“The 303 has become the electric guitar of electronic dance music” – Honeysmack

Some of you may be familiar with the sounds of Honeysmack and some of you may not. For those of you that are not so familiar with the sounds of Honeysmack, you are about to start hearing that name a lot more across Europe and in the US I can guarantee. Honeysmack is an Australian electronic dance music producer and live artist who has been at the forefront of the Australian acid house and techno scene since the 1990s. He has worked with notable labels including Sony, Shock Records, and Kickin Records under a wide range of aliases. Using vintage hardware and a renegade’s approach, he brings real dynamism to his live shows and studio sounds and remains a pioneering force. With his new album just released on Awesome Soundwave, we caught up with Honeysmack to chat about his time in the scene and his incredible new album which is actually his fourth studio album…

I began by asking David what it was that first got him hooked on electronic music…  “The fascination of hearing something new and not understanding how or where it came from. When I was growing up in the late 1970s and 1980s, I was lucky enough to be exposed to lots of Synth Pop and early Electro, which was early Hip Hop. The sounds and rhythms I was hearing were truly out of this world and offered an authentic alternative to the same old copied insipid rock/pop of the time”.

The sounds of that David produces are very much that beautifully distinct sound of Acid House and Techno. I asked David. what is that draws him to the sounds of the 303 over anything else? “There’s an immediacy about its sound and how it can play dual roles. It can be a lead sound and/or happily being a bass line, as intended by the manufacturer, Roland. The 303 has become the electric guitar of electronic dance music. The 303 and all its limitations were the gateways for me as a music maker. I remember back in the 1990s, a number of electronic dance music snobs would often dismiss the 303 sound as they felt it had been overused.. well here we are in 2020 and producers across all genres continue to include the 303. Music gear manufacturers continue to develop clones of the 303, its sound has been emulated more times than I’ve had cooked meals. For me it’s a little bit of an obsession, I own about 15x 303s (original and clones, hardware only). Even my son was born at 3:03pm”.

“The 303 has become the electric guitar of electronic dance music”

I asked David to talk through some of his biggest influences over the years… “This is always a long list, and feel influenced and stimulated by art every day. I like people who can challenge our way of thinking, regardless of what they do. Malcolm McLaren, Vivienne Westwood, Alan Moore, Frank Miller, Dario Argento, John Carpenter, Marcel Duchamp, Andy Warhol, Don Buchla, Tadao Kikumoto, Henry Rollins, Dieter Doepfer, Jeff Mills, Hank Shocklee, James Brown, Conny Plank, Patricia Apollonia Kotero, Morton Subotnick, Pauline Oliveros, Derek Bailey, Brian Eno, Pointer Sisters”.

Moving onto David’s music and his new album I asked how the album was constructed and some of the techniques used… “I compose through an improvised performance approach with my “studio instrument”. I don’t use a computer to compose or arrange, they are all performances that capture a particular time. I took a bunch of gear to El Rancho Studio and over 2 days we recorded myself jamming with my gear. After the recording session, we extracted the best bits as complete sections to form tracks for the album. I work exclusively with hardware, each drum machine, synth, mixer, effect and interfaces all part of my studio is my “instrument”. Therefore, I surround myself with lots of gear in order to provide lots of options I can access whilst I perform. My tracks emerge through the performance, and because I don’t recall or save anything, I’m always constructing a new (studio) instrument informing a new performance with new outcomes for each permutation”. If you watch the exclusive video on our Facebook page you can catch David talking in more detail about his studio techniques and setup.

Leading on from David’s production techniques I asked if he has a particular workflow when he is jamming or creating new music… “It begins with the different pairing of machines to see what will come through different hardware interactions. Occasionally, I will very broadly think, “ok today I’m going to go in a dub direction”, but the complete opposite will eventuate. Ultimately I just jam things out and record long performance takes. Whilst I’ve been doing this for 25+ years, I don’t always know where best bits are until I’ve listened back to the recorded performance. Everything is fully improvised and I don’t save or recall anything. The only proviso is that some vintage synths or drum machines have limitation and require some programming of patterns, but the patterns are fluid and I don’t predetermine how I will make use of each pattern, rather they are just another small component that will be contextualised during a performance”. All this chat of hardware, I had to ask what his goto gear was (whilst kind of knowing the answer… David answered, “TB-303, TB-303 and TB-303, hmm my TR-909 and modular synth rack”. I then went on to ask what his first piece of hardware was… “I can’t remember exactly, it was either my Roland SH-101 or Casio CZ-1000 and yes I still have them”.

If you have every caught David playing live (or caught snippets on social media) you will know his live setup is pretty impressive. It is like a hardware obsessive’s dream. I asked David to talk through his live setup… “My live set-up is simply a smaller version of my larger studio. At the centre of it is the TB-303 and TR-909 through to all the iconic Roland x0x boxes, 101, 202, 606, 707, 808 etc, that I acquired a very long time ago. This is how I started making Acid Techno in the early 1990s and this is how I continue to make — it is the sound of electricity! Today the studio has evolved with a number of Elektron boxes and my insatiable appetite for modular synthesis. The Octatrack is a great live performance tool that can glue the past and present. The constant flux of gear and modules allows for a greater variety for each performance further making each performance different from the previous. The interchangeable nature of the gear and how I perform is further enhanced by predominately not saving or recalling patches or sounds, this also helps every performance is unique”.

