Dungeon Electronics - Interview with DJ and producer Timothy J Fairplay
Wednesday, March 9, 2022
Timothy J Fairplay has been behind some of the most authentic electronic sounds of the past decade and prior to that as part of group Battant. He hosts a regular radio show called Dungeon Module on Tbilisi based Mutant Radio which traverses the myriad of sounds he champions as a DJ and producer. With a new album out this month on the forward-thinking Swedish based Höga Nord Rekords he took time out to talk to us at Trackhunter.
Your latest album ‘Free Andromeda’ is coming out on the excellent Höga Nord Rekords in March. Prior to a few single releases with the Swedish label, it seemed natural that a long player should follow for them and that this label really does seem a great fit for your music?
It’s a few years now since ‘The Cat Prowls Again’ came out, and at the time I thought it was very novel to be putting out a 7 inch. I think I had put the track up on Soundcloud, it was those heady days when people really paid attention to Soundcloud. Mathias (Nilsson) contacted me and asked if it was being released and if not could it go on the label. It's a great label with a really varied music policy and the design is always tight. With this album I sent Mathias around 20 tracks and he chose nine of them. It's quite varied but I see it as predominantly being an electro album, just not a traditional one in the modern sense. There was that amazing ‘Personal Space’ compilation that came out about 10 years ago of mainly private press pre electro funk made with synthesisers. I suppose I see ‘Free Andromeda’ as loosely being my take on that. Also the artwork was created by Personality Crisis who did the art for ‘Ruled By Passion…’ so it's been nice to work with him again.
Following the last couple of years you must be very keen to get out and play live and hear this new release on a loud sound system?
Yeah like everyone I’m looking forward to getting out there and playing again. There’s been a lot of really good music released the last couple of years. It’ll be a shame if all that music historically gets a bit lost because of the pandemic.
Reading the song titles from Free Andromeda I can't help but feel there’s a thread throughout this album which looks like various acts of a film? In fact, this seems to be common in other releases, or am I reading too much into it?
Ah well not really, there’s no real overarching theme, maybe I just like making it appear there is one. I like the track titles you tend to get on film soundtracks that tie a track to a scene or particular moment in the film, I guess that’s where the influence comes from.
I get the impression that there’s a lot of visual thought that goes into your song titles. I can’t help but think titles like ‘No News From New York’ and ‘Free Andromeda’ would make fantastic titles for sci-fi fiction films. Is that where the inspiration comes from? I recall seeing a video of your old studio and you have a few cult classic posters on the wall.
Yes, but at the same time ‘No News From New York’ was something a friend said to me in conversation and I remembered it because I thought it was a great line. So I don’t necessarily slave over the titles. But I am quite a visual person. I suppose I think what worlds would these pieces of music inhabit, but I generally just do it for fun. Cult films are always an influence, but I am trying to be original at the same time rather than just nick from old movies. Also a lot of these old films are pretty rinsed by now so I prefer to come up with ideas that have a similar feel. ‘Free Andromeda’ was a sample I took from this weird new age sex education record I own, but I imagined it being a political slogan like Free Palestine.
You’ve managed to blend an awful lot of influences into your production to very much craft your own sound. Apart from the notable techno, electro and house influences there’s acid, cold wave, industrial, dub and that cinematic feel all going on throughout much of your music. Do you find yourself starting out with the idea of making a pure techno track and those other influences slowly sneak in, or is the plan always to bring those outer, more leftfield fringes into the mix?
Well I do make quite pure stuff sometimes, my album ‘The Fast Lane’ from last year was basically a straight up electro album. But really I’m not very conscious of it, I just make music like this. I have to make music that holds my own attention. I listen to a lot of different styles of music and my music represents that.
You recently moved home and that involved moving your studio, how much effort was it to pack it all away and rebuild again?
