Artist to Artist – Tim Fairplay and Secret Circuit
Continuing our DJ To DJ series, we asked Tim Fairplay and Secret Circuit to grill each other senseless and reach one anothers deepest recesses.
Tim Fairplay gets into the emotional grooves that form Secret Circuit’s sounds and talks artistic linage, psych music and ‘purer’ forms of releasing records whereas Secret Circuit takes a different approach and questions Fairplay on the tools of his trade allowing us to gain an insight into his use of analogue synths and drum machines.
Tim Fairplay: Your release on Emotional Response ‘Tropical Psychedelics’ was a collection of recordings made between 1996 and 2000, I presume the new LP ‘Tactile Galactics’ on Beats in Space are more recently completed compositions. How has the way you work changed between then and now? Be it in the intention, influence, or the practicality of how you actually make it. ‘Higher Heights’ has more of a contemporary dance music feel than the stuff off the tapes for instance.
Secret Circuit: All the stuff from the older period is just going to be different no matter what, whether it’s influences or head space or time past. That music was also created without any label or particular goal in mind so it has a very special thing to it. There’s a few on there that were recorded on 4 track cassette, which is how I recorded music for many years. Tactile Galactics began to take a turn for being material for an LP for Beats In Space which somehow I knew would be a more widely received record. The new music really has the same essence for me as the older stuff albeit within a template of “dance music”. In reality, it all shaped together the same way as I always work, which is just exploring inspiration.
TF: How do you feel about your older works being released nearly side by side with your newer work? How do you think this effects the audiences perception of you? Do you worry people make comparisons?
SC: I didn’t think about it while it was all coming together but as the LP started wrapping up I thought how people may get a bit thrown off by the difference, but I’m glad it worked out the way it did because I would never want to have the assumed perceptions that people may have to effect what I’m doing. I want whatever I do to be as pure as it can be. If I ever feel I’m in the studio with those thoughts I may as well call it a day and just go for a hike. Maybe if there was a longer wait between the two it would have been even more baffling to people, you never know.
TF: Do you see music as being primarily ‘Art’, or do you see it as having functionality? Dancing for instance, can this functionality and pure art expression ‘fit together’?
SC: Music has all kinds of functions. It can relax you, groove you, make you think, inspire you, or alter you in some way. I guess that would be filed under function. It also is art and that’s something that communicates in an abstract way in each person differently.
TF: Your ‘sound’ is very broad, you don’t seem to work between a particular genre, are you conscious of having a sound at all, or would you feel trapped by that? Do you just make what you feel like making that day? If there are not sounds you go back to, are there things which you want to express though your music which you return to?
SC: I think that I’m really influenced by too much to really stay still. I always did view Secret Circuit as a project where I could get everything into it somehow. I think that was my main goal to begin with. There is too much amazing music to explore to limit myself! That said, I still end out making things here and there that don’t really seem to fit the Secret Circuit style. if people ask me what type of music I make I tend to generalize by calling it “electronic”.
TF: Tracks like ‘Out on the Floor’ remind me of the early work of the Aphex Twin, were you aware of such artists when you made these tracks?
SC: Oh I definitely was aware of and listened to Aphex Twin, but even then I remember taking a more natural approach in a way, mostly because I didn’t have any of those kinds of computer programs. I liked all the stutter chops and things but I didn’t really ever try to go there too far, although I did try and emulate that a bit with guitar pedals a few times! I found that he also had a way with a melody, however alien it usually was.
TF: What are your primary influences and how do you use them when making your own music?
SC: As far as music or bands go, I would definitely say that Can probably had the hugest effect on me. The way that they somehow remain timeless while making music only they could make. Their communication with nature in all its forms. They are really their own world. Also the aspect of a magician behind the curtain making magic out of 10 hour jams was big. As far as anything coming that close, inspiration wise, I would say that listening to the DJ mixes of Danielle Baldelli was the hugest head splitter for me. He had a beautiful way of showing all was up for grabs and limitless. I am still always searching for inspiration everyday.
TF: To my ears I hear influences such as Eno, Satie, and Krautrock like Cluster or am I barking up the wrong tree?
SC: No definitely not! I was very informed by krautrock as a teen. I pondered over the Faust Tapes endlessly in high school. Faust and Can were huge inspirations and still are. I love the first set of Eno records and Satie is just engrained in everyones psyche anyways!
