We were lucky enough to not only attend Free Rotation Festival in 2013 but witness DJ October produce one of the stand out sets from the intimate festival. By quickly skimming through his recent sets you will see why, however take the time to reward your ears & listen to Julian Smith construct, layer & build sonically dark, industrial concepts.
His production is no different; a delicate balance between the organic & the structured. With influences ranging from Detroit & New York techno to the hypnotic washes of acid & relentless dub. With a string of releases on Soul People Music, Skudge, AUS Music & TANSTAAFL (his own imprint co-run with John Osborn), Smith is set to launch his debut album later this year & we had the pleasure of discussing this over the internet.
BYTHEINCH: Hard to believe it’s almost April, how has 2014 been treating you; are you still based in Bristol?
OCTOBER: Yes I’m still based in Bristol – 2014 has been good so far. A lot of new beginnings and positive mindsets. I had to reset after my hectic 2013 summer.
Do you make it a conscious effort to take the pressure off your tour schedule before the European Summer hits?
Yeah I guess so – I just needed time to focus on writing music and not gigging. You could say I have a huge music debt and need to finish a lot of projects. My album for Skudge is my current priority so just using my time to finish that before the summer starts.
You have mentioned there wasn’t a massive techno or house scene whilst growing up in Bristol, would you say that there’s a genuine interest in those genres now or will there be a new flavour of the month by the end of the year?
There is a healthy scene here – it has not always been this way but Bristol is on the map for House & Techno and it will hopefully continue to grow. Not sure if there will be a new flavor that soon but I would like it if the music was a bit harder edged and less safe but I feel it’s going that way already.
The nature in which you met John Osborn & began working together happened organically, is that the norm amongst producers you know? Berlin appears to be close knit community, do you find yourself landing a remix after a weekend of socialising?
Yeah I guess so, never really thought about so I guess it must be organic. As for Berlin, I couldn’t tell you as I don’t live there. It’s usually a quick in and out for me from city to city so most of my work comes through via my agent… However, there have been some instances where I’ve met people out and about and things come together.
TANSTAAFL is your second imprint after the now defunct ‘Caravan’ label. Take us through a few key points when starting a record label; would you recommend younger producers who are angling at something different in the market, to go solo / collaborate & release
My views on the music industry are quite weird so I wouldn’t want anyone to take what I say seriously… Everything I’ve done has evolved organically and I never really had major plans for anything. Both Caravan and TANSTAAFL were created very naturally. I had the idea for a label Caravan way back & due to a series of disturbing and bizarre events, I found myself running a label. I felt Caravan had run it’s natural course and with my DJ schedule getting busier, I figured I would start something new, instant and for the floor; so I started TANSTAAFL and got John Osborn involved. Luckily because of Caravan I had some connections, so we got in touch with Clone and things just rolled from there.
But if you have the drive and patience, doing it DIY is the best way in my opinion.
You’ve been quite the advocate of analogue equipment as it pushes you to be creative with the limitations that are present. What do you like to use in the studio & what pieces of machinery have been the most challenging to work with?
I like to use anything that comes my way. I love old shitty pieces of studio gear but I also like quality kit too. I’m a big fan of the Roland Alpha Juno 2, SH-101, Kawai R-100, Roland Space Echo. I’m also a fan of compressors. They are like instruments for me. I think the most challenging thing I’ve had to work with has been the computer and myself.
Keeping with the technology theme, are concepts like Beatport or Shazam affecting the music industry in a negative or positive way? Would you say it even affects the underground scene?
I feel it cheapens music as a whole and has contributed massively to the acceleration of music consumption in general. Of course it’s amazing how quick and instant it is to discover so much amazing music at your finger tips, but it’s also responsible for maximizing the output of mediocre music. There’s nothing worse than mediocrity & as a result there is so much uninspired, boring and bland music out there. I would rather listen to something really bad that would evoke a reaction, than listen to some boring by the book music. Anyone can have a go at making music these days and that’s an amazing thing; the choice to create music should be freely available to anyone. However it also means less quality control. What happened to the days of having to rely on passion to seek out new music and carve out your own sound and path? Well, the internet happened. That, combined with todays attitude and reliance on social media has fueled the most narcissistic era of music we’ve known. Ultimately, I don’t think much has really changed in the last 20 + years – the same things still happen but the technology has evolved and the way we consume music is different. The music industry is still its arcane self run mostly by clueless people with no knowledge of music, just the knowledge of business.
