Spires is a new collaboration between Phil Kieran and newcomer Koichi. Their debut release is a two-track EP that sees the duo meeting halfway in their artistic influences and sound. It brings together Kieran’s love of analogue synth and outboard processing together with Koichi’s darker UK techno influence and use of field recordings.
Phil needs little introduction. A stalwart in the UKs techno scene since the beginning of the century, he made his name as resident at Shine in Belfast. Moulding a variety of genres together saw Kieran rise through the ranks receiving multiple airtime on BBC Radio 1 for his releases, and among the charts and play lists of peers like Carl Cox, Slam and many others. In 2005 he formed the short lived band – Alloy Mental which had some success over the following 2 years.
Belfast based Koichi, who is currently working towards his PhD has been involved with dance music since the beginning of the century. Along side his collaboration with Phil, he has been working on a live solo show, and an artist album scheduled for vinyl release later in the year, featuring the vocal talents of UK hip hop impresario Mowgli.
Hi guys, thanks for finding the time to chat with us at Decoded Magazine. So tell us about Spires. How did you two meet, and who suggested a collaboration project?
K: A mutual friend of ours, Danny Todd who played in Alloy Mental and frontman for Ex-Magician/ Cashier No.9 (Bella Union), suggested that I send some stuff over to Phil. He liked it so we started working on one of the tracks as a collaboration. From hanging out in the studio working on stuff we got a few tracks that were exciting and made sense together on a release.
P: I knew straight away Koichi was a talent and was a no brainer to just get working with him In the studio, I really like his ideas; they all seem genuine and honest.
Your first track – the self titled Spires EP – is frankly, a techno fans wet dream! As you come from different scenes, how long did it take to find that happy medium?
K: Not too long, we both brought a style and approach and it kind of worked. It was a pretty organic thing, just hanging out working on tracks.There’s sometimes disagreement, but we’re both trying to do something a bit different with this, something we wouldn’t normally produce solo.
P: Koichi deserves most of the credit for the title track as he wrote the initial idea then I just guided it over the finish line , we do have slightly different interests but at the end of the day its either good or rubbish. I maybe helped with a bit more experience playing bigger clubs and watching tracks work in certain ways.
What’s next for you? More singles? a Live show? We know you both DJ…
K: Yes both of those. For the next release we’re getting the premasters finalised and should be ready to go in autumn, and the live show’s something we’re both passionate about, that’s coming once we have the right material.
Phil, we see you’ve recently played at D-Edge in Brazil. How do you find international audiences?
P: Everything and every place is slightly different: a bit like humans themselves, so it keeps things interesting and creates a challenge. Its always an honour to arrive in a strange far away place and people have heard of you, or any records you have made and even better when you drop them in your set they get a reaction. I guess you can’t ask for more in that world.
I wrote an article a while back lamenting the work that resident DJs do. Would you agree there is a trend these days for promoters to miss the point a little by booking big names in the hope of filling their venue, when they should be looking at local talent and building a name for themselves first? Do you think Shine would have been so successful if it only relied on big name DJs?
P: I think in Belfast recently people are showing a lot more support for local people. Local DJs are probably more tuned into what local people are interested in. A lot more guys are releasing great music here and becoming more successful; its a good time for our city.
Okay, lets find out a little about what makes you both tick. Tell us about the music that influenced you in the techno scene as young men. Are there any of your heroes you’ve met now, what was that like?
K: I started DJing and producing acid techno and the kind of stuff put out by Stay Up Forever, Hydraulix and Wah Wah. Warehouse parties and all that. I’m not playing or really listening to any of it these days, but the memories of that time, massive stacks of speakers in a warehouse or a field, barn, forest, whatever, that free party ethos is always the reason I got into techno and the feeling I still love now. It’s the physicalness of hearing the music very, very loud through big speakers with all the other people at a party. But my musical influences, I listen to a lot of techno, but also really into artists like for example recently Yosi Horikawa, Empytset and LTO (from Old Apparatus). Music that is sonically interesting and inspiring. In terms of your question on meeting heroes, obviously Perc is someone I massively respect in UK techno and meeting and playing a liveset as warm up for him last month was great, and hearing back from Len Faki that he loved the Spires release and has been playing it out was also good to hear.
