Neil Landstrumm on making traxxx…

A picture of Neil Landstrumm

Scotland’s inimitable electronic agitator Neil Landstrumm walks us through the time, space and place of some of his key releases

When it comes to prolific protagonists in Electronic music, there are few who can lay valid claim to having stayed true to their creative urges and craft over the course of several decades. Whilst also single handedly carving out a path that stretches beyond the confines of music.

Having ventured far and wide since his breakthrough back in the heady days of the 90s, Scottish machine magician Neil Landstrumm is one such creative force who you ignore at your own risk. A live hardware based artist, over the last 25 years he has regularly gigged in and around Europe, USA, Japan and China. A pioneer of emerging styles, his sound straddles the sheer raw power of Chicago’s early jack, whilst fully embracing and reshaping his UK Hardcore, bass bent roots into mutant shades of Grime and Dubstep.

Often copied and imitated, he has always been and continues to be unique. With an enviable discography made up releases for the likes of Peacefrog, Tresor, Planet Mu, Killekill, Music Man, Rawax, Running Back and Sneaker Social Club (the list goes on…). At this point, we should mention other parallel day jobs (moonlighting) as a graphic designer: where he successfully created 3D work and video for clients including MTV and Rockstar Games. Having also lived in New York for a number of years in the past, where he spent his time working for a visual artist.

These days, he’s back in his hometown of Edinburgh where he works from his own studio. He has never been one to sit still, continuing to weave a narrative where blurring the lines is de facto, and is most definitely the better for it. Never afraid to push some away whilst drawing others in – above all his consistency is a marvel.

When the prospect of a new LP “Yell Yell” for Sneaker Social Club appeared on the horizon, we were fortunate enough to be able to steal some of his time. Rather than exchange vague pleasantries, we wanted to find out more about what has made him tick over the years and delve into the making of a selection of his records, along with the stories of time, place and creative space he has inhabited.

Here’s what he had to say …

How the devil are you getting on… what have you been doing to fill your time over the last 18 months?

Trying not to die…”

Your new release “Yell Yell” … it’s your first album in quite a few years. What made you decided to write a new LP?

“I’m always writing tracks, it just depends whether or not they stick together cohesively enough to be called a LP or double-pack. I always hope they do.”

Does this count as your 11th or 12th under your own name btw?

“I don’t count.”

Did you acquire any new toys or stick to tried and tested tools for this?

MPC2500, MPC3000, Moog Sub37, Elektron A4, Crane Song STC1, Thermionic Culture Rooster

Like so many of the things you have done over your career, your production has NEVER sat still. What would say is the key/secret to keeping things fresh?

“Ignoring the industry.”

And which is stronger: magic or accident?

“We teach mistakes.”

Coming on to your music…

Artwork for Tension in New York - 1997, TRESOR records

Tension in New York – 1997, TRESOR records

“I had just returned from a two month extended stay in New York at my friend, Abe Duque’s house in Hollis, Queens. It was always a trip hearing all the different musical flavours blaring out of cars in Queens, and certainly inspiring hearing Bhangra next to Dancehall and heavy Hip Hop. Armed with a newly acquired EMU SP-1200 sampler which I had bought hire purchase style, bit-by-bit, from Rogue Music in Manhattan over the following two months worth of gigs. I had been driving about New York with my friend Carlos Tera in his Celica and he played me a Latin Rascals mixtape, which had the dopest Electro rhythm in one of the  tape-spliced sections. I held the feel, order of the sounds and percussion in my head and spewed it all back out again the very next day on arrival back into Edinburgh.

In my experience, the best tracks are when you really have something to say in the studio. I wanted to mirror the feeling of my New York musical schooling mixed with the excitement of starting a new LP for Tresor on new and legendary equipment. I wanted to bring some of the moody, rumbling Reese baseline sound from UK Drum and Bass into a more Techno funk framework and that’s basically the outline of the inspiration for that track. It’s quite a fast tempo and serendipitously came just before the Speed Garage hype and still stands up in 2021.

