“Too many people are really too serious about what they’re doing,” declares Miles Whittaker over a Skype connection from Berlin. “And in the end a lot of music’s just fun to make.”
This might seem like a surprising statement coming from one half of sonic occultists Demdike Stare; or indeed from Andy Stott, purveyor of smudged, introspective techno, who’s dialled into the same call from Manchester. But if you ever doubted the pair’s yen for a good time, you only need look as far as their Millie & Andrea project.
In fact, fun was pretty much the one thing that unified the project in its initial incarnation. A string of singles released on the Daphne imprint in 2008-09 ping-ponged restlessly across the dancefloor spectrum, from giddy breakbeat hardcore to technoid dubstep and footwork. What remained was a certain playfulness and immediacy – qualities not necessarily present in the pair’s various other activities, which tended to chime with the sterner aesthetic of parent label Modern Love.
In 2009 the project petered out, as both producers entered fertile periods in their careers – Stott finding a run of form that would culminate in 2012’s Luxury Problems; Whittaker forming the revered Demdike with Finders Keepers’ Sean Canty, as well as producing an excellent solo album, last year’s Faint Hearted. This year, however, they have returned, with an LP in tow. Drop The Vowels is grittier than its predecessors, and cleaves closer to both artists’ main projects, touching on brooding loopscapes (opener ‘Gif Riff’) and faded ambience (closer ‘Quay’) as well as the requisite breakbeat tearouts. The pair might have a good few miles between them now, but stylistically their output is sounding more unified than ever.
I wanted to start by asking how you both met.
M: Well I’m from a tiny little town called Burnley. It’s about 20 miles away from Manchester. But I worked in record shops and distribution in Manchester, and that’s how I got in touch with Modern Love when it started. I was going to weekly meetings with the label – cause we’re all friends, so we’re just hanging out. They started playing me these tracks from this kid Andy Stott, and I was like, ‘Fucking hell, these are amazing, who is it!?’. And yeah, it’s him [laughs].
A: Same thing, same thing exactly. They were like, ‘Oh, this is Miles’, you’d hear these records. You’d also hear, ‘Oh, Miles is helping this lad with this…’. Then I finally met him, and he’s actually helped me with shitloads over the years. The Modern Love technical helpline for me for a while, was Miles.
M: Same with everyone, near enough.
So you all met up on a weekly basis?
M: Yeah, well we still do. It’s bi-weekly for me – because I’m in the UK every two weeks, and we always organise to meet up.
A: But probably on the off weeks, when we weren’t at the label, I started going up to see Miles at his studio up in Burnley. It’s only 40, 45 minutes up the motorway from where I was living at the time. And that’s sort of where this project began.
What did you have in mind when you started collaborating? The most noticeable thing about those early tracks it that they’re very direct – they’re aimed at the dancefloor. So was it simply about making rave tunes?
A: Well – this is the gap between me and Miles really. Whereas Miles had been going out to those sort of nights – old rave nights – I was too young, so I’d be recording stuff like that on the radio. And I think when we got together and started doing this Millie & Andrea thing… it is your roots, isn’t it Miles, the rave thing? It’s definitely mine, even though I weren’t [going] out.
M: Yeah, completely.
A: And that side of it just came out for both of us.
M: It’s funny in a way – because I grew up with [rave] and I was going out to it and really exposed to it, I was also kind of over it. But then when Andy came along, he had this really fresh enthusiasm for it, and that reminded me of what it was like in the halcyon days – in what I thought were the halcyon days of that kind of music. And that injection of – not childish, but fresh enthusiasm – that was what spurred us both on. I mean, the amount of times that we ended up in fits of giggles making tunes. And that’s what it’s all about in the end. Especially that kind of music – it’s out and out fun music, even though some of it might have a dark edge.
A: Totally naive, that was the thing wasn’t it.
M: Completely. The naivety’s what made jungle one of the most genius forms of dance music.
