Interview: Casino Times
Joseph Spencer & Nicholas Church are Casino Times, a duo with a penchant for classy, supple and always discerningly delectable house and techno pastures.
Having started the project in 2010, the British duo have since become renowned as one of the scene’s most consistent such pairings, with credits for the likes of WOLF Music as well as their own label, the well-worth-checking-out Casino Edits imprint. Aside from the latter pair, they’ve also got tongues wagging recently courtesy of their second release on Swedish label Omena, itself an increasingly respected outlet that’s hosted everyone from Mella Dee to HNNY to Church boss, Seb Wildblood.
Following 2017’s ‘Recoded’ EP, their latest Omena outing is ‘Decoded’ and suffice to say, it’s every bit as enthralling as what’s come before. With the EP just landing, we felt it a good time to put some questions to the lads about what’s what. Without further ado, here’s what went down…
“There’s a lot more room for finding a good groove when you’re not working with a straight 4/4 beat.”
Music aside, what’s keeping you busy at the moment?
Joseph: Outside of music I am a hobbyist photographer. I discovered this love last year and it has been a joy that has let me be creative outside of music. It’s all still very new to me but working with imagery and image production has helped give me another creative outlet.
Nicholas: I haven’t really stopped working for the last three years. I also work in digital and it’s become very time consuming, so I’m finally starting to take some time off, plan some trips and focus on ‘me’ a bit more. I’ve just got back from San Francisco the other week, which was awesome; lots of good beer and cool record shops.
What is your earliest musical memory?
J: My Dad had this big hi-fi system in the house that I was fascinated with, I was particularly excited by how loud it could go. Early one morning, around 5am, I decided to show my cousin how loud it could get and pushed it as hard as it could go! My dad was furious… what was I thinking.
N: For me, probably music in the car. I always remember listening to local FM stations (i.e. the kind of stations that played the same songs at the same time, every single day to save money). I remember hearing a lot of Prince growing up.
There seems to be a serious electro funk and Detroit influence on some of the tracks on this EP (Recoded) Can you talk a bit about that?
N: After the Familiar Circles LP we were keen to keep experimenting with different rhythm patterns like we did on tracks such as ‘What (Miracle Beat)’ and ‘Oddity’. There’s a lot more room for finding a good groove when you’re not working with a straight 4/4 beat. I would say this record and Decoded definitely draw some influence from 80’s electro funk and Detroit in general. I really dig Juan Atkins, especially the Cybotron material and I feel lots of the artists that he references (Telex, Yellow Magic Orchestra, Human League), have had a big impact on us stylistically. Also with the Casino Edits now really taking care of the sample-focussed part of our productions, we wanted to start making the original Casino Times releases more electronic, giving it some clear separation.
J: Like Nick said, we are becoming more attracted to broken rhythms in our productions, particularly when programming drums. Working with more complex rhythms opens up a whole world of possibilities that allows us to explore more diverse ideas. We’ve also previously worked with much slower tempos, so working with faster patterns feels fresh and helps progress our sound, which is important to us.
Can you chat us through the production process of the EP?
J: There are hundreds of raw demos that sit on the studio hard-drive that get created and then forgotten about; just beats or maybe an interesting melody or a chopped up sample that will get rediscovered and re-worked again until something feels right. ‘This Is My Channel’ was reincarnated 3 or 4 times until we had a final version! In terms of the actual process of producing a track, I think it’s just building a track based on a simple idea and then throwing different sounds and techniques at it till it begins to take shape. It’s not glamorous but works for us.
N: It can take us ages to finish a project. That’s why, even though we have been doing Casino Times for eight years, we haven’t released that much music. A big driving force for us at the moment is having a concept both musically and visually, which is something we’ve been able to push more recently whilst working with Sebastian Koseda; a graphic designer who has inspired us with his work on technology driving creativity. It’s a narrative we wanted to add to Decoded / Recoded releases – for example we’ve explored 3D modelling for press shots and used hexadecimal language on the record sleeve and Morse code on our web banners. Overall we think these small details complement the music across the two EPs which have a very machine centric feel.
How did it end up being signed to Omena and what made you feel like it’s a good place for the music?
N: The great thing about Omena as a label is that no two releases have been the same – I think some labels get stuck in a bit of loop of repeating a ‘sound’, that’s something Omena hasn’t done. Having the freedom to create what we want and getting a positive response from Tooli has been an encouraging experience for us and has helped push us to keep experimenting. It didn’t feel like we needed to tick any boxes while we were working on these two EPs.
J: As Nick says, it was only natural to continue the journey with Omena after such a positive experience with the Decoded EP. He’s been supportive in exploring avenues with the concept of the two EPs and he’s an all-round wicked guy. He’s got some music of his own on the way so keep an ear to the ground for that.
Can you remember the track or album that made you want to produce music of your own?
