Graham Goodwin, AKA SIAN, is an Irish DJ, Producer and label boss. His music, like the man himself, is arty and deep with a attention to detail rare among young DJ's. We caught up with SIAN to discuss life as a DJ and his most ambitious project to date....
CGI: Where are you at the moment and what’s keeping you busy?
S: Right now I'm back in Dublin sitting in my work area... (I tend to move around a lot so for today it’s the rug in my apartment). I got home yesterday from London (played Fabric there) and am struggling to get my brain functioning again!
I have been mad busy lately, since on top of my producing, DJing and label work, I have been doing ton of interviews and podcasts / radio stuff… which is fun actually, and gives me a chance to speak directly and honestly about some things I believe in, or I am currently creating.
I have just completed the album as you know, which was a real mammoth task being such a different approach and quite technical, so now its time to play a lot of the stuff out and tour the album everywhere over the next months. I'm very much looking forward to trying the tracks properly and testing it all on the crowd and the big sound systems!
CGI: You’ve been a DJ/Producer for some time; tell us about how it all started?
S: Well, actually I have been DJing and producing my own music for about 3-4 years properly now. Before that I was mainly working as a producer/ programmer on other peoples projects. It’s only within this period I have got to work full time on my solo stuff and tour as a DJ fully. I began by hanging out in studios here in Dublin, grabbing the occasional hour free for mixing down my own stuff. This led to me having a setup at home and squirreling away till I had a demo I was happy with.
I then sent the demo to Steve Bugs label Pokerflat and they signed the tracks straight off. This led to a couple more releases on underground labels like Aus, Karmarouge and Mule. As I grew and my sound developed I signed some things to Dubfire's label Sci & Tec and John Digweed's Bedrock label, which are more peak time and main room feeling records.
Around then it felt right to focus solely on my own label and push my own sound, which I felt wasn’t being represented fully on other imprints. So from now on I’m mainly releasing on Octopus and of course releasing this album is the most ambitious thing we could have done on a relatively new brand, but it’s really important for me to have this as a statement on my own label. And with all the superb remixers onboard it really makes me proud to be able to do it at this point.
CGI: Your biography states that you have a wide variety of interests including entomology, cosmology and marine biology. Do you think these interests influence the type of music you make? And if so, how so?
S: Definitely, my tracks are always named and influenced by my interests, I have all these aspects to consider when producing and the smallest or most unlikely things usually set me off in a direction or inspire me. Be it species names or new phenomena, I'm quite a nerd-like obsessive, even more so with the "giant library" of internet culture. I’m way too often lost in Wikipedia pages!
This wide scope of influence really resonates with the whole label vibe too, quite modern and immersed in internet multimedia. Everything we surround ourselves with at the label, the design and indeed the sounds and even track names are directly connected to this kind of hyperactive, imaginative and knowledge hungry attitude.
I think it really shows when labels have a personal touch and we feel all too often new labels misguided "professionalism" can sometimes get in the way and make things bland. We decided early to keep it real and allow our character to pervade everything we do.
CGI: What’s the 3 best clubs you have played in and why?
S: Very hard to say so I’m gonna go with recent ones... I'd say firstly : the Pod in Dublin... not just because it feels like home but its one place where if you give it out the crowd gives it right back to you. They totally get the tunes. They roll pretty hard in Dublin and the sound system in Pod is great for Techno, very clear and bass tuned. We recently had some label parties there and they rocked like crazy. Very memorable nights on my home turf.
Also Wet yourself at Fabric London, just played there this week and was superb. A very hip, friendly crowd and the most electrifying lights I have seen in ages. And, of course, they are known for their bass cones! The attitude of the promoters and the club staff is spot on. They have most details down to an art.
Moog Barcelona before it changed management. This was the spot for impromptu sweat box raves in Barcelona... a very carefree, almost grungy crowd, but this club is legendary to those who know in BCN... Being like my second home, Barcelona always has a sub culture of ravers who hit it big time during the week, a complete alternative to the weekend. The infamous Wednesday night hosted by Funk Dvoid was the reason for many a lost week in Catalunya.
CGI: What’s the worst and best experience you have had as a DJ / Producer?
S: I haven’t had any really bad experiences to be honest, I mean dodgy Mexican gang stuff or getting drug poisoned is pretty standard right? The bullshit and scene crap doesn’t really matter to me, when you consider the huge adventure all this travel is!
I have had all the usual problems. Rough gigs or Facebook weirdos, but it really means nothing to me... and I would never complain about the basics.
My best experiences totally define my life, I mean making and playing music that people see fit to bring you across the world for is something very special. Whatever I did right, I’m very grateful that I can take my own particular sound to foreign lands.
Standout gigs like Hawaii or Guatemala remind me of how surreal this all can be. There is always a point in the weekend when I stop and look around and it hits me, how hard work can start to get you there.
CGI: The great thing about the internet today is that producers can touch an international audience almost immediately, but it has its downsides. As a producer, what’s your opinion of illegal file sharing and is there a solution?
S: I have to say, as a big advocate of digital technologies, I totally agree. Being able to tap into a fan base on the other side of the planet directly from your music production software-to Soundcloud-to fan is very interesting. This can, and will, enable more piracy of course... I'm worried but also excited by what’s coming.
I think largely its the label and distributors faults for sticking with such old fashioned and outdated formats, when there was clearly a revolution in file sharing happening. Techno/electronic music people are the most versed in these technologies so the solution should originate from the dance community soon, I think.
