DJing began for Vince Watson at his school’s weekend discos with a selection of hip-hop and early house records filling his box. He worked up a collection unlike any other young DJ, in between visits to the Royal Academy for Art, Music and Drama in Glasgow for piano lessons, before electronic and ambient music grabbed his attention. These influences are all clear in his productions which are elegant and seductive with emotional ambience generated by his skills of manipulating a keyboard, to bring complex multi layered chords and dense yet fully melodic patches to contemporary dance music. While the Summer of Love was in full swing, Watson was in his bedroom honing his skills and immersing himself in electronic music, taking influence from some of the genre’s greatest composers like Herbie Hancock and French showman Jean Michel Jarre.
After experimenting with a new technology at College, he slowly gathered the necessary equipment needed to record his own tracks. Dave Angel picked up one of Watson’s first demos and signed him to his label Rotation in 1995 and shortly afterwards the pair set-up a residency at The Arena in Glasgow – opportunities which saw his name make waves in the techno scene and play alongside Jeff Mills 3 times in the first year. Vince was one of the house-techno crossover pioneer’s and helped facilitate the tech-house genre’s appeal to the masses. At the end of the Millennium it was time for his debut LP Biologique. It carried with it Bubbles and seminal track Mystical Rhythm, selling in big units, a track which still holds classic status on dance floors across the world.
His work caused a catatonic impact in the global electronic scene around that time for setting a personal hypnotic perspective of groovy, melody and atmospheric sounds, a unique signature sound. He followed this up in with Moments in Time on New York’s legendary Ibadan label, gaining worldwide recognition as one of techno and house’s leading producers and live acts. Two years later Watson released a mix cd ‘Echoes From the Future: View to the Past’ and experimented on his 3rd LP ‘Sublimina’, demonstrating his diversity and dexterity by trying, successfully, to breathe new life into electronica, and this theme continued with ‘The eMotion Sequence’ on Delsin which was originally signed to Derrick May’s legendary Transmat label. Meanwhile his own label, Bio Music, has consistently produced quality techno, with support and high profile licenses from the likes of Carl Cox to Laurent Garnier. 2010 saw the labels relaunch with ‘A Very Different World’ featuring FunkdVoid, with Dj Rolando, Alexander Kowalski, Psycatron, Ian O’Donovan, Paul Woolford, Octave One and Steve Rachmad all featuring on the label since.
And like with his own productions, Watson was keen to vary his output as label manager with the brand new sister label, Everysoul. The label focus is versatility and creativity – his 7th studio album ‘Every Soul Needs a Guide’ being one of the first releases and was a further push into electronic jazz symbolism and layered rhodes and organs combined with deep house themes running throughout. Shortly after this, Vince became resident DJ at Berlin’s legendary Tresor nightclub, running his very own Radio Drama night. Guests who have joined him over the last 3 years include Jimpster, Aril Brikha, James Ruskin, Jeff Mills, Kenny Larkin and many more. Vince has also now released 2 singles on the Tresor label, ‘Atom’ in 2010 and ‘Interference’ in 2011, both of which are trademark solid slabs of club music.
In a rare feature request in 2012, Vince released an 800 sample DVD free on the front cover of Computer Music Magazine worldwide, selling over 1 million copies and also just recently had his music featured on Sky One’s TV Series Mad Dogs series 2. Following the success of this, A Sonic Academy Tutorial came shortly afterwards in 2013 and has caused quite a stir, being praised very highly in the media with its in-depth look into his unique recording techniques and studio work. Late 2013 Vince started working on new projects and signed record deals for 2014 with labels Poker Flat, Planet E, Ovum, Yoruba, Rekids, and Bedrock with a further massive label to be announced soon. A new collaboration with Aril Brikha entitled ‘Viral’ will also launch in 2014. To reflect the new body of work, Vince will debut his new live show in the coming weeks and with regular trips to Berlin, Tokyo and his native UK, his demand is set to soar in 2014 and beyond. Currently available to play Live with hardware and controllers or for DJ sets.
We caught up with Vince shortly before Aurelon 10 & Magma are released on Bedrock, April 7th, to discuss his genre defining career, the new album – Serene and his labels Bio Music and Everysoul.
The album Serene which came out last year was completely comprised of ambient and beat less tracks, the album before was Jazz and Broken Beat. Do you find that you are artistically drawn away from making four to the floor album tracks these days?
I wouldn’t say I was drawn away from making club music on albums, rather that I had already done it, know I can do it already and I see albums as very personal challenges. If you don’t challenge yourself and just keep repeating the same thing, after a while you get bored artistically. In saying that…I’ve now gone full circle and passed through many genre’s. In 2015 I will release my next album which will be more Techno and House based, I’m probably overdue a return to that..
