Interview With Marc Houle

Interview With Marc Houle, from Mnml.nl


What’s your influence for the music that you make?

I rarely ever listen to modern techno music except of course when I am at the clubs, so I am influenced by pretty much everything else but. I think you can get more ideas from non-techno tracks than techno tracks. I might hear a weird spring reverb from some old country track that would trigger an idea for instance. Minimal techno is all about the sounds and sound placement and by listening to other types of music you can hear new sounds and unique gear that will make your music different. I am often really bored from what I hear out at clubs – it all seems to be regurgitations of the same thing. Shuffle toms with sub bass are the current poison. I want to hear new things and new ideas and so much stuff out there is the same old. I want to hear people taking the music they are given a few steps further.

Are you planning to produce different styles of music when minimal is ‘over’?
For me the techno I make is not by choice but out of love. I could never just switch to house or something else because it’s not in me. I would rather just start gardening and keep music as a hobby if there were no longer a demand. .

Do you still enjoy releasing tracks? with so many tracks out there…
I don’t really enjoy releasing tracks too much. I have fun making tracks and playing tracks out live but I really don’t care too too much about releasing them.
That being said, I am proud of my releases and know it’s a part of the overall message so I know how important it is.

I release new creations from the studio every time I play out live. So a new song is being released in a way every time I play out. But unlike the label releases, I can get an immediate reaction on the people’s feeling of the track and that is much more satisfying than getting some Beatport numbers.

Do you think that Minus has lost focus on what matters most (the music)?
I don’t think our focus has strayed away from music at all. I think people have started to take the label and over analyze things way too much. We are a group of people who love to create and play music.

Like the last contakt show, we spent so much time developing sounds and ideas for the show and working on our live/DJ combination and also developing technology to make this whole thing work but some people cared more about the poster or the shape of our cube computer. I think also, an important factor is that most interview questions are about non-music related things so there is much more out there regarding our non-musical lives but in reality we spend like 99% of our time creating music. I think if you were to hang out with us every day you would see that it’s all about the music and nothing more.

What are your thoughts on piracy and how it affects producers work?
The whole piracy thing is a giant grey area. And I think every artist feels differently. I owe lots of my early experimentation and learning to piracy – when I was young, and not able to fork over the tons of cash to buy most of the software, I mostly pirated. But I learned and developed loyalty to different softwares and now that I can, I buy it all and am very happy to do so. Without those early days, I would probably be using Ableton or Logic instead of Cubase in the studio or not even be able to make music now. I think everyone would pay for it if the price was right – we all have it in us to reward the people making this stuff and give them money so they can continue and develop their product into better versions.

I also HATE copy protection and dongles – there is always a hacked way around it so it just seems to hurt and cause headaches for the people who bought it.

As for music and movies, I think the same thing goes. Many times I go to the Itunes store to buy something and either it’s unavailable because I am Canadian, not yet released in my region or the price is so much it’s unappealing. It’s an awkward inbetween stage between the old business model and this new digital distribution so people are slowly shifting to an optimal method but for now it’s really awful. I would rather get 5 cents from 10000 people than 25 cents from 1000. If the system was cheaper and more convienient, everyone would be paying because it would be much much easier than pirating. Also I think it’s retarded when companies are out there complaining or suing people for piracy. Do they really think that that is the answer? Keep the way things are now and just sue people to deter piracy? Make an inexpensive, easy to use and most of all convenient model and everyone will gladly pay.

I have a song “Selection 12” but when it got pirated it was all over as just “Selection”. So when people come up to me and request “Selection” I know they pirated it. But that just means there is something wrong with the current delivery and pricing system and I never think negatively towards them.

But, I also think that a DJ who uses our music should definitely be buying everything when he can because he is making money from it. We work extremely hard to make this stuff. And it really annoys me when bloggers take our promos and dump it on the net so they can look cool. Have a little respect for us and try to wait at least until the release date.

What was the first piece of gear you purchased, do you still use it?
The first synth was a JX-3P. I used it alot and had a nice digital sound with analog filters but it was just too thin sounding and as I learned more about synths, it got used less and less until one day I gave it away.

How on earth do you map your Ableton? (believe me: I stared at your Mac several times but didn’t get it.

