This interview has been a long time coming as we’ve been huge fans of Fran Hartnett ever since his set at Life Festival 2010 (I think). He was then sound enough, and potentially mad enough, to join us for a gig in the Burren called Set In Stone. That turned out to be one for the books but probably a good thing it’s not logged on the Facebook ether.
Both his live and DJ sets have always been original and way ahead of the curve when it comes to making industrial sounds funky. His background in art has inspired his approach to making music and his most recent endevours have seen him combine his art and music into a truly original piece of immersive art.
He has no doubt stuck to his passions, perfected his sound and the quality speaks for itself.
His latest mix is on an electro tip, lash this on and get reading:
Thanks for joining us on Skirmish! As you know we’ve been a big fan for years. Tell us a bit about your first adventure into the murky depths of electronic music, what were you listening to at the time and what was the Irish music scene like then?
Thanks for inviting me to feature on your recently upgraded website! (looks great by the way!) So, my first adventure was while I was still a teenager in school. I think between the age of 15 and 16 I went from being an angsty indie kid who didn’t think synthesizers were ‘real’ instruments, to being a Prodigy obsessed young DJ, dreaming about the day I might play at a real underground rave.
My first experience of a what felt like a full scale rave was the ‘X-mas Dance ’93‘ event in Dublin where I saw The Prodigy live, alongside N-Joi (by the way, well worth checking their ‘Live in Manchester 92‘ LP for some classic early 90s rave vibes!). I really was on a high to see The Prodigy live for the first time, I remember it being a life affirming night. At the time I was also listening to stuff like The Orb, and The Shamen, and my mate’s band Hastis, who proudly played support at the Thunderdome City Tour in the SFX in ’94 (yes, I did do a gabber phase!)
Around then I was starting to buy records on UK hardcore labels like Suburban Base and Formation, and German trance labels like EyeQ and Harthouse, discovering my earliest introductions to techno with acts like Hardfloor, LFO, and Plastikman. I think I was 17 when I started going to clubs like the UFO, Elevator, The Temple of Sound, and Genius in The Kitchen, where a few years later I eventually got a residency as a DJ. All these places hosted local techno DJs like Warren Kiernan, Pat Hyland, Jon Hussey, Billy Scurry and Francois, supplying a weekly dose of proper underground music to Dublin’s ravers. There were some wild nights in those clubs.
You’ve obviously got a serious passion, do you do this for a creative buzz or do you set to make tunes to release?
I’ve always been making music for the love of it, for the creative buzz as you say. I know I haven’t exactly been prolific with my releases the past few years, but I do my best in between everything else to try and get stuff released when I can. Lately I’ve been getting much faster at making tracks, so I’m hoping to get a lot more music out there over the next year.
You’re a really talented artist too, I love your tattoo work! Do you see a crossover in your creative output? Like does your taste in tunes influence your taste in art?
I think so. I’ve always loved both, and I’ve been attracted to images of the future and science fiction in many ways as much as I’ve enjoyed music along the same themes. In my work as a tattoo artist I perhaps don’t get to do as much futuristic design as I’d like, but that’s the nature of that line of work, at least for an artist’s formative years. I’m only a young artist in that field. I’ve been tattooing for nearly nine years, but I remember thinking it would be ten years before I’d have comfortably settled into my own tattoo style. I think I’m on track for that. Maybe once I’ve been tattooing ten years I’ll be confident enough to put my foot down and insist on only doing the really abstract and weird designs that I prefer. Next year. We’ll see.
In the past year I’ve been putting a lot of work into my audio-visual project and I’ve made some mad progress on that lately. It’s an interesting example of visual art and music influencing each other in a very dynamic way. The system I have in place now allows me animate my own ink drawings in real time with my synth as the control source. Synths and programmed patterns on my drum machine also control a live analog video synthesis channel, which can produce some wild results. Using that kind of setup makes me sometimes choose the sounds I create depending on how the image is being animated. I’m really excited about how it’s working and the surprising possibilities that have opened up.
