Bill Youngman, live at Krake Festival. Photo by Marco Microbi; courtesy the artist.

Bill Youngman, live at Krake Festival. Photo by Marco Microbi; courtesy the artist.

With over a decade in experimental techno (working with the likes of Jamie Lidell and Cristian Vogel), and years more in production, Bill Youngman has earned his veteran ribbons. But this isn’t about the past. This is about what happens when you switch on the machines and make music that can only be heard live once, music you have to dance to in the instant. It’s electronic music with the spontaneity of traditional instrumental music, inside the dance idiom.

And yes, you can dance to it – it certainly had me shaking around in the early Saturday morning of Krake Festival, itself a venue for mixing experimentalism and dance music. (Happily, the video is dark enough that you can’t see me, even up front watching Bill at work.)

Youngman isn’t alone in making music this way, but that’s even more reason to talk to him – as experimental techno is more vibrant than ever, and “live” doesn’t mean simply dropping some tracks into Ableton and mixing.

Now on Killekill Records, Bill is a master producer, but it was getting to hear him live that had me hooked. We talk about that and some encouraging words for the scene –

– and the soul inside Bill’s machines, and how he’s gotten closer to them.

Ghosts in the shell? Lots of Elektron owners swear by their drum machines, but Bill tells us developing communication skills has been vital to his music. "They have hearts, just like humans. At some point, it just becomes second nature and performing feels effortless, the same as dancing and getting lost in it. " Photo courtesy the artist.

Ghosts in the shell? Lots of Elektron owners swear by their drum machines, but Bill tells us developing communication skills has been vital to his music. “They have hearts, just like humans. At some point, it just becomes second nature and performing feels effortless, the same as dancing and getting lost in it. ” Photo courtesy the artist.

CDM: Listening again to the set, it’s rather extraordinary to know that this is a live set, and not prepared tracks or clips, in that it does sound polished. At the same time, it has this feeling of improvisation that you probably would miss in a studio album. How do you walk that line, aesthetically speaking? What does it mean to be live – what should a listener be able to actually hear?

Bill: Being truly live is for myself a physical and mental movement from the body and mind that gets transformed into a sound collage that, with the help of hardware devices, keeps the everyday club-goer on their toes. At the same time, it gives the purist listener / observer more to look at and enjoy from the performance aspect. It’s a personal challenge for me to embrace the audience with a show that can also be enjoyable to watch, not only to dance to.

It’s evident that there was a lot of preparation – a lot of un-improvised work to enable improvisation. How did you go about preparing this set?

Well, preparation, that’s a tricky question. Over 15 years of interacting with hardware improves your communication skills with the machines just as it does with any other entity. They have hearts, just like humans. At some point, it just becomes second nature and performing feels effortless, the same as dancing and getting lost in it. Some factors only come from learning by doing. The ear can be trained to almost instantaneously know what frequencies vibe together.

From the more technical standpoint, I basically create a load of patterns and samples into the three boxes I use live and feel out in the moment, what will work together with what other combinations on the spontaneous tip.

Move over, CDJs. Bill is going to take this one off auto-pilot and make it live. At Krake. Photo: Jens Kilz.

Move over, CDJs. Bill is going to take this one off auto-pilot and make it live. At Krake. Photo: Jens Kilz.

Tell us a bit about the machines. How are they configured together? Why Elektron? (Not doing an endorsement story for them here, but I did notice an all-Swedish trend in your stage rig, so let’s find out why!) Are they now your main devices for the hardware live sets?

I’ve tried out many different combinations of gear, but at this current time, the Elektron series are doing the job in an extremely solid manner. I’m using:

  • An Octatrack, for the longer atmospheric samples and a bit of percussion,
  • The Maschinedrum with UW, for the simpler back beats, running through a small leveling amplifier, and
  • A Monomachine for synths sounds and sub bass.

All three of the machines can be heavily adjusted in real time, so there’s loads of room for experimenting onstage, and it’s quick to get out of a sticky situation if one or more sounds are not harmonizing with each other.

Are you doing laptop live sets, too, or are you now committed to the hardware route?

