Berlin:Detroit – a musical alliance that resonates deeply with electronic music lovers around the world and has done for the past two decades. Add Belfast to this equation and you have Irish duo Psycatron who have dropped releases on both sides of the Atlantic through Carl Craig’s Planet E Communications from Detroit, as well as Berlins’ Tresor imprint, while also finding time for the odd excursion on the likes of Scuba’s Hotflush Recordings, R&S Records, Cocoon and their own Inflyte Records, which alongside being a home for their own output, has featured material from the likes of Francesco Tristano, Dave Clarke, Kirk Degiorgio and also Claude Young. Their touring schedule has followed a similar global trajectory, touching down everywhere from Fabric to Berghain, The Rex Club and Barracca, to Movement Festival in Detroit, I Love Techno in Belgium and many more of the best clubs and festivals worldwide. In between tours they continue their long-standing residency at Ireland’s longest-running techno institution, Shine in Belfast as well as regularly appearing at John Digweed’s Bedrock parties.
With musical influences ranging from Depeche Mode and Kraftwerk to Underground Resistance and Jean Michel Jarre, it’s easy to see where the raw emotion, tension and energy prevalent in their music stems from. Being born less than 12 hours apart and subsequently growing up hitting the same techno parties in Belfast, is another common bond that has helped shape the Psycatron sound, where the past clearly influences the future but has an entirely different slant on it. This is Progressive caught up with Paul ahead of their appearance for Luna at Boutique, Liverpool June 7th, to talk about residencies, the secret to their success and the future of computer based sound design.
Hi Paul, lovely to meet you. Thanks for taking the time out to have a chat with us. So, first things first, hows your day been so far? What have you been up to?
My day so far has been a mixture of coffee and emails. Getting ready to depart for IMS Ibiza tomorrow for a few days, so looking forward to that.
You and Dave have been a duo for quiet some time now. How did you guys meet and at what point did you decide to work together as Psycatron?
We’ve been mates for over 10 years but really only started working together in 2008. We’d both been doing our own things and at that point decided to get into the studio together to see what we could come up with.
Incidentally, where did the name come from? is it an homage to Detroit (Im thinking of course of 80s band – Cybotron)
Before Psycatron, I put out a few singles under my own name (around 2002) – one of which was a track called Access Psycatron on Alternative Route which had a vocal that was kind of inspired by the movie Westworld but also featured a sample from a totally different sci-fi flick. The name was a happy accident as a result of a sample we chopped up in the studio, we just liked the name and decided to keep using it.
Its fair to say, Psycatron is a group that has emerged from the social media boom, for yourselves it was MySpace that gave you the edge to get a foot in the door at Planet E, but importantly, from that point on it was the quality of your productions that have cemented you in the scene. What advice would you therefore give to up and comers pushing their sound and waiting for that big break?
Even since 2008, things have changed so much. The rate at which everything is progressing is insane. New artists are emerging all the time, the life-span of a record is such that it can come and go in the space of a few weeks and more so than ever the focus is all about commercialising a product or a brand. So in some ways, it’s harder than ever to get that ‘big-break’ but in many other ways it’s a level playing field; access to technology, promotional platforms, outlets etc. The only thing that has remained constant is the expectation that in order to breakthrough, you must make quality music, consistently: that will never change. So as an up and comer that’s what your focus should be.
Residencies were once a DJs bread and butter and pretty much any DJ worth their salt had one. Then things changed and the era of the superstar jock was ushered in on the winds of big business and bigger money. New DJs seemed to want to bypass those fertile training grounds and play to the big audiences, normally with varying success, but you guys have doggedly continued to work as Shine residents and tour on the side. Firstly, with your success and impeccable production pedigree, why not tour all the time? And secondly, do residents make better DJs?
To some extent, it would be nice to tour all the time, but trying to balance touring with all our other commitments like business, family, studio etc it’s kind of works better having a combination of busy periods with quieter ones. In terms of residents making better DJs – I don’t know about that, but I think doing time as a resident somewhere certainly helps you appreciate the art of opening a room and setting a mood for a night. Personally, I’ve always loved doing opening sets and watching the room fill up slowly and having the opportunity to experiment musically a bit more than during headline slots.
