Guy Evans, aka DJ Guy has taken a long time to become known, even if his profile is still low key. His release on All Caps last year first brought him attention on the back of tracks that he composed in the 1990s. He has also released archive material on cassette and, any day now will have a double pack released on Nord, a Danish label called ‘Ancient Future 1993-1997’. Guy’s music can loosely be categorized as techno, but is greater than the sum of its parts and, for music that has lain untouched for such a long time, feels incredibly fresh and potent. This stream-of–consciousness interview more than showcases the enthusiasm that Guy has for his craft and, in doing so, simultaneously reveals him to be a very genuine and sincere person. Here’s hoping he goes on to achieve the success his music deserves.
For me the most obvious question to start with is why didn’t you release all of this great material when you made it; what took you so long?
Obviously I had dreams at the time of releasing my music on labels like WARP, REPHLEX, VINYL SOLUTION, and Detroit labels like TRANSMAT, METROLPLEX, UR etc. Those labels were such a big influence on me at the time, and I feel really lucky that one of my local record shops, (including one run by a DJ called Paul Lyons), was getting all of these amazing records from places like Detroit. All of these records remain the most valuable and personal ones in my collection to this day.
It was a slightly different world back then though, compared to now. Back then it was quite difficult finding contacts at record labels, recording stuff on cassette and sending tracks off in the post. Obviously, labels such as WARP probably still had hundreds of cassettes in the post each day, and to get a foot in the door I guess you really had to know someone in their A&R dept. or know a DJ that could help pass on your music.
Nowadays it’s incredibly simple to share music on a global scale in seconds, you just upload a track to Soundcloud or wherever and share it via twitter, email etc.
Another big part with sending music off back then and somewhat nowadays too, is contacting the right people. At the time, there was not much point sending off distorted techno tracks to a label that releases specifically ambient music, and vice versa, and it was sometimes hard to categorise my music. Some of my tracks had elements of both harder electronic elements and also ambient melodies etc. Nowadays I think there is much broader cross-pollination of styles, with labels such as PAN releasing records which cross multiple genres superbly.
But the main answer to your question was due to me being way too critical of my own music. I was never truly happy with the production of the music I was making and always thought it wasn’t good enough for the labels I mentioned. Some of it was recorded at home on a crappy Amiga computer running some software called OctaMED, plus I was using a 3-channel DJ mixer as a mixer (no eq) and bits of low-fi equipment, which probably couldn’t equal the equipment of a big recording studio. Also I was just messing around with bits really and just trying to learn how it all worked together. I did borrow equipment from friends, such as an SH-101 and a MC-202, which are great machines. Although not having MIDI (or even CV sync) I’d literally have to sync the sequences manually using the tempo dial (like using a pitch control on a turntable) and record onto a 4-track machine, which if anyone has tried will know is incredibly difficult... Just getting a looped bassline in sync was a major challenge and if you listen to some of the music released on the NORD LP, you can hear the 202 acid sequences slightly drifting slightly, which in hindsight give the music a unique sound.
‘Ancient Future 1993-1997’ is, like last year’s ’20 (All Caps 004)’ made up of archived material. What criteria do you have for selecting tracks to be released?
With the ALL CAPS EP, I literally sent BAKE about 2 gig of MP3’s. Approximately 120 tracks I think (which was about half of all of my archived tracks so far). Some of these tracks were just unedited jams, which lasted 10-15 minutes each and some of tracks had multiple takes of the same track being recorded. These longer tracks were edited down to a more suitable length for vinyl.
With the ALL CAPS and the CRISIS URBANA cassette release, and also my recent CEJERO and NORD releases, it was the labels that chose the tracks to release. Obviously, if I were to have any objections then I would have voiced my opinion but so far I’ve been really happy with the selections so far.
Nowadays I’m trying not to be so protective over my music, as my opinion might differ greatly from someone else’s (going back to me saying earlier of me being way too critical of my music). Sometimes when you create something, you listen back to it years later and notice just the faults or the things you wished you had changed. Obviously technologies change, so the conditions in which music exists changes too. I find it really strange and also really exciting that all of these old low-fi tracks I made are now finally getting some recognition. Its something I would never ever have expected at the time, but it’s really given me a much-needed boost. As I said earlier, I would never have imagined that these tracks would be getting vinyl/cassette releases over 20 years later and its really warming to hear people enjoying the tracks I made back then.
What has been the reaction from the labels which have chosen to release your tracks, how have they categorised them?
With the ALL CAPS EP, I think BAKE made a great choice of tracks for it.
The A Side track ‘20’ (the tracks names, refer to the track numbers from the huge archive I sent him of 120 tracks) worked really well I thought. The original version was approximately 16 minutes in length though, so I had to edit it down quite considerably, which I think showed the track in a new light again. It now felt less like a ‘slowly mutating jam session’ and was more like a track better suited to a club environment. The same with the B1 track ’81’.
