A popular figure on the underground scene for well over a decade now, Ronin has released some excellent tunes for such quality labels as Bad Sekta, Frogs, Headfuk and Noize:tek, as well as gigging regularly, editing the zine Rupture, putting on the popular No Fixed Abode events and dabbling in a load of other projects. We posed him 23 important questions…
What’s currently occurring in the land of Ronin? Do you have any new and exciting projects in the pipeline?
I’m trying to produce more in the visual field – this started with VJing but I’m now working on Audio/Visual solo stuff and plans for a short film presented in a live semi-theatrical way.
You’ve been a part of the excellent No Fixed Abode events since their inception (nice to have ‘em back, btw) – tell us a bit more about the ethos of the nights and how you hope to see them progress?
It was initially an attempt to pull together people who were into the harder edge of electronic music and who had fallen out of doing events. The idea was to stage parties with solid lineups and a strong visual focus. Recently there were two parties in collaboration with Pokora sound system but I’m sad to say that might be it for a while. The reasons behind that aren’t particularly interesting, so I won’t bother detailing them.
How did you initially get involved with squat culture and do you have any thoughts on the current state of it (creatively or politically)?
It started with going to London squat parties and thinking that we wanted the freedom we could get by creating and controlling our own space for parties but that we wanted to inject some more enthusiasm into the crowd and play some different styles of music (this was back when parties were dominated by London Acid Techno and Special Brew). As with anything there are both positive and negative aspects to doing parties in a squat environment, but for me the plus sides outweigh many negative points; perhaps because there aren’t any decent venues in London that will host our kind of music and crowd.
When did you first start producing and why did you settle on the name Ronin?
I started producing because I wanted to blend together the varied and sometimes disparate styles of music I have been into and influenced by. I think over the years this has become less relevant as there’s a hell of a lot of ‘mash up’ music being made and newer generations are less close minded. Ronin is a masterless samurai, so it means something to me. Perhaps it also reflects the way I usually work alone, when it comes to music.
How would you describe your sound and how has it developed over the years?
Rave music. Some of it has become less ‘ravey’ but that’s just different influences creeping in over time. I usually say that I actually work in tempos (140, 180, 220bpm) and beyond that the lines get blurred.
Which is your overall favourite of your releases and why?
The first One Inch Punch record perhaps – it’s got a couple of good tracks on there (one being the first release from Ely Muff), it got a warm reception over a good summer spent at teknivals – and hearing my track played one dark night on a French mountain top over a mammoth rig – when the bass kicks in after an ear-splitting treble phrase, it made me quiver. Noice.
Which labels / producers inspired you to start / inspire you to keep producing?
When I started producing I had no clue who was behind the music which was getting me going. I guess people like Nasenbluten made it cool to use module-tracking software (I used DOS based Impulse Tracker for the first two Headfuk releases) but labels like Deathchant and Rebel Scum were some of my favourites at that time. Most of my influences come from the dancefloor so I do find it good to check out nights playing new genres and stuff I might not be totally into.
How did you first hook up with the other members of Headfuk?
A couple of us were friends at school, the rest of the initial crew was our extended bunch of mates and people we had met whilst out raving. It was obviously helpful that a few of them were DJs. After our first allnighter (back at Trenz) we were joined by folk from some other crews and always (infamously) had a large entourage.
What is the current situation re: the Headfuk label / parties?
The labels fell on their arse really and I for one couldn’t be bothered to pick up the pieces simply because the interest from the rest of our audio producers wasn’t there. After a few years of Headfuk there became a gap between the people making the tunes and the people maintaining and running the sound system; musically and otherwise. The rig people eventually tried to make a living out of what they’d learned and so they get involved in a lot less squat parties. Some of the original crew still put on raves, thankfully, though they have trouble pinning down a rig-name for themselves!
What’s the gist of your current live and studio setups?
My studio setup has been the same for ages – monitors that are nothing to write home about and a desktop PC. I still use FL Studio to write most tracks which I then move over to Ableton if I’m going to play them live. The live setup is more interesting with me buying a multi-touch device, Jazzmutants’ Lemur, to replace the various MIDI controllers I was building up. The Lemur allows me to design my own custom MIDI controller. This has meant in addition to the old ‘live remix’ Ableton set I always used, I have now developed a ma-hoo-sive set which is mostly improvised from a few basic building blocks. This is also now being developed into an A/V set with visuals being triggered off a Mac laptop running VDMX.
When you toured Japan last year did you observe any major differences from the European scene?
They’re definitely a funny bunch the Japanese so you could say there will always be differences. They are avidly into their music and it was good to see that they like noisy experimental shit as well. I mostly played in small venues and bars, which will never be that different in atmosphere to small venues and bars anywhere else in the world. I would love to see the Japanese get stinking messy in a field somewhere; then we could really see how they do things.
Share any good / terrible gig stories?
Hah, with squat parties there’s always something very good/bad happening which serves as an anecdote, though none spring to mind. The NFA beach parties have been some of the best things I’ve played it and been involved in – real crowd energy, at a free event, in the centre of London!
In 1997 you, IN[flussi] and the Mission Creep DJs started a live A/V group, Putsch. What (if any) were your goals and is the project still active?
