In Conversation With…Paul Sawyer & Friends
Some artists enter our collective consciousness like a blindingly bright shooting star. They entertain us with their obvious talent but soon burn out and are gone as quickly as they arrived. Then there’s slow burning artists who get their hands dirty with promoting; with record labels; with non-stop DJing gigs. Artists like Winchester-born, musical multitasker, Paul Sawyer. From the leafy Home Counties to Ibiza and beyond, Paul Sawyer’s story is one of being in the right place at the right time. Cutting his teeth in the clubs of the South coast and surrounding area, his career took an exponential rise after his first full season on Ibiza. Returning the following year to take up a residency alongside Carl Cox and other A-List superstar DJs in San An hotspot, Eden (formerly The Star Club and Kaos). On returning to the UK in the mid 90s, a chance meeting with Southampton DJ/promoter Gary Bennetton resulted in a 10-year career at the helm of notorious South coast House brand, Menage a Trois.
Global DJ tours during this period with the brand further cemented his reputation culminating in both DJ Mag and Mixmag citing him as a Future Hero of the scene. During the early 00s he began his first label – EJ Underground. Over time this developed into a collaboration with Endemic Digital boss, Darren Braddick forming the umbrella company Krafted Music Group. Now a fully fledged producer releasing on a range of good labels and label magnate supplying music to Toolroom Records and Cafe Del Mar for their critically-acclaimed compilations, Paul has really found his stride within the industry. Following the resounding success of Nemesis featuring remixes from both fellow South coaster, Moonface and the irrepressible Nick Muir, Paul is back with the next track in his Greek Gods series, ‘Zeus’. Remixes of the sinewy original come from musical chameleon, Tripswitch and Egyptian/Russian powerhouse duo, Mark Youssef & Novikoff, and, thanks to the marvels of modern technology, we managed to get everyone together to chat about the release, some of the tricks of their trade and more.
Paul is first to join the group chat and we chat freely as we wait for the others to sign in. Having worked in the music business for some 20 years, Paul has undergone a bit of a transformation of late. Developing his productions, he says has really opened him up to some big players support. “I spent months defining and developing my sound because I wanted my releases this year to really appeal to a wider audience.”He says, “I love progressive house, but I also needed to ensure the sound I produced would also work for DJ’s who play more of the melodic techno sound. So, my recent releases have really represented the theme that I was going for.”It’s certainly working, his EP earlier this year on Dino Audio started the ball rolling in earnest with the aforementioned Nemesis picking up plays on, among others, Aly & Fila’s Sound of Egypt show.
It seems half the success of any release is picking the right time to put it out. “Poseidon was almost along the same lines as Zeus in its style and I toyed with whether that should come after Zeus.”Paul says,“I tested out the response from Poseidon before I made my mind up which was to be next in line, so sent it out on promo and a few days later when I received a message through Twitter from Solarstone asking if he could use it for his Dolby Atmos set! I was so chuffed!! Kolsch and Dubfire were also giving it some love, so I thought I’d release Poseidon first before Zeus to keep the momentum going. When I made Zeus, I just had Stephan Bodzin in my head when he performs to those huge crowds. It drives people wild and I wanted that from my track. So, I just hope this does the trick!”
As the other join the party, we move on to talk about the remix. Tripswitch has been on fire recently and gaining valued plays from luminary figures such as Hernan Cattaneo and Nick Warren. Owner of both Section Records and new imprint, onedotsixtwo, he shows no signs of hanging up his headphones just yet. Equally, Cairo-based Mark Youssef has been blazing quite a trail on his Frisky Radio show recently teaming up with Russian Novikoff with releases on Elevation and Krafted. “I wanted Tripswitch on a remix for one of my tracks for some time.”Paul says,“I’ve followed and played his music for quite a while, so I was really pleased when he accepted the remix request: it’s an amazing journey.”
“I have enjoyed watching Mark Youssef & Novikoff’s journey, they’ve released on labels that I regularly play in my sets and my radio show, they did a great job on the remix. It was also really important to me to involve remixers who are on Frisky Radio. I listen to all of these guys sets regularly and after becoming a part of the team at Frisky, it made sense to tie in artists from the platform. I think it’s really important to support each other in this industry.”Mark and Novikoff have only recently joined forces as a production duo, but they clearly have very similar tastes. “Mark is mostly responsible for the ideas and embodiment, he says what and where to put a sound and how it sounds in general” Novikoff says “I focus on creating and achieving the necessary goal. We listen together several times to make sure that everything suits us. Sometimes we share WAVs, other times the whole Ableton file and sometimes I write alone. Mark says what and where to put a sound and how it sounds in general, we try to work together.”