In the past years, I’ve indeed incorporated a laptop into my sets, due to their sheer power and convenience. I assume that’s why so many hardware acts have turned to computers. There’s literally nothing to carry, and MIDI controllers allow for total control. You don’t get any hassle at the airport and miss flights due to bomb scanning. At the end of the day in the club, it’s simply gotta bang, no matter what medium.

Your music has some really dense sounds, and doesn’t shy away from big, cavernous reverbs. Yet stuff really does cut through. How do you conceive keeping space and definition in this music – in terms of timbre, or for that matter, rhythm?

Keeping space and definition is an ongoing field of research. Knowing what works together is trial and error, as I mentioned earlier. Simply maximizing all sounds will not give more volume and punch, but rather clutter many of the fundamental frequencies ,which are characteristic of each sound in the spectrum of a composition. There have been times when I let everything run at the same time and have encountered many sonic traffic jams.

I’ve also learned a lot from being onstage — that space is your friend. Let sounds breath and give them enough room to move around and feel comfortable in their own environments. I’ve spent many years designing my own sounds and tweaking the existent.

youngman_bioshot

Your music definitely has some edge and aggression, and it’s of course tightly synchronized – this is still really techno – but it doesn’t lose a sense of fluidity in that. What sorts of feelings go into those grooves; what kinds of inspirations?

The inspiration dates back to when I was solely a party goer and oblivious to how the music was made. I never forgot the early days of listening. That said, my efforts go towards making compositions that sound fluid and are not obvious where there source is from. Once you produce for years, when you hear someone else’s work, you tend to analyze. I’ve been at that point ,and it makes listening to music with a fresh ear almost impossible. The desire to enjoy goes down and down. I’ve been fortunate enough to be able to turn that part of my mind off in the last years and simply listen without barriers.

Can you tell us what what the label Killekill has meant for your current projects?

Killekill has been a saving grace for my productions. I didn’t really know where to put out music a couple years back, and I wasn’t really consciously looking for an outlet. DJ Flush from Killekill got in touch out of the blue and wanted to hear my current productions. We spent lots of time sitting in my studio listening and analyzing the chain of events in the scene in the previous years and picked a selection that would then become Killekill 003. Since then, we’ve continued to do the same and I highly trust his ear.

Killekill has become a family here in Berlin. Between the records and the parties we have a excellent platform for experimenting and pushing the sounds we personally love.

What do you have lined up for the future?

I currently have multiple projects on my plate, some alone and some with others. There are a slew of releases and projects in the works at the moment. I’m taking a breather from touring to get them all done but you can’t force inspiration.

But I must say underground / experimental techno on a whole is so vibrant in 2013. I’m constantly inspired and I’m addicted to creating like never before. Oh, and an album will be ready start of 2014.

Do you have any words of wisdom for the younger up and coming producers trying to get their careers off the ground?

Create for yourself, and from your heart, first and foremost. If the music is right, then it will get recognized on its own. Make your absolute best work and be present. If you can change one persons life with your sound, then you’ve pretty much made it!

Stay tuned and thanks!

Bill Youngman: https://www.facebook.com/billyoungmanelectrostep
Live Video Filmed and Edited by: Lucian Busse – Alien TV, https://www.lucian-busse.com
Killekill Records: https://www.killekill.com/
Link to set: https://soundcloud.com/billyoungman/bill-youngman-live-krake-1

  • radley

    FYI, there’s actually a different artist that goes by Mr. Bill, who happens to be a brilliant glitch hop artist.

    https://soundcloud.com/mrbillstunes

    • http://pkirn.com/ Peter Kirn

      Yes, though I think the skit came first. Anyway, changed to avoid confusion, since I was just being cheeky.

  • Elektronic

    It seems many.. many electronic artists use Elektron gear these days. Lets hope each one carves their own unique path with them.

    • Darlene

      There’s all sorts of music being made with Elektron gear. Especially with the Octatrack, lots of possibilities. Such as: inkjetmusic.com/grandma-tapes

  • Yanakyl

    Thanks, that’s inspiring.
    I’ll listen to the set after champions league matches. :)

    • Yanakyl

      Wow that’s pretty tough

  • heinrichz

    Sounds okay..now what exactly is gained using ‘hardware’ over just using a computer, when sonically you could do the same with a few controllers, Ableton and some well produced clips ? Is there a big conceptual point to be made, when the main thing should be the sound design and composition ? Not to say that he is not coming thru, but i do find the sonic palette of these machines overall a bit limiting compared to computer based instruments…and i sure love techno.