As a fledgeling producer, I quickly found your Sonic Academy tutorials incredibly helpful for starting new ideas and realising processes I had heard in tracks but was unsure of how to replicate. How did you get started at Sonic Academy?
Phil, who is the founder of Sonic Academy was the original other-half in Psycatron before Dave and I started working together so we’ve been mates for years. At the moment I look after commissioning artists to produce tutorials and we’ve had people like Vince Watson, Kirk Degiorgio and Steve Ward all on board recently. We’ve also been developing plug-ins such as ANA and Kick which have been doing really well.
As affiliates of Sonic Academy. If you were to be put in a 15 minute speed tutorial what would you try to teach or get across to an intermediate standard pupil?
If you check out the site, there’s a series called Tech-Tips (some of which are free to view) and a lot of these are geared towards intermediate producers.
When writing music in the past what tricks have you found to help when you have got writers block?
It’s not so much a trick, but getting out of the studio and listening to some new music you haven’t heard before usually works.
Bitwig has finally launched. Now the dust has settled and producers are getting their heads around the functions, do you think it really has a chance against Logic and Ableton?
To be honest, I haven’t had time to look at it yet. I’m not one for jumping on things as soon as they launch, there’s so much new product coming out every week you could literally spend all day every day checking it all out. The rest of the Sonic guys have had a look at it and Chris reckons it’s a “very solid and compelling DAW, great built-in synths and effects and the unified modulation system really speeds up workflow a creates new possibilities. Loving the containers, very cool idea”.
We understand you guys have recently dipped your feet into the record label pool with Inflyte Records. Can you tell us about the label, its ethos and the reasons behind starting it?
We’ve been running the label for a while now, coming up to our 7th release and it’s mainly for releasing our own music and music of artists we love and respect musically. We’ve had some great artists on board from Detroit Grand Pubahs, Ian O Donovan, Dave Clarke, Simian Mobile Disco and loads more. Our current single with Francesco Tristano has just been released. I’m also involved in an exciting new mobile promo platform called InflyteApp which is launching in the next couple of weeks which is going to completely change who DJs engage with the process of managing their promos. We developed a series of apps that basically allow you to manage promos offline wherever you are, from your phone or iPad.
We’ve reported before and emphasised the importance of researching the labels you’re sending to, but despite that, labels continue to receive inappropriate tracks. Whats been to be the Inflyte approach to this?
We get a lot of demos from people with zero information, just a “hey listen to my new track”. Producers need to do their homework and figure out who the people are they are trying to target. Make it personal, don’t CC in 500 other people on the email. There’s too much music out there, people need to have a good think about how they approach these things.
In your opinion, if you believe your music is of a high standard, is there any point in sending to the bigger labels without a decent discography behind you? Do labels look at you first then your music to make a decision?
Again, it boils down to targeting the labels who are right for your sound and personalising the communication between you and them to demonstrate you have actually done a little bit of research and know a bit about the label you are targeting. It helps if you have a bit of track record with decent labels, but the approach is more important in terms of getting A&R people to listen to your music for the first time. The only other thing I would say is consider if your music is actually good enough before you pitch your demos, because if an A&R guy takes time to hear your initial demo and it’s not in the right ballpark, it’s going to be even harder for them to commit the time to listen to the next one you send through.
Not everyone breaks through like you guys did, what do you think was the secret of your success?
There’s no real secret, if you are doing what you do because you love what you do it will come across in your music.
Lets change tack to DJing and importantly your gig in Liverpool for Luna on June 7th. No doubt you’ve headlined gigs before, do you prefer the peak time sets, or do you still have a soft spot for warm ups?
Haha, I mentioned this earlier, but small clubs with a good room, great sound-system and great people are probably our favourite places to play! So Luna should be right up our street.
Well, its been wonderful to chat with you Paul. I’m looking forward to seeing the show on June 7th, it’ll be my first time clubbing in Liverpool for quite some time! What else has Psycatron got planned this year? More conferences?
Thank you, really looking forward to it. I’m in Ibiza at the moment sitting in the Old Town finishing this interview before heading to IMS and looking forward to a great few days. See you in the next few weeks!