Ah, well it's a bit of a pain really, and it was the first time I have moved the studio any distance rather than just across London. I bought a lot of anti-static bubble wrap. Somebody seriously needs to invent something to pack synthesisers in that is biodegradable! It’s always bitter sweet packing a studio up. But then building a new one is fun.
Was this an opportunity to start fresh and rethink how you approach making music, or are you a creature of habit and you found yourself rebuilding the studio as close to the one before?
I built this one a little differently than the last couple of studios, as it's a reasonably good sized room. In the last studio I put all the gear up on the walls around the room but I found it a bit annoyingly unnecessary at the end. With this studio I’ve got all the stuff I use all the time set up permanently and then there is a storage area on the back wall for stuff I use less often. Makes the studio feel a bit smaller and more easy to manage. Also means I can move stuff around more easily if I want to.
You are a producer who works with hardware over VSTs and DAWs but have worked digitally in the past with Propellerheads’ Reason package. What is it about the physical manifestation of a studio that appeals to you over digital, considering you’ve worked with both?
Well I still work with both really, like I use hardware predominantly to make my music but much of the way I mix it down is done digitally. My first studio was based around a four track tape machine in the late 90s, but I then used Reason for a while. It was a very early version of the software, maybe version 2 and I got bored of it pretty quickly. Having come from a background of being in bands making music only with a laptop seemed very tame, I was used to plugging stuff in, using fx pedals, driving sounds until they start to distort, I realised I had to make electronic music the same way.
Your album ‘A Snowstorm In The Tropics’ came out on your own Dungeon Module imprint in 2021. Are we likely to see more projects from you coming via your own label?
The next release actually isn’t by me, it’s an album by someone I have respected for a very long time, there will be more news about that very soon. I then plan this year to release at least one, maybe two albums by myself, but that time frame obviously depends on the same manufacturing issues all record labels have at the moment.
Mutant Radio who are based in Tbilisi are home to your radio show Dungeon Module, how did you get involved with a clearly like-minded group of people?
They contacted me and asked me to do a one off mix and that became a regular show. The station is doing an excellent job at representing what I guess is alternative dance music.
How would you describe the show for those who have not heard it and where do you discover new music for the show?
I find most of the music in conventional record shops or on Bandcamp.Though I’m constantly looking out for new stuff everywhere really. I also get sent stuff too. What I play is quite broad I suppose, like the influences of my own music. I don’t DJ like I do when I’m playing in a club, a radio show is a different thing, it gets a bit annoying when people do radio shows that just bang it out from start to finish. Too many DJs treat radio like it is their show reel rather than a good radio show. On the radio you can play stuff which is great music but wouldn’t necessarily work in a club.
Your Asphodells project with the sadly departed Andrew Weatherall delivered one of the iconic albums of the last decade. It’s an incredibly much sought after album, do you think it’ll ever get a repress?
Ah I get asked this quite a lot, it's nice that the album is still so well thought of. It’s 10 years old next year which I find quite amazing. We made it quite quickly and it was just loosely influenced by what we were listening to at the time, but it was very natural, and a very enjoyable time. I do wish we had made another, it was planned but we were both busy with other things and endless remixes. Then we lost Scrutton Street studios and we all went to different places for a couple of years. I moved back into the spare room at Andrew’s North London Studio but was busy with my own work and Andrew was working with Nina. We did talk about working together again, but then sadly it was too late. I hope there will be a repress at some point, there's a few totally unreleased things and some things that never made it to vinyl so there could be a special extended version or an EP too.
What plans have you got going forward for the rest of 2022?
I’ve mentioned the stuff on Dungeon Module already, but there's also two EP’s on a new European label, the first will be out quite soon. I have a track called ‘Alter Room’ on the next Italo Moderni compilation. And I’m working on a couple of new releases for various labels at the moment which will be out before the end of the year. Discover new digital dance music with Trackhunter
Free Andromeda on Höga Nord Rekords
Timothy J Fairplay on Facebook