My Ableton map is a mess. When I first started, it was all nice and organized, column one was bassline loops from all the different tracks, column 2 snares, 3 hihats, 4 synth1, 5 synth2, etc. This was great cause I could play whatever loops I wanted with whatever effects I wanted. But this took lots of time to prepare. Because the amount of tracks I make every week, to cut them all up would be a full time job – plus the fact that many songs I may play once or twice then never play them again. Also we are always using different setups and gear so things are always being shuffled around for pseudo organization.

So now I still have all those loops from those old tracks, plus the loops form the new ones that I really like and will play a lot – But I also have new songs split into 2 or 3 channels, usually the main track without drums and a synthline seperated so I can mix a little better. But if I make some songs the day before a show – I will just bring the whole thing in just to test it out on the audience and see if it’s worth cutting it up when I get home.

I also have all my drums seperated on other channels so I can control them with the Monome. That way I can bring in snares, claps, hihats in and out and change things from normal to hard techno if I need. Plus it’s lots of fun playing with the different snares live. I used to bring a jomox but this Monome+samples+step sequencer method seems alot more free and way more fun for me. Last week I grabbed one of those Korg nano usb keyboards so i can play melodies or make stupid solos while I am on stage.

The thing I like about the way I do things is that it’s very flexible. It’s so messy that every time I play I find old pieces of tracks and it’s always different.

How do you make your basslines?
I am always trying to do things differently so I don’t have a real formula for making basslines. But here are some ways I have done some in the past…

Thirds in Trees – used a bass sample as a place holder then later replaced it by playing along with a real bass. A real bass to me adds a different natural feeling that you lose when you only work with samples or perfectly timed synths. Having the same notes repeated over and over again, but never the same tone, timing or duration is a nice change from the standard.
Selection 12 – Wrote it using a real bass through a Roland Chorus Echo. The drums were also played live in a studio for a sloppier feeling.
Edamame – wrote the bassline in Reason on a subtractor then exported the midi notes to an Arp 2600 via a midi-cv converter
Kicker – triggered arpeggio on the Juno 60 – probably my favourite bass synth – really nice and clean.

it’s really nice to have the bass notes on the 2’s and 4’s as to not interfere too much the the kick drum notes but It’s easy for it to be overused…. so most times I just sidechain the bass compression so I can stick the basses wherever I want or make sure I use a mid-rangey kick like a linndrum or something. As long as it’s not the same old approach it’s more more fun to make and more interesting to listen to.

I pretty much never wash a whole track up with sub bass – many people do that but for my style I really love the empty spaces between the notes.

How many unreleased tracks do you have? (Is it as many as Aphex?)
I have a few thousand unreleased tracks but they all aren’t techno – some ambient and minimal new wave stuff in there too. Most of them aren’t good but I like to make lots of experiments as an exercise in making music. Does Aphex have lots of unreleased stuff? I would love to hear some other songs from the Richard D James ‘Come to Daddy’ era.

Is this scene as creative as it used to be ?
No I don’t think so and yes I do. As for music production, in the past everyone had so many more influences so you would get such a wider feel of experimentation and variety. People had a few pieces of gear and would make the most of things and push everything so much more. Now it seems that most music is just a variation of what already exists in the scene. But with new wares popping up everyday, there is much more changing in music than before. The learning curve for music has virtually disappeared and so you are getting so many more influences and releases in the mix which is a great thing. So I guess it’s similarly creative but for different reasons and maybe harder to notice because there is so much copying and replication going on.

You’re known for your love of vintage hardware so as things move more into the digital age and away from analog, what one piece of software most inspires you at the moment?
Just because the digital possibilities are expanding doesn’t mean the Analog side is shrinking. So much of the digital plugins can really enhance what you do with analog machines and often times breathes new life into forgotten synths. Finding a balance is always the most important thing. Lately I have been using the Sound Toys plugins alot. They have a really nice sound but because of stupid dongles and copy protection, I don’t use it live. But in the studio, those things are really really great . And there is rarely a track that doesn’t have at least one instance of the PSP Vintage Warmer. Running a real 808 kick through the vintage warmer doesn’t seem to make sense but sonicly it’s great. There is no way I could do any of the music I do without the software supporting and recording all these machines. Balance is good!

