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