Spotlight 001: Spaces

30 January 2016. Posted in Podcasts

As our podcasts have developed into something more than a mix series, going deeper into getting the creator’s back story in the interviews we have started to present alongside the music, we felt it appropriate to rename the podcast series to better represent this idea. The first subject for Spotlight is Bleep’s Spaces aka John Flynn.

Discovered by Bleep as part of their Filtered production talent competition nearly 5 years ago, Spaces stood out among the reams of applicants for his off kilter approach that he takes when putting beats together. Paired with a set of ears trained in his professional guise as mastering engineer for Balance Mastering the sounds that Flynn achieves with his computer based set up raise the bar for what is expected of digitally produced music. Since the original Filtered compilation Bleep went on to sign him as their first unknown artist to the label and has released two EP’s to date as well as collaborated with Bjork on her last album Vulnicura and remixed fellow Irish techno innovators Lakker.

Spaces is that rare type of producer that comes with a sound that is challenging in an original way but wholly affective when heard on a suitably weighted rig.

Download: null+void Spotlight 001: Spaces

null+void: You’re a mastering engineer by trade what do you think is the importance of knowledge and understanding of sound engineering in your own creativity?

Spaces: For my own music I think it contributes quite a bit because it’s electronic and uses a lot of synthetic sounds. I’m drawn to learning, I’ve always been curious about sound design so mastering seems to take that to its logical conclusion. Although it can be a bit of a curse too as sometimes you can get lost in that tweaky world, changing little tiny elements that you’ll only hear on fantastically expensive speakers. It’s taken a bit of getting used to but the balance is quite good now, I’m doing mastering work and my own music about fifty-fifty. So with the mastering I get to be as tweaky as I want in getting other people’s songs to sound as good as possible, and when making my own tracks I just switch all that off, just churn through ideas and then build upon some of the good ones, as quickly as possible. I think it would be great if the whole process of writing, recording and releasing a track was entirely in realtime, actually maybe not releasing. Let’s say you get a day to sleep on it!

It really feels like you push yourself to play around with constructions and rhythmic templates in your music, is this something you have in mind while producing?

I guess the tracks are awkward, I should probably be a bit nicer and make them straighter. But in seriousness, I think I always set out to make the Spaces project be about those kind of ideas. I’ve always liked tracks that leave a mistake in, or have something that’s way too loud in the mix, like it’s really awkward the first time you hear it but on repeat that becomes the thing you love about it. I suppose I do try and keep an overall aim or some of these kind of ideas in what I’m going for with the sounds and constructions.

I feel it’s important to have some notions of what kind of thing you want the music to be and to aim for that, but then simultaneously you have to forget about all that stuff and just experiment, have a laugh, whatever, and then assess what comes out. It’s a similar argument for whether it’s better to know lots of theory or to just have a bash as a total beginner, there’s no real answer to that as there have been amazing artists who’ve learned “the right way” to make music but also there’s lots of people who just took to an instrument one day and did things that nobody else dreamed of doing.

Can you tell us a bit about your studio setup and working process?

It’s usually always my laptop, occasionally I work some of my other bits and pieces in but mostly just the laptop and some controllers. The humble computer gets a lot of stick in some of the nerdier parts of the internet these days, people are all like ‘analogue this’ and ‘hardware that’. Don’t get me wrong analogue can sound great and hardware is lovely to work with, in mastering the analogue hardware tools are still tough to beat and I use them every day.

I find for the type of music I make as Spaces I’m much quicker using the laptop and it gives me the results that I want in terms of sound and composition that would be a much more work or plain impossible using analogue hardware. I’m quite interested in digital signal processing and the general sound of (good) digital so it’s definitely an aesthetic choice too. The laptop can be a really creative tool actually and I think that there are lots of creative things you can do to generate ideas if you just limit yourself within the softwares and maybe look at things in non-standard ways.

I’ve seen you live twice and each time it’s really grabbed me, especially at launch of your first EP at Power Lunches where your production translated so well on the turbo rig in there, it was very affecting. How do you go about preparing the live set and translating your tracks from the studio to the live set up?

Well depending on what way you make your music, creating a live set can be an easy translation or difficult one. For the Spaces project I’ve found creating the live show to be quite tough because most of the songs are made in a non-realtime way, a bit more like animation building it up sound-by-sound, it’s all done on the timeline in software rather than jamming it out live and then recording and editing. So lately what I’ve been doing in the composition of the tracks is creating the songs a lot faster so that things are closer to realtime, getting a lot of ideas going quicker with way less forethought. Then I’ll round up all the extra ideas and try and reduce them into a full song structure. To get the songs into a live set I’ve been keeping all these extra ideas and setting them up in a live system so I can then jam the song out almost exactly like the record or I have all these other alternative bits that I can trigger to take the songs in different directions if it feels right on the night.

You were discovered by Bleep as part of their Filtered project – what does it mean to you to have been signed by them?

Yeah the Filtered project was great because I’d been involved in making music for a few years before but this was the first time I sent something away and got a positive response from total strangers. I think when I was living in Ireland previously there’s a really good scene there to help musicians develop their music and ideas, but I hadn’t really done much outside of that. So it was great to get some good feedback outside of the Irish scene, having moved to London. The fact that it was Bleep who obviously understand electronic music and present it so well was also brilliant. I think that Bleep have built up a very strong identity of their own now and aren’t necessarily just Warp’s shopfront so I’m really happy to be involved at this time.

The artwork from the EPs so far has been very distinctive – how involved were you in sourcing the artwork is this a theme that will continue in your following releases?

