Alf takes the Technikal View
Reported by VinDiesel
Submitted 22-11-10 20:35
There are many people on the hard dance scene who excel as DJs. There are also hugely talented producers. But it there are a breed of performers who are extremely talented and successful in both fields. Alf Bamford or Technikal as he is more commonly known, falls into this category. Since he burst onto the scene , 6 years ago with his debut DJ set for Heat at the Fridge, he has become one of the biggest known DJs on the scene. This reputation has been cemented by a prolific career both in this country and also abroad in countries such has Australia, New Zealand, South Africa and Sweden.
Technikal has also shown his immense talents not only in his own production of some wicked tunes such as 'Overdrive' and 'Pump It', but he has also been the brains and talent behind helping engineer huge hits for legends including Steve Hill, Phil Reynolds , Nick Rowland etc.
He has launched a very successful digital label, Technikal Recordings and also his debut album 'Klubbed Together' two years ago. This month sees the launch of Technikals new compilation album, Techtonik I tracked down this globe trotting, hard working chappy to find out more about his prolific career, his love of hardcore and to test his ‘technical ‘ knowledge.
Alf we forget that you have achieved all this immense success from a very early age.
Lets go back to the early days, when I remember seeing a photo of a young Master Bamford on the drums in his local paper. Is this where your musical talents started? Were you in bands at school?
I have to be honest and say that I really gave up the whole drumming and musical thing once I started school. As a child it's common to go through phases of things you're into, and drumming was just really one of those phases. I was lucky to play some pretty decent gigs at the age of three, but never persued it once I got into Teenage Mutant Hero Turtles! I never really followed anything to do with music again until my early teens.
Which came first, the production or the DJing?
Production came years before DJing for me, I didn't really see them as a connected thing. I'd been writing tracks a long time before the need to DJ came along. Being so young, it was a bit fruitless attempting to break onto the DJ ladder too, as I was thirteen when I started producing so clubs were still a five year wait for me!
What sort of music did you start producing?
Initially I tried to make trance, I was into the sound when the trance boom was happening in the late 90's. My early efforts did nothing to resemble the sound though, although at the time I felt they did!
During the early stages what was your technical setup? Were you using the likes of Cubase, Logic, or something simpler like a Commodore Amiga?
Even simpler than that, I spent the first couple of years with a program on my PC called Music 2000, which was also on the PlayStation. It was as basic as it gets but taught me invaluable lessons in making the best of what you have, and really got my arrangement and melody writing up to scratch. When I started, I didn't know anybody who was into music production, and I didn't have internet either so I had to teach myself literally everything.
When did you notice that you had a talent for something very special?
I realised I was proficient in the field of music production around the time of my first record being signed. I'd been spotted by Spencer Freeland (of HeatUK) who put me into the studio with Marc French, and it was Marc's encouraging words that made me realise I might be getting quite good at it. I didn't have any other studio experience with anybody else, so the ways I did things were so unique to what Marc had seen before when working with other engineers, which was encouraging and quite baffling to hear.
I have noticed that from your facebook profile, that you have only had 2 jobs that of Artist/DJ/Label Manager and previously Server Fryer at Seafare Fish And Chips.
Haha, yeah it's quite a short CV isn't it! I started working professionally as a music producer at sixteen, so my only job prior to that was at the local chippy.
When did you realise that your talents lay in the hard dance production scene and not in cooking battered sausages, frying haddock and serving mushy peas?
Hey, I'll stop you there, I battered a mean sausage! Haha!
Did you fall into DJ’ing through clubbing?
No, I had my first gig before I was eighteen and due to my youthful face I wasn't going anywhere clubbing legally, so I did have to pretty much wait until then. My first gig came about from a party in Sweden who wanted to book me after hearing a few of my early releases. I only had a pair of knackered Sound Labs vinyl decks which I'd played about on, and realised if I was going to DJ, I'd need to learn to mix CDs. So I took the gig, and then quickly learned to CD mix. I was terrible for the first couple of years I admit. DJ'ing wasn't something I really enjoyed until a few years after starting, as I grew to understand it more.
Now let’s head to your big first DJ gig. Was this was Evolution at the Fridge in 2005?
This was indeed my UK debut, Damo (HeatUK) had been waiting for the right event to launch me into the London hard trance scene, and Evolution came along and he sent me the flyer artwork. Nobody had really heard of me and he had me headlining the event, to completely throw the whole thing on it's on head. It was pretty crazy, and I remember feeling a lot of pressure at the time around it, but bags of excitement.
Describe the evening . . . your thoughts , nerves?
