Electronic Explorations

Electronic Explorations

Hey Rob. I’ve been following your weekly podcast since its seventh installment of Ranking Records showcase, broadcasted in January 2008. How would you describe the focus of your show to new listeners?
90 minutes of the most up-to-date electronica from across the globe. The show is heavily focused on the more underground styles of electronica music to include bass, dubstep, minimal, funky and IDM. (Although I hate the term IDM). It’s structured in the same way as a specialist radio show would be; quality music and always a 30-40 minute guest mix which is ‘exclusive’ to my show and none other. To date only the ‘Jazzsteppa’ mix has been given to one other show. Obviously EE is in a radio format, so I say a few words before or after a track, but only the essentials, I don’t like to talk over the music. To quote the show: “90 minutes in the company of Rob Booth as we travel through electronic music’s hottest property, a deviously crafted patchwork of carefully sewn rhythms, sonic contortions and delicate melodies. Dubstep, minimal electronica, techno and advanced soundscapes.

Can you remember how you got interested in electronic music?
At primary school all my friends were into the Pop Music/chart music, this was a time before MTV and all these musi9c channels you see today. In England all we had was ‘Top Of The Pops’ if you wanted to watch music vids or see the latest pop group. I hated it all. It was one of my elder brothers, he was listening to some dark edgy hard music, which at the time was pretty powerful (nowadays it’s just known as gabber or happy hardcore). I was hearing about the Hacienda in Manchester and the acid house movement of the early 90’s. I was about 12/13 I guess, and spending all my money on cassettes or vinyl. I started to hunt out music from labels such as Underground Resistance, Metroplex, Transmat & Axis. Buying tape packs of fantasia and Carl Cox sets on bootleg. I’ve always followed guitar bands such as Radiohead, Nirvana, Pixies and R.A.T.M. but it definitely does not have the same energy as electronica. So yeah, I’d say at the beginning of the 90’s, before that I was stuck listening to shitty Pop Music or playing the old man’s Beatles collection.

Have you ever produced tracks yourself?
No, I haven’t. My best mate Doi has the most amazing 303 which I’d always mess around with. It’s finding the time, and I’m quite impatient when it comes to making music, I’d prefer to concentrate on the business end such as running a label or doing a club venture.

You always mention Marry Anne Hobbs as your inspiration. Tell us your first memory of her show, initial meeting, and the following collaboration.
Well Mary Anne’s had her own show with the BBC since Feb 1997. I used to stay up late at night as I was at college and never had to get up early the next day. I was heavily into techno and drum n bass at this time, but I was always looking for something new. John Peel is the biggest influence in my life and is the inspiration into making the ‘EE’ show. Since John passed away Mary Anne has done a superb job in promoting music in the same way John did, but in her own way. I’ve never met anyone so passionate and dedicated to the underground music scene as her. 15 hour days 7 days a week, she’s a machine. I never bothered writing into her show, or later emailing or texting until around about August 2005, 2 years after I had graduated from Uni. I was in a shitty job working for a competitor to Amazon and play.com. I had hit a brick wall and no longer creative, I wasn’t happy. I emailed Mary Anne to see how I could go about working with her, told her about my dedication to the show and how I practically had all the shows recorded. Mary Anne responded straight away, gave me some excellent advice on who to contact and after quite a few letters I got the chance to work on the Breezeblock as it was known back then, but also on the Essential Mix and Giles Petersons Worldwide show. It sounds easy but it wasn’t. I had to really blag my way into the company. It was only a brief spell working at “Somethin-Else Productions,” they had the tenure to practically all the specialist shows onm Radio 1 and a few select shows on 1Xtra. However, I learnt enough to know what it took at making radio documentaries and specialist broadcasts. Mary Anne and I are in regular contact with each other and she recently returned the compliment with a brief on-air chat on a new feature for her show “Headz Up”

