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Escape Velocity

Little Pips Starting To Grow: Al Tourettes Interviewed
Angus Finlayson , September 2nd, 2010 10:05

Angus Finlayson talks to the jack of all trades - electro, dubstep and techno - about his moniker, musical ambitions and growing up in Norfolk

Al Tourettes: as his Myspace page proudly announces, 'Silly name but F*ck it'. Since when has a name mattered anyhow? (though the Norfolk-born producer has a good stab at rationalising his moniker when we meet outside a pub in Kentish Town one August afternoon). Listening through the producer's growing catalogue of releases - both solo and in collaboration with close friend and Applepips founder Appleblim - reveals a level of detail and finesse which defies the potential crassness of the name.

Al's recent releases have been a high point in the UK bass scene's prolonged flirtation with the house and techno gene pool; muscular, dark and impressively multilayered, his 2009 Applepips release, 'Dodgem/Sunken', seemed to belong to world of its own, where distinctions between 2- and 4-step were lost in the barrage of syncopation, and fresh layers of intricacy would drift into the foreground with each listen.

Of course, everything has its origins; Al - real name Alec Storey - grew up on a diet of techno and electro, with his early productions exploring glitchy, technoid broken beat with a dancefloor-ready fervour. A turning point came in meeting dubstep legend Appleblim in their mutual stomping ground - Bristol - after which Al was gradually coaxed onto the Applepips roster, one future-rushing 12” at a time. In advance of airing his much-lauded live set at the Rhythm Factory, London this Saturday (4 Sept), here the producer talks about his love for miniscule detail, the importance of playing drums, and his various production activites - both with and without the ever-dependable 'Blim.

How did you get into making music?

Al Tourettes: I've been playing drums since I was about 9. My dad's a musician; he plays keys and harmonica and sings, and has done everything from film and TV music to albums - all sorts of stuff. So I've basically grown up with music all my life. I got in a band with some mates - we got like a grant and did demos and things like that - and then by chance I got a lift to a rave out in the countryside and heard techno and was just like 'that's it!' [laughs]. I got some decks basically the next week, the band kind of disbanded instantly, and I got a little Atari and a Korg N-1 and a little sampler. I guess I was about 15.

So it was pretty clear to you that that was what you wanted to do?

AT: Yeah it was the whole thing. It was the music first and foremost but also, around where I grew up - rural Suffolk and Norfolk - I didn't think there was fuck all going on, and suddenly to find we could use all this land for parties was just wicked. It was a proper wake up call. I got straight on buying records and probably about a year later I started making tracks.

Where did the name come from?

AT: [thinks] Well a few different things really. I guess because [Tourettes is] a sound-based syndrome, and my music's got glitches, outbursts, it's got that kind of energy which I identify with. Also, you know... [coyly]... weekend banter! It's just one of those names...

You've got releases dating back to 2006 - the early releases are much more electro-based...

AT: Yeah I guess; I've always been into electro. My brother was into it - he passed away when I was really young - but I've still got all his old tapes, like Crucial Electro. I kind of subconsciously heard it as I was growing up, totally forgot about it, got into techno and then heard electro again and it's... I could never make pure electro, it's always going to be a bit more techno-ey, a bit more mashed-up.

What interests me is that your tracks always have that broken beat - it's never just a four to the floor thing.

AT: Yeah, well I'm a drummer so I just love breakbeats, but I also love techno as an idea - the forward motion of it. I do like a straight beat, but in my own music I like to have lots of variation; even just little things that only appear once or twice that keep it interesting for me.

When and how did you come upon the idea of a dubstep/techno crossover?

AT: I met Laurie [Appleblim] a few years ago, and from what I'd heard of dubstep up to that point I wasn't that into it, I found it really sluggish. I've never been hugely into the half-step - I do like it now, as long as it's peppered with other stuff. So that was what I'd heard before, but then... I was into electro bass kind of sounds - like Radioactiveman and some of the Miami stuff - which isn't that far removed from dubstep, it's just the snares are straight rather than being off-beat. And I was massively into techno, so it wasn't that big a change for me - it's just that the syncopations have changed.

So there wasn't a revelation moment?

AT: Well - what Applepips had put out prior to my release, and Laurie's collection, are basically what got me into it. He played me a lot of stuff like 2562, Shackleton, and obviously the Skull Disco stuff - that's just something totally different!

The bass/techno/house crossover is something that's been happening right across the UK scene recently. Do you feel part of a big movement?

AT: No, not really at all. I mean it's only been recently that I've said my music is dubstep; I don't consider it to be dubstep, it's just syncopated, bass-heavy techno. That's how I think of it; in that the aesthetic is more about new sounds and exploration - that's what I mean by techno. What I love about dubstep now though, is the fact that it's a catch-all term, so people will get into it from a particular angle and then will discover new sounds through that.

How did you meet Laurie Appleblim?

AT: Just at a friend's party. I was playing 'Beau Mot Plage' by Isolee, a classic sunny house tune, and he came up and was like 'wheeey!' It turned out that he knew some of my mates.

You've collaborated with Appleblim quite a few times. What's that like - do you find it hard to relinquish creative control over the music?