I sampled the Jupiter 6 and Pro-One into the SP-1200 which gave it a thicker filtered sound slightly pitched down and built the structure up from the SP sequencer. The drums are mainly shuffled DMX but with some overlaid sampled 909/808 drums from the SP-1200. You only have 12 secs sample time in the SP, so you have to get creative… I loved the SP-1200, one of the coolest and most identifiable machines in electronic production but also pretty tedious using DD diskettes. Tension in New York was a 24 channel mix down on the Soundcraft, which took taking a long time balancing and eq-ing all the drums and then was recorded in one live take!”

Takks – 1994, Peacefrog Records

“It’s basically the sound of me trying to sound like DBX (Dan Bell) and Armando during the Ecstasy Wars of the mid 1990s but with more swing and slightly heavier production than Dan’s. Recorded in Edinburgh 1995, in an absolutely minging flat with joint ends left on the disco carpet, a gold painted cornice, a selection of Chicago Dance Mania, Accelerate, Relief and Trax records in the corner and a 101 battery tray full of white doves. Gear used: Soap Bar, Benson & Hedges, Roland Tr-909 and SH-101, Casio RZ-1, a crap FX unit, SECK 24 channel desk and a borrowed DAT machine. One or two takes rocking the ringing feedback from the FX into the aux channels.

A lot of fun was had in that flat and we even had the DS at the door bringing on a major whitey at the time. Jamie Reid (of sex pistols artwork fame) was round one time after the Sativa club night and who brought a natty dread smoking cocaine laced spliff, causing chaos…

Most definitely a 24 hour party flat with ceilings that turned into whirlpools, a permanent lodger called Raz in a jazz bag, a child trapped inside the gas heater and seagulls calling outside your window at 7am. Some of the contents of the living room went out the living room when we left. The Peacefrog records really kicked off my career and why Daft Punk credited me as a “teacher” on their first LP, Homework.”

Chincy – 2020, EXIT records

“Low end 808 swampy half-step rocker with Funkadelic style arpeggio riffs and a warm Moog bassline, I settled on 145 as my new style tempo as it works well with a half-step vibe but also can be dropped into a Techno set especially if the 808 kicks hit really hard, low and heavy. I find a lot of contemporary techno sets really boring to be honest so I’ve gone in the opposite way, looking for other beats and styles to bring a different flavour to my productions.

I was really happy when D:Bridge asked me to do an EXIT records 12” and after a lot of back and forth picked this track as the A1. I dropped it last week in London at the Maple Cuts night at MOT Unit and it got the biggest shout when it came on. People respond to bass and its simplicity and funk shines through.

I was heading towards an LP on Swamp81 till plans changed and I was really trying to hone my own fusion of the UK Bass mixtures of styles with this track. I’ve always had an ear to London’s bass heavy styles with Jungle, Drum & Bass, Garage then later with Dubstep/Grime, it’s always been an influence on me right from the early Bass n Bleep era. As has UK translated Jamaican and Caribbean Sound system culture and I’m hugely indebted to it. I’ve also always enjoyed and been inspired by both West and East coast hip hop and the American influences are still evident and strong in this track with the vocals. Akai MPC3000, Moog Sub 37 and Electron A4 heavily crushed in the Crane Song STC-1 and sweetened in Thermionic Culture Rooster. No mixer.”

Doberman – 2020, HERAS records

“Recorded on my parent’s kitchen table one weekend using an Akai MPC2500, Moog Sub 37 and Elektron A4 through the Thermionic Rooster: straight into the posh used Focusrite Clarret soundcard I’d just acquired from my mates at Dixon Avenue Basement Jams in Glasgow. I was really feeling the early UK hardcore period of music where techno bled into what became Jungle and I tried to channel that kind of spirit into my music.

Records like “Nebula II – Anthema II” were in my mind but mixed with classic “Mentasm” hoover twisters, along with Altern8 and Turntable Orchestra lifted stabs and a few classic breakbeats. This is music that doesn’t take itself too seriously and isn’t trying to reinvent the wheel, but is surprisingly hard to do authentically and convincingly. It’s a well-trodden path but I wanted to super-produce it, cleaner and heavier than was possible in the early 90s but with more live basslines and synths, rather than samples.