So at which point did you actually decide to have your own show?
I left “Somethin-Else” in Mid 2006, so it wasn’t another 16 months before I started Electronic Explorations. If I’m honest, I had never intended on ever making a show, I had always wanted to be the researcher / radio producer for specialist radio shows, but behind the scenes not up front on the mic. I thought my knowledge and enthusiasm for electronic music would be enough to get a job in the industry, even graduating with honours in Music, but it’s a fickle industry which I learnt the hard way. In the space of those 16 or so months I was rejected by all the positions I had applied for, often making the final 3rd interview but never getting the job!! It wasn’t until I grabbed a copy of Wire magazine when I noticed a feature on ‘Podcasts’ in a computer magazine ‘PC Pro’. It gave the basics ranging from wordpress, choices of software packages and decent microphones, in my opinion is imperative in making a clear and concise podcast. This was around about July / August 2007. I started putting together some ideas and spoke to a few producers I had met when working at Somethin-Else. I always wanted to share the music I purchase with my friends and they always asked what’s new in music or good nightclubs. It wasn’t until I spoke to Milanese, he said he wouldn’t usually do this kinda thing but he could see the enthusiasm for the project. It was crucial to start the show with a bang and to have Milanese kick it off was incredible. The 1st show aired 23rd November 2007 and to date has been downloaded over 20,000 times.

In my opinion, Electronic Explorations is one of the best produced shows. And I’m specifically referring to the layout of the show, the minimal chatter, track ids and the flow. How did you work out the production details?
Haha !! .. ‘Minimal chatter’.. I think there’s still too much. Nobody loves the sound of their own voice unless they love themselves right? … I hate hearing my voice, it was never something I thought I was ever gonna do .. I’m an outgoing person, but I’m also more than happy to sit at the back the club and I also enjoy the quiet life. I don’t really do interviews and to date I’ve only been on air once. I’ve turned down loads coz it’s not something I am totally comfortable doing. I have 15 years worth of specialist radio shows on my computer, ranging from UK, US to Australian shows so I’ve studied how they are done and how my layout keeps the listener informed. I try to make the show so the listener doesn’t fast forward straight to the guest mix.

How did you prepare before your very first broadcast?
Lol, the 1st podcast took about a month to put together if not longer. Milanese made the mix from scratch in around a week and sent the mix out to me. Bitesize who featured on week 021 with dubstepXtechno producer 2562 made all the jingles/beds for the show. I think that was the most pain staking process, trying to describe how I wanted them to sound. This took ages as I had just moved house and had no internet, and to be honest I didn’t give bitesize a great deal of help in how I wanted the jingles to sound, but was very impressed with the outcome. I’m currently putting together v2 of the jingles, freshen them up a little. I spent ages mixing tracks and getting LAME settings sorted. This was to be my biggest selling point, quality control. Other podcasts sometimes sound a little shit in comparison, sometimes muffled, low bitrate etc, wtf is 64 kbps all about when you’re playing bass heavy music, sometimes the music offers no bass or clarity. My friend Scott Brady and I set about finding the best setting awe could do and decided on V0. We were concerned about the final file size but computers these days have 500 GB / terabyte hard drives, so a 200 meg file isn’t too big a deal. He’s a big fan of hydrogenaudio.org Lastly, Steve Perfect was a massive help. He understands everything you need to know about hosting / website / servers / blah blah .. he runs tmb.dj … a music forum dedicated to specialist radio shows. I’ve been an admin on there a couple months after Steve set it all up back in April 2004. Steve was a major help in setting up hosting and wordpress, the rest I’ve done myself, Google is a great help too. I’ve got a friend from the US whose currently making a brand new site for me at the minute, more features, easier to navigate and a donate button ..lol, coz I get a lot of requests for it !!

I imagine it takes a lot to get a weekly show going. Care to share a few daily tasks behind the process?
God, I need 40 hours a day to shift through all the music I get sent in now, not that I’m complaining 😉 At 1st I would be playing music that I had purchased, it was like that for a couple months until producers started sending me enough music so I no longer needed to go to redeye, juno, boomkat or S.O.T.U. I try to listen to everything I get sent, but it’s becoming harder and harder to do now. On an good day I can listen to 100+ tracks, but in order to do a show I tend to listen to maybe 300 tunes. I get about 400 tracks a week at the moment, and I need to put a new battery in the door bell coz I’m having to go down the local post office to collect the vinyl!!! Hotflush Recordings have been great, they approached me and asked if I would like to go on their promo list, I was so happy, as Scuba and Alex are doing an amazing job with the label. 7even, Hessle Audio, Combat Recordings, Immerse, Ranking Records, Black Acre, Boka and Z-Audio also deserve a mention as they’ve been great to me also, really supporting my show. 3 months ago I struck gold, Planet Mu added me to their promo list, I fucking love Planet Mu, never a shit release from the label.

