Hybrid Soundsystem is a collective that refuses to be told “how it should be done.” We get the low down from founding member Chris.
To start off, let’s give readers an idea of how Hybrid came together
Well basically we were both living in South Wales; Mike was the guy with the studio and I was the DJ in one of the first underground nights in Wales in the early 90s. He arrived in the club one day with a bootleg he had done of Pink Floyd’s “Brick in the Wall,” on a DAT tape machine. Back in those days, it was an unusual request that people would come up to you in the club and say, “Hey, I have this track that i’ve made can we put it on?” And so we had a listen in the headphones; everything sounded good. End of the night, we plugged the DAT in played it, and went “Oh my God that sounds awesome!” And that’s how it started basically.
At that time, our concept behind Hybrid was to add more musicality to the dance floor. We wanted thing to last, not be in one day and gone the next. That was the first idea. On top of that, brining in more melodic and orchestral elements into dance music: we thought that was the way to make things last longer and have more shelf life. It still serves us well now.
How did the later addition of Charlotte come about, and what as far as a turning point did it symbolise for the sound of the collective?
Charlotte is a very, very talented instrumentalist! She can play nearly every instrument. For instance, we recently did the soundtrack to this new film “Tombstone,” which was a western, and Charlotte bought a new slide guitar and Dobro went onto you tube and watched someone play it, one hour later she is recording herself! She can play anything.! Not that i’m jealous or anything….
Hybrid going from just me and Mike to me, Mike and Charlotte was like going from 2D sound to 3D sound. It was that sort of change that we needed to be able to take us to the next level.. It’s also brilliant that Charlotte is multi instrumentalist as it give us more scope and options musically, it’s also very handy for me as I’m the sound design guy so I work mostly with manipulating, sculpting, and stretching sounds of instruments so being able to have a multitude of organic sounds to draw off is very inspiring..
How did you envision your integration of electronic sounds with live symphonic instrumentation in the beginning of Hybrid? Did it take a while to achieve the kind of synthesis that now defines your modern style, or did you find that it came quite naturally from the get-go?
It kind of came a bit naturally. Back then we only had AKAI samplers, so we were sampling loops, which were mostly from vinyl. We were sample hunters, and back then everyone had AKAI samplers and was looking for ways to do different things with samples. Sampling orchestral stuff and fusing it with dance music was a way for our music to survive longer, as I said previously, but also we had a big love for film scores like Blade Runner and Close Encounters of the Third Kind. We would come back from raves in the early 90s and into the studio and think to ourselves: why can’t we make these two styles gel together?
I think there should be more musicality in dance music in general, as opposed to just “bang, bang, bang!” And don’t get me wrong, I love dirty techno and all the harder stuff too, but as far as an album goes, I think you need to have some depth musically in it for it to stand the test of time.
I want to talk a minute about your approach to electronic music, as it differs so drastically from the majority of electronic producers out there. As a group, even in the cookie -cutter modern age, you have continued to treat your craft like a bonafide band, and your focus on albums, scoring, and truly live performances have continued to be a hallmark of your sound. What, for you, are the merits to this approach in the modern world?
Having other talented people to pull ideas from is by far the biggest merit. A lot of guys are completely solo and turn out great music, and I admire them for it. For us, however, to be able to feed off each other and to have that traditional band set up where we jam off each other is crucial. We’re never in the same studio actually, but we send each other files constantly. I’ll send something to Charlotte, she’ll throw in some piano, violins, what have you, then she’ll send it back to me, I’ll sound design it, then send it to Mike who will put beats on it. I think that’s what is sometimes missing these days: it can be a bit too much lone DJ in the bedroom now. You need to have other people to work with: musicians have always done it! Bands are bands because there’s more than one person. That’s what we enjoy and that’s what helps us achieve our targets musically because if one of us get’s stuck, we can always send it on. We always do everything collectively: we’ll always attack it together.
