We sit down with chill-out and progressive maestro Nick Brennan aka Tripswitch as he returns to his dancefloor roots with his ‘Vagabond’ LP, gives us the ins and outs of his 2016, and plans his next moves as one of the scene’s leading producers and label-managers.
Thanks a lot for taking the time to talk to us, Nick!
First of all, can you tell us a bit about how you first got involved in the scene?
I was lucky enough to be coming of age in the late 80’s / early 90’s when the whole house / rave / club revolution was happening, and my introduction to it all was the legendary DiY parties around Nottingham, followed by Renaissance in Mansfield. I’d been an indie kid before that but was also into some electronic artists such as Jean Michel Jarre, Brian Eno and Tangerine Dream, so finding that progressive house sound with those parties, I fell right into it!
I was a committed clubber throughout the 90’s, and involved with a couple London trance parties, but then I started writing chillout music as a diversion from trying to write trance, and some of those tracks fell into Youth’s hands at Dragonfly Records. He signed me up, released a few tracks on some comps in the early 2000’s, and finally released my debut album ‘Circuit Breaker’ in 2005. That album was a big success within the chillout scene and my path was pretty much set from there. So I stuck with the downtempo stuff for years, developing and exploring different corners of that sound, before my tastes began to return more and more to progressive house. By the time I was writing it again, I was able to apply the production skills I’d developed as a chillout artist, which seems to be a winning formula.
‘Vagabond’ was released in May of this year, and it’s created quite a bit of a stir. It represents a bit of a shift in sound for you, from the more downtempo sounds of your last LP, ‘Geometry’. What has inspired the change, and have you been pleased at the response the album has received?
Really pleased and very relieved! As you say, it was a shift in sound from what I’d become best known for, and it’s always a bit of a risk taking off in a new musical direction – I didn’t want to alienate my older faithful fans who’ve come to love my chillout sound, and equally it needed to be sufficiently decent to stand up to the critique of the house scene that I wanted to break into. I guess it succeeded in avoiding both of those pitfalls as it’s still identifiably “Tripswitch”, just repurposed for the dancefloor and with the benefit of quite a lot of production and clubbing experience.
Do you view your more floor-friendly progressive sounds right now as a change in direction, or just increasing the range of genres you work in as Tripswitch?
I’m definitely not closing the door on chillout, not by a long shot. I’m still active on that scene, doing remixes, live sets and the odd DJ mix too, and I’m actually halfway through the next Tripswitch chillout album, which should be ready for next summer. So the progressive direction is definitely more than just a diversion, but it’s not the end of everything else – I still enjoy writing chillout, and dabbling in other styles too, I’m just enjoying writing progressive house more than anything else at this point in time, and it’s been really nice for me to be able to return to the music that got me hooked on dance music and club culture in the first place.
You’re back on Iboga this month with some superb new remixes of some of the best tracks from the album. How did you and the label decide who to ask to remix the different tracks? Any personal favourites amongst the new versions?
It was quite a personal curation process for me, actually, and I thought long and hard about who to get on board and which tracks to give to each artist, based on the original, the stems I’d be able to give them and how I thought they might work with and reinterpret the track. I’m really stoked with the package as a whole and I think we got it spot on.
‘Glass Heart’ was my favourite track on the ‘Vagabond’ album, and GMJ’s treatment is absolutely stellar and the perfect opener for this new EP, full of impact. Gavin’s an amazing producer and a top bloke, we’re like 2 peas in a pod and are actually just finishing off our first studio collaboration at the moment.
But, I think it’s unfair to pick out any one remix though, they’re all awesome. The original album version of ‘Vagaries’ was a real big room sound, and Kosmas and Dio S have taken it to the next level with a heavy progressive trance bassline and an orgasmic build and drop. The Nanoplex treatment was spot on for ‘The Left Bank’, their progressive techno sound fits really well with the neo-classical arp arrangements of the original, and my Aussie bros Thankyou City, have turned ‘Big Time Line’ into the most elegant, sexy and seductive progressive workout. Those boys are on fire at the moment, so I’m expecting big, big things from them in 2017.
My own rework of ‘Divine Falsehoods’ has been a real favourite in my live sets this summer… it’s a hypnotic, percussive tribal workout that really fits well in some of the glorious places I’ve been lucky enough to play my music. I think its got those Balearic sunshine vibes, but with a slightly ominous atmosphere to give it a little edge – it’s definitely one of my favourite own productions this year.