Tripswitch chips in while Paul takes a mouthful of coffee to remind us of Pauls legacy in the UK scene. “Paul’s obviously a bit of a legend stretching right back to its roots.” He begins, “We’ve been in contact for a while but I was honoured to get the opportunity to remix one of his tunes and was instantly inspired when I heard the original. Krafted’s output has been consistently excellent, so it’s great to be able to add it to my list of label collaborators!” Mark and Novikoff agree, adding: “After listening to the original we said yes because it was an excellent track with a driving energy and uniquely classy vocals.”
The conversation very naturally moves on to how the artists approached remix projects. Paul is first to speak, highlighting his preference for finding a main hook and building brand new drums around it. “Sometimes what hooks me in may not be the main lead. It could be the bass line that does it, so I think it always varies from track to track.” He says. Tripswitch agrees, “Yeah, like Paul I usually tend to strip all the drum parts out, I think creating a fresh rhythm section is key to stamping your own identity on a track.”He says,“I tend to spend the first session listening to various combinations of the remaining parts, trying some freaky processing on some of them, doing micro-edits and sampling little loops on other parts and seeing what new melodies appear in my head as I listen through. Then I’ll audition a load of my own sounds based on those new melodic seeds.”
“I think it is quicker to work on a remix.” Says Paul, “Unless you’re remixing a band, then that is much more long winded. I worked on a remix for Foals and there were over 100 stems to work with, it took ages!”
“Generally I’d agree with that, yeah.” Tripswitch says, “With a remix, you’ll have stems to use as a starting point, so even if you mangle them beyond recognition and come up with something totally new, it’s still a launch pad that gets the process moving. It’s easier to disappear down a rabbit-hole of umming and aahing when you’re starting your own track from scratch. Plus it can really help having a deadline to work to, it helps focus the mind!” Mark and Nick have other ideas…“We disagree,” Mark says, “Every remixer has their own view of the remix, but the process of composing a remix is no easier in our opinion than writing a new track.”
Over time, producers learn certain cool tricks from other producers. Like adding an instance of white noise under a hat/cymbal to really enhance it sonically. Anytime you get a group of producers together, the conversation naturally moves towards this. It’s like they have a pathological need to share knowledge…
“I’ve been obsessed with the DJM filter that you can download for free,” Paul says, “I’ve been using it in all my tracks for this year; such a great tool. I also picked up a trick from Kolsch a couple of years ago about using a vocoder on hats, it just always sounds so much better!”
“That DMJ Filter from Xfer is great. Also, their LFO Tool is a standard go to.” Tripswitch continues, “I used to do all my sidechaining the old school way with a buss send to a compressor using the kick as a sidechain input, but my buddy Grant showed me that plugin and it just makes the process so much easier and more flexible.”
“In our opinion white noise is a little off,” Mark says, “Now we are trying to focus on the internal components of the track, not on the surface of noise or plates. This can be a warm and pleasant bass or a variety of percussions.”
“I’m a big fan of busses in Logic.” Tripswitch is animated. Studio chat is one of his favourite past times. “My template has various buss configurations pre-set up so I can drop straight in. I have them all set up pre-fade so I have total control over the amount of dry and wet signal I’m sending through to the premaster buss. In terms of balance and separation, I’ve adopted a similar approach to my productions throughout my musical career. It’s always a case of giving each sound its own space in the audio spectrum.”
Paul Sawyer in San Francisco
“I often use something high-frequency and continuous – a pad or an arp – to help create that consistent flow which to some extent helps to define the‘journey’. You can then create drama at the points where you kill that sound, be it a beatless breakdown or a drop where you strip it back to beats and bass. Then, lots of analysis and EQ to ensure different tracks don’t interfere with each other at the same frequency. And panning and subtle modulation on key parts, again, to ensure that separation but also to give some movement to otherwise fairly static sounds. Makes all the difference.”
Summertime conjures up images of happy clubbers dancing to piano anthems in sunny destinations. But of late, those tracks have become darker as dance music evolves and tastes change. “Zeus for me was ‘the’ summer track and I really hoped that the previous releases would steer people towards what is for me the peak for the summer.” Paul says, “I just had it in my mind that Zeus was the one for Ibiza and the festivals. I just can’t wait to hear it on a big festival sound system!” Mark and Nick agree, “Zeus is a powerful track with strong energy and a powerful synthesis of sound.” Mark begins, with a cheeky grin, Novikoff finishes the sentence “In any case, this track will find its listener, we are very pleased to work with Paul and for the opportunity to do something of our own.”
‘Zeus’ will be available at all good retailers from the 11th June.