TF: One of my favourites is ‘Moon Life’ – do you listen to a lot of World Music?
SC: It’s funny, when I recorded that track I didn’t start out saying, “I want to record an African track.” I only thought that afterward it sounded African. World music is again something very important for me. In a way, certain world music can be just as insane as a Faust record if you tilt your mind in that direction. Also in many places in the world, chord changes are not particularly as prevalent as in the western world. This can be easily compared to dance music or trance music. A great source of inspiration nowadays is Awesome Tapes From Africa. There are so many incredible things in there.
TF: It might be stating the obvious, but your music is very tropical sounding, is this your intention? Or do you think its the product of such a warm climate? Living in London I struggle to stop my music from all sounding pretty bleak
SC: You’ve touched on something very interesting in the question of whether our surroundings influence the music we make. I would say for sure it does for me. For instance, I like to surf so there is the influence of the beauty of nature and being in harmony and in awe of it. I also have to take the freeway to get there which gives a whole other set of influences.
TF: How much has the dance/electronic music community who listen to and support your music effected you? Do you still see yourself as making strange ‘anti-music’?
SC: First off I think dance music is a very broad term and it can even cover anti-music. I really like Hieroglyphic Being a lot and some of his stuff definitely verges on anti-music. If you play a certain person some early house stuff they may most definitely call it anti-music. Dance music is a very broad genre…
TF: You spent years releasing your own music on cassette, do you or did you feel that this was a ‘purer’ way to realise your music or have you always decided wider appreciation?
SC: I don’t really think about it. In one way it’s great to make music that is very much for yourself. In another it’s great to have your music heard! One thing I don’t totally dig is that you have to be a bit more careful of how much stuff you put out there. Your responsibility as an artist comes out a bit.
TF: I am aware that you come from an artistic background did you never want to rebel against your linage and become an accountant or something?
SC: There was never a time I wanted to rebel against the artistic side of life. It was always my path so I didn’t argue!
TF: For a long time in electronic music it was deemed as being passe to make music with melodic content, however there seems to be a current rejection of this, is this something you are conscious of?
SC: Not really. I don’t even think all the material is “melodic” although I do favor a melody or something to latch on to at least. Would that be termed as a “hook”?
TF: Do you see yourself as part of a scene?
SC: There are definitely more people in L.A. making electronic music nowadays. For a while there in the 90’s it felt very strange to set up a bunch of pedals and drum machines on stage at a rock club. People were very confused by it. I was confused by it. Everybody probably was! Anyways, as far as a scene, you could say The Pharaohs, Suzanne Kraft, SFV Acid, E.S.P. Institute and many more are fairly aware of what the others are doing. I think what makes it a scene is that everybody stokes everybody to do better.
TF: How important is equipment to you? Do you fetishise certain bits of kit, or could you make music with anything?
SC: I find new pieces of gear to be inspiring. It’s like getting to know them or not knowing them well that can create some amazing things. The thrill of their possibilities or limitations can really shape a piece of music. Of course collecting old synths is awesome but they are really getting pricey nowadays. Luckily I have a few classics already. I also like to look in the unexpected areas of gear too like FM synths and even some automatic dance music making machines from the 90s like the early Electribes.
TF: Did your time playing in bands have a lasting effect on the way you work and the music you produce?
SC: I find it interesting when I bring a guitar into my music. It opens a lot of old doors in my mind. I also find that it’s so immediately expressive it’s almost daunting. Lately guitar has been appealing to me a lot more. Bass guitar is more easily adaptable for me.
TF: Do you see your music as Psych music?
SC: In a way, I do see my music as psych music. To me, psych music is about exploring sonic possibilities. Psych music definitely tends to replicate enhanced mind frames whether by drugs or spiritual communion. I would say that mainly that sound just comes natural to me. It’s what I favor, maybe like a country musician would favor an acoustic guitar or something. Maybe it’s just my language.
Secret Circut: I really dig how spare and economic your tracks are. Each thing has it’s place and it’s very well put together. Do you find that you have to stop yourself from adding things to your music and when do you feel a piece of music is done?
