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The Deep Dish man turns to the dark side on his new album. Greg Scarth finds out what inspired him to head down a deeper techno route.
As one half of Deep Dish, Sharam Tayebi is most closely associated with the progressive sounds of the duo’s own output and that of their label, Yoshitoshi. The association belies the reality of his own more eclectic tastes and his solo work, which explores a broader range of sounds. His new album, Collecti, sees him experimenting with new forms in a number of ways, firstly in terms of the musical focus on darker techno styles, and furthermore in experimentation with the album format itself. Collecti is explicitly presented as an album, but the physical format is being staggered over four vinyl releases. We sat down with Sharam to discuss inspiration, technology and whether dancefloor music can cross over to home listening.
Attack: Collecti represents a move to a darker techno sound. A lot of established artists have been turning to darker sounds in recent years, whether it’s a response to global politics or a reaction against trends in dance music. What’s motivated you to go darker?
Sharam: For me it’s not a reactionary move at all, I’m merely getting back in touch with a genre that I’ve always loved. I’ve created and played techno since my early days on the DC scene so it’s not anything new, but I feel like that gets overshadowed sometimes by my work in other styles. Collecti is ultimately about shifting focus and expressing my love for the genre. Simple as that.
On your last album, Retroactive, you explored your various influences over the years. What kind of music has influenced your creative process this time around?
In terms of musical inspirations, there’s just so much. I’ve kept up with the techno scene probably closer than any other over the years, and my sets always include tons of techno tracks. My points of reference for Collecti are across the gamut – they go back to vintage New York techno scene championed by Tenaglia in the mid 90s to Belgian techno from Frank De Wulf and European stuff like Cari Lekebusch and Oliver Lieb, as well as Detroit techno.
I’ve kept up with the techno scene probably closer than any other over the years
I also love the polished, modern records you hear from people like Maceo Plex or Victor Ruiz, and the more left-field, Basic Channel-inspired stuff like Architectural. So the inspiration canvas for me is pretty vast. But I take all those and apply my own flavour to them. I also tend to take a lot of inspiration from classic drum and bass records and love to incorporate those rough, complex sounds into my tracks.
Other than music, what else has inspired you?
I take a lot of inspiration from film scores and sound design. One thing I always pay attention to when I watch films is the sounds that make their way into the film. That crosses over a lot into the music I make, especially sci-fi movies.
Over the years you must have seen lots of trends in technology come and go. Can you pick out a few pieces of technology that have helped define your sound over the years and explain the role they’ve played?
I’ll talk about some older gear first for nostalgia’s sake, then move on to what has shaped my current sound.
When Ali and I were making tracks for Deep Dish, we passed everything on this Mackie 32.8 desk. Not an especially nice desk, but it had a clean sound and a workflow that I think contributed quite a bit to our sound. We did all the takes live running through that board. I miss that. It gave you a live element to the music. I still have the thing with its original power supply and meter bridge, but have decommissioned it for now at least. We also used an old Generalmusic S2 keyboard on almost everything. Its lush Rhodes preset probably helped define the Deep Dish sound for a while. I still have that as well – I’ve been thinking of diving back into it. We also used a Nord Lead a lot, and of course, almost everything had a Juno-106 or Jupiter-6 on it.
Probably the most important development in recent years for me has been Ableton Live. I love how fast it is, and how it’s tailored really well for making electronic music. I think my productivity increased five-fold when I made the switch from sequencing in Logic to sequencing in Live.
I’ve been using U-he synths a lot as well, mainly Bazille and Diva. They’re like the Juno and Jupiter on steroids. Urs Heckmann is a genius, and his stuff has really helped me make the transition from analogue to digital without compromising sound quality. Also Reveal Sound’s Spire has become a go-to synth for me more often than not.
In terms of mixing and sound shaping, Universal Audio’s Apollo system and the accompanying plugins have been a big game changer for me. I love the Eventide H910 and all of the classic UAD compressor emulations. Also Softube’s plugins are worldclass. Again, great compressors, and I’m a big fan of their spring reverb. I’m now starting to experiment with their modular stuff.
With the explosion of music tech over the last couple of decades, so many producers find themselves getting caught up with following trends and chopping and changing their setup. Have you found yourself doing that?
I like to keep things simple. This might surprise people, but at this point in my career my setup is mostly software based, and that’s mainly because I travel so much that I need to be able to do my work in the studio, unplug and continue on the road, bounce the track, test it that night, and make changes the next day. I like to learn new bits of software and hardware when I can, but mainly I stick to what I know because ultimately I feel like it’s the best way to get results. I’d rather be really good with two or three tools than average with ten.
In general I don’t really follow trends. I know producers who have a million plugins and fancy outboard gear but when it comes to making music their stuff often sounds unfinished or uninspired. It’s like a car collector who doesn’t really know how to drive. People get lost because of what psychologists call the paradox of choice; they fancy the idea that they have a lot of ‘cool toys’. At the end of the day very few people can listen to your track and say, “Oh, he used this compression and that delay or this synth.” If you know what you are doing it doesn’t matter what you’re using – all that matters is the end product.
I’d rather be really good with two or three tools than average with ten.
After a break of seven years between albums you’ve now put out two in just over a year. Does that mean you’ve been making more music or just that you felt these longer formats suited what you’ve been making?
Both albums were a long time in the making. In fact some tracks on both Retroactive and Collecti go back to 2009, right after Get Wild. I went through a period where
I felt like my next record had to be a statement record. So I didn’t release a lot of music. I was also reshaping how I approached making music. So Retroactive was sort of a cleansing, an exclamation point to that point of my career. Collecti is the indent on a new paragraph.
I do love the album format, but unfortunately I feel like most people don’t have the attention span for them anymore. That’s why we’re releasing Collecti in parts. The full album will be mixed like a mix compilation for those that still enjoy putting on the album and getting lost for a while.
Do you see it more as a collection of EPs or is it definitely an album?
It’s an album, but we’re experimenting with what the album format really means. That’s one of the nice things about having the flexibility of running your own label. As I said before, people’s attention spans are shrinking. So my team and I came up with the idea of structuring the album in this experimental fashion, which I think has worked to its advantage. It gives each set of tracks more room to breathe, extends the life of the album, and gives the team more room to explore interesting opportunities.
I do love the album format, but unfortunately I feel like most people don’t have the attention span for them anymore. That’s why we’re releasing Collecti in parts.
Given that your i-series tracks are ‘club use only’ dancefloor experiments, some people might think it’s a bit strange to put them on an album. How do you think this music crosses over from a club context to home listening?
I’m not going to pretend like these tracks are designed for home listening; they’re club records. There’s no vocals (with the exception of ‘Ski’), the beats are driving and intense, and the average track length is over seven minutes. However, I think for DJs and true dance music fans, putting all the tracks in one collection is a nice thing to do. It’s kind of an archive of everything I’ve done that has this sound. Hence the name Collecti. Plus the full DJ mix version of the album on the full release to bring it all home.
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