Ekoplekz

Bris­tol’s Ekoplekz re­turns to the fray with Bio­pro­dukt, a new al­bum of his trade­mark lo-fi mes­merism. Hamish Mack­in­tosh spoke with the sat­u­ra­tion-meis­ter about his mu­sic­mak­ing ethos and his flex­i­ble ap­proach to gear

Future Music - - MODULAR MONTHLY -

Never one to rest too long on his elec­tronic lau­rels, Nick Ed­wards, oth­er­wise known as Ekoplekz, has just re­leased

Bio­pro­dukt, his umpteenth al­bum proper and his fourth for the much-re­spected Planet-Mu la­bel. Bio­pro­dukt show­cases many of the traits that Ekoplekz has be­come known and loved for: the murky, lo-fi pro­duc­tion, bub­bling basslines, dubby de­lays and acidic squelches all re­main; sup­ple­mented in this in­stance by firmer beats and, for want of a bet­ter phrase, a sun­nier dis­po­si­tion in parts.

With such a dis­tinc­tive sound to de­ci­pher, we headed to Nick’s Bris­tol home stu­dio to un­lock the se­crets of his mu­si­cal alchemy – that is, to ask him what gear he uses to make his mu­sic. In th­ese days of com­puter dom­i­nance in the stu­dio, we were sur­prised but not dis­ap­pointed to find some­one who gen­uinely thinks out­side the box.

This is your fourth al­bum for Planet-Mu, and

Bio­pro­dukt sees you hit­ting your stride. Are you in a good place with your mu­sic-mak­ing now? “I guess so, although you have to bear in mind that the most re­cent things on Bio­pro­dukt are about six months old now, and some of it prob­a­bly dates back a year! I don’t re­ally make al­bums as such; maybe I did in the early days, but now I send ran­dom tracks to the la­bel ev­ery cou­ple of months when we’ve agreed we’re go­ing to do an al­bum then Mike [Parad­i­nas] at Planet-Mu picks his favourites from my favourites, shuf­fles it around, and it some­how turns into a record. If you said to me, ‘Make a record with a con­cept,’ I don’t think I could do it – it’s just not the way I work. I ret­ro­spec­tively ti­tle ev­ery­thing and hope that ev­ery­one thinks it’s in­ten­tional. I just tend to turn the ma­chines on and go, re­ally.”

Is that the way you’ve al­ways worked? “Pretty much, yeah. When I was on smaller la­bels I did used to com­pile my own al­bums. One thing I al­ways do when I’ve made a record is sell a lot of the gear that I made the record with so I can buy dif­fer­ent things. That’s a de­lib­er­ate ploy so I don’t keep sound­ing the same.

“The main synths on Bio­pro­dukt are the Korg MS-20 mini and the Ar­turia Mi­croBrute, both trig­ger­ing off the Korg SQ1 with a cou­ple of the Volca ma­chines – the Beats and the Sam­ple. That’s the main ‘en­gine room’ of the al­bum, but you won’t see them in the pho­tos of my stu­dio as they’re sold!”

So what have you re­placed them with? “Well, cur­rently there’s the Korg Mono­logue, which is my lat­est ac­qui­si­tion and it’ll be on the next record. I’ve been hav­ing loads of fun with it and I’ve done a few tracks with it al­ready for the next pro­ject… that’ll prob­a­bly be out next year or the year af­ter.”

Does the pace of re­leas­ing mu­sic prop­erly frus­trate you at all? “It has to be that way be­cause that’s the way the sys­tem works now. With Planet-Mu, you see, they’re a se­ri­ous la­bel that tries to make money, so they say, ‘You can’t make an­other record yet – you have to build it up and let ev­ery­one for­get about you for a while’. When I first started it was all self-re­lease stuff on CD-Rs, and you’d ba­si­cally do some mu­sic over a cou­ple of months and put it out while you were still en­thu­si­as­tic about it.”

Is the best part of the process that ini­tial rush of put­ting a track to­gether in the stu­dio then? “Ab­so­lutely, yeah. The thing is, when I send the stuff to Mike at the la­bel, that’s when I’m fired up about it as I’ve just done the stuff. What gen­er­ally hap­pens is that I’ll go through phases. There might be a month when I go through a dry­ness where noth­ing comes to me… then sud­denly I’ll patch things in a cer­tain way, and loads of juicy tracks will come out of it in the space of a few days.”

How do you bal­ance real life with stu­dio time? “Be­cause the stu­dio’s at home, I can just grab the time as and when! I don’t re­ally have a pro­fes­sional stu­dio in the slight­est, but I do use good mon­i­tor­ing head­phones – I can work on the head­phones when peo­ple are around in the house with­out dis­turb­ing them. When it comes to do­ing the mix­downs, I have to have it com­ing through the mon­i­tors; I’ve got to feel the air push­ing around from the big speak­ers.”

