Artist To Artist: Slam
Slam have been bossing techno for over quarter of a century. A Glaswegian institution, the duo of Stuart McMillan & Orde Meikle have taken their hard, melodic grooves around the globe, all whilst regularly smashing out a couple of monthly residencies in their hometown. This year saw them deal with highs (a nomination for Scottish album of the year, and the recent launch of Soma Tracks, a subsidery label dedicated to releasing stripped back Chicago influenced bangers) – and lows, predominantly the sudden council-forced closure of their long time home The Arches. Here Stuart and Orde get a chance to ask each other questions that other interviews miss, and their conversation veers from topic to topic, taking in religion in politics, the pitfalls of nationalism, the bullshit surrounding the closure of The Arches, and the secret technique to put together Stuart's 'cheesy fish' recipe…
Orde: Has being based in Glasgow been a help or hindrance to your chosen career ?
Stuart: I would definitely say it’s been a help. It has allowed us to create our own microcosm away from other outside influences of say places like London which are obviously more media based but are somehow more transient. In terms of our club events like Pressure and the label Soma there has been always been a strong affinity with other Glasgow producers and Djs. It has allowed us to develop and be part of a strong scene where techno is the norm, rather than being an esoteric second choice, Also playing at least two residencies here a month both at Pressure and Return To Mono at the Sub Club has helped shape our sound as producers and djs. Although, that extra flight from Glasgow airport to most European capitals is a hindrance though haha!
Stuart: What’s your feelings on religion in general? Do you feel that it’s divisive, or helpful for some? Or is there an argument for a secular or a non-secular society?
Orde: As an atheist I feel very strongly that all the State’s functions should be absolutely secular and without influence from any religion of any type, especially from our education system. I believe that everyone has the right to observe their own chosen religion free from persecution from others as none are any more important than others. But sadly this is not a reality I will see realised in my lifetime
Orde: Is Nationalism a good or bad thing ?
Stuart: It depends on how you define Nationalism! Is it a genuine love for the country in which you live? Where you love the people the nightlife the scenery the food etc? That to me is the harmless side of being patriotic. There is a more sinister side where things can be more xenophobic that’s the side that i'm not in favour of! There are two types of people in this world good ones and bad ones! And being from the acid house generation I’m an idealist about bringing people together in general. There are enough divisive factions in the world already. I suppose there is a third side though which is purely political and is based on economics. Right now I think it looks like it’s Westminster vs the rest of the UK. The north of England probably feels as disenfranchised as Scotland, Wales or Northern Ireland. If there was another referendum in two years the outcome to leave the union could quite possibly be a yes!
Stuart: Has the authorities attitudes changed to the way they deal with the so-called drug problem in the last 25 years. As we both know from the Arches closure this year and a number of other UK incidents involving club closure threats, It looks like there has been a definite move towards clamping down on what many see as a big cultural asset in the UK.
Orde: A total and utter farce what happened to the Arches in Glasgow – one of our spiritual homes gone forever. To blame a few law abiding venues and close them for the perceived ills of society and the personal choices of a small minority of club goers is so backward and draconian. I can’t even tell you what the authorities approach or enlightened attitudes are to recreational drugs – then or now.
They never seem to speak or liaise with anyone I’ve ever known in clubland – how could they possibly have any informed policy.
I think the most important issue is the safety of clubbers first and foremost – but the authorities only perceivable solution seems to be a total simplistic one – “close it "
Orde: Has commercialism infected underground dance music and is musical integrity at odds with fads and fashions ?
Stuart: I see commercial dance music as being a completely separate entity altogether. It has become the acceptable mainstay and the definitive backbone of most pop music nowadays. in fact it’s even further away from what we do than most of the rock music was in the 90s. The fact that things like Calvin Harris etc are so intrinsically woven into the pop charts has created a healthy divide where deeper electronic music is allowed to breath and be taken at face value as something else completely.
When EDM dies away techno will still be there because there is an honesty in the genre that for the most defies fashion!
Stuart: Does Berlin get too much attention? Why do think so many people are fascinated with Berlin over other cities?
Orde: No – Berlin has become a fantastic melting pot of musician and artists of multiple nationalities , a real global magnet . It has such a great diverse club, art and music infrastructure , with a liberating feeling of tolerance and acceptance, which imprints itself on all the cities inhabitants.
There’s an attitude that's imparted from a feeling of freedom like that, that can be heard in the musical output of Berlin.
I think Berlin rightly deserves it’s accolades – Viva Berlin.
Orde: What’s your proudest musical moment or experience ?
Stuart: That changes from time to time. Retrospectively it’s probably tracks that stand the test of time, for example I still hear Positive Education and Step Back being played even now by DJs. Recently it would have to be our Reverse Proceed album from last year, as conceptually it was heading to the point in my mind of what an electronic album should be. It was cool to be nominated for Scottish album of the year this year, which was totally unexpected!
Stuart: What are your feelings on the current state of dance music? Do you think it’s in healthy state right now?
