Soulfinder or Stephen Hogg to his friends, burst on to the progressive scene around 2008 with a trademark deep soulful take on house music. He was signed to Eelke Kliejns label Outside the Box and delivered a series of incredible tracks which cemented his reputation in the underground. We caught up with one of Irelands progressive giants before his appearance at the Amsterdam Dance Event alongside Nick Warren and Hernan Cattaneo.
Tell us a little about yourself Stephen. How did you get started in dance music?
It all started for me when I was very young, I used to listen to the likes of Ultra Sonic, REM and other similar groups that would have been popular around then. That all naturally progressed as I got older and I eventually started listening to a lot of Sasha’s stuff and the likes of Chicane. I was lucky to have some friends who were also in to dance music, so we were always talking about it, listening to mixes making mix tapes etc which naturally developed into a forte for me.
What was the scene like in Dublin in the late 80s and 90s?
Well I would have been too young in the late 80’s to tell you what the scene in the clubs was like but I’ve heard the story’s through friends and other DJ’s, who to this day still organise classic gigs named after some of the biggest nights back then so that speaks for itself. To think that over 20 years later people are still talking about what it was like back then is amazing and I’d loved to have experienced it.
The scene in the late 90’s was great, everyone I knew was in to dance music and there were always party’s or gigs to go to. There was such a great buzz about this different, unique sound over what was the norm on local radio or MTV. This was in essence, the “Sound” of our generation and I count myself lucky to have attended some amazing gigs one of which were of course the legendary Sasha & Digweed b2b sets.
How did you get involved with ‘underground radio’?
In Dublin back in the late 90’s there were many underground pirate radio stations so after a few years teaching myself I eventually got a slot on Energy 88 FM. I was only 15 or 16 at the time so It was an amazing achievement for me at such an early stage.
As I got older I moved on to many of the other bigger stations like Vibe, Kiss FM and more recently Play FM.
Nowadays though I prefer Internet radio stations as I think they have a bigger audience.
Who would you say was your biggest influence on your current sound?
I’d say Chicane would have had the biggest Influence on the type of emotion I try to convey in my music but I listened to endless amounts of other progressive house artists growing up.
Your first release ‘The Trauma EP’ came out on Eelke Kliejn’s label Outside the Box in 2008. Thats a pretty big label for your first time! How did you get the record signed?
I had just started using Eelke for my Stereo Mastering and wanted to write an EP that would show what I was all about.
I came up with 3 tracks for the EP titled Trauma, Nightvison and Colour of Love. Eelke immediately picked up on them and signed them up, so it was a proud moment for me and one I’ll never forget.
Must have felt pretty good having the big guns play your track. Did you celebrate much?
Yes, I was really excited about this so I did what any other person in my position would do and hit the pub with some close friends for a few celebratory drinks!
You released an album around 2009 called ‘Wasteland’. How did you find the experience of writing an album? What production tricks did you pick up from it to streamline your work flow?
The Album was a good experience and I really enjoyed doing it. It took me about 8 months to get it to a point were I was happy to start thinking about mastering and sending out to labels etc.
The main trick that I picked up was to try and get an album that I could also do a DJ mix with, so with every track I wrote I basically had to try do it in key with the last one so the DJ mix would work. During the writing process I also picked up on parallel compression (side chaining).
It was released on Toes in the Sand Recordings. Was that a catalyst for your own label?
Yes you could say that, I was always a big fan of Toes and still am today and I’m grateful to them for releasing my album and supporting me.
You’re head of A&R for your label Sleepless Nights. Firstly, how do you choose your releases and secondly, how do you pick the remixers?
We get a lot of stuff sent to us but I always like to approach artists that we feel fit the label and are putting out the sound we are all about. So I’d approach through email and take it from there. For remixes that’s not too hard, as it’s a lot easier to get an artist to remix a track than to write an original for you. We also have a policy with remixes and feel it’s best to have 1 or 2 remixes max per original track on a single release. There’s nothing worse than getting a promo which is saturated with 7 or 8 remixes to one track. It takes away the attention the original artist and their work truly deserves. It also feels like the label either had no faith in the original being strong enough as a standalone release or that they tried to make the release bigger and/or cash in by bloating it with remixes. Anyway that’s just our opinion on the matter and we don’t mean to offend any labels who adopt this approach. Horses for courses as they say!
Whats been the biggest eye opener since you started the label?
The biggest eye opener would be the amount of time it takes to get a label established when you’re only pushing out one track a month. There are labels out there that are banging out one release a week almost, and for us that’s just wrong and unfair on the artists. More time is put into the release when it’s once a month, or every 3 weeks but it has taken some time for us to get to that point. That being said we’re not in any hurry and would rather turn down a track that didn’t fit the label than just sign it for the sake of getting the next release out.
