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Mechanimal’s Digital Nature album preview at London’s Psymera Summer Boat Party
Reported by Nikki S
Submitted 19-06-19 20:37
After the global success of his debut album Inertia, 67 releases, and countless gigs and festivals across the globe, Mechanimal has firmly established himself as one of the world’s top psychedelic trance acts. In between all of the studio sessions, jet-setting and rocking dance floors, we caught up with Nick from Mechanimal ahead of his Digital Nature album showcase set on the Psymera Summer Boat Party in London on Saturday 29th June.
Hi Nick, thanks for taking the time out of your very busy schedule to catch up with us! It’s always great catching up one of Psymera's favourite artists and to hear more about the exciting projects coming up. This year you are celebrating the 10th Anniversary of Mechanimal. Can you tell us how Mechanimal came about?
Mechanimal was initially a duo with Junior aka Earbug. We met in London when a mutual friend introduced us: I was starting to produce psy trance and was looking to make some contacts and he was running one of my favourite events, Psy Invasion. Shortly after we met there was a period of time that he actually moved next door, so it was inevitable that we'd jam in the studio. It turned out we had a great chemistry making music so by combining our passion for heavy psychedelic music, his contacts and my technical ability we thought it would be a great opportunity to start a project.
This was also how the name came about: we used to joke that I was the mechanic and Junior was the party animal: a funny yet important recipe when it comes to writing technical music yet keeping in touch with the scene. We frantically produced our first live set within about two weeks and whilst it was pretty rough around the edges it was really well received and we ended up performing all summer around London’s underground parties.
As part of the 10th Anniversary celebrations you are releasing a new album Digital Nature plus remixes of your debut album Inertia on the almighty 24/7 Records. Can you tell us about the album concept? What was your main course of inspiration?
The album didn’t really have a concept; I mainly felt that there was a need for a coherent set of new music. To be honest I had hit a bit of a low. Over the years I had taken on many projects, such as running a record label and producing sample packs to get by, but as a result Mechanimal had taken a back seat. I had put out a few tracks here and there, but the scene had really moved forward.
It was at my last gig before becoming a dad that this really become apparent. Al Shanka was on the line-up, and whilst we had a great time at the party, my set sounded dated and he gave some honest feedback that my music used to be really good however I could do much better. This really hit home and was the much needed kick up the arse I needed to get back into writing and reach my full potential.
With fresh enthusiasm I worked hard on a new EP Quantum Lab for 24/7 Records and took on some exciting opportunities such as writing The Tesseract for a new American label Sculpted Sounds. The EP got to number 1 and fuelled my passion for the genre again. To this day Al’s advice has been ringing in my head and helped me strive for quality.
Despite the success of my releases the project still didn’t really gain momentum as I’d hoped. With the birth of my son I was full of joy and inspiration but had very little time and energy: this was the breaking point and something had to give. I could either continue juggling various projects to get by or I could specialise and hopefully thrive. I decided to close various projects, such as my record label, and focus on psy trance.
Whilst embracing change I also decided to leave Mutagen Records. Matt (Contineum/Mutaliens/Mutagen Records owner) has shown nothing but support over the years and allowed me to do my own thing, however I really wanted to wipe the slate clean. I wanted to write without any particular label in mind so it could be done purely out of passion, rather than meeting a criteria or putting something out just to remain relevant.
What made you choose doing an album project over releasing singles/EPs? Where did the title come from and how long has it taken to produce?
I chose to do an album as I remember seeing a comment by Armin Boom Shankar mentioning that an album is like a business card. It’s a very effective way of making a connection with promoters if you give a physical CD of a coherent set of music produced to the best of your ability. This really resonated with me, especially with where I was at creatively. I feel that each format for release is important and works almost like a cycle: singles for dance floor hits/to remain current; EPs to show off new production techniques/concepts and lastly albums to celebrate milestones in one’s creative journey.
What better way to celebrate the milestone of 10 years than with a new album? To mark the occasion, I also organised remixes of my first album Inertia with some of my favourite artists in the scene: this was a pretty big deal for me as I hadn’t let anyone remix these tracks in five years! With a year of writing and prepping the remixes it was time to find a home: after the recent success of my EP and long working relationship with 24/7 I felt it would be a good fit.
When I got in touch with Andy (Materia & 24/7 manager) with the demos he was really excited about the idea and I’ve received nothing but positivity and professionalism from him in organising the releases ahead. I’ve always felt that 24/7 have been at the forefront of psy trance production and I’m honoured to be joining them.
