An interview with Charlie May
01. Hi Charlie and thanks for taking the time out to chat with me. Can you tell us a bit about your music history, do you have formal training, maybe something many people don’t know about you?
I began learning the piano at the age of 4. I drove all my music teachers mad because I would rarely practice and just wanted to make my own music and record things onto tape.
In retrospect, I wish I hadn’t been such a little punk and paid more attention to playing technique and the knowledge these wonderful people were trying desperately to pass on to me. I also sang in choirs and took theory and practical grades, not that accruing heaps of music knowledge is always advantageous, I had to unlearn much of it too at a later stage. However, I enjoyed learning about all the great composers and how miserable their short lives were, yet they were able to produce such timeless beauty in their work. I think that idea of beauty out of shit is very important. It immediately crushes the belief that you need the perfect set of circumstances to make decent records.
02. What are your first memories of electronic music?
Probably around the end of the ’80s when Chicago house and Detroit Techno began filtering into the UK. Up until then, I was (and still am) an unabashed shoegazer. I had always enjoyed Jean Michelle Jarre and Kraftwerk whenever their records were in the charts, alongside bands such as Depeche Mode, Duran Duran, OMD, etc, and could see the connection between their music and classical. So hearing minimal US house and techno was a breath of fresh air in terms of its simplicity and raw power. But best of all this was music you could make at home on minimal equipment. That whole DIY ethic excited me, it still does. It’s pure punk.
03. Where do you see the music scene in 10 years? Do you think it’s evolving or stagnant & how do you see yourself in 10 years within the scene?
I don’t believe music ever stagnates, it’s too exciting to make for that to happen. It can become formulaic but that is just a fear reaction and a ride that everyone wants to get on before the bubble bursts. Who knows where music will be in 10 years. My wish would be for a healthy independent scene that has mastered the use of the internet to spread it’s various messages far and wide so that even small music-making operations can make a living from their art. Hopefully, the cultural bottlenecks of major labels, mainstream radio, and television, etc will have become irrelevant as more and more people make their own choices.
I think it’s becoming increasingly hard for any artist to exist as a free spirit in the mainstream. It has to be so compliant and socially acceptable now. Any artist that manages to retain their integrity and make it huge without compromising today has my respect.
True techno will always be the biscuit crumbs in the bed of commercial music. It appeals to people at a very tribal and fundamental human level, almost like our DNA responds to it somehow.
It’s interesting that since the world went wonky in 2020 certain music just doesn’t seem relevant anymore and yet music with true heart and soul seems more important than ever.
04. Where do you most enjoying playing? Crowded festivals or the more intimate clubs?
Intimate clubs for sure .. festivals do my head in mainly because I can never remember where I parked.
05. Do you prefer to play live/DJ or is it all about the writing of the music and its production?
I love both as they complement each other. Djing offers the opportunity to meet people and also hear music on a big sound system .. something that is extremely relevant once I am back in the studio. Am probably first and foremost a studio rat, I just love the buzz of making sounds that work well together. Playing live can be very exhilarating but obviously, there’s a lot more groundwork and preparation that goes into making it work well. Also, there’s a great balance to be found between writing and performing on the same setup. If I was to play live again it would probably be with that sort of template in mind.
06. Tell us some of the proudest moments of your career to date?
I am just grateful to be able to spend my time making the music I want to make. That’s the best thing of all by far. Anything else is a bonus. You don’t mind the ups and downs so long as you get to go at it again the following day without anyone dictating what or how you should go about it. Some of the greatest moments tend to be private, for example when suddenly you nail a sound or part in a track that’s had you stumped for a while or the perfect sample lands in your lap. The proudest moments are when someone tells you that a record you were involved in had a positive impact on their life or helped them through a difficult time. That’s very humbling.
07. What music genres do you listen to when you’re at home?
I listen to a wide range of music .. there is so much wonderful music out there that is readily available. It has become an easy luxury to constantly explore and discover new sounds. There’s no genre of music I don’t like although I lean more towards the fringes of music production; the underdogs. I still adhere to the idea of music as an act of rebellion so I am naturally drawn to anything with punk spirit. However, I do keep an eye on how much new information I am exposed to daily, as too much can be counterproductive.
I don’t allow any promos for example .. that whole exercise turns my brain to soup after about 10 mins. I much prefer to trawl through various outlets online and I always buy full bandwidth .aiffs or .wavs because the act of choosing and then paying not only encourages listening that is far more discerning and focussed but I also end up with a really refined collection. Having multiple carts on Beatport for instance is a great filter system.
08. What parties/festivals should we not miss this year?
I am so out of touch with what’s ‘going on’ .. so am the wrong person to ask for directions in that area! Plus with all the ‘you know what’ going on the chances are we are going to have to think outside the box for quite some time. Sadly the live/club/festival scene is being devastated at the moment so to anyone suffering as a result of that I wish you all the best. It’s extremely tough currently for so many who make their living on the live circuit.
09. Do you have any does or don’ts regarding tips for aspiring producers?
I google everything all the time. That’s how I learn anything new. Plus I am always re-reading manuals for equipment I already own or watching demos over and over. You’d be surprised at how much deeper you go with each pass. Which brings me to the big ‘don’t’ .. there is a whole industry out there constantly trying to convince producers, especially aspiring artists new to the game that they are no good without this or that shiny new product. This is utter rubbish. You don’t need it. Given the choice between a new piece of gear or creating a killer part or sound on the equipment I already have, 10 times out of 10 I will go with the latter.
Also, make as much crap and rubbish as you can, throw mud at the wall without trying. Most people try too hard so they don’t reap the benefits of mistakes. It’s more important to keep turning up and rolling the dice. Eventually, you’ll roll a 6 and ‘you’ didn’t have anything to do with it, you just showed up.
Never quit no matter how shitty things get. You only need one yes in a million no’s. In other words, the odds are always in your favor if you just keep at it.
10. Lastly, Thanks for taking part in our interview Charlie, Can you tell us what plans you have for 2020, any upcoming collaborations we should know about?
Am currently finishing a collaborative project with Dimitri Nakov and Natasha atlas under the name ‘DNA’ we’ve completed 3 great tracks with at least 3 mixes per track .. am also working on new Spooky material with Duncan Forbes. We have an ep being released sometime this year. The first ‘quiet places’ album qp01 is being mastered at the moment with a release imminently on A Strangely Isolated Place records. In fact, Dave Gardner and Dennis White are popping along to the studio this month to record a follow-up.. the imaginatively titled ‘qp02′. What else, ongoing productions with Wil Brunner of PMT fame under our ‘Uber Unit’ guise .. and going back through the last couple of years of writing to bring some new solo pieces to completion. Creating my artwork and generally becoming more self-sufficient and autonomous. After 30 years of ‘music business,’ that’s where the excitement lies for me now.
Thanks, and Onward..!
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