It was quite funny because Spencer used to give me advice, keep me on the right path, and generally make me behave myself, and he called me on the morning of the gig to ask how I was feeling. I was a bit hungover as all my mates had come down the night before to support me, and we'd got a bit drunk, so when I told Spencer this he gave me a bit of a bollocking! Haha! I was playing the last set of the night, the future set, and the night dragged as I just wanted to get on and do it. As it came around I remember starting to feel incredibly nervous and had to have Spencer standing in the booth with me for the whole set in case something went wrong! Luckily it didn't and I think the general reception was pretty positive.
I met your very proud mum that evening at this gig. Was she an immense fan of your music at home?
Haha, yeah she came along to support me. She's not hugely into my music no, but has a lot of respect for what I do and has been superbly supportive from day one. I remember leaving college to do my music and she was obviously concerned but gave me her blessing to do it. She thinks my music has got heavier over the years and says that the bass drum is getting louder every track. I think she's just getting older.
Do you ever get any requests at home to "turn it down!"?
Not anymore! I have my own studio at me and my fiancee's place, and the neighbours don't seem to mind much at all.
What would you describe as your biggest break, or the biggest success that really launched you onto the hard dance scene?
I'd probably say the biggest track which helped to launch me into 'known producer' territory was Global Panic on Tidy Trax which I wrote with Pierre Pienaar.
Tell me about the different parties that you have played for both here and abroad. Which have been the highlights?
Over the years, I've had the fortune of performing at some amazing parties, so it's really hard to knuckle it down to a few but will try my best. In the UK my favourite set ever was Heat NYE @ Brixton Academy for the midnight set. Damo put a LOT of faith and took a big gamble having me on in the main room for that time slot and it was an hour I will never forget. Overseas standout sets have been Impulz and Dancevalley festivals in Holland, and all of my Australia tours. South Africa has probably my craziest fans, and they are always electrifying to play to.
Is your preference to DJ or to produce? Or do you believe that they go hand in hand?
Production every time for me, if I was told I could never write a track again I would find it hard to get through each day to be honest! DJ'ing has taken a much more important role in my career in the past few years though and you really do need both to play off of each other. It's kind of like the chicken and the egg situation on a different angle. DJ'ing wouldn't be as great if I didn't have new material of my own to play, and production wouldn't be as great if I didn't know I could road test my new project in a club at the weekend!
A few years back when we were chatting at Koko, you said to me that whilst the hard dance scene is becoming quieter, the scene would ‘re-emerge’.By this, you meant that gigs and parties would become smaller in scale at smaller clubs, but the scene would grow again and become bigger. Do you still think this will happen?
I think that's actually what's happened now, the scene in general is a tiny nucleus of what it was a couple of years ago, and has basically gone back completely underground. Club nights which were previously abundant in the capital have been reduced to the occasional event every three weeks, with the very occasional big party. It's an immensely well hidden sub genre of an already incredibly niche style of music, so the people who listen to, and support it, have to be incredibly passionate. It relies on this passion, combined with the emerging new talent to see the music through and into the ears of potential fans. And to be fair, it only took one look at Frantic's birthday at Koko back in August to see how successful and busy the event was. It just shows that if there were more nights like that, maybe it could kick start the boom the scene is so desperately crying out for. With so many innovative and crossover new producers pushing out quality music, such as Klubfiller, the music actually sounds very different to how it did five years ago, and I think it's factors such as these which bring genres in and out of "music fashion" so to speak.
Tell me about the different styles that you produce.
I write hard dance, hardcore, commercial dance, trance, drum & bass, and house, all across my different aliases of Technikal, Technikore, Immerze, and Alf Bamford.
I already know the answer to this, but what type of music do you really love producing and why?
Haha, you think I am going to say hardcore? Well I won't deny that, I absolutely love the production style and songwriting elements involved in producing hardcore. But at the same time, I write so many styles now that I'm an avid believer of variety being the spice of life. It's great to be working on a 128bpm house remix on Monday, and then a 175bpm hardcore track on Tuesday. I wouldn't say I enjoy writing any type over any other these days, all styles sit in a perfect harmony!
I was never an immense fan of hardcore, but within your hard dance production you have introduced elements of hardcore music within your tunes. This has now made me listen more to hardcore music. Is this your intention to bring people into the hardcore scene, or are you mixing in your current love?
I tend to write all my music with a certain style to it, be it hardcore, trance or house. My tracks are always very musical and rely on intricate and uplifting melodies. Hardcore taught me the importance of a big hook, and the way it is produced is so 'over-the-top' heavy that I've found that creeping into my other styles. I'd definately say all of my music has got a lot more vocal, as I've embraced songwriting and lyrics. Whether I took that from hardcore or not I'm unsure, but like any genre, it's important to borrow from other styles of music to keep your own genre fresh.