P: Ive met most of my heroes in the techno world over the years and some I’ve been lucky to work with like making records with Green Velvet releasing music on Sven Vath’s Cocoon , playing with Richie Hawtin in Ibiza; getting Andrew Weatherall to remix one of my records was a huge deal to me. When I was very young I used to love Orbital, and first time I met them was warming up for a show in Belfast. Paul was behind me with a record and I thought I was getting pushed off, he was holding one of my records and a marker for me to sign it! I felt so happy one of my best moments ever.
Koichi, we understand you like to add field recordings to your productions. Talk us through the process and how you manipulate the sounds to fit your style.
Yes more so with my solo stuff, but on the “Spires” self-titled track a lot of the sounds come from field recordings I’ve made. I just hear things and want to record them either because I simply like the sound, or because I can imagine it being used in a certain way in a track. I sometimes use my iPhone voice recorder, just because it’s easy and I have it on me most the time. I also use a Zoom h4n, which gives another level of sound quality completely. The main reason I use field recordings is to achieve a different sound palette to synthesis or drum samples, and the little idiosyncrasies in grooves that are hard to achieve with grid-based sequencers.
Were you always interested in production, or have you developed a taste for it from DJing?
Actually I started in production when I was a young teenager and only got into DJing in my later teens through going to raves. Later I was part of a sound system crew. Now I feel production is my main focus, and for performances continuing developing my live sets.
What’s this we hear about a PhD? Care to tell us about it?
Yep, final year now writing up my thesis – the research is about accessible digital musical instruments, so devices that give access to people with disabilities or learning disabilities to music making. Music technology has always been an obsession and fascination of mine, and doing this study I’ve been able to find an application in society of some of the knowledge I’ve amassed over the years. Anyway, I hope what I’m doing will create some value.
Phil, can you tell us about your remix for Depeche Mode. We understand Martin Gore chose you to remix ‘Sweetest Perfection’. Must have been a surreal conversation?
The story I heard was he had one choice of who he wanted to pick and picked me. I’m not sure if thats true but that the story I’m running with! hahaha
You’ve also worked on soundtracks with David Holmes – The Girlfriend Experience. How different was that to say making a dance album, and what did you take from the experience?
I’m always doing bits and pieces for him, he has become a really good friend of mine and was a musical hero when i was a young lad , now i tend to get very drunk with him and talk a lot of shite . I’m actually starting some work on Monday for a new TV series he is doing so excited about that .
When you’re working together now, do you share a studio, or bounce things across the internet?
K: Ideas we bounce back and forth through email but to finish stuff or really work on stuff we need to be in the studio together to hear it at the same time. Also, Phil’s got a lot of outboard effects and processing gear that I just don’t have. So yeah it’s a bit of both.
Talking of studios, care to take us on a virtual tour? You’ve just moved studio haven’t you Phil. stressful?
Yes! Horrible, but the dust is starting to settle and I’m getting back into it, its always hard settling into a new room, but I’m getting there and I’m just trying to finish a new album I’m doing so almost there !!
Koichi, can you tell us about your solo album yet? We were very interested to hear it features UK hip hop artist Mowgli. So its not all techno then…
This isn’t actually going to be my solo album, I’m producing some tracks with Mowgli. He’s one of my oldest friends, and I’ve produced bits for him before. I find his work mesmerising and lyrically it’s just like no one else out there. I was down at his studio last Christmas working on some stuff, just seeing what would come out of it. We went out to get some food and ended up stuck in traffic. What should have been a 10 minute journey took an hour. He had Micachu’s mixtape Feeling Romantic Feeling Tropical Feeling Ill in the car. So we listened to the whole thing, we got a lot of inspiration, and back in the studio later planned four tracks out straight away taking from the mixtape a loopy, ambient feeling. So this has developed into an EP, which is gonna be a vinyl release late this year. I don’t really want to say more than that at this point. It’s definitely not techno, but if you listen to any of Mowgli’s stuff, like his retakes on Mount Kimbie, it’s definitely not straight forward UK hip hop either.
Phil, you’re label PKR has a clear vision. How has the reality of having a label measured up to how you imagined it would be?
Its almost five years now, I’m finding that I’m being more and more careful about the output and making sure it reaches a certain standard before I release it. We live in a world where bad music is too easy to release and everybody is swamped with it so I feel like i just want each release to really say something.
Well guys, the EP is immense! We wish you all the best. Is there anything else you’d like to add?
P: Thanks for taking the time to do the interview and showing an interest in our music it always means a lot!