A few days ago I caught local DJ/producer Retza (aka Nick) on the phone for a friendly yarn in the lead up to his set at Pitch Music and Arts Festival this weekend. We chatted about the genesis of his music career, his recent collaborative works, and the joys in sampling video games… that last point shamelessly introduced by my [video-game loving] self.
For those attending Pitch you can catch Retza playing Friday night at the Electrum Stage.
Ollie Leonard: Firstly, your online identity is quite mysterious. All you truly give away is that you are Retza, a bearded man who likes smoking and being shot in black and white photos…
Nick: It’s funny because that one promo shot of me smoking is quite old and I don’t necessarily think it’s the greatest representation nor do I want that to be the main photo everyone uses/sees of me. It just so happened that when we were at this photoshoot I was having a ciggie break and then that happened to be the best photo at that time. And now it’s the one photo that people use for everything [laughs]. Maybe it’s time for some upgraded promo shots.
What are your origins? How did you find yourself getting into music/producing – tracing back to your earliest inspiration?
I always loved music growing up. My family listened to a lot of music which is a massive influence on me. When I was in high school, I was in a band with my friends which was nothing serious. We jammed out a lot and did a few gigs. I think it was around a couple years after we finished high school we slowly stopped due to general life getting in the way — uni, work, etc. I still had an interest but didn’t know many people that were making music at the time so I downloaded FruityLoops and thought I’d just make music by myself. It kind of just went from there. I always did it as a hobby then a few years later I got better at it, started to meet more producers/DJs and began to take it a bit more seriously as a career path after that.
Originally my first introduction to electronic music was trance music like Tiesto, Armin [Van Buuren]. I remember hearing Parade of Athletes in 2004 and thought it was pretty dope, but it wasn’t until I heard Trentemøller‘s [The] Last Resort that I really started getting into electronic music. It was dubby, deep and everything in between. I’d never heard shit like that before. In high school I was listening to bands like QOTSA [Queens of the Stone Age] and Tool but when I started going out more I became more exposed to electronic music. My biggest influences then were Trentemøller, Stimming and Kollektiv Turmstrasse and even Boris Brejcha. It’s interesting to see how your sound and taste changes so much over the years.
Over the last couple years your name has begun popping up at a lot of major festivals across Australia like Let Them Eat Cake, Rainbow Serpent and Strawberry Fields. How has the transition been from smaller clubs and gigs to getting billed for large festivals?
Pretty smooth, I do like both though. I feel like when you’re at a festival there is more patience and freedom. People are always going to be on the dance floor, it’s outdoors and you have a bit more time to do your thing. Although sometimes it’s a bit hard being on a stage and so far away from the crowd. In a club there is a bit more pressure that you’re not killing the dance floor vibe and to make sure people are having a good night, buying drinks etc. Playing more intimate gigs with an up for it dance floor can be a special vibe also. At a festival it’s a good opportunity to push a new sound, play new tracks that you might not have the confidence or think will fit in a club environment. Most people at festivals are going to be having fun no matter what, the vibe is already there. So it’s important to use that to your advantage and maybe try something a little different.
Do you feel the need to produce a lot more because of that, or do you spend more time digging for new music?
I’m kind of going in phases. At the moment I’m probably producing the least I have but digging way more. I’ve been getting way more into vinyl and buying a lot more music. I think I have more gigs now but I’m also having a slight change in taste and not really where I want to be yet so it helps to take a bit of a mental break. I still write music every day but it’s just music that I’m not sure I’ll ever release or finish. I just do it because it’s fun and therapeutic.
You’ve said you keep a fairly spontaneous ‘in the moment’ approach to making your music but you’ve recently done a couple tracks with Yokoo. What differences were there in your writing process during a collaboration?
I don’t think there was much difference. Maybe slightly because you do want to stick to a certain vibe. As it was for All Day I Dream, we obviously knew we were going to make music together under that dreamy, housey, melancholy sound. With that in mind you have to stick to boundaries and maybe not insert an outrageously fat bassline!
Is it more limited working with someone else’s style or does the second mind make it easier?
