John Heckle is this month's guest on the Join The Dots radio show on Pulse. The Liverpudlian technical whizz was discovered at the Cavern Club in the city by The British Murder Boys at the tender age of 15 and hasn't looked back since. Well known for his ambitious live technical set ups and skills behind the decks, his tracks have been signed to the likes of Mathematics, Tabernacle and RBS and Heckle is now gaining a solid reputation for himself across the UK and beyond. We catch up with him to see what's what in 2012.
Pulse: You started performing live at an early age, tell us how that all began for you. John Heckle: I've been playing records in clubs since I was about 15. At about 17 I got hold of a cheap 909/808 clone and started mixing in live drums at my DJ gigs. I didn’t do a full live show until July of last year at Slabs of the Tabernacle in Glasgow, but I have been putting live drums in my shows for the past five years.
What was the first piece of kit you bought? And what's your favourite now? I got a Roland Juno G (also with my brother). It’s a digital workstation keyboard. I made the first few tracks with that alone. Really cool piece of kit. I’m not sure I could pick a favorite piece of gear, they all do different things well, but I guess I like the Juno-106 for the bass sounds. And the Kawai K4 is also nice.
You were 'discovered' by British Murder Boys in Liverpool- how did that change the game for you and are they still an influence now? I used to do warm up sets for them when they played at my brother’s night in Liverpool. That was a massive deal for me at the time, they were absolute idols. My brother got Regis to listen to a track I had made and I guess it snowballed from there into what became a release on RSB with a remix from Female, which was a huge honor. I still have all their records, which I have been digging out at home again recently.
What's more important to you, playing live or production? Well, they aren’t mutually exclusive in my opinion. The vast majority of releases I have had in the last 18 months have been recorded/played/sequenced live. For the most part I like the idea of a piece of music being recorded in one go, like musicians would have had to do before technology allowed otherwise. I think that a lot of electronic music needs that human touch, it adds a nice paradoxical feel to the music, especially when considering the equipment used to produce it. Playing live shows in front of a crowd are especially exciting: it is what it is on the night. I think this projects onto the crowd, as there always seems to be a good buzz when doing a live performance.
You've released in the past on Tabernacle, RBS and Mathematics records. How choosy are you about the labels you work with and which labels do you most admire at the moment? I am glad to contribute tracks to any label releasing good music, and if it is time permitting. Mathematics and Tabernacle are where I would call home- if I had my choice then I’d love to still be contributing releases to them in the future.
Which single piece of work are you most proud of? I think maybe ‘Life on Titan’. Obviously it was the first track of mine to be released on Mathematics, so it was a big deal. That track could easily have not worked, as I was trying to put a lot of different ideas into that one track: a lot of different time signatures and such so that not one point of the track exactly repeats itself i.e. the percussion, bassline and synth are all working on different time signatures, so that they 'orbit' around the 4/4 kick, which is the constant (the smallest orbit – or repetition - being the bassline, and the longest orbit being the percussion arrangement etc, so that they never collide or pass each other at the same point of the constant for the duration of the track). That was the idea at least. Another one I like is ‘Voyager (Voyeur)’. The reason why I like that one is because I had to do more recordings of it than any other track to get it right. Originally it didn’t sound the way it does now: I sent the original version to Jamal but he didn't think it was finished. I did a few different recordings before he suggested doing a ‘French Kiss’ style break down. So I added that in, as well as a bassline change and brass synth arrangement that was influenced from a lot of italo tracks I was listening to at the time. It completely changed the energy of the track.
And where have you most enjoyed playing recently? It was a great year for gigs so it is hard to pick a favorite. Amsterdam was awesome, as well as Dublin, London, Berlin, Bristol, various Slabs parties, and Robert Johnson was an honor to play at. But the best has to be this warehouse party I played in Paris recently. Great crowd. I was playing live and the screen on my sequencer scrambled half way through the set, so I was powering through the set with no visual point of reference, which actually led to some interesting improvised moments. It was a fantastic gig.
You released your debut album last year to critical acclaim, where's your focus for 2012? I have a track on Skylax coming out soon and an EP for Crème Organization which I am much looking forward to. I'v just had a remix for Tr-One out on Apartment Records. I'm also working on some new stuff for Tabernacle. I have a lot more in the pipeline, but I won’t tempt fate my talking about it until the projects themselves are complete.
Photography by Andrew Ingram.
For more on John Heckle, head here