Chris Coe and Carl Cox are huge supporters of David’s work. I asked David to talk about how the latest release came about and how he first met Chris and Carl… “I was contacted by Chris Coe when the label was being formed. Chris has been a close friend of mine for well over 25 years. He said the label was focused on live artists and was told I’d be a natural fit, so yes was only too happy to oblige! Given the nature of how I compose through an improvised performance approach, I sent Awesome Soundwave some long studio jams as examples of what I was doing at the time. Chris was into it and wanted me to record at Carl’s studio. Chris suggested I come to the studio and jam out some new stuff exclusive for Awesome Soundwave. So that’s what we did – after the recording session, we extracted the best bits as complete sections to form tracks for the album. Carl Cox heard the results, loved it and said the work was an important release for the label”.

Moving back to the Honeysmack album, I asked David if there were any tracks he found particularly difficult to construct… “The biggest challenge was that I don’t use a computer or DAW to compose or arrange tracks, with no prior construction of tracks, sounds or loops in software. Everything is a focused improvised jam with hardware. It either works at that moment or it doesn’t. I don’t spend hours preparing or crafting sounds, sequences, samples or phrases, it’s a jam that develops very quickly or I move on. First comes the performance and then I extract a track from the recording, not the other way around – if that makes sense”. David continued… “There can be days where I’m jamming boxes and modules and I don’t feel it works, so I was a little worried, what if I get to El Rancho and performance doesn’t work. The way we overcame this was by designing a recording session with plenty of redundancies. We plugged in enough gear to provide a plethora of options, somewhat overcompensating. For example, we had a real TR-909 along with 2 other clones (TR-8 and TR-09) all running in sync – overkill, yeah maybe. After setting up all the gear we simply hit record and I went to work, and we captured 2 days of my performance. During the recording Chris Coe (who engineered the live recording) and my co-producer, Carl Anderson (who would later mix the album) were in the studio and they provided real-time feedback as to what was working whilst I was performing. They would shout out stuff like, “yes, stay on that groove” or “keeping going with that beat/sequence”. Whilst this might be annoying to some, they can pick up of stuff that I might miss. The important part was to lift key sections of the recorded performance without doing too much editing in post. I worked closely with Carl Anderson (two4k) who mixed the album and together we kept the tracks reverent to the performance captured”. A massively different way to record an album than many would be used to but what an exciting process.

“I don’t spend hours preparing or crafting sounds, sequences, samples or phrases, it’s a jam that develops very quickly or I move on.”

I went on to ask a very tricky question for all artists, what is David’s favourite track from the album? If I had to choose (now picture me blushing like a little girl) it would be ‘MERK.’ This to me feels like it is Post Acid and the moment I extended upon the genre of Acid.

David has been involved in the scene now for some time and, no doubt has seen some massive changes over the years. I asked David what he feels have been some of the biggest and most positive changes… “I was never really part of the scene and always existed on the peripheries. I felt removed from the scene for a number of reasons, politically, culturally etc. It is only by virtue, as what I do as a live electronic dance music artist that places me in the “scene”. The popularity of electronic dance music and how it has weaved throughout popular culture is a huge positive evolution. Although the biggest positive aspect is the increased amount of new music from new artists, let’s hear more of it”. I went on to ask David what some of the biggest negatives are for him a present in the electronic music scene… “Scenes can be as full of dickheads – past, present and future. Maybe these days there’s more dickheads considering the immense popularity of electronic dance music. If anything, the homogenisation of the culture has made it rather predictable and boring in many aspects and places. As a non-practising nihilist, I’m simply not interested in changing anything, we’re all a bunch of random events and I’m content in observing, it makes things interesting”.

If we do actually have a UK festival season this year in the wake of the Corona Virus I asked David if we can expect to see him over the UK anytime soon and he responded with a very simple response… “We’re working on it and hope to be there soon”, and I hope this is the case. Whilst on the topic of the UK scene I asked David if he thinks the UK and Australian scenes are massively different and if so what in particular makes them so different? “Good question, whilst not a comparison, Australia does have a thriving live music circuit, from large festivals down to small venue gigs. It seems Australia and particularly Melbourne has many opportunities for young artists to perform. The UK might have this, but Melbourne blooms with events small (and large) in pockets all over the city. Practically every week there is a show that has something interesting to offer”.

I asked David if there was anything else he would like to add before I left him to his day and he just added, “remember, whatever the question may be, the answer is always 303”. I certainly would not disagree! I would like to thank David for his time and superb answers he provided to my questions.

Honeysmack’s ‘Post Acid’ LP is out now on Awesome Soundwave. You can purchase the album here

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About the Author

Director and DJ, Ian French (Naif) is passionate about many genres of music from Breakbeat and Drum & Bass to Techno and Electronica. A man that lives in a world of bass and beats, Ian is an obsessive collector of music and a true geek at heart, with many years spent in application design.