Scotland has long been talked of as a great destination for electronic music, with Slam, The Arches, Dom & Harri and Jackmaster just some figures/places that immediately spring to mind. Another musical native of the city is Boom Merchant aka Kyle Thompson, who runs the Tribal Pulse label. The label, in case you’re unaware, is one with a wide-reaching musical remit, albeit one that explores numerous eclectic avenues. With their sixth release having just dropped, we quizzed the main man in question about his home city – and his own recent production forays…
We checked out your last EP featuring Green Symphony and Stars. They’re really different and unusual tracks and almost combine a host of different genres. What was your intention when you were putting the tracks together?
I just set out to make music that would make me happy. That’s always the aim when I write; no other motives really. The EP is a pretty good representation of the sounds and ideas that were going round and round in my head at the start of this year. I don’t aim to write something that crosses genres, but the first thing I think about is which sounds I’d like to hear and which qualities of those sounds I’d like to accentuate. ‘Stars’ was an idea centred around hang drums and drum machines, and ‘Green Symphony’ was built around a huge cavernous horn with orchestral sounds building throughout, so I think one of the EPs strong points is the diversity of the sounds used. If people see the tracks as combining genres that’s fantastic, but to me it’s just laying down the sounds I want to hear.
So when you get to the studio, do you generally know what you’re about to release. How do you come up with sketches of tracks, for example?
I try to be as open-minded as I can throughout the whole creative process because I think that’s the outlook that will yield the best results, so I never go into a project with a plan that’s set in stone. That said, I’ll seldom sit down to make music without first having had some kind of idea that I think might work. Sometimes it’ll be a specific set of sounds that I think could flow well together. Other times it might be a more general form of inspiration or a certain feeling that I want to capture in a groove. Each track needs to tell a story, so again I think about the sounds I want to hear and how I’d like to present them, and the rest is just a big experiment.
A lot of producers say that they’ll wake up from a dream and instantly have an idea for a track – is that something that happens to you at all?
I’m not sure if I’d be able to remember where the inspiration for each of my tracks has come from, but I’m pretty sure that’s never happened. Having said that, I did write a track to sound like a series of really dark, out of control dreams that I had every night for about a week sometime last year. Maybe it’ll see light some day, but it’s quite different from any of my other work!
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So how do you get to a space where you’re at your most creative? Has there been one period in your life so far where you’ve really felt like you were in the middle of a purple patch production wise?
I just live life and write music when I feel I can make something special out of the ideas that I’ve generated. I’m getting better at doing this whole process year by year, and I’m never done learning and exploring different areas of sonic possibility. I usually find myself in a really creative mood when I get home from traveling. I played at the Amsterdam Dance Event for the second time last month, and after spending a week in Amsterdam at last year’s event I flew back full of fresh ideas.
How difficult is it to get back into that space if you lose it for a while? Do you ever suffer from writer’s block at all?
I think it’s a bad idea to force creativity, so if I’m low on inspiration I won’t dwell on it. I’ll just live life and concentrate on other things for a while, and the inspiration always builds up again over time. This means that I may not be firing out a track every week, but sometimes less is more.
You’ve played alongside some really cool people over the past few years – what have been the highlights?
I’ve had the privilege to play alongside so many great musical minds that it’d be unfair to name just a couple. It’s been great to share ideas with some of the artists I love the most, the Tribal Pulse events are always a highlight, and to be able to put most of the artists releasing on the label in front of crowds in Glasgow and Amsterdam have been really memorable occasions.
And you also run your own label, Tribal Pulse. What motivated you to start the label?
I saw certain patterns and qualities in both the music I was making and the tracks I was playing and drawing inspiration from, but this inspiration came from such a diverse range of labels and styles that it’d be almost impossible to represent them all under one banner. There wasn’t a label pushing this specific colourful but tough sound that I loved so much, so I created Tribal Pulse with the aim of building on these influences to create a label devoted to pressing engaging music to vinyl.
You have pretty distinctive artwork too. What’s the idea behind the head that accompanies the releases?
I think our designer at the time came up with such a fantastic logo. I wanted to create a community of people with a love for exciting music that pushes into the future, so our little tribal guy enjoying his beats is really representative of the label’s sound and philosophy.
A lot of thought clearly goes into everything you release. Do you think that’s something that’s lost in the digital age?
I feel as though a large percentage of the recordings I trawl through lack any characteristics that make them different or exciting; so what’s the point in releasing them in the first place? We only release music that we 100% love and believe in, and we cut no corners from the start of the creative process until the record is pressed so the result is a quality product and music that does the damage. Music is produced and digested at such a quick rate in our society, and I think that the quality of the music often suffers as a result of this.
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Are you generally positive of where dance music’s at right now? How difficult, for instance, do you find it to stick out from the crowd?
Dance music is in so many different places right now that it’s hard to form an opinion. I suppose as a whole the industry is gradually becoming more commercialised, which to me pretty much spells anti-creativity, but as long as there are sufficient artists making material that keeps me excited, I’ll be happy…and there so many artists pushing the boundaries in all different directions year by year. 2014 is an awful time to be involved in the music industry, but it’s a great time to be a lover of good music!
Unfortunately there’s such a huge sea of releases being churned out and so many established artists that it’s difficult to get exposure, but that’s just another reason to continue to innovate and push the boundaries.
Are you generally influenced by producers who adopt a similar sound and way of thinking to yourself? Who has really supported you from the off and helped you hone your sound from the start?
I’m influenced by a really wide range of music from a diverse selection of artists and labels. However, I didn’t have a ‘mentor’ or someone to show me the ropes, although at times it would have been handy. I am predominantly self taught and I’ve spent a really long time developing my own techniques for getting things sounding the way I want them to, and I think that these are good conditions for developing an individual style.
So is there a community of you in Scotland who share a similar vision? And how far can you take it?
Since we began last year we’ve seen a steady increase in the amount of people coming along to our label nights in Glasgow, buying our records and generally supporting what we’re doing, so I believe that there is a growing community of people here who share in our vision.
As long as people continue to appreciate what I’m doing musically, I suppose there’s no limit. My focus has always been and will always be on quality tunes, so we’ll see what the future holds!
Khen & Sonic Union’s Driven by Demand (with Pole Folder remix) is out now on Tribal Pulse, pick it up here.