Cxemcast 071 – Scientific Dreamz of U
Both music and science have been a big part of your life for a long time. Which interest was the first to appear, though?
I’ve been a massive dork since I was a kid, so I guess that but music was also early. I used to play in punk & stoner rock bands when I was 13 or 14 years old, and at the same time, I was kind of sneaking and doing my homework — not that rock’n’roll. I ended up studying physics and have stuck around in the field. Now I'm a researcher in neuromorphic nanomagnetic systems, trying to understand and replicate the functions of brain-like systems using nanomagnets.
How did you discover electronic music?
I was living in London, and at the times when I was essentially a punk/stoner rock kid, I'd heard about these “squat parties” where different soundsystem crews would break into buildings and play mad (to my teenage ears) music like gabba, European hardtek and UK jungle/D’n’B to really mixed crowds full of freaks. The rock gigs would always be finished by 11 PM, so eventually, one New Year's Eve me and a friend decided to go and see a “squat party”.
The building was absolutely massive and pulsating with these crazy sounds and sights, full of European teknival crusties, New Age types, Irish travelers, also some real freaks & “characters” — people I hadn't really ever encountered before. The soundsystems were shaking bits of the ceiling loose and you could get up on the roof to watch the sunrise. Everything felt totally free in a way we hadn't previously experienced. It was a big eye-opening moment and my first real experience of any electronic dance music.
What made you decide to write your own music?
We’d been throwing some parties around 2009 that would play new beat, old Belgian techno records, and old trance/proto-trance stuff. However, it really wasn’t fashionable then, especially in London. So, between a few friends, we used to have this thing: we took old fast records and played them on a wrong speed. No one we were aware of was really slowing those things down back then, but we felt it sounded pretty special. It was hard to find the records you can do this to, though, so we started to think: maybe we can create something like that from scratch.
That is, your nickname isn’t related to your scientific work? What’s the idea behind it, then?
When I eventually had some music I wanted to share and needed a name, the trend in dance music was for these very macho aesthetics and names, lots of fetish imagery, knives and skulls etc. It didn’t represent what the music meant to me — I interact with music to see friends, to dance, to share some kind of connection — opposite to the then in-vogue approach, serious and brutal. So, Scientific Dreamz of U was a response to this macho tough-guy energy that I felt was becoming a bit too prevalent in dance music.
I was also interested in aesthetics that were unfashionable or naive, both in terms of the sound and imagery, So, I did initially borrow from New Age/trance aesthetics. Around 2010, you could buy this music for no money (not so much any more!). The associated instruments like the Wavestation or JV1080, which were really powerful & advanced technological things when released, cost nothing due to this corny association with Enya etc. I bought my first synthesizers for maybe 20–30 pounds and then started mixing the technology and the sound of that scene with some more personal and modern elements.
In an interview for Faculty Magazine, you have said: “Science as a career has come about partly from a real interest and passion but also as a convenient way to hide from real life”. What about music? Is it also your comfort zone?
Yeah, definitely. It’s really an escapist, abstract thing. I think you see that in a lot of the music I play that tends not to have too many lyrics, not to have too many recognizable instruments.
Very often, musicians who are simultaneously engaged in scientific work, project their knowledge in the field of science and engineering to research the sonic possibilities, to create a complex, experimental sound. Your creative output seems to be the exact opposite of this approach.
For me, music is much more about an escape from the science, acting as an impressionistic, subjective alternative to my research and having a break from advanced academic stuff. You know, in science everything has to be very exact and you can’t just say “maybe” or “I don’t know” — you have to know for sure. It’s really good to come back after a week of this kind of work and do something that doesn’t need a right answer: super impressionistic, very subjective. Also, everything I do in laboratories is on very modern computers, so using hardware that doesn’t look like that and isn’t a clean hi-tech thing is a nice break.
So, now you’re experimenting with slow tempos?
I'm still excited by the slower tempos that pitched down trance and fast techno records give you, but at the same time looking for other ways to approach those speeds, and sometimes go even slower. I'm really into the region in-between the typical 100–110 BPM of slowed down trance and 80–90 BPM of dancehall and related rhythms. People like Low Jack, Le Dom, Simo Cell and Equiknoxx are doing great stuff around these speeds at the moment.
It's nice to hear these speeds working with more minimal arrangements, with an emphasis on rhythm and texture rather than the maximalism and melodic focus you get with trance. I’ve recently played in Milan before and after Vladimir Ivkovic, and have put together non-trance records at lower tempos to try to compliment what Vladimir does, but from a different aesthetic angle. It seemed to work well and was a nice exercise. I recreated somethings similar for a recent NTS show ‘Air on a Dirac String.
By the way, why do you need Kestrel Explorations, your own NTS show?
I share Kestrel Explorations with Junior Loves, a really talented DJ & producer who gets way less recognition than he deserves. We've been on the station nearly since it was started in 2012. Originally, the shows served as a diary of our influences and interests. It was also a place for us to air original productions before they're available elsewhere. It's interesting to listen back through the years and watch our sound morph & mutate. More recently, we've been combining this approach with using the show to give a platform to talented friends who are playing at DIY parties in London. It has been great, recent guest shows are killer and well worth a listen! Mellowdramatics, Hope Stress Dose & Mr Assister are all wicked.
What do you think about the current return of New Age aesthetics into the mainstream? Did it affect the concept of Scientific Dreamz of U?
Within the last few years, it’s got quite fashionable to slow down old trance records, to use a lot of mysticism and New Age references. I've made an effort to move away and look in other places for things that you're maybe seeing less of.
Actually, your Cxema mix isn’t New-Agey in any way.
Maybe it’s still psychedelic, but from a very different angle: harder and darker, and a lot faster in some places. Recently, I've been playing a lot with Hope Stress Dose, a friend in London. We've been running parties where the two of us play all night, synthesizing a pretty broad range of styles into some hopefully coherent muck. A big theme throughout the nights is bringing together UK soundsystem styles, dub, UK garage, jungle, dubstep, etc. with more European rave and free party sounds, fast and loose tekno, Spiral Tribe bits or old Roman stuff. With this Cxema mix, I've condensed what you might hear across one of these parties into just over an hour, trying to strike a balance in each section between new and old records to show off the contrasts in style and texture.
Do you consider changing your production approach as well?
Yep, that's right. The last few years DJing I've been enjoying some more forceful stuff. Though, I'd say the larger shift with my recent productions is from taking a melodic focus, where the instruments and harmonies carry the track over relatively simplistic rhythms, to styles where the melody is taking a back seat to the rhythm and texture of the sounds. For me, UK funky is a perfect example of this, often the basslines are a single note throughout a whole song (big up the one-finger style) and the tracks are still blowing up parties.
What are your plans for the near future?
I'm playing at De School for Het Weekend in collaboration with Traumgarten on 20–21 July. Got an EP on Pinkman with a remix from Mick Wills, which will be out in the next 2 months. Also, continuing my party series London with myself and Hope Stress Dose playing all night.
Interviewed by Tanya Voytko.