Rowan Blades: Southern Blades

The Australian dance scene recently received a new resident. While the name Rowan Blades may not be a household name to many of dance music’s current followers, to those of us who recognise the name ‘Breeder’, this was very exciting news indeed. While the days of Breeder (a collaboration project between Rowan Blades and Simon Noble) may now be gone, there is an unmistakable level of quality and finesse that shines through in whatever Mr Blades puts his hand to. ITM caught up with Rowan recently as he’s starting to settle in to life in Australia.

ITM: It’s a pleasure to welcome you to our shores Rowan, how exactly did the move half way across the world come about? Was it something you’d been keen on doing for a long time?

Thanks man, indeed I have been pondering over this move for years. Ever since I first came here in ‘93 as a post A Level student on my supposed world tour, I fell in love with the place. I met Jumping Jack in a record shop and hung out with him and his pals and had a great time. I’ve always been affected by the pissy weather in the UK, not to mention the pace of life there being so full on. People rarely stop to enjoy life and are more concerned with the pay cheques. I find the vibe here a lot more laid back and geared towards enjoying yourself. In the UK people cram everything into the weekends, options often limited by the rain and cold. Here you can go to the beach after work, even in winter! On the work front I had exhausted Eastern Europe as a DJ and wanted to build something over here and in Asia. I felt it was time to change my environment and to focus even more on the DJ side of things. Here was my obvious choice. Having visited 5 times now, I was sure I’d be happy here on a long term basis.

ITM: Did you get anyone trying to tell it was a bad idea for any reason?

Well, my best mates told me I was running away from my career as everything is focused around the UK. With the internet, no DJ can use that excuse anymore. The goods are all out there regardless of the fact that you are miles away from those, once revered, UK record shops. Also, it’s not so easy to gig in Oz if you have to include flight costs from the UK, and it’s somewhere I wanted to tour and build a vibe in. Different people have different needs and I needed a balance between spending 18 hrs a day staring at my Mac screen and actually having a life too. Yes, music is top of my list of things to do, but I also like to be healthy and get outside and amongst it. Here you can have it all. I can fester in my pit, working all day, and then go for a nice pushy ride or walk to the beach.

ITM: You’ve been involved in dance music since you were a teenager, running bookings through a public phone booth near your house so your parents wouldn’t find out what you were up to… how do you think both dance music, and your view on it, has changed since then?

It has and it hasn’t… It’s all objective for the individual. The most disappointing thing to me was how it all became so pretentious and elitist. The whole ‘superstar DJ’ thing certainly has a lot to answer for, but also the popularity of it changed its face in many ways. When I first went out, at least for the first 3 years, the scene was about people coming together, dancing like nobody’s watching and vibing up. There was very little interest in the DJ, only the music. Although there was a type of fashion associated to it, it was never about that. In fact the scruffier you were the more appropriately dressed you were for the occasion. Once it broke into the mass market, there was suddenly a huge influx of drifters who were only going out due to the fact that it was the thing to do at the time. It really did water down the quality of many events. The motivation behind going out had shifted and it showed. Too many careers built on over exaggerated hype – including my own! – and too many wanna be DJs and groupies, all eager to get a slice of the pie. For a period, going to dance music events became a fashion statement rather than just to have a good time. The backlash came and now we are seeing things slowly slip back underground to where it belongs. Having travelled to so many weird and wonderful, but less developed and spoilt, places, I was able to see the essence of it all on a regular basis. People who have not been overexposed and ripped off by ridiculous entry fees keep the same passion that I first saw in the late 80s in the UK. I think people become disillusioned and bored of the same thing, just like anything in life and I’ve certainly had my ups and downs with it too. One too many sweaty trainspotters more concerned with the production techniques and name dropping can wear you down after a while because that’s not what it’s about. The touring I did during the Breeder era was quite lonely and often felt like no one wanted to know you for you, merely just how you EQ’d the kick drum to sound so phat. I think it’s getting back to how it was pre the excessive hype and it’s really good to see. Progressive music was the most anal, elitist genre of all time and it certainly had a part in the decline of the scene at one point. It’s always been about the party and always will be.

ITM: I’ve read in a previous interview that you thought the experiences that the Breeder project gave you turnerd you into a bit of a c*nt… do you think things would be much different had you not got together with Simon in the studio?

Well, firstly had I not been involved in such a hyped act at the most significant time for that sound I’d probably be doing something totally different as well as being very bitter about it! Breeder was a good solid little outfit which left its mark on the scene and certainly I have a lot to thank it for. I really wouldn’t change a thing as I’m really happy now and more focused on music than ever before. I never do things by halves and I’m taking DJing as seriously as we took Breeder. I needed to experience the highs and lows or yin and yang of the whole thing to give me the balance I have now. You never have a high without a low and learning that can be both painful and enlightening. Breeder is actually reforming and we are currently looking into ways to get Simon out here so we can work for a few months. If there’s anyone out there who wants a talented lodger in return for lessons/track writing time with Simon, feel free to get in touch. We want to at least try to make some good music as we feel we never reached our potential. The energy we had in the studio was unreal. Often edgy but in turn that created something quite magical for us both.

ITM: Your collaborations seem to have been some of the more defining tracks of your career, from Breeder of course, to two projects with Gaetan Schurrer (Pariah/Webcore), remixing with Gaetan & Andy Page, Desyn Masiello, and the stunning Filth with Chris Lake, do you have a favourite collaboration you’ve done?