I made a batch of these tracks at the time, one sampling a BBC Radio 4 documentary about gang life on Chicago.  Pure fun and an attempt to reconnect with my memories of hearing this music for the first time in the early 1990s, I had just made contact with Jon from Sportsbanger and had heard he wanted to start a record label. I knew I had the perfect batch of tracks from him which echoed the UK’s perpetually enduring rave spirit. HEARS001 was born, mastered by Keith Tenniswood and consequently sold out immediately along with the Sportsbanger R&S Doberman T. It has gone on to be much in demand on Discogs… £100 a pop you scalping bastards!?!?

Spice – 2021, Sneaker Social Club Records

“My first proper attempt at pop music, I think and it’s been doing the numbers on the streaming sites (yuck). A couple of BBC R6 plays also by Tom Ravenscroft and Don Letts.  Trap-Kraftwerkain- Hip Hop fusion. My beloved Akai MPC3000 swinging away on the beats with Roland Jupiter 8 doing its swan-song in my studio with the shape shifting melodic arpeggio. It also features some other internal soft synth stabs, all neatly compressed through the Crane Song and Rooster mastering chain.

Vocals are by Tina P and Legacy, two vocalists I met on a gig trip to Atlanta. It’s really a chopped up acappella I was given but on this rare occasion, it worked a treat giving this track exactly what it needed. I love the simplicity of Kraftwerk melodies. Their simple riffs are pure pop perfection so I was trying to emulate that but with a more modern urban style back beat which is all about the clap falling on the third. 

I’d really like to extend my production work into the pop domain by making ‘good’ pop records. Remember those? Like Human League but in 2021. I’ve done club music to death so stretching myself with something else seems the right thing to do at this point in my career. Why not? You can’t take away all the techno records I’ve made in the past that still stand up today.”

Sex with Madonna – 2019,  Running Back Records

“My fridge was full of lies and it’s basically me being lonely in a summerhouse, going through an Italo Disco phase with my MacBook. It was all done in Logic in headphones, with no hardware.

“Male Stripper” by Man-2-Man was definitely an influence, guess I was trying to get back to those stylish heady discos of the early 80s in Italy and New York.  It was a huge record in Scotland in the 80s, and a memorable one from the ‘chicken hut’ discos as a teenager in rural Southern Scotland.

There isn’t enough of these fun party records any more. 4×4 techno has become so boring, overly drum focussed, predictable and entirely up its own arse in many respects. For me now, a lot of it lacks any soul but I still have faith that the next generation will switch things up a bit once this hollow numbers, Insta-DJ phase falls off.

Social media has had a very negative effect on the electronic scene in my opinion.”

Trade My Ass For Drugs – 2014, Kille Kill Records

“I was uninspired in the studio and I happened across, as you do, an American documentary on Youtube about a male S&M prostitute who “traded his ass for drugs” in San Francisco. He enjoyed selling his body for crystal meth but was now caught in a terrible loop of it needing more and more Meth, with the obvious cost to his health.

Hearing a cheery track in there, I sampled the vocals, cleaned up the awful background music and built it into a modern acid track for the Berlin label, Kille Kill. I used my OSCar synth to do an internally sequenced arpeggio as the main riff and just let it roll from there…

It has some Jupiter 8 glassy chords over it also. I like acid tracks that don’t have a TB-303 in them as although the 303 is always going to sound cool, it’s just been done to absolute death by now.

A well-trodden and pissed on path, for me the best acid records were always made using other pieces of kit to make those crisp, acidic sharp sounds like “Jesus Loves the Acid”, for example. A lot of early DJAX records also come to mind. 

Anyway, I think the sentiment of the title chimes with a lot of things we do for money in our capitalist paradise. See where that has got us now eh! What a time to be alive.”

Basic Bull Man – 1994,  Mosquito Records

“My first trip down to Brighton to stay with Cristian Vogel after meeting him in Edinburgh at the Sativa club. I think I was trying to fuse all the great new records I was hearing from the US and Europe at Pure and Sativa with some old school UK rave and bleep sounds. The track is made up from samples on my Akai S950 with a swung 909 thumping away behind it. There is a wee loop from one of Carl Craig’s 69 12”s, some 101 zaps and a clonk from LFO as a chord stab plus my own crap vocal efforts. All sequenced in the trusty old Atari ST-1040.