A: This is the danger though, with me and Miles in the studio. If you’re not careful, it’s… it is definitely one of the funniest things I’ve experienced. Miles, within two minutes, can have me on the floor in tears – with noises. Honestly, honestly. But when we finally got it out of our systems and buckled down…
I’d never thought of the studio process as being potentially hilarious…
M: We still do it now, in soundchecks [they both chuckle knowingly]. I’m forty years old now, and you’ve constantly got to find yourself refreshing your – you know, your naivety. Too many people are really too serious about what they’re doing. And in the end a lot of music’s just fun to make. I think you’ve really got to strive to keep that in it.
Miles, when you said you were there for jungle or hardcore the first time around – what kind of period are we talking about?
M: I started going out in ‘89 I think, when I was still at school – that was the first time I went to a warehouse party. There was quite a lot round Blackburn and Burnley. And then I was seriously clubbing by ‘91 – you know, driving round the country. All the way through that period – probably through to ‘95, ‘96 – I was just engrossed.
Andy, how about you? At what point were you old enough to start going to clubs?
A: It was about ‘97, ‘98 when I started going out. By that time I’d been introduced to Aphex Twin and Autechre, and I had old mixtapes from when Miles said he was going out. Tapes doing the rounds. But I didn’t know where to go to listen to these kind of things when I was 17, 18. So I was actually going to the most shocking clubs in Rochdale and Oldham. Basically just going out on the piss and listening to mainstream dance music. And then I finally went into Manchester, with an older group of people. And I think – is it the Park, Miles, where Daz was DJing that time, it was on fire and he thought it was a smoke machine?
M: That’s right, yeah.
A: Yeah. So we went to the Park. As soon as we walked in, Autechre [was playing]. I had no idea there were places you could go and listen to this sort of stuff. So it wasn’t until my twenties, really, that I started going out and listening to music that I wanted to hear.
To go back to the early Millie & Andrea singles. The jungle aspect of it – were there other producers referencing that era, using breakbeats and so on, at the time? Or were you out on your own in doing that?
M: Kind of out on our… I mean it’s something that I’ve always done. I’m a massive fan of that period of music, the way it was produced, the hardware that was used. I’m a huge hardcore jungle collector – that’s really my forte. So I’ve always experimented with it. It was just very unfashionable for a while. The really – I’ll say it – the really boring techstep drum’n’bass stuff really put me off. I just completely forgot about it after that came about. And then maybe for five or six years it was really unfashionable. And it was only with the advent of 2step and UK garage, bringing that vibe back into it. I was really into that sound quite early on. And it became self-evident that it came from the same angle. It was basically kids – this time on Playstations – making really kind of cheap beats, but they’re sick, you know? And then to throw an Amen or a Cold Sweat break over the top of it – it just seems natural. I wasn’t really hearing it anywhere else, but you were hearing elements of it coming back in.
I guess there were a few producers in the early days of dubstep – people like Toasty – who were working with breakbeats. Were you aware of those guys?
M: Not at all. I was really into Sticky, I was really into the Big Apple stuff, and Tempa obviously. That’s the stuff I was aware of. But again, you know, in the early days of that sound there’s a lot of variation. And it only became formulated later on, when it became really boring [laughs], again. Kind of the same thing that happened to drum’n’bass.
The first Millie & Andrea single, ‘Black Hammer’. To me it really sounds like the hybrids of dubstep and techno that were emerging around 2008 – people like 2562, Appleblim. Were you following what was going on with dubstep in the late ‘00s?
M: Not really – not me. After the Big Apple days I started drifting off into other areas, and it was mainly backwards. To find the jungle stuff that I didn’t hear at the time, that was becoming collectible, or whatever. There was a few people that I’d keep tabs on – Shackleton was one. We’re from the same town, which I didn’t even realise ‘til I met him here in Berlin. But you know, Sam doesn’t sound like anybody, he sounds like himself.
How about you Andy?
