*Download the mix here
Much like his music, Reso is blunt and to the point. As we talk in an East London pub about the release of his – many times announced – debut album “Tangram”, there’s something refreshing about hearing someone be honest about the trials and tribulations of the modern day dance music producer and the generic pitfalls of scenes and the creative process.
“Tangram” is a challenging album, not in its artistic scope or vision but rather in its approach which Reso admits is purposefully cinematic, designed to grip you from the start before letting you relax a little and sending your heart racing once more till the end. Think of it like the audio equivalent of a Hollywood blockbuster, sans shitty acting and gratuitous breast shots.
With a foot in both the dnb and dubstep scenes over the last six or so years, Reso has managed to be both a part of these scenes while also keeping the status of an outsider, a dichotomy that allows him to steer clear of being boxed within any specific template. Music wise, he is equally adept at twitchy drum n bass indebted to the techier spectrum of the sound, as he is making in your face dubstep or new school hip hop beats.
We sat down to discuss the album’s genesis and process, scene alliances, the realities of the creative process and its consumption as well as his fascination with Japan, robots and just how much he knows about the history of “Tangram”. Read on for the words and don’t forget to check the mix that goes with it, which, as he said when he delivered it, is “a bunch of tunes I like, no bangers or dance music I’d play out really”.
I remember seeing your name on dubstep forum back in 2006, and well six years later you’re just about to release your debut album which is a nice change from people appearing on a ‘scene’ and having a debut album out straight away. You mention in the PR something about being ready?
Well you don’t want to rush it and I didn’t want it to be a collection of shitty beats. A lot of people put out albums that I think are clearly just a collection of tunes that they had and which they put together in an album format, without any thought going into making it as an album as such. I think it’s hard to make an album of music that’s interesting and where songs relate to those before and after them. So to put it simply, I wasn’t ready. I think you need to be quite mature musically to be able to do it. You get the odd genius that can just do it and be amazing. It’s an exception to the rule however. So to me the albums that sound like that come from people who are a little older and have had time to mature and develop their musicality and find their sound rather than just smash it out. Not saying that’s bad, but in my opinion the crafted album is better, it has longevity. The albums I go back to tend to be those that have had a lot of effort put into them.
Regardless of the genre, the album format is always tricky within dance music unless you go for something different or conceptual.
Yeah. If you’re known for putting out 12”s you can have an entire career in dance music and be fine, sticking to singles and EPs. It’s fine, it’s dancefloor music. I think an album has to go beyond that though, beyond the dancefloor and as corny as it sounds it has to be a work of art. And I don’t mean [in corny voice] “ohhhh it’s a work of art”. You’ve got to put work into it.
Are those the things that informed your album then?
Yes, I wanted to make an album that felt like one for me. And whether or not people like it is irrelevant to me, to a degree. I know what I put into it.
Do you find that once you’ve created something and let go of it it’s no longer yours to control and therefore you need to rein in your feelings about it?
Exactly. It is out of my hands from now. I know what I was thinking when I made it, and I’ve even forgotten how I made some of it because I did so much and spent so long on it that it’s all blurred now. I might have been sitting at home watching TV and then an idea will come to me from watching something and I’d run upstairs to work on it but then six months down the line I can’t remember where I got that idea from. But yeah once it gets released it’s done. Music is personal and everyone will hear it differently and attribute to it what they want. That’s the reason why I think Burial has done well, he took away all the bullshit of being part of a scene, or being a certain kind of person etc… and he let the music speak. In a sense me talking to you right now for this interview is annoying, because I’m putting my personality on it and in turn I’ll influence people’s perception of the album and the music. It sucks.
Burial is “the” example of letting art speak for itself when it comes to dance music these days. Personally I’ve not got much colouring of your music, as you mention, because I guess I don’t really follow the scenes you are “popular” in. And as you said that can be a good thing.
You get known for doing certain things and if you move away from it, people get angry. You can stick to it rigidly and make a career out of it, which some people do. You rinse the formula out. Or you can try and do something different.
Where do you think you are in that spectrum then?
I’d like to think I struck a balance. I tried to get everything in that I like. I could have got more in it but then we get into double album things and it’s silly, especially for a first album. I wanted to make it an hour because it’s a nice length I think. Unless you’re really stoned than you can probably sit through more. I can listen to bands for more than an hour, there’s something about the song format bands follow that lends itself better to longer listens. Not to say you can’t do it with dance music but again it’s tricky and far from the norm.
So are you saying a dance music track isn’t a song?
