The genre-bust­ing DJ/pro­ducer dis­cusses his lat­est al­bum, Ac­tive

Computer Music - - Contents -

Lon­don-based Hugh Pescod, bet­ter known to his fans as Red­light, oc­cu­pies a unique space in to­day’s elec­tronic mu­sic land­scape. The DJ/pro­ducer’s di­verse taste is a byprod­uct of his Bris­tol her­itage – the eclec­tic UK city where he first honed his craft as drum ’n’ bass pro­ducer Clipz – and this is re­flected in his mu­si­cal out­put. From bassheavy tech bangers and ra­dio-friendly flavours through to retro rave in­flu­ences and half-time hip-hop stylings, the Red­light name is syn­ony­mous with (pre­dom­i­nantly) four-tothe-floor club mu­sic that op­er­ates down in the low end of the spec­trum – ex­actly what his new 10-track al­bum, Ac­tive, is all about.

Given the dance­floor-pum­melling pre­ci­sion and clar­ity of his mix­downs, you’d be for­given for think­ing Red­light is a to­tal plugin and gear ob­ses­sive – but you’d be mis­taken. Within the first few min­utes of our in­ter­view, it be­came clear that, for Hugh, vibe and cre­ativ­ity al­ways take pri­or­ity over the tech­ni­cal stuff us mu­sictech nerds get too caught up in. “I re­mem­ber shoot­ing a Pro­ducer

Master­class ses­sion with you guys as Clipz many years ago,” Hugh ex­claims. “The video got

so much hate! Peo­ple were so used to pro­duc­ers sim­ply show­ing off ready-rolled stems from projects, so when some­one showed the process of ac­tu­ally mak­ing a tune from scratch, peo­ple called it s***! Well, yeah… be­cause you ac­tu­ally have to put in hard work! And you can’t show all that in a 20-minute video, when a real tune takes at least a day or two to cre­ate. So, to be hon­est, I pre­fer to talk about the over­rid­ing con­cept of be­ing a cre­ative in­di­vid­ual, as that’s what’s re­ally in­ter­est­ing to me. There’s no point me go­ing su­per-tech­ni­cal, as there’s noth­ing for me to say that hasn’t been said a mil­lion times be­fore!”

Com­puter Mu­sic: You’ve just re­leased your new al­bum, Ac­tive. Did you have a spe­cific

theme or con­cept in mind for the record?

Hugh Pescod: “Just club mu­sic that you can lis­ten to on your stereo. Clas­sic Red­light mu­sic; a col­lage of Bri­tish cul­ture. All orig­i­nal vo­cals, no sam­ples – I don’t re­ally like us­ing sam­ples in my in my mu­sic. And there are vo­cal­ists from all dif­fer­ent parts of the Bri­tish un­der­ground mu­sic scene, from grime to hip-hop to soul: Lisa Mercedes, As­abe, Abra Cadabra, Karen Hard­ing and Sweetie Irie.”

: How do you go about the vo­cal writ­ing process? Do you sketch out in­stru­men­tals, then ap­proach artists af­ter­wards?

HP: “Dif­fer­ent tracks come to­gether in dif­fer­ent ways. One day, you may go in with a singer or rap­per with a ‘skele­ton’ beat, and you write the vo­cals – usu­ally with the vo­cal­ist – then give them di­rec­tion from there. Other times, the vo­cal­ist know ex­actly what they’re do­ing and lays some­thing down straight away. Af­ter that, I’ll sketch ev­ery­thing out, and by the time they’ve gone away, you find that you’ve changed the en­tire beat!”

: So do you of­ten ditch the back­ing track and start again with the vo­cal?

HP: “Yeah, can do. It de­pends! I like treat­ing mu­sic like ‘col­lage’. Once you’ve got a vo­cal, it’s just an­other colour on a track. For me, this pro­ject is about not over­think­ing s**t – it’s just about putting down vibes and rolling them out.”

: What’s your cur­rent setup like? Any go-to bits of kit?

HP: “Just a few synths and a bit of out­board. I’ve got a [Roland] Juno, but don’t re­ally use that. I don’t use much, to be hon­est! I like us­ing my Em­pir­i­cal Labs Fatso on my drums, an Even­tide Ul­tra-Har­mo­nizer on vo­cals, and a vo­cal record­ing chain. I don’t re­ally buy much kit – it’s all in the ear, you know? The more you make mu­sic, and the more ex­pe­ri­ence you have, the more you can do things with plug­ins.”

: What’s your at­ti­tude to­wards the hard­ware ver­sus soft­ware de­bate, hav­ing used both?

