TR-One‘s new 12″ ‘Drum Dance’ is out now on Apartment records. Ian Maleney spoke with Dean from TR-One & Kenny from Apartment about vinyl-only releases, the joys of working with vintage gear & the state of electronic music in Ireland.
TR-One do things a little differently to most. In an age where we’ve become used to watching DJs play with laptops and cutting-edge controllers, the Carlow-based duo bring an extra layer of tactility to their blistering live shows. Eddie Reynolds and Dean Feeney bang out classic house right there in front of you with a mind-boggling array of vintage equipment and the extra energy created by this performance feeds back into the the atmosphere in every room they play in. Their travelling menagerie of rare gear and a big lamp has been working its way around the country since June of last year and the shows are getting bigger and better month-on-month.
Their newest release is a 12″-only single, ‘Drum Dance‘, the second release on new Dublin label, Apartment records run by Kenny Hanlon. Dean and Kenny answered a couple of questions about the new release.
Why did you choose to put this record out as a vinyl-only release?
Kenny: Apartment is a vinyl only label. The guys knew before-hand what the set up was and neither of us care about digital. That’s it in a nutshell. There wasn’t a list of choices to choose from.
It’s not a massive ideological stance, going “fuck you” to folk who don’t buy/DJ vinyl. But this is how I consume, listen to and play/DJ music, just like many many others out there including Dean and Eddie. So I’m not going to do it differently when it comes to how the label works. Some may disagree with that, so be it.
You know, there are hundreds upon hundreds of digital only labels out there and most of them aren’t asked why they don’t do vinyl, but every vinyl label is queried about the lack of digital. It’s been done to death. It’s being done this way because we love vinyl. I don’t even do digital promotion, that is done via white labels. I think that is pretty unique for an Irish label. I’m not fully sure but I think it is the only 100% vinyl only dance label in the country at the moment.
Standing out from the crowd does no harm, even if the majority of folk don’t give a shit. I enjoy getting a box of whites, stamping them/labelling them, trying to track down addresses for DJs, going around delivering them, it’s all part of the fun. Enough of the work of running a label is done sitting in front of a computer screen. I’d rather not be sat there sending off shitty mp3s or wavs to already bursting at the brim in-boxes, with a pretty good chance that they’ll get ignored unless you pester them like a cunt. Chasing DJ quotes is such a waste of time, who reads that crap? Digital labels do that to try and get attention because they are in a field that is hugely over saturated and it’s incredibly difficult to stand out. You send a vinyl to someone, they take notice instantly.
You also have limits on what you can do with vinyl – the amount of tracks, the duration, etc – and thus how the songs are even sequenced on the pressing. I dig that, even if no one else sits down and listens to the record in that order or whatever; I’ve actually put a quite a bit of time and thought into all of this. That doesn’t necessarily mean it’ll make any sense outside of my brain. Like, for example, there are other tracks by the guys that I’d love to put out right now, and we had another great producer working on a remix but working within the restraints of a twelve-inch vinyl, it wasn’t possible to put anything else on it. Instead of being pissed off by that, you just have to put the foot down and put together what you think will be the strongest and most appealing release you can. Limitations are good, they force you to be creative, anyone with an ounce of cop on understands that.
When did you start using vintage hardware and what do you find to be the biggest advantages and disadvantages of that approach?
Dean: Initially, for us, it was more of an ideological thing; a statement of defiance against the then emerging culture of convenience and cracked software. Around the time we were beginning to create our own music, it was very much in vogue to be talking about gigarams and plugins and whatnot (I’m still not quite sure what a “plugin” is). I remember one particular gig which we played at in Dublin many years ago – we were talking to a few producers who worked with the label who hosted the night when one of them asked us what sequencer we were using. When we replied “an MMT-8” he nearly spat his drink out. “Why on earth would you use one of them?”, “Don’t you know it’s much easier to just do it all on your laptop?” were the sorts of responses we got. Subsequently, what we began to hear around was homogenized, sterile music which seemed to lack the dynamics, the imperfections and the character of the music we knew and loved. Of course it was convenient – but at what price?
