Grey Meta’s debut release is the first vinyl release from Technoist, also known as The-Teknoist, of previous “big fuck off rave” fame. A musical powerhouse with a behemoth of a discography that spans over the past two decades; demonstrating a blend of hardcore, techno, drum and bass and a splash of every other sub-genre to boot.
This new release from Technoist is no less energetic, with a hybrid techno sound that is soulful in intent and juxtaposed with explosive hits and breaks that truly keep you on the edge of your jawline.
TF: What has brought you to this point in 2020? Why and how are you here having this interview?
TN: Jeez, I honestly don't know. An ancient curse, perhaps? I mean, this point in 2020 is a pretty weird point, isn't it?
I guess the same can be said of my career and just existing day to day in 2020, in that, without a pretty intense, most of the time, subconscious, obsession with evolving as an artist/person, I probably wouldn't be here having this interview.
TF: Your music sits at the intersection of numerous sub-genres. Is this something you consciously strive for or just the natural outcome of what you do?
TN: It's not intentional at all. I just sit down to write ‘my version’ of everything, and, whatever comes out, more often than not, is something many people have a bit of trouble pigeon-holding. I do like that that is the case but it can limit your “reach”, for want of a better word.
As ‘open minded’ as people say they are, they do like to be able to classify what ‘style’ something is. I’m not talking about the stores that have to put a label on something for searching purposes and algorithms. I mean, just regular people. I've noticed that a large percentage of people won't give something the time of day if the track doesn't fit into the genre they like or identify most with. We’re so tribal with everything. Or even worse, they don't like something unless a DJ or artist, or ‘taste maker’ has said ‘THIS IS COOL’. This part of putting music out these days can be frustrating at times.
This isn't a criticism, not in a bitchy way, at least. I mean, we all do it to some extent now. Just with different things and at different levels. Having said all that, there are, and thank the gods of Caprica for them, people that genuinely seek out the ‘unclassifiable’ or have a real thirst for something a bit different. They are my people lol.
This has all made me sound like I write music that is truly strange and ‘out there’ when I really don't. Being strange and ‘out there’, that in itself is classification. So even that has a real home. What I do can just be hard to pin point to 1 or even 2 genres and means it can sometimes fall between the cracks. At the end of the day though, it's all just me using music to express/release some of the energies that I have inside me. If I were to make visual art, it'd probably be the same chaos. Like ‘The Eric Andre Show’ but with an emo host ... on garys.
TF: Can you explain the different emotions and approaches you have when writing techno compared to hardcore and breakcore?
TN: I’ve observed and thought about this a lot over the last couple of years. Like I just said, my music has always been about me putting my internal energy into music form. Whatever mode I’m in, or I guess you could say ‘era’ now. Whatever I’m predominantly writing, whether it's absolutely manic 220bpm breakcore or warm and emotive techno, that's what energy is strongest in me at that time. I mean, the majority of my stuff recently has been, kinda, ‘post-breakcore techno’, which has meant that its around techno tempo but still has a great deal going on, by way of edits, layers and breaks… and that is how im feeling inside atm. I believe aging has a lot to do with, dare i say maturing. As I've got older, the tempo or pace of the music has settled down a bit and has gotten less ‘noisy’. For the most part, at least. The tracks are slower in pace but still have all the internal chaos going on. That is also how I am now as a person. Less noisy but internally, an over busy wreck ...
TF: Can you talk about your creative process?
TN: Sure. Let me think about it for a second… Okay, I have a home studio so the second I wake up, I stretch while the kettle is brewing and make a cup of tea. I wake up pretty early, about 6am and I like to write almost immediately. I'm on quite a bit of medication (for bipolar disorder and schizophrenia). I was actually wondering whether to not mention this in this interview as I seem to talk about it all the time and don't want to exhaust everyone, but it's impossible to not explain my day fully without mentioning how medication affects my creativity and the context of said medication. So yeah, there's that. My meds fatigue me quite heavily as the day goes on, so i'm most fresh first thing in the morning. I like to capture that freshness while i can.
I write mostly in headphones as they help me isolate my brain and focus. Again, the headphones seem to limit my auditory hallucinations for a while and also help keep me from falling into dissociative states as much. I honestly think the headphones help by allowing me to faster drop into a flow state and by doing so, most of my symptoms don't bother me for a few hours. I do have monitors and will use them later in the process but for the more creative parts, I use headphones. I'm also aware that my neighbours might not appreciate gabber kicks ‘denging’ them awake before first light.
