The Exchange: ELLLL x Sunil Sharpe
Artwork by Mel Keane
Sunil Sharpe cut his teeth in Dublin’s techno scene before moving on to regular gigs in the likes of Berghain, Fabric and Concrete. He regularly releases his own tracks and others’ on his imprints Earwiggle, Tinfoil and On the Hoof.
ELLLL is a producer, DJ and musician from Cork and a founder of the Gash Collective, a support platform for Irish women in electronic music. Her ‘Romance’ EP was released on Art for Blind Records in January. In the first of our monthly series of Exchanges, ELLLL and Sunil talk tempos, trainspotters and inspirations.
Sunil: I remember the last time I was talking to you, were we talking about ride cymbals?
Ellll: I think so yeah. I was really into cymbals and hats. I mean I still am but I was going through a big ‘all about the cymbals and hats’ thing for a couple of weeks.
Sunil: You mentioned Dave Angel and I think he would have been classed as, for want of a better word, in the “jazzier” side of techno albeit some of it quite hard.
Ellll: Oh yeah, what was the one I was really obsessed with for a while? It was on R&S… ‘First Voyage’. I can’t even remember how he came up on my radar; the first track I heard sounded so grimy and modern, then I listened to the rest of it and thought ‘this is amazing’. Some of his other other records are a bit jazzy alright and not really my bag, but just looking at it he was really banging them out in the early ’90s.
Sunil: Yeah, so many of them were prolific and just found a way of firing the tunes out. I wouldn’t even say with him that he found a formula, some producers like that did and if you go back to their records, there’s not that much depth to them, but if you go back to his there kind of is.
So do you consider yourself a techno producer as such?
Ellll: Yes and no, it’s definitely been one of my ground influences for a long time. There are other elements that weave in and out, but i do find myself gravitating back towards techno a lot. There are times when it does get a bit, derivative, when you get bombarded with an influx of things that are quite similar. But i guess that’s like any genre though…
UK bass and stuff like that as well, i’ve always been a fan of music that has a heaviness to it.
Sunil: Was UK bass and Dubstep a gateway into techno for you?
Ellll: No, not at all, funnily enough i just missed the Dubstep boat. I started getting into techno with local gigs. Ben Klock would’ve been one of the first techno gigs that I attended. One of the biggest things that pushed on my production was listening to a lot of Emptyset. I thought ‘oh my god’, I want to listen to this on a big system.
Sunil: It’s quite harsh some of it, isn’t it?
Ellll: So harsh, yeah! That would have been the background I was coming from, listening to a lot of drone and metal. It just slapped me across the face, I just thought I wanted to make music like this (Laughs)
Sunil: There’s a lot of quite metallic and harsh techno music out there now. I feel a bit of a disconnect to some of it. There’s a lot to be said for the funk that has been in techno. One of the things that flipped it for techno last, was coming from UK bass and dubstep, when bass became important again, when there was more movement in the low-end. It was a good thing that rubbed off on techno. Techno has reached a sort of darkened out state now, where it needs to be shaken up a little bit.
Ellll: I kind of agree with you there. It can get too serious and people can get obsessed with the noise and bleakness of it all. It’s nice to hear music that while still being very well produced, you can hear that the producer is having fun and not taking themselves too seriously. Either with a swinging bass line or a sample, but it doesn’t have to be bleak always.
Sunil: Yeah and if everything is bleak it loses its potency. In a DJ context anyway, there needs to be a contrast and different moods are essential. I’m not here to bad mouth techno, but I felt 4 or 5 years ago that house and techno converged, where the tempos matched a lot more. Now the tempos have risen a lot in techno, while they have stayed the same in house. I’ve felt a divide again, and feel it’s healthy for techno to not be running too far away.
Ellll: Yeah I’ve noticed that a lot, the speed thing. It’s almost like ‘how fast can you play?”
Sunil: Sometimes at the end of sets people will come up to the DJ booth and look at the BPM counter, more concerned with the speed you were playing at rather than what the tune was.
Sunil: I find that a bit odd. Obviously there’s trainspotters out there but for a while I found there were less nerdy anoraks hanging around wanting to know the tunes. If you’re attracting trainspotters and anoraks, I think that’s a good sign. When they disappeared, I thought fuck, we need these people.
Ellll: Yeah definitely, I think it’s always nice to have that kind of knowledge about any kind of genre, to be so invested in it and be led down the rabbit hole to find more.
Sunil: So when you were collecting music did you start by buying digitally or records?
Ellll: In my early teens I would have been a serial downloader; massive discographies, trying to listen to everything. Later I started buying records, but not djing or anything. Long before ever thinking about playing in any sort of context outside of my bedroom.
But initially, I was a serial downloader, downloading these huge files, just stupid, things you are never even going to get to, but having this feeling that I need to have it all. I need that discography.
Sunil: There is this kind of thing that you want to have all this stuff digitally but do you even access a fraction of it?
Ellll: That’s it yeah, and then when hard drives bite the dust and everything is gone, it’s like ‘did it ever even exist?’ I can’t even think of the amount of music I’ve lost on hard drives over the years. I’ll be going to bed and think what if the house goes on fire?
Sunil: Then you have to think how much of my music am I putting out? It’s probably only a small amount that I end up releasing. I think if you leave tracks for so long without doing something with them, you lose a little bit of the spirit of those tunes. I find tracks that you do something with at the time or quickly after are usually the ones that are right.
Ellll: I completely agree. The things I’ve spent ages at, they just become really tedious and you begin to hate it. The tracks I’m happiest with are the ones i get done quickly, and almost don’t break the workflow, when I keep going and it’s uninterrupted.
