Kindred spirits: probably the best way to describe both Memtrix and Spor…
Both artists accidentally found their way into D&B careers. Both write music that refuses to sit within any confined parameters. Both motivated by the wider frontiers of their art, live performance concepts and visual aesthetics. Both pull from far-flung reference points and seem very comfortable and natural writing lyrics and singing. Neither seem happy to merely fondle fan expectation.
Representing two different generations of drum & bass (and Spor boasting a whole other universe of experience and execution in his Feed Me guise), neither of them have collaborated much in their careers but have identified something in each other that’s compatible.
This pact was first evident late 2015 with Darkest Hours / Super Trace, an explosive collaborative two-tracker released as a joint project between Lifted (the label responsible for both act’s earliest releases) and Spor’s Sotto Voce. The pact is even more evident with Memtrix’s new EP: Towers
Towers comprises three of Memtrix’s boldest, most singular tracks to date. Bringing his own vocals, guitar playing and songwriting to the fore, it marks the start of an exciting new chapter for the young UK artist on Sotto Voce.
“What makes his music refreshing is that he has a breadth of interest and ability,” explains Spor. “There are a lot of live elements to his songs and in the way they’re set out, you could imagine a band performing them. I never want to churn out releases like a factory line – I have to be interested in the people who make the music and hopefully be able to create and provide a platform for them to explore that with freedom. Something that’s fun to invest in.”
The feeling is mutual:
“It felt refreshing to release this music on Sotto Voce,” agrees Memtrix. “Most young artists in D&B in my position go with the really big staple label names and I didn’t want to do that. Plus we’re both on quite a similar level.”
Kindred spirits, you might say. We got them to interview each other…
Memtrix: This year in particular you’ve supported me a lot and had my back quite a bit. A lot of guys in my position who are just starting out don’t have that support. Was there anyone who helped you in that way when you started out?
Spor: Chris from Lifted Music was the first person in the industry I worked with who had an influence once I was established, but way before then I had a great friend called Martin who was DJing and interested in what I was doing… And had a car, which always helps. We had some key help from his friend Alan Murphy also, who was DJing locally and got us into some big shows, generally helped us along purely out of enthusiasm.
Memtrix: How old were you then?
Spor: About 17. Year 11. We’d bunk off school, drive back to my parent’s house and listen to what I’d been making. He was really frustrated with how abstract my music was – I was really into Warp, Squarepusher etc. It was pretty weird, abstract stuff. Martin would encourage me to make them a little more DJ friendly and accessible because people would buy them if they did. He shopped demos out and harassed DJs for opinions. Andy C and a few others will likely remember him hassling them. He was so pushy, which was a great help to have because I was happy working internally and only showing things off on Napster.
Memtrix: Napster? Old school.
Spor: I was in the Napster chat rooms there from the beginning. There were a lot of people on the internet who gave me confidence in my music actually. My US tour manager, for example. I’ve been speaking to him for 17 years. He and other friends from forums would give me feedback on all my tracks. All these things were stepping stones. But turning things into my own label was down to Chris. At that point I was on a knife edge; I was giving up my education and any hopes of what you might consider a regular career to make a future in music and I was extremely nervous and highly strung. But the fear drives you doesn’t it? You just need those people to help you with your confidence a lot of the time.
Memtrix: That sounds identical to how I’ve started out. I was happy knocking a few tunes out and keeping the rest to myself and not having much of a strategy. Working with you has taught me how to consider releases – how to release them, where to release them, how to present them.
Spor: You have to be that way now. Look at all the successful people in electronic music who remain relevant and progress, they’re just as much businessmen as they are music makers.
Memtrix: Sometimes too much business and not enough music!
Spor: Well yeah, I’m trying to remain positive here. I don’t want to be that guy who slags everything off. The guy whose entire timeline is stuff they miss about how things were or weren’t back in the day. There are always things to look forward to in this industry and you need to reflect the positivity you want to see in people who follow your music.
Memtrix: Yeah definitely.
Spor: So where do you see yourself in five years time?
Memtrix: I’d like to have a few things under my belt project-wise. I want to progress Memtrix to greater extents and take my music all over the world even more than it already has, and explore the possibilities of live music and other sides of art – the more I grow up, the more open minded I am about all aspects of art. The visual stuff I’m huge on at the moment and I’m hoping to expand on that.
Spor: That’s why I’m interested in working with you; it’s clear you have a broad interest in the wider idea of music and art.
Memtrix: I don’t really know where I’m heading and I want to keep it like that. That’s what keeps it exciting. Drum & bass was a complete accident – I didn’t know anything about it until I was making and releasing it.
Spor: I was the same. It wasn’t until Feed Me that I found more scope to push into new areas and have the managerial support and contacts to make those things happen at the level they needed to. Spor was proving ground – like an assault course.
Memtrix: So that drive to start a new project must have been building up for a while for you, then?