J: I was producing my band’s music when I was around 16 using an extremely limited setup like hi-fi speakers that my girlfriend at the time gave me and a desktop computer that I’d built from second hand scraps. I was really into rock and metal music, I idolised the hit makers of the 80’s and 90’s and I wanted that sound for my band. It’s not until I met Nick that I started moving towards electronic music. We bonded over some experimental electronic sound classes at university and naturally leant towards making music together. It’s been a great journey so far and it looks like we’re still going.
N: My first degree was in computer systems and I remember experimenting with production a bit during this time. I think because of my background I was fascinated by waveforms and the whole electronics element of production (nerd). I’ve been into electronic music and DJing for a long time, but it wasn’t till I switched degrees to sound technology and met Joe that I really started digging into production properly. It’s weird to think ten years ago we were making some pretty far-out electroacoustic stuff on dodgy circuit bent Casio keyboards.
Who or what has been the biggest influence on your music and career?
J: Nick has been my biggest influence. He’s got a library of music stored away in his mind and always manages to pull out the greatest italo disco or hip hop tracks that we can reference to help drive our productions or mixes forward. I’m also not sure I would have made the move into electronic music if I’d never met him all those years ago.
N: Haha – thanks Joe! I’ve got to say, working together is a great experience – when one of us is lacking ideas the other comes along and breathes some life into the situation. It just flows! Outside of our little world, probably my mates mum who used to sneak us into nightclubs when we were 16. I don’t think I would be listening to electronic music if wasn’t for getting to go to some decent clubs so early on – so big up Annette!
Your music has a very eclectic and wide ranging sound. What is the motivation behind this?
J: I’m not always listening to electronic music day to day, which I think is important in broadening the imagination when working on new ideas in the studio. I’m don’t often buy electronic music when record shopping either, I’m usually drawn towards music that we wouldn’t play out like jazz or world music that is exciting to listen to or would be interesting to sample.
N: It’s boring giving people what they want or what they expect. As Joe said, we listen to lots of music outside of electronic music; it would almost be a shame not to showcase all of those different inspirations in our own productions.
What is your favourite piece of equipment that you own and why?
J: I’m currently loving the Moog Mother-32 that we bought second hand last year; it’s brought a lot of analogue depth to the tracks. But I’m sure Nick will agree with me that the Korg MS2000 that we bought a few years ago is still killing it. It’s insanely versatile for pads or just weird textures and it’s got a vocoder that we’re always finding a use for and having a ton of fun with in the studio. The vocoder features prominently on ‘This Is My Channel’ and serves as a unique atmospheric tool in the breakdown of ‘Display End Sequence’.
N: Yeah the MS2000! We’ve made so many jams on that. I remember Joe once sent me a 30 minute score he made on it sequenced with the Yamaha RMX1 – it was nuts! The vocoder on it has also helped us develop our sound. We were always big on vocals but struggled when recording original vocals; it always felt a bit contrived or too poppy. The vocoder however I think is a good compromise, it gives us enough control over what we are creating but has plenty of idiosyncrasies to keep things interesting. Plus it’s a great nod to all the Italo records I love!
What is your favourite place to perform and why?
N: I’m really enjoying playing on our ‘What’s My Derivative?’ show on Bloop Radio in London. The guys at Bloop give us a lot of freedom to do what we want and we’ve had some great guests over the last few months like Earth Patterns, Voyuer and T.Margos. Outside of that I will always have a soft spot for Oxford – I guess that’s because it’s where I cut my teeth DJing.
J: We’ve DJ’d a couple of times in Madrid and everyone there is so lively and fun. It’s a great city with so much life. Travelling to play in Berlin is also always an experience.
Can you remember your first performance? How did it go?
J: The first full set as Casino Times was at Corsica Studios for Tief. It was a late, late set and I remember it going well and emerging from the club as the sun was appearing over London. I’m certain the music we were playing back then would be very different to what we play now but we found our roots as Casino Times there and I will always look back fondly on that period in our career.
N: That was a fun evening! I think it went well (I’m struggling to remember to be honest.) It took us a few shows to really get into a groove with each other but after all these years we can pretty much just predict the next record each of us is going to play.
Do you have any horror stories from your early days of DJing?
J: We missed a flight to Croatia to play at a festival! There’s nothing worse than the feeling of missing out on a set at an amazing festival, so we promptly re-booked and got a flight the next morning. This is the only time this has happened and we would never let something like that slide without rectifying it!
N: Projectile vomiting on to a Mini Cooper outside of the club.
What’s next for you guys that you’re really excited about?
J: We have a ton of material that we’re working that we think is a step forward for our productions. We want to keep progressing our sound and pushing ourselves in the studio, so expect lots more music from us in the near future.
N: We’re working closely with Sebastian at the moment on a label project that we will reveal more about soon. The next Casino Edits will also be the fifth, so we are planning something special for that. Plus we have a remix coming for Voyuer on Omena later this summer.
‘Casino Times’ Recoded EP is out now via Omena BUY