Tell me about Technikore, your hardcore alias. When did you create that?
I started properly writing hardcore around two years ago. I'd dabbled with it in the past and had a few tracks on a few compilations but I never really got massively into it until my fiancee got me into it. The more I listened, the more I wanted to give it a go. I'd been friends with DJ Hixxy for a few years, from working on some early commercial projects. He gave me the encouragement to start cracking on and writing some tracks, and now two laters I'm really enjoying being a part of the Raverbaby crew alongside Hixxy, Re-Con, Squad-E and Al Storm.
Describe the feeling when you heard a DJ play one of your tunes in a club for the very first time. Did you stand nervously scanning the crowd for their reaction, or did you run round manically telling your mates "That’s my tune!"?
I was very aware of what everybody in the club was doing at the time. I was trying to take it all in but it really was a bit of a sensory overload. It was my first time in a 'superclub', and I'd just walked into Koko, down the tunnel entrance, and as I got to the balcony I realised it was mine and Gaz West's 'Mission Accomplished' track smashing out through the speakers. I remember filming it on my crappy video phone at the time and watching it rather often the following week!
What setup do you currently use to produce your music at home?
I've always kept my set-up quite simple, as I grew up producing with software so have 99% stuck to that. I use Cubase 5.5 on a PC with two screens, and all my synths are software with the exception of my Access Virus TI. Then there's a 49 key MIDI keyboard to jam on, and a SE2200A Microphone for recording vocals and other business. All running through my pride and joy JBL LSR4326 pair of monitor speakers. And then the 'never-enough-must-buy-more' acoustic treatment for the room. It doesn't matter how much you spend on that, it could always sound better!
Do you use a professional studio to finalize tunes?
All my tracks are mixed down and mastered at my own studio. I suppose it's professional in the sense that this is my profession! I'd be quite precious of letting somebody else master and mix down my records. I'm pretty decisive of how I want something to sound.
Describe your working schedule? Are you 9-5 five days a week structured, or are you a seven day a week workaholic?
I start work every day at 9.30am, and work through to 5pm, sometimes later. There's always something to do. Be it a remix job, website work, mailing orders, recording a vocalist, running the label, or one of the other million things I find myself doing. It's only when I have nothing to do that I can start working on new music. Weekends are usually about the gigs but I like to make sure gigs are a social event, not just an in-play-out jobby, when I can help it. The weekends are my time off too!
You are in a club as a clubber, you hear a lot of music… you suddenly get some ideas for a tune be it a riff, bassline etc. How many times have you been tempted not to go home and hang out with your mates and head back home and write some music?
Never these days, my studio doesn't get switched on at the weekends. I spend so much time in front of Cubase in the week that I actually need the weekends off to recharge and relax. People may laugh but a full day on Cubase when working to deadlines and when it 'isn't going quite right' is mentally exhausting!
We had a conversation back in Ibiza a few years ago. About the fact that clubbers are more clued up than ever on who the DJs are, what music they are playing, right down to the tunes they play in their set. Does this make your job harder or easier as a DJ or producer?
Well I really do get a bigger buzz when playing to a crowd who know my tunes and style, than playing to a crowd that don't. That buzz alone makes it easier, as I find the more I enjoy myself whilst DJ'ing, the less I struggle.
How do you deal with ‘unconstructive criticism’ especially on forums. Do you take it to heart? Do you feel like responding or do you have to hold back?
People that can't take criticism, constructive AND non constructive, shouldn't become a part of the music industry. That's that. Music is a topic which incites a lot of passion in people. Passion makes some people scream and cry with happiness when their favourite track is played. This is the same passion which can make the same people write hurtful and slandering comments about an artist because they don't like their music. As soon as I understood that, then it no longer bothered me. I tend to have a good giggle when the odd harsh comment is thrown in my direction. To be fair, you can't please all of the people all of the time, and I'm down with that!
You work full time as a DJ and producer. A lot of people of the scene hold down full time jobs. Have you found it hard to keep work in terms of production jobs and gigs coming in?
It's been hard but I'm glad I've stuck with it. Being able to dedicate my working time to my music is something I'm eternally grateful for and will never take for granted. It's all about keeping busy, being strict with yourself, and balancing everything. If you're doing it full time, there's no point spending three days working on a brand new track if you don't have any gigs over the next three weeks. Balance up and spend that time instead working on securing those gigs. Likewise, if you have a busy weekend of parties coming up, stop working on that website and get some new material written for your sets!