The goal was integrate the audio and visual experience into a stronger whole. We tried to synchronise audio/visual triggers and audio/visual effects. Some of it worked, sometimes the live conditions weren’t great and sometimes the hardware just couldn’t hack it. I think all three people involved had different ideas of what it should be and it wasn’t the best grouping to hope for. We did a few gigs and that was it really, which is a shame as it had potential. I’m now using the same techniques for my own a/v stuff.
You’ve previously stated that your live set “is being developed to become one laptop for audio and another one synced and doing video output, all managed from the same set of MIDI controllers”. What are your reasons for wanting to move further into live visual performance? Do you think that more acts should be pursuing a combination of audio and visuals?
DJs are usually quite good at working a crowd, but they’re boring egotistical dickheads by and large. Laptop livesets can be more musically interesting and original, but they’re even more boring to look at – unless they’re waving around like egotistical dickheads. I understand that it can be hard to be more ‘live’ and improvisational whilst still rocking a crowd, but I always want to see people put more into their performances. Combining video into the fold seems logical to me. Some reasons include that I’ve always dabbled in graphics and because it can put a stop to completely unrelated and unsynchronised visuals just splashed on the walls as eye candy.
You’ve been a regular contributor to (and editor of) the zine Rupture for a long time now; why do you feel that it’s important for people to produce independent forms of media and what has been the general feedback from readers?
I think it’s important to be active and productive in all areas of media as it loosens the strangehold that the mainstream media has on all of our minds, to one degree or another. The act of creation is what spurs me on to do anything and is such big part of being human. I believe everyone has the power to create anything they want, everyone’s voice is relevant. Small scale zines and the power of internet publishing help enable those voices to be heard more than ever.
What’s your opinion on the shift from physical to digital media and how would you like to see labels and musicians respond to these changes?
I think it’s great because finally the whole world has woken up to the beauty of digitalisation. Nowadays it’s not just a few ‘pirates’ spoiling it for everyone else with their perceived theft – in fact, even your Dad is ripping music from Soulseek or downloading films from torrent sites. Digital distribution can ease demand on the world’s resources and help people publish personal, experimental or political materials. Major labels and studios were too slow to pick up on this and they’ve already lost the battle. Buying up social networking sites and trying to claw back revenue from them won’t stop the tide. It has brought a paradigm shift in a general consciousness about the motivations for creating work – that it doesn’t have to be for money – everyone can share their skills. People are also happy with lesser production values if they find more connection to the content. It changes the financial model in weird ways for sure – big artists are having to change their game whilst some small-scale artists might find they can now get recognition and make a little bit of money from their output. In reality, there will never be much money in digital downloads so then you come back to pushing live performances or making special products that people want to buy and collect.
You put out the wicked ‘Connector Block’ 12” on your own label Riot Squad a few years back – what was the impetus behind that imprint and are you planning to resurrect it for any more releases?
At the time that record was produced with funds from a record shop called Riot Squad me and a couple of people were running in a squatted art gallery. I thought that as my first (and still only) solo record I would be able to showcase two different styles I was working in at the time. Sadly these were far too disparate to work on one record (quite minimal electro on one side and broken-beats hardcore on the other) and no one really bought many copies. I was going to resurrect it as a breakcore label but I’ve lacked the focus/interest to get it off the ground.
How would you sum up your general ‘ideology’ (for want of a better word)?
Make things happen.
Is there anything that you wish someone had told you when you first started writing tunes?
I wish I listened to my ears in the early years as I failed to keep consistent production values up and didn’t learn as much as I could. Some kind of mentor would have been nice just to rip shit out of my stuff in a way that I found constructive. We used to critique each others tunes in Headfuk quite a bit, which was helpful but I was already set in my bad ways by then.
What have you found most satisfying during your ‘creative journey’?
Learning and dabbling with loads of little things, but never really having any project to use them for, was perhaps not totally in vain as I now finally feel that I might finally have the ability to pull them all together. Hopefully this will be the live cinema project I mentioned, but forget I said that as I don’t always make good on promises from a production perspective!
With hindsight, is there anything that you regret about the paths Ronin has taken?
Though I’ve always wanted to work as part of a collective, at times I felt though I needed to do more stuff for myself, for my future as an artist and as a person. Though I can seem confident I’ve at times lacked the balls to make bold decisions and if I had of been bolder I might be in a radically different (possibly not any better) position at this point in my life.
Recommend us some ‘essential’ art / music / film / literature / stuff…
Books – stuff by Tom Robbins or Chuck Palahnuik (how about that for polar opposite viewpoints on the circus of life); Films – Alejandro Jodorowsky’s stuff, anything written by Charlie Kaufman; Coen Brothers’ stuff if you want quality genre pieces; there’s always amazing street art and stuff on woostercollective.com, I particularly like Blu’s wall paintings and recently found a guy called Beeple; Music – well, that’s difficult of course but at the moment I’m listening a lot to Monster Zoku Onsomb, Starkey, Detest, Broken Note, The Teknoist, Loops Haunt, Tom Waits, Diablo Swing Orchestra, Emalkay, King Cannibal, Sleepytime Gorilla Museum, Raffertie… blah blah blah.
(Keep track of what Ronin’s up to via www.roninaudio.net)