As for the title Digital Nature it’s from one of the album tracks that I did with my mate Marc (AudioFire). The track has a unique drop that I love, plus I feel it hits a sweet spot in terms of the flavour of the album. In all honesty though I mainly picked the name because it sounds cool haha.
With all of your globetrotting and jet setting your passport must be getting very full! What has been your most memorable gig to date, and why?
Supernova at Brixton Academy was one of the most profound gig experiences: I was playing electric guitar for Greg Brookman’s A.L.I.V.E. PA. We opened the show with a version of imperial march and I was dressed head to toe as Darth Vader rocking a flying V in front of over 5000 people, It blew my mind! shortly after we played a version of adagio for strings - an absolutely epic moment but didn’t know whether to throw up or smile from the adrenaline rush haha.
As for Mechanimal it would probably be Darwish's Desert Adventure 11 in Israel. The venue was in the middle of the desert: nothing for miles and then all of a sudden, we reached a beautiful complex with palm trees, various animals, big tents and a massive dance floor shrouded by a stack of well-tuned Funktion Ones.
I was fortunate enough to play at sunrise: amazing to see people pulling shapes in the night and then when the sun hit the dance floor the energy would erupt with people kicking up the dust – the crowd were completely lost in the moment, in a real trance, instead of just fist pumping and looking at the DJ. Apart from playing the set I had also made some great friends: Ilan (Shivatree) had really looked after me during my stay plus I got to hang out a lot with Nikola Sonic Entity, now also known as Imaginarium. Great to see how they’ve both gone on to become a huge success and I’m incredibly happy that they’re part of the Inertia remix series.
A few years ago you relocated from the UK to Barcelona, which is home to quite a number of top psytrance producers (and is one of my favourite cities in the world). What inspired the move? How have you found living there? How is life there different? And what does your daily routine involve?
My wife had the opportunity to change office within Europe for work. As she’s Spanish we chose Barcelona; it made sense so we could be close to her family plus I could learn the language. Life is great here! I'm eating a lot better, more active and being close to the airport helps for travels.
As for daily routine it’s pretty much eat, sleep, psy trance and repeat haha especially in the last year where I’ve been dedicating my time to the album. All my other time is spent with my family.
You have also recently become a father with a very cute and cheeky monkey called Brian. People say even with the training of big weekends gigging and at festivals that nothing can prepare you for the tiredness/sleeplessness. Is this true? How has been a father impacted your music? Has it made you more determined and focussed? Or have you eased back on the studio, gigs and travel to make the most of your son being young?
Yes I fell in the trap of thinking my all-nighters would somehow prepare me for the sleepless nights ahead but didn’t really factor in it would be every single night for over a year before I’d get something that resembled a good night’s sleep lol. It’s been a real roller coaster of ups and downs physically and emotionally, but I’m happy to say that things have got much better and that becoming a father has been a wonderful experience, I love Brian to bits.
Becoming a dad has also had a very positive impact on my work. Even though I’ve got little time and energy I’ve never been so determined and my work ethic has become a lot stronger. I’ve always worked hard but I’d often take opportunities for short term comfort and drift between projects I enjoyed, rather than thinking about long term success and happiness. I find that in this day and age the world is full of opportunities and it’s so easy to take various career paths, but people get stuck in the corridor keeping their options open rather than going through a door and making something happen. Becoming a father has given me the strength to this.
Let’s talk tunes and production. You’ve got a super modern, extremely well thought and organised studio ... (it's beautiful people, all white and feels like sitting in heaven). Talk us through your studio set up, new additions, absolute essentials and your favourite pieces of hardware or software.
My studio has always been a pretty straightforward set up of a computer, sound card and speakers and only in recent iterations I’ve invested in a hardware synth or two for a bit of an edge. In its current form I really wanted to prioritise sound above all: I invested in lots of acoustic treatment and even chose a desk that wouldn’t interfere with my listening position too much.
My computer is a Mac Pro 2013: it’s got a small footprint, quiet and modular in design so I can upgrade as my needs change over the years. This is connected via thunderbolt to a UAD Apollo: converters are nice and I love the sound of the plugins.
For monitors I’m using PMC TwoTwo 8s: I wanted something I could use in a near/mid field environment which had a wide frequency range that would remain consistent at low listening levels. Lastly, I can make use of the on-board high-quality converters with the digital connection that allows me to monitor direct from the DAW.
As for hardware I’ve got a trusty Virus TI: a classic among psy producers and although everyone uses to death you can’t dispute its amazing capability of making dance music patches: a true workhorse and I still only feel I’ve scratched the surface of its potential.
Next up I’ve got a white MS20 mini. On travels I sometimes buy new instruments to learn/record and on my recent trip to Japan I’d be mad not to buy a Korg: it was about €200 new! I was really happy to bring that little beast back.