Finding new ways of selling and marketing artists and live shows will no doubt have their initial shock phase, but in the end the plastic and wasteful expensive formats have to go! It's such a level playing field now, brand new and pure indie labels, like mine, can now compete with the established ones.
There's also the angle from producers that the more your music is heard the more your profile and name are spread. Possibly counterproductive but in general I feel the balance between buying and sharing is shifting fast, so I don't believe in trying to fight the wave. We have to be resourceful and find a way to make a business model out of it all.
CGI: What, in your opinion, makes a great DJ?
S: Foremost, I'd say it’s the music selection process, from what music you gather, buy or collect, to the selection for each particular club. This defines real DJs for me, someone that’s obsessed with new music and spends time searching for tracks. I spend literally 2 whole days a week searching and listening to new stuff. It’s o hard to maintain this habit. It makes the difference between most DJs.
The new digital technologies help to organize everything, Traktor DJ software is so important this way but it is a full time job in itself.
Other things I think are so important are presence and attitude. If a DJ isn't interesting to watch and doesn’t give some real love to the audience, I think it feels and looks weird. Personality comes through so quickly with good DJs. I mean, they are artists in many ways. DJs should be somewhat energetic and interact with people. I don't know how many times I have heard people complain about boring personality DJs who stand there with their head down moping. I don’t like clown DJs either but if some isn't enjoying themselves behind the decks it shows. After all, it’s not surgery.
When I try to call to mind great DJs I have seen the ones that stay with me are always the real selectors and party freak ones.
CGI: The description of the new album states the following... "The project illustrates some achingly smart new production techniques" can you elaborate a little?
S: It was created out of a huge amount of parts from my new tracks, combined with many remixers takes into one big session. So this is quite new way of looking at the format.
Over the course of the year the tracks were created, constantly refined and then broken down into their individual loops and sections, meshed with remixes and then effected and mixed down. It’s an approach that comes from my own DJing style. Chopping up tracks and components and making something new on the fly.
The way the tracks flow and were edited into each other, it runs like a live set or hybrid DJ mix, with all original and new parts. I also insisted including the remixes as a bonus when the album file is bought, so this makes it a kind of DJ and consumer friendly package. Digital formats allow us to do this as a label and still keep above water.
CGI: The description also mentions the album "comprising over 1013 individual clips" which suggests a level of detail and dedication not often seen today. Was it tough working with such a large amount of material? How do you keep the production process flowing?
S: My god yes! It was the hardest project I have ever done. The sheer amount of files and loops/clips was enough to drive me to distraction. Then getting the individual parts to work with each other and to tune the musical parts, it was hectic to say the least. I'm very glad I did it and I don’t believe it’s been done before in this way.
I think it now journeys along well as a long listened LP. I kept the whole thing moving by standing back and really listening and doing this in different locations too helped. I tend to work lying on the floor, sitting by the window, on trains or planes...all over. So this helps me get out of that classic producer staring at a screen trap.
CGI: You’ve listed a who’s who of remix talent including Carlo Lio, Gui Boratto and Jonas Kopp among others (all of whom we've seen recently). Who were you listening to growing up and how did you shift to the dark side?!
S: Yeah, the whole list said yes right away so I got to really have my dream team on the project. These guys are standouts in the scene for me, real talented and hardworking guys. They surprise the audience every time.
My initial influences were people like Dave Clarke, Slam, Juan Atkins, Carl Craig...all of whom blew my mind and made me really curious and fascinated by rhythm, synthesis and the emerging 90s techno scene. This outrageous bright explosion of electronic music happened and I thought I'd like to try to contribute. It really pleases me to be a small part of the scene and offer something musically nowadays.
In terms of the dark side... and I‘ve heard this alot lately!! I don’t feel like I make necessarily dark music, its quite emotional and melodic in ways, same for my DJing. Although thought of as a techno artist, I play everything from dub to house but mixed in a very techno way.
CGI: This LP has a feeling of 4am in a warehouse in Brooklyn somewhere. Had you any particular ideas for the sound you wanted to create before you recorded or was the process more organic?
S: Great! That's a nice compliment and actually I played a very nice warehouse party in NY recently (for anyone that hasn’t been to a Blackmarket Membership party-you need to go)… so yes, "warehousey" is definitely something I aspire to sound like.
This raw, industrial and creative vibe of those type of atmospheres is an idea I hold in mind when making music. Sometimes its space specific you know? Like when I get something started, I'm thinking, this would work in a particular club or space.
I guess a lot of my music is suited best to big dark rooms. For me, when a track develops it always has a mind of its own and sometimes takes you out of what you planned and ends up more deep or tough than you expected. Another very exciting and mysterious thing about techno!
CGI: What do you think of the current state of the EDM scene in Ireland? You certainly don't hear this kind of music played in rural Ireland - at least not where I'm from?! Can we be converted?! How does it compare with the scene in Spain?
S: I think there is a scene just barely alive in Ireland. Mostly in Dublin and Belfast, and yes, perhaps the whole country is lagging.
As can be expected, the rural fans have to travel to the main cities to see big international acts, and they are coming occasionally... but in general it’s not as healthy as Ireland should be.
We have very draconian licensing laws so this puts the focus on alcohol consumption, not music. I'd be very happy to see the laws returned to later opening hours in order for a more fruitful scene to appear and give the promoters a chance to make a profit. This is a huge part of youth culture and its being ignored by middle aged and disconnected voters.
Check out the review of Sians latest LP here!