That really was a dope music computer. It has a better feel and timing than modern computers. Cristian produced it in the University of Sussex studio whilst I was visiting taking ages to convert the samples over from S950 to S1100 bless him. The grand daddy of Akai’s at the time and hugely expensive. I really got on in the studio with Cristian: smoking spliffs, manning the big Tascam desk and using all his EQ techniques and FX knowledge to maximum effect. I didn’t even have a mixer by this point, so it was a real learning curve watching Vogel’s sonic mastery at work. I was just trying to make tracks that sounded like what I’d heard week in week out at the Edinburgh clubs with Twitch and Brainstorm, and the Sativa DJs on the decks. I did want to my add  own twist on things and that was swinging the 909 harder than was ‘normal’ at the time, unpredictable structures and having drum fills at the end of every 4 – 8 bars to keep the energy building in the track…

It was a time of experimentation with the machines and thinking of new ways to make tracks. It wasn’t easy by any stretch back then with old hardware, diskettes and cables everywhere. You had major limitations but I think it was these limitations that made the music flow better. Choices had to be made. Plus you couldn’t go back and edit mistakes away. It was live takes with warts and all.”

Praline Horse – 1996,  TRESOR records

“The sound of an ecstasy driven relationship break-up: imagine the releasing of angry emotions, wound coil spring tight in an afternoon studio session. Hard to describe: a nutty (night)mare? Alien sounding transmissions as the Peacefrog era ends and a more experimental, sub-bass pulse driven sound takes over – headed for Berlin to the mighty TRESOR label after Vogel’s first LP lands.

Steely-edged 909 drums combined with wailing thick Jupiter 6 synth lines. All the gear was now talking nicely to each other through Midi, sync and trigger cables, carelessly snaking all over the floor. Live recordings of manic hands pushing buttons and changing patterns.

We teach mistakes… this was my first release on Tresor and it had to be good. It had to be different and forward thinking. It had to be UK sounding and new to what had come before from Detroit and Berlin. We had grown up with a different set of influences and it showed I think. We were the new school. 

I had learned a lot of production techniques from Cristian Vogel and Si Begg and I was really trying to emulate their level of record production at least. A better Soundcraft mixing desk had been bought and an Ensoniq DP4+ with the record advance (remember those). This LP did all flow out, track after track. with only a few cast offs over a two month period.

It was released at the Love Parade in July 1996 with a live show in the Tresor garden: heady times and Berlin at its best. I liked the Love Parade, it was fun and carnival like. Everyone was welcome. We met Beltram that year and it was a pretty cool feeling to be hanging out with Joey when his early works had been such a major influence on the UK rave sound. It doesn’t get any better or more influential than Mentasm or Energy Flash. I had many happy years at Tresor spawning four successful LPs and many 12”s… but like all good things, it must end and it did.”

The Pusher Man (co-written and produced with Si Begg) – 2019, HEARSE Records

“I was visiting Si in London and had read a pretty dark story in the paper on the train down about a shadowy figure pushing people into Manchester canals at night, during the dark hours. Some had escaped, others perished in the cold water. A proper Dickensian serial psycho killer vibes. So in the spirit of the moment, we made a track inspired by the idea. I got on the mic to recount the story via Si’s vocoder. It was pure fun and flowed out in just a few hours.

We used his Electron A4, my Korg Minilogue, a Nord Modular and all Si’s wonderful production techniques and sequencing style in Logic. Si Begg is a total master of Logic and a master producer. This track came out on a mixed artist 12” to launch Ali Renault’s new HEARSE label with a really cool screen print over the middle label and black sleeve of a dope hearse car.

One of my favourite tracks in recent years as it tells a true story from the dark side and the music takes you right to the canal’s edge with the PUSHER MAN right behind you. You can even hear his whistles… happy stuff! Always drops hard at my gigs, with Mumbai being a very memorable occasion in 2020 just before the pandemic ruined everything.”

Yell Yell is out now on Sneaker Social Club