Iron Galaxy

DJB Interview (Oct. 2012)

I did a mix and an interview for

This is the English translation of the interview:

DJB: You put a lot of effort into this mix. It contains a wide spectrum of quality house music. Is it important for you to blend old, new, and various flavours in your dj-sets?

I think it’s always good to keep things varied, but there should still be a thread that hold things together.  What I love about DJs like Ben UFO is that he can take you almost anywhere and it always makes sense.  With recorded mixes or radio shows I tend to be a bit more diverse because you don’t have to worry about maintaining a dancefloor.  If you’re playing out, the timeslot, other DJs, venue and audience are going to influence what records get played.  Hopefully this mix shows a range of styles you might hear me play out.

DJB: Is that hybrid ethos also something that’s important for your music productions?

It would be nice to eventually be known for having a bit of range in my original productions.  The tracks that have been released so far are swingy House things.  The next few bits to be released are a little moodier, on the techno end of the spectrum. What I liked about Drum and Bass when I was collecting it, is that the labels often dictated the mood or sounds a producer might use.  Total Science always had an undeniable sound, but if they released on Renegade Hardware it was dark and evil, on Reinforced or Hospital they might be more musical or deep with the sound design.

DJB: Your music flirts with what’s happening at the moment in the UK, depending on the basslines and r&b-vocal sample in Attention Seeker. But it sounds very balanced in a way because it’s also connected to Detroit with the elements of melodic drama. I read you worked long on defining your sound. Can you explain your philosophy?

Most of the dance or electronic music I’ve listened to over the years seemed to have heavy connections to England.  I lived in North London for about 3 years when I was younger and got big into Drum and Bass.  My use of vocal samples probably stems more from tracks like Teebee’s “Let Go” than anything released in the last few years.  I haven’t consciously thought through any sort of philosophy, and the way I work always changes.  I think it’s about drawing on influences and knowing what to stay away from.  I should probably avoid vocal samples, but they can be very tempting to play with.  I don’t want it to become a crutch though.  Recently I’ve been having a lot of fun with hardware.  I’ve been attempting to guide the machines into doing something musically or rhythmically different than what I’d come up with sitting in front of a midi keyboard.  I just picked up an analog sequencer with rows of knobs and an Intellijel μScale module, so I’m excited about where that could take me.  You’re able to define a scale and an interval you’d like to work in and then feed it voltages to develop a sequence.  I like to jam and then curate the best bits into a final arrangement.

DJB: Your day job is teaching music history to students. Can you tell more about your musical background and musical education?

Yeah I teach at a private boys school in Montreal.  I’m lucky to have a lot of resources, so I can go a bit further than your standard music history course.  I teach them Ableton Live and have them creating podcasts etc, because they have access to a lot of technology.  A lot of my musical knowledge is self-taught, learning through experience.  I picked up guitar when I was 12.  When I was in high school I started getting into electronic music and bought my first synth.  I eventually did a recording arts degree that focused more on the production and mixing end of things but still had a large component of music history.  My early productions consisted of me trying to rip off Reinforced or WARP Records.  I would often go between making DnB, IDM and very spacious guitar music.  Recently I decided to play around with the 115-130bpm range which became my Iron Galaxy project.

DJB: My music teachers never spoke about electronic dance music, more about classical music and mainstream pop. Is more modern music like dance and hip hop part of the required readings in your classes?

We definitely cover the influence of music from the Medieval ERA up to the 20th Century, but try not to dwell too much on any one period or genre.  One of my goals with the class is to make them realize they live in a time when creating music is accessible to almost anyone.  The reason we’re starting to see accomplished young producers like “Happa” popping up is because the technology is infinitely less expensive.  YouTube makes tutorials available to anyone motivated enough to learn the tools.  If club music becomes their interest they don’t have to be of age anymore.  They can log into the Boiler Room or any number of websites and watch people perform.  The other hope is that my students leave with a set of tools to discover new music, without having to rely on VEVO or other mass media.  The world is at their fingertips but they’re so used to pop culture being fed to them via Facebook.

DJB: There is this movie on the Internet where students are banging out electro on various hardware. I guess you are the coolest and most popular teacher from the whole institute?

Ha, not quite, but my lunch hours are definitely busy with kids who want to know more about Ableton, DJing and photography outside of class.  I like to think I have the most interesting course load (Music, Computers, Photography, Rock Climbing, Rowing) and I organize a ski/snowboard trip out West every March.  There’s a lot of diverse talent where I work, so I think every kid has certain classes and teachers that drive them, whether it’s in academics, the arts or sport.  I try to make it known that I’m available, so I’m a resource if they’re really passionate about anything I teach.

