While the trainers here at Liveschool make music across many genres, most of us have a big gooey soft spot for techno and old school house.
Pretty recently, we all converged upon discovering a a string of records from Adelaide record label Untzz that totally blew us away. Across their releases, there’s an amazing cohesiveness and authenticity as well as a lot of weight – and I mean that literally – all their releases are on 180 gram vinyl! As far as the mood, perhaps the Bicep (aka Feel My Bicep) crew summed it up well recently when they exclaimed “I mean I wouldn’t say it’s particularly avant-garde, but in Adelaide in Australia there’s this group of guys that have a record label…called Untzz and everything’s on the label is like pure machine music and dark as fuck“.
Thom and Yama from Liveschool stayed back late one night and had a colorful one hour recorded conference call with Alex Fimeri and Brad Shawyer (the luminaries behind the Untzz label who produce under the names Hvck and Babicka respectively), discussing their production and mixing processes, the Adelaide scene and music in general. The Untzz crew also put together an amazing photo tour of their studio for you to drool over which we’ll be posting here on the blog soon.
As the soundtrack to your reading, we recommend listening to the preview mix of their BDOH001 release (a four track compilation) in the below youtube video.
So, who is Untzz?
Brad: I guess it’s somewhat mine and Alex’s thing – we were the ones that had the concept and started the label financially, but really it’s a five man crew with ourselves, and three other cats making music as well. All up it’s myself, Alex, Harry, Miles & Will that have been the foundation for the label so far.
Alex: We were all sharing a studio space and it got to the point where we all had pretty solid material all at the same time, it made sense for us to do something like this together, so it was definitely a case of being in the right place at the right time for all of us.
What’s the scene in Adelaide like for the music you’re playing, making, and releasing?
B: It’s not a particularly massive scene in comparison to other cities, but it’s extremely loyal and quite personal. It’s made for a pretty good response for the music we’re putting out as Adelaide folk generally like to get behind local music.
A: There was an interview on TEA a few months back with Phil who runs Cuckoo, and the interview was titled ‘The City of Churches and Two Clubs’ and that kinda sums it up. There’s pretty much only two places where we can do what we want to do, and people are going to be appreciative of that. We throw a weekly party on Saturday nights at Sugar, with all five of us rotating through the DJ roster, we have a few other friends coming by and there are also some great guest DJ’s quite often as well. That’s been a good gauge for us in terms of what’s happening across the globe which has been a big inspiration for both DJing and making tracks.
Keeping on the Adelaide angle, who are your local heroes, mentors and influences?
A: Definitely The Carter Bros. They’re from the other side of the mall, and play at Cuckoo on Saturday nights. They’re great mentors across the board, not just musically. They’re really authentic blokes from country Australia, and absolutely rip the 909/303.
B: I think HMC laid a strong foundation for techno and house music in Adelaide as well, he is an absurdly great DJ and a lot of his earlier work is comparable to techno founders like Juan Atkins, Jeff Mills etc.
A: Also Hans, the guy that owns Transition Records. I think he has probably had the biggest effect on Adelaide in the last 12-18 months. It’s arguably the best record store in Australia and to have that in as our regular record shop is a blessing. I think he’s also responsible for a new wave of young DJ’s coming up at the moment that are light years away from the stereotypical young DJ. There is a massive crew of young heads playing and buying records in Adelaide thanks to Hans.
Do you feel like being from Adelaide is part of the Untzz identity and image?
B: Most definitely, I mean even though there are five of us involved in the label. We definitely aren’t all high school friends or anything, we’ve met through great parties and mutual friends which is such an Adelaide thing because it’s so small here, especially in underground music circles.
Cool. So moving on, Untzz seems to have a big focus on vinyl. What’s the deal?
B: It’s not 100% exclusively vinyl only (every record we press comes with a bonus track that we give away for free download).
We both definitely love playing records but there’s no point limiting yourself in what you can play. I can’t afford everything that I’d like to play, so if I could only play vinyl I think my set would become boring after a few weeks. – I definitely wouldn’t be able to change it every week, and when you’re playing for 7-8 hours every week you want to stay relevant and exciting.
Vinyl is cool to have, for sure. Especially when you’ve got your mates buying them as well, it eggs you on, it’s like collecting Pokémon cards or something (laughs) – you’re always trying to get better records than your mates.
Listening across your catalog theres a real cohesiveness in the sound of the mixes, it got me wondering about whether this comes down to your mix process and mastering, what can you tell us about that?
B: The mastering’s all done in the UK at Precise by Sam John.
