Interview: Octave One
Croatia’s Movement got a lot in store this year. At the end, it is one of the very few boutique festivals that is bringing all the main representatives of the two world’s mecca’s of techno – Berlin and Detroit – (and beyond) in one place. One of the truly special performances to await is the live techno set delivered by the Detroit’s Burden Brothers – Octave One. With the upcoming performance in Movement Croatia at the end of July, we catch up with the Burdens about their early inspirations, approach to production and live performance.
Their tunes have been on the DJ playlists already over two decades. The live sets, performed by two of the brothers – Laurence and Lenny always expload in ecstatic energy. Establishing themselves as Octave One in the 90s Burdens dropped ‘Blackwater’ recorded with the vocalist Ann Saunderson in 2000s. Due to it’s ascending melody, that carries its appeal outside of the Detroit purists, the record was sold in over a million copies worldwide. In 2015 Burdens came back with a new album ‘Burn It Down’, slamming a DJ set with a live studio recording.
What exactly in the family that made all brothers revolve around dance music? Could you share with us more on what was your main personal and musical early influences from the beginning throughout?
Well, there are five of us brothers that produce dance music, but there are only two of us that perform it live onstage. Actually, our musical influences are pretty much what you call ‘all over the map’ since we like just about everything…and we mean just about everything. Our taste varies from artist like Barry White, Issaac Hayes, Prince, Yello, Rod Stewart, B52’s, Jean-luc Ponty, you name it, and we probably had a liken to it, but it was probably the 70’s R&B sound that molded us the most growing up in Detroit. And we had an uncle who lived in the house with us and he had a cover band that would practice in the basement of our home. We’d go seat on the stairs out of the way and listen to those guys’ jam until they just got too tired to play anymore and they’d play everything from deep soul to rock, which exposed us to a lot too.
You have had a long collaboration with Ann Saunderson, the vocalist of “Blackwater”, commercially most successful release of yours, also the lush elliptical “Jazzo/Lose Myself” and “Believer”. How did this collaboration come to be?
Our collaborations with Ann usually come about with us just sitting down and kicking it, talking about who knows what until just a connection or vibe develops which gives birth to a theme for the track which is already produced musically just waiting on her vocal contributions.
What artistic and personal features do you look for in a vocalist you are working with?
When we work with a vocalist, we look for someone that we feel we can be friends with first and foremost, somebody we can gel with on some level and whose not afraid to take some sort of chances even if it’s totally foreign to them to do so. Ann seems to understand our somewhat quirky unorthodox approach to doing things and doesn’t mind the challenge of going through the process until we come up with something we like.
“We put in serious work and by the time we finish those guys who just carry usb sticks look mighty appealing to us”
What is your creative production process while working with a vocalist? What comes first, the lyrics, the improvisation, the music?
As producers we like to build our tracks in layers and even more so when we decide to work on tracks with a vocalist. We sometimes build so many layers that we’ll need to keep peeling things back and stripping them away until we have enough room for them to do the things they need to for their vocals. We tend to over produce with vocalist but we like for the melodies to be there already and we just need their creative language as writer/singers to bring the entire idea to life.
Does it differ from your regular process?
For us when we work with a vocalist the music is probably developed first and we might make some changes to it once the vocals are written but usually the vocals are written around our music. And this way of going about things really doesn’t differ from how we like to produce our instrumental grooves, usually we feel that particular instrumental track could use one more instrument and that instrument is the human voice.
Next to the alias of Octave One, you have been releasing under a different one, called Random Noise Generation since the start. What was the reason to choose a separate alias for that, since as an Octave One you have a reputation of wide music range and diversity already that the name would not cage you creatively?
We have actually used three different aliases, the third one being ‘Never on Sunday’ but let’s not talk about that one because it’s even harder to explain why we developed it…lol
Our style for Octave One had always been to produce original music which was more melodic than our Random Noise Generation alias. RNG a lot of times the tracks revolved around the use of samples which we twisted and mangled to our liking whereas we tried to keep Octave One free of samples and less aggressive. At the time when we developed those aliases’ our sound was still new to the public and we wanted you to know that we had a particular sound for the group without jumping all over the place overtime we produced a new record. It was important to us for our fans to be able to say that a particular song had the Octave One sound even if it was someone else’s song that was influenced by us.
What creative philosophy do you apply in general? Has it been changing since the 90s, when you burst into the scene to now?
