2016 promises to be one of the biggest years yet in the glittering career of the dynamic Glaswegian duo SLAM (aka Stuart McMillan & Orde Meikle). As Slam’s label, Soma prepares to embark on the 25th year of it’s epic journey, you only have to take one look at it’s release schedule to understand why they have remained on the cutting edge and firmly at the forefront of musical innovation.
Protagonists since the early days and always in the vanguard, forward-thinking techno producers Slam’s recent ‘Transmissions: Glasgow compilation, which won a coveted DJ Mag ‘Best Compilation’ award, showed a continued commitment to the future, this time centered around the talent of their home town and focusing on the burgeoning Techno scene which is so prominent in the city.
Hi Guys, so glad you can found time to speak to us at Decoded Magazine. How’s 2015 been for you?
2015 has been a pretty good year for Slam and Soma, a lot of long term plans have come to fruition – and some great projects have been put in motion for our 2016/17 “Soma 25” celebratory year and beyond…
No doubt over the years you’ve done your fair share of interviews, so rather than rehash what’s already online I’d just like to ask you about the role you played in the Glasgow scene of the late 80s/early 90s. With outfits like Street Rave and clubs like The Arches and Sub Club in the city, how did Techno arrive in Scotland, and how was it received?
The mid to late 80’s was when Detroit Techno started filtering into the Glasgow record shops and clubs – but the records were being played quite sporadically by the odd DJ – amongst early Chicago House, NY Garage, Soul, Jazz and Indie Dance records. I think it’s fair to say that ‘Slam’ was one of the first Glasgow clubs to stream line the often overly eclectic music policy of many club nights. Techno was instantly adopted by a new younger crowd of Glaswegian clubbers in-fluxing the scene, all being driven by the early days of the Acid House explosion.
In 1988 we started playing sets consisting of every acid house, deep house and techno record we could get our hands on, and we were promoting and DJing on Fridays and Saturdays in the Sub Club by 1990. We also organised 4 massive all-nighters in the Tramway, the SECC, Strathclyde Park and Ingleston. We managed to bring people like Inner City, 808 State, the Orb, Derrick May and Andrew Weatherall to our city for the first time as well as Mike Pickering, Graeme Park and Jon Dasilva from the Hacienda in Manchester who were a big influence.
Next we started the first weekly club night at The Arches in 1992 and in 1998 changed that to a monthly night called Pressure which has just celebrated its 17th anniversary. Up to the point the police closed The Arches we had a 23 year residency there. And since 1997 we have been lucky enough to get our own Tent at T in the Park with a free hand to book much of the talent we see working at our club nights each year, underground artists and bigger names in House and Techno.
Talking of the Arches, how is the city adapting to its closure? I imagine there were a few tears when those doors finally shut for good…
The Glasgow scene has always recovered from the closure of club nights and venues. Nothing is static, change is the only constant. The Arches closing was a real low point for so many reasons , there was so much more to the whole organisation than just the entertainment that it facilitated. But it has led us to move our “Pressure” nights to a club called SWG3 which have been just fantastic sell out nights – so from the ashes the “Pressure Phoenix” has arisen.
Music Tourism accounts for a good portion of the UKs income – some £3 Billion a year providing around 39,000 jobs. The closure of venues clearly affects the local economy, so is Government missing a trick here? What changes would you make if you were leader of the SNP?
We think some recognition of the financial and artistic contributions made by all the parties involved in the “Music Tourism” sector would be a simple start. Also, some understanding of the important spin off effects of having a healthy nightlife scene has for any city. We’d also like to see a coherent policy from the Government and the Police towards “recreational drug” use – it’s not going to go away – as current guidelines have had very little effect in it’s proliferation, so the paramount objective should be to make it as safe as possible for people who choose to indulge in them, and not just react to tabloid press headlines and out dated perceptions of the establishments and publics views.
OK, enough politics! Tell us about the new single. I hear Ben Klock has been hammering it already…
Slam – “Make You Move “ is the first release on the new Soma Track Series imprint – which will feature more functional club tunes that we’ve been producing for our DJ sets . It has picked up a lot of plays: everyone from Ben Klock and Len Faki to Carl Cox and Joseph Capriati – so we’re very pleased with the way it’s been received. The second release (Vol 2) titled “Take You There “ is almost ready to go, and we have a number of others in the pre-production pipeline, so really excited about those coming out.
It’s a monster track alright, and it reminded me of an old Trevor Rockcliffe tune on Mentor from back in the day (Sound Called House). Do you find there’s enough new music which is fresh and original, or have we become lazy, making too many generic, almost template tracks?
There certainly is plenty of fresh and original music out there, finding it can be a bit of a problem, with such an enormous amount of releases every week. More people than ever are able to express their musical ideas through the digital medium. Everyone takes influences from the music they like but we think it’s fair to say that many producers do pander to a form of cloning which often leads to a lack of originality.
You’ve made some cracking tunes over the years, from the seminal ‘Positive Education’ through to last year’s album Reverse Proceed (which was awesome). But many people might not be so familiar with your aliases. When you make a new track, do you have a specific sound in mind?
We’re forever changing the way we work. Sometimes tracks will start with a strong blueprint of an idea, which sometimes turns out to sound exactly the way you imagined it, and sometimes it will morph into something you’d never have dreamt of. Other times its a very loose concept that is developed in the studio, with the freedom to evolve without too many pre-conceptions as to how it may end up sounding.