The B2 track ‘05’ was quite funny, as the original track was about 5-6 minutes and we ended up using a much shorted edit of it for the EP (of around 90 seconds) as I think we were limited on running time on the vinyl. Who knows…maybe one day in the future that track will get a proper full-length release.
The CRISIS URBANA tape album was a bundled collection of tracks chosen by Abdullah (RAWATT) from my archive. The final cassette release however was different from what I had hoped for, as I had in fact created another mix/blend of the tracks that never made it to the final release, mainly due to me sending off an updated blended mix after Abdullah had sent the previous master copy off to be duplicated. I still really like the version that exists though, as my edits were really quite subtle…nothing too major really. The tracks for the NORD release were chosen by Anders from the label and were agreed by me. It took over 12 months I think for us to decide on the final selection as I kept sending him more and more tracks I kept discovering. I’m still going through my archived tapes and finding new tracks every day. In fact I spent this past weekend going through about 20 tracks of stuff I didn’t archive first time around and I’ve got lots of tapes to archive still.
THE CEJERO release was slightly different to the NORD record, as Thomas and Emil chose a more ambient selection which I was really happy about. (A1 being a slower ambient-house track and a completely sparse ambient track chosen for A2. Then a house orientated track (originally titled, zap…flute..whoosh..) for B1 I think, and finally a harder techno track for B2. All in all, I’m really happy with the track selections on this EP. I think it shows of some of the broader styles of music I was experimenting with at the time. Rashad Becker did a great job on the mastering because I sent him the wav files of the original cassette recordings. (On previous releases, I would EQ the original tapes to try and get the recordings sounding how I wanted them to sound, and then let the mastering sort out the dynamics and levels).
Do you have a particular sonic focus and how do you categorise your output?
I try not to think too hard about the music I should be making. I guess when you’re sitting down in front of a keyboard and drum machine/laptop writing a track it’s best to just follow your instincts. It’s a bit stranger nowadays after having a few vinyl and cassette releases, as I do make some comparisons with the music I made back then, but I still try and pull the useful elements from what I enjoyed about making music in the past and use them today. For example, I made a conscious decision a few years ago to return back to more jam -orientated tracks and also just recording stuff live with hardly any quantisation, compared to intricate plotting notes and midi CC messages on a screen.
When I think back to the music I made in the early 90s, sometimes I’d make 20-30 tracks over a weekend. I’d borrow bits of equipment from friends and also from the ‘Grassroots’ Cardiff based community recording studio where I was employed and I’d literally try and get as much use from it as possible within that time. I’d come home from DJing on a Friday night and work on tracks until 6 or 7am. Then wake up a few hours later, have breakfast, put my headphones on and work all day on making tracks again. Go out see friends in the evening…come home, put headphones on and make more tracks. I didn’t analyse what I was doing too much. It was really just an interesting voyage of discovery, as I had no idea of the music I could actually make at the time with the equipment I had borrowed.
I think technology is great, it’s really liberating but I think it can distract you sometimes from what you’re trying to achieve. It’s hard to explain, as I now use tools such as Max (Msp) in my productions which really add an organic element to some of the ideas I have. However, I also generally try and work quicker nowadays and try and concentrate on production/mastering at a much later stage completely, rather than the two going hand-in-hand throughout the creative process.
What is the material you’re currently working on like, compared to that which you have archived, and when do you plan to start releasing it?
I’ve made music all my life regardless of any possible chances of stuff getting released. As you know, most of the music I’ve been releasing recently was produced in circa 1992-1997 although I’ve continued to make music since these releases. I got heavily into the jungle scene (post 90’s rave), as from a producers point of view it was such an exciting, challenging sound that pushed so many boundaries. It really pushed forward the possibilities of using sampling and midi sequencing/editing to the limit and combined so many influences such as dub, reggae, dancehall, soul, funk, jazz and hip-hop. Other styles such as broken beat have also been a massive influence on me and I’ve got some archived tracks of stuff I recorded back then. Sadly though, during the 2000’s and using PC computers for production, sometimes I would have a hard drive failure or virus which would wipe out months of work. Nowadays I’m much more savvy with backing stuff up multiple times, and I suppose with cassette tapes at least tracks were stored away fairly safely.
I’m currently in talks with a couple of record labels who want to release some of my more recent (2014/2015) productions. That’s something I’m very happy about, as its great releasing all of this old music I’ve made, but it would be nice to show people that I’m still as passionate about making music nowadays as I was back then. Hopefully I should have a couple of vinyl releases out of new music by the end of the year.
Your melodic, analogue approach has a lot in common with the sound of The Black Dog and B12 and also with more recently-exposed artists like A Sagittariun, it also feels quintessentially British. Who do you see as your peers, and what, or who, have been your biggest influences along the way?