DJB: They are probably a little bit too young for the more esoteric taste you have for dance music. But by showing how the music is made, does that trigger also their interest to listen to this music by their self you think?

Much of my musical taste can be outside of their comfort range, but think of what we were all listening to when we were 12.  There’s a lot of factors that drive their taste in music, so there’s no point in trying to persuade them towards one thing in particular.  A lot of dance music is meant to be experienced in a particular context, so hearing it for the first time on a laptop or iPod may not do it justice.  If you can put them on a path of loving and discovering new music then they will refine their taste over the years.  When I’m showing them how music is made I try to link it with what they know or like.  If we’re talking about filters, automation and LFO’s, it can be boring, unless you show them how Skrillex may use those devices.  Once they see an end product that excites them then you can see an instant drive to learn more.  There is the odd kid who’s begging for you to feed him specific new music, but it’s rare.  I recently showed a video of Caribou using Ableton in a live context and the next thing you know I had a boy in my class telling me Odessa was his new favourite song.  If they open that door then I try to pass them suggestions.  The last I spoke to that student he was digging through the mix that Jacques Greene recently made for BBC6 Music.  When I teach rowing to the older guys it’s a 30 minute bus ride from the school and back, so I always play an hour’s worth of songs.  Clouds’ track “Consciousness” has become a bit of a funny theme song this term.

DJB: Is the setup that I saw in the Selwyn Synth Jam video also your regular studio setup?

It’s very similar, except more equipment and much more organized.  Everything is connected through a variety of patchbays and a compact monitor mixer.  I have a good recording chain, a few bits of outboard gear and nice converters.  I try and create all the musical parts with the hardware setup and then arrange and mix it all in the computer.  Soon I’ll be moving everything to where I work.  The school has given us a room and a bit of money to add a mixing desk, some mics, furniture and other things lacking in my setup that will allow the kids to get in there and make use of the everything.  It’ll be great once I finish the wiring plans and it’s all moved, but it’s a lot of work at the moment.

DJB: I read that you have bought stuff like a broken 303 for 60 bucks. Are you a vintage gear-lover, searching for old equipment at marketplaces like vinyl diggers do? Or do you have now your standard setup, focusing on getting the maximum effect out of these machines?

When I started trying to make electronic music I bought a Juno 106 and a sampler, but after some time I eventually did everything in the computer.  I became bored of making music using only a computer and eventually decided to buy an SH101.  Once I did that I had so much fun I bought another thing and it snowballed from there.  I sold off camera equipment I had bought over the years and reinvested it into music gear.  I’m at the point where I don’t need anything else, but I’ll keep my eye out for deals.  I picked up that broken 303 for $200 and it cost me $60 to get it up and running again.  I found a guy selling his record collection on Kijiji.  When we went to his house the 303 was sitting on the table.  I’m always learning new things about working with hardware, which could be why I’m slow at times, but I’m having fun.  If you’re not trying something new and having a good time then what’s the point?

DJB: You released your debut on Audio Culture, an Amsterdam based label, how did you got in touch with them?

One day I was curious if Polar/K was still making music.  He was responsible for some great records on Subtitles and Certificate 18.  I noticed one of Polar’s “top friends” on myspace was also on Soundcloud and he had been listening to my music.  I got in touch with the mysterious account to see if he had any insider information.  That guy ended up being Mike from Audio Culture, so that was our introduction.  Simon from AC had also started talking to me independent of Mike about some tracks I had posted.  Eventually they decided to ask me to work with them.  They’re really nice guys and do a wonderful job with the label.  They are very patient with me, so I’m happy to be working with them.

DJB: Can we expect more releases in the future?

Of course!  There’s so much I want to do, but I can be a slow producer.  I’m one track away from finishing a 4-track EP for a new label that has an exciting lineup.  I’m almost 3 tracks into a new project with my friend Dave, which at the moment is called “Sex Life”.  So far one of those tracks is signed to Turbo, so we’re hoping it will eventually become an EP.  Once the studio’s moved I want to work hard on creating a proper EP for Audio Culture.  I’ve been approached to do a few exciting things, but it’s probably best not to talk about them at this stage.  The only upcoming release scheduled at the moment is my track “Attention Seeker” on the new “Late Night Tales” compilation, mixed by the band “Friendly Fires”.  That CD will be released on November 5th.  I’m excited about that, but it’ll be nice to show people some new tracks soon.

DJB: Can we expect you dj’ing in Europe?

I’d love to, somebody, book me! Haha.  Hopefully I can put out a few more releases and keep my name out there before the summer when I have a lot more time off.  A handful of booking agents from the UK have introduced themselves over the past few months, but nothing specific has been arranged.  It would be great to get over to England and visit old friends as well as some of the producers I’ve been talking to via the Internet.  Once you’re over there every other big European city seems so close.