Yes, they’re both called Joe. And yes, they both attended the same North London school, though they say they didn’t encounter each other at the time. But the points of commonality between producers Joe and Call Super run deeper than that.
The former is a low-key but revered presence in UK dance music – a sort of producer’s producer, whose releases, mostly for Hessle Audio and Hemlock, have taken a highly characterful, incisive angle on dubstep and house. The latter can count himself a fringe member of the same community – largely through his close affiliation with Objekt – but, from his base in Berlin, has stronger ties with the city’s house and techno community.
Both have been around for a few years, but are currently on as fine form as ever, as evidenced by Joe’s new Hessle single, ‘Slope’ / ‘Maximum Busy Muscle’, and Call Super’s brilliant Black Octagons EP for new Fabric label Houndstooth. Both, too, seem on the cusp of greater things: Joe embarked on music as a full-time career this year, while Call Super’s star is very much in the ascendant.
FACT’s Angus Finlayson brought the pair together for a Skype dialogue – Joe speaking from his London studio, Call Super from the family home in the Andalusian mountains, passing goats and all. In what is, in Joe’s case, a rare interview, these two meticulous and eloquent artists discussed disliking their own music, John Cage’s ‘delta’ theory and the changing landscape of London clubbing.
Joe, I wanted to start by asking what’s changed for you musically since your last interview, back in 2010. In your productions you seemed to stick to 140bpm for longer than most, but in the last couple of years you’ve obviously been releasing slower, housier things. Was that transition difficult?
Joe: Creative constraints are generally good, I guess. There’s way too many choices to make when it comes to music-making, especially software-based production. 140[bpm] was a useful, scene-related constraint. I don’t recall experiencing a transition, as such. Or do I? It’s more a transition – a broadening – in terms of listening and going out, rather than in production.The main thing was probably funky, the other, older stuff that was dug up alongside the emergence of that – house, techno, broken beats, whatever – and going to see a lot of Theo Parrish at Plastic [People] from 2009 onwards.
Making beats at lower tempos at that point just felt like a natural progression. ‘Twice’, which came out in 2011, I think I wrote in 2009 – probably not long after my first release. And I’m still writing stuff at around 140. Having said that, I guess there was a point where I thought “Yep, these sub-135 beats are probably going to feel more ‘necessary’ and less like a ‘step outside the scene’ as time goes on”. And I recall numerous twinges of apprehension that leaving the constraint of 140 behind would just open up those dangerously broad options.
But musically, I’m not sure that loads has changed. In terms of listening and going out, I guess [house & techno festival] Freerotation became a fixture for me. I think I “got” a few more things about certain kinds of dance music, particularly uptempo four-to-the-floor stuff, and a turntable technique-focused style of DJing that went along with it: DJ Bone, Myles Serge, Alex Downey.
In London, lots of parties seemed to happen at temporary venues with hired-in sound. It suggested to me that clubs in London weren’t necessarily providing the right ‘something’ for events, whatever that was. Certainly, Plastic’s licensing issues and eventual refit kind of threw a spanner in the works for me. Which felt connected to the arguable decline of the FWD scene. Though maybe that’s a discussion best left for another day. In terms of scene, it feels more social [now], and less musical [for me]. And seems to have been revolving around the lift venue in Bethnal Green [home to recent DBA parties, among others], or other small, not-exactly-club spaces. DJs I’ve enjoyed include Morphosis, Nick Craddock, and Gatto Fritto – at least the tiny portion of his set that I saw.
An important thing worth mentioning: I was introduced to Non Collective by a friend, and have since listened to every mix of theirs that I could. I don’t love every single one, and it’s really hard to pinpoint just what common thread runs through it all. But I really like some of it; stuff I never would have expected I’d like. The same way that, back in 2006, say, I never would’ve thought I’d really get into house or other four-four stuff.
Related to the scene feeling more low-key to you now: is music mostly just work for you, now that it’s your main source of income? Is going to clubs more of a field trip, a data gathering exercise, than a means of enjoying yourself?