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Excited to finally share details of this release, my new 12″ ‘Hauler EP’, which is coming out on @user_experience_joefarr very soon. Preorders available on the User Experience Bandcamp page, and the first 20 copies are a super limited version which includes a superb glicee print of the artwork, painted and individually signed by me. If you want one of those get on it now! And if you miss out on that don’t worry you can settle for a massive A1 poster instead!!! 🔥🎨🔥 https://joefarr.bandcamp.com/
The music scene has obviously changed a lot in the last 10 years, what with streaming, downloading etc. While it has made making money from music a lot more difficult do you think it has affected how you go about producing and releasing music?
I guess the internet and the digital revolution has opened a lot of doors, despite the drawbacks you mention. It’s great to be able to share music instantly on platforms like SoundCloud, and it’s easy to collaborate with artists from all over the world. Some months ago I was asked to create artwork for the next series of releases on Joe Farr‘s label User Experience, because he saw my tattoo work on Instagram. It’s cool how these kinds of unexpected connections can happen. I’ve recently finished the artwork for the next UX release, which is three tracks of my own and a massive remix from Joe. The previous UX release is another example of internet working well. It’s by a new German artist called Corroid, and features killer remixes by Myler and Jasmine Azarian. Joe decided to see if he could fund production costs for the vinyl via Kickstarter, and thanks to the support of a few avid fans, he did it! My record is out soon (8th March). The first 20 copies of the release will include the a limited, signed, glicee print of the artwork, so I’m pretty excited about that. Something a bit special 😉
How do you approach making a tune and what gear do you use now? Is it a different set up to previous ones?
How I make music is pretty much the same approach as I’ve had for years now, but yeah the setup has changed. I’ve never been one for hoarding equipment. If I’m not using something enough I’ll sell it to make room for something else. I’ve had a few nice synths and drum machines come and go like that. I sold my Monomachine last year. That was my main synth for a few years, but now my modular has taken that place. The studio setup now is Elektron Machinedrum, Octatrack, Roland TR09, Analog Heat, and a custom Modular system. Same as I take out to play live.
Additional studio stuff is my analog video processing setup, which has really taken shape this year. I use Ableton Live for recording, with a MOTU Ultralite giving me 8 analog inputs plus Midi, while acting as a mobile compact mixer when I play live. I have to say, that MOTU box has stood the test of time! It’s been heavily gigged for years now and literally kicked around the place, and it’s never once glitched or acted up in any way. Impressive! For a long time now I’ve been working towards being able to record a song in one live take. I get the parts ready on the machines, then I just hit record and jam! If I’m lucky I have very little editing to do after that. My favourite track on my upcoming UX release was only cut in one place, so it really has a nice live feel to it. I just recorded a few new tracks the other day and they were nearly done in one take. Seems like the way forward.
What’s the biggest tip you’ve learned through years of producing? And what tip would you give to producers starting out?
Someone once said “if it sounds right, it is right”. I think it’s probably common enough for anyone starting out making music to worry about whether or not they’re making music or producing the ‘right’ way. To be unsure about that sequence of notes, or the balance in that mix. I mean, it’s good to reference your music against that of your peers, and to try achieve a similar result to piece of music that you love – that’s a great way to learn – but at the same time, it’s good to not get hung up on rules. To let yourself go. I learned a lot of rules over the years, but one of the best ones is – there are no rules! Do what feels right.
Let’s see, what else? Perhaps in these days of people using software and powerful computers, I’d say maybe watch out for using too many tracks. Think about it – if you had a drum machine, a 303, a distortion and a reverb pedal you could make a killer track. That would be 2 channels in a DAW with two effects. I can’t imagine many producers being that restrained with their projects but it’s worth thinking about. The fact that you have potentially unlimited tracks and instruments in a computer setup these days I think could be unhelpful for someone starting out making music. It can be overwhelming to have so many options. Forcing a limit on yourself if you’re working ‘in the box’, as if you’re ‘out of the box’ – that would be a good exercise.
Who inspires you musically and/or artistically these days?