I think the second mind makes it easier because you work off each others ideas. With that EP, on Equuleus I started one idea and sent it to Yokoo and on Magnetic Souls it was vice versa. Then we went back and forth a few times until we reached the final product. The track starts off as one thing and ends up completely different most of the time. It’s great because once you hit a creative wall you can pass the buck over. When I was in Berlin this past year we sat down and wrote more music together. It doesn’t really make a difference to our workflow. Although when we are on separate sides of the world we are able to work on projects almost 24 hours, which ends up being quite efficient.
Also, those songs were released on the All Day I Dream (ADID) label amongst the likes of Lee Burridge, Matthew Dekay, Lost Forest and Oona Dahl, where you recently had the chance to play at their party in Dubai? How was that experience to play as a part of that roster?
It was amazing. It couldn’t have gone any better. It was a really good vibe. ADID has always been a massive influence for me, even before I released on them. It was always a goal so being slotted in and given the opportunity to play a set under that umbrella was really cool. I feel it really suits my taste and style and it’s pretty one of a kind.
Very one of a kind. I think they really promote a strong community-like ethos. In relation to that, how important do you think those values are in the music scene?
Totally! I think when you get a collective of people that are pushing the same sound or ethos they all work off each other, promote and help each other. It’s only positive vibes and it only makes everyone better. Everyone that I have met has been super supportive and helpful like one big family. You want to surround yourself with other like-minded people and people who have been there before in order to learn and grow as an artist so it feels like a good community to be a part of.
Retza’s Top Go-To-Tracks for Festival Sets
I’ve been obsessed with it for ages. I never actually had it on vinyl, but my legendary girlfriend bought it for my birthday as a surprise. Ever since then I’ve been rinsing it!
I pretty much love every track these guys release but this has to be my favourite at the moment.
Ludwig is a genius. This track is godly. Deep, groovy and emotive.
Who is your favourite up and coming local producer?
I’m not exactly sure what constitutes ‘up and coming’ but my local favourites would be Peruw, Draso, Luke Vecchio, Michaelis to name a few. There are so many good producers/DJ’s in Melbourne. We are spoilt for choice.
With your rock background behind you, if you could collab with one musician outside electronic music, who would it be?
Um, probably Thom Yorke.
Ooooh! [laughs] Yeah just off the top of my head. I’m gonna say Thom Yorke or Flying Lotus. And Erykah Badu. That’s more than one.
Do you like Donkey Kong Country?
I think I played Donkey Kong 3 on Super Nintendo. I definitely remember playing 3 heaps at my cousin’s house when we were kids. I just remember being shot out of barrels.
Could you sample it in your next song?
[Laughs] yeah sure. You know what’s funny, actually ages ago there was an inthemix competition and it was a Street Fighter remix competition. I remember downloading all the parts but nothing ever came of it but if I could find some Donkey Kong Country sample packs I’ll get something going.
What is the most obscure sample you’ve used or wanted to use in a song?
I’m not sure how obscure, but I use a lot of animal noises. I had one track with a whale groan as the bass line and this unreleased track has some elephant noises. I do like to record a lot of my own samples too. It is really unpredictable and you can’t replicate it. A lot of it is the element of random. It’s not that I ever set out to do something, I just have a portable recorder and record heaps of random sounds. Some of it sounds good and some sounds like garbage. It’s not a very methodical thing.
You’re due to play at the debut Pitch Music & Arts Festival next month which probably has the most stellar line-up I’ve ever seen… how does it feel to be playing among such an array of big names?
It’s awesome. Such an incredible lineup. I really wanted to go to pitch regardless if I was playing or not. Being able to play is the cherry on top really!
Any plans for the rest of the year?
I plan on going back to Europe in June until about August then onto America so hopefully there are some gigs in between that! I’m in the process of doing the whole admin side, sorting my trek out.
Finally, is there anything you want to plug?
Everyone and everything that is awesome. Also, be sure to check out the Rework and Elite Tunes showcase at Pitch!