The artwork was all done by JP Hartnett with whom I’m also in a techno act called Ordinate (we’ve just had our debut track out on Sunil Sharpe’s Earwiggle label and we’ve got a triple release just mastered so out soon). JP’s a really talented graphic designer and visual artist and I was really glad to have him on board because he approaches every project with a lot of thought and professionalism. He makes things first and foremost that serve the message of the material which was perfect as I was looking to find a strong visual representation of the music. So I let him away at it and he came back with a big bunch of stuff that I didn’t expect but instantly fit really well in my mind to the music. I think he really captured the feel of the music with the art for ‘One’, ‘Two’ and ‘Potential’.

“I’ve always liked tracks that leave a mistake in, or have something that’s way too loud in the mix, like it’s really awkward the first time you hear it but on repeat that becomes the thing you love about it.”

You’ve also worked with one of the most iconic electronic artists of our time Bjork, collaborating with her on her last album, how did that come about?

Well yeah it was really surreal actually, Björk got in touch with me in 2013 saying that she had heard my song and it really went well with one of her songs that she had recorded. She asked if I’d be up for the idea of the songs being merged and to work together on it. And obviously I was, ‘Yes, of course!’. It was such a bizarre situation, she’s somebody that I’ve admired a lot over the years as she’s managed to build an amazing body of work that’s always been relevant, not just in music but visually too, so to get an email like this was so strange for me. Strange good! So she sent me a demo of what she had and then we started swapping ideas and took it from there really.

You’ve lived in Dublin, London and Berlin what did each of these cities offer or lack in for a producer such as yourself?

Well continuing what I said before about Dublin I think it’s a really fantastic place to get involved in music as it’s a smaller city and people are really open to putting nights on. Dublin’s very inclusive so there are lots of like-minded people to start labels or parties with and you can get to know the ropes really quickly. I still love going back and playing in Ireland there’s something about the crowd atmosphere there that I’ve yet to see anywhere else. In terms of Berlin I wasn’t there for that long but I really enjoyed it and I still try and visit once a year now that I’m back in London. It’s really excellent for techno and obviously Berlin has a such a history in that genre. The nightlife also works slightly differently there and I think that the different feel may have a little to do with the European attitude towards drinking being more relaxed.

Part of me feels in Ireland and England being restricted from alcohol until 18 fosters a more aggressive attitude towards alcohol or at least more people seem to drink to ‘get wrecked’. In Berlin if you’re working late on a weeknight there are loads of nice bars that are still open at 3am. The place is chilled out and you can drop in and have a (delicious) beer or two and listen to some tunes, have a chat, you know, calmly. It’s not all full-on or off! People might dip into Panorama bar on a Sunday morning after waking and having a coffee and go dance even though the party’s been going for a day or two, I love that. But I came back to London I think it’s the place for me you’ve got obviously amazing clubs and dance music but also there’s also such a wealth of other music that I’m not sure I found in Dublin or Berlin. You can go to Cafe Oto one night, Royal Festival Hall or the Barbican the next, Fabric or Corsica then catch someone like D’Angelo on tour the next day. And that’s just the music! It’s really hard to be bored in London, there’s always something to pique your interest and get you thinking.

Can you tell us about your other projects? You’ve already touched on Ordinate with JP Hartnett but are there any others you have on the go?

So I mentioned that I’m in Ordinate with JP Hartnett we’ve had our debut track appear on ‘Eight Wigglin Ways To Die’ which is a compilation for Earwiggle’s 10th release. There’s been great feedback for that so really happy to have that out there, we did our debut live show supporting Ancient Methods late last year so looking forward to playing more of those too. We’ve got this triple release coming soon too which will be a vinyl, cassette and digital all with different music, that’s about all I can say right now on that one. I’ve another project which is actually a reincarnation of an older thing with Donal Keating. This is going to be an international project as he’s in Taiwan. I’m actually really eager to get going on this as while it can be restrictive to work so far away also it’s quite interesting and I’m fascinated in the ways that this manner of working can influence the music itself.

You developed the concept with a large scale projection and live performance recorded by Boiler Room – what inspired that?

Well I had been playing around with displacement mapping after being introduced to it by a visual artist I know, Sean Hunt (if you’re a sports fan you’ve probably seen Sean’s work without knowing it.) Initially I was thinking to create music videos but it soon changed into a super slow motion deformation, taking JP’s original artwork and morphing it very slowly into something else, imperceptibly slow. I wanted it to be something you could zone out to, and contrast the energy of the music. I’m not usually a fan of A/V livesets, especially when they’re a bit of an afterthought. Raster Noton do them well, Mark Bell’s LFO show was probably the best I’ve ever seen (luckily, twice. Still sad to think.) So I wasn’t eager to do an A/V if it didn’t have a real difference or purpose. But the idea of this deformation imagery, super-slow, projected the size of a building made me do an about turn on my ‘no visuals’ policy. I was put in touch with a great technical stage manager, Erik Nimal Perera and he made the show a reality basically. Next on the cards will be an outdoor show projected onto a real building so keep an eye out for that.

You’ve released two EPs to date now with Bleep, what have you got to follow?

Two’, is out now, I’ve just done a remix for Ricardo Donoso also out now which is a kind of shard-ey, soundsystem edit similar to my remix for Lakker. Other than that I just have my head down making more tracks for the next EP, some collaborations and potentially an album after that so, yeah plenty more, plenty more.

Buy Spaces Releases on Bleep.com // Spaces website  // Spaces Facebook // Spaces Soundcloud // Spaces Twitter

Catch Spaces alongside Kirsti from null+void next in London at Suplex at The Silver Bullet on 11th February,
more info here.