Personally, I relish the chance to make music outside of the parameters of my production projects. Its a great opportunity to learn new techniques and try things you couldn’t do before. Is there a musical genre you haven’t made yet but would like to?
Well, I’ve pretty much made everything (but not released everything I’ve made)…except Dubstep or EDM. I get great pleasure from this and I get so many ideas for different genres. For example, one of the tracks on my ‘Serene’ album started life as a really dark project under a different name for Oscar Mulero’s Pole Group label….but it became something very different eventually.
For Serene you used a slightly different name – Vincent I. Watson – and I understand this is to cover all ambient projects moving forward. Many producers use monikers and pseudonyms so they can make different styles of music, who’s most impressed you?
The music world we live in can be so short sighted sometimes. Attaching your profile to a totally different style of music now can be tricky and actually quite harmful to your bookings and profile if you do not do it properly. Feeding out the information carefully is the key. I used to get away with that years ago when I used many different names on different labels, then I switched everything to Vince Watson again around 10 years ago and it did me no good. Takes a while to realise this though…so now I’m doing a few, not too many, different projects under different names but this time nobody knows :)
Originally from Glasgow, you’ve made the move to Amsterdam, a wonderfully musical city. Primarily as a techno producer, what was the allure of the city over somewhere like Berlin?
I didn’t move to Amsterdam to party 24/7, in truth its a village compared to Berlin, but the lifestyle here can be great. Its still got a great core of electronic music and the city supports it in a big way. ADE is of course perhaps the centre for all the conferences now, its certainly the biggest…all thats missing is the sun in October (what a stupid time to do it – its always baltic!!). Amsterdam is a beautiful romantic city though…and having the water around you is great.
What are some of your favourite places in the city?
We have an awesome little restaurant/bistro close to our house near Westerpark, its such an idillic spot, the perfect Amsterdam photograph…right on the canal, jump off the boat for some good food, a wine and off you go again. Hard to do that in many other cities really…Amsterdamse Bos and Vondelpark are also great spots. In terms of club spots, obviously we have Trouw and Melkweg but Studio80 and Paradiso are also great venue’s to play.
Has moving to Amsterdam changed the way you perceive music? Has it influenced your artistic direction?
Its not made me see music differently, but it has made my music making system much much better. Ive got a proper schedule now, which works well. I have music time and downtime and it makes for a more productive environment and Amsterdam is such a great place to socialise that it makes your personal time much more enjoyable. I have no artistic direction! It directs me…
From your press pack, I noticed you have a modest DJ set up of CDJ2000s and turntables, with a Xone or Pioneer mixer. With everyone and their nan now using Traktor etc, do you think too much emphasis is placed on the medium the music is being played on and not the music itself?
I think its whatever you feel you need/want to use. There is many many options now and while I do think that too much attention is put on the technical aspect of what a DJ is doing when he’s playing to the detriment of the crowd, I do see a lot of people who have really mastered the balance between skills and functionality. I moved from CDs/vinyl to Rekordbox a while ago and I still see a massive disconnect between the 2 of them. For example, I used to plan my first 15mins to get going…with CD’s or vinyl you could start picking bits out 15mins before you start to play based on what the crowd are loving or to keep the flow of the music going…now you can’t do that, you have to wait until you plug your HD/USB in…which means you end up filling a playlist before you leave home with tracks you ‘think’ you want to start your set with…but that might change when you get there….unless your one of these DJ’s who just plays either the same tracks non stop or plays whatever they want to play and not what the people want. The only way round it is to use Rekordbox on your phone and wear headphones on stage before you play. Its something you need to adjust to I suppose. There is far too much music going around to know all the tracks inside out like before. It takes time and a good few plays.
You also have a live set up. How does the DJ Vince Watson sound differ from the Vince Watson Live one?
I do play some of my own music when I’m DJing but they are the same as the released versions….When I’m playing live I normally have slightly different versions of every track and I’m only playing my own productions obviously. I don’t see the point in playing the same track live, otherwise why not just DJ? You have to improvise and be ‘live’ or as semi-live as you can be. Its hard to play totally live with the intricate music I make, its just not possible to have that computer power on stage and I only have 2 hands.
The mix you’ve exclusively done for us is superb. Is there a story behind it?
I record all my DJ mixes when I’m playing out…but I like to keep them for something, instead of just putting them out there for no reason. This was recorded at Rockerill in Charleroi, Belgium in February…what you can’t hear on this is that the last 15mins I was playing back to back with Aril Brihka, but his audio isn’t on this.
You’ve had a long and illustrious career in the industry, slightly leading question, but do you have a favourite period of dance music? What was it about the time that holds such good memories?