Man there’s so much great music these days. I’m constantly inspired. Loads of techno artists are making massive tunes lately. Actually there’s loads of new albums have come out last year that I’m really into: Positive Center. Gazelle Twin. JK Flesh. Clouds. Jensen Interceptor. Ancient Methods. Varg. Terrence Fixmer. Tinfoil. Helena Hauff. Richard Devine … the list goes on. Mad into everything on Northern Electronics lately. A lovely ambient/industrial/techno vibe they got going on.
Of course, there are heaps of people who inspire me locally also. (Are you ready for a long list?!) Sunil Sharpe being the most prolific of those. His steady work over the years has seen him transform into the top international DJ he is today. And it’s phenomenal, the work that he’s put in. The record labels he’s managed, with Earwiggle being the current success it is now, and the radio shows, interviews, and formation and management (along with others) of the urgently needed Give Us The Night campaign ( go check it out now people!#mandate). Well, the man is nothing short of a legend. So, inspired is always a feeling that goes with interactions with Sunil.
Then you’ve an equally formidable figure in Belfast, Oisin O’Brien, and the DSNT family – Maedbh, Kristian, Daniel, Nez, Myler. Their parties have been instrumental in completely changing the face of the rave scene up there, not to mention establishing an awesome record label complete with insanely cool merchandise, and an iconic visual aesthetic that could rival anything out there internationally. They ooze inspiration those guys.
I’m also obsessed with Sunken Foal lately. He really is in a league of his own, and his label Countersunk puts out some amazing music, especially the recent 101bpm compilation. And the new Sunken Foal EP is outstanding. In fact there’s heaps of local artists and DJs who are carving their own channels internationally.
Jon Hussey deserves a mention for being possibly the longest running Irish techno DJ in the game who’s still pushing a modern techno sound. Anyone who’s heard him play can testify his skills, and he’s been quite busy internationally of late which is great to see.
We’ve a few other artists who are well established now, and doing great things – DeFeKT, Cignol, Automatic Tasty, Damien Lynch, and Contour (big up for the new experimental Ambisonics projects!). Great to see them doing so well. And the newer names in the scene – Tommy Holohan, Jasmine Azarian, Doug Cooney, Conan_ Xerophkz, and Pineal Navigation… certainly ones to watch. Plus my sometime partner in crime (as FraGile), Giles Armstrong, released his first record last year, after spending a lifetime of being one of Dublin’s finest DJs and promoters. Big things on the way for him too!
Haha that’s way too many already, and I could think of more inspirational artists, but one last one… Mustn’t forget you, Shiv, you probably don’t realise it, but your enthusiasm for the underground music scene, your radio shows, your involvement with Irish clubs and festivals, through the years, has been inspirational, to me certainly, and I’m sure you’ve inspired countless individuals that you’ve worked with over the years. Big up yourself, and the Skirmish vibes!! (Awww, thanks Fran! Wasn’t expecting that!) So yeah, I guess I find it inspirational to see others doing well, as much as I’m also inspired by hearing the music they make. For the sake of completeness, I must just also say that I’ve always been into a lot of different styles of music, hip hop, jazz, and the funkier stuff. Lately there’s some great music from the likes of Anderson Paak, Thundercat, Kaytranada, Jay Daniel, Vince Staples, Kamasai Washington… I’m not sure how that kind of music feeds into my techno but I’m sure it leaks in somehow!
What’s next in store?
Well I’ve got a bunch of new music to find a home for and I’m going to record some studio videos of my AV project, ahead of taking the whole thing out live.. Not sure when, but pretty soon I think. Needs to be the right setup. I played live in Pygmalion recently, and it was great, but that venue isn’t suitable for an A/V show. The basement roof is too low to have any screens up. Until I find a suitable night for it, I’ll be sharing some video work online.
Looking back on 2018 now, I realise that I took the year out to build my video system, and it really did take a year to all come together. I was just in the studio the other night and I got a final piece of the system working, something that I’d been finding tricky to figure out, but it’s working properly now. I’m really excited to get this project on the road now. 2019 is going to be an interesting one…
Massive thanks to Fran for taking the time out to share his thoughts on some tune stuff. He’s a total inspiration to us and we look forward to what’s next in store. Make sure you follow him at the below links and watch this space for updates on his new AV production.