Finally, I have my modular synth. For many years I owned a Nord lead 2X: it was the main sound source for most of my first sample packs and tracks but ended up selling it (doh!). I really missed how easy it was to dial in a patch and was fond of its aggressive upfront sound, especially for the FM and various filter shapes. For a long time I considered buying one again but after working with Lucas and his epic modular synth collection the seed was planted and decided to build a 1 row system based (more or less) on the architecture of a Nord Lead. At the heart of it is a Hertz Donut mk III, which is an absolute monster of an FM oscillator, and a Xaoc Belgrad, a twin peak filter with 10 filter combinations: endless fun!
As well as releasing music as Mechanimal you’ve also put out many sample packs: do you have any other projects on the go at the moment?
I’m probably more known for my sample packs than my music: I’ve been doing it for about 12 years now, and whilst it can get tedious, it’s a great way to expand my skills for my own productions, plus its nice to know that it may help other producers in the scene.
Other than writing psy-trance and producing sample packs I dedicate my time to production, mixing and mastering services at Res Mastering. I’ve been working with artists of many genres professionally for over 14 years now. I love to work with different styles and it keeps my approach to doing my own music fresh.
Tell us about your musical background. When did you first start producing? How did you get into it? From the sounds of the chord progressions, harmonies and melodies in your tracks I’d say you’re classically trained. Tell us more.
Throughout my whole life I’ve always enjoyed music. Growing up I’d take a lot of road trips with my family and they’d always play classic rock or ambient music such as Vangelis. My dad would also play the guitar, an electric piano and oboe at times; I wasn’t really keen on learning an instrument at the time but I remember enjoying messing around with the effects on the piano.
It was when I was around 11 years old that I bought my first CDs: Prodigy – The Fat of The Land and Roni Size – New Forms. These albums were the soundtrack to my long journeys to and from school for a good few years and where my addiction to bass-orientated music was set in stone. One of my favourite computer games was also Music 2000: I loved making beats and abstract videos – not much has changed lol.
Into my teens I needed to find a hobby and I was pretty bad at sports, so I thought I’d give the bass a try. I really enjoyed it and playing the instrument quickly became a passion. Most of my friends were into punk rock or hip hop but I was still drawn to the heavier side of music, plus growing up with a lot of progressive music I’d prefer tracks with more of a journey. It was only inevitable that I’d get into TOOL: this was one of my favourite bands growing up and I guess fuelled my interest for psychedelic music. In no time I started playing in various bands, gigging and meeting lots of like-minded artists: it really helped my express myself and build a lifestyle. It was around this time that I joined a heavy metal band called Inertia – we went on to play many famous venues around Paris and got into the semi-finals of Emergenza battle of the bands.
Fast forward to university in 2005 and I was very much on the same mission: to become a better musician, play in a band and build a life around my passion. I managed to collaborate with many artists of different genres and was eventually exposed to music production. My flatmate at the time, Liz Cirelli, had a friend, Greg Brookman, who was looking for a guitarist to play over hard trance: he was already a well established artist and had some exciting opportunities ahead such as Tidy Weekender and Supernova that I could be a part of. I was eager to start and went from playing in metal bands to about 100 people to festivals of thousands; these were some of the best times of my life and when I learned to feel music again instead of analyse it based on musicianship for example.
Keen to learn production and make my own tunes I got Cubase SX3 and started learning via YouTube tutorials and got some help from friends at university, including Rob Talbott (Dodge, Manager of Disciple Recordings) who knew the program inside out.
Being a musician as well as a producer, do you notice you have a different method to other producers who are more self-taught? In what ways does understanding music theory empower your style and creativity?
I’d say the biggest impact has been on the choice of sounds: my music is very ‘in tune’. Everything down to the hi hats has been carefully tweaked to harmonically work with the track. Whilst for the most part it’s one of my strengths, I’d also say that it’s one of my downfalls –sometimes it’s good to have elements which stick out or create dissonance: I’ve learned that music doesn’t have to make sense or follow theory; it’s all about capturing a feeling.
As for creativity, I’ve always taken inspiration from other genres: you’ll often find breakbeat sections within my tracks with drum & bass influenced reese basses. For example, I’ll also try to record live elements such as using my electric guitar or sitar to create atmosphere.
When working on a track, how do you know when it’s ready for release? How much tweaking and live testing do you tend to do?
