A name synonymous with UK electronic music, Steve O’Sullivan’s illustrious discography began way back in the mid-nineties and in that time, he has written and rewritten the rulebook on deep, dubby techno several times. His releases for the likes of Sushitech Records, Soma, and his own Bluespirit, Bluetrain, Green and Mosaic imprints have produced a benchmark that his peers can only hope to achieve. It is with great pleasure that we introduce an exclusive hardware only recording from Steve performed live with his fine array of machines. Enjoy.
Firstly, thanks for mixing the next edition of our podcast. How did you approach the mix?
Many thanks for asking me!
As it’s been some time since I recorded a mix I wanted to include some future releases that I’ve never played live before so I spent a couple of days preparing and playing around with the elements of these and other tracks that I play just to get a feel for what tracks would work well together. Once I had decided on what the first two tracks would be I pressed record and took it from there. I recorded a few takes and the one you’ve shared is the mix I’m happiest with.
Did you use your full array of machines for the task or did you use a select few?
I used an AKAI MPC X/ MPC1000, Elektron Octatrack/ Digitakt, Roland TR09, a Strymon Timeline Delay and Eventide H9 Max.
These were then fed into a Midas F24 mixing desk and recorded through a Custom Audio SL 4000 G Mixbus compressor and Elysia XFilter EQ into Logic via an RME UFX.
How, if any does this differ from your usual full live setup?
Other than the EQ and compressor on the master output and the MPC X I regularly use the other machines when playing live.
Is your setup purely hardware and do you tend to stick with a particular setup?
It’s purely hardware. Using Ableton on a laptop would probably give me less stress when I’m adding new material to the banks of music that I travel with and a great deal more flexibility when I play but I like the rawness of the sound and the limitations that machines like the MPC have. Having to save memory means that I need to be strict with what samples I can potentially use at each gig but despite this, I find that I can play anywhere between 1 and 2 and a half hours with ease and have plenty of material to improvise with.
Essentially, I use the MPC to generate basslines and main drum patterns, the Octatrack is loaded with loops and one shots of musical elements, sound fx, and vocal samples and then drum machines like the Digitakt or Roland I will program live for anything extra that I think a track needs as its playing. This means that the potential for happy accidents is high but I like the fact that the set up keeps me on my toes and my hands busy.
Along with the FX pedals these drum machines change from gig to gig – If I’m playing a more Bluetrain dub set then the delay will always be in my bag, for instance, whereas for a more straightforward Steve O’Sullivan set I will sometimes just work with the internal delay on the Octatrack and maybe bring an extra drum machine with me instead.
Is there one piece of kit in your live setup that your sound would not be complete with?
That’s a simple one: the MPC1000. Punch and dynamics in the drums are essential to my sound and the MPC makes everything I put into it hit hard on a good sound system.
The sequencing features are also integral to how I work when I play live. I have prepared sequences with basslines and drums all mapped out on the pads so that I can bring elements in and out of the mix with ease whilst I fiddle with the Octatrack loading up a chord sequence or percussive loop.
What do you have coming up next release wise and can we expect to catch a glimpse of these in this podcast?
There are quite a few upcoming releases in there: remixes for LET Zurich, Berg Audio, Primary Colours, two tracks from a forthcoming EP on Aku and some ideas that I’ve been developing for a future Sushitech release.
As well as these I have a Bluetrain EP, ‘Babylon Paralysis’ on Future Primitive coming up at the end of September, a new Mosaic LTD 12” from myself and Frazer Campbell In November and remixes for Kontakt Records and Minimood in the pipeline.
Do you feel it is necessary to replicate your tracks verbatim in your live sets?
Not at all – I think I’d be bored senseless if I had to replicate each track. I like to go with the flow and feel what’s working for the crowd and trying out different ideas or arrangements as I’m playing. Also, a lot of the music I play live in my sets hasn’t even been recorded yet or are just useful tools or ideas that can say take the mix from a more housey direction to something darker and more techno in vibe.
What advice would you give to producers or live artists looking to buy their next piece of gear?
That’s a tricky one …equipment is such a personal thing and what works for one producer can be a complete waste of money for another. I think we have all bought the latest and best machine, got it home and found that it doesn’t gel with our production style or sound.
I would just say find what works for you – whether that is a room full of modular gear, vintage drum machines or just a copy of Ableton on a laptop. Ideas are more important than the hardware at the end of the day.
But for those that have already gone down the hardware wormhole its worth remembering that the least sexy bit of equipment can have the biggest impact on your workflow. Things like a midi clock generator, such as the SND Acme-4 or ERM Multi clock can make recording hardware into a computer a breeze and save hours of time lining up audio post-recording. So, that’s my tip of the day!