In the 1980s, Doc and Marty took millions of movie-goers on a futuristic journey and gave them a taste of what life might be like in the world of today. Buckled into the Delorean, they had to reach 88mph and activate the flux capacitor to get a glimpse of the auto-lacing Nike Air Mags and retro-themed hoverboards, which begged the wondrous question: Will any of that truly exist come the year 2015?
Well, that year is done with out and with the advancement of technology, people can get their hands on approximations of either of the two (at a pretty, pretty price) for bragging rights, their memorabilia collection or that pure feeling of nostalgia – that feeling of the time that was, for the time that is now. I’m a sucker for it and find myself chasing it through music everyday.
New York-born Seth Haley is one of those musicians who gets it. His cyber-punk synthwave jams are electrifyingly-reminiscent of the days where Arnie didn’t need to speak convincingly to gain public advocacy. Channeling ’80s and sci-fi elements, Haley takes listeners aboard his own time-travelling vessel to memories of their childhood, dreams of the future, and even into haunting emotions of the mind. While I was born at the turn of this decade and have no direct relationship to it, Seth Haley indicates how time knows no bounds when it comes to music.
Admittedly, this was my first interview – and making a dick of myself was not on my to-do list. So, by doing exactly that, I did what any brave-fool would do and asked which questions he didn’t like to be asked. “I guess for the most part it’s the name question, ‘where did you get your name?’ I don’t mind explaining it, but it’s been asked enough times that if you Google it you can find the answer.” We may not have true hoverboards just yet, but we do have Google.
Seth’s humble and lax attitude was comforting, and I discovered he’s just like any ordinary guy. He’s a bit of a gamer. Appeasing my wishes of combining the two passions of games and music, he agreed. “That’s a big thing I’ve been wanting to do”, he says, and in fact Ghostly International contributed a number of tracks to the indie game Hohokum, including the instrumental version of ‘Declination‘ from his recent Wave 1 EP. While he enjoyed having one of his songs used, Haley expressed greater goals. “I’m really hoping to sit down with a full game and score it. A full encompassing score or soundtrack.”
Inspired by the score of the latest Fallout, which Haley described as “super flaring and super deep”, and with an interest to work on favourites like Max Payne and the GTA series (because of Vice City), Haley remains grounded and appreciative for whatever his music brings him. “I think something sci-fi would work, but I wouldn’t really care what I do – I’d be excited to work on anything.”
Seth performs as Com Truise, an artist I discovered sitting up late on the net in Buffalo, a couple hours from his hometown, Oneida. His fusion of flittering synths and punchy bass grooves blends to make some kind of organic, heavy-driven electronic meal that both a vegan and meat-eater would enjoy. It carries an unprecedented depth of sound, with surprises around every corner, while still maintaining a compelling mystique every second of the way.
The uniqueness of Haley’s sound is a testament to his focus on analogue equipment. Renowned amongst gear enthusiasts, it was only wise to find out his holy grail in hardware. “The Rhodes Chroma – which was the last synthesiser that the company ARP designed right before they were bought by Rhodes which is the Yamaha corporation.”
Speaking of its rarity, he offered further insight into the lengths some artists must go to when finding gear, closing the book on my potential musical pursuits. “The reason it was so hard is because most of the ones you see for sale are upwards of 10k or broken, and it’s even rare to find a broken one.” Though too big for touring and currently still being fixed, Haley reveals his love for the Chroma and his persona as a devout gear-head. “I would say goodnight to it every night before I went to sleep”.
But is that all? Is there some microscopic message behind Com Truise? Kanye West was known to use auto-tune on his vocals in his 808 & Heartbreaks album. He said it was done to make what he was saying less vulnerable. When I asked Haley about his own personal message or emotional decisions, his authenticity was clear cut. “I kind of keep devoid of a message. I’ve got a new release coming out and it’s based on a story that I came up with and really, I’m just trying to stick to that. I don’t really have much to say and I don’t necessarily want to put my personal life in the music”.