What software do you use to put together the final mix?
I ask for WAV’s if I haven’t been sent vinyl or physical CD’s. I import the WAV’s into Adobe Audition 2.0. Lately I’ve been messing around with Sony Acid and Ableton although I’m yet to use either on the show, it’s a slow process with ableton, but I aim to fully use that app in the future and to also play out live, I’m being asked every week!! I use Audacity for vinyl and have a lovely M-Audio soundcard. I use a Pro-ject Debut record player and a Samson G-Track Microphone. Once I mixdown the show I convert WAV to V0 using settings in foobar2000, a very powerful media player. Then tag&rename for tagging b4 uploading onto my FTP. I’ve set up WordPress to distribute to itunes, blubrry, etc via a nifty little app called Podpress. Tagging the show is essential, Last.fm users will understand. Once the show has been published I create a .cue sheet so the listeners can grab that and then go straight to their favourite track in an instant. More info on that at wiki.themixingbowl.org/Cue

What is it like sitting in your studio, talking into the microphone with dead silence on the other end?
Weird!! But I’ve a nice view outta the window 😉 There’s usually a couple friends hanging around!

When do you have time to go through all the promos and demos?
After work each night, but sometimes I just have to take a night off, my girlfriend is full of encouragement for the show and understands it’s something I’m very passionate about, but there comes a point when I need to move away from the studio and spend time doing more important things. I try and upload as many tracks onto my MP3 player each evening so I can listen in the daytime or when I get the chance.

How do you go about finding your next featured artist?
I love helping to promote an artist I am so passionate about…. giving he/she that extra publicity … Subeena / Mount Kimbie / Phaeleh / Akira Kiteshi etc. For instance, Mary Anne Hobbs promoting Ranking Records, without her I would have never heard of them, so when I help push an artist whose just starting out, I hope I give the listener the same feeling I got from listening to Mary Anne’s show. The same went for John Peel, the 1st time I heard Soundmurderer, Digital Mystikz and The Bug…. By getting Ranking Records onto my show in week 007 has helped push their name further, for me, that’s what the shows all about. I got an email from Phaeleh, Mount Kimbie and Metalbox Products thanking me for having them mix on the show, people were contacting them after hearing the show, that’s what makes me tick. I look for new producers, someone who may have had a release or two, but from those releases you can see major potential, and production that’s spot on … such as Pangaea, Ital Tek, FaltyDL, Jus Wan, Subeena, Mount Kimbie, Marlow …the list goes on! Dubstepforum (DSF) is a great source of info, the only down side to the site is it’s moving so fast it’s hard to keep up now!!

What unexpected relationships and accidental moments since the launch of your show? Also what are some of your best memories and what are some of the mistakes that you made and will learn from?
Getting to know Mount kimbie, Subeena, FaltyDL, Barry Boxcutter and the Combat Recordings crew has opened doors, such lovely people, I have a lot of time for them. Getting in at Planet Mu, coz in the past I never got any replies, even before I started the show. Having Surgeon be on my show is the biggest triumph to date coz the music I listen to has been built on his production, his sets are legendary. He specialized his mix for my show by checking out previous shows I put together. I have mixes forthcoming from Ade Fenton and Hecq which I’m really hyped about! Not sure about accidental relationships, I guess I’m very well know on certain music forums now which can be beneficial in asking for up front promos. In the 2008 DSF awards, they were asking the forum members to mention their favourite radio / podcast shows, I was overwhelmed by the support I got, that made me realise I was on the right track. Best bits also include being “Podcast of the Month” in Clash Music magazine, chosen by Milanese, the amount of traffic on the site was ridiculous after that! Mistakes… maybe offering more on my site, it’s very basic still, it’s having a facelift which will make it more accessible, but it’s not really important, the show is, not the site, but in today’s flashy ‘www’ it’s gotta look good!

Any advice you can give to someone interested in starting their own podcast?
Just go for it … it’s bloody time consuming and you’ve gotta keep on top of it, hosting/web costs, updating the shows on all the music forums.. People need to be aware each time there’s a new show. If your making a weekly podcast the quality has got to be consistent, so you need to have very deep pockets or have some good quality contacts to send you music, if not, it’ll take time to build up peoples trust in sending you beats.

