In Conversation with… OC & Verde

Features

Manchester: fair to say the city has gifted us some of dance music’s greatest exports down the decades. The latest in that rich lineage – duo OC & Verde – are currently taking the UK by storm!

Their arrival last year was announced with their huge track Maasai on Hot Since 82’s Knee Deep In Sound imprint. How do you possibly follow that? Well, how about by producing the monolithic Solstice – one of the front-runners for this year’s summer anthem. Now they have their sites set on global domination.

Data Transmission were fortunate to catch up with the lads ahead of their hectic summer schedule.

So you guys have been locked away in the studio for the past couple of days, we hope you had some aircon!
OC: No! Just a tiny little desk fan. But it’s raining up here again now, so you’re alright!

Have you ever had to play in extreme conditions – torrential rain? Or in a heatwave maybe?
Verde: We’ve played a few places where they ain’t had air conditioning, so you’re absolute soaking wet by the end of it.

OC: Actually, we did Beat-Herder a few years ago, and it were an absolute swamp! It was still a wicked festival. But it wasn’t that bad. Moving from stage-to-stage was a challenge. So we stuck in one place!

It obviously wasn’t enough to put you off going back – you’re back this year.
Yeah! We’re there on the Saturday (15/07). We’re closing the stage in the trees after Faithless, which is pretty big! So should be a good one, that.

Nice one! So has the studio time this week been fruitful? How does the process normally work – do you have some ideas already on paper when you start? Or do you go in blind, have a play around and build ideas up from scratch?
OC: It depends what mood you’re in from one day to the next. But we tend to decide which way we’re going to go: whether we go a little bit tougher. Or a bit more melodic. We start off building a groove, and then expand from there. Nothing ever comes out how we plan. We literally just start messing about! So we get something down, and then we build on it. Sometimes when we go out with the intention of making a more chilled track, it can end up being the toughest track we’ve ever made. It’s just however the wind blows, really. We don’t like planning too much.

Verde: Sometimes you can start with a vocal, and build around that. It depends from day-to-day.

Interesting that you mention vocals, since you seem to have reoccurring ethnic vocals which flow across your productions.
OC: Yeah – they’re quite Eastern sounding. We like to use stuff that’s just a bit different. That stands out from the normal samples that get used. Like, hip-hop vocals have been rinsed for the last god knows how many years, so we got bored of that. And even old soul samples have been heavy used. We just felt that had all been done before. We like the kind of stuff that Solomun plays – that sounds a bit far-out. So we went searching. We spent months hunting down vocals for the material we’ve been working on recently. So we have put a lot of time into it. We try to make our sound different to the standard. Anybody can take a hip-hop sample and stick a groove on it.

And recently we’ve seen a bit of a backlash building against – particularly generic – Tech House. There is an argument that a lot of it is quite same-y, formulaic. And that creativity has disappeared. But you guys have managed to buck that trend. How have you managed to avoid falling into that trap?

OC: We try to avoid categorising ourselves as “tech house”, or any of those sub-genres. We make house. And we make techno. We’ve seen the backlash: it is a lot of hip-hop vocals, and a lot of Ableton grooves. It’s become very predictable. And very boring. There’s a lot of copycat productions. One week there’ll be a big track on Beatport, and the next week they’ll be a dozen which sound the same.

So we don’t do too many releases. But when we do, we take time to make them a lot different. We’ll produce stuff from techno into house. We use a lot of melodies. We’ve had people from Adam Beyer to deadmau5 playing our tracks. I think that’s quite unique – having those DJs at different ends of the spectrum playing your tracks.

Verde: You know, the tracks we’ve been producing are memorable. They get stuck in people’s heads – they remember them. They tend to be the tracks that people get their phones out to film. Whereas with a lot of other music, it all sounds so similar you don’t know where one track ends and another starts.

Quite fitting being that it’s 21st June, but we couldn’t not talk about Solstice and what a track that’s been for you guys. When you finished that track did you know you were onto a winner?

OC: Funny story this one! It was the first track we made after Maasai. We sent it to a couple of labels, and they all sent it back. Honestly, for about six months we were trying to get it signed, but no label would take it. We were starting to get really disheartened by it. So we chopped the track up into parts, and started sending it to other acts to see if they wanted to work on a collab with it. Nobody really wanted to touch it. So we forgot about it. Almost binned it.

Then our manager sent it to Solomun with some new tracks we’d done by mistake! He wasn’t supposed to have included it! We’d got that disheartened we didn’t even want it go to him. Next thing you know he started to hammer it everywhere! Our phone starts going off the hook. Suddenly everybody wants to sign it. We had it for twelve months, and nobody wanted to touch it! And now it’s gone absolutely mental.

At the time when we made it, we knew it was a good track. But when labels knock you back so many times, you begin to question it and think “what’s wrong with this track?” I think maybe because it doesn’t really fit in anywhere. It’s not house. It’s not techno. It’s not tech-house. It’s OC & Verde! So labels didn’t know where to place it. Then eventually Steve Lawler heard it. He called our manager and was like “I want it”. So it went out on VIVa. So big ups to Steve! But it would have never come out if we had listened to the labels.

We were actually at We Are FSTVL in the Terminal 1 arena when Steve dropped it! Went off BIG TIME!

OC: Well everytime we play it, it’s the biggest track in our set. We couldn’t understand why no label wanted it. We even stopped playing it for a while. But our year’s been mad ever since it got picked-up. Adam Beyer closed his set with it at the Cocoon Opening party a couple of weeks back. So even now, it’s still going from strength-to-strength.

Following on from Solstice, your new EP just got released this week on iVAV.

