Friday, December 23, 2016

A Quick Chat With Cottam

Paul Cottam first came onto the radar back in 2009 when the first of his eponymous, but otherwise clandestine, releases came out. Since then his schedule has been steady, with four releases in 2016, the most recent being ‘Cottam 6’, which neatly bookends his recording career so far. Another label that he oversees, Ruff Draft, is also an outlet for his sound, as well as that of others, its most recent outing being from DJ Nature a few weeks ago. The last few years, however, have been challenging for Cottam. He suffers from multiple sclerosis (MS), and its debilitating effects have taken a heavy toll on his mobility, heavily limiting any gigs he might want to perform. I emailed him a few questions to try and find out a little bit more about his current state of mind, any pointers as to what he has planned and his background.

How did it all start for you? What influenced you to start making and playing music, and what keeps the passion alive?

It all started for me at high school aged about 14. A friend introduced me to the music and from there I never looked back. It’s all Paul Watson’s fault, he’s to blame hahahaha. I was a hip hop and soul boy before I met Paul .The music keeps the passion alive, simple as that. I love it!!!!!!!

You describe yourself as a “stay at home parent” on your Facebook page. What influence does family have on you and your work?

I’m not sure to be honest. My general mood, feelings, circumstances and the music I buy/hear influence my music the most I think. Odd tracks are influenced directly by my family but its not the norm. My family influence me in different areas.

Have you always lived in Leyland? How important is a sense of place?

I have lived in Leyland from about the age of 4. I’d identify myself as being a Northerner but I don’t think this is really of any importance music wise, to me anyway. I was born in Preston, grew up in Leyland, an Englishman; a European; world citizen; yada yada yada. Place is kinda irrelevant, its more about what/who you have around you. Just my opinion.

When you first started releasing music you were noticed for, amongst other things, a slowed down chugging sound which seemed to blend aspects of afrobeat and disco, but was unmistakeably your own. How did you come up with this?

It was Mr Watson’s fault for introducing me to the likes of The Revenge and Mark E. I was playing techno at around 130bpm before that. Probably something to do with getting older as well. Slowing down and all that. I didn’t really “come up” with the sound. I was just faffing about enjoying trying to make music in my headphones as I’d packed my deck room away to make room for a nursery. I was using ideas I’d had in my head for years but never tried before as DJing was always the main thing for me.

I read that you made your early tracks on Ableton. Do you still use it and how engaged are you with music making technology? Is it easy for you to adapt to new digital trends?

I still use Ableton yes. I’m not really a follower of technology etc etc… I’d rather just have fun fiddling with whatever I have. I do add bits of kit now and again but always for a reason.

How are you coping with MS, and how does it impact on making music and DJing? Are some of your track titles a reflection on your condition; I’m thinking of ‘Relapse’, ‘Harsh Side Effects’ and ‘Breaking Through the Pain Barrier’, for example.

I’m plodding on. I have given up DJing. Well, I say I’ve given up but I still wanna do 3 or 4 gigs a year. I love it and miss it so so so much, I still try and get on the decks at home as much as possible. Some months I’m on nearly every day for an hour or so, other months I can’t manage to stand comfortably for long enough to mix 2 tracks together. Yeah, loads of my tracks are influenced by my health issues, hence the titles. When I’m in a bad way there’s no way I can play on the decks so I sit and make noises instead.

How close to you feel to club culture as opposed to just making music and DJing?

Last time I played out was in May. Like I said, still gonna try do 3 or 4 gigs a year. I’d go mad if I didn’t try. I’m hoping to do a gig in February but nothing definite yet. I would love to feel close to club culture but its not like I can even just go to a club for a night out anymore. Clubs are not a good environment for me these days because of all the health bobbins. GUTTED!!!!!

It’s clear that you love playing music, perhaps more than making it? What appeals most about DJing? You make a lot of mixes at home as well. How does your approach differ between recording at home and playing live? Are you more methodical, or spontaneous? 

I just love it, had my first play at the age of 14 and never ever looked back. What appeals to me is playing all the cracking music and getting lost in it. Makes me smile inside and out. If I was able I’d happily play on my decks all day nearly every day. Some mixes are approached in a methodical way but others are just a case of hitting record and seeing what happens. Playing at home you can just play exactly the music you want to, in a club its still playing stuff you love but you have to see what kinda vibes the crowd are feeling etc etc. Its way more spontaneous playing out.

I read in a review for one of your singles on Aus that your first releases were under the radar because you didn’t want to get sued for unauthorised use of samples. Have you ever had any feedback from artists you’ve used on your records? If so, was it positive/negative?

Never from an artist. I had contact with a label about a rewire type thing I did. I was obviously in the wrong but they were extremely reasonable and we sorted things out.

Your releases are all your own work, but which artist, living or dead, would you like to collaborate with?

Too many to mention really but in all honesty I’m crap at collaborations. I’m not really very good at making music, I just mess about. I can’t seem to do it. Face to face collaboration might be better. Might try soon.

What was the first record you bought, and where did you use to buy music in Preston?

De La Soul – ‘3 Feet High and Rising’ or Public Enemy – ‘ItTakes a Nation of Millions to Hold Us Back. There were 3 record shops in Leyland when I was a nipper so I got them from one of those. Only 1 record shop remains in Leyland. Action Records was/is the place to go in Preston.

Do you have a favourite release from your back catalogue, and is there an album in you?

I hope to do an album at some point. Hopefully when I’ve learnt a bit more and am happier with what I do. 

They are all moments in time etc etc…. The release on Versatile is one that’s very very personal to me. Not just because it was deemed good enough to be on such a label but the actual music helped me through a really, really bad time.

