Phraktal have new music out now on John Johnson’s label ICONYC so we caught up with the Irish duo to find out more about their background.
1. How old are you, where are you living and how long have you been producing and Djing?
Christian – 41 living in Kildare in Ireland & been Djing since 1993 & producing since 1996, first track I worked on was with Al Manning & engineer Chris Agnew (Agnelli & Nelson) in a studio near Belfast.
John – 44 living in Dublin, djing since 1994 & producing since 96!
2. Where do your musical roots lie, what are your first memories of electronic music and when did you know you wanted to pursue it seriously? Was a career in music always the only objective, were you interested in anything else as a life journey? Are there any particular productions or artists from the past that really made you think to yourself ‘this is what I want to do.”?
Christian – My musical roots begin with my Family and the music they played while I was growing up, Everything from Jimi Hendrix, The Alan Parsons Project, Jean Michelle Jarre, Genesis etc. One of the first album’s I remember listening to with drum machines & synthesizers were Depeche Mode – Black celebration. First time electronic music really hit me was listening to S-Express -Superfly Guy at a school disco, the funky bass line was a total breath of fresh air. Really made me want to dance. I soon struck up a friendship with Declan Brennan whose big brother Paul happened to DJ at these school disco events, his vinyl collection was really excellent, hearing new compilation albums Techno! The New Dance Sound of Detroit & The house sound of Chicago albums blew my tiny 13-year-old mind! It was a vast departure to anything I had heard at the time, so raw and yet so much passion!
A career in music/art was always going to be it for me, Academically I never really performed well in School until I went and studied in Berklee where i even surprised myself with a GPA of 4.0 for most of the time I was there. I’ve had so many jobs over the years, I now run a media company called Bakroom, but there are times when I think I could give it all up & become a beekeeper.
Artists/Producers that have inspired me to become a producer are people like Kevin Saunderson, William Orbit & Trevor Horn, productions like Rock to the Beat, The Beatles – Tomorrow never knows and Don’t cry
it’s only the Rhythm by Grace Jones still to this day these productions stand the test of time for me, which is the reason I got into wanting to produce!
Casper: I can’t really say where my musical roots lie. I grew up listening to Madness, Depeche Mode, The Cult, The Cure, Howard Jones and Simple Minds to name a few, which is quite a cross section of music to be honest. Moving into my early teens I was breakdancing and listening to electro mostly. By the late 80’s and early nighties I had started to get into the early house movement and was dancing professionally at all the major raves.
Dancing on stage with The Prodigy, N-Joi, Carl Cox and Dave Angel I was bitten by the bug to take up Djing. It seemed like a natural progression. The first record I bought was “There but for the Grace of God” by Fire Island on JBO. I remember listening to Billy Nasty’s “Journey’s by Dj’s” tape and was blown away by it. For me, it was a journey. It had everything and I loved the way it flowed. I think I adopted this type of set going forward in the mixes that I put out. I liked to play a little bit of everything and keep it as fresh as possible.
3. How difficult was learning to produce for you in the beginning? Did you take any Audio Engineering programs or production courses to help you out or are you pretty much self-taught? And did anyone give any advice early on that really helped?
Christian: I found it quite easy producing music, I have been writing songs with a guitar, since I was around 14 years old. So, the process for me was/is always easy, its primarily about having fun and seeing what transpires from that.
In 2012. I completed a Masters in Sound Technology & Music production online with Berklee Music, but as I mentioned earlier, I have been in studios since 96, picking up lots of tips/tricks hanging about with people who were at the time way more knowledgeable than I was, which was a big help!
Before studying with Berklee, I had spent around 10-15 years self taught, producing with various DAWS, Cubase, FLStudio, Reason until i settled on Ableton and Logic.
Casper: When I started putting stuff together in 96, I was mostly directing sessions. I hadn’t the kit at home and was much better at arrangement than the programming itself. As time has gone by I tend to focus more on sampling and arrangement and when it comes to programming, Chris is the bomb in that department and I tend to leave him to it!
4. What parts of the production process do you find the most difficult and what comes easiest for you? When you do hit a creative block what helps you through it?
Christian: The trickiest part for me was and still is to an extent, my knowledge with regards chord progressions, today it’s a lot easier with apps that can help instantly, whereas 15-20 years ago it was a lot trickier to find out what you need to know! We use 2 DAWS, so creative blocks aren’t really a problem, I find I can think my way around blocks by knowing lots of different techniques in both studio environments! Finishing Trax was and still is my main problem in studio!
Casper: Time is the most difficult part and not having enough of it. We work so well in the studio together we don’t really struggle much. Differences of opinion generally get worked out quickly and we both have very similar tastes in music so it’s not too hard. If we’ve run into a creative block we tend to park the project for a month or so and come back to it with fresh ears. The problems we may had perceived in the original session tends to be more evident and we figure out what we need to change.
5. You have a new single out this week on ICONYC. Tell us how you approached writing the track, how the relationship with ICONYC began and what’s coming later this year from you?
Casper: Mindshapes is track 2 off our first album “Why 1 is One and 2 is Two” which was released in 2015 on Bakroom.
