WHP FEATURE 030
The key to killer techno is soul. This is often misunderstood, both by producers who think that a techno track is simply 8 minutes of boshing, and detractors who insist that machine-manufactured soundscapes can never have the emotional impact of a big lunged ballad. The true practitioners, however, have always had a secret heartfelt something burning through their loops, a ghost in the machine whispering of man’s continuing fusion with technology. Not everyone gets it, but brothers Austen and Scott Smart do.
Producing and DJing under the none-more-techno-name of Austen/Scott (having started out calling themselves Brodanse), on the surface, the brothers make a deadly serious, stripped down sound, built from loops that evolve over pulsating drums, obvious ‘hands aloft’ moments sparsely scattered. But as the hypnosis of their cycles drag dancers deeper and deeper under, it becomes clear that Austen/Scott are aiming for a feeling far more ecstatic than the cheap the Pavlovian responses demanded by verse & chorus & build & drop.
In conversation, it turns out that they’ve gone a step further than most in trying to imbue their techno with meaning – rather than just creating altered states through techno, they’ve been creating techno whilst in altered states. Press play on their mixtape, and listen to what they had to say… Who’s the eldest out of you two?
Austen - I’m the eldest, I’m 29, Scott’s 26. Do you ever fight? I don’t know any brothers who don’t…
Scott – Sometimes – heh – it’s been known to happen…
Austen – It’s really rare, but it’s one of the good things about us, we can have a fight and disagree, but we always make up and find a way through it, normally a compromise that works for both of us. It’s usually a case of, if one has got an idea and then the others got an idea, we tend to go away and think about what the other person has been saying and then end up on a compromise. But fighting is pretty rare really. It’s either everything’s cool or total bust up, and we’re not speaking for a week. Were you making music together as kids?
S- No, for me, I started doing it when I was 16-17, then Austen got into it into it shortly after.
A - I was living in Milan, and after I came back about 5 years ago we said, right let’s try and give this a proper go together. Scott was kind of more immersed here in Manchester, going to places like Warehouse Project, but I was living in Milan getting into disco scene there. When I moved back that’s when we started doing all this together, bringing both of our likes to the table. When you say Milan, do you mean you were into the Italo side of things?
A - Yeah, there was that and there was this amazing club called Plastic which was big in the 80s and through to the 90s with guys like Boy George playing. It was a like a drag queen club, which musically was amazing. There was a lot of Italo disco being played there – that’s where I met the guys from Horse Meat Disco, and that was really important for us. Severino introduced us to a lot of people, he put us on his guestlist for Fabric, showed us around and got us into the booth and stuff, and we developed our relationships with people from thereYour sound right now isn’t immediately apparent as having a disco base.
A – I think that is maybe where some of the hooks come from… but at the same time as listening to disco I was also going to a lot of techno things at a club called Tunnel. I think that was quite an important period, and Scott was over here checking out the Warehouse Project.
S – I think the techno prevailed really. A lot of the records we were playing weren’t necessarily what we were putting out as Brodanse. And that’s why we decided we needed the name change, to make a clean break. It made it obvious for people.Austen/Scott is a very techno name.
S – I think it felt a lot more serious, in line with what we were doing musically.
A - Rich McGinnis from Warehouse Project and Circus was the one who bought up the name change idea. One night he came down to the studio and we showed him all the music we hadn’t released and were working on, and he said, ‘your music is really serious – there’s a big gap between it and Brodanse, which is quite fun and big room-y… The two just don’t fit together’. So that’s when we thought, well our music’s quite simple and stripped back anyway, and that’s what we did with the name. Although funnily enough it took us about a month to come up with our own name (laughs)…. We’re quite close to the people who run Fabric, and apparently they were discussing our name in the office for a week – it was Saul who does the Friday nights there who insisted that we HAD to drop Brodanse. He was like, ‘it’s not gonna happen for them in America, cos they’ll just be EDM bros out there’. And as soon as we heard that we had to change it – things like that you just don’t know when you start out – 5, 6 years ago, we thought, ‘bros’, ‘danse’; job done!How much do you think about the brand of Austen/Scott?
A - A lot. We’ve just done a new logo design – our auntie and uncle are both designers, and they came back with 8 different designs, and we really thought about how it was going to look on everything from vinyl to social media to LED screens. One of the things we’re doing is a new Austen/Scott label, and we’re going to put out tracks just on vinyl – to be honest we think we’re going to put our best tracks out just on vinyl. Certain tracks that we make have no appeal on Traxsource or Beatport or whatever.What’s the difference between your more commercial work and the stuff you’re going to keep on vinyl?
A - More or less the hooks. The underground stuff tends to be more stripped back and minimal.
S - Maybe a bit more live as well I’d say. The tracks we’re releasing with Rejected tend to have bigger hooks and a much bigger sound in general. Where the other ones are much more beat and groove led, more minimal. A - a lot of people say to us, oh you make great grooves, but those aren’t necessarily tracks to sell on Beatport or get premieres. And you were saying you think these are your best tracks?
A – I suppose best as in our favourite. We like to hold back our favourite things a little bit.
S – We’ve just come into the closing stages of finishing an album, and we selected from 400 tracks. We got down to 11 now.
A – Although we made a new one last night, so we’re back to 12 now. It’s not all 4/4 stuff. What is the benchmark for you of a dance album you’d like to listen to?
S - I think a really good one is Niwa by Ripperton from back in 2008 on Green. And also Andy Cato’s Times & Places.
A – One of the things we’ve been very careful of is making sure the album has a lot of contrast – when we’ve been shortlisting tracks we’ve been asking, has this already been heard on the album? We’re trying to create a dynamic. There’s also quite a concept behind it, we’re not trying to just put out 12 tracks. The album’s called Hypnagogia – that’s the point between when you fall asleep and are awake, when you’re half dreamy, but still conscious. That’s the state we try and make the music in because - Wait, you try and make the music in this state?
A - Well it started out as me going into that state and hearing totally new music and ideas, and wanting to explore how we could really get them out into an actual piece of music. It was through exploring that that we started making the album. How do you get these ideas out?
A – Meditation is a big part of it; becoming very deeply relaxed. Essentially the key is to stop thinking about it, and that’s when you can get it out of your head and into the DAW.
S – It’s a sense of ‘no thought’ whilst making the music. In a way, it just kind of happens, you’re not making decisions on what sounds to find next, or what sequences, it’s a state of not thinking at all, almost an altered state. It really helps if you meditate before the studio.So are you jamming all this out on live kit?
A – Yeah, most of the album is live.
S – There’s a lot of live automation and live recordings, and the Juno-106 features quite a bit. That’s our number one piece of kit. There’s also quite a lot of reference to states of mind throughout the album.
A – Earlier this year I did ten days straight on a Vipassana retreat. It was through that that we really made friends with Marcus Henriksson from Minilogue, and began working with him under his Nobody Home alias – he does a similar sort of thing of meditating before starting in the studio. Do you think you’re a new generation of techno hippies?
S (laughs) I think so…! But we don’t want to branded as that.
A – We’re just thinking about things more, trying to make things a bit more meaningful and long lasting than an another 6 minute song that is here today and gone tomorrow. With the shows coming up are you going to be playing live?
S – Funnily, we were just discussing how we would love to launch the album live at fabric. But on Friday we played a fair few from the album at Warehouse Project.
A – It was the first time of playing them out and we were really happy with how they sounded on that system. Also, Marcus has got a release, and he’s doing a remix for us that are both coming out on our label. We also have our our new Rejected EP and Green EP. We certainly have enough to make another live show!