Those who have worked with me know that I’m all about ‘to do’ lists. When I feel I’m close to completing a track I’ll listen from the top and write notes of anything that feels boring, too busy or could be improved on, for example, with a time code. I’ll do the list and repeat the process until there’s nothing I can pick out. This coupled with playing it out once or twice will confirm if it works and then it’s a case of accepting that I’ve done it to the best of my ability and to release it fast. If I let things hang on then inevitably my production processes change and it becomes a never-ending cycle of tweaks.
For all of us studio geeks, here's some quick-fire questions (that we’ve all be dying to ask…).
Mac or PC?
Whatever you find easy to work with however I’d probably lean towards Mac if you’re using in a professional capacity. I may be wrong, but I’ve found to be Mac more stable; especially for live use. Having a stable/virus free system is also very important for me as I work with many clients: my backup system is almost as expensive as my computer lol!
Cubase or Logic?
I’m a Cubase user but in the end it’s apples and oranges: most DAWs are pretty similar – I used Logic at Lucas’ studio recently and picked it up pretty quickly for example. In the end it’s all about the music so use whatever inspires. I’ve heard some of the most killer music made on FL studio for example!
DJ or Live?
My live set is a hybrid: I bring about 30 tracks with me and build the set as I go cueing the tracks up on their channel on the mixer. I also have some soft synths and loops that I can play in between mixes. I’ve found this is a great balance between connecting with the crowd yet having performance capabilities. As for the scene I feel both play their part: it’s important for producers to make music but it wouldn’t get anywhere without the DJs’ support pushing their music.
Favourite soft synth?
Serum. One of my favourite features is the wavetable editor: it’s great to import your own wave cycles from various synths into the engine.
Favourite hardware synth?
I’d have to say my new modular synth set up: it sounds awesome and can get some really mad results that would be near impossible within the DAW/conventional synths.
Favourite piece of kit?
Probably my monitors: I can and do listen to them all day lol.
What’s best for kicks: samples or Kick2?
I’ve always preferred having the flexibility of a synth to create kicks. Even the strongest of samples will still pigeon-hole you into a certain production sound. You can always reverse engineer the sample with a synth and take it further for example.
Sample packs or synthesis?
I’d say about 80% of my tracks are built from synths. Unless I’m looking for some inspiration or filler sounds, I tend to synthesise everything: for me it’s just so much quicker than diving through sample libraries plus it means I have a signature sound.
What’s your favourite plugin or FX unit?
Probably the Massenburg MDW EQ: I feel it doesn’t change the character of the sound too much: a clean workhorse EQ which does the job/gets out the way. Nothing too exciting but finds itself on almost every channel.
And most importantly, what’s your favourite drink?
At a psy trance party I love having a few ciders. When out with friends I’ve lately been enjoying having a few vermouths and lastly during the week I’m fuelled with coffee – lots of coffee.
Over the years you've played at some of the most kicking events London has to offer, and you are one of Psymera's favourite special guests. This will be your first Psymera Boat Party, what have you heard about it? What are you most looking forward to? And why should everyone that loves psytrance come down?
BBQ, sun (hopefully) and psy trance on a boat – what’s not to love?! It’s always fun to go to a different style venue, plus the smaller size means I can really interact with the crowd. I’m really hoping its a sell out! It will be my first performance of my album in London, so its a big deal for me to see how its received.
Finally, as a well-established artist in the psy trance scene, with a seriously impressive collection of releases and tour dates, do you have any advice for the aspiring DJs and producers out there?
Three things: make music, market yourself and connect with people. It sounds simple but you’ll be surprised at how quickly you can lose touch when you slack in one of these aspects. I’ve found out the hard way haha.
If you’re an artist, you need to make music! It’s easy to get lost in social media these days and let your productivity go down the drain. Psy trance is also predominantly music for the moment, so its also important to stay fresh and keep pushing, especially as the scene is inundated with releases weekly.
As for marketing, let’s face it, if you haven’t got a solid fan base then promoters are unlikely to book you or at least for a fee that can support a career. They put a lot of time and financial risk into events so it’s difficult to justify artists with small fan bases no matter how good the music: stop making excuses and get in the game. I’m an introvert and goes against every bone in my body to post about myself etc… but you can make it a habit and eventually it will become second nature.
Lastly connecting with people. In the end friends help each other out. It was, is and will probably always be the way forward in most industries, including music. People always complain about festivals always booking the same artists/friends but it’s just how things work. You don’t have to be a larger than life character either: people follow passion and if you can share that with people some way on your travels then you’ll eventually get to where you want to be.
Thank you Nick for taking time out to catch up with us... we look forward to your set at the Psymera Boat Party on Saturday 29th June!
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All images courtesy of Mechanimal. Not to be reproduced without permission.
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The views and opinions expressed in this review are strictly those of the author only for which HarderFaster will not be held responsible or liable.