Project depending, I usually open a couple of Reaktor instruments / ensembles 1st, if it's a techno track and then play with a number of their grooveboxes and synths. If its a core track, il open Serum or Kick2, ready to make a kick but also find a break that i'd like to use and just start cutting a beat. Iv always identified way more with hip hop producers than techno or electronic musicians. I was chopping samples way before i learned any synthesis. Then I just flow with the go until I start feeling the weight of my meds around lunch time (1pm-ish). Like anyone else, its lots of trial and error until something really makes me start fist punching the air.
The more techno paced stuff just falls out of me atm. Its a lot like I was when I was younger and writing hardcore techno/breakcore, ideas came together quite often and quite fast. Writin-g that stuff takes more effort these days and feels a lot less natural for the 1st hour or so until I get something really working. Whereas now, with the techno stuff, I can sit down and open some instruments and start jamming and distorting, and quite quickly I feel I catch an idea that works. Not all the time but more often than not. Ash Scheme Boy likes to remind me that being prolific is not the same as being any good, so I am very aware of that lol.
I'd like to say that I’m super organised and have a template for when I open a project, and trust me, I've tried to work like that but it's never stuck. I open a Cubase ‘new project’ and build from that. I definitely have a subconscious bug in me that insists on learning lessons the hardest way or just being awkward.
TF: Are there any concepts, methods or practices that you apply to your creative process?
TN: Regarding methods and practices, I'm much more of an instinctual learner as well as artist so best practices are not very prominent in how I work. I'm the complete opposite of someone that writes in a ‘production line’ way. Every new project is just that, ‘new’. New day, new idea, new feeling, new chance at writing something truly epic. I'm not saying this is the best way to work. It's just the best way that I work. To be honest, this is all just a roundabout way of saying, “I’m probably quite a lot more stupid than you'd think” haha.
As for concepts, again, I hate to harp on about such cliche artist tropes such as expressing my inner energy, but essentially that's all I've ever done. Saying that, a concept of the more engineering nature… I do try and find ground where the production isn't so polished and pristine that it takes some of the punk, the fuzz, the grit, or the soul out of the music. I do like it so it can still hang in the mix alongside more clinical tracks. Maybe not their equal in engineering crispness and clarity but you can still include both styles next to each other. I find astonishing beauty in what many would class as imperfection. This obsession people have with ‘perfecting’ the production or engineering in their music is a curse after a certain point / level. Most of the time I think its what Stephen Pressfield would call ‘resistance’ giving them a subconscious excuse to not put their, often, incredible as is, music out for other people to hear.
TF: Are you someone with a vision of what you want to create or is your sound born from experimentation and jamming?
TN: A bit of both. I do have a lot of specific visions and goals and am able to make them a reality more often than not, but on the way to or once I've got to said vision, I've had about 3 or 4 happy accidents which have taken me down different paths. So I will either end up with one track with an evolved vision that sounds nothing like what I was initially aiming for, 4 or 5 new tracks born on the side of this singular idea, or, I will have made the vision a reality and realised that on its own, it isn't enough to carry the whole tune so then start building on it even more. Come to think of it, perhaps, if I stopped at the initial vision, my music might not be such a rave soup.
TF: How has COVID affected your creativity?
TN: Umm, COVID has knocked me for six tbh. I've had some days where I've been okay and got by. I started a side job as a personal trainer. Not what I thought I'd be doing this year, I have to say. I did have a lot planned for this year, music and gig wise. It was meant to be very
different wasn't it? It is what it is though, I guess. I've just got to keep trying and take each day as it comes.
For the initial few weeks of the 1st lockdown, I ended up self medicating with a lot of booze and drugs. I just kind of lost the plot. I went into a bit of a psychosis and couldn't bare to be sober.
Eventually, I managed to get on top of it and clean myself up.
Currently, well, I was just managing to gain some momentum when this 2nd lockdown came in and has kind of crushed me again. I have not turned to self medication this time, I've just been incredibly depressed and mentally paralysed. I've had some extreme manic episodes and am pretty low quite a lot. I need routine and structure in my life, and, building one then having it taken away, really throws me for a while. I think I adapt quite well eventually but always the 1st knock of something really throws me into a spin.
