In a pub somewhere in London... An Interview with Steve O'Sullivan
- Published on Tuesday, 24 February 2015 17:56
The Meoko-team here in London had a very nice chat with Steve O’Sullivan in his local neighbourhood pub. The man behind the recognized Mosaic record label gives a detailed explanation about his life, productions and record label. He also clarifies why he had been out away from the scene for a while. In the last ten years he hadn't released anything, but now he is back with some very nice tracks. An inspiring and down-to-earth producer, Steve left behind a big impression on the Meoko-team.
Hi Steve, firstly thank you for this opportunity of an interview for Meoko... Let's go back to the very very beginning. What did you want to become when you were growing up?
Hmm, well I never really thought about what I wanted to be when I was very young to be honest with you. I have never dreamt of being an astronaut or anything like that but I do definitely recall being about 13/14 years old, holding a 12” in my hand thinking that would be the ultimate thing to achieve. But that being 1983/1984 it wasn’t a serious ambition or anything like that. I guess everyone who loves music secretly hopes to release a record one-day.
Today you realized your dream. How does that make you feel?
Well, when my first release came out, it felt fantastic: I was like a kid on Christmas day when I received the finished copy and that hasn’t changed. It’s a great privilege to make music, to release it and to have people from all over the world appreciate what you do. Knowing my musical limitations the way I do that is quite an achievement.
What triggered you to start getting into electronic music?
Well,I was always fascinated by electronic music. In the UK, there was a television program called ‘Top of the Pops’ and in the eighties there were many synthesizer-bands on the show and for me that was my gateway into the world of electronic music.
When have you bought your first piece of equipment to make music?
First, I was doing pause-button megamixes and remixes, where I could make loops of records and then overplay it with film dialogue running from a Walkman. It was great fun but the results were pretty awful but we all have to start somewhere I guess.
At about the age of 16 I bought a drum machine on impulse, added a 1 second sampler a bit later and used those for a number of years making pretty terrible music until in around 1993 when I started to build my studio and slowly discovered how it was done.
For the younger generation, who grew up in the digital era it is hard to imagine how to get information about all different kind of equipment to make music. Nowadays you go to forums where you can exchange information with users. How did you know what to buy in the eighties?
Well it was a different world back then. I just remember seeing these boxes on TV, magazines and record sleeves and recognizing the brand names after a while. I also visited some music stores in London where you could checkout the equipment and would spend hours there playing with synths and samplers before we were told to get out by the staff!
Back then, you had to discover how all of this was done, which was quite a slow process, but it was great fun as well. It was also very expensive to get a set up together which in itself took time whereas now you can have a laptop, a cracked copy of Abelton and buy a £50 controller and you’re ready to go.
The information available these days must be great for kids starting out. You can go on the Internet, listen to the sound that comes out of different machinery. Or you can ask a question on a forum and five minutes later some professional or a hobbyist answers you. Then there are the endless tutorials on Youtube. It’s a different world to when I started out but I do see it as a positive thing and one that has opened up the whole music making process to anyone and everyone.
As a teenager, what kind of music did you listen to?
Well,I listened to lots of electronic and indie music. From Depeche Mode to The Smiths, The Cure. All that kind of stuff, a little bit of everything I guess. Tackhead, Nitzer Ebb and New Order, in particular, were huge for me. I just loved the way these bands used synths and drum machines and the energy the music had.
The whole electro thing ran alongside all of this and exposed me to music that was, to be frank, like nothing I heard before. Then along came house music and changed my whole perception of what music was.
What do you think about the music scene today? Are there many differences or similarities with the past?
Well, on a basic level club music is a lot slower nowadays. I still find it amazing that you can be in a club at peak time today and the DJ will be playing at 125bpm.
The other change is the sheer amount of music being released. With all the changes in technology it’s so much easier to make and release music than it was 20 years ago. You can almost not keep up with all the tracks that are released on Beatport and Juno everyday. With the closure of so many record stores you no longer have the filter that you had years ago - now everything, whether it is good or bad, is in front of you and sometimes it’s hard to know where to start looking. I’m sure there’s plenty of great music just a few clicks away but discovering that is much harder now.
The one thing I will say is that it is sometimes easier to look back on the past as being some golden age when everything was great but I do think in relative terms the amount of poor music being released now is no different to the amount of shit we had around in the 90s - not all 90s music was classic stuff and there is some incredible music being made now that shouldn’t be ignored.