I think over time, our stance has become somewhat more tempered in this regard. With the advances of software emulators, programs such as Ableton and new hybrids between hardware and software, it has become near impossible to distinguish original machine from VST emulation. There is much music which we buy, play and love which was made solely on software. Ultimately, it’s become more about process for us and in this regard it really is each to their own. We just find it more enjoyable having real, physical instruments to play. You could argue that with the emergence of new hybrid set-ups such as Maschine and others, you get the best of both worlds; the convenience and limitlessness of software with the hands-on experience provided by the controllers. But for us, each machine has its own character; its own personality, imperfections and limitations. Limitations are an important thing for us – I mean, who in the hell needs a collection of 400gigs of sound samples, 4,000 note polyphony and 4 days worth of sample time? And although computers have become astonishingly accurate at emulating a lot of famous sounds, there are some things which they simply can’t re-create, such as the inimitable sonic character of the SP1200, or the buttery groove template of the MPC 60 (both of which enjoy a combined maximum sample time of about one minute). Limitations force producers to get creative; to really delve deep into the capabilities of the tools at their disposal and for us, having access to reams and reams of samples at one time is an altogether too dizzying proposition.
Of course there are many advantages, in terms of convenience, to using software both in the studio and on the road. It can be hazardous for both your physical and mental health when travelling and performing around the country with 20 odd vintage machines, a giant lamp and enough midi and jack cables to circle the globe. But ultimately I think what we do offers something different to those in the crowd, in both the visual and aural realms – nobody wants to see a guy standing motionless behind his laptop watching cat porn (what exactly is the deal with cats and the internet?) and replying to emails whilst trying to have a good time and dance to music in a club.
What are your thoughts on the current state of house and techno (and electronic music in general I guess) in Ireland?
Kenny: Things are the best they’ve been for quite a while and it’s only going to improve. You have artists, labels and collectives such as Lunar Disko, Earwiggle, All City, Automatic Tasty, Slowburn, Lerosa (he’s been here long enough, taking our jobs and women, that we can claim him as our own), Bodytonic, D1 (if they still exist or not, always hard to tell), Lakker, DeFeKt, !Kaboogie, [NakedLunch], Subtle Audio and John Daly amongst others doing their thing and doing it the way they want to. Some of them are already pretty well established some are on the up. Eomac from Lakker had his first release on Maigret with hopefully more to follow, Signal Code/Subsignal is some new techno that’s getting out there, Angkorwat makes heavy beats, Vince Makmahon/Alkalinear and that lot have their thing going on, Fatty Fatty have moved from doing parties to getting their label going on a disco tip. There’s a bunch of DJs out there who’d mill most touring acts into the ground and there’s a bunch of other folk who haven’t released anything yet but know their shit and are slowly but surely getting stuck in. I think we can expect a lot more good stuff to appear. I know I’m leaving out some others here too.
Dean: Also, it’s important to note that there exists a rich heritage of electronic music in this country. Both in terms of native producers’ output and the abundance of quality international acts who get booked to play on this small island. In any given month, between Dublin, Cork and more infrequently in other cities, there’s a wealth of international talent on display, both contemporary and historically renowned, that would rival many European countries. It’s good to see some of the veterans from the halcyon days of Irish electronic music still doing it also. Releases such as New Jackson’s stunning Night Mail from last year and Naphta’s forthcoming Democracy, Now pt.2 being noteworthy examples. Even if you expand the bracket to non-strictly dance oriented stuff and include the more esoteric, electronic stuff coming from Patrick Kelleher, Angkorwat, Toby Kaar, Les Marionettes and even further afield to people like Katie Kim and Laura Sheeran, you’ll see that there’s a diverse array of great electronic music coming from this little island. One of the saddest developments over the past year was Donal Dineen’s unfortunate departure from national airwaves. Nearly all of the aforementioned artists owe a great debt to Donal’s fervent and passionate attempts to share this great music to the masses. He was a keystone in the Irish electronic music community.
Kenny: There is actually a pretty strong community of like minded folk who are willing to share and work with each other, there is good support out there. Not everyone gets along obviously, it’s not one big congratulatory circle jerk, you’ll have your usual amount of bitchiness and divisiveness and all that crap but I’ve seen worse than how it is now.
I just wish we had a better surplus of decent venues for these people to showcase what they are at. It’s depressing to think that Twisted Pepper is about the only venue in Dublin (in Ireland?) that have bothered to put an effort into making their club sound good. It’s such a pain going to a gig and the sound is fucked, or the equipment is arseways. And don’t even start me on the Vitner’s Federation, who’s reacharounds with the Government and Gardai mean we can’t party like the rest of Europe. Local talent would get so much more deserved attention from the punters if we could throw parties later into the night.
Dean: I think the abundance of really talented DJs in this country is a sign of the vibrancy of the scene right now. DJs such as Gavin Morrissey, Barry Redsetta, Ger Regan, Barry Walsh, John Hennessy, Paudi Ahern and many others I’d tend to hold in the same esteem as the big international names and quite often the all too short (see: draconian licensing laws) sets they play before these big names are the more spirited and enjoyable of the night. I think we can all agree that something needs to be done to amend the conservative stance on club opening hours.