03.11.2011, Words by dummymag

John Heckle makes DIY techno and DJs with drum machines

I first heard about John Heckle when he released his breakthrough single ‘Life On Titan’, which is also his first, on Jamal Moss’ Mathematics Recordings. It is a splashing, ecstatic house record that reminds of the classic Chicago house sound, which perfectly fits into the Mathematics family.

Since then, this 22 year-old Liverpool producer has put out two EPs: ‘Extrovert/ Introvert’ and ‘4th Dimension’, as well as his debut album ‘The Second Son’ that came out this summer. 80s Chi-town house sound isn’t the only appeal in Heckle’s music though; there are plenty of jazz influences in his warm, high-spirited soundscape. Thick, heavy, progressive; the throbbing and jackin’ percussion is lushly interwoven with the swirling, free-flowing melodies, all meshed up with those dark and raw synth notes. It’s a charming, acidic formula that certainly resembles the 80s house sound, but what captivates also is the forward-thinking elements he combines it with.

We caught up with John Heckle via email before his debut London live show, which will happen tomorrow in Dalston’s Efes Snooker Club. We talked about techno and drum machines. He also ran us through his studio set up.

You pay live and DJ – as a DJ, you often programme a drum machine live in the club to bridge or overlay on your mixes. A simple idea, which stretches back to early Chicago DJs in the 80s and the live edit of Ron Hardy.

It’s all a matter of opinion I guess. I play the drum machine because I enjoy it; the fact that it gets a nice reaction is a bonus. I first started taking drum machines to gigs when I was about 17, using a Novation Drumstation, plus a 505 to trigger the Novation’s 909 samples, and doing a Jeff Mills impression. It’s just sort of stuck since then.

How did you get into music production?

Me and my brother went halves on the workstation board that I still use now. For a while I only had that and a couple of cheap drum machines – just the bare bones. I still haven’t got that much gear – just what I use for the live shows really. I’ll always have a read up on the net before buying something.

Can you run us through your current studio set up?

I’ve got the workstation keyboard which has a 16 channel Midi sequencer, a Juno-106 for basslines and such, a few guitar peddles and effects units to make things sound more interesting, and a couple of drum machines. I wire everything through a small mixing desk and record when I like what I hear. Pretty simple really.

I read that the first records you bought were industrial and classic house records. This was the same for me and they’re still a key part of my set. I feel they have an unmatchable simplicity, rawness and energy that sets them apart from any new record. Has this been a key influence in your style of production?
That’s not actually true; it was a bit of a miscommunication – it was always techno that I’d go out and buy initially (and some hardcore when I was a bit younger). But yes, the industrial and house records that I’ve collected definitely influenced how I wanted to make music. I completely agree with you about the rawness and simplicity of the classic records. I think they are more relatable – more DIY – than a lot of the stuff that will come out now. There is a lot less charm to the majority of new dance music.

Can you run through a few favourite tracks from these genres or some of the first records you used to play a great deal and still do?

I’m still a big techno head at heart, even though I don’t work as much in as I used to. My favorite record from about the age of 14 was The Extremist by Mills. I had to buy a second copy of it a few years back because it got chucked around so much during mixes! The second copy is almost as battered now. As far as industrial and classic house records go, I’ve got too many that I love to pick any real favorites. The most recent ones I got hold of were second-hand copies of How I Feel from Lil Louis and Horse Rotorvator by Coil; the latter of which I was after for years after hearing on a Surgeon mix.

You’re playing a live show in London tomorrow, what can we expect from your set?

I’ll be arranging all the tracks live and bridging them with drum solos from the 707. It’s the first one in London, but not the first one in the UK. I’ve done the live show in Wales and Glasgow, as well as in Germany and most recently in Dublin.

What’s next for you, John?

There are a few things coming up soon which I am looking forward to, the nextof which being a 10” called ‘Hard Sleeper’ [that will drop later this month] on the Signals label out of Newcastle.

John Heckle will play at ‘ReviveHER Silver Magic present Tim Sweeney + more’ at Efes Snooker Club on 4th November, 2011. More info here.

Mathematics release John Heckle’s ‘The Second Son’ album in July, 2011

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