With the recent ‘EDM’ explosion in the US, how do you think the scene has changed over the last 10/15 years? Do you get the sense the kids don’t have as much invested in the history of dance music these days?
Well for me it hasn’t as I’m still involved with “Progressive House” but the scene seems to have gone from “Progressive” & “Trance” to “Tech House” & “Techno” and now it’s all about the so called “Deep House”. It’s always been hard to get people here in Ireland to come to a Progressive gig that wasn’t being headlined by one of the greats. People are either retired from going to gigs, too young and uneducated on what real Prog is, or just general disinterested in Prog as a genre which is perfectly fine on an individual level but becomes difficult when you’re trying to etch a career from it at home.
As for the kids these days, absolutely! But in my opinion it’s down to a lack of available hard copy’s of tracks or albums to hand. For example, when I was younger, I would have read the whole inlay of a Global Underground CD from start to finish, engrossed in the experience portrayed through the words of the writer and of course the invaluable information which could be found in the credits. I knew who mastered the album who collaborated, who created the artwork and took the photographs, the names of every artist and track on the compilation along with the labels they were licensed from etc. Nowadays they just download a track and all that information is requires a little more digging to uncover if they bother to look in to it, which most of them probably won’t.
October is ADE month and I notice you’re playing some big shows. How do you prepare for gigs like this compared to home town clubs?
I’m lucky that I get sent a lot of promos every week from some excellent labels so this is a gift to me as I’m able to pick from a big selection of tracks. I always prepare a mix beforehand with some alternative tracks that also mix in key in case I want to change the vibe on the night or if the vibe is different from the guy that plays before me. So I’d generally have a good Idea of what I’m going to play but I would always have a backup plan should I need to go in a different direction.
I think this is a good way to get your sets to sound as professional as you can as there’s a big difference in playing live than recording a podcast or radio mix at home where you can fix a bad mix or re-record a set your not happy with. There’s no second chances live so it’s nice to be well prepared, it takes the pressure off.
So for radio shows/podcasts, you approach those mixes differently?
Yes I take a total different approach. I basically treat podcasts/radio sets the same way I would if I was mixing my latest track.
I’d record it and then listen back for a few days taking notes of mistakes or if a track was changing the vibe too much etc.
I’d then come back and fix the tweaks and then check it again. Finally, when I’m happy enough, I’d master it, giving it some more width and depth and generally give the overall mix a nice gelled quality with a more unique sound.
Do you find conferences like ADE, IMS and WMC beneficial for networking, or just an excuse to catch up with far flung mates?
Yes they’re very beneficial, especially for the label as it gives us the opportunity to meet new artists and promote the label at the seminars and clubs. We’d always have our SNR T-shirts on and some free promotional CD’s to give out. But of course It’s not all business and we get to hook up and party with people we usually only converse with via mail or on the usual social networks so all in all it’s a perfect balance.
Who are you most looking forward to seeing there? You staying all week?
Nick Warren & Hernan Cattaneo absolutely rocked Panama last year and for me it’s an honour to play on the same night again this year. Needless to say, they are the DJ’s I’m looking forward to seeing play the most. We are there from Thursday until Sunday. So It’s all systems go from the minute we arrive.
In a fairly short time, you’ve achieved quite a lot in this industry. Juggling a recording career with DJ gigs and running a label is pretty time consuming. What advice would you give people just starting out?
If you have the time to do it all then by all means go for it. Just be prepared to put the effort in and make some sacrifices that are necessary to grow and evolve. If time is something you have a limited supply of then just do the one thing you want the most as it can be very stressful at times trying keep the momentum of everything going. Take one step at a time and have patience. Success in a hurry is a rare thing to achieve and trying to force it means you might end up cutting corners. There is no time limit for success in my opinion. I am way off where I want to be but I’m grateful for what I’ve achieved thus far.
Finally, anything in the pipeline you can tell us about?
Yes, I’m starting an Album with a female vocalist and musician from Ireland called Svelte. We have many ideas and we’ll be collaborating with some other excellent artists from Ireland too on the Album.
Also, I recently collaborated with another female vocalist called Amanda Dempsey on a track I had written for my second album which I lost all my backup files to. This track was the only one that was saved elsewhere so it’s a pretty special track to me for many other reasons too. It’s titled “Out Of Time (feat. Amanda Dempsey)” and it’ll be out very soon on Pitch Music in Russia.
I have used it along with something else that I’m previewing for the 1st time with Svelte in the mix I did for you guys so I hope you check it out.