Back in 2014 Route 8 first released on Lobster Theremin, a record label which was relatively new at the time and gathering momentum with records selling fast and hype growing online. Fast forward some six years later and few could have guessed quite how prominent and crucial the record label would be in the evolution of a new wave of dance music in the UK and beyond.
In recent years the imprint has transcended the stereotypes of the lo-fi house phase and has evolved into a sprawling platform for creative electronic music across all sectors.
Route 8 has held a close relationship with Asquith, the Lobster Theremin founder, over many years. Their own respective careers have evolved and changed, so too have their musical tastes. However, the consistency has remained and now as they both plot respective ventures and new avenues we asked them to talk about how the year has played out for them in London and Budapest respectively.
Read the interview below:
A: Hi Szilveszter, you alright?
R: Hey Jimmy, I’m doing great, how are you?
A: Yeah great thanks, how have you been keeping?
R: Well, Hungary has just entered its second lockdown. This week they announced that they will be closing all the clubs again, and by midnight you need to be at home, but luckily my close friends and I are all safe. I had a few friends who caught Covid, but after two weeks they were fine.
A: My partner had Covid as well, which probably means I had it, but I think if I did I didn’t have any bad symptoms, it might have just come across as a heavy cold. My partner had real problems with her breathing and has actually had some issues since. She has a history of asthma and has gone back on her inhalers, which has been a massive help. She’s okay now, I’m glad to hear your friends are okay too.
A: My family have also moved back up North to live by the sea, in their little bungalow.
R: Nice! So they were able to get away from the pandemic slightly?
A: Well, they were travelling around Europe in a caravan when this all started, so their life has changed quite dramatically, but they’re pretty relaxed. I moved into a new flat with my partner in North London. I had lived in East London for around ten or eleven years. We’re no somewhere a bit quieter, there’s a bit more space and I’ve got both my cats here: Jeremy from my previous relationship and Hilda, who I got last year.
R: The famous two cats! I saw them on your Instagram. I know Jeremy is one of your longest lasting cats, how long have you had him?
A: Eight years! He’s massive, I had a friend over on Sunday who I’ve known for, like, ten years, and they met him about five years ago and couldn’t believe how big he has got.
R: I can remember when I first visited you in London and I got to your flat and saw him. I was like Jesus, this guy is bigger than my dog!
A: Yeah, they’re so cute. It’s interesting that you mentioned there that clubs are just shutting again in Hungary, because here clubs didn’t re-open. We had some outdoor, socially distanced venues that could open at certain times, but most clubs have had to apply for that huge creative grant. You’ll have seen all the controversy.
R: Yeah, I saw. Resident Advisor is a great venue, so I’m glad they got the grant (laughs). It was similar here. When clubs were open, they were only allowed to open until 10pm. We had a lot of open-air parties during the summer here in Hungary, a lot of trance was played. It was quite chill, but in September it all stopped.
A: So, you’re releasing your debut album on Lobster in the middle of it all. We came close to releasing it four years ago.
R: Four years ago, the year Trump got elected. We were actually in the U.S.A when it was announced!
A: We were, we were on our debut tour! I really love the exploration on the new album; it’s very ethereal, stripped back and deep. I feel like it’s a journey through the development of your sound. I can hear some of the old and new influences. The original album, that was lost during our time in America, did it sound similar to the album we are releasing?
R: It was completely different. I wanted to do an album, but I didn’t have a direction. I always wanted to make an album that tells a story, and I wondered what that story should be. Then I realised; I started making music through driving. My moniker is inspired by the highway I travel across to see my grandmother, and I wanted to tell a story about travelling through those mountains and the feelings and thoughts experienced whilst doing so.
R: Originally the tracks were a little all over the place. The new edition fits together nicely with the narrative. I took two years out to refine my sound; I was never that happy with how my tracks sounded. There was always something missing. I watched a lot of tutorials and read a lot of articles about how to mix down my tracks properly. I still record everything live, but now I take about two weeks to master them in Ableton. I guess that’s why it sounds different, but still has those core Route 8 jams and pads that I can’t let go off.
A: I guess that’s the sound palette you draw from. I think it would be strange if your debut album was a complete departure.
R: Exactly. I wanted to show something new, but also wanted to showcase some of the classic stuff. The best of both worlds.
A: One track that really stood out for me was the collaboration with Quails. Do you think you’ll be doing any more work like this? I sampled one of her vocals for my EP on Hypercolour. She has such a gorgeous voice; I’d love to do a traditional UKG flip of it.
R: Yeah, definitely. When making that track, I left space for the vocals and told her she could sing whatever she wanted over it. The funny thing is, I recorded the track when I was going through a breakup and I didn’t tell her, but when she sent me the vocals she was signing about a breakup as well, so she somehow got the message. I was instantly blown away.
