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Jacen Solo interview

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jacen_solo_interviewJJ: What drives you to make music?*

JS: The same thing that got me into mixing, that buzz you get when you create. It started with the tingles you get when you drop a wicked mix in at a party - can anyone accurately describe that feeling!? And once I learned that by producing my own tracks those feelings could be magnified by 200%, that was it for me. I was, and am, hooked for life I reckon.

JJ: You’ve recently moved to using software live, can you explain what you’ve gained or lost from the change?

JS: Good question. I’m finding out more each session. The overall sound hasn’t changed, as I still incorporate outboard gear to the mix - in my opinion this is almost impossible to fully replicate, at the moment, anyway. Using the software that I use has been a constant learning process over the past few years and the more I use it and read up, the more I can do, and ultimately the better overall sound I can achieve. My album for example is a mixture of outboard gear, onboard synths and drum machines, which has gone from analogue to digital, then back through an analogue desk… then cut to vinyl!

JJ: With Ableton, and other software, providing so many variations and levels of ‘live’ performance and audiences usually unable to see how producers are using these tools, there are sometimes questions about whether the set was really live or not. This is then often followed by a debate about what ‘live’ means in this new context and does it matter anyway… What does ‘live’ mean to you when using software?

JS: Well live using software like Ableton is still a bit of a challenge for me in so much as my tracks have so much automation [movement in the sounds] and effects going on that I found it was a case of experimenting. Personally, I have stripped down my tracks into parts and will mix them live using a control desk. Some tracks can be broken down into 8 bar loops almost completely without affecting the overall vibe - they can be made up of fairly minimal sounds - percussion, b-line, synth, etc. Some need longer loops to preserve the automation and effect changes too difficult, impractical, or literally too juicy for the laptop to deal with. Some of the parts of the Ableton set are broken down in this way so that I can assign a channel on my control unit to individual parts on the track and then control or effect anything up to 10 parts for each individual song. So for me, when I say I’m playing live, I have about 70 channels to assign to the controller so I can literally jam for the people! There is a lot of planning needed for the initial template building, but once that is done you are ready to react to the crowd if need be, effect, adjust, automate live, as well as build if you desire, in order to hopefully create more of a performance, feeling… rather than just pressing play and clicking the mouse every 20 minutes.

JJ: Forbidden Medicine is really expressive and emotionally satisfying… I’m not really sure how to put this as a question, but I suppose I’m interested to know whether you consciously try to communicate on an emotional level or if it’s just what comes out?

JS: I’m glad you see it that way. For me it’s all about emotion. Encounter is a track that gets me every time (sad I know). The moment I played the strings I found myself welling up! I actually used to loop up sections of that track to purposefully bring out those feelings. I want people to be able to get something from my music emotionally if possible.

JJ: Would you say your tracks are usually about something pretty specific, like an idea, or an experience, or are they more abstract expressions? For instance, when you feel emotional listening to Encounter, is that related to something you could name, and if so would you mind saying what that was (if it’s not too personal)? I suppose I’m asking whether you are aware that you’re writing about something when you’re writing, or does the connection happen afterwards… or never in any specific way?

JS: Sometimes, I switch on the gear with a clear purpose but more often than not the original idea mutates into something completely different. With Encounter the track started with the strings, I had been trying various combinations with the synth sound but once I found the pattern that I ended up using in the track, I immediately felt something. I can’t pinpoint the inspiration emotionally for the track, probably a combination of things, and like you said it could be that it happens afterwards. The thing that I aim for is for it to happen every time you listen to it.

JJ: Close Encounters is so hopeful about the way authorities might deal with an alien species making contact. It shows something really naive and wonderful about human’s compulsion to communicate… and to do it via electronic music, too! Who could ask for more? Perhaps the emotion in the track is simply about this? And why not?

JS: I like that idea, and wouldn’t it be mad to be the one playing to the Aliens? Especially if we started jamming. The fact that it’s being talked about pleases me to be honest, and maybe we can just leave it open for personal interpretation.

JJ: You had a serious accident in 2001, did you want to explain what happened and how that has affected your music life?

JS: Long story, so I’ll summarise. Got injured and was left with foot drop, which is a condition caused by permanent nerve damage. I spent best part of a year being laid up and not knowing whether I’d walk properly again and to put it mildly it was a tough time, physically and mentally. On the upside, though, it gave me time to work on my music, albeit under the influence of countless prescription drugs! Personally, I think the experience has strengthened my music.