A: Brad’s had his finger in most of the mixes because he has a really good sonic understanding of how the songs are meant to be treated before they are pressed to wax. On top of that, we all use a lot of the same gear which gives it a pretty similar flavour.
Before a track is finished and sent to mastering we always have a few sessions with two or three of us and sit there trying to get towards the sound we can all agree on. When we’ve got our levels right we bounce down into four or five stereo busses e.g Kick, Snare, Perc, Bass etc. then run it through our mates SSL and what’s that green thing called?
A: Yeah the Cranesong and its fucking amazing. It brings all the sound together and we did it on all of the tracks.
Cool that makes sense (laughs). So are you guys collaborating on tracks, or are all the artist names individual?
B: There are some collaborations coming up.
A: Actually theres one collaboration on the A side of the second release. Thats Dass and Mic Mills together, but there’s so many (collaboration) tracks at the moment and they will start showing up on EP’s or the next release that we do. Maybe a few will pop up on free downloads. Everything’s sort of up in the air at the moment.
Cool cool, yeah we wanted to ask about your release schedule and how many tracks you’ve got up your sleeve. Also how quick do you turn them over?
B: Yeah, I don’t know we push in short waves.
A: Yeah we’re pushing all VA’s (Various Artists – as in a compilation) at the moment but I mean depending on how busy we are in the next month it could be put out in three to four months. If it takes four months it will be probably coupled with a few other releases. We try not to stick to any sort of plan, but we don’t want to sit on anything too long either and get sick of it.
B: Basically because the vinyl process takes so long you kind of sit on tracks for quite a long time, waiting for them to happen, but then you start writing new music which you like heaps more than the old stuff. It’s a joke because you end up sitting on a huge bank of tracks waiting for the whole process of pressing to catch up.
What process do you go through to know whether a track will sound good in a club?
A: We have the privilege of Sugar having this incredible Bozak rotary mixer coupled with a decent Funktion 1 rig; it’s pretty much the most honest mix of it you’ll ever hear. It’s really crisp, really honest. So we go in 8:30 at night before the club opens and try out a bunch of tracks, testing our mixes and also we test out the masters that we get back. We have all been DJ’ing there for so long, so we know the system so well now anything that sounds off at Sugar, definitely sounds off. We listen through the sound system seven to eight hours every week and it’s the most honest feedback we’ll ever get.
What rack gear are you guys using – we recognised some in the photo but not all of it.
B: Well there’s the DP4, that’s a good one – that’s like the ‘Daft Punk Phaser’.
Yeah I’ve got one too, what do you end up using the most on that?
B: We usually just go through the presets and take it from there.
A: What about that Oizo preset?
B: We bought ours off of Donnie Sloan (Empire of the Sun, Ladyhawke) and his patches are pretty mental, so we usually start out with them and tweak out from there. He has a really sick one programmed called ‘Mr Oizo’ that does some cool glitched out verb shit.
A: The space echo got used a fair bit. There’s also an Oberheim Matrix 1000, a Roland super chorus, and an Alesis Microverb.
What’s the most used piece of hardware in the studio?
A: The Juno 106, as well as the 303 (Roland Tb-303 Bassline) and 606 (Roland TR-606 Drum Machine). When you get those three together all synced up you can start going on driving sequence voyages. The 303 is midi retrofitted, so you can send sync and midi in and out of it. We could send sync from it to the 606, and the Juno 106, and then just have this stupid fat 303 sequence playing alongside the Juno and 606, but that hasn’t seen the light of day on any tracks yet. The 303 sounds so fat and you can lose yourself messing around with it it, but there was a lot more drinking beer and playing with those knobs than there was actual recording happening. It was just like ‘how sick is this live techno’ – a carton of beer later and it’s 10pm and we realise we should have started DJing at Sugar an hour ago.
I know the Juno 106 and 303 are pretty easily available as software options, as are the 606 samples – what do you see as the advantage of owning the real gear?
A: Yeah. Turning the lights off, burning some incense and doing that shit before or after you go out is pretty real.
What controller are you guys using?
A: Akai MPK49
Where does Ableton fit into your workflow? Are you mixing in it? Writing in it?
A: Everything really, it’s our only software tool. It’s too quick not to use. I was first exposed to Ableton by Brad, we didn’t really know each other that well, but we were told by our friends that we’d get along really well and we decided to have a studio lock in and get to know each other.
B: A bit weird in hindsight.
A: It was pretty weird. He basically taught me the ins and outs of Ableton. I was using logic before – and from that moment on, I haven’t opened Logic, I haven’t needed to. Ableton’s just so quick to get what we want to do done. Especially syncing analog gear with everything else like a quantised and processed kick drum.