You recently teamed up with Nick Warren for a remix of Joey Fehrenbach, and that’s obviously been an important relationship for you. How did you first get involved with Nick, and how did the recent collaboration come about?
It all started when an email from Nick dropping into my inbox, some time after my first album ‘Circuit Breaker’ came out. He said he was a big fan, which blew me away, and that he wanted to use my track ‘Roll Your Own’ on his GU30 comp. I sent him another track ‘Strange Parallels’ (eventually an album track on my second album ‘Geometry’) which he took for GU30 as well.
We stayed in touch after that, he featured my tracks on other comps like his ‘Renaissance Masters’ edition and ‘Balance Series’, and we struck up quite a friendship. He’s one of the nicest guys I’ve met in music and has always been happy to give advice when I’ve asked for it. Over the past few years we’ve got closer, we played a back to back set a couple of years ago and have been bumping into each other in Ibiza and other places. Eventually the opportunity arose for us to work together on the remix of Joey’s track for The Soundgarden, which was really fun – Nick’s idea was to turn out a nice swirly chugging nu disco monster, and I think the combination of Nick’s and my sounds really worked well.
We’ve heard rumours of a new collaboration between the two of you coming in the New Year – can you tell us anything about that?
Yeah, we’ve actually got a couple coming up… One will be dropping very early in the New Year – I can’t tell you too much about it now, but it should be quite big news when it happens! That will be followed by another track we’re writing at the moment to launch a new progressive imprint I’m starting as a sister label to my label Section Records, called onedotsixtwo.
What does your current studio look like? How has the process of producing music changed since you started out?
It’s small but perfectly formed 😉 I’ve been writing in the same room since 2001 so I’m very used to the space. It used to stacked to the ceiling with synths and hardware, but I ended up getting really claustrophobic so I sold a lot of that stuff and went really Zen for a few years, working a lot more in the box and investing in acoustic treatment and monitoring rather than sound sources. It’s just in the last year or so that I’ve started to buy other gear again.
I have to ask you about your recent remix of Audioglider’s ‘Ocular Overkill’, which Tilt rightly flagged as one of the biggest tracks of the year. Did you immediately hear the potential for such an anthemic track when you first heard Audioglider’s original, or was it later in the process? What’s the reaction to the remix been like?
Yeah, that was really nice to get those props from Tilt … I was really pleased with the remix, as I was when I signed the track from Roberto in the first place. In fact, the first time I listened through to the tracks he’d gathered for his second album on Section, ‘Subaquamarine’, it stood out instantly as being the perfect single to promote the project. I mean… what an epic chunk of electro-pop that track is! When it came to the remix, it was actually pretty easy to reinterpret it for the dancefloor – I don’t remember thinking too much about it, just hitting upon the right sounds and then letting it write itself, really. Sometimes it goes like that, and it’s a gift. But I maintain that the reason that remix was so successful was because the raw materials were there in the original – it’s such a goose-bumps melody.
On that note, let’s talk about your label Section Records, which has been running for well over half a decade now. What have been some of the highlights you’ve released in that time?
I did have a bit of a shock at the start of this year when I realized we’d been going for 5! It crept up on me … which is a shame as it would have been nice to have done something more to mark the occasion, but we’ll just have to make our 10 year anniversary twice as big!
It’s been a real learning experience running a label – highs and lows, a whole lot of frustration at just how hard it is to make a profitable business from it in the current market, and a lot of work to do it properly. Our first release was my 2nd album ‘Geometry’, so that was a clear personal highlight – my first self-release – and I put everything into it. We created a really beautiful gatefold digi-pack and a load of groovy marketing collateral to promote it. It was a really fun process thinking about every aspect of the release and also learning the mechanisms behind the business end as well.
Every release is a highlight really, but I guess particularly the artist albums we’ve released from Koan, Audioglider, Gnomes Of Kush and Xspance. It was a big desire of mine when starting up Section to give a platform to more underground artists, just as Youth had done when he signed me up in 2001. It’s a thrill when you see them starting to thrive and knowing that you’ve played some part in making it happen.
Section has released some amazing albums this year from the likes of the aforementioned Audioglider and Gnomes of Kush, not to mention this month’s LP from Xspance. Why the focus on long-players in the download-era? How do you decide which projects to take on and develop?
