of rhythm. But everything else I feel is a soupy mix of influences and art I’ve always been into – wherever that might be. And even now I’m trying to depart from such structured rhythm.
Photo credit: Lee Skinner
Our first guest mix of the new year comes from Paul Trafford, from Forbidden Planet in Montreal. I first met Paul at a Forbidden Planet / Boiler Room afterparty for MUTEK where I was DJing, then started to follow what they were doing afterwards. Very pleased to have this mix from them, as well as the excellent interview below, where Paul talks about his introduction to techno, a primer on Forbidden Planet and La Brique, and some names to check out in the Montréal scene.
Interview with Paul Trafford
To start with the basics, what got you into electronic music and what drew you to start DJing?
I started making electronic music on the Gameboy camera’s built in sequencer, trippy h, during high school. Did a lot of tracker / chiptune music with Nanoloop and Pxtone. Spent a lot of time on Soulseek searching for video game soundtracks and other nerd music… A lot of Koji Kondo (Zelda), Yasunori Mitsuda (Chrono Trigger, Xenogears), Yellow Magic Orchestra, then Government Alpha. Somehow I discovered Susumu Yokota’s “Acid Mt. Fuji” and X-103’s “Atlantis.” I think those were my introductions to techno. I was getting into house music at around the same time through listening to the fictional radio station “SFUR” in GTA: San Andreas, looking up the tracks and hanging out in the Soulseek house music chatroom.
Anyway, I remember being completely mystified by these techno records. Listening to it alone in my parents’ house, staring at the album art on my laptop… I’d never met anyone else who was into techno. I wondered: was there really a time and place where this music belonged? What could it have been like? Who was it meant for? I guess before then the video games had provided me with the context.
That was in Ottawa. There’s no real techno scene there… I never found a place where it belonged. So these fantasies were there to fill it in. I watched a few 90s rave videos on Youtube, read “Techno Rebels,” cruised Discogs comments sections… Constructed my own idea of that past. Those fantasies continue to drive me through techno different ways. It’s difficult to explain.
How did you and Jürg meet and start Forbidden Planet?
I met Jurg through some mutual friends shortly before moving here from Ottawa in November 2012. He told me that he was starting a label, that D’Marc Cantu was doing the first release. Turned out that we were excited by a lot of the same techno. I came to Montréal to do music, to DJ. Even before we’d met, I had it in my head that I was going to be throwing parties, inviting artists I admired to play here.
Forbidden Planet is Jurg’s project. I’ve been involved with it because we share similar ideas and aesthetics, and I felt that I’d rather do what I could to make his label and events great than to start something of my own. I’d be asking him to play alongside me at the parties I did anyway, and we’d be booking the same artists. Meeting another person so devoted to techno, it was invigorating. It was real. I naturally wanted to be in that environment.
There’s been a lot said about La Brique, where you had many of the parties. What can you tell us about the space and your involvement in it? What does the future look like for it, and what went on there?
For those who are unaware, La Brique was a DIY music space here. It had been running for 8 years or so. It enabled so many artists to do their thing freely. I became involved with it because i wanted to play records loud, alone and late at night. The parties came a few months later when i started some noise/techno parties called “Above The Door.” but yes, it feels as though I’ve just woken up from a deep, beautiful dream. By the end, I lived there alone with my cat, Walter, made music whenever I wanted, helped with the finances and logistics of running the space, invited friends over to hang out, played records and threw parties. I miss it. Listen to this interview by Sam Lu for a bit more information.
Forbidden Planet is now a label in addition to a party. What made you want to start up the label, and what can we expect from it in the coming months?
Jurg started Forbidden Planet with the record label/party format in mind. He bounces future release ideas off of me sometimes, but I don’t have any involvement with the record label side of things. I focus on making sure the parties are good.
The third record from Boreal and Lncroy is out soon. They’re from the West Coast of Canada. My record will be out sometime after that. Jurg’s touring Europe, playing a few dates in Poland and Berlin, then moving to New York City in February. I’m saving up to travel and play a few dates wherever they appear, too.
Do you have any Montréal producers or djs that you admire, or feel are underrated?
I admire so many of those around me. Being at La Brique introduced me to all of the electronic musicians working outside of the techno scene in Montréal. Pierre Guérineau and Marie Davidson, two close friends who practiced at La Brique, they have a project called Essaie Pas. My friend Alex Scarfone does noise as GRKZGL. He’s got good taste and knowledge of wilder techno bits. Another close friend, Andrew Alain, does noise as Stanley Kindly. It’s brutal. He has a good collection of industrial and noise. Always hear cool stuff when we hang out. Last time was some porno noise picture disc from the 80s.
Alex Moskos as DRAINOLITH… Check out his record on Spectrum Spools. Jesse-Osborne Lanthier and Bernardino Femminielli. Both have solo projects, and started a project together called “Femminielli Noir.” Jesse played a rad live set at Forbidden Planet 11 w/ Bill Kouligas.
Francesco de Gallo / Hobo Cubes… Sweet. He also runs the veritable institution of underground electronic music in Montréal: Hobo Cult Records. The Booma Collective. Jurg and I live with this crew. They’ve just released a compilation, and Oren Ratowski’s first record is out now too. That’s more of an electroacoustic affair.