Christian: Yeah, it came together rather quickly, as i recall, most of the programming was done in Ableton, there was a lot sampling and sound design and intricate chord sequences that took some time to programme with the Access Virus TI & Operator in Ableton. The main vocals were sampled from an old movie & another couple of samples were taken from Vinyl. Our approach to the drum production side of things on this one was quite laid back overall, we wanted it to have smooth tones, a track you could listen to in a club, in a bar or at home.
Our relationship with John Johnson/ICONYC came about after Blue Amazon introduced us. Lee had just remixed Hanging around Corners for us & we were looking for a label to release it and Lee was kind
enough to send it to John Johnson & the rest has been a really positive experience since!
Casper: Later in the year we have our second album, which is close to completion and we’re hoping for it to be released in Sept/Oct all things going well. On ICONYC of course 😉
Christian: We have lots of material coming out over the next 6 months. The last 2 singles from our first album are still to come. Transfer will be coming out on Night Vision with remixes by Orlando Voorn and Damon Wild [Synewave]. Resonance is due on Bakroom with a Stephen Lopkin remix scheduled for release in July & we’ve also just finished a remix for ICONYC – “Irene Radice’s – Find the Future” due for release in June & at the end of May we have 2 remixes of Guyro’s Cassiopeia coming on Bakroom.
6. Apart from electronic music what other genres do you listen to and who are your favourite artists outside of electronic? and do these genres or artists have a direct effect on your own productions?
Christian: I listen to a lot of music and sometimes feel the need to unplug from Electronic Music, in these moments, I listen to Chaka Khan, Depeche Mode, Kings of Leon, Foo Fighters, Apparat, Seal, Tears for Fears, Kate Bush, Lamb, Massive Attack & George Michael’s listen without prejudice are all in rotation.
These artists have totally had an effect on my choice of sounds, especially Depeche Mode, Apparat and Moderat, listening to these masters of their craft and the way they handle song structure, sound design and programming for me is inspiring, i recently started a project called Paperheart that leans more into this type of sound.
Casper: To be quite Frank, I spend very little time listening to anything outside of electronic. I would say, I spend loads of time listening to all the sub genres around the scene. I like quirky, forward thinking, boundary pushing producers who are at the cutting edge of their own field. I just find mainstream music too bland, safe and formulaic!
7. What was the first and last physical (CD, Vinyl, Cassette etc.) piece of music you bought?
Christian: First piece of vinyl I bought was Depeche Mode – Black Celebration and last CD was Tears for Fears 2004 album – Everybody Loves A Happy Ending at one of their gigs.
Casper: When I was 8 i begged my parents to buy me Madness “Complete Madness” double pack. My first mixtape was bought for me from a friend who had lived in London for a while in the early days of the scene. DJ Sergio was his name. He put one out each month and they where mind-blowing. They were so well put together and it gave me the inspiration to release my own monthly mixtapes here in Dublin. My first
“mature” piece of vinyl was “There but for the Grace of God” by Fire Island.
8. Tell us something about yourself that might surprise people?
Christian: I practice yoga & meditation
Casper: I don’t watch mainstream TV, at all….
9. What five tracks are you currently loving the most at the moment?
Christian: Circulation – Red (Silinder Mix)
Casper: Magnetic Brothers – Reincarnation Robert Hardy remix,
Laurent Maldo’s remix of our track – Transfer (not released yet),
Inkfish – Beforethewar (Barry Jamieson beatless mix)
Tuxedo and Monojoke – Neuro Sonic
OP1 – O which came though Proton’s pack recently. 15 minutes of weird ambient.
10. Which producers consistently inspire you? And where else does your inspiration come from?
Christian: Producers who inspire me, Slam, Moderat, Apparat, Tale of Us, Roland Klinkenberg, Oliver Huntemann, have each made me think about sound differently, in a way that has helped us develop our own Phraktal sound. My inspiration comes from various different sources, I could be walking down the road and hearing the way a piece of metal is hitting off rock that gets me inspired to sample the source and work off the folly to create something from that. I suppose in a lot of ways different environments are constantly influencing my tastes, watching movies and hearing dialogue that I want to sample is something which happens regularly.
Casper: There are so many good producers out there it would be hard focus on just a couple. That being said, I have always thought Charlie May has that something a bit special. He just seems to nail it every time and his stuff has remained timeless, which is a very difficult thing to do in this ever evolving scene of ours. My inspiration comes from the belief that if you keep doing what you do well, the rest will follow. The dream would be to make a solid living from the music itself and not have to take in all the noise elsewhere!
11. There are countless producers out there trying to find their way and create their own unique sound like you have, what advice do you have for them?
Christian: Have fun and experiment is my main piece of advice, its important to be fearless, to try lots of different techniques and most important for me, get lost in the music.
Casper: Do what feels right and go with your gut. I see so many young producers out there being influenced by what their mates are doing or what they should be conforming to. Throw the rule book out the window, stay true to what you think is good and if it’s good, it’ll be picked up!
12. If the final DJ/live set of your career was next week what would your last track be?
Christian: That’s a really tough one, could possibly be Spooky – Little Bullet [Live Version] or Capricorn – 20hz, both I have so many fond memories of playing and in my opinion they still sound as fresh as the day they were made.
Casper: I’ve always said that I’d like Brainchild “Synfonica” on Eye Q to be the one song I’d love to hear played at my funeral. I suppose that’s as final a set there is…
‘Mindshapes’ is out now on ICONYC, you can purchase the release: here