We caught up with Australian-born, London-based DJ, designer and teacher Rick Bull, best known by his artist name Deepchild, to talk about the inspiration behind his latest release and his constantly evolving production process.
Producing for nearly two decades , Bull has earned himself a reputation as a groundbreaking producer, respected DJ and electrifying live-performer. He has performed at many of the world’s most respected electronic music institutions: legendary gatherings like Detroit’s own Movement Festival and EXIT in Serbia, and the cream of European and American nightclubs - including numerous appearances at Berlin’s legendary Berghain and Tresor, amongst hundreds of others.
His latest release, Luminous Part 1, out this Summer on Seppuku reflects his dynamically personal take on techno and house. Under his new alias Archané, he released an album in April this year entitled 'Innocence and Suburbia,' also on Seppuku. We were also lucky enough to have Deepchild step up for last week's guest mix on the Euphonics podcast, his first in some time.
When did you first start writing music?
I began writing music around the age of 15, I guess. I’m 41 now and was classically trained as a violinist from the age of 8 years old. I’ve been perennially obsessed by tonality and sound-design though, by ‘non-music’, music-concrete, physicality in music. It’s helped re-calibrate my relationship with my body and it’s helped me find a much needed silence in a noisy world.
I think we are all born in some way as ‘composers’ or singers, dancers or writers, but the notion that its an innate part of our human discourse has been systematically derailed by the class system. I was lucky to be afforded the notion to dream that I could be ‘good enough’ as a musician to be allowed to practice and mess around with music from a really young age. It seemed to acquire a life of its own – and feels as mundane and wonderful as baking bread, eating, shitting, sleeping is. Well, almost.
What made you decide to get into electronic music production?
I guess I just fell in love with sound, with how it made me feel safe, terrified, unmade and recomposed at the same time – with the sense of ‘possibility’ it represented. With the notion of autonomy in a kind of ‘Marxist’ sense that it represented – the idea that anyone could make music, that even machines could make music and all I had to do was allow them the freedom to create it and me to hear it. I guess I was straddling a sort of post-punk ‘fuck you’ elation at the brilliant taboo which electronic music represented at the time and deep visceral awe at discovering sounds which had no ‘real world’ equivalent. Electronic music was, for me, fundamentally about a world which was liberatingly unreal, unimagined, filled with potential.
As you’ve evolved over time as a producer – do you feel there are certain aspects that you’ve particularly improved upon?
I’ve slowly come to realise that often the best work is produced quickly and in less-than-ideal circumstances. In cases, buses, trains, planes, waiting-rooms. They force you to respond quickly, directly. Less is always is more. I’ve certainly come to realise that ‘a quick game is a good game’, and that setting arbitrary restrictions (use 8 tracks max instead of 16, never use third party plugins unless you have to etc.) tend to mobilise creative problem solving. I’m a really slow learner, but I continue to return to basic principles.
Similarly – are there some things that you still really want to improve upon?
I have so much still to learn. I feel like I’m technically ‘sound’ and that I’ve forged a really distinctive tonal palate and production approach, but I have a great deal to learn about creating work which is really finely tooled to, for example, a specific sound-system. I’m a big fan of lo-fidelity, noisy work, clicks and pops (they make me feel more human) but often I think my mixes could be far tighter, crisper, better separated. I still have no idea how to program in Max or Reaktor, and would love to.
Tell me about the inspiration for Luminous part 1?
My father has been diagnosed with Alzheimers disease and I've felt like I’d like to start reflecting, cataloguing, intentionally responding to this, in whichever ways make sense. I was recently ‘stuck’ in Sydney awaiting a UK spousal visa and this afforded a pretty sacred opportunity to spend a lot more time with him than I’d normally have spent. I guess it blew my heart open – in ripples, waves, little earthquakes and torrential rains. As an ‘Alzheimers’ guy, seeing my father make sense of his incarnation with dignity (and frequent challenges) has reminded me that, somehow, beyond our conditioning and cognition is a sort of ‘non-self’, childlike, untouchable and luminous. I don’t think my music even come close to capturing these feelings, but it’s a response of sorts – a few sonic sketches in which to pour meaning.
Generally where do you get the inspiration for your tracks/releases?
Generally speaking, from my lower intestine, or from the earth beneath my feet or from exhaling and often from hearing these things in the works of others. Ultimately, a lot of my ‘experience’ of music is a deeply physically one – music is hyper-localised vibration. I feel I’m frustratingly cerebral, but music is a way of ‘grounding’ things back in a suit of flesh. It turns the volume down.