Do what you want, do what you feel, whatever makes you happy and throw out that instruction manual from somebody else…write your own! Our musical philosophy;)
That way of thinking has been with us from day one when we produced our very first song ‘I Believe’ which didn’t sound similar to any other songs during that time, to us bringing tons of hardware to do shows when it wasn’t popular at all to do so. So I guess to answer your question, our philosophy continues unchanged!
How do you approach the preparation for the set? What outer factors do you take into account? How is it different now and when you started?
Repair, rebuild, construct, tear down and ship. It’s as simple as that, or maybe not that simple…lol Gear gets damaged on the road and needs to be repaired and/or rebuilt, you have to set up the entire stage to make sure everything works probably even after its repaired, break it back down and ship it out. That’s not taking int account any new tracks you might want to develop for the show or learning any new equipment to include into the kit…believe us we put in serious work and by the time we finish those guys who just carry usb sticks look mighty appealing to us :) Just kidding, we love our gear!
And it’s still pretty much the same as when we started…repair, rebuild, construct, tear down and ship…you get it:)
You have mentioned that you always aim to “push the boundaries of live performance into the mainstream dance culture”. What do you find as the most important development in it?
Our mentioning is usually of us pushing the boundaries of live performance…period. We like to push and challenge ourselves as to just how far we can get to the edge, then after we get to that edge just how far can we push past what we had determined the edge to be. For us, we get bored easily and we need to keep things moving in order to stay interested, whether that’ll take us more into the ‘mainstream’ we really don’t know nor do we want to predict. We simply want to have as much fun as we can as we’re going through our journey and creative process!
You mentioned once, that discovering the intersections with other genres of music is part of your sound. What are the other genres you are most drawn to at the moment? Are the certain ones that can be heard in your current sets that was not there before?
One might say by listening to what we do that other genres influence our sound, true! But we don’t know if we set out to delve into a particular genre for some kind of influence. It’s just what we take in musically that influences what we do…like food, you are what you eat and right now we’re eating everything! :) No seriously, orchestral and African rhythms have been entertaining us quite a bit lately which we’re sure will probably make it’s way into our productions, or at least, our style of what these genres are. But let’s wait and see, now you have us curious too!
Watching your performances, it looks as if even physically you get into some sort of trance state where your body is moved by the music itself. How would you describe the experience of a performance for yourself?
Music has power…powerful music moves you and you’re driven into the dance. That’s the way it is with us, we have a deep love for music and it’s something about being able to hear synthesizers and drum machines live and loud which drives us to want to move! The sound of a synth ripping through a really good and loud sound rig…we’re getting goose bumps just thinking about it now! :D
How does its length affect it and do you have certain preferences for either long or short sets?
For us length isn’t a huge deal and we often joke about doing sets longer than an hour and a half but then we think back on when we started out doing shows with longer sets and we’d just wear people out…it would be more kids on the wall looking at you sweating then on the dance floor. So we’ll probably keep our sets close to that just because they are so intense…we want to vibe with you and not beat you into submission. :)
When you are at Movement, who’s sets are you looking forward to hearing yourself? In the end, the line-up is rich of the biggest technoheads of Detroit and Germany and beyond. What is your usual practice, when performing in festivals, do you often get to come for the full day, explore the vibe, the other performances of the event? Do you find that important?
Hmm…so many brilliant artist. All of them, as many as we can physically take in!
Usually, when we do festivals we’re coming from another country and have undoubtedly gigged ourselves the night or morning before so we like to unwind and be as still as we can before our set. It’s really almost a ritual for us at this point, because we use so much energy when we gig that we just need to relax before our set. If we happen to be there a day early, yeah, we love to hear other artists or stay the day after. We would try to make sure we get in as much as possible from our peers.
We always find it of importance, maybe not so much for development to what we do but to see how someone interprets what they do and how that’s conveyed to the audience and how they react to it.
What are the differences and overlaps between the creative input of Lenny and Lawrence in both production and the live set?
In the production process of course there are differences in our creative input and those seem to vary depending on the track that we’re working on together. One of us might like a darker sound, the other might like it to be fatter and brighter. Again, it varies depending on the particular track in question, but we both seem to like things to be progressive in nature with our rhythms, they have to move.
On the live set, throw everything we just said straight out the window because those variables have just grown to infinity and beyond! There are sooooooo many things that might affect what we do that you can’t even decipher if they are even differences or overlaps. And that’s even calculating whatever technical difficulties might affect what we’re doing at that very moment. And for us when we’re on stage things are going by at 100miles per hour, you really can’t even focus you just react to it since our live style is more improv than structure that’s what we do.