Tim Fairplay: I guess its for a number of reasons, I don’t particularly intend my music to be minimal, but I listen to a lot of “SynthWave” kinda stuff and I love how much those bands did with such minimal equipment. A lot of those early Chicago house records have so few elements too. I often write more parts for a track than end up in the final version, one track ends up as two etc… I prefer to use less elements – then you can hear all of them all the way through. Saying that a lot of my sounds are made in quite a complex why, most of my synths are only single OSC monosynths so I have to layers stuff up to sound rich and thick. ‘One’ synth line will actually be made of four.
SC: In your music I hear the cavernous spaces of dub music. How deep do you find influence from Jamaican music and dub in particular?
TF: Dub is a huge influence! I have a bit of a thing about how dub doesn’t have enough influence at the moment in electronic music, so much music has barely any space in it. I guess it goes back to your previous question too… Those simple dub baselines and less being more. I think as well as my love of echo, I get my love of warmth from dub.
SC: I hear space echo or tape delay and spring reverb in heavy use. What do you like about those qualities?
TF: I love huge reverbs and delays… but I hate the shiny complex (stereo – blurg) ones you find in DAW software. Delays are great for building up rhythm tracks with, and adding swing. My obsession started when I was in bands as a teenager listening to Syd Barrett era Pink Floyd, I have lost count of how many tape/analogue/digital units I own, and when it comes to spring reverb nothing sounds better than running stuff through the old Fender Twin in the studio – even drums. The rougher the better really, like Copicats or the DOD 680… Panning the original sound on one side and the delay on the other – like people used to!
SC: How do you go generally compose your music? Do you start with a certain instrument and build out? Do you have a method that you repeat each time?
TF: I usually have an idea for the bassline or the main theme or the groove and build up from there. I try to make myself work differently on different things… stop myself from using the same gear etc. There are things I often do, key changes and stuff like that, but in fact at the moment I’m making myself not do a lot of my standard tricks cos they are feeling a little played out.
SC: Tell me a bit about the synths you use and how important is it to use analog synths versus software synths for you?
TF: I just love weird old instruments, vibe off the instrument itself, even its paint job… I’m not all analogue, I have some old digital synths too & I’m not totally anti soft-synths, I just have no need to use them most of the time, I have tons of old Roland & Korg gear. Nothing sounds like the Roland SH09 or RS09, or the MS10 triggered by the SQ10 sequence – so its a bit out of tune. I am a bit obsessed with my Casio CZ-1000 at the moment, has a great ‘fake – analogue’ sound, very 80’s tropical digi-dub.
SC: You obviously love old drum machines. Tell me an interesting story about a drum machine that you own or found.
TF: I do yeah… Though many are so hard to get hold of now without having to loose a limb. I was lucky that I picked up my TR808 a few years back before they became daft expensive, was a lucky impulse buy. A bit of a fav of mine is the Casio RZ-1. It has a great sorta ghetto Oberheim sound, and has that wicked 12bit sampler which is fantastic – features a lot on the ‘Somebody Somewhere’ EP and remixes from around then. Andrew recently aquired a Frontline X2 drumsynth, I am gonna try and do a whole EP using nothing else.
SC: Do drum machines have souls?
TF: Very much so! Though programmers have to have souls too.
SC: How did you meet and begin to work with Andrew weatherall?
TF: I was a regular at a night he was involved in a while ago called Heywire, just met there socially and then he gave the band Battant I was in somewhere to rehearse – thats how I ended up in the studio. I did quite a bit of session work with him and then ended up engineering for him and producing with him like 3/4 years ago, after I left Battant.
SC: When you work together in the Asphodels, do you guys argue over stuff? How on the same page are you guys?
TF: We are pretty much on the same page, there has not been an argument yet… Like we obviously bring our own separate things to the table, but The Asphodells is where we meet. Also we have both been making music for too long to be too argumentative in the studio.
SC: You used to be in a guitar band. In what ways do you prefer “electronic” production as your mode of expression?
TF: Not having to put up with the rest of the band… Its more that my time in bands really influences how I make electronic music, its all done very live, with as little editing afterward that I can manage. I avoid working to the grid, too much music just sounds like arranged samples, the sounds don’t spill over each other. I work fast in audio and mix in takes, the same as you would a band. I love noise music, I hate clean shiny sounds, love mistakes in tracks even. I am into plugging things in… thats why working with just a laptop does not interest me.