So what mon­i­tors do you run things through? “The thing with me is that I don’t use any­thing that’s rec­om­mended! For my cur­rent mon­i­tors, I’m us­ing Ce­lestion Dit­tons, which are midrange-qual­ity hi-fi speak­ers from the 1970s. My step-father’s father died about five years ago and I got th­ese mas­sive speak­ers, which I took to Elec­trofix in Clifton to get them re-wired and mod­ernised, and they sound fan­tas­tic!

“It’s not so much about the equip­ment you’ve got, it’s more about how you per­ceive it and how the en­vi­ron­ment of your stu­dio works. Af­ter I’ve mixed a track down I’ll play it on the Bose sys­tem in the car and through the speaker on my mo­bile phone – if it comes through al­right on ev­ery­thing, then as far as I’m con­cerned, it’s done my end. I don’t get too anal about it all, as I know that if it’s go­ing to get re­leased then it’s go­ing to go through a pro­fes­sional au­dio en­gi­neer’s ears any­way. So I’m happy with what I’ve got, and although I haven’t got racks of out­board gear, I know the acous­tics of my own space.”

…and the head­phones you mon­i­tor on? “They’re Sennheiser HD6 Mix head­phones. They’re not mas­sively ex­pen­sive but I’ll use them for the record­ing and lay­ing things down on the four-track, then I’ll get a good mix on them. As I say, when it comes to that fi­nal mixdown, I have to have it blast­ing through the Ce­lestions. You hear about some peo­ple that do a head­phone mix then re­lease it on the al­bum, but when I do that, it’s never quite right. I have to hear it in the air to get it right.”

It’s quite rare to hear some­one talk­ing about a ‘four-track’ now – ev­ery­thing goes down to that? “Yeah… although if I’m go­ing to con­tinue with the sound I’m known for, I’ll prob­a­bly have to in­vest in

a re­place­ment. I’ve had the same Yamaha MT3X for years. I bought it sec­ond­hand in 2001 to re­place the pre­vi­ous one that had gone tits-up. Track four has now com­pletely failed, and a cou­ple of the in­puts don’t work so I’m hav­ing to pan things across from other chan­nels to get them to record. I love it but it’s on its last legs, re­ally! Ev­ery now and then I’ll think maybe it’s time to move on and try mas­ter­ing some tracks to dig­i­tal, but it’s just not my sound.”

We were go­ing to ask you how you achieved your trade­mark ‘sat­u­rated’ sound, but there’s our an­swer right there!

“Yeah – ev­ery­thing I’ve ever put out of­fi­cially has gone though some sort of tap­ing process along the way. It’s kind of like the sonic glue that holds my stuff to­gether. I’d like to think that even if I go down a dif­fer­ent stylis­tic route, peo­ple can still think, ‘Ah that sounds like Ekoplekz,’ and that’s be­cause of the tape. Even though, as I said ear­lier, that I sell gear on and up­date synths, I al­ways re­tain the same ba­sic record­ing process with the four-track. That one time I tried to up­grade things and go dig­i­tal to go for the clar­ity, when I played the stuff back I thought, ‘That could be any­body’. I’m not big-headed enough to think I’m any­thing spe­cial… we’re all a bunch of elec­tronic mu­si­cians and we all sound a bit sim­i­lar, but the record­ing process is some­thing that makes mine sound dis­tinc­tive.”

Strange that we’ve come full-cir­cle to a point where some peo­ple are now pay­ing hun­dreds of pounds for tape-emu­la­tion soft­ware to achieve that sound…

[laughs] “Yeah, that’s an­other idea – to do it dig­i­tally with a plugin – but it’s not for me. I’m not a reg­u­lar reader of Fu­ture Mu­sic now but I went way back with you and used to be a re­li­gious reader of the mag all through the ’90s. The first four-track I ever bought, a Fos­tex, was di­rectly off the back of an FM re­view in one of the ear­li­est is­sues. I bought the Fos­tex along with a Zoom 9001, which got a great re­view in the same is­sue…so it was you guys who got me started! I used to drool over all the early fea­tures with the likes of Or­bital and their racks of analogue synths! This will be my sec­ond time ap­pear­ing in your magazine. I was a ‘Reader’s Demo’ about 20 years ago! There was me with a cou­ple of Ca­sio key­boards and a four-track!”

With your ro­tat­ing door pol­icy to­wards your stu­dio equip­ment, is there any­thing that you re­gret sell­ing on?

“There are al­ways things you re­gret sell­ing, and I’ve done so much sell­ing over the years that I don’t like to think about it! Laugh­ably, I have this ro­man­ti­cised idea of work­ing within re­stric­tions and de­lib­er­ately keep­ing your setup small. I’m never go­ing to be the sort of per­son who wants banks of gear. I got into elec­tronic mu­sic with stuff like Daniel Miller’s The Nor­mal, where he’d make a track with one Korg 700S and a four-track. I loved the aus­ter­ity of hav­ing to work within those con­fine­ments. I try and up­hold that ethic of work­ing with a small amount of gear and try­ing to be as cre­ative as you can within that de­lib­er­ately im­posed lim­i­ta­tion. So, when I felt I’d squeezed as

much cre­ativ­ity out of the Mi­croBrute and the MS-20 – all those bub­bling sub-basses on the al­bum are from the MS-20 – then I must move them on or it will all sound the same on the next record.”