It does seem a bit crazy I know… and I do understand that a lot of people consume music purely on a track-by-track basis these days. But, I still think there’s an important place for albums in the market, and particularly I think it’s important to really push that concept within the dance music market. Personally, I always look out for and buy albums from dance artists, and if I didn’t buy the full album it would feel like a jigsaw puzzle with some pieces missing. As an artist it’s so much more rewarding to create a body of work, an opus if you like, which allows you to explore a theme and develop a story that transports the listener. The result is a snapshot of your sound at a point in time, which I just don’t think you get in the same way from single releases. It’s what my chillout albums were always about, and I don’t see why you can’t tell a story with a dance album either, which is why I sat down and wrote ‘Vagabond’ very much with the album concept in my head. It worked really well as a transitional work to bridge the gap between my chillout persona and my progressive one.
When a project drops through the door, it generally either speaks to you or it doesn’t. Every project that I’ve released has had an effect on me when I’ve first heard it – I very much work on gut feeling when selecting releases, and usually the decision on whether to release something is made on the first listen. It’s been like that with all this year’s albums. I love Roberto’s (Audioglider) sound and am proud to have had the opportunity to develop him as an artist on Section. Gnomes Of Kush is my good buddy Tony D’Oporto, who stepped in and pretty much saved the label in 2015 when I was having a wobble about whether to carry on in the face of never making any money! I’m still a bit of a control freak with it, but it’s definitely easier with him on board. Tony’s a big dub head and weed evangelist, and he’s spent a lot of time in Mexico involved in the dub scene there. His music’s nicely understated and super smokey! He writes amazing pure ambient stuff too. He’s also brought some great additions to the label with him from his own scenes – artists like Tor.Ma In Dub, Ishdub and Displacer – and I’ve been very happy to let him explore that sound through the releases he’s picked up.
The Xspance album (‘Melodyheart’) was another that I just instantly knew I needed to release, and the perfect example of why albums still have a place today. Myles has a really refined sound for someone who’s fairly new to the scene, and the album is a well-rounded, complete and emotive journey – the individual tracks are great of course, but it’s when you sit down and listen to the whole thing with your eyes shut that it all makes perfect sense. Beautiful work.
What does Section have in the pipeline?
Early next year I’m releasing my first ever compilation, which will be a double – volume – one chillout, one progressive. It’s all ready to go, so we should be able to push that out in February. We also have new releases from Ishdub, Nick Woolfson (one half of seminal chillout act Sounds From The Ground), the new Tripswitch chillout album that I mentioned earlier, ‘Melodyheart 2’ from Xspance, and also a collaboration album that Xspance and Audioglider have been working on together that I’m really excited about too. And Tony is currently putting together the 3rd in his ‘Kind Vibrations’ compilation series of dub and chill.
You’ve got a new label, onedotsixtwo, in the works. Can you tell us a bit about what to expect from it, and how it’ll differ from Section? And what does the name mean?
Over the years, Section’s output has been pretty eclectic – reflecting my own personal tastes – I really liked the idea of a no-holds-barred, open-ended label concept, but the reality is that it’s quite hard to establish a clear label identity when you’re putting out all sorts of music. Despite the fact that we’ve released quite a bit of progressive stuff over the years, the perception of Section is very much that it’s a chillout label at it’s core, and I guess that’s correct in a way. It’s also largely been album-focused, with a lot of the EPs and singles we’ve put out being the supporting releases to those albums.
The idea with onedotsixtwo is to remove that schizophrenic element to Section Records and allow it to really focus on what I think it’s good at – sourcing and bringing to market quality downtempo albums and EPs – and to create a fresh, new, dedicated platform for progressive, deep and tech house under the Section umbrella. It will be almost exclusively single and EP-based, with a very clear house style, digital-only, and the releases will be a lot more regular than they are with Section. It will be far easier for us to market each release in a manner that’s appropriate for it this way, and the hope is that in time the imprint really establishes itself as a trusted brand in the same way as, say, Sudbeat or Hope.
The name refers to the golden ratio, or phi – roughly 1.62 – which is a pretty incredible number and is also the basis for the concept and branding for Section Records (it’s also called the “golden section”). The Section Records logo illustrates the geometry that the ratio forms, and it’s absolutely everywhere in nature – essentially it defines the rate at which things grow, which is why things like shells are often perfect spirals, plants’ leaves, veins and stems are spaced as they are, flowers and fruit can form such perfect shapes – it even applies to animal skeletons, right down to crystals and to a molecular level. It sums up the beauty of nature and has been studied and applied by mathematicians and artists since ancient times. A lot of art and architecture is created with the golden ratio at the core of the design. It’s quite geeky stuff but really fascinating if you’re prepared to read up on it!