I’ve been on and off with being creative. Luckily, I work quite fast with an idea so I can get a lot done in the times I feel I can create. I'm just trying to get through the day really. I got asked to remix an Enduser track last week and so I've had my head in that. I’m very grateful for purpose right now. I needed something to wake me up a bit and have a goal to achieve within a deadline.
I'm sorry that was all quite depressing, I just wanted to be honest and open about it all. We’re all struggling. I want people to know that they aren't alone in feeling defeated by all this. We’ve got to keep on though. There will be a time in the future where we’ll be glad we didn't give up. It might be fleeting but it will happen and that'll be worth it… I think!
TF: What artists, labels, ideas and concepts are you finding most inspiring at the moment?
TN: I feel as far as having my finger on the pulse of new artists and labels, I’m very lacking. I have been all year. I have been very focussed on what I’m doing though. On what we are doing with Grey Meta, that, regular crate digging or even just looking at my Soundcloud stream feed has not really been a big part of my life this year. I guess it's a side effect of having no gigs. I'm not saying that I don't look for new music if I don't have DJ sets but i think this year has been so much a year of focussing hard on pushing Grey Meta, trying to get that right, being straight up depressed and uninterested in literally anything in front of me, or actually, working mainly on my own music so much that when I stop writing, I just want to give my ears and mind a break. Personally, there's not been much time for new discovery. I'm a little embarrassed to say all that.
A couple of people that I really feel are being completely fresh, and have been for a few years now are AQXDM (Aquarian and Deapmash). I feel like they're on a similar frequency to me, as far as heavy, often break driven, slower dance music. I mean, they just did a 170bpm remix of Cool Tiger, which, I guess, to most of their fans, would be a fast tempo, but, the majority of my career, 170 was probably the slowest tempo I would work at lol. You just don't know what their next track will sound like. I fucking love that in artists.
TF: How important is what other people are doing to your creative outlook?
TN: Its not. It never has been. I mean, I can like, even love, what other people are doing but it never comes into the studio with me. It's not something I've ever given a second thought about. When I sit down and write, I rarely think about anything outside of what i'm doing. I can be inspired by how fresh something might sound and that would make me want to write, but, when I do, I'll still write my music.
TF: If you could give one piece of advice to budding music producers so they could avoid one hurdle you have struggled the get over, what would that be?
TN: I think we’ve skirted over a few in this interview already haven't we? Try hard to compare yourself to others as little as possible. Just do you. I mean that in a styles sense but mainly in the production quality and engineering sense. It's one thing to A/B your tracks with others and have a level of quality to aim for but when you compare yourself too much to someone like, say, Amon Tobin (in any way really lol) in a way where you're sat listening to him and all you can think about is ‘i should just give up now, i'll never be that’. No, you will never be Amon Tobin haha.
Don't get me wrong, I get astounded by how someone's gift/talent or whatever seems so untouchable but…
A. I don't let it ruin me enjoying the music at that time and
B. That thought makes me want to do me more, not cripple me by over analysing and comparing. I just know a lot of people that still do this. It's such a crazy obsession. I honestly believe it's a subconscious excuse for some people to stop trying, or, not put out any music so they can't be judged. This makes me sound like I'm all very sure of myself and, believe me, I'm not. I've done all that comparing stuff but you have get over it and just stop. I get depressed and obsess at times about how my music doesn't stand up but those moments are now relatively short lived… and it's not because all the other times I think my music does stand up. It's because I move on and let tracks and projects go. ‘’Okay, maybe you're not happy with how the drum sounded in that last track… well, it's out now, you can't do anything about it… just make your next track have a better drum!’’ lol. Let shit go. I think i'll stop there haha. I think that's an important one, ‘let shit go’. Move on. Don't compare yourself too much. Be you.... All very cliche at first glance but if you look at the reasons why they are cliche, they're super valid points.
TF: What is your current set up?