HP: “Hard­ware’s a funny one. When you turn the out­board on, and that Moog lights up, you get caught up in it. But when you’ve only got a cou­ple of hours to cre­ate, it’s hard to keep ev­ery­thing mov­ing. It’s eas­ier to stay in the box, be­cause if you’re run­ning ev­ery­thing out and par­al­lel­ing, you can end up with phase is­sues. And plug­ins are get­ting so good – the Uni­ver­sal Au­dio plugs are so f**king good, so I un­der­stand why ev­ery­one’s stay­ing in the com­puter. And it’s cheaper! No-one’s got the money for all this gear, and then you’ve got to buy all the leads, and the patch­bay… it’s an old man’s game now, isn’t it? No kid start­ing out now wants to get into out­board com­pres­sion. Waste of money. But for some­one like me, that’s the way I learned. It’s nice – ro­man­tic, even – to run sounds out of the com­puter and then back in. But if you wanna get dirty in the box, just high-cut your drums a bit, to re­move top end and get that ana­logue tone.”

: Your tunes do have that touch of ‘ana­logue’ flavour…

HP: “I think it’s down to per­sonal pref­er­ence. Do you want Mar­mite or peanut but­ter on your toast? Peo­ple are nos­tal­gic about the past. We want our stuff to sound like the first hip-hop and rave par­ties. But the re­al­ity is that mod­ern mu­sic is louder for a rea­son, as that’s what crowds now re­act to: that squashed, pro­cessed, in-the-box sound. Our ears have be­come ac­cus­tomed to

“If you wanna get dirty in the box, just high-cut your drums a bit to get that ana­logue tone”

“When you’re re­ally ce­mented within a scene, that’s when cre­ativ­ity slows down”

that, es­pe­cially with faster mu­sic such as drum & bass. It’s not about out­board for most pro­duc­ers to­day – it’s about crush­ing the s*** out of ev­ery­thing in Logic or Able­ton! You can spend days pro­cess­ing, tak­ing things out through out­board, back in, re-cut­ting it up, blah blah… I don’t think any­one gives a s*** any­more. A vibe’s a vibe. A track could take three hours to make, cre­ated us­ing Logic’s drum ma­chine and an ES1 bass, but if the vibe’s there, peo­ple will ‘ave it! So I’m not sure if out­board means that much now in this scene.”

: It’s def­i­nitely a taste thing, and the way club mu­sic has evolved. How does play­ing your mu­sic over club soundsys­tems in­flu­ence your pro­duc­tions?

HP: “It’s a dou­ble-edged sword. When you’re not tour­ing, you’re a lot more ‘free’ cre­atively. Be­cause you’re play­ing ev­ery week­end as a dance pro­ducer, that helps you make more mu­sic, as you need some­thing new and fresh for the week­end.

“So you’ll go into the stu­dio and rush some­thing through, and that’s usu­ally enough to get a ‘skele­ton’ that you can go back to and add de­tail to later. And you end up with a lot of dead time when trav­el­ling, which gives you time to make mu­sic in air­ports and on planes. Those are the plus sides of play­ing out a lot.

“The down­side is that you be­come more ‘lin­ear’ – you’re squeez­ing your time into a tube of a few days and a few hours, and you’re think­ing more about the next rave than ac­tu­ally chang­ing the fab­ric of mu­sic! When you’re just a strug­gling cre­ative, with no gigs com­ing in, and you don’t know where you want to fit – that’s when you can make mu­sic that can turn heads and change per­cep­tion about mu­sic. You’re not look­ing out to a crowd and analysing your po­si­tion within things – when you’re not po­si­tioned within some­thing, you can make your own po­si­tion!

“That’s when mu­sic be­comes bor­ing: ‘I’m a house DJ and I’m gonna make eight-minute grooves’, or ‘I’m a hip-hop/ trap pro­ducer do­ing the drill sound’ – once you’re in that thing where peo­ple can pi­geon­hole you, you’re just do­ing more of the same. The ones who are un­po­si­tioned are the ones tak­ing things for­ward. When you’re re­ally ce­mented within a scene, that’s when cre­ativ­ity slows down.”

: Is that why you’re go­ing back to your Clipz [Hugh’s drum & bass alias] stuff?

