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Neil Landstrumm (interviewed September 2, 1998) part 1 of 2
You can't accuse Neil Landstrumm of taking the path most travelled. In a time when so much techno threatens to be fodder for the black hole of sameness, Landstrumm is dedicated to innovation. With producers fighting to build themselves a ladder to the next level, Landstrumm dares to uproot himself from the security of his Edinburgh, Scotland home and ship his studio to--wait for it-Brooklyn, New York. Plus, he's just done all of his new album for Tresor on a laptop. And he's not afraid to voice his concerns about the state of techno in 1998, even if it mightn't please those in the Jeff Mills fanclub when membership is at an all time high. What's going on, Neil?
With the background blare of Brooklyn sharing the conversation with us, over the phone line Landstrumm begins by explaining why he would physically remove himself from the successful scene he started with the likes of Tobias Schmidt and Dave Tarrida.
"I'd never really lived in this kind of inner city environment and it was really an experiment to see how that would affect my music," Landstrumm says. "And secondly, I've always had a passion for New York. I've been coming back and forth for a few years and I love the culture here-there's so many good things that have come out of it that affect me. Not that I'm a graffiti painter or anything, but I find that quite interesting, plus the whole electro and hip hop thing here. A lot of good techno that I particularly loved has come out of New York that never really got recognized--the early Beltram stuff, Adam X, Damon Wild, the whole hoover sound when that was good."
But why not stay in Edinburgh and continue feeding the need for change through visits to New York? Why actually move? "Edinburgh," Landstrumm relates, "is a brilliant place, superb creative environment. The people there are excellent, I really miss that humor that we have. But I just get the feeling there's only so far you can get in Edinburgh, especially if you want to differentiate and widen your base. I'm very interested in computers now and the whole multimedia thing, and there's just not the opportunities--that there are here--in Edinburgh." The move to Brooklyn in August of 1997, however, is not likely permanent. "I'm probably going to go back there at some point," Landstrumm admits, "but only when I have what I want to do fully established."
The change of address and his new recording methods reflect Landstrumm's belief that electronic music will stagnate if producers become complacent. This fresh environment, he observes, was just what he needed to revitalize himself. "We sort of plowed a certain trough," Landstrumm says in reference to his Edinburgh relationships, "and it was interesting to break that just to be left to meander a little bit." You can't avoid hip hop in the area, and its rolling structures and heavy sub base, along with toying with his laptop, have been an inspiration. "I've been literally playing with the computer," he says, "and just seeing what I come up with." Landstrumm has his third Tresor album, "Pro Audio", to show for his recreation. "The majority of it [the album] is built inside the Macintosh using a lot of plug ins. It's really not how most people write techno."
This is where things get technical, but Landstrumm puts the details simply. "I use an Apple Macintosh Powerbook 1400 G3 running BIAS PEAK 1.62-digital audio editing software." He's also got another Apple on the side. "Basically, the Apples are processing and design tools for carving and sculpting sound." The other gear he uses is also not the standard in a techno producer's cache. "I have a small but well equipped studio so I have very well chosen machines which not many people in techno use-I have the usual arsenal of 101s and 909s and stuff, but I also like to use an SP-1200 and an MPC-60, which are hip hop machines."
Where you might expect computer use to lead to frigid, clinical results, Landstrumm makes an effort to be unique. "The later stuff I've been working on is very cut and paste so it isn't necessarily in time, for example. It can go off kilter, it's very patched together, very 'yeah, fuck it, let's just put it together.'" My stuff has always had a tight sequenced feel, but very shuffley--very loose--because I don't depend on one sequencer. I've always used like maybe five or eight different sequencers which together build that kind of humanized feel," Landstrumm says. " It gives it the funk, you know."
New technology, Landstrumm feels, will hopefully lead other producers to realize that techno isn't about a particular sound, it's about experimenting. "I think the problem we've all had for a while," Landstrumm observes, "is that people are just kind of 'hmmm…It's all very good and that, but it doesn't sound like Jeff Mills'. And I think perhaps finally now people are working out that there is techno other than that Millsian thing. I mean, when I first started listening to techno, I was up for anything. I loved the variety of it, and just over the last few years, it's just really been kind of killed by this ultrapurist driving monotonous stuff. These days, you can mention techno to someone and they're just like 'oh, it's just that really hard bangin' stuff, isn't it?' These days, techno's almost a dirty word a lot of the time."
Part of the blame, Landstrumm explains, can be laid on the hysteria around Jeff Mills. But it's not Mills who's to blame, it's the cult of personality. " I think he's a good producer," says Landstrumm of Mills, " but I've been really turned off by what it's become. I don't think people [outside of the UK]can ever understand what it's like in Britain. Jeff Mills could shit on a plate and they'd just say 'it's wicked'." Landstrumm says young producers too often emulate their hero and end up cranking out Mills carbon copies. "He can release something and he can guarantee that everybody's gonna like it and everybody's gonna go "Wow! Jeff Mills!" in the press. And it's just like, when did your personal opinions come into it?" Landstrumm continues to do his share of audio exploration, but worries that only the quiet few dare voice their concern. "A friend of mine said that the Millsian clone stuff is very much in the same position now as that rave stuff was--there's just hundreds and hundreds of copies of the same thing. Three years from now, only the originals are going to stand up." Outside, the home of the hoover seems to quiet down and listen closely as Landstrumm makes his final point. "The rest of it's just going to sound awful."
click here for part 2 of the Neil Landstrumm feature.
Neil Landstrumm--"Pro Audio" (DM Tresor) album review