I think my father was a big influence on me without me actually realising just how much, until after he sadly passed away in 2000. He was a jazz/blues guitarist and I grew up listening to him play guitar pretty much every night at home. His style reminds me now of people like George Benson, and many others too.
I’m guess that’s why so much of my music is so melodic. Also, in respect of the Detroit techno I grew up listening to from 1988 onwards, I always liked electronic music with soul, which connected with you on an emotional level, as well as physical one.
My biggest influences growing up were quite varied. Both my older brothers, one of who was a dj, had huge record collections. I’d spend days exploring their albums, looking at album artwork and reading the sleeve notes, I learned so much, plus my dad had lots of jazz and blues records, which I’d hear him playing quite a lot.
Great albums for me at the time were things like The Stranglers ‘Black & White’ released in 1978, (I thought the keyboard player was incredible, playing at a frantic speed on some tracks, pretty amazing listening back). Also Tomita, Vangelis and Jean Michael Jarre (particularly, the album ‘Zoolook’). I’m also a big fan of the Italian group Goblin…I think my first memory of ever hearing an analogue synth filter was in the 1978 film ‘Dawn of the Dead’ aged 8 or 9. The Goblin musical score, in the Dario Argento version, completely fitted the scope of the film and made a big impression on me at the time.
My father gave me a vinyl copy of ‘Howard Roberts – Antelope Freeway’ (IMPULSE Records) back in the early 80’s, and that album is pretty psychedelic. The artwork in the centre gatefold sleeve was especially interesting, and also some of the crazy track titles, ‘Five Gallons Of Astral Flash Could Keep You Awake For Thirteen Weeks’. I recommend checking that album out. It’s like a road trip.
My brother gave me a 12” of ‘The Adventures of Grandmaster Flash on the Wheels of Steel’ (Sugarhill Records) back in 1982 and it changed my life completely. It was that record which got me into mixing and scratching when I was about 11. At the time I had one ‘binatone’ turntable with a pitch control (which I bought off a friend for £5) and my other turntable was one of the crappy ones where you can queue up 2/3 records on it, so when one finished, the other record would drop down and play (http://oi57.tinypic.com/2el420o.jpg ).
I loved all of the Sugarhill Record releases, and also the early 80’s Hip Hop/Electro Breakdance music coming out of New York, such as the Arthur Baker productions of Bambaataa and the Soulsonic Force, huge influences on me at the time. Also Herbie Hancock ‘Rockit’, Malcolm X – ‘No Sell Out’ (produced by Keith Le Blanc) and so much other music too.The Street Sounds Electro albums (and also the Street Sound ‘Anthems’ soul and funk focused compilations) were a huge influence on me back then too.
In more recent years, I was influenced by all of the electronic rave music coming out of the UK and Europe (and Chicago, New York and Detroit) in the early 90s, and later the whole jungle movement, and later again, the whole West London broken beat scene. And of course WARP artists like AFX, The Black Dog and B12. Primarily because I was listening to much of their music when it was released in the early 90s. It’s really hard to summarise really, but hopefully that gives a small indication on some of my influences.
In spite of the amount of creativity in electronic music, its relatively conservative outlook has ensured that music you made in the nineties sounds more imaginative and fresher than that of most of your current peers. Fair comment?
I don’t know if I agree with that really, I think there are so many hugely talented artists nowadays making incredible music using the current tools available. For example my good friend (the Cardiff based producer) STAGGA makes some of the most innovative music I have ever heard. I constantly feel inspired whenever I hang out with him or hear any of his productions and I’m constantly in absolute awe of his skills and attention to detail. To me he’s a perfect example of someone pushing the music forward so imaginatively in his own unique style.
I guess in answer to your question though, maybe current music doesn’t generally have a conservative outlook, but maybe the conditions in which music exists nowadays makes it harder for music to progress with as much momentum. Music is consumed at such a blisteringly fast rate nowadays via the Internet that it’s almost impossible for things to take root. I regularly chat with friends about this and the general consensus is that similarly between 1990-1995, so much happened in ‘dance music’ in such a short space of time. Week by week and month-by-month, new styles evolved which were built on those tracks which came previously and it really felt like the entire musical spectrum was converging at light speed. However all of these tracks from the era (1990-1995) really took root and made a big impression on the whole dance community and have gone on to influence much of the music we hear today.
In your interview with Juno Plus from last year, you talk about the “creative act” of DJing. What does this involve for you particularly, and how open are you to new DJing technology?