B: Yeah like once you’ve got a template, you can have whole tracks down in 15 minutes, maybe less. I think when you can make music that fast you can capture a vibe instead of just painting out a “perfect’ track.
A: That’s not saying we work for 15 minutes and have a track done, it’s more about having an idea, and then being able to flick all your stuff on, press play and everything’s running and within 10 minutes you’ve got those ideas on paper. It’s the quickest way to sketch and then there’s no reason to leave Ableton once you’re there, it doesn’t slow down which is cool.
Yeah we often talk about it here that the software never gets in the way when the creativity’s flowing
B: Yeah not all it’s completely transparent in terms of having an idea and just doing it.
Also that you can see it through different views. I start with recording loops into session view, then record them into arrangement view, and then I’m almost ready to mix.
A: We had an APC in the studio for a long while, it came out and got used for a solid amount of time and I think that changed the way we all wrote as well. I think that took everyone from the arrangement view to session view.
You guys mentioned templates, what does your template look like?
B: They change all the time. For example I was borrowing our mate’s (Roland) 808 and just set up a standard template with 10 or 12 mono channels just ready to go. It depends what’s going on, it changes with what gear we’re planning on using and if we’re planning on using something for a couple of weeks or whatever like we did with the Roland 808 then we save a template.
Where do your ideas start? Do you start from scratch or with samples?
A: Definitely both. If we’re up at the studio together and you’ve got hardware running and syncing and what not, then we probably start with that first then bring some sort of drum or vocal samples in later.
B: The music I’ve made at home compared to the music I make in the studio is quite significantly different as well because of the start point. I work with heaps more samples at home because I’m just on my laptop.
A: There’s been a lot of very non-untzz stuff done that way as well, a lot of RnB and a lot of poppy stuff.
So most of the material that’s made it out – as output of the label – was actually composed in the studio do you think?
B: I think stuff that’s made it out so far is about 60/40. Sharing a studio is obviously great but you need that time away from the group atmosphere to finish stuff off and sometimes to develop an idea worth pursuing.
A: It was a really good space to go and add that hardware and live element and get the vibe going. Before we had the studio it belonged to Sid (The Swiss) and Aaronak and Tom Cotter, before that it was Phil (Cuckoo) and The Carter Bros so a lot of cool releases have come out of there. So there’s just this kinda vibe about the whole space that when you go up there you’re going to get serious with what you’re going to do up there. On top of that, the copious amounts of stolen wood paneling, all the drawings on the walls… and plus it has a really good view, basically a 180 degree view from the hills to the city.
We know you guys are losing the studio unfortunately, so what were the memories that come to mind as the ‘highlight reel’ of your time there?
B: Alright, oh man. This is hard.
A: I think having 5-6 person jams in the small studio. We’d hit record at 1am and jam until 4am and then everyone would just lose their shit because it got real silly. You look over and someone’s playing the Coke bottle, someone else is playing the back of the guitar with a maraca or whatever. (laughs)
B: There were definitely some weird weird hour and a half takes. (laughs) That was definitely one highlight. I reckon another one was after Todd Terje, we had a kick on party back there and some guy managed to piss in the corridor, it was the most random disgusting thing I’ve ever seen. Not sure if that’s a highlight or a lowlight.
But it comes to mind?
B: Oh absolutely it was an unforgettable one that’s for sure. Building walls, we built two walls, we’d never built walls. I felt like a man after I did that, it was sick.
I know Alex plays guitar – who on the label plays instruments.
B: All of them actually, apart from me. Harry and Miles also both play guitar, and Will was a drummer once upon a time. I guess the funny thing is, while they can play these instruments they’re definitely not playing them in their tracks. Theres not too much weird instrumentation experimentation going on.
A: For me this is like – “I finally don’t have to play guitar” so I’m not going to. I’ll get to a point where I want to again… some 13 minute cosmic disco track or something. It’s nice playing with instruments that aren’t strings for once.
Does your musical background influence what you’re doing now?
A: Having a musical understanding and making tracks for a club are so far apart. You know more about making dance tracks from dancing in a club than from learning an instrument. As lame as it sounds, it’s more about having vibe than being a virtuoso. It’s the ones that sit on that fence that are the pinnacles – people like Floating Points, Les Sins, Thunder Cat. The ones that make really fun danceable stuff but still with such musicality.
B: Those tracks might be the highlight of your set if you even get to play them at all. But we’re not making music like that, so far it’s been very much club DJ conscious music.
What’s your synth list looking like at the moment?