HP: “Yeah, I’ve al­most fin­ished a Clipz al­bum. It’s an early jun­gle sort of sound, rem­i­nisc­ing about the mu­sic I got into when I was young, at the raves I used to go to in Bris­tol, and the en­ergy that came with that. So again, it’s not about fi­ness­ing a tune for a week, spend­ing three weeks on a snare drum – it’s about mak­ing a tune in three hours, as that’s how peo­ple made mu­sic back then. They didn’t have the money or time to spend that long on a snare – they’d have to hire a stu­dio for £250 for 12 hours, use 12 sec­onds of sam­ple time, and what­ever came out on the DAT tape at the other end was the tune! And that’s why that mu­sic was so dif­fer­ent: it was about not giv­ing a f**k, and that’s what I’m about these days – not spend­ing so long on a tune that it just gets anal. It’s a vibe thing, and that’s where the best col­lages come from – peo­ple in a vibe. That’s what Ac­tive and the Clipz al­bums are about: feel­ing the mo­ment and cre­at­ing what you’re into. Mu­sic’s bet­ter when it’s like that.”

: That’s a sen­ti­ment that will make a lot of sense to peo­ple. It’s so easy to over­cook a track these days.

HP: “But it’s hard to get to that point in life. I’ve been the com­plete op­po­site – stuck in a place where I’ve spent a month on some­thing, and then not liked it af­ter all that time, as it be­came too clean and clin­i­cal, and lost its soul. When you’re in that mo­ment, you can’t see that, un­til a year or so later. For me now, mu­sic’s an en­joy­able thing. I try to cre­ate quickly be­cause I know what I’m do­ing, and how I want it – I know how to sculpt things.”

: So how do you iden­tify when a pro­ject isn’t work­ing?

HP: “The thing is, I don’t even think like that any­more. Noth­ing’s ‘s**t’. For you to call some­thing s**t, you’re ob­vi­ously com­par­ing it to some­thing else, and try­ing to make mu­sic like that. So if some­thing isn’t work­ing for me, I’ll just put it down for a bit, and ac­cept that I don’t quite know what it’s for yet. Nine times out of ten, when you get a vo­cal­ist in (or you’re pro­duc­ing for some­one else), they’ll ask what you’ve got to play them, and those are the beats that you go back to… and they love it! Then you work on it, and the tune be­comes mas­sive, de­spite your ini­tial per­cep­tion of it.

“Per­cep­tion f**ks ev­ery­thing up in the stu­dio. You’re bet­ter off go­ing in with no per­cep­tion. One per­son might hate it, you may think it’s al­right, and some­one else will love it! There are 365 days in a year… how much mu­sic can you write in that time? You can spend two months on a tune and try to have a huge hit, or, con­versely, in that two months you can make 12 pieces of cul­ture, or ‘fab­ric’ that’s part of your cloth­ing of mu­sic! That’s how I pre­fer to look at it – I’m mak­ing fab­ric.”

: Are there any artists around at the mo­ment who in­spire you?

HP: “You pick up in­spi­ra­tion from ev­ery­where, as there’s so much to be in­spired by. And it’s so easy to make mu­sic now – we’re in such a good space. Any­one can pick up a com­puter, get a cou­ple of sounds in there, and make a hit six months af­ter never hav­ing touched a com­puter be­fore. That’s what cre­ativ­ity is about: hav­ing a go! When I was at col­lege, I re­mem­ber go­ing and buy­ing Fu­tureMu­sic mag to get the ten free sam­ples on the cover CD – ‘oh s**t, free sam­ples!’ You’d go and load them in, and try your best. Some kid is do­ing ex­act thing this week, and they’re go­ing to make an ab­so­lute banger.”

: That’s a re­ally in­spir­ing way to look at things. So you’re say­ing it’s about get­ting in there and get­ting some­thing down with­out there be­ing any ex­pec­ta­tions?

HP: “That’s the main thing: no ex­pec­ta­tion. How we live now as hu­mans, there’s so much ex­pec­ta­tion on all of us. Men­tal health in the mu­sic in­dus­try is a big prob­lem; DJs end up with men­tal health is­sues as they quite of­ten find them­selves putting too many ex­pec­ta­tions on them­selves. Ev­ery­one needs to chill the f*** out, lower their ex­pec­ta­tions and be cre­ative! But what the f*** do I know, eh?”

“If some­thing isn’t work­ing, I’ll just put it down for a bit, and ac­cept I don’t quite know what it’s for yet”

Hugh has a min­i­mal­ist ap­proach in the stu­dio, but can’t re­sist the charms of the Em­pir­i­cal Labs Fatso on drums… ...and the Even­tide Ul­tra-Har­mo­nizer on vo­cals

Red­light on the 1s and 2s at Hide­out Fes­ti­val in Croa­tia along­side Gor­gon City

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