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Back to the raw: An interview with Parassela

When it was announced last year that Blawan and The Analogue Cops had collaborated for a pair of releases, it didn’t seem like the most obvious of unisons. At the time, Blawan – otherwise known as Jamie Roberts – had just released “Getting Me Down”, the Brandy-sampling white label that was already one of the summer’s biggest underground club tracks. The Analogue Cops – otherwise known as Lucretio and Marieu – had on the other hand been pushing their own brand of militant, hardware-only techno and house since 2007. The music that came out of those first two releases – the A-side of Restoration 013 and the first 12” on Vae Victis Records – was like nothing anyone had heard from Roberts, and although weighted more towards the Analogue Cops’ sound, somehow had an unmistakable heft and energy that the Italian pair couldn’t have managed alone. Looking deeper however, the three have more in common than may be immediately apparent. Roberts’ early productions, a combination of garage, techno and dubstep, were as sparse as the Cops threadbare brand of techno and house; he himself revealed in one interview that “Fram” was made using only four tracks – synth, bass, drums and vocal. They also seemed to have a shared ear for grit; the gnarled acid line of Roberts’ “Bohla” for example is as crud-encrusted as the bottom end of most of the Cops’ productions. Speaking to the trio over the phone, who, along with Roberts’ Karenn partner Arthur Cayzer – better known as Pariah – had gathered in Restoration’s Berlin HQ to make use of the Cops’ well equipped studio, I enquired how the union first came about, amid blasts of machine-made rhythms and squealing analogue noise escaping occasionally from behind the studio door.

“Jamie and Marieu were booked together in Venice a few years ago,” explains Lucretio, who says trio hit it off immediately. “There was a good feeling between us,” he says warmly. A studio session followed which generated ten tracks, forming the basis for their first two releases as The Analogue Cops & Blawan, all made, according to the Cops’ strict rules, entirely with hardware, and without computers. Another session followed, and a new name for the trio was born – Parassela. The results were quickly pressed up on limited white label vinyl, something that led to dissent in the Resident Advisor forums. But the trio are quick to dismiss any accusations of elitism. “We didn’t want to send the tracks to anybody or wait for a reply, we just wanted to press the records,” Lucretio says. “At the beginning Parassela was a project for DJs,” Marieu adds. “We wanted to press just 400 copies for people who really like techno, and then see what happened. It was not in our minds to press just a few copies to be exclusive or to be cool – it’s not our style”.

Their attitude to releasing records mirrors their production ethos – fast, to the point, and pointedly for DJs. The trio’s set-up changes slightly from session to session, but today they are using a Tempest drum machine, a Roland 909, a Vermona synthesiser, effects pedals and a sampler – a spartan set-up, but as Roberts explains, the idea is to keep things simple. “We’ll just jam for a little bit, have a quick run through how we want the track to be structured, and we’ll just go for it – that’s it, on the tape, no mixdowns, just raw audio”. Although the fast, brutal techno of Jeff Mills’ Waveform Transmission Vol 1 is a clear reference for what both camps have in common, Roberts also cites Robert Hood and Anthony ‘Shake’ Shakir as influences, while Lucretio is quick to cite Regis and Surgeon.

These influences are reflected in their productions – a unique mix of different elements that combine the warmth of deep house with industrial noise, pounding kick drums pushed into the red and a tongue-in-cheek loop driven quality with nods to disco; “Sickle” for example, from the Cursory EP on Vae Victis, meshed oven-fresh chords with gritty drums. “I think it’s down to how we all work as individuals,” Roberts explains. “Marieu writes a lot of deep house, Lucretio writes fucking mad techno, and then I do my thing – when it all comes together you’ve got these different influences permeating the music”. But he’s keen to downplay any notion that the trio are simply trying to revive past sounds for the sake of retro pastiche. “It’s kind of looking back, but you don’t have to look at it that way,” he says, impassioned. “We’re not just trying to be old school about things, it’s a different way of writing music y’know? It kind of annoys me when people bring up the whole “it’s pretty old school” thing. Well no, not really, because the guys believe it’s the only way to write techno music, and I kind of feel the same.”