In the mid-2000s, it seems you have left the music scene for a while, no more productions, no more releases on your label Mosaic. Why? And how did you get back after such a long time?
I spent 10 years away and I guess when I look at it, I spent more time out of the music business than I did in it [laughs].
I really had nothing to say anymore and I could not finish a track that I was 100% happy with. I still made music but none of it was special enough to release during my time away until a couple of years ago when I started to really enjoy the whole process again.
At around the same time Sushitech contacted me, we discussed a couple of retrospective packages and now some new tracks and remixes are on their way. All in all it is been a good couple of years, creatively speaking. ‘Kutchie Dub’, is one recent 12” that I am particularly proud of and the response to it has been fantastic so hopefully I still have something interesting to say.
What did you do these 10 years without making music?
Well, I always had a job. I worked for a housing charity for over 20 years so I just carried on doing that. But for the past year I have been focussing on music full time, partly because you don’t always get a second chance to do something that you love and if I didn’t I’d always regret it, so fingers crossed things continue to go well.
What was the motivation behind starting a record label: Mosaic?
The motivation was pretty simple - I always wanted to have a record label and I got the opportunity to start one up in 1996.
The first three releases were by myself and some friends, but I knew that I had to get other people involved otherwise it would be pointless in the long run if I didn’t expand the range of music I released. I didn’t really want to have a label with one particular sound. It could be techno, house or dub. If it sounded good to me, I would release it.
What is nowadays your favourite release on this label?
I don’t have a favourite but the first one, The Wise Caucasian - ‘Night Fever’ EP is the most special as it was the first and had a massive amount of support from DJs and producers I admired.
The release by Dean DeCosta - ‘Alternate Materials’ includes one of my favourite tracks on the label: ‘Paper Hat’. The Memory Foundation - ‘Greenflash’ is also a fantastic dub techno record, which I very much appreciate.
For me there are so many good releases that it is almost impossible to choose my favourite, as I’m proud of them all.
Are you aware of the value of this label nowadays amongst younger DJ’s and electronic music enthusiasts?
Yes, of course and it’s truly humbling that my music and that of my artists means so much to the new guys on the scene. In the old days, although I was confident that the music was of good quality, but I never thought that I would still be hearing the tracks in clubs some 18 years later. You got a release together, released it and moved onto the next one.
You started to release new things on Mosaic. Can you tell us something about releases coming up in 2015? And in what direction are you planning to go to with the label?
Yeah, I started up a seriescalled Mosaic Split Series at the end of 2013 and the fifth release is now in production.
After my break, I would like to see myself as someone who can help unknown producers to be heard. It would be so easy to go down the big name route but I see this series as a way of giving back to those who have supported my music over the years when I was away by showcasing better-known artists with lesser-known ones.
The bottom line is that there are so many insanely talented producers out there who do not have a platform to show what they can do. If I can help them a little bit by releasing their music on Mosaic then the project for me will be a success.
You released under diverse names such as The White Caucasian, Bluetrain, Roundtree, your own name. What are their differences and why did you use these different aliases?
There was no master plan behind it all. I had something like 12 releases out one year so I had to have different names to set each one apart. I don’t think I released under my own name until something like 2001. All those aliases made it more interesting for me and I liked the idea of people not knowing who was behind the names and having to find out rather than having my name in plastered everywhere.
Are the parties different today compared to those in the 90s?
Well, the sound systems in the majority of the clubs I play are so much better than when I was playing live in the 90s. Clubs just sound so much better!
I stopped going out when the whole minimal thing took off as it bored the life out of me but there seems to be a real renaissance and energy these days that is inspiring to see.
When you meet certain promoters you really can tell how much thought and love goes into their work so hats off to them for rejuvenating things
Last question. What will the future bring for you?
Well, my first EP of new material in over 10 years has just been released (“Interchangeable Patterns Part 1”) with part 2 will be coming out in April. I am pretty happy with those so I’m looking forward to seeing what the response will be
There’s a couple of remixes on the way and maybe a Blue Spirit EP if the right material comes together.
Also plenty of live dates are lined up for the next few months and, at the moment that’s probably the most rewarding thing about being back - getting the opportunity to play your own music for an hour to great crowds. So hopefully 2015 will be a good year!
We wish you a lot of success with your live-sets and label!
Catch Steve O'Sullivan @ Rhythmatic’s 8th Birthday in Room 2 at Cocoon London!!!!