J: No, it isn’t just work. Not just work – but I don’t feel too uncomfortable saying that I’m approaching certain parts of music a bit more like work than I used to. I guess it all depends on how you define ‘work’, how you feel about it. Most of the activities I’ve come across around the music I do are not a totally repellent way to try and earn a living. The thing about going out is that it’s sometimes a balancing act between having fun and doing work. E.g. it’s possible to end up doing too much chatting to acquaintances – “networking” – and not enough listening or dancing.
But I absolutely wouldn’t be in the club if I didn’t enjoy it somehow. For example: to hear a piece of music I’ve never heard before, and vibe off it – the work-y response is, “Gotta find out what that is”. But that’s totally compatible with – in fact, come to think of it, inextricable from – the personal response of “Gotta find out what that is”! So far, I don’t think I’ve ever been focusing on collecting data more than enjoying myself. Maybe this means I’m doing something wrong; maybe it means I’m lucky, and am managing to turn my passion in to a job. Let’s see.
Same question for you, other Joe – is music just work now?
Call Super: No not at all. I’m going to say something that is kinda pretentious but whatever, I think it’s good to take these kind of positions and have it out. I think we’re at an amazing point in time with our scene. For the sake of explanation take another form of music that has risen and fallen… let’s imagine jazz. It emerged from other kinds of music in the 20s, rose to a creative peak in the 50s and 60s, then ebbed away to become something which had been explored to a ‘maximum point’ and could go no further other than just being a reference or touchstone for fusion acts – in, say, the 80s and 90s. In the electronic scene the various strands emerged over the last 30 years. Arguably after a dip in the 00s we’re back at a point where people are genuinely exploring new techniques and experimenting using the formulas that make up this music.
I’m sometimes disappointed that people still occasionally associate progress with a conception of a whole ‘new’ sound, rhythm, genre or cultural movement. But for the most part I think the idea that the most interesting progress in music is refinement, and what I think of as rivulets – little rivers of ideas converging and running off one another – has won this stupid debate. I guess this is John Cage’s ‘delta’ prediction coming to fruition positively [“We live in a time I think, not of mainstream, but of many streams or even, if you insist upon a river of time, that we have come to [a] delta…”].
So, it feels like parts of the house, techno, IDM or whatever [scene] are coming into the contemporary equivalent that jazz entered in the 50s and 60s. You have the classic tropes that many love, alongside the more experimental edges which are moving towards the centre and becoming more acceptable in clubs. At home I listen to new, old… whatever I find inspiring. I guess when I make time to go to a club it’s to see a great DJ who brings this all together, say a Gatto Fritto or Ben UFO.
J: Me too, but I’m also interested in what you might call more ‘embedded’ scenes, with their bubble or echo chamber effect. To contextualise: I feel like I came up with the dubstep thing, to an extent: FWD, DMZ, Rinse, dubstepforum, etc., 2005-09. Most of my first ‘proper’ club-going, record-buying, listening experiences, etc. [occurred then]. And while I agree with a lot of what Joe’s saying, I’m still curious as to how a thing like that developed and what it meant to different people at the time, and since. And, most importantly, whether or not it could happen again, and why or how – not to assume it isn’t happening right now.
CS: Do you want to say something about your new record? I played both sides on Saturday night, at [Paris club] The Machine. It’s peak time stuff.
J: I was just having a test mix with the B side [‘Maximum Busy Muscle’] and I think I might have found a place for it [in my sets]. I don’t know if I’ve got anywhere I could use ‘Slope’ yet. I should say that I haven’t heard either of them out in a way that I’ve been particularly enamoured of yet. That doesn’t really matter, it might never happen. And I don’t know if I’ll ever fit ‘Slope’ into a set, really.
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Joe, your records are obviously, in a sense, very functional club records. But you seem to be saying you wouldn’t be unhappy to never hear them successfully used in that context?
J: I wouldn’t say I’m a fan of being self-deprecating but it’s kind of taken for granted from my point of view. I don’t like most of the music I’ve put out… maybe it’s about 50/50 for all the things I’ve put out.
