Surgeon: Under the surface

A decade after his last dispatch to these parts, Birmingham icon Surgeon returns this weekend. Those ten years have done nothing to dilute the man’s singular take on techno. His recent Fabric 53 is yet another testament to those formidable smarts, with 30 tracks spliced and layered to make a towering whole.

Ahead of his shows, inthemix took the rare opportunity to ask some questions of Anthony Child. Just like his music, his interview style is precise and to-the-point.

I read that the only Fabric mix you’d heard before releasing your own was the Robert Hood one.

I don’t really listen to DJ mixes. If I want to hear someone play, I’d rather hear them at a club.

Did your experiences of playing at the club feed into the feel of the mix?

Yes, I do feel that playing at Fabric influenced the overall feel of the mix. It’s quite like a very distilled version of a set that I could have played there.

Was the approach on Fabric 53 much different from how you went about This Is For You Shits?

Yes, very much. I think the results are quite different. They were aimed at very different people, released on very different labels.

Hearing old and newer tracks collide in your sets is a real thrill. Is that a conscious thing, or do you pay little attention to when a record was made?

I think the latter. I’ve always felt that underneath the surface aesthetics, music has a timeless quality. Same goes for genre and style; that’s why those things don’t have much significance to me.

You’ve spoken about your passion for UK bass music, and it’s obviously a strong presence in your sets. How does that sound sit for you in the spectrum of ‘techno’?

It all depends on the situation I’m playing in and how I feel the vibe is. I may play a couple of more broken-beat tracks in a set if it feels right, but I wouldn’t say ‘strong presence’. When I hear music that moves me and excites me, I want to share it with other people.

How does using a digital set-up for DJing expand the possibilities of what you can do?

There are just more tools to use as a DJ these days, that’s all. I don’t become too caught up in the process. The connection to the crowd through the music is always the most important thing.

It was interesting to read that you’re releasing less music since DJing digitally. Was releasing music largely to service your own sets?

I have come to realise that that was a factor.

Speaking to Jeff Mills for a recent interview, he said that he wished venues and promoters took more risks in how DJs are presented. With your live A/V sets, can it be difficult to realise your concepts?

For the promoter it’s usually a question of economics. Not many want to cover additional costs that these sorts of projects require. It’s good to keep them as special one-off events, though. One thing that can make a huge difference is the way the night is programmed. Having warm-up DJs who are experienced enough to understand that the warm-up set is a very important part of the whole night.

Is there an ideal club space for you? Is it more about the response from the people than the setting?

Often a very dark room with a great sound-system works best. Some of the Bleep43 parties in London have been like that. The music can really take people to another place in that environment.

Can you tell us a bit about the microphone recording technique you used to record the RA podcast last year?

It was just mixing a direct recording of my set with a binaural microphone recording. The idea was to capture much more of the atmosphere on the night that the set was played, the way the sound was in the room, and so on. Direct recordings of DJ sets are a million miles away from the experience on the night.

Why was the time right in 2010 to return to Australia?

The last ten years have gone by so quickly! People kept asking me to come back over there, and the organisation seems right this time.

Surgeon tour dates:

Thursday 21 October – White Rhino @ Step Inn, Brisbane

Friday 22 October – The Likes Of You @ Brown Alley, Melbourne

Saturday 23 October – Index @ The Forum, Sydney