Who would you love to have on your show? Any musical idols that you would drool over to have on?
Oooooh, I like this question! Aphex Twin numero uno. Dave Clarke, Squarepusher, Richie Hawtin, Photek, Shackleton, DMZ takeover Sessions, Coldcut, µ-Ziq, Sigur Ros, Radiohead, Mad Mike Banks, Zomby, Various Production, Jeff Mills, Andy Stott, Amon Tobin, Luke Vibert, VSnares, Burial, and of course Orbital, Chem Bros and Leftfield to reform just for me lol. I wanna Underdround Resistance show …. just playing tracks from its inception to now, chosen by Mike. This list could go on for days 😉

– What are your thoughts on technology and how it has changed the landscape of radio?
GCap who own a large percebtage of the DAB digital radio market have recently scrapped many of their own shows, Channel 4 won the tenure to 10 digital stations in the summer of 2007, but to date have only launched 2 of the 10 contracts. Radio is in the shit, commercial radio stations are seeing the pinch in advertising because of the recession / credit crunch. Internet/Streaming/On demand radio is the future, it’s cheaper, and listeners want to listen to specific genres of music and are switching off from the old-skool national stations in favour of specialist podcasts playing music which is tailored to their own tastes. I can get up in the morning, switch the computer on, download a selection of podcasts onto my mp3 player in a matter of minutes then go about my day. The market I aim my podcast at do exactly that, all my mates do the same, wake up, switch the computer on, stick the kettle on, log in, check emails, grab some toast or whatever, start a download spree of films and music then head off to work. I like listening to totallyradio.com and BBC 5live in the day, but I’ve also got my mp3 player with a ton of podcasts at my disposal. I jumped on the podcast boat quite late, but I think being in a niche market in terms of what I play has helped build a decent reputation, it’s all about being consistent from now on.

What do you think the future looks like?
There’s only HMV left of all the “major retail shops” in England that you can still walk into to purchase music. I can’t imagine a HMV in the future, it’s all gonna be internet stores like boomkat, juno, redeye and beatport. I pray the independents will still be in business, but I just can’t see it. When I moved to the London area in 2000 Berwick Street, Soho had 9 or so record shops, now there’s 2. There’s BM Soho and S.O.T.U. around the corner who specialise in certain genres, but for how much longer. I can’t see albums thriving in the future either, artists will release singles only. Recently, some album being discussed on 5live was available to download legitimately, they released 2 singles from it, but consumer power made one of the album tracks a single by default due to the amount of downloads it had. It never intended to be released, but that’s the point, consumers dictate the market now, not the fat cat businessmen who wanna use X or Y as their single, what the fuck do they know. iTunes will always be in the news, but they need to open their software up to more 3rd party companies. All mp3 players in the future will have some kinda device such as the Zune player now where u can transfer music from mp3 player to mp3 player wirelessly without any issues concerning copyright or mis-use. I reckon the big 4 companies will be just 2 and artists will have the final say in all their intellectual property. It’s all about the bedroom producer now, making music in their room, mastering, to artwork and distributing all from your home. I’ll bring back a sports almanac just like in Back To The Future.

What is the future of Electronic Explorations?
Live shows, imagine booking studio time at Maida Vale! I’ve just aired a Vancouver Dubstep Showcase, that took months to prepare. I’d love to do more, on New Zealand, West Coast, Detroit, Chicago, Texas for example …some amazing talent out there that I want everyone to hear. I’m moving to the Lake District to start a new life now, and I’m joining forces with ‘44breaks’ who organise monthly club nights. They’ve had Neil Landstrumm, Jamie Vex’d, Mary Anne and Altern8 all play. I’d love to do an outdoor festival or just a festival of sorts in the area. The Cumbrian Music council and arts foundation are very welcoming to music and arts in the Lake District National Park. I’d love to stamp my name on that I’d love to do a dubstep/IDM/electronica festival surrounded by some of the most beautiful lakes and natural landscapes in the world. I may start doing smaller showcase guest slots @ 20 mins so I can fit in 2 per show, still gives me 50 minutes to play out tunes. Hopefully at the end of the year Im going branch EE out into a label too as Im getting so much quality unsigned music, its defo in the pipeline, just gotta get the funds together and speak with distro companies like ST Holdings or Z-Audio.

Thank you for your time. Any last words for the readers of Headphone Commute?
Well for one, I’ve been subscribing to your blog for the last year and every musician you interview is very interesting. You don’t stick to the better known artists, you spread the word about producers who people need to know more about … the 2 ½ questions is great!! Get ready for the Hecq showcase .. x2 mixes, your love it 😉 Apart from that, come to my cafe ‘Daisy’s’ in the Lake District National Park, we open at the end of April 😉 The homemade soup is delicious!! And not forgetting the carrot cake the misses makes, hmmmmm scrummy 😉