A: The Hohner Pianet, it’s an electric piano. A Farfisa Organ. The Siel DK-80 is really cool. I think I got it for $80. The only other people who’ve used it are Bottin and preset #17 definitely sounds like Nicolas Jaar used it at the start of Time For Us.
How do you write your beats? Do you play them in or write them into the piano roll?
B: We prefer to sequence on a drum machine, but we are limited to what we have at the time. The 606 has really nice hats and toms, but we can’t get away with that kick. It really depends where you start the track and what’s on hand at the time, sometimes it’s basically all machine drums and a couple of samples, other times it’s all samples. We’ve got a pretty serious drum sample library that we’ve built up over the years which is a great thing to have on tap.
Are they samples of your own or packs?
A: They’re a mixture of a bunch of stuff. Luke Million went through and recorded all of these drum machines, and built a library of almost every notable drum machine ever. They did these really good samples and they got distributed around to everyone that was using his studio. We got a hold of them at some point and they’ve been provided a really good basis. Theres a few other little packs that seem good. I also use a lot of samples from funk and disco stuff for hats and what not.
B: Totally, I’ll start listening to a record and find a kick, and go and start a track form that kick or something like that. Just sitting at home playing records and waiting for a good sample to come up.
What’s your “desert island” piece of gear?
B: My laptop? (laughs). I think that would probably be the one thing that would get the most stuff done. No point having my 303 if i can’t get anything done with it. Or maybe the Hohner? I could sit on the beach writing love songs with a bottle of scotch.
What about something other than a laptop?
B: Does it have to be musical? Because I reckon I’d say my laptop charger! (laughs).
And a desert island plugin?
A: The D16 Decimort for sure. We use that on almost everything. The SP1200 preset is great, on 909 hats especially. You have to turn up the preamp though because it gets pretty noisy. The MPC60 setting with the preamp pumped but the wet dry right down. Thats the sound.
B: Sometimes you can crush it too much and loses its body, and its just all this mud. If you can get the balance right its great. Naturally the Ableton saturator would be a desert island plugin too. It’s all about the wave shaper on that. Turn the waveshaper on and you can get some really messed up effects, more so than the standard sine wave and stuff. Any sound you want a bit more fucked and strange, use the Saturator on Wave Shaper to add some colour/harmonics.
Nice. Any other tips and tricks? Are you using Convert to MIDI?
B: Definitely using Slice to MIDI, not so much Convert to MIDI. Sometimes instead of using Slice to MIDI, if I want to grab samples from different parts of a track, I’ll set up a drum rack and drag in as many samples as I might need, and then just scrub through the sound and truncate manually. Drum Racks and Audio Effect Racks are really useful.
Are you using Chains much? or Macros?
B: I use chains a little bit. Macros are something I feel like a should get into, so I could play a bit more efficiently. In my track Zero, I waived doing any crazy effect stuff with macros or automation. I didn’t go overboard on riding parameters, just to keep it as simple as possible.
If Untzz could exist at any time and in any place, when and where would that be?
Both: Adelaide, 2013!
We were hoping you would say that.
A: It’s nice having hindsight on all of those historical times and places in dance music to come up with what we want to come up with now. I definitely want to experience all these other places, but Adelaide’s got something very unique.
B: It is what it is, there’s a firm attachment with what we’ve done. If we were in Berlin for example we wouldn’t be playing at the same two clubs for years on end or hanging out at the same record store. That insular kind of thing can bring a cohesive, unique vision. A flavour or style to what you do. We hope that comes across in what we do. I think DJing at Sugar for so long it has really given us a lot of experience and training. Being allowed to play for such a long time and not being told what to play ever. Even if we are playing juke. We can really flex and garner a broad knowledge. If we were in Berlin maybe all we would be playing is techno.
What’s coming up for Untzz? What’s exciting?
A: It’s a new journey now that we’ve left the studio. It’s going to be interesting to see what people come up with on their own, because we’ve kind of had a really long time here together, finishing tracks, hanging out.
B: Everyone knows they don’t have to make a ridiculous club track now. I think we now want to hear what they’re going to do next, and what we are going to do. Thats exciting, having the ability to do that because of having our own label. It’s a blessing and a window to explore all these opportunities.
A: We’ve got some Sydney gigs coming up. Brad and Mic Mills are heading up for a Heavenly party, and I’m (HVCK) playing at Spice Cellar a couple of weeks later.
BDOH001 is sold out everywhere. BDOH002 is out now, sold out on Juno, there’s still copies available at Red Eye Records and some other online retailers. You can also check out the Untzz Webstore, where there’s t-shirts and records (sold out at the moment) available to order. While you’re at it, head over to their facebook and soundcloud.
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