Sunil: Do you ever find that there are some tracks that come together too easily and then you have to question it?
Ellll: Sometimes. It doesn’t happen often, maybe once in blue moon, I’ll get something done in a day that I’m really happy with. Usually I’ll keep editing and keep going at it after I get the main idea and I’m almost suspicious of it.
Sunil: What do you attribute to making a good track? Is it being in a good mood or being inspired by a gig you were just at?
Ellll: Sometimes it’s inspiration from a gig. Especially if I’ve seen someone doing a live set and it’s just a very physical thing and you think, ‘I just have to incorporate something like that’. Other times, it might just be a really good sample that you just get carried away with and it shapes an entire tune.
Sunil: I find a slightly sleep deprived state helps. There does reach a point where you could be too wrecked to make music, but I think there’s a balance when you’re a little tired, where part of your brain goes dead to stuff around you and your mind locks into the music alone. For me that’s the best state sometimes, I’m still feeling the effect of the gig or the night before but I’m not distracted by anything.
Ellll: It’s very tricky, especially with just so many messengers, Facebook, Whatsapp, your phone going off…
Sunil: What the fuck do people need Whatsapp for! They’ve got text message, they’ve got Facebook, they’ve got their phone, they’ve got Skype…
Ellll: It’s reached saturation point.
Sunil: Will there be a backlash? Before people said vinyl would never come back, with digital everyone said ‘that’s the way it’s going now, that’s the future, sure we have to embrace it.’ Now all of a sudden, records are back and that’s great. Obviously social media is much bigger, but I didn’t think vinyl would come back the way it did and there would be a backlash against digital music. If that happened, could there be a backlash against social media?
Ellll: I wish I could disconnect. I think with playing gigs you’re kind of bombarded with event invitations on Facebook that it just becomes such a pain in the face. Especially when you want to be writing tunes or listening to music and you’re getting all these beeps. What I was going to ask you actually… you know there’s the cliché of people writing music at night? Would you fit into that? I definitely do.
Sunil: It depends on the space I’m in. For a while, I thought I was one of those people whose best ideas come at night but I wasn’t fully convinced over time. At night you can get lucky but you don’t have the perseverance if something doesn’t come together. I think there’s something to be said for your mind during the day, the volume of work you can get done is more but maybe some of the crazier and zanier ideas come at night?
Ellll: At night time I think I tend to work a bit better because of the quiet but I know I have to go to sleep so there’s a cut off.
Sunil: Have you ever felt you wanted to get a studio?
Ellll: Not really up until recently. I was chatting to a friend about it recently and he was saying how good it is that you can get up in the middle of the night and go to this space and make as much noise as you want and that did kind of appeal to me. No repercussions with neighbours etc.
Sunil: I think ideally if you’ve had a moment of inspiration during the night you should just be able to turn on the stuff there and then. If I was inspired by a dream, I wouldn’t be able to say ‘great, there’s my inspiration!’ and then jump in a car and go to the studio. I feel there’s a lot to be said for that semi-awake, semi-asleep state.
How do you name tracks? I have different methods.
Ellll: It can help me to get things finished if I have a theme but it has to make sense to the sounds I’m using. I can’t just put a theme on something. Sometimes I’ll have a sample that really stands out because it reminds me of something, i could be colour, a film, anything..
I feel like once i have a narrative then everything makes sense. I don’t like giving tracks names that don’t make any sense to me. It has to make sense in my mind.
Sunil: I think that’s the important part because sometimes people might question ‘what do you mean by that?’ and I don’t really feel the need to tell people what that name is about. As long as it makes sense to you that’s the main thing. So what have you got coming up next production wise?
Ellll: I’m looking at another vinyl release that may be out before Christmas. Then, I’m really fortunate in that I’m busy this summer which is great. It’s a good mix of live and DJ but playing live is where I’m most at home. I’ve so many things I need to finish as well, I’m trying to get better at wrapping things up. It’s hard to say to yourself ‘you’re only making it worse at this point.’
Sunil: Yeah, you don’t want to overwork them either. Do you ever find yourself going back to older versions?
Ellll: That happened recently actually where I did an edit of something and thought ‘this is way better’ but I actually think I’d just destroyed the second half of the track!
Sunil: It’s very easy with software to keep doing different things and I find myself second guessing myself a lot more. The way you can automate things it never really feels like it’s finished.
Ellll: I think it’s the most interesting when you try to make the most out of the least amount of material and the least amount of effects. You need a limitation. What about you do you have more stuff coming out?
Sunil: Yeah there are different bits and pieces coming but summer is always good for making music I find, so I’m just waiting to see how I come out the other side. I dunno about you but I find keeping busy with DJing and making music tough to balance.
Ellll: That’s something I’m only kind of noticing recently, every time I do one thing I feel like it’s taking away from the other. I can’t imagine being in your shoes when you gig so regularly as well.
Sunil: I think it’s about getting in there during the week and trying to sleep correctly. I think the thing that affects most DJs coming back from the weekends is staying up late the night you get back. Like if you get in on a Sunday evening, just to go to bed as early as you can. We should talk about Life Festival!
Ellll: Yeah, I was at Life last year for the first time and I did a live set and it was one of my favourite sets that I got to do that year.
Sunil: So you’re on the District 8 stage on the Sunday?
Ellll: Yeah and you’re on the Saturday aren’t you? I’m not sure what to expect because last year I was on a small stage but there was a great atmosphere. I’m a bit nervous but excited about it at the same time.
Ellll and Sunil Sharpe play Life 17 from May 27-28th. Tickets still available from www.life-festival.com
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