No it’s different. The standard dance formula is 32 bar intro, 64 bar drop, 16 bar breakdown and 64 bar rinse out till the end kinda thing. It’s done like that, it’s made for DJing with…
It’s a template.
Yeah and you can get creative working within that template, that’s the trick: being able to make interesting music within a rigid format like that. The template exists because people have to mix the music. It’s made to be blended into other music by DJs.
Those templates have evolved a bit over the last 20 odd years though, despite the strength of that one standard approach. You’re hearing more attempts to bring elements from templates usually used by bands/traditional music.
Well the classic song approach of verse, chorus, verse, chorus, bridge, chorus, end can also be interesting, but I personally find weird, progressive music that disregards all these things the most interesting at the moment. Music that throws templates out of the window basically. Why can’t there be a dance tune that’s in 5/4 and doesn’t follow a template? As long as there’s a beat you can nod to and dance to, people are likely to dig it. As bad as it sounds, people get confused easily. I did a remix recently where all I did was nudge a couple of bass drums around so it’s flirting on the border of being swung and triplets, you can’t quite tell which it is. And I like that, it’s the kinda of trick people like Flying Lotus have used before and it’s become a standard of modern electronic hip hop or whatever you want to call it. But so many people were like ‘ohhhh this is shit because where is the beat’ and people were actually arguing about it.
The one is still on the one though right?
Yes! As long as you keep that you can do what the hell you want with the rest. And you can still nod your head despite what those complaining are saying. As long as the one is tight everything else can be loose. People couldn’t get it apparently though. And yeah my point is there’s room for experimentation and if you do it right you can bring people along with you and move out of the templates. And to be clear, I’m kind of annoyed I made an album that’s ended up being so straight but that’s because it took so long to make!
What’s the deal with that actually? I saw it being announced a few times over the last year or two.
It’s been announced about seven times.
You were being harsh with yourself?
Pretty much. Being harsh with it and trying to make stuff that fit around the stuff I’d already made. It’s difficult finding tunes that work together, especially as I’d made a lot of music for it. I also didn’t want it to plateau at any point. You get albums that have that problem, so I made something that starts big. It’s an intense 15 minutes to start with. I approached it like a film. So you’ve got this intense start then it mellows and then it goes weird in the middle.
It does have a certain cinematic feel to it…
I listen to a lot of film music, so that likely bled into it.
If I had to use one adjective for the album it would be schizophrenic.
Yeah! That’s the thing… I can sit there and listen to some rancid death metal, and then ambient and then minimal and so on. So that adjective is apt. That’s how I am. It’s cheesy to say I like everything but partially true. I got out of not liking things because they were deemed uncool. You know when you’re a teenager and you’re one thing or the other, hip hop, rock, drum n bass, grunge etc… As I got into my twenties I realised that ultimately that was pointless and if you liked it you did, and if not then never mind. I can quite happily flick from one thing to another. It’s difficult for people to follow though.
Would you then say a degree of that is the ADD YouTube generation argument seeping into things? Not in the sense that you’re part of that generation but we (people in their 30s) are part of that generation that grew up with videogames, so we know what that feeling is like and it’s everywhere now for the younger kids. They’re way more ADD than we are. We’re the first ADD generation in a sense, video games, TV, etc…
In a way I think it’s good because it gives you a broad taste. And I like that. Again it’s cheesy but there’s no such thing as a bad ‘style’. There’s lots of shit music but the best country song is going to be a wicked song. The best metal, etc… People bang on about amazing house and techno but there’s SO much shit house and techno. And same with dubstep, dnb, garage, trap, hip hop and so on. But the good shit is wicked. So why can’t you like all of it? And I think if you’re a producer you can’t just listen to one thing, it gets stale.
"I like house, and techno,
but if I am in a rave and
it’s late and I’ve had
something to drink I like
to shock out to some
drum n bass. On the
other side I don’t really
listen to a lot of
So what adjectives would you use for the album? One though.
I don’t know… varied? [Pauses] nah that’s crap. I don’t know to be honest.
What I do know is that some people will like bits of it and despise other parts of it. Because they’ll be those who only like the heavy tracks or those that only like the mellow tracks. And they’ll go online and complain about me not making more stuff like whatever they like. But that’s me, I have different moods and want to do different things. And with the heavy stuff I don’t see it as just bro/machismo music, it’s also ultimately really fun from a technical aspect. Those tracks are a lot more involving and interesting to make, they can be really challenging. To make something really dense technically that still moves you and other people is a challenge. I love space in music, ambient and dub but the opposite is equally appealing.
Do you have any background in sound design at all?