So, more ana­logues on the way into your setup then?

“It might sur­prise some peo­ple who think I’m an analogue purist that, I’m an analogue purist with the record­ing but not the gear I use. I re­cently bought the Korg Volca FM and I love it. It’s such a beau­ti­ful sound… and the bril­liant user in­ter­face. You put a DX7 in front of me and I’ll be bored, as I don’t want to be pro­gram­ming pa­ram­e­ters but the Volca is so tweak­able in an analogue way. I’m the sort of per­son that, if you give me a big screen with a jog dial, that just de­mo­ti­vates me. I need to have that in­stant grat­i­fi­ca­tion.”

You’ve col­lab­o­rated a fair bit, in­clud­ing with Bass Clef for the Beyond the Lap­top shows. Is it im­por­tant to you that a live show is more of a ‘per­for­mance’?

“Oh, god yeah. I’m not so both­ered about recre­at­ing the stu­dio ver­sion of my mu­sic when I play live – I’d rather just get a very ba­sic set of loops to­gether then jam it and ex­plore; have a ba­sic frame­work but then just go off on one. My sets are al­ways about 50% im­pro­visatory. One thing I’ve learnt is that, un­less some­one in­sists on record­ing it, I don’t record the shows as they don’t al­ways sound as good as you think they were!”

You com­bine a lot of ped­als with the gear you use…is it al­most like work­ing in a mod­u­lar way?

“I don’t have a mod­u­lar sys­tem like Ralph from Bass Clef has, but what I use is a sort of mod­u­lar setup. I have hardly any out­board ef­fects, re­ally, and most of the ef­fect­ing goes down dur­ing the record­ing process. At the mo­ment, my favourite re­verb is this tiny Elec­tro-Har­monix Holy Grail spring re­verb, which is just fan­tas­tic. It all goes into the chain and be­comes part of the ac­tual record­ing rather than some­thing I add on later. I do like the ubiq­ui­tous Boss dig­i­tal-de­lay pedal, but I do love Elec­tro-Har­monix ped­als. I’ve got their Mi­cro-Synth that has a very spe­cific sound to it that I re­ally like. So much so that the writ­ing is all but worn off it where I’ve used it so much. I find a lot of the bou­tique ped­als are a bit over­priced for what they ac­tu­ally do. For me, Elec­tro-Har­monix make some of the best-sound­ing cre­ative ped­als.”

So is your stu­dio is a com­pletely soft­ware­free zone?

“You know what? When I’m record­ing and mas­ter­ing the dig­i­tal file, I just use freeware like Au­dac­ity to do it. Au­dac­ity is good enough for the lit­tle ed­its, nips and tucks that I need to do to be com­pletely happy with the tape-record­ing. Some­times I’ll maybe lop out a few bars if I’ve messed up, or do a smooth fade-out on the track or some work on the lev­els. Gen­er­ally speak­ing, I don’t get too fussed with it, as you have to know when it’s time to leave it and del­e­gate to the good en­gi­neer at the other end who’s go­ing to har­monise the whole thing.”

Does liv­ing in Bris­tol in­form the mu­sic you make at all?

“I’m sort of the old man of the scene! Even though I’m rel­a­tively new, I’m the same sort of age-group as the older guard – Por­tishead, Roni Size and Mas­sive At­tack. I just came to it later in life, as it were; although I was mak­ing mu­sic all through the nineties but I just couldn’t get a de­cent record deal. So, while all my con­tem­po­raries were mak­ing all th­ese great records I was still beaver­ing away send­ing cas­settes out to record la­bels and get­ting nowhere. It was hard work then be­fore Sound­cloud and the like.”

Any gear you’d like to get your hands on to use on a pro­ject?

“Not re­ally, no. Maybe, if I had the money, I’d get my­self a Buchla Mu­sic Easel or maybe an EMS VCS 3 or some­thing. Gen­er­ally, I’ve got this ro­man­ti­cised post-punk thing that cheap Korgs are per­fect for. I love all the bud­get stuff Korg are do­ing now – they’ve just nailed it. I don’t own any at the mo­ment, but I’ve al­ways thought that No­va­tion make some in­ter­est­ing kit. I bought one of the very first Bass Sta­tions back in the early 90s, which was prob­a­bly one of the first at­tempts to make a new analogue synth af­ter the dig­i­tal rev­o­lu­tion. They had a real nice char­ac­ter to them. When I play live, I still ac­tu­ally use an old Yamaha SU200 sam­pler/looper. For the time, it could do ba­sic slic­ing and loop­ing – I’ll still use that to take bits off the tapes and load them onto that so I’ve got a loop on each pad then I’ll put that through all the ped­als and jam with it.”

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