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Fort Romeau: From Nine Inch Nails to “maybe more cowbells?”


South London producer Mike Norris, who goes by the more unusual moniker Fort Romeau, released his acclaimed debut LP, Kingdoms, on dreamy Stateside label 100% Silk earlier this year. The album is a slow-grooving collection combining classic Chicago house, sweet soul-feeding melodies and, somewhere, an understated, UK kind of grit; all of it worked up into wrought emotion (‘Say Something’) or spacey depth (‘Theo’) with smooth subtlety and eloquence. His most fun fact is his connection to La Roux’s live gig, but he has since established himself as an emerging producer making waves with a certain breed of fizzy, melt-in-your-mouth house which, like all decent creative endeavours, is hard to pin down. This NYE, he plays at the Hydra’s huge Border Community party alongside Ivan Smagghe, Nathan Fake, James Holden and a ton of others, including Koreless and Dauwd. You can catch more on that here: We got on the emails with the man himself, where he answered some of our many questions and got us all excited at the prospect of a live show… How did you get into electronic music? It started off with experimental rock music, things like Godspeed and Radiohead and I just found myself more and more drawn towards the sounds of electronics and synths. If you’ve grown up with as much classic rock as I have, you realise that there are only so many ways a guitar is going to sound and it has so much history, it almost seems pointless to pick one up. From the more band orientated stuff it wasn’t long before I started listening to Aphex Twin, Autechre, Squarepusher etc then from there it opened up the whole world of house and techno in its many and various forms. How did you first get into making music?I started off playing guitar and recording things through my dads PC when I was about 14 onto a free copy of Cubase, just trying to make songs by looping up guitar parts. Then I remember downloading a free modular synth VSTi that I had no idea how to use, and that was my introduction to synthesisers. At the time I was listening mainly to Air, Radiohead and Nine Inch Nails, they were by far my favourite bands and so was really interested in the electronic elements of the music, however I had no idea how they were made for quite a while.  Did you go to certain nights and were you into a certain scene? How did that affect you? I grew up and went to school around Oxfordshire so its not like I was going out to Fabric or Plastic People or anything; I was just downloading all this music and listening to it at home or walking my dog or whatever. Can you explain, for those who don’t know how you got involved with La Roux? Can you explain the creative input you had? Are you still working with them?I got involved with them in 2008 when they were just starting up through a friend. Their record was finished by the time I started with them and really it was just a case of making everything work in a live context. They have just finished up their second record and its gone in quite a different direction, that fact coupled with me concentrating so much on Fort Romeau, it means I wont be working with them from now on. How and when did you get into the classic Chicago sound that influences you and how did this particular early house become such an influence in your work?I first heard a lot of the classics early on and they have always just stuck with me, I love the raw energy and feeling they have, there’s so much soul in them they feel really alive, and I just really respond to that sound emotionally. Saying that there’s many disparate things that have influenced me and my development, deep house from the 90s and the more experimental UK sounds have all left their mark. What else do you draw on – as in any extra-musical things?At the moment I’m quite heavily influenced by Dow’s Master Blend finest reserve port. Which artists and labels are and were you into? There are loads, at the moment I’m really into the Workshop label; just putting out understated gems every time. Also spending some time going back through all the Move D and Namlook records, so much to get through with that but so much gold! Really enjoying Daphni’s album [Jiaolong] too, took me a while to get round to listening to it, but it’s great. –pagebreak– What do you think of house today? What would you like to see more or less of?I think its in good shape overall, I think that we (myself included!) need to move away from the R&B accapella thing though: its getting old now and a pitched down Beyonce vocal over a 90s house beat is starting to sound a bit done! Maybe more cowbells? Have you thought any more about developing a live show? You have said that live sets to you can seem egotistical…Yeah I’m actually trying to figure that out at the moment, hopefully it will be something using hardware that will sound decent and actually be engaging… I don’t think [live sets] are necessarily “egotistical” in any negative sense, its just that I really enjoy playing other people’s music as much as my own, and I suppose in a sense its actually a lot braver to play live as you are more exposed, I’m much more interested in doing it now than I was.  How much DJing do you do and what is your approach to DJing? I’ve done quite a lot this year, and I love it. The more experienced I get the more I try and move away from structuring things too much and just try and go with the flow of the night, I think you have to gain the confidence to play things that maybe wont blow up the dance floor at first but over the course of an hour builds into something really great. Anyone can just play bangers in a row for 2 hours, but people actually get bored of that, you have to be more creative and make the records speak to each other, find new exciting spaces in between what’s actually printed on the groove of the record. Can you talk about the Homwerk mix series a little… What’s the idea behind it? Its just my attempt to present some mixes that I’ve spent some time thinking about, and to put forward some combinations of records that I think really works and sound good together, I like recording it live because I think it feels more real and has a bit more life than an Ableton mix. How has your taste in music and your music making style developed over time?Well, the music’s definitely got slower as I’ve gotten older and I’m still only 28 haha! And I think as you develop you tend to look more towards making things simpler and perhaps more elegant – I’d rather hear a track now with three wonderful sounds in it than a hundred that aren’t really saying anything. Which artists do you think are the most exciting at the moment? There are loads, but a few that come straight to the top of my head, John Talabot, Holy Other, Theo Parrish, Move D, Space Dimension Controller, Kassem Mosse. Who would you most like to collaborate with?Peter Gabriel, Brian Eno, AIR, Sebastian Tellier, Move D, James Murphy, Cliff Martinez, Mr Oizo, Carl Craig, Giorgio Moroder. What’s up next? Any big plans or new ideas?Some bits for early next year I cant talk about yet but I am excited about! And working heavily over Christmas on new things so hopefully it will be a productive 2013! Fort Romeau plays at the Hydra NYE: Border Community with Nathan Fake, James Holden, Luke Abbott, Redshape (live), Mark E and special guest Ivan Smagghe. Buy tickets here: http://bit.ly/T4nONwKingdoms is available on iTunes and here: https://bleep.com/release/35256

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