I’ve been DJing since I was about 12 years old (approx. 1984?). By that I mean starting by just messing about with two turntables (no mixer at all), playing two identical copies of the same record at the same time and making weird flange/phase effects and echo delays. Then later with scratching, vinyl records became musical instrument tools and each vinyl record had infinite potential sounds to scratch with. Then, with ‘Beat Matching’, these allowed infinite combinations of live remixing to be created. I remember I used to buy ‘Record Mirror’ magazine in the late 80s (before it became known as DJ magazine) and one time I sent off for a DJ mixing fanzine (explaining how to BPM records etc.) and from that point onwards, I would BPM every single song on every single record in my collection. It’s almost like a science then. You can literally lock a record before putting the needle on it. If one record playing is 120 BPM and you put a record on the turntable of 126, you instantly know by looking that this record cued up needs to be pitched down (approximately by a certain amount) and so it gives you a head start, which is vital, if you want to mix consistently over a longer time slot. For me, mixing records without BPM’s always felt like potluck every time. BPM’s also really help when teaching others how to DJ too.
Beat matching has been my main choice of mixing though, for if you had a selection of ten records of roughly the same BPM, you could mix any of these records with the other nine and make numerous live variation/remixes. I always found this really interesting, as you could play a mix live in a club, which could not be purchased on vinyl, but something that existed just for that moment while it was being mixed.
Nowadays I still use vinyl, although I have in the past used Traktor quite a lot. I love the fact of being able to change speed without changing pitch, and looping sections and creating cue points. I find it all fascinating, although I think vinyl is vastly superior in sound quality compared to mp3.
I only recently got Serato, which has been interesting to use, although I do still like the immediacy of using Traktor more. But yeah, I’m all for integrating new technologies into mixing, as it helps push the whole art form forward and stops things from stagnating.
What is your preferred set up? Vinyl, CDs, a combination of both or software - based?
I like using whatever feels right at the time. In the early 90s I used to do mixes with live Roland 202 sequences on top, live beats from an Amiga computer (OctaMED) and also putting vinyl through effects units like the Alesis Quadraverb. I’ve still got loads of these tapes still and recently converted some onto Wav and will have to upload them someday.I primarily use vinyl though.
Do you still DJ out a lot? If so, where do you play and how important is practicing?
I still DJ nowadays of course but not very often at all. At present just a few gigs a year really, although I would love to be more active DJing. I guess I could really do with a booking agent, as I’m too busy with family life at the moment to contact promoters to try and get gigs. I’d love to be DJing much more regularly. I practice most days and also teach DJing and Music Tech classes in Cardiff quite regularly still, and so I find it almost impossible to ever get bored with mixing/DJing..
Your recent gig for Cejero in Copenhagen was, according its blurb, “the first time you’d DJed outside the UK.” How did it go and was the experience that much different to what you’re used to?
Man, that was a great gig. I always get super nervous whenever I DJ, I always have done before playing for the past 20 years, which is a good thing I think as it shows that you actually give a shit. . . . Yeah, I always get super nervous on the day I have a gig, but as soon as a play a couple of records I’m fine. I guess its just the anticipation and planning of which tracks to bring which I get anxious about. I never plan a set as such, I just sort out a selection of records, (usually a very large collection, as much as I can carry), and improvise on the night, dependant on the reaction from the crowd. I think DJing in a club is really a two way process, of sharing music, and being inspired by the crowd who receive the music.
Was there ever a pirate radio scene in Cardiff, and were you involved?
Yep there were various pirate stations in Cardiff over the years, such as Bass.fm and others (although I was never directly involved with them). Back in the 90’s I grew up listening to tapes of pirate radio stations such as ‘Centreforce’, ‘Kool FM’, ‘Dream FM’ and lots of other unknown stations. These tapes became iconic over the years, and each track would slowly be discovered one by one by friends and other DJs etc.. (pre ‘Shazam’ days of course..)
I’ve still got a few huge bag of tapes (I never threw any of them out) and they really are like audio time capsules documenting this now long musical history.
Have you always lived in Cardiff, and how important is locality for you?
Yes I have always lived in Cardiff, but I try and go travelling whenever I can. My recent trip DJing in Copenhagen was superb, I love the city and I hope to return there soon. I recently became a father (in January 2015) and so my roots are now firmly here for the time being, although I’d love to travel more so in the future and perhaps maybe even relocate someday if the opportunity arises.
What are you listening to at the moment?
I mainly listen to NTS Radio most days in my free time, also the podcasts off Mixcloud, tracks/mixes of Soundcloud, plus I’ve recently been archiving more of my old tapes from the 90s. I overlooked quite a few tapes when I first started archiving my music back in 2012, I literally forgot to archive whole sides of tapes of tracks which I overlooked first time round, (plus, I just got a new tape deck so I’m also re-mastering lots of my old tracks too).
Can you give us your all – time British electronic music top five?
Nope, that’s way too difficult to do I think. But hopefully this interview does some light on the tracks that have influenced me over the years, and the artist who have created them.
Thanks for the interview Paul, it’s been a real pleasure. All the best…