    • Nagasaki Nightrider

      These machines may not pack the processing punch of a laptop, but they are capable of vast variety of sounds and sequencing options compared with what techno was first made on. The Octatrack especially, since it is such a robust sampler. Anyway, a big part of why people choose these boxes to perform with is the feeling of playing with purpose-built hardware running an OS that does a few things really well. Sure, you can map a thousand different parameters to any generic MIDI controller and manipulate sounds in a similar fashion, but it never quite feels the same, in my experience. Elektron machines, in particular, are optimized for live tweaking and ease of use while patterns are playing. To mimic everything that they are capable of doing right out of the box, you’d need a very complicated MIDI controller mapping scheme indeed. I do agree with you that you can hear the Elektron-ness of that set in the recording, in the drums in particular, but on a club PA, I’m not so sure I’d notice that as much, which I think is the point. While you lose the fidelity of triggering mastered 24 bit audio clips in Ableton, you gain an extremely durable and playable electronic instrument when you use machines like that. They almost never crash, no hard drive to fail. Those things matter to someone who travels. Also, it forces me anyway to use my ears a bit more rather than constantly looking to a full-size screen for cues. Writing, combining and manipulating step-sequenced patterns on the fly with a clutch of X0X style drum machines is a very particular kind of experience that any techno lover should try at some point. The good news is that from the few Bill Youngman records I have, he clearly takes advantage of a wider range of production tools and methods than this set might suggest. Some lush and experimental analog goodness to be found in his discography.

    • http://pkirn.com/ Peter Kirn

      Well, he answers that – twice. It seems he has a years-long comfort with the Elektrons. But he also talks about the advantages of laptops and says ultimately it doesn’t matter.

      So the answer is, really, nothing – not fundamentally, anyway. They’re two means to the same end. But comfort in improvisation is important, so that could mean either could be a better choice. Some people will be more comfortable with the laptop.

    • Simon

      I make music with both computers and a hardware setup (MPC 1000, EMX, analog echo, yamaha mixer and RNC on the master). With the computer, I feel I am limited by the unlimited possibilities, if that makes sense. Having a set of dedicated functions and controls forces me to focus on the music and not on the engineering side, like choosing which of a million virtual knob I will assign to one of 8 encoders. When working with hardware you also gain some kind of muscle memory which makes you much faster. I have a hard time explaining to people how to do such and such function on the MPC because getting to it is more of a reflex than a conscious thought.

  • syntheticjuice

    God stuff.. especially the section on space and reverbs.. it sounded really nice in that live set!

    • syntheticjuice

      Good stuff too. Haha typo.

  • Jordan

    Machinedrum is spelled more like Native Instruments’ “Maschine” in the hyperlink above.

  • cooptrol

    I loved this article. Hardware only has been the choice for me for many years now, and I can say that this decision has taken my music to a new level. Always using Electribes and some other stuff like Nord Modulars and different small synths onstage, I am now ready to try Elektron. For me live improvisation with hardware has gained a lot of terrain over DAW-oriented composition, although I still use software for multitrack recording and mixing. I am telling this because I know this has been a tendency for many many people lately. For me the EMX is like an old cherished guitar which I can play for hours with my eyes closed without mistakes. It gets really physical. It is not that I discarded Ableton completely for live situations, I gave it many opportunities in the past years. Last time I used it I had a closed-lid-laptop setup with a Launchpad and a Nocturn, with some custom Max For live sequencers, which worked well but limited in many ways. At one point I realized I was trying to imitate a groovebox, so I went back to Electribes. Nowadays I can do 2 or 3 hour long sets at clubs using just 1 pattern on the EMX and modifying it, although for more concert/experimental stuff I program some patterns beforehand. Elektron is the next reasonable choice, but I doubt they can be as intuitive and fast as the EMX, which is in my opinion a masterpiece for improvising musicians. That ribbon is unbeatable.