Will Saul & Tam Cooper - Sequential Circus (Sideshow Dub)
Stillhead - Dwelling
Dadub - Dub On Struggle
Stillhead - Cosy Dub
Nphonix - Drifting In Barnard
Roughquest - Surface feat. Lotty (demo)
Roughquest - Flex (demo)
Roughquest - In My Eyes feat. Tanvi (demo)
Roughquest - Politik (demo)
Roughquest - We Will Change (demo)
Alex Cowles (Stillhead) and James Morris (Roughquest) are no strangers to each others music. Both have crossed paths on the Subdepth imprint and then later joined the dots when Roughquest released his ‘Hybrid’ Ep on ‘Cut’, one of the three labels Alex is busy juggling.
They also share a common thread in their musical aesthetic. The DNA of which is influenced by Dub techno, drum n bass, a few ambient trips and a little introspective thinking.
Both these gents work incredible hard on producing and creating, so its no surprise that they create spaces in their music that allows for plenty of head room, and a break from the multitude of ideas popping within.
Roughquest:When I was first aware of you, it was the Echodub project. I was always impressed by the output. Why did you decide to bring that to an end?
Stillhead: In the beginning it was idealistic, it was exciting and it seemed like anything was possible. We were all working as a collective and throwing ideas around - we got some traction through putting out a few releases, but over time it got more and more difficult to keep track of. Release schedules started to slide, I got bogged down with other things as my own music also started to take off to a degree (it's all relative of course! haha) and we got to a point where we'd stuck out a bunch of releases and I felt I wanted to switch to a regular label model. That, I figured would give me more control over things, let me decide a bit more carfeully about what to release - and so we did that for a year or so, putting out more music digitally.
So after a few years, Echodub just started to take back-seat to everything. It got a little resurgence when I put out my second album as the kickstarter campaign type thing - but other than that, and my more recent third album - nothing else was happening. Echodub was just ticking over since I had lots of other things to concentrate on.
ST Holdings (our distributor at the time) emailed about 150 of their labels and basically gave us a week to find some other alternative because they were downsizing, so with that ultimatum I thought it would be more hassle than it was worth to keep the label up and running just for it to tick-over not really doing anything - so I decided that was as good a time as any to pack it in and look at concentrating on something else. Echodub had run its course, and I didn't feel excited by it any more. It was time to put it to bed.
Roughquest:I’m constantly surprised by how many projects you have on the go, how do you successfully manage so much?
Stillhead: Well, as you will now realise by the Echodub answer above, I don't always manage everything very well! haha - I think I'm addicted to the excitement of starting new projects. I love the enthusiasm I get when I'm like "right, this is the new thing - it's going to be awesome!" - sometimes that excitement never goes away, like with Cut - I'm 3 years in now and it's still working out nicely - I re-invented the label with the subscription model, and that kept things exciting. It got a bit sketchy when we had a dip in cashflow, and had to try and promote things to so many people on such a small budget, but the subscription model has made it way more manageable now.
I love to keep busy too - but sometimes it gets overwhelming. I'm a freelance designer so during the day I'm juggling 3 or 4 projects, and then when I have free time I switch to music stuff and do that - multiple aliases, multiple projects, it's all exciting for me - provided I can make them all work, it's never an issue I guess. I just try and stay on top of it all as much as I can.
My vice is probably "the internet" though - all my projects are pretty much online based, so without that access, without the connection, I'd be lost :) I'd fade into obscurity I think - all these projects give me the faux sense of security and sort of pretend-assurance that I won't be forgotten too soon!
Roughquest:You’re making some bold moves with the way Cut is releasing music. What was the inspiration behind the new way of releasing music?
Stillhead: It was less inspiration and more necessity. We had been doing the free thing for ages and it was great - building up a huge audience etc - free music is easy to promote if it's done well - everyone likes to mention it and it spreads far and wide - the problem is a commitment to let everyone know about the new EPs meant paying to email 13,000 - 14,000 people by the end of that phase. It would be costing me more to promote and release (plus master) the releases than I'd make back in donations - so I had to find a way to make it work.
The subscription model meant a more manageable set of restraints - for now, a smaller audience (although that's building) but also the funds from subscriptions to pay artists for their work, to fund a bit of low-level promotion, and to keep things running and be able to put out good music (even if it is exclusively for those who subscribe) - it's a model that has been met with admiration from all those who understand it - and everyone is keen to see if it will do well. The problem is - promotion is tough now that it's not free - and getting people to sign up and commit to a measly $1 a month is astonishingly hard. People will happily spend four times that much on a beer when they're out, which lasts half an hour - but nobody wants to invest that for music that will last a lifetime.
“My vice is probably "the internet" though - all my projects are pretty much online based, so without that access, without the connection, I'd be lost :)”
Roughquest: Do you still think that independent labels have a bright future?