Their new EP for Vae Victis reflects this, with the reference points becoming decidedly blurred. “Never A Night Rest” sees drum machines urged into a burnt-out rattle, and the melodic elements splintered into prismatic fragments, almost as if the three are more interested with exploring abstraction than genre. “We’re not just trying to do something that somebody’s already done,” says Roberts. “It’s quite hard to do when you’re writing techno, because it’s been around for 20 plus years. A lot’s been done in that time, and I think that being a bit abstract is just a way of testing new ideas.” Lucretio and Marieu’s wide ranging DJ sets also seem to play a part in their sound. “We like a lot of bass music,” Marieu explains, “dubstep and UK garage especially – like old Horsepower Productions. I think this kind of bass music, especially the early music that references the sound of Detroit, fits a lot with techno. At 140bpm you can play it with fast techno – we like to mix four to the floor with more broken stuff”. “The Berlin Experiment” on their recent Vae Victis release seems to be most representative of this meeting point, a sparse piece of 140bpm techno which eschews pounding Mills-style power for abstract shuffling percussion and distorted bass, a broken, lopsided creation that feels more like the bastard child of dubstep and techno than any of the current crop of tracks in the 120-130 zone that seem closer to tech-house than anything else.

However, although the Cops are well-versed in these production methods, Roberts himself was somewhat inexperienced in hardware techniques until he met the duo. “I’ve always been a big fan of analogue music and how it relates to techno,” he says, “but growing up I never really had the opportunity to build myself a collection of machines, really just because of money”. Although it may not have been readily apparent at the time, Roberts’ collaboration with the Cops offered the impetus he needed to change his own production processes. “When I met the guys it was a breath of fresh air – they took me on board and let me see how they do things. It was a switch-up I needed to feel more inspired about music. Writing stuff with these guys on analogue gear feels more personal and hands-on than being sat down at a computer”.

“Marieu writes a lot of deep house, Lucretio writes fucking mad techno, and then I do my thing – when it all comes together you’ve got these different influences permeating the music” – Blawan

As he has bought more analogue gear of his own, these processes have manifested themselves throughout Roberts’ solo productions. The shift in texture from his R&S releases became most apparent with his release for Black Sun earlier this year. Loopy, gnarled, grubby – it had all the hallmarks of some of his first tentative steps into analogue solo production, while his Hinge Finger release – something that L.I.E.S. boss Ron Morelli recently compared to the nightmarish sound of Green Velvet – was mired in a sludge that could only have come from the unpredictability of analogue circuitry. “That’s what I kind of like – as I’ve changed my process of working, my records have changed. I wouldn’t say massively, but the character of the sound is a lot different because I’m using analogue equipment. I’m really happy about that actually. I’d like my sound to continue developing and changing.”

Although the Cops’ influence on Roberts is obvious, it’s their influence on Cayzer that comes as more of a surprise. As he explains, he previously collaborated with the Cops on a few tracks which may or may not see the light of day, while today’s studio session sees all four together in a project Lucretio jokingly refers to as “Parasseliah”. “I guess I first started buying their records about two years ago” Cayzer explains. “Out of everyone that’s kind of influenced me in the past couple of years I’d say it’s them the most”. Like Roberts, Cayzer has also invested heavily in hardware items – a Tempest, Prophet and Octatrak sampler to name a few. “After buying machines I feel a lot more free,” he says. “I just make whatever the fuck I feel like”. I ask if, like Roberts, his move away from the garage influenced sounds of his Safehouses EP on R&S can at least partly be attributed to his change in methods. “I’d say it’s affected it in quite a big way,” he responds, “more and more I seem to be gravitating towards making more techno orientated stuff – this year I’ve just spent the year either doing Karenn stuff or concentrating on learning how to make the most of the equipment that I’ve got – far more than I ever bothered to do with Logic.”

