Following on from the rather massive Azure single, Slam bring you their outstanding fourth studio album HUMAN RESPONSE. Not content to stand still, this album sees Stuart McMillan and Orde Meikle pick up the techno baton, twisting the genre even further still, to create a forward-thinking new sound all of their own. These are artists at their creative peak. In this technological age Slam utilise the human touch to inject a myriad of emotions into their electronic machine music. The end result is much more than a collection of tracks. HUMAN RESPONSE flows and grows and, in an era of single track downloads, Slam provide an album that you can listen to from start to finish.
HUMAN RESPONSE opens with "Subject Invisible", a sublime haunting piece of introspective electronica that sets the mood for the journey ahead. "No One Left to Follow", the first of two collaborations, follows, as My Robot Friend delivers a hypnotic vocal over an intricate dubbed-out, deep, twisted modern day work-out. "Weekday Mourning" with its poignant strings is next. A warm emotive interlude which leads on nicely to last year’s "Looking North", (one of the highlights from Soma 200, written specifically as a taster to this album), re-edited and remixed. This is an epic, soulful, Detroit-inspired excursion that weaves a web of glistening, unfathomable melodies and intricate percussion. "Ghost Song" is a swinging, jacking spiritual anthem with syncopated sequences and spacey chord triggers, already a big favourite in Slam’s sets. Next is "We Medicate", an unusually dark, filmic, epic slice of electronica. Add to this, the talent of long-time collaborator, Dot Allison, fresh from her tour with Massive Attack and duets with Baby Shambles singer Pete Doherty. Dot adds her own eerie enchantment to the track making it one of the albums undisputed highlights. "Reluctant Traveller", a beatless, high octane, synth-led expedition, spaced-out and emotional, leads perfectly into "Azure". The first single from HUMAN RESPONSE, has already caused a stir, gaining support from the likes of Laurent Garnier, Sven Vath Mandy, Radioslave, Carl Craig, Josh Wink and a whole host of others. Already huge, this tune is predicted by many to grow further and become one of this Summer’s anthems. "Staccato Rave" is 21st century twisted techno mayhem with unexpected twists and turns. During this dark experimentation the album approaches its ethereal climax before the freakish "We’re Not Here" kicks in, with its hypnotic rhythms and tripped-out sounds and percussion, it bleeds intensity from its pores. The journey ends memorably with the aptly named "Memoir" and its dark edged beauty. Slam respond to what they see around them, releasing an album brimming with emotion and honesty, uplifting and beautiful electronic music, with that moody Slam undercurrent. The end result is a soundtrack for now and for the future.
Interview with Slam by Kazuumi Ishii
You have had a career which spans a very long time, and looking at when you began in the early eighties we have seen tremendous changes in technology, we have seen tremendous changes in the attitude, the journalistic attitude, the going back to news of the superstar DJ kind of thing, what is your take on the then and the now in a nutshell, the pro’s and cons’ ?
We used the name Slam for the first time in July 1988 as the name of our club night which was an acid house party in Glasgow – we had heard about the Hacienda in Manchester and Schoom and the trip in London and of course Amnesia in Ibiza. We wanted to create something similar in Glasgow and we got a dedicated crowd of 400 kids from all walks of life coming together for something completely different. We were young too and we just tried to get as many house records as possible then we had luminous banners and acid oil lamp projectors and a strobe and a smoke machine. It was like being at the start of punk rock – nobody had seen or heard anything like it and a small number of people wanted to belong to it.
Because of ecstasy arriving in small quantities – people who used to be hooligans (roughians) joined in and became loved up too !
In the next 2 years we made friends with people all over the UK – there were small scene in most major cities and then we went to Ibiza in 1989 and experienced Alfredo playing the closing party of Amnesia.
Although we made some money – nobody considered the club scene to be a business and the right people were involved through a love of partying and music.
In the nineties it became a big business and a lot of the wrong people decided to get involved to make money out of the scene. It was very commercial in the mid nineties and the type of people who became clubbers were almost like the people we wanted to avoid when we started Slam !
Since then techno has gone underground many times and its not mainstream anymore so we enjoy it more again.
The great thing now is that drugs are not important and the music and the sound systems are incredible.
We can suit ourselves with the music we make and play and its still popular in an underground way – most people are into guitar bands or hip hop and R&B so techno and house is more close to its original position but with recognition.
Its influenced all kinds of music and advertising and production but there is a style of music which is big on the dancefloor but you never hear anywhere else again.
Now, about your new album, Human Response… I personally think this is the most beautiful and soulful album I ever heard for a last couple of years. Can you tell us the concept of this album ? How did you come up with the title like "Human Response" ?
The title came last almost – we wanted to make an album to please are fans and please ourselves and not try in any way to become more popular or commercial.
We took some time off touring for the first time in 15 years and we had a normal life at the weekends for 3 months and we spent time with our families and friends. We worked very hard from Monday to Friday and then we spent another 3 months producing the music we had written.
Its has the elements of electronic music that we love in there – from dub to techno soul and some dancefloor elements but not took any – its important for an album to work on many levels – to sound good in the car or on the iPod but also before and after you go out at night and we think we have achieved that. The name came after it was finished and it works because we have put emotion into electronic machine music.
I was also very impressed with the quite wide-ranged soundscape you created across the album, very eclectic. From what kind of music did you get inspired or influenced in producing this album ? Maybe the excitement and high intensity mounted from the crowd because it’s Human Response album ?
Yes the crowd reactions we get when we play out feed straight back into what we do in the studio.
Also we wanted to create deep and emotional music that worked without the usual drums from dance records – more electronic inspired tracks as well as dancefloor inspired records.