Stillhead: It's super-hard to predict actually. I'd like to hope so, but everyone's banging on about streaming these days, like it's some label-killer. I don't think it is - I think there will probably always be room for people who want to do things properly - those who believe in the good music - it's not going to be the most profitable way to make money through music - but I'd like to hope it'll at least be self sustainable with a bit of work. I for one, have a new label I'm working on called "Brightest Dark Place" and I've got my fingers crossed it will work out.
Roughquest: I’ve heard your style change quite a lot over the years, is there a particular style that means the most to you?
Stillhead: I've always been a huge fan of dub-techno. I can't really put it in to words accurately, but it's always my go-to music when I need something relaxing, something calming and something that I can work to - so it's often on in my office at home. I think I take a great deal of influence from those sounds and vibes when I produce - but at the same time, I have a huge amount of other music that I consume at other times, which all feeds into my own work.
My problem is I don't feel like I have a focus - I think this is common within producers - but it's a hard thing to accept and shake off. I always think people will get sick of my constant switching from one style to another - sure, there's a common string - a thread of my own personal style running through it all - but it's probably a bit hit or miss with people - like, they'll maybe love a few songs, but hat others - and I'd rather not be that polarising. Perhaps it's just a case of being more selective with my output, I dunno! haha
Roughquest: When it comes to your own productions, do you have a particular method when approaching a new track?
Stillhead: Not any more. I used to go with keys and chords first - but now it feels way more haphazard. I'll find inspiration in a certain loop or sound somewhere - then I'll take that and run with it - it could be drums, bass, keys, synth, pads, anything. My approach tends to lead to hundreds of half-finished tracks, or loads of 16 bar loops which I sit and go through every so often, and think "one day I'll get to that" - the reality is, if I've not finished a track in 3 or 4 sittings, it'll probably get archived.
I'm spending more time trying to polish tracks these days and get them really perfect - more detail, more stuff happening, but it means I'm struggling to find more time to get them done - so my output has been limited this year.
Roughquest: Are you still finding surprises in the world of electronic music?
Stillhead: Yes, but not as often as I'd like. I'm enjoying a new sort of corner of music that I've been trying to distill and secure for the new label - sort of almost a new genre, but taking elements from many others - there are a small bunch of producers creating that style of stuff, and I've been trying to both produce some myself, and collect up some good examples, so that I can have it stand-alone in my mind as a genre. It's sitting somewhere between dub-techno, downtempo, breaks, bass, glitch but with organic elements and very processed sound-design type sounds. Very hard to define.
Roughquest: Any new and exciting projects on the horizon?
Stillhead: Well the new label has begun in earnest - Brightest Dark Place - after my first EP as Stillhead (Dwelling - due mid December) I've got a few producers working on stuff, so hopefully by the middle of next year I'll have a better idea of how that's all going.
My own productions, I have this EP, plus there's a couple of remixes I'm working on, but it's really a case of sitting on things longer, and crafting them till I'm happy with them, instead of rushing to get them out there.
If Cut continues to grow, then I'd love to do some more stuff with that - I'd be interested in trying to do another free release to help boost our profile and entice more people to subscribe, but we'll see. I have so little time right now to even finish my own stuff, that it's a case of cahsflow, time constraints and finding where I can push things.
I keep wanting to do more with the Music Descriptions tumblr too - but again it's a case of finding a moment to figure that out. Maybe I need an assistant?!
I've also started the Sitting Ovation blog back up with a renewed focus, so that it's more about connections within music, and music discovery - I also intend to have every post as an audio track too, so people get the idea without necessarily needing to read - they can just hit play - or subscribe to what is effectively the Sitting Ovation podcast. I'm just having a NIGHTMARE trying to get iTunes to accept it though - and with nothing more helpful than "it's not been accepted" - I'm struggling to get to the bottom of it. Anyway, the site is up and running and the content is slowly growing, so that may flourish into something wonderful. Who knows!?
Stillhead: We first became acquainted when you put together an awesome EP for Cut. Our 12th release, but still one of my favourites. What have you been up to since then?
Roughquest: Thanks man, that means a lot to me. I’ve been getting stuck in to a few things outside of music as well as working on a few audio related side projects. Been working on new material too, but I’ve taken a much more relaxed approach to it as of late.
Stillhead: You're based in Berlin. I don't think you were there when we first started talking. How has the move been. Is it all it's cracked up to be in terms of this holy Mecca location for music producers and DJs, or is it just another shitty city to get forgotten and overlooked in?
Roughquest: Moving to Berlin has been one of the best things I ever did. I came from Oxford in England, which is a pretty conservative place. I have friends and family there that I love dearly, but it was definitely time for me to leave. I’ve met so many characters in Berlin, since being here, and had some unforgettable nights. There is a vibe here and a flow that just makes life so enjoyable to live. When it comes to being creative and following any pursuit you want, I just can’t imagine a better place in the world to do it.
Stillhead: I'm not seeing anything less than a year old on your Soundcloud. What's that all about?