My neighbour Rick Wang has an MPC and good synths. We’ve been jamming. He’s doing a Forbidden Planet record at some point. I’m excited for it. I’d like to do a record together with him too.
Outside of music, my friend Christopher Honeywell is an excellent photographer. He sometimes takes photos at the Forbidden Planet events. Finally, my friend Michael Lifshitz is a tremendous psycho-existential mentor and supportive friend.
I don’t find that any of them are underrated.
What struck me about the scene in Montréal, as an outsider, was there was a much more open and friendly feeling between parties – more of a sense of doing it for the love instead of trying to compete for bodies in the door, especially in comparison to a lot of other places. Do you think there’s any truth in that?
I don’t travel much, so I’ve never been directly exposed to the techno scenes or been to parties in other cities. I have a vague idea of how they operate. But it seems that there are good parties elsewhere. Meandyou in Manchester, Mutual Dreaming in New York, World Unknown in London are a few that come to mind. I’m happy though. All of the artists we’ve invited felt that playing at Forbidden Planet was a tremendous experience.
The people who come out to the parties in Montréal rule. They know good music and aren’t afraid to get weird, dance to some oblique techno. I’ve always felt like I could play what I wanted, to experiment. I’m very appreciative of that. Also allows us to bring in newer artists or people who aren’t as well known… That’s important to me.
I don’t know about money. I don’t care. This is all a way to bring the fantasies I mentioned earlier into reality. I do it for the art of techno, the preciousness of a unique communal experience…to extend into a higher realm for a bit.
What have you got planned for the future?
To finish a few records, for both Forbidden Planet and some other labels. I’ve been pretty anxious.. There’s a loooot of stuff sitting on my hard drive and I’m starting to feel awful for not doing something better with it. I could release a 5 CD compilation of ditched tracks for this first record. I get bored of them quickly. Jurg probably hates that habit, too.
So I’ve been thinking of starting a tape label to put out some of the material I’ve got built up, or just to put out some mixes.
Otherwise, I’d like to play in some other cities, to travel to different countries…dig for records, meet new friends, soak it up.
There are a few artists I hoped to have at La Brique before it closed. Mix Mup, Ben UFO, Steve Summers, Shawn O’Sullivan, Levon Vincent, Disco Nihilist, DJ Sotofett… I’d like to start up a new space to make that happen sometime.
Finally, what can you tell us about the mix?
I just started playing. Ended up going the hard techno route. Most are records from the late 1990s i’ve found while digging here in Montréal. It was mixed with two Technics 1200s and an Ecler Nuo 3 in The Furnace, Montréal.
Since I first met the Leeds-born Bradley Phillip at Phonica in London last January, I’ve been waiting for a mix from him for the show. Know to viewers of the Boiler Room as one of the hosts/organizers, and fresh from hosting BR’s Australian dates, Bradley is also a killer selector with a knowledge and feel for groove and sound. His Rhythm Section night, in Peckham, takes over a billiards hall into an intimate venue with a communal feel, with such notable names as Rick Wilhite, Andy Blake, Beautiful Swimmers, Floating Points, DMX Krew, and Horse Meat Disco all having done a turn there. Along with his excellent mix, I emailed Bradley with a few questions about growing up in Leeds, how Rhythm Section and Boiler Room came about, and his thoughts on the state of nights out.
Interview with Bradley Zero
To start with the basic intro questions, what was it like growing up in Leeds, and what was your first exposure to electronic music?
I think growing up in Leeds affords you the best country/city balance possible in England. It’s a major urban centre, the cultural and academic hub of the north and it has been a hotbed for electronic music for far longer than I’ve been alive. Still, you drive for 10/15 minutes in any direction and you’re in the countryside. Proper countryside mind you – deers, grouse, farmers, that kind of thing. Growing up in and around Leeds I worked in a lot of bars – underage actually, so I won’t name name – but being a relative youngster in this student/nightlife atmosphere I was exposed to a lot of house. Dub was a big thing back then, but everybody loved house music. I remember moving down to London in 2006 when D&B, dubstep, electroclash and indie-pop where the sounds du jour, while house was seen as a bit cheesy. Obviously house music never went anywhere but it was definitely not at the forefront of London club culture as it is now – whereas Leeds has always been a house city.
What drew you to move to London and (eventually) start work with Phonica?
I moved down to London in 2006 to study Fine Art, which I did for 4 years at The Slade, graduating in 2010.
I spent most of that time playing in bands, DJing, throwing parties, partying and hosting radio shows. I was making art too, but got a bit tied up by the idea of what is and isn’t art. In hindsight all these things are art, I just had to get out of the institution to realise! I never actually worked at Phonica I interned there for free, for the best part of a year, one day a week. It was a great education in music – listening for 8 hours non stop each day. I got to know a lot of nice people and great Dj’s (Nick Williams, Brian Morrison etc. ) and you get to know the heads who come in and buy records. There’s is a nice little community of people passionate about music based around London’s independent records stores.
How did Rhythm Section get its start? Did you ever expect it to become what it is today?