Do you ever feel that the talents of the hard dance DJs and producers are poorly rewarded compared to their compatriots in the mainstream music scene?
Hugely, but no less than other underground genres. In an ideal world, all music genres would be equally represented, but as it goes hard dance is a subset of music which I think will always remain a niché. It just goes to show the love for the music from the producers and DJs we have representing our scene.
Commercially what sort of music do you listen to that is not hard dance related?
Anything and everything on Radio One, I do listen to a lot of commercial stuff in the car. Favourite artists on the radio these days would be Ellie Goulding, Eliza Doolittle and I really like that new track from that fella Mike Posner.
If there was a famous pop star band, singer or producer in the mainstream of pop music that you could work with, who would it be and why?
Anybody? I love Ellie Goulding's voice, she'd sound immense on a big trance track. The ultimate producing fantastical opportunity, would be to jump into a time machine, and zap myself back to the eighties and sit in and watch Quincy Jones producing the Michael Jackson hits of that era. Such amazingly cool drums and edgy production for the time, even now. I wouldn't want to work with him, no. I'd ruin it. Just to magically watch. I wouldn't even want to learn anything from it, it would just be insane to see.
Two years ago saw the launch of your first album 'Klubbed Together'. Describe the feeling when you first saw when you saw in on the shelves in your local HMV.
It was a great concluding moment to the whole album project. The idea of 'Klubbed Together' had been floating around in my head for a few years, but I was waiting for a label to express interest in the idea, and I wanted to be able to pretty much hand pick my line up of collaborators and not have any of them say no! Luckily everybody I approached about the project was really positive and was up for collaborating. The whole album took nine months to write. I didn't know how long it would take as I'd never done anything like it before, but I didn't think it would take that long. It made seeing it in HMV that whole lot sweeter!
How has this been received commercially?
The album did really well and fulfilled expectations. A lot of people were quite taken aback with the shifts of different sounds throughout the album but it was generally really well received and it was a definate success for me.
I have immensely enjoyed your many free demos that you have put on your website (www.technikal.co.uk/demo) which I have listened to over and over. Does your foray into compilation production mean the end of these free demos?
I have given away a lot of free music via my promo mixes, and I have had some amazing opportunities come off the back of them, but the time had come where I realised I may have been underselling my work by giving it away in these free mixes. I'm immensely proud of the music I write so have taken the plunge with my new mix 'Techtonik' as a full release, but I think this is reflected in the quality of the mix, the bargain price, and the fact that there are 2 CD mixes on the package.
Tell me about your digital label Technikal Recordings. What made you create this? How successful has it been?
I started Technikal Recordings once the vinyl market had all but died. I was signing my music away to third parties and giving up my rights to my own music, so I decided to bring everything back in house and launch my own outlet. I was careful to keep the brand of the label synonomous with my already established Technikal brand, and named it accordingly. Since day one the label has done incredibly well on Trackitdown and we have recently expanded to most other digital stores.
This months sees the launch of your second album. Tell me about this. How long did it take to produce?
'Techtonik' is a different kettle of fish to 'Klubbed Together' as it's a compilation rather than an artist album. As such, it was a lot quicker from conception to final release, but I have been working on the music on it for the past twelve months. It was only in the summer that I decided to compile it all, alongside some of the biggest tracks from some of the best talent in the business. I'm really proud of the compilation, with CD1 being a trek through the uplifting, trancier side of hard dance, and CD2 being the more full on, tougher disc.
You have turned your talents to many different areas in the hard dance scene. DJ'ing, production and label owner. What future goals do you hold? What have you not tried yet... promoting your own party?
I've always waited until I knew I could take something on and do a proper job of it, and promoting is not something I think that I could manage as well at the moment, but I'd never say never! It's been discussed before but I've never gotten it out of concept stages as another bloody remix always comes along! ;-)
OK Alf, now time for some technical quick fire questions, to test your Technikal knowledge!(Apologies for the following geek speak…to our non technical audience!) What does BIOS stand for?
OK well I'll make sure I don't use Google to cheat on these. Not too sure about this one, is it Basic In Out System? As a guess!
Up to how many cores get you get on an Intel Core I5?
Up to? Well I'm pretty sure the i5 is one of the newer chips, so I'd say up to 4.
Whats the minimum RAM that you need for Windows 7 32 bit?
1 GB. Again, I think!
Thank you very much Alf, you have completed and passed this Technikal Interview with flying colours!!
All photos courtesy of Alf Bamford. Not to be reproduced without permission.
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