I love the main people I’ve worked with as they are friends as well as muso partners so it’s always fun. John Graham, Omid, Chris and Gaetan are all people I like to spend time with so it’s really good to catch up. I’m hoping to convince each one of them to come out and work at some point. To answer your question, obviously I can’t choose a better buddie out of that lot but purely based on work, John Graham is like me. he likes to get things done and it happens fast. For a man of his talent he is very accommodating and easy to work with. Having spent so many fruitless hours in studios in the past, I’m no longer prepared to sit around smoking countless jazz cigarettes and eating junk food. I get a huge kick from hearing tracks come together and nothing else has a place in the studio other than concentration and work. With John I always know we’ll finish something and take the time and care over it. As far as actual tracks go, I’ve never been overly happy with anything I’ve ever been involved in. There’s so much more to express yet.

ITM: Is it hard to sometimes compromise ideas in a collaboration situation or is it something you’ve found easy to get around or even avoid with the people you’ve worked with? Have there ever been any times when you’ve though ‘That doesn’t really fit’?

Again, this is really objective. People’s opinions always differ, that’s human nature. The key is, as with everything in life, to learn to compromise. We can’t always get what we want… but if you try sometimes, you’ll get what you need. Simon and I were both hotheads at the time who were very stubborn and often wouldn’t budge. It’s very destructive to be like that, it achieves nothing. Of course when collaborating it’s often the case that there may be one or two parts/sections you might not like but you have to learn to accept that. The ego needs to be tamed and firmly put in its place.

ITM: How have you found the scene in Australia so far? Was the move for more professional or personal reasons?

I’m still settling in. I’ve been ill solidly for a month since arriving and have not been out much. It’s slowly growing on me and I’m sure it will feel more like home quite soon. If I’m honest as to the reasons, the main reason was that I needed a fresh environment and to be in a capital city that is still quite active with regard to club life. I’m so into what I do, more than I’ve ever been, that I wanted to test myself and to build a good enough reputation here to be playing every week. You might ask why I couldn’t do that in the UK and my answer is, you probably can. If you know the right people and are prepared to play the game. The thing is there’s so much backscratching that goes on, it distorts reality and you end up getting somewhere simply because you have been endorsed by a peer. Back home, believe it or not, I still got requests for Breeder stuff or had disappointed people when they realised I didn’t play 140 bpm prog. Here I can blend into the background and start again with the new generation of party people who neither know nor care who the fuck Breeder was. Here is a fresh start and a new challenge. I know the Aussies like to party and the weather means there’s plenty of scope to do parties outside and create a nice vibe. I really want to start my own very, very small event, all about the music and people. A small bar with an outdoor area and just the real music lovers. Already I have seen a great passion amongst people here who are less concerned with ‘making it’, ‘knowing the DJ’ or ‘producing’. It’s really refreshing to see.

ITM: What’s your studio setup like these days? Did you bring all your gear over or do you not use hardware at all now?

Hahaha, I sold it all and just have my laptop now. I would rather work in already set up studios as opposed to going through the whole working from home thing again. Although it’s convenient initially, I find working from home can force you into a hermit like existence where you never leave the house. 10 years of home studios is enough for me for now!

ITM: If the rest of your musical career played out exactly how you wanted it to, what will Rowan Blades have achieved after moving to Australia?

I guess he’d be known for bringing the party and making people happy on a consistent basis. All that really matters to me, considering I’m in entertainment and I’m a raver myself, is to create those special nights for people who work all week and pay to come out and release their tensions. Obviously I’d like to be playing 6 to 8 times per month in this side of the world, but I know it’s going to take time and effort. There is a lot of talent out here and of you can’t please all the people all the time, but I’ll make the biggest effort to supply good vibes for people. I’ve been an obsessed, possessed raver for years now and I’m starting to feel the benefits of the experience I’ve had over the last 15 years. I know what it’s about now and appreciate that the crowd is the most important aspect of any event. Making them happy is my ultimate aim.

ITM: What do you listen to when you’re not listening to dance music? Have any any other styles of music been a big influence on you?

I like most types of music. My parents were, or still are, old hippies who have always been heavily into music so I’ve grown up with the best of it all around me. I don’t listen to other stuff as much as I should these days because I take what I do so seriously and it consumes a lot of time, but I love to be exposed to as much music as possible whenever possible. It’s usually friends or girlfriends who consistently expose me to new stuff. I even got into hip hop and rnb to some extent through my last girlfriend, which was a massive turnaround considering I’d always slated it. I really am open to most music. It’s always been what makes me tick and always will be. The influences are too many to mention, but just before I got into house I liked New Order and Jean Michelle Jarre. That was the prelude to the rave era in Rowan’s life.

ITM: I recently listened to your ‘Southern Blades’ promo which had some really deep and groovy sounds in it… is this the sound you’re pushing now or are your DJ sets more of a broader range of styles?

I really hate to categorise styles. I think that genre defining is anal and taking away from what’s really important. It’s all become so spilt, cliques emerge and break aways happen. Of course I was fully immersed in all that in the past, but you realise it’s all house or breakbeat. My sound now is quite varied, I don’t ever play too much of one style as I’ve always been into variation myself. It’s all about the energy and vibe. If people are smiling and going crazy, that’s all that matters. If I absolutely had to put a tag on my sound I’d say it’s dirty, sexy, electro, disco. As long as it brings the party it’s good!

Rowan plays Laundry in Sydney this Saturday, September 10th. Stay tuned for further dates around the country over the coming months. If you’d like to download his latest mix check out http://www.djakio.com/mixes.