What many readers may not realise is that this in fact was the traditional way people went about making music before the advent of the internet and digital audio workstations that were accessible to average people. The old school system of music recording, composing, and releasing full albums has often been hailed as dead and obsolete by modern music business theorists. What is your response to this criticism, and how does your work continue to prove them wrong?
I think the best music out there and that will still be there in 20 years time is still done on a collaborative level. Nowadays anyone can buy the gear, the software, and teach themselves how to do this, but the truth is I think a lot of people are scared to share their ideas with others, and for a lot of reasons; they might be scared of being robbed, or they might just not have the confidence it’s good enough for example. I’ve tried to do stuff by myself, but it’s never hit the mark that we know we can hit as 2 or 3 people together.
As to highlight the difference nowadays in the dynamics behind music business, recently you posted on your Facebook wall a copy of your most recent royalty statements from Spotify. 55,000 plays on Finished Symphony amounted to about $23.00 in your pocket when all is said and done. What are your thoughts about the current state of artist compensation in music, and what are your suggestions to aspiring artists who may be discouraged by the fact that there just doesn’t seem to be any money to be made in music nowadays?
I’m not sure who’s making the money on Spotify, somebody’s making it though! I have nothing against the streaming on Spotify and other platforms, and in the end it brings in more fans. I just think as an artist, though, you need to be in control of your own catalogue. Spotify might be one thing, but if one of our tracks hits TV like CSI or Top Gear, if you’re controlling your own catalogue you get the reward. And that’s the nature of the music business these days: you don’t have the album sales you used to have to bring in revenue so you need to look for these avenues to generate income for your music. To do that you need to be in control of it. If you do sign with a record label, you need to be on top of your percentages, your sync conditions, etc. that way if something does come in you know you’re going to gain from it. When it comes to your music, you have to be business-like. It’s difficult to make album sales, but touring and TV/Film sync is where the bulk of our income comes these days.
What a lot people may also not know is your extensive involvement in film and television scoring. From major motion pictures such as X-Men Wolverine to CSI, your portfolio of sound-to-film projects is huge. How did this come about for the group, and what factor does it play in your collaborative works today?
Being huge lovers of film score in the early 90s, we always knew it was something we wanted to do. It was really a matter of it being the right time and finding the right people to help you along the way. Harry Gregson Williams, an English composer based in LA and one of the top in the world, gave us a massive amount of help and we still do lots of work with him.
From there we branched out on our own, and we’re still doing tracks, still working on albums, but the film stuff is something we’ve always pushed. We feel we have something to bring to the table in film because we have a special twist as Hybrid on the musical stamp, so to speak.
Do you approach scoring film and TV in the same way you approach an artistic album or creating a new live show?
There is a difference, because you know if you’re doing a film, you get handed the idea, the picture, the mood, the tempo, and the pace. It’s not just a blank sheet creatively like when starting a track from scratch. At the same time, we approach the actual creative process the same way we do with our albums and other work: bouncing ideas off each other. A lot of those ideas don’t work either, there’s just a lot of back and forth until something really sticks.
Alternatively, how does your approach to remixing dance music, such as your recent remix work for Guy J, differ from your albums and film work? Do you have different elements or sonic priorities that you focus on when writing a track with the intent to make people dance?
As I’m on the road djing a lot and speeding time in the clubs, I’ll generally get the group started with dance remixes, as I’m playing out more often and I hear a lot of what’s working in the clubs. It often reverts back to the old way of Hybrid, with me and Mike doing heavy back and forth. It’s a funny dynamic like that, because I can’t sit in the studio for too long, I need to get out and get a sense of what’s going on, whereas Mike will never leave the studio if he can: he could stay in there forever.
Your 5th album is currently slated as “coming soon.” Congratulations! What do you feel as a group is different about this album, and what does it represent stylistically as far as your growth as a group? If you could name one of the biggest changes compared to this and album 4, what would it be?