OC: Yeah, Navajo is similar to Solstice and Maasai, but a lil’ bit tougher. More techno sounding. We had the Drumcode guys in mind – we wanted them to play it. We know that Layton Giordani is playing it. We’re just trying to move into tougher territory at the moment. Manana isn’t as tough. It’s more chilled. Sounds a bit different to anything else we’ve done in the past. Overall we’re very happy with the EP. Both tracks are getting played by some big names. They’re doing well. Then we’ve got a remix for Veerus coming out on Sharam’s label, Yoshitoshi a few months down the line.

And the gigs are coming thick-and-fast. You’ve got a homecoming gig in Manchester coming-up which we’re guesssing you can’t wait for.

OC: Yeah, we can’t wait for that. We played for the Covert guys in January, and it were sold out.
Verde: Yeah, they were queuing ‘round the block!
OC: It was a wicked gig! So we’re looking forward at being back there.

Obviously Manchester lost Sankeys a few months ago. What is the vibe like at the moment? Has the scene adjusted to that loss? It was a clubbing institution after all.

Verde: We were actually meant to be headlining the last night at Sankeys.
OC: Yeah, and then it closed on the Thursday before.

It all seemed to happen very quickly.

OC: It must have been going on behind closed doors for longer than we know. We don’t know the full story. We were paid and ready to play. Then we got the message that the gig had been cancelled. We were devastated. We’d always wanted to play the Basement. We played all the other rooms. But never headlined the Basement. So we’re gutted that it’s gone.

But Manchester’s thriving. We’ve still got the Warehouse Project, all the Albert Hall stuff, Gorilla is an awesome club – there’s always things going on. The programme is good throughout the summer. Everybody loved and remembers the club. But losing Sankeys is not gonna stop Manchester. There’s always something going on. Like, Parklife has just been on. That’s massive and getting bigger every year. Business as usual in Manchester.

We never doubted it! Apart from Gorilla, you’ve got gigs flooding in from further afield, too.

Verde: Yep. We’ve got Beirut in a couple of weeks – 7th July.

OC: Then we’ve got Ibiza: a couple of times for Cuckoo Land. We’ve got Faction at Eden. And we’ve just done VIVa Warriors at Sankeys. That was unbelievable – so good. We played the last set in the Lab. We got cut off short, though! Which was a bit of a shame. But other than that the club was absolutely packed and it just went off! We played there last season as well, and it’s just one of the best places to play. No VIP. No messing about. Everyone’s there just to have a good time.

And Warriors is thee ultimate Sankeys experience! In lots of ways it’s a real shame that they’re only doing a handful of dates this year.

OC: It was their biggest night there, so it’s a shame it’s moved on. Obviously Steve’s now doing his thing at Hï. But we still love playing there. Hopefully they’ll be a few more dates next year, you never know.

In terms of the changes we’ve seen over the past 24-months alone, how important do you think Ibiza still is? Is it just as relevant as it used to be? We’ve had the emergence of Croatia, which is now really competing with them as Europe’s no.1 party destination. What’s your take?

OC: We still feel it’s as relevant as it ever was. Obviously Croatia is up-and-coming. But the thing with Croatia is it’s cheap. Kids can go for a week or two-week holiday, like you used to be able to do with Ibiza. Kids can’t do that in Ibiza now. Maybe they can afford 3 or 4 days. I don’t think youngsters tend to go there for holidays as much anymore. The money situation is just getting a little too much. It’s not stopping people wanting to go. They’re just visiting for shorter periods. Just for the weekend. Or just mid-week.

The music is still as relevant as ever. There’s still so much going on. Every DJ wants to be there more than anywhere else. I can’t think of anywhere else we’d rather play.

Verde: It’s still the measuring stick. It’s still the most important place. The place you want to play. The most prestigious.

OC: Music which breaks in Ibiza, stays around for the rest of the year. A bit like we had with Maasai.

And post-summer, what plans have you got in the latter part of the year? You’ll be at ADE we take it?

OC: Yeah, we’ll be at ADE – but I don’t think we can announce that yet! But we’ll definitely be playing there. And we’ll be playing at The Steelyard in London with Redshape.
Verde: We’ve got Ministry of Sound with Audio Rehab.

You’re keeping very busy! Are there still places you have to tick-off on your bucket list?

Verde: Well, the Box at Ministry is one.

OC: It’s been a place we’ve wanted to play for while. We’re buzzin’ we finally got that. We’d love to play DC10 in Ibiza. I think that’s the dream for any DJ. And we’d like to get out to America, do some shows over there. We’ve had a few enquiries. We can’t say too much in case it doesn’t come off, but our agent is trying to put something together at the moment. It’ll be cool to get out there, and see what’s going down over there.

Verde: Solstice & Maasai have been quite big over there. So we’re known. We’ve got a small fan base.

What’s the dynamic when you guys play? We guess you feed off each other. Do you have an understanding? Like, a third sense of where the other guy is going to take it? And B2B?

OC: We don’t play back-to-back, actually. We play at the same time. We have 4 CDJs – 2 are on USB, and the other 2 on Traxtor. 1 DJM 900 Nexus mixer. An iPad for Traxtor effects. And a Pioneer RMX 1000 for other effects. So while 1 of us is mixing, the other one is doing the effects. So we play at the same time, as one.

We didn’t want to do B2Bs. A lot of duos do that. We have set roles that we do throughout the set. Then we’ll switch roles for the next gig. I like that we don’t do B2B. It’s a bit different. Mixing it up a bit! We don’t even tend to speak when we play. We just get down to it. We’ve been doing it that long!

Verde: We don’t normally speak full stop (!)

OC & Verde‘s ‘Navajo’ is Out Now on DJ Steve Lawler‘s Techno label iVAV and available from all good download stores.

Veerus – Beat Em (OC & Verde Remix) is released on 5th August on Yoshitoshi