We looked at your album cover and we think it is really cool, and funny, and a few people in the office think it gives them a bit of an oriental flavor an oriental look, how much did you get involved in the art direction of the cover work ?
We get involved in that we try to chose the best artists to make the cover – but in the same way that we would not like to be told how to make music we do not try to change things too much once the idea has been chosen and so we let the designer (called Lung) finish it in the way he thought was best. Its very fresh and different and human !
How do you feel about the recent minimal revival that’s sweeping the house scene, has that influenced you ?
We see minimal as another development of techno and some of it is amazing and some of it is not so good – like everything the original ideas shine through and things that sound the same as something else do not inspire us. Techno and house have always evolved and its good that the loopy techno that was getting boring has been surpassed.
I know running a label isn’t easy, but what do you think is the primary reason for being able to stand as one of the best techno/house music labels in the industry ?
We have a love and a passion for the music we release – we do enough business to keep the office running but we do not have a pressure to make profit for ourselves because we are busy making records and touring and promoting club events like Pressure at the Arches in Glasgow and the Slam Tent at the T In The Park festival in Scotland. So we never have to release commercial music – that way we can stay part of the underground and experiment with artists and music. Also the artist’s feel part of Soma and they want it to continue as well.
So, what’s your most favourite track out of all the quality music you have ?
A difficult question ! The most successful tracks are "Positive Education" and "Lifetimes" but we are also proud of many more like "Dark Forces" and "Stepback" and more recently "This World" and "Azure" of course.
How do you constantly manage to seek out talent like Funk D’Void, Percy X, Silicone Soul and Alex Smoke ?
All of the artists you mention here are from our home city of Glasgow and we got to know them through the club we run and they were all happy to be part of Soma – more recently Alex has started his own label called "Hum And Haw" and Percy X has done the same with "Edit Select" so we have propagated the next generation which makes us proud. Funk D’Void lives in Barcelona now and he is planning to open a club their called "Antidote". In the past we have also worked with Daft Punk in the early days and they have had the most amazing career.
Because Soma is willing and able to release artist’s debut material we are good at developing things and a trusted label with artist’s (ourselves). INVOLVED IN THE DECISIONS.
Digital download has certainly become the order of the day, and websites like Beatport are proving popular. What is your strategy for digital music distribution ?
We sell our music on all the digital sites and we have a close relationship with Beatport. Its the way to go in future because for a long time kids were taking downloads and swapping for nothing so the artists were getting no return for their efforts. Its still true that most music is taken for nothing but at least the fans can buy the downloads and give something back to the labels and the artists who need to eat of course Soma digitized the entire catalogue 2 years ago – it was a big investment for us but we can now sell it all from somarecords.com.
Therefore do you support copyright management systems like WMA, or support non-DRM downloads ?
We support non DRM downloads and we ask people not to steal from us unless they are poor !!
Can you give us any sneak previews, anything in the pipeline from Soma Records ?
Yes we have a brand new album from Vector Lovers called Afterglow – very deep electronic – almost ambient in parts – great atmospheric record. Then we have a mix CD from Andrew Weatherall called Sci Fi Lo Fi.
You’ve been working together since the early eighties so we wanted to ask you what is the secret ? Surely you’ve had some arguments how do you keep going ?
We are like a married couple sometimes ! but we work well together although its important that we both have our own studios so we are not always together.
Are you finding it a lot easier in the studio now ? Can you sort of read each others minds ?
Yes exactly – things are going really well in the studio – since the album we have remixed UNKLE and DK7 and presented a track to Plus 8 for a compilation Richie is putting together.
Well I wanted to ask both of you how much time you spend listening to new music coming through ? I mean, are you wearing an anorak all the time listening to everything you can get your hands on, or do you try and involve a lot of other things in what you do ?
As DJs its our job and passion to listen to new music – although lately there are so many genres and so many releases digitally that we have to be a bit selective and go for first artists and labels we like.
What about the community of artists in Glasgow at the moment ? There’s you guys, Alex Smoke and Vince Watson…
Glasgow has such a healthy electronic music and club scene as well as being a place for guitar groups like Franz Ferdinand. As well as Vince and Alex there is Optimo, Rub A Dub, Harri and Domenic from the Sub Club, Michael Hunter (aka Butch Cassidy). Lots of younger acts like Marcia Blaine School For Girls.
What is your, and your peers, general perception about the Japanese techno scene ?
Everyone loves playing in Japan and there has been some interesting music and the odd producer who makes a names for himself in Europe.
So many art forms have evolved because of surrounding circumstances – political unrest or injustice, and I think the struggle has been a huge aspect of the evolution of techno sound too. Do you agree that struggle creates stronger or more influential art, etc ?
There is a struggle between freedom and police state and permanent war at the moment.
It means people need music and the emotions that brings and the live atmosphere – to rebalance themselves away from normal controls. Also in developing as a techno artist it can be a struggle because its still underground in terms of exposure.
Humans are hesitant to accept differences, especially when the issue comes to areas like race, religion and politics. But on the other hand, we can sometimes be quite tolerant of differences on a few areas, like music. Do you think music can still unite people ?
Music unites people everywhere and on a daily basis. And now with technology its can bring people from all over the world together.
Do you have a message for the Japanese fans ?
Thank you for taking the time to read this interview and please check out our new music on myspace.com/slamofficial. We hope we will be playing there later this year or early 2008 – we have loved Japan and the Japanese people on our previous visits.
No One Left To Follow, 12"
Human Response, CD
Vector Lovers – A Field, Digital
Soma 223D (2007)
Vector Lovers – Afterglow, CD
Soma CD061 (2007)