In this edition of My First CDR we discuss the experience of taking your first trip down to CDR at Dance Tunnel with Octo Champ, a DJ and producer who moves between South London and Scotland, and makes sumptuous textured dance patterns.
When and how did you get in to making music?
I come from a very religious upbringing so my first steps out into learning and playing music as a teenager were in church… an interesting way to get into it to be honest! I picked up the guitar but I never went through that standard process, like learning Wonderwall or Hotel California… I just crammed the basics – barre chords and a minimum of theory – and tried to jump straight into writing songs. I was desperate to write but lacked much technical ability, which I guess edged me towards music production: I could record, sample, and rearrange sounds in a non-linear way which made a lot more sense to me… and I’ve been hacking things together that way ever since!
Your music deals heavily in textures, groove and percussion. Who are your influences?
I think the creative process is a complex system – the smallest changes in inputs can create massive changes in outputs – so everything you make is the result of a million different influences. There are loads of artists and records which I love and they definitely influence me… but at the risk of dodging the question a little here, when it comes to sitting down and writing something I draw the most from the places I live and work, the friends I spend time with and the parties I end up at.
You work in a visually creative sphere as a video director. How does that complement working on music?
For a long time I tried to keep things separate… the video stuff was work and music was for fun but recently the two have merged and it’s been a good experience, where I’ve learned a lot more about both and discovered parallels in the workflows. I definitely think about them both in the same way, and when I’m editing video I’ve started to notice I make cuts and jumps the same way I’d edit sound.
Have you a favourite club and/or soundsystem?
I love what Rye Wax are doing at the minute – they’re making great bookings, but more importantly developing a really diverse and welcoming community. There’s just a really nice vibe about the place!
Do you prefer dancing or DJing?
Both! Have to admit I find it difficult to stay still behind the decks, I get a bit of a ridiculous dance going on and often face a barrage of cringeworthy snapchats the next day.
You recently attended CDR for the first time. How did you find it, and what was it like hearing your track on the Dance Tunnel sound system?
It was great! A little bit daunting, as the pals I was going with weren’t able to make it and I nearly bailed out of fear of going on my own – but I’m really glad I didn’t. From a production perspective, I could hear problems with my track that I wouldn’t pick up on studio monitors – the way the bass was traveling in that sort of space, for example. Playing a track to other like-minded producers really helps you see it from a more objective viewpoint too. It’s a little nerve-wracking at first, but when you see a few heads bobbing it’s a great confidence boost.
Can you describe your current studio production set up for us? What takes centre place? Do you have a go to piece of kit to get ideas going?
It’s pretty basic! I use Logic X on a 2009 iMac with a couple of Yamaha HS5s. I use a Microkorg – mainly as a MIDI controller but occasionally as a synth – and I’ve got a Zoom H4n which I use both as an audio interface and for field recordings. My techniques are a bit primitive, I think… I just drag and drop lots of samples and recordings, do a lot of timeline chopping and make these horrendous-looking complicated projects, but it works for me so I try not to question it too much!
You named your self-released debut EP last year “Blenheim Gardens” after the estate you live on in Brixton. To what extent does physical environment influence your creative output? Or did you just think it was a cool name?
Oh it’s a massive influence, definitely, and something I love exploring – at the minute I’m spending a month living in a small town on the outskirts of Glasgow, and without intentionally changing the sound I can feel the influence it’s had on everything I’ve worked on up here. I’m excited about the CDR x Dimensions project this year for that reason, it’s great how you guys recognise how essential local environments are to a producer’s output. *(“Blenheim Gardens” will be getting a re-release later on this year on Boutade Musique).
Any advice or words of warning for producers/music-makers developing works in progress to play at CDR?
Don’t overthink it – just burn the disc and get down there! It’s a unique experience, I’ve not come across anything else like it. One tip: listen to your final bounce all the way through before you burn it – I realised a day or two after I came down that my Logic flex markers had glitched for the whole last minute or so of the track making loads of the percussion out of time. Thankfully on the night the DJ mixed the next track in before it hit that point and nobody noticed!
We couldn’t finish this interview with out asking the question everyone wants answered. What are the origins of the name Octo Champ?
Haha, it’s a bit of a silly one to be honest – ‘octochamp’ is the title given to a Countdown contestant who wins all eight of their qualifying matches. I wish I could say I’d achieved that level of prestige myself but unfortunately I just came across the word while on a wikipedia spree. Seemed a bit of fun at the time and five years on it’s stuck!
And make sure you bring your works to Dance Tunnel this week, all details on the Facebook event here.