A: With me – I’m definitely not a cratedigger by any means. It’s quite incidental, the way I come across things. I’ll hear a track, I couldn’t tell you who’s done it, but it’ll stick in my mind, and I’ll be inspired that way. But yeah, ‘Black Hammer’, I think it was a Martyn track that made me think of overlaying the faster shuffles on the halfstep. Cause he was quite good at doing that.
M: Those early Martyn 12″s were wicked as well.
A: Yeah, yeah.
So why did Millie & Andrea tail off after a couple of years?
M: We were just too busy really. I started Demdike Stare, Andy was really seriously exploring new areas with his Andy Stott project. And my son was born at the end of 2009. So a lot of it’s time balance. And also – you start hearing stuff where people are sounding a little like you. Not saying that we did it first or anything, but you just start hearing it and you’re like, ‘Well, time to explore other areas’. I think both me and Andy kind of struck gold – Andy struck gold with the vocalist [Alison Skidmore, who featured on Luxury Problems] and I struck gold with Sean. But we were always going to come back together. And you both bring different strengths, when you’ve had a bit of a break.
Coming back to it now, what new things have you brought to the project?
M: Andy does all the work now [laughs].
A: Yeah, yeah. Well… I’ve gone a bit daft in the studio of late. And the setup’s completely, completely changed. Back in the early Millie & Andrea days it was all done on the laptop, in the box. But I’ve expanded the studio. And I think the album – you can hear it. There’s a lot more machines being used. And tastes as well – since the last lot came out I’ve been introduced to so much new music. Doing the Batillus, the doom metal remix, made me listen to that kind of thing. Just things that are a bit dirtier – trying to incorporate that into Millie & Andrea.
In practical terms, how did you go about making the album? Obviously you live in different countries now. Did you do it all in the room together?
A: No, I mean with Demdike’s tour schedule and my tour schedule, it was near impossible. So it was the power of Dropbox, really.
M: Same thing me and Sean do for Demdike. Dropbox is the third member of the band [laughs].
Does that then lead to more discussion of what you’re doing? Because if you’re sending something unfinished across, I guess you’d want to explain what you’re getting at.
M: Nah. You’ve got to feel music, haven’t you? I work in a very specific way – if I hear the track and I react to it straight away I’m gonna work on it. If I don’t, I won’t work on it. I don’t push it. Why bother, know what I mean? You could spend your time in much better ways. But it’s funny: one of the things that Demdike Stare taught me is that tracks from ten years ago can come out on a record next to tracks from six months ago. And it’s the same thing – me and Andy have got this archive of material from hours of pissing around in the old studio. And it might sound really amazing in a year’s time when we check it out – you just don’t know.
Why did you decide to make an album, rather than stick to singles? In the past the project has always seemed to suit singles.
M: I think after a break of so long, you can’t just come back with a twelve – it’s a bit predictable. Everywhere we go, both me and Andy, we’re getting asked, ‘When’s the next Daphne record? Are you doing more HATE stuff?’ It’s always there in people’s minds. They were our kind of fun sub-projects in a way, but it’s the stuff we get asked about all the time.
To what extent was the album informed by Faint Hearted, Miles? Both records feel like collections of quite diverse tracks.
M: Well it’s kind of what they are, in a way. The Miles album is exactly the same, in the way that I didn’t even know it was being compiled. I’d make these tracks and send them to the label, and then one day the label would turn around and say, ‘We’ve got this album compiled – come and listen to it, see what you think’. The Miles album, some of the tracks were really old, some of the tracks were done barely weeks before the thing was compiled. So there’s no real evolution in that way, with production. Sometimes I’ll just go straight back to basics and pull my sampler out and start sampling Amen drums. I try not to learn too much – because you lose your naivety then. I’ve still got bits of kit that I’ve had for ten years that I don’t know how to use properly. Because if I did I’d get really predictable. That’s one of the reasons that I make Andy laugh – because I just do really stupid stuff with kit. But it sounds amazing to us… if you’re stoned [laughs].