Why do artists (who are involved with other labels), when releasing on Minus have a new alias?

Just to keep things separate in everyone’s head. People seem to think that we have some non compete contracts with Minus and we aren’t allowed to release on other labels. I could release loads of tracks on some other label as Marc Houle but that would hurt my label.

Choose: Playing for 50.000 people that would swallow anything you’ll would give them, or playing for 100 people that would absolutely murder you for the mistakes you (could) make during a set?
So swallowers versus murderers? I will say I much prefer playing for smaller crowds who are into it. But it’s also a great challenge to convince people who love commercial music that the Detroit way is the good way. It will make you sweat and work much harder…and they usually have better monitors.

Do you ever think about releasing on another label and if you wanted to would you be allowed to?

I really don’t think about releasing on other labels but I am totally free to do so if I wish of course. To the outside, Minus is a label but to me it’s the name for the group of friends I have. I think we work great together presenting a package of music we love to make and to dilute that would be counterproductive.

When will you release your track “Salamandarin”?
I just finished polishing a bunch of tracks up for a small release including Salamandarin so probably very soon – that plus the London Contakt show is why these questions took so long – sorry.

What got you into techno in the first place?
I was making electronic music since the 80’s and really had a passion for it but it was after going to the Detroit parties in the early 90’s that I really found a style of music that focused more on the sounds and the machines that produce them. I spent lots of those early days working on tracks with Magda and she really brought the best out of me.

If you had never gotten to know Richie like you do now, do you think you still would have made such impact in Techno?
Probably not to be honest. The only reason people heard my first releases is because it was on Minus and the only reason people came to see me play was because I was playing with Rich or had the Minus logo next to my name. But without the Minus opportunity I don’t think I would have shopped my music around and tried to get signed to some techno label. I wasn’t looking to get signed or make a career out of music – I was happy to keep it as a passion.

Do you pay attention to your sales, release dates ..etc in the market or do you not give a sh!t?
I don’t care about them until they hit 0 then I gotta figure some new career out. But it’s really nice to know that my work contributes to the continuation of Minus financially and that people out there like to dance to the music.

What inspires you to make the kind of music you make?
Everything from waking up to a melody in my head, to buying some new synth to getting a new reverb. I don’t get inspired from other techno tracks ever because I try not to listen to them unless I am at a club.

Actually one of my biggest inspirations is getting the weekly call from Magda and her asking me to make a certain type of track for her to play out. It’s how I started making techno and continues today.

Are there any future Run Stop Restore projects in the pipe line? / Will there be more ‘RunStopRestore’ music released in the future?

We just released that ‘Helen in the Keller’ track but we don’t have any other tracks in the works. We do have lots of unreleased and partially done music that we could release if it didnt sound so dated already. Right now the 3 of us are working on Items and Things. We have decided to really work hard on that label because we found some really nice music from the demos people sent in to our website and thought it should get out there.

Did you attend any music institution or did you teach yourself how to produce techno music?
I grew up with a piano and drums and then bought some synths. I can only read music very slowly.

Is imagination more important than knowledge?
Definitely.

When did you quit your ‘day job’ to live from music only?
After my first show at BeatStreet in Berlin many years ago.

I want to start to produce music, but don’t know exactly how to start. What software and hardware do you recommend I start with?

Get Ableton, do all the tutorials then, you are a producer.

How do you spend your days? Is it mostly in the studio?
Yes!

If you could remix any one track what would it be?
‘Pocket Calculator’ by Kraftwerk

Do your tracks sound the same in your studio as to when they are released or there’s something more going on after you render them? Like mastering, post-production, additional mixing?
They always go to mastering. It’s as important as a good mix.

Coke or Pepsi?
Neither – sometimes an Afri-Cola

Who would win in a fight between Richie Hawtin and you?
Haha – me of course.

Did you buy a Richly Hawtin shirt?
Nope.

Do you feel that you are restricted when making music so that you make music to suit the Minus ideals?
I have never made music to fit Minus. I make Marc music.

Wanna buy my Juno 106? (serious – it’s in perfect condition, sounds amazing, looks museum-like)
Nope. Want to buy mine?

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