You don’t like it at the time, or you just don’t like it in retrospect?
J: Me as a DJ and me as a producer is kind of a different thing at the moment. I try to be as impartial about it as possible. Inasmuch as I basically wouldn’t play one of my tunes in one of my sets unless I thought it really fit there. And there’s so much other music to choose from, great music that I love. I’m much more likely to drop another tune in than one of mine. Do you like your own stuff Joe?
CS: I have to admit that I agree with everything you just said in relation to my own work. I have to be able to play [my tracks] to friends and not wince…
That’s a low bar…
CS: But that’s a long way from actively enjoying them. If I’m playing out, as Joe was saying, 95% of the time there’s a record by someone else I would rather play than one of my own. In the last few months I’ve started getting requests for ‘Threshing Floor’ [from The Present Tense EP] and it’s a track I never really play. This is partly because after I wrote it, about a year ago, the one person who I really liked how they played it out was TJ [Objekt]. And I never quite felt I could use it as well as he used it in his sets, so I just didn’t.
Something that people say about your records a lot, Joe, is that they’re really usable – something like ’Claptrap’ would surface again and again in sets, because it’s kind of a dream to mix. Do you think about a track’s tool-ish quality when you’re making it?
J: I’ll rarely sit down in front of the sequencer and think ‘This will be a tool’. But you could argue the tracks that are going to be the most successful are the ones that are going to combine broadest possible use with something else – probably some sort of hook, something that’s going to make it stand out. Its breadth of use, the number of use-cases a particular tune has – you would hope that would maximise its commercial potential. That’s quite a business-y and ruthless way of looking at it, and I don’t really approach the act of writing and producing music like that. But as production is sort of becoming a career [for me], I have thought about it.
CS: I don’t really have any conception of what you just said about business, Joe. But essentially I want to have a career as a DJ. I make music for myself at home for fun and it’s great, now I can do that most of the time because I’m getting enough DJ gigs to cover my living costs. But ultimately in the future I’d like to not have to re-engineer everything I make in order for it to be on a 12” that people will buy and play in clubs. Next year I’m going to get away from the 12” format, so I’m quite happy at the moment not doing that, and leaving things sounding slightly wrong or slightly fucked up.
Though there is a cop out thing – I think certain trends in recent times have fostered a scene in which you can basically claim that you’re making, I don’t know, raw fucking straight-to-tape whatever, and you’re not producing particularly good stuff, but you have a market for it under a kind of ‘unconventionality’ banner. But if the model for a lot of this music is [Aphex Twin’s] Selected Ambient Works – and I think it is – then Jesus Christ, what’s coming out now is a long, long way from that, in terms of melodic idea, compositional nous, arrangement.
I should say, there’s a lot of stuff I really like at the lo-fi, more experimental house end of things. There’s tons that’s fantastic; there’s tons that’s not so good. It’s good if there are more people now who will accept something that sounds not quite so conventional. But I guess I’ve just been left very underwhelmed by lots of records that people have spoken about in groundbreaking terms. There’s a gap between what I read and people say to me about stuff, and what I hear.
J: I think I get what you’re saying, Joe. Though, and it might sound like a bit of a cliche, but I tend not to read press about [music]. I don’t seek it out and I don’t come across it. So I don’t really know what people think about music. And that lines up with the fact that in an ideal world I like to come to stuff with very few opinions, very few preconceptions, and hear it for the first time maybe out, or on the radio, in the mix, and purely try and judge it on what it is. That’s obviously an ideal.
I’m not even sure I talk to people that much about music. It’s very rare. It almost feels forced when I do it: ‘What do you think of that?’ and a noise goes off in my head – you know, ‘Do we care what we both think of this?’ If I like it, I’ll go and play it. If they like it, they’re going to play it. If the people on the floor like it, they’ll respond to it in the right way. Then hopefully the good shit rises to the top, and the bad shit doesn’t. Are those goats in the background?
CS: Yes, the goats are back. That’s the sound of 60 goatbells.
J: Get your portable recorders out, lads.
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