Both Roberts and Cayzer’s interest in hardware-driven techno led to the formation of the Karenn moniker, and their own label, Works The Long Nights, last year. The dense, foreboding, industrial clatter of “Chaste Down” felt like a major step in the careers of both, but in comparison to their recently released follow up, it was obvious the collaboration was a work in progress. Now the duo’s sound is more raw, scuzzy and loop driven – something that can also be partly attributed to the Cops’ influence, as Roberts explains. “Karenn’s definitely been massively influenced by these guys – but it wasn’t just about learning, it’s coming here, writing, and being refreshed by an approach to doing things in a way that we never really had access to. So once me and Arthur decided we were going to go down the analogue route – I mean that was the idea with the project in the first place really – it took us quite a long time to amass what we needed”. Karenn’s new EP goes further than just utilising similar hardware methods to the Cops, – it also adopts their approach to recording tracks, with the material recorded live in one take with no computers.

Of course, their various projects seem to be tying in with a wider trend in techno – that of the resurgence of interest in raw, industrial sounds that eschew minimalism for brute force. Britain’s axis seems well represented by producers like Truss, AnD and Perc; in London, parties like Plex and Machine are pushing these kind of artists while engaging with new producers on the scene, joining the dots between techno and the bass world by booking acts like Untold and Livity Sound to play alongside Regis and Surgeon. But what are Roberts’ thoughts on why this sound seems to be currently bubbling to the surface in the UK? “I’m not sure”, he admits, “I’m not really sure I’m qualified enough to judge. But from my experience, and the producers I’ve been talking to, I think it’s because there’s a lot of young guys coming up now who are interested in techno, and the harder industrial stuff is a lot more appealing to the young producer because there’s a lot more energy to it”. However, Roberts can’t deny that his arrival at techno came from a different path – that of a time when the phrase “post-dubstep” was still widely thrown around. Was his gradual move to techno a reaction against that? “I think from the outside you could very much say that,” he says cautiously, “and there’s probably some truth in that. I’m not trying to judge a scene or offend anyone, but I very much think that in a short space of time, a lot of people jumped on other peoples’ sounds. It’s always good to have this cross pollination – but I think the whole thing that happened after dubstep got watered down really fast. It was amazing that these new ideas came out – but I think for the people who felt like their sound was getting ripped off a little bit, the obvious reaction was to find something else.”

I ask Lucretio if he thinks Roberts’ popularity among younger people has helped spread the gospel of techno.“Yeah, I think so”, he says. “When Arthur and Jamie play somewhere they’re not scared to play techno – and actually the crowd like it a lot”. It would also seem that Roberts’ youthful energy has had an impact on the Cops themselves. Their earlier work as Xenogears saw them go above 135bpm regularly – a harder side that was curtailed due to what Lucretio describes as “a prejudice against techno in the clubs” during the past decade. With the Analogue Cops project and their work as Third Side with Panorama bar resident Steffi that followed, their music took a direction closer to house, along with a drop in tempo to match. But it was Roberts’ influence that brought them back to their earlier way of thinking. “I think working with Jamie has been influential for us because we’ve come back to making proper techno,” says Marieu, who offers some insight into the differences between their work with Roberts and Steffi. “It’s different with Jamie because we can experiment more. With Steffi it’s more schematic – we generally do house tracks with a hi-hat, clap – all those things without distortion. It’s a cleaner sound than with Jamie”.

The relationship between Roberts, Lucretio and Marieu may still be in its relative infancy, but it’s clearly showing no signs of slowing down. Live sets for the trio are planned, supposedly combining hardware and turntables, while Lucretio tentatively indicates that the tracks made today between Parassela and Pariah may see a release on a Parassela white label early next year “if we do something good”. But what is perhaps most interesting is how much they’ve brushed off on one another; although the Cops have been embedded within the scene for a good while, it’s clear that working with Roberts has set them back on their original path towards quick-paced, analogue techno. “Now that people are more open to it, we always try to play as much techno as possible, even if the club is a house club or whatever, because that’s the sound we come from,” says Lucretio. But it’s the Cops’ role as mentors that provides the most interesting insight. Roberts has played a significant role in galvanising interest in techno among younger UK auidences, but it’s obvious that without the influence of a pair of Italians living in Berlin, things could have been quite different. And most importantly, they’ve helped two of the UK’s most promising young producers to reach their full potential. As Cayzer tells me, “I finally feel like I’m enjoying making music again”.

Scott Wilson