After telling him his track ‘Norkuy’ scared my mum, Haley’s intentions as a musician became evident – he’s happy to have anyone along for the ride, however they see fit. “I just want people to interpret it how they want to feel when listening to it. I’ve had people say the same thing. That a track I would listen to, I might find makes me a little blue and some people it makes happy. I don’t know how I did it, but I like leaving the door open to anyone’s interpretation. Being instrumental music, I’m really lucky that I somehow nailed that.”
Seth is set to embark on a world tour, having just landed in Australia amid New Year’s celebrations. Though playing at Melbourne’s Let Them Eat Cake festival, Haley hopes to avoid eating any in faith to his new resolutions. While wanting to live a healthier life (damn, who doesn’t), he, like all of us, knows the inevitable truth. “Everybody does it and nobody really sticks to it!”
Fans can expect to hear some CT classics but, with a new EP Silicon Tare due in April and an album later in the year, Haley plans to test an onslaught of long-awaited new tracks. “It took me a little while to get it all put together – the design and the packaging and all that stuff – so I’ve got stuff that Ghostly already had slated for release. I accidentally made people wait longer, but there is stuff coming and I’m definitely bringing a bunch of new tracks to Australia!”
His latest EP, Wave 1, supplied us with the peculiar synth funk he’s been known for but since his first EP Cyanide Sisters, there was a noticeably lighter and more energetic tweak to his slow-motion ooze. As for his latest EP, Haley recognises it opened the door for him to experiment – but that is not to say his inspirations have had any dramatic shift.
His track ‘Brokendate‘ is hugely inspired by the Vangelis-scored film Blade Runner, which Haley has watched hundreds of times and still uses for inspiration. It has an eerie progression that floats over sturdy, hard-hitting percussion and has a continuous bassline that pays homage to every ’80s action cop film to date. However, this project didn’t all come to him like some miracle musical idea. He had to dig deep. Haley admits that, to begin with, he wasn’t even into the decade at all and simply didn’t like it. “My friends kind of forced me to listen to that stuff and when I finally gave into it I was listening to stuff like The Human League and Orchestral Manoeuvres in the Dark, the poppier side of it. Not until I really started to make this project did I start to get into the obscure synth stuff of the late ’70s and ’80s.” To those friends for giving Seth that first nudge, thank you!
As my signal to wrap up the interview came through, I hustled to get my last questions across. We spoke of his creative process; the how-tos and which-ways when embodying all the inspirations that make the Com Truise sound so special. “It’s definitely very blurry and amalgamated at this point. It’s hard for me to really go back and focus on one thing and draw inspiration from it. As far as the things that I was already inspired by, I’ll think about that one thing and then I’ll put something else in my head and it will become a mess and there’ll be all kinds of stuff going on in my mind. I just try and write. It’s been hard to find new things that are inspirational, too. I try not to draw from new music as much as other things. I definitely still like to watch films, and I haven’t really found anything as of late that’s been very inspirational but I guess I’m still pulling from the well, inevitably.”
This inevitable well he speaks of – the deep, nostalgic well of the ’80s – is what drives Haley to create. A trip back to the summer of ’84, with a hint of a galaxy unknown. Translating the music of the time that was, to the time that’s now. And behind the machines – embedded in the dreamy, bit-crunching and nightmarish synths of Com Truise – there exists a pleasantly bona fide Seth Haley.
15 Aug Peruw – ‘City of Gold’
The man behind the hat, Peruw, has released his latest track as accompaniment to either your next nightmare or just a night full of heart-thumping tech-house, and with the title ‘City of Gold‘, this track is ironically not all things bright and shiny.
At the beginning, an off-beat, echoing synth creates painstaking anticipation, like a torturous metronome or the feeling Eric Prydz fans experience at the beginning of his sets. However, the seven and a half minutes allow Melbourne-based Peruw to build a very dark element, creating a vibe similar to David Granha‘s ‘What If We‘. This teenage producer has developed a knack for the unnerving tech-house sound, blending a slaughterhouse of cut-throat saw wave synths, DEFCON 1-esque alarms, and eerie ringing you wouldn’t want to hear in a dark alley.
I must say, though, the hi-hats around the two-minute mark got me expecting a progression into a pulled back, Defected in the House-like groove, but what actually happens, well…