Spor: Yeah I was making all these weird things on the side. The release schedule with Chris was slipping away from what I wanted. I wanted to be more reactionary and quick with my output. You could see the industry heading in that way. Justice were coming through, there was this blog house attitude to things – if a pop track came out, guys were putting out their own remixes of it for free within days. It would get taken down but someone else would put it up. There was an excitement and a real pirate feel to it all. It was a fertile creative ground while drum & bass was about fine-tuned meticulously honed pieces of music that would be queued up for months or years to be released. I wasn’t comfortable working like that anymore.
Memtrix: Was that the MySpace days?
Spor: Yeah I set up a MySpace for the more experimental, leftfield stuff which was precursor to the Feed Me page. Like you I was coming from a different background and pulling from different influences from rock bands to hip-hop, I just happened to be making drum & bass. It didn’t feel unnatural for me to explore these sides – just like drawing doesn’t feel much different to writing music.
Memtrix: I’ve noticed you don’t often get writer’s block – you always find ways to keep the creativity, vibe and inspiration flowing. Is that something you’ve had to really focus on honing or is it natural for you?
Spor: When I started making music it was monumentally difficult to finish tracks because I just didn’t have the processing power. I had to work out ways to keep the project going. I always felt because the music is energetic and dynamic you need to be energetic and dynamic in the studio. The computer should respond to your whim – you should never feel like you’re treading water or fighting up hill to get things done. If you’re watching a spinning wheel of death it’s hard to keep that creativity going. With the Spor album, for example, I spent weeks of cleaning up and organising the old project files so that they wouldn’t crash on me and worked every time. A lot of them are very old projects that had weird plugins that aren’t supported anymore so I did all that homework before I did the creative stuff.
Memtrix: The boring but necessary bit
Spor: Yeah. So how would you improve your own workflow?
Memtrix: It’s taken me a long time to work out that simplicity is key. It’s vital. I don’t have the funds to buy the best computer in the world so simplicity has helped me keep the momentum going. But you seem to make the most out of one sound which is something I’ve taken a lot of notes from. Before then I would use plugin after plugin after plugin and it would destroy my laptop.
Spor: I remember reading a Sub Focus interview where he said he’d try to make each sound in the track sound interesting to listen to on its own. I don’t always agree with that; sometimes you’re stacking sounds to make a collective thing, but it does make you consider whether you’ve honed a sound to its full potential. It’s influenced how I paired things. I’ll bounce things down to one stem and make the commitment. Commit and deal with the consequences later. I’ve deleted whole parts of tracks and kept the sounds for other projects doing this. Just because you’re happy with the sound doesn’t mean you should keep it in the track. The most important thing is that the track is useable and doesn’t get bogged down. You have to move through it without fighting.
Memtrix: That’s another thing I noticed about you actually. You have everything backed up. Going back for years and years.
Spor: FL Studio has remained more or less backwards compatible more than many other DAWs. As long the plugins are present and most of them work then I can go right back to the early 2000s. Some of them I made on a 486 – if a modern computer can’t run them then it would be tragic.
Metrix: I don’t even know what a 486 is
Spor: A quarter of a gigahertz speed. It had less processing power than my iPhone. You’d start it up, go and cook dinner, come back and it would just be ready to use.
Memtrix: Wow. But you’d still make these very complex productions on.
Spor: We didn’t know, or have, any better. How do you feel about DJing and, given a limitless budget, how would you develop you’re the performance side of your music?
Memtrix: Like the way I found myself in the D&B world, it’s all an unknown world to me and DJing still feels like a hobby rather than a passion or a job. It’s super-fun but in terms of longevity I feel I have to progress musically and performance wise for it to mean more to me. I want to resonate with the music more than pressing play but it’s very much a party mentality – which I love – but I want to make it more meaningful.
Spor: This is something people reading might not know… You have a range of musical talents beyond what might be instantly obvious. You play numerous instruments, you sing really well and you’re capable of playing in a live setting. I can see why you might feel frustrated.
Memtrix: I don’t know about frustrated but I am taking my time. I don’t want to rush into anything and start having really embarrassing videos of me fucking up on stage pop up online.
Spor: Don’t worry about them. I get them every week!
Memtrix: You’re developing Feed Me’s performance concept again aren’t you?
Spor: Yeah I’m looking at new controllers and different ways to do more. The live show is fun to operate but I want more going on and more to do. But having that and making it bulletproof reliable every show and tourable is a struggle.
Memtrix: I guess once the live thing is nailed down then it influences the writing process?
Spor: Especially currently – a writing set up and a performance set up isn’t so far apart. Ableton led the way with live mode and recording mode ethic. There’s nothing stopping you writing a tune on the fly I guess.
Memtrix: I think, to answer your question and the one from earlier, in five years time I’d like to be doing both – livesets and DJ sets. That’s the idea.
Spor: DJing has never stopped being fun for me. Even when I’m toured out and burnt out, nothing picks me up more than coming on stage with a good soundsystem, great music and people shouting and cheering. Within five minutes I’m fully energised and enjoying it.
Memtrix: Yeah, I’ve never had a DJ show I didn’t enjoy.
Spor: What a nice positive note to end on.