How important do you feel originality is? Do you often look for sources of inspiration in other pieces of music attempting to emulate and put your own stamp upon that, or do you tend to stick with purely your own creations?
I don’t feel like my work is particularly original, so I can’t really make any claims to this notion. I don’t really care too much for preferencing notions like ‘originality’ or ‘authenticity’, but I do think that honest, courageous, humorous work has value. I’m constantly stealing, referencing and reworking ideas of others. I feel the same way about music as I do about the words I’ve borrowed to answer these questions.
So given the title of your last release, can we expect a Luminous part 2 and maybe even 3?
I’d really love to aim for that – certainly a Luminous Part 2 is on the cards for me. I feel like there’s so much more I’d like to reflect on about mental health and in a more concrete way. I’m really endebted and inspired by artists like The Caretaker, or William Basinski’s “Dissintegration Loops”, as well as so much of the writing of the late, great Mark Fisher on ‘hauntology’. I’ve been teaching these ideas with students at university and college, but I’d love to also remove them from academia a little, too. The Caretaker, in particular, has taken a seemingly simple idea, and teased it out into a pretty moving, compelling body of music work. I’m such a newbie at writing like this, but it feels important to me at this state of my career to begin experimenting with more conceptual work.
So what’s on the agenda for you in terms of releases over the next year or so?
Interestingly enough (and on the opposite end of the spectrum) I’ve been head down, writing a LOT of loops, beats, Ableton Live Instruments and sample-packs for Sample Magic and UNRGRND sound, all of which are quite genre-specific (primarily techno) and tend to end up on some larger label/producer releases. They feel like extensions of my own process, but a touch more personally removed, which I always find valuable. I’m not sure what I’m planning next, but I do seem to write compulsively.
The BIG release for me this year, was my debut album as ‘Acharné’, Innocence and Suburbia, which feels like a substantial enough offering for now. I’m still decompressing from having finally released it.
Many artists find the idea of categorizing their music somewhat irrelevant but I always like to ask as it throws out some interesting answers. With that in mind, how would you categorize your sound?
Let me try to be brief (as you can tell its not my strong point). Let me offer something like this – hypnagogic, hauntological, audio-montaged, unhewn, unsettled proto-techno seeking to take itself less seriously.
What about touring/live shows – have you got much scheduled in the way of that for the rest of the year?
I have a few local London shows at smaller parties here, and a rather special and quite large show at Tresor in Berlin in November. The rest is falling into place, but I’m honestly still acclimatising to the psychic jet lag of having moved countries twice in twoyears – from Berlin (after over six years based there) to Sydney, and now to glorious Hackney. I think my spirit is still catching up – 2015 was a belter year for international touring and 2016 was a long overdue hiatus. I’m saddling up again, finally….slowly does it.
Tell me about your studio setup?
I’ve substantially downsized, and quite intentionally so. If you do a little Googling, you’ll likely see a lot of shots online of sprawling analogue mayhem – particularly in my studio in Berlin. I’ve intentionally done 180 degree turn of late though – trying to compose entirely ‘in the box’, using Ableton Live alone, and as few third-party plugins as possible. It’s really easy to get overly attached to a singular process, and I’ve wanted to try to rely less on complex setups, in favour of portability. I’ve been teaching a lot of Ableton production classes, and have wanted to reduce my own tools as substantially as possible learn / teach what’s possible with factory-shipped tools. I’m honestly far happier now with an extremely minimal setup.
Do you have any unusual bits of equipment?
I have more wires, boxes and random and barely usable bits of kit – from my beloved Roland SH-101 monosynth, to an original model Elektron Machinedrum, some old plastic dub-delay units from Radioshack, and a Texas Instruments Speak ‘n’ Math I hacked up when I was far younger. I have countless cheap AM radios, cheap noise-makers, guitar pedals and other audio detritus. It’s all generally cheap and nasty stuff, aside from the 101 and Machinedrum.
Is there anything that you’re desperate to add to your studio or would like to try?
I’d LOVE some larger monitors (I currently use some lovely little Genelec 8030s) and some proper sound-proofing. Primarily Id just love to understand my tools a little more adequately – and I’d die for something to restore years of substantial club-induced hearing loss. Come to think of it, an espresso machine would be fantastic, too.