What do you look for in submissions to your labels? Do you have any advice for producers looking to catch your ear either for Section or for onedotsixtwo?
Final selection is really a gut thing, as I said before, but to give yourself the best chance of being heard:
– Getting an email like “listen to my awesome killer tracks and sign me!” will get you binned straight away. I’m a modest guy and I don’t respond well to ego. I’ll be the judge of whether your tracks are awesome enough to be the right fit for my label
– Be friendly, make your introduction, but don’t go off on one and write me an essay. Much as I like a good read, I don’t have time for your life story at first contact – there’ll be plenty of time for that later if we take it further.
– Send me a private Soundcloud link – it’s a great platform for demos and really is the best way for a label to preview something. If I like it enough, I’ll most likely ask you to enable the download or send it to me via wetransfer or dropbox so I can have an offline copy while I’m putting a release together. Definitely don’t email me a file attachment, that’s so 2000…
‘Harmonics’ has been airing on the mighty Frisky Radio every month since July. Can you tell us a bit about how you approach the show, and what listeners can expect when they tune in?
As with everything I do musically, I’m all about building a journey in my shows – with a beginning, middle and an end, and hopefully a smooth and seamless flow that carries the listener through all those stages. 2 hours every month is quite a commitment on top of everything else I’m doing (when you factor in sourcing all the music, getting familiar with it, working out the flow) but 2 hours allows me enough room to really take it through all those stages and create the full journey. It also helps me keep on top of what’s going on in the scene, what other labels are doing, and not missing those vital releases. I’m far more in touch now than I was before I started doing the show – I’ve certainly been guilty in the past of being quite insular and focused only on my own stuff or that of the label.
Do you have any tips for producers and DJs just starting out and trying to build a career? What do you wish you’d known back at the start?
We’re in a fantastically democratized place right now in music. On the one hand that’s great, as everyone has the tools and the opportunity to get noticed – but the flipside is obviously that there’s so much noise out there, it can be really hard to be heard and really make your mark.
The best advice will always be to be true to your own sound and mode of expression – it’s your individuality that will get you noticed, not how good an impression of Guy J you can do. Anyone can put beats and a techno bass together, but it’s the hooks that will draw people in – those are what really reveal the artist within.
On a practical level – don’t be seduced by kit alone, or building up some monster arsenal of plug-in instruments or effects – in the studio, less is usually more and it’s far better to have a few go-to bits of software and learn them inside out. Good production will get you noticed as much as a good tune too, so invest your money in decent monitoring and make sure you know your room and treat it where appropriate, it will really pay off in the long run.
What do you do for down-time when you’re not making or playing music?
I do love a round of golf with my mates, and I’m on a bit of a health kick at the moment. But my main way of unwinding is cooking – I’m a keen amateur and on the rare occasions I have a weekend off, you’ll usually find me spending a day in the kitchen cooking up a storm. I’d be hopelessly slow in a professional kitchen, but I’ll happily spend all Sunday knocking up a Vietnamese feast or roasting a rib of beef!
Current top ten tracks?
(In no particular order)
Tripswitch – Glass Heart (GMJ Remix) – Iboga Records
Luka Sambe – Lucent Among Black – Juicebox Music
Kaiser Souzai – Sequoia (Marco Lys Remix) – Ballroom Records
Rumpistol – Eyes Open Wide (Tripswitch Remix) – Iboga Records
Fluente – Inner Peace – Sudbeat
Donatello & Shane Blackshaw – Catch 23 – Stripped Recordings
GMJ – Sublimate – Replug
Thankyou City – Enveloper – Section Records
TR20 – Rising Tide – Tarnished Tracks
Klätu – Gyrokite – Section Records
Thank you Aidan!
Tweets by nicktripswitch
Title: Vagabond Remixes EP
Label: Iboga Records, Denmark
Cat No. IBOGADIGITAL315
Format: Digital Download
1. Glass Heart (GMJ Remix)
2. Vagaries (Kosmas & Dio S Remix)
3. The Left Bank (Nanoplex Remix)
4. Big Time Line (Thankyou City Remix)
5. Divine Falsehoods (Tripswitch Hypnotherapy Remix)
Release Date: Out Now!
Label: Iboga Records
Cat No. IBOGALP12 / IBOGACD96
Formats: Double gatefold 12” vinyl / CD digipack / Digital download
Release Date: Out Now!