The great thing about the modern age of music is that it has given people a chance who wouldn’t normally be able to create music the opportunity to do so, resulting in fantastic talent. It’s also brought a lot of lost music from the past to the forefront – a perfect example of this is the Minimal Wave label. So as always there will always be something to complain in this industry but from what I’ve seen over the years – the internet has made the underground easier to access and that’s a good thing I think.
Would there be a dramatic difference in a party if no phones / cameras were allowed?
I don’t really think so – mobile phones are everywhere now. It’s just how it is – I think it’s quite futile trying to fight it. I mean it’s the future already here in 2014. I personally don’t go running around clubs with my phone snapping everything and I don’t really notice other people doing it that much either. Besides, what’s wrong with wanting to take a photo of something you like. However, in a place like Berghain – I totally respect that law because there’s nothing else in the world like Berghain so certain people need that photographic free environment. It’s not like they used to let people in with cameras at Studio 54.
You started a course studying Creative Music Tech at uni, then dropped out in second year, boredom was cited as the reason. A decade on, have you heard if there has been any progress with music courses or is it more beneficial to be a self taught DJ/Producer, with time to network?
I think all you need is passion, drive and most of all patience to get somewhere in music. Unless you have money and can afford to buy yourself a place in the industry. University didn’t really work out for me as I have a natural urge to rebel. I was bored of the course and had no stimuli. Plus I knew a degree in Music Tech would not have landed me a record deal so I left and focused on creating instead. If you want to be a sound engineer or have a job working within the music industry, then the course might work in your favour. As for networking, personally I wouldn’t bother unless you want to come across annoying and desperate. Just focusing on your craft and devote all your time to it, that’s the most important part of creating. Everything else will follow.
Easily one of our favourite mixes of 2013.
Do you still have a soft spot for radio? How was the community radio scene in Bristol growing up & does radio still have the power to influence the underground music scene?
Yes I love radio. The radio scene in Bristol is pretty cool; Chris ‘Idle Hands’ Farrell does an awesome show on Passion FM which is on local community radio plusUJIMA too. However, radio is not as powerful as it used to be. I remember tuning into Radio 1 in the 90’s every Friday night just to hear the latest Jungle Fabio and Grooverider would play. My housemate at the time would record all the shows on cassette until he later upgraded to Minidisc. But these days finding time to listen to the radio with friends never happens anymore. We are all trying to be our own radio and playing people all the cool stuff we just discovered on the internet. So unfortunately I’m not so sure it still has the same clout as it used too.
You have releases upcoming on AUS, Skudge & your own TANSTAAFL imprint. Are you able to give us a little insight as to the concept of your debut album?
Well my album has been written as a cohesive piece of work so it’s not going to be a collection of tracks. The concept is to highlight my influences as I feel the album is the best way to get across what I’m really about. It might sound strange but I am trying remove most elements of House and Techno and just leave the shell if that makes sense? It’s quite Industrial, New Wave, EBM, Acid inspired so far but hopefully more considered than my previous work. It’s going to have vocals on it too but nothing like singing; just using the voice as a
texture or instrument, more words than actual singing.
Hopefully it will sound like a vision of the future created in 1989.
Sounds incredible! We are very excited to hear the final product.
Finally, what are some of your favourite records in your bag at the moment?
Nitzer Ebb – Belief
Front 242 – Principles
Streetwalker – Future Fusion
Superlife – Go Bananas
Ministry – Hizbolla
Bill Youngman – Track Four
KEL on 777, Broken English Club on Jealous God, Anthony Parasole and Phil Moffa’s last 12” on The Corner, oh and that new St. Julien 12 on Apron is so good!
Thank you very much for your time, we’re really looking forward to your next release!