Octave One: "We're most comfortable in our own environment"

Words by: J Gamp
Posted: 6/6/17 9:06

'Live dance music' is a term that is often banded about quite loosely. There is live dance music, and then there's LIVE dance music. Atlanta-hailing, Detroit techno pioneers Octave One are of the latter kind - in fact, they've been making music their way for nearly 20 years, eventually devising one of the most thrilling, pacing and downright technical live sets out there - without a whiff of Ableton Live.

The two perpetrators - brothers Lawrence and Lenny - have been hailed as the kings of live techno, with Lenny programming beats and Lawrence using a mixing desk as an instrument to sequence and fade, in a setup warmly referred to as The Mothership. Their blistering live show really is on another level - the size alone is enough to make anyone's eyes water.

Here, before their live set at fabric for Hydra x Blueprint, Ibiza Voice sat down with the duo to talk creative periods, the burdens of sticking to your guns, Detroit's community and why they will always approach their music their own way - the key ingredient of the Octave One sound.

You've been super prolific over the last few years. In 2015 you released an album; in 2016 you also released an album - will you be doing the same again this year? 
Lawrence: The reason why we have been so prolific the last couple of years is because we had a surge of creative energy. It doesn't happen that often but when it does, it really does. In the past we were very lucky to be able to have released a lot of 12" records. Not nessecerily as prolific as other labels. But over the last five years we have been touring a lot but we didn't have time for recording music. We had time to create it but the actual finishing process of recording, it takes us a long time. 

So are you guys using the old 'rack' format, and have a studio crammed full of expensive sequencers and modulators? 
Lawrence: Yeah man exactly. Mostly all hardware stuff. We use digital software, ProTools, for multi-tracking but the rest of it is made from old hardware. We don't have the luxury of travelling with everything inside a laptop, and then deciding when the record is finished. We physically have to go into the studio - and we are still the most physically comfortable when we are in our environment. 
It's more traditional when you approach your tracks as songs, rather than 'tracks', to go into the studio and lay down the music using instruments? 
Lawrence: We find that as we are travelling so much that we start making our music when we hit the road. You know, write a melody, practice a new drum loop or something - we have the opportunity of collaborating with our brothers, so we may email the melody to somebody. The track isn't finished until it enters our studio.  

And what would we find when if we entered your studio? 
Lawrence: Well, without being too specific, we've been doing this for years, so you'll find a lot of synths, a lot of what I call 'toys' that we've collected and hoarded over the years. So everything we have is in there - and we like to take our time. A track doesn't feel finished til it's finished in the studio.
So no more EPs for a while either then?
: Even now when we perform we debut new music. Sometimes things will make it to record while some stuff will just be for the live show. That's the beauty of playing live - we never say never. Although we can definitely say we won't be releasing an album this year (laughs).
Lenny: We do have a remix of Dave Clarke which is really exciting, it's one of his classic tracks with DJ Rush. We've also just released a remix of Luke Slater (Planetary Assault Systems) and played his night at Berghain recently. That place is crazy.

Again you don't take a laptop with you and press buttons - it's a very energetic live show. You must be tired after playing for over an hour with nothing automated?
: Sometimes we don't have time to recover. We have to pack out stuff up and head straight to the airport to catch a flight to the next show.
Lenny: By the time we've taken two flights we have to be at the venue for soundcheck again. Then we perform and then we run to the next gig.

Can it get a bit much sometimes?
Our touring schedule is hectic at the moment- at this moment in time we're travelling to 14 shows in 30- 40 days. We do get to spend time in cities so we will enjoy London. At the end we have three shows in a row, three shows in a row... it gets hectic.

No wonder there's not an album coming up...
It's fun to be this touring band but we're really used to being at home, being creative and taking our time.
It's interesting that you refer to yourselves as a band as well. Is this the case and do you consider yourselves to make 'songs'?
Lawrence: Yeah man absolutely. We're 100% a band. Harmonies melodies, songwriting - the lot!

How does a city like London compare to somewhere like Atlanta or even Detroit?
Lawrence: Atlanta doesn't have a big dance scene. Detroit does but still pretty small. A place like London everything blows up on a big scale, the culture is accelerated.

It seems that the founding cities of house and techno in the US. People take 'pilgrimages' of sorts to the home of dance music but what do they find?
Lenny: To an extent there are fragments of the culture left. Thing with Detroit, everyone had an illusion that the streets were paved with techno. But it was a small handful of us doing it man.
So techno is still considered to be an 'underground' scene in the city?
: Yeah I think so man. I think the Chicago thing infiltrated the city more, but our scene was centered around one club at a time. First, The Music Institute, then Underground Nation, then The Motor Lounge but with a small tiny places around them. The illusion that techno was everywhere was created because of the strong community that we had. it was never like people making techno on a street corner using a drum machine, man. You can't equate it to early days of hip hop. It's not like in Ibiza where you step off the plane and see a billboard advertising Juan Atkins- that's never going to happen man (laughs).

Speaking of techno being accepted by larger audiences, do you guys enjoy playing Ibiza? Is this a different side of clubbing for you?
Lenny: Well we've played Space and played Pacha. it;s different from what we were doing in the early days, but now it's all kind of close. We've been playing there for five years but in terms of it all, we're still a very young band. We've been producing for longer - for the first ten years we wouldn't play out at all. There's a lot of places people have been frequenting that we haven't. So our Ibiza experiences are still growing.

Lawrence: Yeah I remember when we played with Disclosure at We Love. Later that evening, we were at Tomorrowland haha. I mean all of this is different to what we were doing in the early days - in those days, when we started at The Music Institute, it was a room with a few lights and banging soundsystem. That was all we needed. There wasn't even alcohol - it was a juice bar.

Were people (or you) sneaking drinks into the venue?
Lawrence: Nah man actually they weren't. People weren't getting drunk or high at all, the music was good; it was all we needed and we vibed all night.
Lenny: Actually one thing we did last year in Ibiza was play with Luciano at Pacha. We weren't so sure thought it would be bottle service and stuff. But it was one of the best parties - it was damn intense man. People were jacking like crazy, the energy was wild and felt really authentic. We want to go back!

Octave One's remix of Dave Clarke's 'Way of Life' is out on Skint.


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