With aliases such as Pressure Funk – there was a particular way of working that gave that project it’s sound – Roland 909 drum machine with the use of its “external trigger” function – to fire off midi sequences to other analogue keyboards in the studio – keeping the overall sound raw, old school and unpredictable.
Over the last 25 years, Soma and indeed yourselves, have experienced highs and lows. In those dark days, what is it that keeps you motivated?
To be honest there haven’t been that many “dark days”. Being part of a team / family has always smoothed those moments out; both Slam and Soma have always suffered from an unbearable optimism and belief, and an ethos to always look over the brow of the hill without paying too much heed to the commercial aspects. If you start with the premise your never going to make any money from releasing music, you can only ever be pleasantly surprised when you do!
Slam Radio continues to impress. I loved the recent Roberto mix, Fossil Archive is a really interesting label. Talk us through the history of Slam Radio and what can we expect in 2016?
Slam Radio came about due to the lack of interest being shown to a lot of newer artists we where meeting on the road and hearing perform. They were unable to get their mixes aired on many internet based sites who where just looking for more established names. It’s taken off far more than we ever imagined, now being syndicated all over the globe. We’re nearly at the 200th show and still haven’t repeated any of our previous artists, the list of guests just keeps growing and we have some really great mixes to air in the future.
Lets move on to Slam the DJs. I’ve seen you many many times, last one was at 303 in Liverpool, and I see you’re there again soon. How has your DJing changed over the years, and are you now at a point where you instinctively know what each other is thinking in the booth?
Look forward to meeting you in Liverpool! To be honest we never know what the other is going to play, but obviously you’re trying to read the others musical direction throughout the night so it’s very liquid and impulsive. It hasn’t really changed and neither got harder or easier, it’s just always been the way we’ve worked.
Do you ever fall out musically? How do you resolve your differences?
No, we don’t fall out musically. In fact it’s always been slightly un-canny throughout our career the large crossover in musical tastes, often sourcing the exact same tunes every week totally independently of each other. There are always slight differences of opinion when producing and DJing, but we see these as healthy and always produce a better final outcome.
I’ve only ever seen you doing peak time slots, do you still get the chance for warm up/warm downs, and do you feel the new gen DJs get the point about curating music over the course of the entire night?
The ‘warm up’ is one of our favourite sets to play, we often start our residencies: Pressure at SWG3, Return To Mono at the Sub Club, and Fabric often afford us the pleasure of playing the first 4 or 5 hours of the night which is fantastic. Our musical tastes are so eclectic that this part of the night affords us the chance to play a very varied selection of tunes. We often find that many budding DJs want instant fame and glory, with a somewhat unrealistic idea of the lifestyle sold to them in the dance music press.
You’ve made a few mix CDs over the years, but I wonder if you had any advice regarding mixtapes – promotional mixes for bookers/agents and club managers – Top Do’s and Dont’s?
Always follow your own musical path, don’t try and sound like someone else. Have belief in your own convictions and taste. Don’t be blinkered musically; open your ears to all genres of music. Following on from your earlier question, be aware that many top DJs don’t enter the scene with the music they might be known for now , that’s heard in their peak time sets, often they will have started as a warm up DJ for other promoters or for their own nights, so be musically versatile and understand the way a night should build in intensity.
Where in the world is Techno really happening for you these days? Is Berlin still the centre of the world?
Techno is a truly global language. Soma Records has always got demos from all over the world, and the producers who’s output we follow and play are truly international.
Berlin is a fantastic melting pot of clubs, artists and producers, many of whom move there from other countries. But we find there to be great clubs, events and crowds everywhere, and our home town of Glasgow has one of the best scenes anywhere.
Is the scene in a good place at the moment?
Yes. We think the scene is very healthy, some may feel it’s maybe a bit too healthy. It might be a bit harder to find the tunes you want to play, but that’s a small price to pay for so much great output. There are small nights and venues opening up all over the place to cater for great underground music, and in our opinion you’ve never had it so good!
Guys, its been wonderful to meet you and chat. Heres to the next 25 years!
Thank you! we’ll raise a glass to that.
01// Benjamin Damage – HRM TX
02// Zadig – Quiet Orbit Around Gladia
03// Vril – Torus XXXII
04// Etapp Kyle – Sakura
05// Slam – Catacoustics (Roman Poncet Remix)
06// Answer Code Request – Modal
07// Cari Lekebusch – The Naked Truth
08// Woo York -Black Soul
09// Border One – Throw
10// SHDW & Obscure Shape – Nachtblende
11// Echo Box – Fallen Leaves
12// Scuba – Why You Feel so Low (Function Mix)
13// Psyk – Stigma
14// Exium – Arkheon
16// Moddullar – Nuclear Fusion
17// P.E.A.R.L. In Space (Francois X Remix)
18// Octual – Singularity
19// Array Access – Variation 1 (Evigt Mörker Remix)
20// WEX 10 – Quizz
21// P.E.A.R.L. – The Golden Dawn
22// Antonio Ruscito – Seconda Imaginne (Edit Select Remix)
23// Slam – Morass
24// Slam – Make You Move
25// Johannes Heil – Transition Seven