Orde: Never better and yes I think it is healthy. Some may say it is a tad obese with the sheer volume of releases, many of which I don’t personally care for very much – but music is subjective – no real penultimate good or bad – just what you like.
We always guessed with the introduction of the digital medium and digital software that the ocean of tunes would grow exponentially and it has – takes me far longer now to source the tunes I play, without the filters that used to exist – but the quality of the tunes that I think are good has grown vastly – really not enough time in a set to play them all. Good times
Orde: Can you share the recipe for your famous "cheesy fish” dish ?
Stuart: Ha Ha, yes, the culinary masterpiece that is Cheese Fish. “Well it’s all in the title init bruv”? Cook fish, place cheese on top, grill fish till cheese is suitably melted, "bad a bing"!" boom"! "voila".
Stuart: Should Dj's be performers or purely selectors of music?
Orde: It’s different for different club goers I suppose – I personally wouldn’t be interested in going to see a DJ that’s purely a good performer, full of trickery, air punching and crowd rousing Smash Hits antics – playing totally shit tunes. Where as I would go to see a DJ that plays great music and puts it together with passion, knowledge and attitude – educating me musically – but without trying to be the centre of attention and trying to upstage his own tunes to fuel his ego. I suppose this could be a the creeping commercialism of underground music we sometimes ponder, where the DJs performance trumps the actual musical content and quality – it’s all about the music.
Orde: What other City and timeframe do you wish you’d have been resident in and why ?
Stuart: Maybe Chicago or Detroit in the late 80s. Simply because the music was so interesting and in the case of Detroit there is definitely a certain beauty that comes from the decay! Remember when we played there for the first time? Part of the audience was Richie Hawtin, Daniel Bell, Dj Bone, Eddie Flashing Folkes, etc! That blew my mind! Because as a wee guy from Glasgow buying their records from 23rd Precinct that seemed a world away.
Orde: Does the proliferation of low cost digital musical software led to an increase in musical mediocrity?
Stuart: No I think what leads to mediocrity is mediocre ideas. It’s back to that hardware snobbery thing which I deplore! Although we both love hardware there are some pretty cool plug ins too. I suppose you could have a pop at sample packs being responsible for a certain homogenization of music. But then again if used creatively then I don't see a problem with those either.
Stuart: We are both analogue collectors what is your favourite piece of hardware that we have acquired and why?
Orde: Has to be our Roland Jupiter 6 – we found it in a second-hand Knife, Gun and lethal Cross Bow shop which also sold dodgy home organs and shit drum machines, hidden in a corner its blue and purple livery instantly caught our attention. It’s a beast of an Analogue keyboard with a very distinctive raw powerful sound and with a very temperamental nature. When you find a good sound it’s advisable to commit it to audio instantly as if you leave the room for a cup of tea , it’ll have changed by the time you get back. Only ever seen two others J6’s in other people's studios – not sure if many were ever made or still survive.
Stuart: Who is your favourite film director and why? Why are there so many average films being made lately? Is popular culture under attack from the movie moguls safe and uninspiring choices?
Orde: Would have to be Akira Kurosawa – his films are timeless, epic, beautiful and deeply moral. Hollywood is awash with too many puerile profit driven accountants and not enough good scriptwriters and commissioners with attitude. I’m sure everyone has read plenty of books that make you think “ that would make a great movie “ but NO we get Battleship, Iron Man 6 or a remake of Total Recall.
Orde: Social Media – really important or a source of trivial annoyance ?
Stuart: Or a nosey bastards paradise haha! When you look at things like facebook it really has been a revolution in the way we communicate! I always think that you had the Hippie generation the Punk generation the Acid House generation or whatever! Now we have the social media generation which interestingly isn't musical or fashion led, it’s all of those things and more. I think we are so far in with social media now that it would be hard to imagine a world without it! The irritation comes when people take themselves too seriously and become obsessed with likes etc. That's sad!
Sometimes people tend to show off a bit, but fuck it! That's up to them! It's a useful tool for artists to stay in touch with their fanbase and vice versa!
Stuart: Ibiza! Explain?
Orde: Not sure I can explain Ibiza as I don’t fully understand, or want to, the politics and commercial excesses of the White Isle’s clubland.
Don’t get me wrong I’ve had some great nights and times there in the past – a beautiful place, as are the other Balearic Islands. But the more I visit the more I question a lot of the club night’s musical validity.
For me it’s, for the most part, just become a big callous cold hearted business in the sunshine, charging exorbitant prices for almost everything – to pay for ridiculous marketing budgets, make huge profits and appeal to the masses – praying on predominantly young Northern European tourists – if it wasn’t club culture and dance music it was selling it could just as easily be something else.
Orde: Why do most DJs feel they have to become producers ?
Stuart: I think it’s because they see that as a way of getting noticed. A time consuming business card if you will!
Slam's latest single Make You Move is out now vis Soma Tracks. Pick it up here.