British house and techno producer Saytek, otherwise known as Joseph Keevill, might not be a household name, but he can be considered something of a pioneer. Starting out as a sound engineer at clubs such as The End and Home in the early ‘00s, Keevill signed his first record to Console at the age of twenty. However, rather than deciding to purse the usual route of djing and putting out records, the young Keevill decided he would instead focus on designing a unique live show, a show that would allow him to recreate his music from scratch each and every night he performed.
Long before ‘live’ performances became a regular staple of dance-music line-ups, Keevill was touring the UK with his drum-machines, grooveboxes and computers, recreating his own tracks on the fly in real time, all the while impressing clubbers and confounding promoters.
The last few years have seen Keevill go from strength to strength. He has signed tracks to My Favorite Robot Records and Lucidflow, whilst last November saw the release of his critically acclaimed Live On Cubism album, a record that he describes as a “pivotal moment” in his career.
What’s more, 2013 has seen his Keevill take his live show to some of the biggest spots on the club circuit, from the main terrace at Space to London’s iconic fabric.
Ahead of the release of Live On Cubism 2, which captures the Saytek sounds of 2013, I Voice phoned Joseph to chat about all things live and direct.
You’ve been releasing music for over a decade now, but it’s only in the last couple of years that things have really started to get quite big for you. Tell us a little bit about your background as a producer.
I was into manipulating sound from a really young age. At eight years-old I was playing with drum machines and programming bleeps on the Commodore 64 and doing stuff with tape loops and cassettes. I had always been into ambient music, but then when I was a teenager I listened to a friend’s older brother’s mixtape of Detroit techno and acid house music, and I was hooked. So, I ended running a few illegal raves and eventually wound up as a sound engineer at clubs like Home and The End. Whilst I was doing that, I met Justin Drake of Peace Division, who signed my first record to Console Recording when I was still only twenty. After that I bought myself a hardware studio and started to find my sound.
You’re probably better known for your live shows rather than your records. When did you decide that you were going to pursue performance rather than recording?
It happened about a decade ago, when the vinyl industry collapsed. One moment underground artists were selling thousands of copies on vinyl and then the bottom suddenly fell out of it, and everyone was saying it was the end of house and techno. And at the same time that the record sales stopped the press were saying that dance-music was dead, so the scene seemed to be in real trouble. So I decided to see how I could take my sound out [of that system]. I’d always been interested in jamming in the studio and grooveboxes, and it was about the time that Ableton Live came out, so I decided to see if I could do a live show.
At the time I was working with Second Cell, an underground house collective who were doing tiny, illegal parties around London, and that’s where I debuted the live show. I hadn’t even performed a DJ set before my first live show and so to take the music out to the crowd for the first time was incredible.
How were those early shows?
It was a massive learning curve. In the early days I was taking out desktop computers with me! Once when I was playing with Mr C at Corsica Studio I had this old PC and my setup had been positioned in front of the stack and my soundcard basically vibrated out of my computer during the show. I kept on having to push it back in!
This was long before live shows were as rife as they are now. Were club promoters receptive to the idea of someone performing live rather than djing?
I would specify in my tech-rider that I needed a table to set my stuff up on and at the time clubs just didn’t understand, they would still think that I would be able to setup in the DJ booth. On quite a number of occasions we had to carry a table through a packed crowd because the club were convinced right to the last minute that I would fit in the DJ booth. It was difficult to get people to understand what I was doing.
That must have all changed now.
It definitely has, also the kind of venues that I’m playing at now are [much more professional]. Say for example, Space Ibiza or fabric, they have proper sound engineers and I send them a tech rider and it’s just done. There are still occasional problems though. Recently a promoter booked me for a Thursday night in a dodgy club in Kent and then on the night of the gig, when I was waiting at the train station [to be picked up], he phoned me and said that I couldn’t play because the club couldn’t set up my live stuff. I ended up having to pay for my train fare back!
I definitely wouldn’t say that I find other live acts uninspiring, although what I will say is that I don’t like people who fake live shows or people who say they’re playing live when they’re playing other people’s records...Oh no! With all your equipment too! What’s hardware do you currently take out with you?
I run Ableton Live on a Macbook Pro, with an Akai APC40, a Roland MC909, which is like ‘90s studio in a big box, a Kaoss Pad 3, and I’ve just added a Pioneer RMX 1000, which is great for effects and tapping out drums.
How much is improvised when you play live?
Everything is arranged live, nothing is pre-programmed and although I usually have a rough plan of what tracks I’m going to play in what order, I’m able to change my mind and do something completely different. Literally everything is arranged is live, so if I create a breakdown or want to drop a drum out, then it’s all done on the fly.
Obviously the big thing this summer is the release of the live album Live On Cubism 2. Tell us a little more about that record and what you were looking to do with that set.
I don’t really have much of a brief before I do a live performance. This set was designed to be premiered at the DJ Mag Party at Space, so I had that gig in mind when I was putting it together.
I suppose, it’s a melting pot of my early influences and what I’m hearing today. I also get a lot of inspiration from hearing DJ sets, more so than from other live dance-music acts in fact.
Do you find other dance-music live acts often uninspiring then?
I wouldn’t say that. It’s more that, because I’m a live act, it’s very rare that I’m billed alongside other live acts and so I don’t often get to hear them.
I definitely wouldn’t say that I find other live acts uninspiring, although what I will say is that I don’t like people who fake live shows or people who say they’re playing live when they’re playing other people’s records.
That is my pet hate. I don’t like the fact that so many people are trying to trick audiences at the moment; it’s pretty easy to tell if someone is faking a live show, because they’re often just sat behind a laptop looking like they’re checking their emails.
You readied all the new music for your 2013 shows in advance of the Space Ibiza gig. Were you not tempted to release the tracks as a studio album rather than a live album?
To actually release the tracks as a studio album would be a completely different thing. None of the tracks are created as finished standalone tracks, they’re created as elements of tracks which can be put together live. It means that my various live albums are representative of my shows, whereas the other EPs that I release are often very different in their sound because they come from a different recording process.
Cool. Looking to the future, what have you got coming up?
I’m doing some remixes for Resonance Records, Love Not Money and Lucidflow. I’ve also struck a deal with Monique Musique to release reworked versions of tracks from my live show and another EP lined up for Cubism. Also, I’ve got some big gigs coming up that I can’t announce quite yet but that I’m very excited about.
Finally, given you’re known for your extraordinary live shows, I want to know who your live music heroes are.
They’re probably outside the genres of house and techno; I love watching [footage of] Bob Marley live and I’m also a big fan of Prince, I’ve seen him live a few times.
Live On Cubism 2 is out on Cubism Records