A: Do you think this will change your approach to the music that you make as Route 8? Do you think we’ll see a dramatic shift in your sound if you were to do a second album?
R: I don’t know to be honest. On the first few Lobster Theremin releases I recorded everything live through tape cassettes. Now I record everything with a handheld recorder so I can get a better quality of sound. I’ve tried a few different techniques; for an EP on my label This Is Our Time I made all the tracks in Ableton.
R: In terms of having a different sound, I think in some way I always try to come up with something new. I always say ok, this time I won’t use any pads, or this time I won’t use any sad melodies, but then I always go back to those because I love making sad music for the dancefloor.
R: I learned some of that stuff from you. Through lockdown you started to share some live streams about your techniques and stuff. When did you decide you wanted to share some of that knowledge?
A: I’d wanted to do that for a while. We’ve known each other long enough that you know I’ve always wanted to teach. I had a lot more time at home and I stopped touring, and when I took away all those concerns about what people are going to think I realised that this was something I wanted to share in an honest way; not sounding like some sort of expert, just demystifying some things based on my experience in all segments of the industry.
A: There are lots of things that are assumed about the music industry that I think are very incorrect. Sometimes people get their information from places that aren’t teaching the topics properly, or they’re getting it from social media and it’s something that’s misinformed. An example being: when a big band or artist post a cheque about Spotify streaming showing that they got three pence for eight million streams… That’s not actually how it works. They’ve got this big exaggerated version of information.
A: Also, when you’re a DJ, you get to tour and there’s this assumption that you should just be thankful at all times. There is a massive privilege in being able to do that, but if you’ve never done it before you may not be aware of the huge number of challenges that also come with it. I think it’s important to take the tension and concern out of those debates and be honest about it.
R: Yeah, I can remember when I started getting bigger you gave me a lot of advice about how to promote my tracks and get gigs and stuff. That was really helpful as I had no idea how to do anything besides make music. To build an audience you need to know these things.
A: Totally. It’s very easy for aspiring artists to look at a handful of artists who have had a steep trajectory for whatever reason. There’s too much of a focus on those artists in thinking that that is what must happen, when in fact ninety nine percent of artists must work on it every day and have a steady rise. That’s not the glamorous vision that everybody wants, but it’s the reality, and there’s a real integrity and joy out of setting that as the expectation and pursuing that.
R: In terms of advice on production, I noticed that one of your signature aesthetics is that the whole track is very in your face. They’re so powerful. How do you do this?
A: I don’t know, maybe it’s because I never really turn that many volumes down. I’m not going to lie; I think a lot of it is probably over compression. I don’t supply pre-masters at minus six or minus twelve, I supply driven, hot, compressed zero DB masters. Fortunately, I use the same mastering person all the time, so they understand this, but there have been a few instances where I’ve had to send the masters back because it sounds a bit too crispy. It comes down to trying to invest in a sound and get behind something. I only use software, and I think I have a lot of techniques that you would be told traditionally not to do, and more perspectives on doing things from teaching, but I think that adds a bit of character.
R: You give and you get back, it’s like an exchange of information which can help everyone.
A: For sure. Sharing information gave me the space for new perspectives and creativity. It hasn’t led to a sudden flood of new sounding tracks, but it’s helped me refine some of the processes.
A: On a similar topic for yourself: can you identify a piece of gear that really helped form the album?
R: In terms of gear: every track has the Elektron Digitone on it. It’s a great FM synthesiser; I’ve always been in love with them. The way they work is horrible, but Elektron where somehow able to make this fun and easy. You can make so much stuff with the notes, and that’s why I use it on every track. I love that mellow FM sound.
R: In terms of a plugin: I found this multiband compressor called OTT. It’s the number one compressor for dubstep artists. It’s an upward and a downward compressor, so it brings up the signal when it’s too low and brings it down when it’s too loud – and it’s free! It certainly helped me have a more powerful sound.
A: Was there a particular technique that informed the album?
R: I used a lot of LFOs for the sounds, so they don’t sound the same all the time. I can modulate all the soundwaves, like on the ‘Bound Together’ track; there is a high synth lead of some sort that is changing all the time because I modulated it. I think it shows that you don’t need super expensive gear to make music. People always ask me about what drum machines I’m using etc: I always use a super cheap drum machine and a cheap FM synth, and you can use Ableton stock plugins to create a powerful track.
A: Well, we’ve been speaking for about an hour now. It was super nice chatting, Szilveszter. We’ll obviously be keeping in contact in the run up to the release of Rewind The Days Of Youth, and a massive congratulations on a fantastic record. I’m looking forward to what else we’ll be releasing from you in the near future.
R: Thank you! I’m looking forward to hearing your new Time Warp EP too! I saw you just got the masters back.
A: Thanks, man Two of those tracks are over one sixty so that should be fun. See you around.
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