The biggest change is going to be is that it is big, fun and shocking. Sometimes we can be too clinical, too chin-stroking, and too precise. We don’t want to do that again: we want to be more like Album 1. We don’t want to get hooked into that mind of thinking that it has to be too perfect anymore either: we’ve been down that road. We’ve done all that, now we want to do something that’s just large. We’re planning it to be bigger and bader than all our previous albums.
Do you have an idea roughly of when the album should be completed?
Early next year.
Can you tell us a bit about your album writing process? How long does it take, and do you normally work separately, together in the studio, or have a special way of bringing ideas to the table collectively?
One thing about doing the film based stuff that we do, like the one we’re working on right now, is that we had a total of 7 weeks to do a total of 90 minutes of music. The last one was 6 weeks to do 110! We’re used to working fast now. Normally, Hybrid albums would take us about a year, sometimes even 2 years. Now that we’re so accustomed to pumping out music so quickly, we’re planning on pumping out about 90 minutes of album music in 2 months. We’ve set deadlines; we have plans in motion. The hardest part of putting the album together is finding the original strain of the idea of what it’s going to sound like. Once you have the first couple of tracks that you’re really into and you don’t think anyone else is doing anything like it, that’s kind of where you run to. We’re at that point now: over the biggest hurdle, and in the race.
Most of Hybrid’s work comes to the public via your own imprint, Kill City Records. Why for you is it important to release your work through your own label? Do you feel in the modern age it is crucial to control all aspects of distribution along with your work in production? Is there a special way Kill City operates that makes it stand out from other labels currently on the market?
Kill City is there for our personal stuff, and whatever we want to do we can do. This fifth album is coming out on Distinctive, which is where we’ve released all the previous albums as well. It’s nice to go back with them because they understand us, and they know we’re not going to mess around. They’re used to us moaning at them, and they’re not going to push us to release anything early or anything like that. We’ve worked with them for so long that they know artistically we’re not going to stand for any poking and shoving. It’s a very comfortable relationship there, and we’re happy to return to do the fifth album with them, and who knows, there might be a sixth as well!
Let’s talk gigging: where can people catch Hybrid Soundsystem live these days? Can you talk a bit about your current live setup, how it’s differed from setups you’ve used in the past, and why you work with your current rig?
We’ve got “Tangled” in Manchester, which I’ve been playing at least 15 years now. “Tangled Legends” on the 6th of September is the last Tangled night for them, and I’m going to do be doing a Hybrid Classics Set. Barry from Dubpistols and me will be playing in the downstairs and Darren Emerson will be playing upstairs, so it’s got messy written all over it already! After that I’m doing Motion in Bristol with Groove Armada and Redlight a huge additional lineup of great acts. Once the album kicks out, we’ll be everywhere around the globe again.
Another great thing is that once the album is out, we’ll go back to doing the full live show again as well. We want to push Hybrid Live back out there and try to educate people again about what it is we do.
Aside from the album and any upcoming show dates, do you have any other exciting projects in the works? Any new films or TV we should be on the lookout for with the Hybrid sound?
There’s a new theatre version of Othello done by a company called Frantic Assembly that will feature all Hybrid music for the show. It’s a very physical, dance choreographed show to Hybrid music. It’s really interesting to me to see really well choreographed dancing and theatre to Hybrid banging club music: which you don’t see everyday! Highly recommend it!
And finally, one of the most visible aspects of Hybrid is that you are all very serious about charity and helping out a lot of causes for those less fortunate. How can Change-underground readers join you and help out as well?
Being a 44 year old aging raver, I’m trying repent this year for all my bad sins! We’ve organized an event called 14 in 14, where we’re doing 14 charity events in 2014 for various causes. This will include triatholons, iron man swims, huge bike rides, Mountain climbing. There’s a facebook page called 14 in 14 challenge, and that’s where you can find out what’s happening in my mid life crisis basically. It’s me doing these events for charity, as a way to repent for all the crazy stuff I’ve done. To all the people who are reading this: you’ll be doing the same thing one day!