I’m asking because there’s an element of your music that reminds me of other producers who have sound design backgrounds. There’s an element of sound design in say video games that goes back to what you mentioned with regards to the challenge of technically heavy yet moving music. The way you do sound design for video games today is mind blowing, especially from a technical angle.
Totally. You have to be careful not to blur the line between music and functional sound though.
How do you avoid stepping into the functional?
Sometimes I don’t. I just think fuck it and go full on for the functionality element and the fact that it’s aesthetically pleasing to my ear. That’s what a lot of ambient music is about. It’s not music per se, it’s sound designed to fill a space and create a certain mood but there’s no definable melody or anything like that. If you take a lot of neurofunk/tech step dnb, musically a lot of it is as simple as it gets. It’s semitones going up. But the amount of work that goes into designing the bass noises or leads and the intricate programming, editing and re-processing is what makes it interesting. The premise is simple, a standard drum pattern and a two note bass line but there’s so much work that has gone into making it sound incredible. That appeals to my ear just as much as nutty chord sequences do.
The balance between functional and more than functional in dance music is an interesting one, especially as things continue to evolve and get bigger.
I think a lot of it comes down to what mood you’re in. No person is in the same mood all day, all the time.
Your album was a challenge for me the first few listens. I had to wait until the right moment came to give it a proper listen.
That doesn’t surprise me. All my favourite albums I think are growers. I had to take time with them. You force yourself to go back and listen for the little intricacies of it all. And before you know it you’re hooked.
Sonically there are elements of dubstep and dnb in your album, of course. Then there’s the intricate editing, but I don’t want to say IDM because that’s a shitty term. In a way the first two are almost like the functional elements, the templates, and the editing helps to break those down and make things more interesting. And seeing as you’ve always had a foot in both scenes, while also maintaining a little of the outsider, I was wondering how much influence either of those scenes and music – if any – had had on the album?
I still listen to a lot of dnb. It’s the one style of dance music that still really floats my boat. Everyone has their style of dance music. There are a lot of people today making house. I like house, and techno, but if I am in a rave and it’s late and I’ve had something to drink I like to shock out to some drum n bass. That’s my personal preference, so it’s of course an influence on the music I make. On the other side I don’t really listen to a lot of dubstep anymore. I listen to the stuff I get sent by people I swap tunes with but I find that dubstep has really died on its arse a little. There’s still stuff I like but you need to hunt for it. Looking at Beatport’s dubstep section is one of the most depressing things in the world. Looking at the cavalcade of bad artwork and horrible tunes, it’s quite amazing. It’s become the very thing it started out as being against. The irony is quite incredible.
I had the realisation recently that dubstep in 2012 is basically drum n bass in 2002.
It just happened in half the time it took dnb to get there though.
That’s the scary thing.
I’ll sit at home watching TV and when you get to the music channels, which are all next to each other, every single tune – including the pop stuff – is the same. Trancey chord progression, side chain, layers of white noise and some cheesy vocal. And that’s it. Again I sound like an old man saying it all sounds the same but it really does.
I watched Breaking Bad last night and there was the most surreal, pointless sequence sound tracked to brostep for no apparent reason other than it’s the thing to do and the sound of the moment in American pop culture. Which again brings it back to how dnb, especially the techier stuff, was the soundtrack music of choice in the early to mid 00s for TV series and movies. It’s getting a little depressing how quickly we are repeating ourselves.
We’re probably due a return to bands and the like with the next generation I think, considering how we keep going around.
Despite how I feel about it, at the same time as I came to that realisation about dubstep recently, I also realise more than ever that if kids like it than good for them. Going back to your work, how do you try and sidestep those templates that have taken over most of dnb, or dubstep, or the genres you find inspiration in?
Those little nuggets that pop up in your head, like I mentioned earlier. When they come to you and you’re just sitting around and all of sudden you go and work on the idea, flesh it out. I’ll make lots of 16/32 bar loops that don’t go anywhere, so it’s a case of waiting for those moments when inspiration strikes and you can break through, and it can happen at any time.
Is it like a puzzle?
[Pause, then looks at me sarcastically] Is it a puzzle? Ha, ha, ha.
[Laughs] Sorry, I wanted to drop that in to see if you’d pick up on it.