Without sounding old-skool (I’m still in my 30s you see)…I think around 98-04. Those 6 years were so different from now. back then you were pretty much guaranteed to sell minimum of 1500 vinyl going up to the 3000 units mark for a great track and if you had a bomb you were looking at 10,000 units. Everyone was collaborating, nothing was about commercialism. Everyday there was more exciting labels appearing with solid tracks and the best thing of all was that promotors and bookers were not scared to take risks with lineups.
Can you tell us about a particularly funny event at a rave you were at?
I’d love to tell you a story about Florida135 in Fraga Spain but I can’t!! :) One that people may not realise was that the 909 Festival in Amsterdam that I did the 909 solo to end the festival with was not planned….I actually wasn’t on the bill that year. I just went to meet a few people and the promotor Marnix saw me backstage, he was so pissed off that nobody was using the 909 properly they had setup and he knew I could program it well (he’s booked me live a few times)…and asked me to do a 10min solo on just the 909 to end the festival. I had to stop drinking at that point!
You have a new single out on Bedrock. Can you tell us about how your relationship has developed with John Digweed and why you chose to release a track with him?
John has been wanting music from me for ages, but I never got round to finishing the tracks I wanted to give him….’Aurelon’ was going to be the final farewell release on my Bio label later this year, but I changed the plans and thought it would be better to give it to Bedrock to release for me and created ‘Magma’ for the flip side. There will now be a final Bio release later in the summer with a different track listing. The next Bedrock single is already in the works.
I read in a previous interview that not having a physical product to hold of Funk DVoids remix of ‘A Very Different World” made you have to re-think the label Everysoul. That was a few years back, so what happened next?
Yes, it wasn’t just A Very Different World though, I just became bemused by not having something to show people or see on a wall after the hard work that was put in. It sucks….I totally and completely get the digital world, I’m part of it now too…but having physical products is a special thing and your legacy needs to be held to appreciate it. So for the last Bio release and all future Everysoul releases, I will do something physical as well as digital. Originally Everysoul was going to be an outlet for tons of new music from me, probably once a month and be only digital…but that quickly changed.
Do you still think labels are too safe with their output and don’t take enough risks?
Most labels need a killer A side or lead track…thats what sells. The deep underground stuff is great, but unless you have something the majority of people buying stuff from Beatport etc can listen to, its not going to sell. Thats the reality of it. Its about getting the balance between keeping the music what you want and what will sell and get attention. If you take a risk now running a label, that one mistake can wipe you out, so I understand labels being cautious. There are plenty labels out there to send music to, some will take the risk….but heres the problem, its risky for a reason…it might not work. Balance is the key…
I understand you make tracks almost entirely from hardware because you find computer music sounds too mechanical. With so many new producers these days working the opposite way, what advice would you give to them to make their music more organic?
I used to make music with only hardware, but now I would say I’m more than 50% digital. I still have all my synths setup and its great to use them when I need something like that. I may be using plugins now for some sounds but I am never going to be a ‘in the box’ artist. I need keyboards and controllers. My complaint was that the music process was mechanical and not organic…the lack of controllers back then or even keyboards for some producers made it really unappealing to me. These days the Midi controllers that are available are awesome and give us almost exactly what we need. Soundwise, the plugins now are top class compared to even 5 years ago. Things have moved on really massively in that time. What I am really excited about is the trend towards hardware controllers for digital synths like the Roland System 01 and like the Virus Ti software thats been around for a while. These are a great example of getting it right.
Finally, What does the rest of 2014 have in store?
Well after my Planet E and Poker Flat singles already in 2014, my Bedrock single is coming next week and after that Ive got a single on Ovum, 5 or 6 remixes, last single on Bio, another Poker Flat single which has been signed, another Bedrock and my debut on a major German label with another artist as a collab which I really really want to talk about but can’t yet. Thats enough I think…:)
1. Botoko – UR my Sunshine (vw edit)
2. Martin Patino – Hommage a la Sodamie (vw edit)
3. Martin Eyerer & Glimpse – Southern Soul
4. Jerome Syndenham – Sandcastles (vw edit)
5. Kollektiv Turmstrasse – Last Day (vw edit)
6. Michel Cleis – Mir A Nero
7. Oniris – The Rebirth
8. Roland Klinkenberg – Sud de la France
9. Taras van de Voorde – Chasing Winters
10. Vince Watson – Aurelon 10
11. Patrice Scott – Sistrum no4
12. Julien Jabre – War
13. Kink – Hand Made
14. Robert Leiner – Yemaya (vw edit)
15. Spencer Parker – The Beginning
16. Tim Deluxe – Transformation
17. Steal Vybe – The Hybrid
18. Vince Watson – Planet Funk