Thanks Paul.

Tuesday, November 29, 2016

The Mental Universe - Artefakt (Delsin)

Title: The Mental Universe
Artist: Artefakt
Label: Delsin
Cat Number: DSRC 8
Genre: Techno

1: The Mental Universe
2: Tidal
3: Mirage (Original Mix)
4: Mirage (Rework)

Power and benevolence, darkness and light; these are implicit in Artefakt’s work and, with the exception of the two minute long ‘Tidal’, are abundantly evident. It’s spacey, powerful stuff that is as appropriate for a lone strobe sweat pit, as a sunrise greeting, hands-in-the-air bash in healthier surroundings. The tranced-out, analogue underbelly is done very well in ‘Mirage’, and reminds me of raves gone by, while the percussive title track is an exercise in suppressed potential.  The weather’s getting cold now and this is full of northern froideur, but it thaws at the right moments.

Expanded Consciousnness - Komarken Electronics (Brokntoys)

Title: Expanded Consciousness
Artist: Komarken Electronics
Label: Brokntoys
Cat Number: BT15
Genre: Electro

1: Early Mornings
2: Bubble Theory
3: Expanded Consciousness
4: Early Mornings (Delta Funktionen Remix)

So I’ve only just got around to playing this, having bought it a week or so ago. Such is life and the nagging sense of disorder that currently surrounds mine. Downstairs the kitchen and dining room are being put back together, (at last), while I’m holed up in my bedroom listening to a backlog of stuff. This is a good place to start, as electro is making its presence felt once more and in the right hands, is as emotive as it gets. This release however, although satisfying, doesn’t contain any surprises, feeling more than a little derivative, with ‘Bubble Theory’ being the most. It’s ok, but the Delta Funktionen remix takes things in a straight up stomping direction and is my favourite bit here, its sonic layers subtle and beguiling.

Saturday, November 26, 2016

Acapulco - BXP (RA-1)

Title: Acapulco
Artist: BXP
Label: RA-1
Cat Number: RA-1-002
Genre: Techno

A1: Acapulco
A2: Acapulco Basement
B1: Acapulco Basement (D’Marc Cantu Beachfront Mix)
B2: Acapulco Basement (D’Marc Cantu Rainforest Mix)

No matter how much I receive, I’m always grateful for free music. However, filters do need to be deployed to catch the crap, which is around 75% of what arrives in my mailbox. ‘Acapulco’ however, is not crap at all. The name is intriguing, but superfluous, but the title track itself is a stringent piece of atmospheric techno which works wonders with a handful of raw elements. ‘Acapulco Basement’ develops its predecessors template to a more restrained, but higher level, while the two excellent mixes by D’Marc Cantu occupy a different region of the astral plane. All in all, really good.

Sunday, November 13, 2016

Stating The Obvious

It’s something that I constantly reflect on, and it bothers me, even if it doesn’t lessen my regard for the music I love. However, it’s good to think out loud occasionally. Throughout its various incarnations, house and techno have been with us for almost forty years but, apart from the obvious advances in studio technology, their blueprints have remained relatively unchanged for the last thirty. Maybe I’m taking a narrow view of things, but every time I hear of diggers digging, and twenty year old tracks by 100hz fetching thirty or more pounds on Discogs, I return to my youth and the time I first got into record buying, when ‘Rock Around The Clock” would have only been twenty odd years old, but sounded as ancient and hackneyed as it’s possible to be, next to what I was buying at the time. It could be because now I’m not listening to the music in its most advanced form, but that’s subjective. Whenever I hear what is supposed to be something “pushing techno forward” it’s either A) shite, B) the same as it ever was, or C) trying too hard. Although I like to moan I’ll still gladly accept the status quo as long as the quality control is high. I suppose this situation is what pushes DJs to try too hard themselves, to play eclectically in order to stand out. I never used to get it when reading reviews of sets by Derrick Carter, hearing about how he would fearlessly blend house and techno so that you couldn’t see the joins. I saw him many times but never really got that aspect of it. That’s not to say he didn’t, or still doesn’t. However, my most crystal clear memory of his style was the ability to effortlessly involve anything at his fingertips and spontaneously create what amounted to live re-edits with vinyl. I never found him to be eclectic, just someone who played house and didn’t mind what was thrown into the mix, unless it didn’t conform to a four-four. This sounds like I think he is limited . . .  not at all. He’s the best, most entertaining and technically proficient DJ I‘ve ever had the pleasure of dancing to, but I feel, stylistically mislabelled when he first broke through. The tech-house collectives of South London were, and still are, a similar case in point. Magazine articles would loudly proclaim their sound to be a druggy, groove-laden soup into which anything went. It was never that varied, unless it was house and techno though, just as well the church is broad. Tech-house has become a dirty word, corrupted by the Beatport generation, but in its purest form it’s still the sound of the metropolitan underground, twenty odd years after the first Wiggle. Practically every underground party which adheres to the four four blueprint takes its cues from the original tech house template . . . It’s extremely laissez faire as long as there is a flow into which anything, within reason, can go.  As has been touched on in these very pages before, starved of innovation, today’s selectors are mining the past in the same way northern soul DJs did, picking out the obscure, and reinvigorating it by simply playing it in well chosen spaces under the vinyl banner. We have entered the twilight zone, whereby the desperation for something new has given way to the repackaging of the mundane. That’s not to say that it isn’t interesting in itself; DJs playing all vinyl sets now being subject to a similar scrutiny as Youtube videos, and all that their viral reappropriation bring: picked up by tastemakers, the creation of new, self-generating communities. It’s out in the open here though and in its search for that certain je ne sais quoi, takes us full circle to the past.