TN: I have a home studio. Its the perfect size really. I have quite a minimal studio by way of gear. Im on a PC and use Cubase as my DAW. I have an AKAI MPK49 midi keyboard and controller, a Focusrite Scarlett 18i20 audio interface, Adam A7 monitors, AKG K812pro headphones and an Elektron Analog Heat. I have an empty modular rack atm and was planning on building it up this year but having all my tour dates cut this year due to Covid, I not had the money. I do have an unbuilt PAiA Quadrafuzz kit too. Thats gonna be the first thing in the rack once its built. The rack will probably end up containing just distortion units lol. I also bought a 2nd hand Traktor Kontrol s2 this year and modified it a bit. I put in an Innofader mini plus and then took off some of the pots and attached a 7inch 45 vinyl to the left platter by velcro, so I have a little portable scratch machine. It sounds like a mess but it actually works really fucking well.
TF: What is your prefered or most influential piece of software you use or have used to mould your sound and why?
TN: So, like I said, I use Cubase as my DAW and use Reaktor as my 1st port of call when writing music. Years ago, at an old breakcore rave, Tim Exile broke down using the modular building side of Reaktor in a way that I could understand and put to use. It was when he was 1st working for Native Instruments. The concept kinda stuck. I think we were both on MDMA and I'm not even sure if he was half joking with the stripped back view on how building in it was done but it helped me make sense of it all. I'm not very good at learning by reading text or watching videos. I need real interactive conversation so I can ask questions and sound like an idiot.
I now mainly use other peoples ensembles and synths but at the time it was a great introduction to Reaktor and I have loved it ever since. The Blocks by Techdiff is unreal now too! I love all Native Instrument stuff in fact. I use Kontakt a fair bit.
I’ve recently started using Serum and Kick2 to make gabber/hardcore techno kicks. I use a lot of iZotope plugs, Fab Filter and Sound Toys and have loved the Waves SSL compressor for years. I also use Dune2 quite a lot for that trance arp type synth in my tracks. Omnisphere is a staple in most projects too. All very run of the mill but yeah, Reaktor blows me away every time I get some gold from it.
TF: Where do you see your sound heading in the future?
TN: Who knows?! Forwards, always forwards. I'd like to do some remix work for some of the people I enjoy in the ‘techno’ space. That would be cool. We’re all in a kind of stasis atm though aren't we? I can't wait for clubs to be able to open again safely. I've literally played out extremely regularly since I was 15 and I'm now 39. That's no exaggeration either, so this year has been a real spanner in the works. I took some time off a couple of years ago and slowed down my production and gig rate as I was just so burnt out. I needed to work on my head and rest for a while but even then, I was playing a show a month still. I was going to pick it up again this year and really make a big push both with hardcore and the more techno side of things. Obviously that all had to be cancelled or put on hold at least.
Eventually I'd love to do a bunch of shows live. A few controllers, this modular setup of just processing units and then Reaktor with multiple ensembles, Blocks etc and just jam live. It'd have to be with 5 or 6 screens, as some of the ensembles, literally, take up a whole monitor. I guess that would be quite a spectacle though too. Id have visuals for it also. Again, probably a little Tobin influenced in that department.
TF: What inspires you outside of music?
TN: If I'm honest, I think I actually get the most inspiration from outside of music. The thing that inspires me the most is amazing storytelling in books, I'm a huge comic book collector. I have been since i was a kid. But also regular books and storytelling in film. I get unreal amounts of emotional inspiration as well as creative inspiration from these things. Reading or watching, mainly, fictional stories unravel and grow before my eyes makes me want to go and turn the studio on the second im done reading or the film is over. I guess I want to go and do my version of storytelling and unravel and build my own world within a musical paradigm. Like the composition of a films story, character portrayal by an actor, the sound design, the score, the cinematography. All of those parts composed and edited by the director and whoever else. I relate looking at that to composing and editing a piece of music. Not just from an engineering standpoint though. I get very involved in the ‘other world’ that my imagination is consuming and the wonder I feel, I find it so inspiring. Our visual artist and one of the 4 partners in Grey Meta, Shaun Gillon. He’s a comic book artist and creator as well as the abstract art pieces he does. His art is out of this world but i think the stories and concepts he has for some of his future graphic novels are just mind blowing. I used to think I had an imagination but Shaun is something else! Hes incredibly inspiring, man.
So yeah, the art of building another world, I guess. The different ways in which that is done. That is the most inspiring thing to me.
TF: Thank you Technoist!
Listen exclusively, "Back Room North Vibes".
Release date: November 25th, 2020
Format: Vinyl 12'' + Digital formats
Buy link, here.