JJ: Film samples have played a big part in some of your tracks…

JS: Yeah, guess you could say that. I’m a fan of movies full stop really, and have always liked to use a good movie sample if possible. The Encounter, sample I just loved, and insisted it stayed on the track as it enhances the feeling of the build up in my opinion. I had to remove a sample from AI on the released version of Robot Child because the label were worried about approval. I only drop that in my live sets.

JJ: What did you make of AI?

JS: I liked the film. I thought it could’ve been better, but heh! I used the Robot Child quote right from the offset in producing the track as I wanted to try and vocalise the emotion, if that makes any sense? I really like what he’s saying in the quote and I find the possibility of a robot child who can love quite mind boggling, and the moral questions and possibilities associated with the idea are endless.

JJ: Your LP Virgo comes out really soon, how are you feeling about it now that it’s left your hands?

JS: Yeah, a couple of weeks and its in the shops! I’m excited about it, especially as the feedback from peers has been so positive. I just have to wait and see how the people receive it.

JJ: Why is the LP called Virgo?

JS: Well, it’s a funny story really. I wanted the name to try and represent the fact that the LP was different sides of me at this stage of my life in music, and I have always been into my star sign. I looked it up and found out Virgo was the the 6th Constellation, and thought, yeah, 6th Constellation isn’t a bad title, and mailed it to Jason at AI. In amongst a flurry of mails, J asked me what the 6th constellation was and I mailed back a one word answer - Virgo. About a week later, he sent me some mock-ups for the cover with the title Virgo, on. After a quick chat on the phone, we both decided to roll with it and I’m kind of glad we got our wires crossed, as it turns out.

JJ: What have you got planned next?

JS: I have new material now and I’m working on some remixes. Ultimately, I’m aiming for a proper live show, with percussionists, a DJ, and a stage full of gear. I will have another EP out on AI later in the year but everything else is under wraps for the minute.

JJ: Will you be releasing stuff on other labels?

JS: I’ll stay with AI until one or other of us hangs up our tools, so to speak. No reason to leave - great label, great people.

JJ: You’ve mentioned that you’re planning on releasing a compilation yourself. Can you tell us a bit about that?

JS: The compilation is a personal plan that goes back to the love of the early Warp double LPs. The series will be called Life Works, and I’m currently short-listing tracks for volume I. So far, I’ve got tracks from techno legend, and friend, Mysteron (Insync Vs Mysteron), Arne Weinberg, myself, and unsigned act Strange Pair, which I’m very excited about, and there’s more in the pipeline. I’m hoping to get a release date sorted for October time.

JJ: What did you listen to as a kid?*

JS: I grew up on a mixture of music (thanks Mum), and can clearly remember tracks from a wide variety of artists and groups from the Eurythmics to The Temptations. My first vinyl purchase was Malcolm Maclaren’s Buffalo Girls. Think I was about 9 or 10.

JJ: When did you start seriously listening to electronic music?

JS: When I hit secondary school is when I really got into it. It started with the now classic House and Techno, like Armando, Marshall Jefferson and Mr May and soon encompassed the whole IDM sound (as it is now known), superbly presented primarily from Warp Records, with records in my box like B12 - Electro-Soma, and Aphex Twin - Selected Ambient Works 85-92.

JJ: When and how did you start making tracks yourself?

JS: I began, like so many, on a bog standard Atari with basic Cubase in the mid 90’s having DJ’d since about the age of 13. I had a friend who went to the Brits School in ‘94 and I used to go round to his studio - where there was an Atari, Cubase, a controller, a sampler and a sound module - pretty much every other day, trying to learn as much from him as possible. After numerous drug fuelled sessions and all nighters, I soon found that I was ready to expand my own setup and began working on my own from home.

JJ: What will always be in your record box?*

JS: B12 - Electro Soma, (Orange Vinyl), UR003, Dynamix II - Just Give the DJ a Break, there are far too many to list. Love my vinyl.

JJ: Finally, you’re playing at Bleep43 soon, what should people expect if they come to see you?

JS: People should expect to hear pure techno electro acid. Inspired by Detroit, London, and beyond (to use a phrase coined by Elektrosouls). As I said before, my performance will be a one off in that I have planned specifically for Bleep43, and the live set will include unreleased tracks as well as the originals remixed for the night. Whatever happens, I’m gonna be havin’ it! PEACE.

Jacen Solo will be havin’ it at Bleep43 on 25th June 2005. Tickets from

* Thanks to Anya Stang for these questions.

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