Well, it started as a radio show on Peckham’s South City Radio with my good friend Rose. As we both had a lot of work to do around the time of graduating, the collective lay more or less dormant for a year, at least. Rose went on to record cello led chamber pop under the name Rhosyn, while I got more and more involved in DJing. When I came across Canavan’s (Rhythm Section’s venue) and wanted to throw a party there, Rhythm Section was the obvious choice for a name. Ironically the collective noun ‘Rhythm Section’ is synonymous with a 2 man outfit, [and now it] has become just me.
Rhythm Section hasn’t really changed much since it has settled in its current format. It’s a simple formula of not too many DJ’s playing good records on a nice sound-system on a regular basis. With no set times. This is exactly what i dreamt of when I set out to provide Peckham with a regular, solid dance party. The way in which it has been received and the great people who come every 2 or 3 weeks in such numbers have far exceeded my hopes for the night. I find it so invigorating and exciting and generally reassuring in terms of the current state of dance music. We’re in a really exciting time where anything goes and really it comes down to the people who turn up to dance, not knowing what to expect.
Rhythm Section HQ in Peckham, South London
Do you have any producers or DJs that you admire, or feel are under-rated?
Ruf Dug – representing Ruf Kutz in Manchester. he’s put out 7 records on his label and I could play for hours with them alone. His own productions are unfathomably effective, made by a man who definitely knows how to work a dance-floor. Every time I play one of his tracks, at least 1 person will ask ‘what’s this?’ – and more often than not they’ve never heard of him! Ruffy is the man.
Brian Morrison – works underground at Phonica. Encyclopaedic knowledge and very hard to please but MY GOD the man knows how to DJ. He’s recently started his own label, Going Good Records – check that shit out. Brian actually played with Ruf Dug in what might have been the best Rhythm Section night ever (stiff competition). Having Brian speak highly of his Rhythm Section experience meant a lot to me. The Brian Seal of Approval is a good thing to have.
What’s your take on the whole brand of warehouse club culture that has seemingly enveloped London clublife? Your Rhythm Section nights are basically the antidote to that – do you see more nights like it emerging in opposition?
I think there’s a time and a place for this kind of event but the main drawback is that it’s not a scene that’s going to foster any sense of community. Antidote is perhaps a bit strong but what I do is most definitely an alternative. Every now and again I definitely do want to be in a big room with a monstrous soundsystem, 10 strobes, lasers, fog machines and podiums. However, I feel much more at home going to a local spot where I’ve got to know the door lady, recognise all the security, can have a chat with the bar staff and still listen to the kind of music that might be played in a more typical club, but not at decibel levels that will leave my ears ringing for days!
No warehouse parties on the horizon then?
Not for Rhythm Section. As a DJ, I’m not against these kind of things and would enjoy it from time to time, but Rhythm Section is about the vibe, and that vibe doesn’t translate to such a big, impersonal, industrial space. Some things do though.
How did you get involved with Boiler Room? What do you make of the way that it has exploded and helped to define its own niche of nightlife?
I used to go to the shows all the time before I was involved, when the broadcast happened in South London. I’d invited Thristian to come and play at a couple of Rhythm Section parties south of the river, and I guess I was on his radar when they needed to get more people involved. Bear in mind at this time Thristian was solely hosting and doing the majority of programming in Berlin, LA and London! They needed more help, and I was roped in, firstly on a trial basis, but this quickly became a full time position as things steadily stepped up. There’s a surprising amount of work that goes into the shows (not all prancing around in front of a camera!) but it’s basically the best job ever.
I don’t think it has defined it’s own niche of nightlife at all. You have to remember the shows are only attended by about 60 people max (we have a tiny space!) and they finish at 11pm. It really is about the broadcast. What Boiler Room has done is put forward a new model for broadcasting; something that is both alternative, intimate and interactive but on a scale that appeals to hundreds of thousands of people. It’s good for the artists and it’s good for the viewers, many of whom are in isolated situations where they may not have the chance to go see such acts in real life.
Boiler Room night in Sydney, January 2013
Are there any other future plans on the horizon?
I try not to plan too far ahead, things keep changing too fast! I like to think of Rhythm Section as my anchor – a solid immutable powerhouse of good vibes. I have no aspirations to grow it into something else, or expand in the typical sense. Boiler Room’s rise to prominence has been somewhat meteoric, as is the nature of any internet based sensation who’s audience literally has no limit. It’s all very exciting and we will be popping up all over the place in the coming months, but the core (Tuesday nights in Hackney) remains unchanged. As for myself as a DJ, I really look forward to collaborating with like minded people with a similar outlook around the world. (Waiting on the invitations, guys!)
What can you tell us about the mix you’ve made?
It’s quite a simple explanation here. I never like to plan mixes, but I often start of really well then struggle to find the right track to play next out of the vast piles of vinyl. The night before this mix was made I had arranged my collection into genre defined categories, with a separate box for new acquisitions. I woke up after a good nights sleep, admired my newly organised collection and just began to mix…the wonders of categorisation resulted in a satisfying journey! No effects, no corrections, and 2 tracks were digital, but the rest were vinyl. Enjoy the imperfections.