Roughquest: It’s been a while. I’ve been putting some finishes touches to a few bits and pieces which I hope, at the very least, to put up on SoundCloud and, at the best, get some releases. I’ve been putting some finishing touches to a new EP and I’ve got a few other bits that I may put out as a free download. There are definitely some new bits coming, and I really hope people will enjoy the various styles.
Stillhead: You always had this awesome combination of techno, dubstep and kinda downtempo influences in your tracks - where did that come from how did you come to start producing this sort of stuff? Did you start in a different genre or headspace?
Roughquest: I’m really glad you enjoy the combination. My music tastes are pretty wide. My older brother was really into the free party/rave scene so I was exposed to this mad world when I was quite young. I had this old Amiga 500 and I used to try and emulate the sounds of my brother’s rave tapes using some software called OctaMED. Fucking loved that machine. I discovered Drum & Bass in my early teens and really fell in love with it. Loved the energy of it and it was just addictive to me. I’ve always loved piano and really got into the modern classical stuff from Max Richter and Steve Reich. The love of this has continued, I listen to a lot of stuff from Erased Tapes these days, including the excellent Nils Frahm. I've always loved reggae and dub, but what really got me was the Basic Channel movement. The entire Rhythm & Sound back catalogue is up there as some of my favourite music. I’d say though, one of the most influential and inspiring albums for me is the Future Sound Of London’s Lifeforms album. When I first heard that, it really captured my imagination. That album, more still than any I've heard in recent times, gets the balance of digital and organic working together... Which is something I always want to strive for.
I like the idea of taking all these types of influences and trying to present them slightly differently as a whole. As I’ve continued to make music, I’m enjoying that exploration more and more and caring less and less about genres or scenes.
Stillhead: Are you doing the music thing full time, or have you got a day-job too? Do you see music as a financially viable alternative to a full-time job?
Roughquest: I’ve always dreamed of making music full time, but as I’ve got older I realised that I just love letting music be a release of various emotions, based off other areas of my life. I think better music is made when real emotions are poured into it; being stressed, having a bad day, feeling isolated, feeling overwhelmed, feeling loved, feeling hated... These are great emotions to have for tune making. I have a few sound design side projects that I’m continuing to work on, which may fulfil the dream of working with audio as a living, but I’m fairly happy with the life/work/music balance right now.
Stillhead: You seem to be primarily a producer and I presume a DJ too - do you have any other projects on the go musically? Do you aspire to start a label or to put events on, radio shows anything like that?
Roughquest: I had a few years of being into traditional DJing, but it never quite grabbed me as much as production. What I love to do is combine production and DJing to create my own style of mix tapes. I love making mix tapes where I can take tracks, do a bit of mixing, lightly remixing them, make mashups, throw in samples, generally do what I like but with a producer mentality. The end goal for them is to just make something enjoyable to listen to, that’s all I really care about. I try and give them a proper beginning, middle and an end. In all honesty, I’m not a fan of being centre stage. I’ve done some gigs, and though it was certainly loads of fun, I like to just take my time and explore ideas in my head. As far as a label, I’ve had absolutely loads of ideas for a creative output. I believe this will happen, but it would need to be just right. I've actually done a lot of work on making connections for this, establishing a name, a look, a direction, but the right time for me to do this properly isn’t quite here yet. I’ve always admired what you did with Cut and I’ve been following your new model closely. Was a big fan of your Echodub output too. You’re an inspiration to me for sure
Stillhead: Where do you feel you fit in to the "scene" musically. Do you feel that there's more room for you to grow? Would you consider yourself successful within music, and if not - are you happy to just do it for the love, or would you like to be more well known?
Roughquest: I think, like so many producer, you have huge dreams when you start out. But as I’ve got older and gone through quite a lot of shit in my life, making music has always been there for me and been a great way to express myself in something that is all my own. I think that’s why I’ve never done many collaborations or ever had the want to be in a band. It’s just my creative output... And if people like it, that really makes me happy, and if people don’t, then that’s fine too. Whatever anyone’s creative output is, if it’s done with integrity, people feel it. Almost always, people will like it because of that integrity. That’s why I’m not so bothered about tight time schedules or rising up any particular ladder of success because I just want to ensure the integrity is there.
Stillhead: What are your plans for the future? How is your musical career going to play out?
Roughquest: I’m just doing a lot of exploration right now. I’ve been dipping my toes into more dance stuff, because that’s just what I feel like doing right now but I rarely stick to a particular genre. I’ve always had a fascination with textures and sound design, as well as real instruments like piano and cello. So I’m exploring ways of combining these and having them as a foundation to a new music project. I’m working on a side project that involves only sound design too. It’s pretty fun as it allows me to get totally lost in making just sounds, no music whatsoever, which really lets you go crazy with experimentation. I still have some releases for the Roughquest project, as well as a few more mix tapes too. So there is plenty I’m looking forward to.