One element of it is puzzle like. Putting it together when you get to the album is tricky. I made the middle bit first, the sort of interlude part, and the break-y tune. I realised that would be a good middle part for an album so I decided to build on that and that captured the sound of the album in a sense. I don’t have synaesthesia but I do have colours associated to tracks in my head. That middle track was a dark green… So yeah trying to put it together is hard as per your original remark. I started in the middle and worked out and the end of the album at one point was so different to what it ended up being. It was a lot more hip hop and new jazz almost. The Civil guys liked it but felt it wasn’t right, it had plateaued which is what I didn’t want. So I went back and made something darker. The puzzle element also arose when it came to tracklisting.
This idea of the puzzle of putting an album together crops up in most discussions I’ve had with artists in a similar position as yours who have done albums recently. Though there are differences, like Goth Trad mentioned that tracklisting was no issue for his album. You’re probably the first one to mention tracklisting being an issue for a while.
I don’t think there could be any other tracklisting for this album, and that’s because I started in the middle. I always had the idea of a film in three acts, and got there in the end. I played with the tracks in iTunes or Logic for ages, looking at how each track segued into the next. It took me ages and it wasn’t easy.
Was it worth it?
I’d like to think so. I’ve been listening to that album for the past three years, since I started making it. Luckily I’m not bored of the music, which is a good sign, but there is an element where I wish I’d done things differently because I’ve grown as an artist in the meantime. I’ve gotten better technically but it doesn’t matter so much. I’m pleased with it as a body of work.
Where does your fascination with Japan and the Far East come from?
It’s just fuckin’ cool ain’t it? [Laughs] It’s as simple as that, there’s no deep meaning behind it. Japanese design appeals to me. For as long as I remember, I’ve been conditioned into liking robots – Transformers, Robotech, etc… And then computer games, I loved Japanese shoot ‘em up games, Gundam and so on. It’s all that basically. It just looks cool and I like it, it’s aesthetically pleasing to me and that’s something that’s important to me, aesthetics. Does it look or sound pleasing? Yes. Sometimes stuff doesn’t have to have a deeper meaning, it seems quite shallow but it’s true. It looks nice and why can’t I just like it cos it looks nice?
I can relate. I have a love affair with Japan and its aesthetics because I was also conditioned.
Then if you do want to get deeper into it, there’s no doubt a degree of me liking it because I find it comforting as I watched it as a kid. So now it gives me a nice, warm, nostalgic feeling.
So have you been to Japan?
Not yet. It’s expensive, and I wanted to go recently but ended up waiting. I want to do it properly and go for a while, a couple months, try to sort out some gigs etc…
I could easily see some of your music sound tracking Japanese anime or a horror movie.
A lot of the chords structures and melodies I gravitate towards are appealing to my ears first and foremost. I’m not a pianist or song writer, in a classical sense. I don’t sit there and figure it out classically, it’s all by ear. I work out a root note and go from there. I guess a lot of it is ultimately subconscious and again because I watched all this stuff as a kid it comes out in the music. A lot of music I was subjected to as a kid also influences me. I listen back to albums my mom played me as a kid and realise I’ve nicked chords from them.
Closing things down. Coffee and cigarettes, if one had to go which one would it be?
The fags, they’re on their way out already.
Oh damn I thought you’d have a hard choice seeing as I heard you were a fan for both.
Yeah it’s so bad for you, I can feel it in my chest. I’ve cut down a lot but after a week-end partying I can feel it so much. If you cut out all the cigarettes you don’t need in a day you find yourself left with little.
No more studio chain smoking then?
No more. I can feel it killing me. If someone comes out with a cigarette that’s not harmful I’ll be all over it, but until then. It’s just soooo bad for you.
So do you know the literal meaning for Tangram?
I know it’s a dissection puzzle and the pieces are called Tan.
Seven boards of skill. Do you know when it was introduced to the Western world?
1700s? It became really popular round then.
Yup. Do you know which country it first became popular in?
America. To be honest I didn’t know about it either until I ripped the Wikipedia page. Do you know how many, roughly, Tangram problems there are?
Ha ha no. I couldn’t even guess.
Currently 6500 or thereabouts. From 19th century texts only as well.
I know there’s a lot of Tangram paradoxes.
Do you play it?
No. I’ll tell you why I called it that though. One because I’ve named everything I’ve done after robots pretty much and there was a game I used to play called Virtua On Oratorio Tangram.
[Laughs] Virtua On was one of my favourite games when I was younger!
The final boss is called Tangram. Two, the name and meaning worked well with the puzzle element of putting this album together. Pretentious as that may sound like. And three, I like the sound of the word! I find it pleasing it to my ear. So there you go. Naming tunes is the hardest thing. I sit there going mental wondering what to name tunes. It’s not like I sat down and wrote a song about breaking up with my girlfriend, it’s a lot more abstract.
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