AT: Not with Laurie, no. I've tried making tunes [with other people] before and I always found I couldn't do it. That was with a mate called Luke's Anger, who runs a label called Bonus Round. He's a really good mate, and we tried making some tracks. But because we're quite strong with where we're coming from, it didn't really work. Whereas with Laurie, I suppose he's not that technical. So he kind of allowed me to control, but he's got the foresight and he knows what he wants. Obviously there's always compromise, but essentially I'm still at the controls, so that's why it works.

In those tracks, do you hear a clear interaction between his sound and your sound?

AT: Yeah, things will go in a totally different direction than I would have taken them; where I might just go for the jugular, he might coax it, build it a bit more - or something like that. But I think we are on the same plane generally. He helps me be less complex - go for more hooks. Which has really helped me a lot, in being confident to get a bit more tonal - more melody focussed, where my earlier tracks where a lot more glitchy and about mad sounds. I think I'm getting more confident to expand and bring out the hooks.

A lot of people would have discovered you through the 'Dodgem/Sunken' release on Applepips. Do you feel that was a milestone release in terms of your sound?

AT: Definitely. I took a lot of time on those tracks. And going back to the melody thing, I focussed more in on that with those, brought them out a lot more. And I did focus a lot of time on getting the whole sound of it - I spent months on them basically!

So you don't feel a track loses momentum if you spend too long making it?

AT: Well I had the hook there from the outset - actually Laurie heard the tracks when they were just in loop form, which created a lot of pressure, like 'shit now I've actually got to make a track!'. But that was good, it pushed me on. My music's a lot about the details, so I spent a lot of time on small things that you might not hear on the first listen.

What is it that draws you to that detail, where a lot of UK dance music is more about skeletal arrangements which present a few ideas with maximum impact?

AT: [Thinks] Well that's not to say that I don't like really upfront stuff. I guess it's to satisfy me really; I want to be able to hear it as a whole tune, I like to pick out little details that you might not hear. I want to keep going back to it; not that I listen to my music all the time, that'd drive me mad! But I'm not happy unless I've got these - even if they're just little kaleidoscopic things that only I can hear, even just tiny modulations; it just makes me happy!

I wanted to ask you about your live show - how does it work?

AT: I've been using Ableton Live - Luke's Anger got me onto that, because we did a Creative Music Technology course at Bath Spa University; Laurie was actually on that course as well, I was in the year above him. I didn't know him then at all.

So I've been doing live sets since about 2004. I load samples from the track onto the Roland SPDS - a little portable drum kit - so it allows me to jam along with the track. I always want to incorporate the drums into what I do, it seems silly not to. Along with using different sounds as well that keeps it kind of fresh. There's also the visual side of things - people like to see someone - rather than browsing their emails - actually doing something with live sets. Which has been a bit of a problem with laptop music. But I think that's changing a lot. The responsiveness of technology is a lot better, so that helps.

Why did you decide to work on a live set rather than solely DJing?

AT: Mainly because I wanted to play the drums! And to play my own music. They were the main reasons, but also the flexibility of live. When i started I didn't have any music out, I hated CDs so I wouldn't play with them. So it was a natural thing when Ableton came along, I thought, 'Oh I can play all my own tunes'.

How important is playing out to you? Would you be happy to just sit in the studio making tracks?

AT: No, not at all. But I always get really nervous about anything I do, and I stress hard about performing - especially playing live. There are all the things that can go wrong, and because it's your own stuff it's so personal. When I played at Fabric last time, I was bricking it for ages, but it was really weird because when I played I couldn't see anyone - I was up on this stage and there was loads of smoke. All I could see was my mate Robbie's head bobbing up and down going 'wheey!'. So I was like 'fuck there's no one in here!', and carried on all 'oh no!'. Then when I came down the whole fucking place was packed!

Finally, what's coming up for Al Tourettes?

AT: I've got quite a few different things on the go; some good gigs coming up. And I've done a special bit of music for the new Aronofsky film, The Black Swan - thanks in no small part to Mary Anne Hobbs. I think there are a few other artists involved too - for a particular scene, in a club. So I was very very lucky to be working on that.

We've also got mine and Laurie's track on Underworld's album - that's out at the end of this month. It was a remix originally, but we did a lot to it and they really liked it, so they've put it as a co-collaboration on the album.

Also a release on Bonus Round, which is more of an electro bass track that I wrote quite a while ago. That's coming out soon on a Various Artists compilation. I've also got a track coming out on [young Bristol imprint] If Symptoms Persist. Their next release is my friend Arkist which is going to be sick, then I've got one after that.

It seems like a lot of the stuff you're doing dates back to you meeting Laurie. Does it feel like fate?

AT: [Laughs] Yeah, I reckon it could be. I don't want to go too...spiritual! But seriously, I think we've both helped each other out in many ways. He's like my bro basically!

Al Tourettes plays at The Rhythm Factory this Saturday at Dark Matta alongside Lorn, Patchwork Pirates, Kanji Kinetic and Wagawaga. 10pm-6am. Prices: £7 (Advance) / Before 12am - £10 On The Door. For more information click here.

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