music: interview: The Crane
The Crane aka Stephen Hedley, is a musician from Nottingham in the UK. He was
also involved in a label with Joe Snow, that the late John Peel liked.
The Crane will be playing at Bleepfest Berlin 08 at then end of March, 08.
Bleepfest Berlin 08
Mstation never tires of asking people how they got started with music so, how did you!?
I bought a lot of records throughout the 90s (I'm still trying to get rid of the things now, not to mention paying off the student loan) and made a lot of compilation tapes for my friends... one of them was a regular DJ at a local club in Nottingham and asked me to warm up for him, so I started DJing and managed to get a few other gigs, despite it being painfully obvious that I was still learning how to use a mixer every time I played.
A few years later another much geekier friend lent me his computer for a week in an attempt to get me interested in... well, computers. It had a copy of Sonic Foundry Acid installed, and I was soon completely hooked on sampling bits of my vinyl collection and making little tracks. Not long after that I got my own PC and a copy of Jeskola Buzz, and that was pretty much the end of my social life.
Did you have any musical heroes then? now?
During my first few years of writing music I was effectively mentored by a very good friend named Joe Snow, who knew a tremendous amount about electronica and never failed to provide encouragement, advice and amusement (not to mention synth and cable loans). Sadly, Joe died last year, but his enthusiasm and energy still motivate me every day, as does the music he made.
You had or were part of a label that John Peel liked. Could you tell us about that?
Tzanda was a label that Joe and I started when we realised how many other people around us were making good electronic music. Despite our best intentions, we never really did as much with it as we could - neither of us were any good at finance or marketing, so our business loan applications came to nothing and all we ever put out were a few very small-scale CD releases. I still feel quite guilty that all these local talents sent their music to me instead of to 'proper' labels who could have given them the distribution they deserved! As it was we worked more like a collective of artists, and put on a number of live and multimedia events.
I sent one of our compilations to John Peel, not expecting any response at all, so I was amazed to wake up one morning six months later and find a message from him on my answerphone - I very nearly choked on my breakfast toast! Astoundingly enough, he was calling to apologise for not having played anything from the CD on his show, and for not making time to meet up with me during a recent visit to Nottingham... it's a testimony to his remarkable dedication (not to mention his kindness) that he would spend his free time calling up total nonentities to apologise for not playing their music - I was shocked when I realised he had called from his home, on his own time. It's very difficult to imagine anyone of comparable fame these days doing that...
I've gradually been putting the Tzanda back catalogue up for free download on last.fm - you can listen and grab plenty of stuff from here: http://www.last.fm/label/tzanda.
And speaking of John Peel, has anyone else attempted to do what he did? Or is it that the demand for big numbers in UK broadcasting has seen them just lose interest in anything that looks nichey to them?
There certainly doesn't seem to be anyone capable of filling his shoes, but it's hard for me to imagine how anyone could really - the game has changed so much. The great thing with Peel was that he never really seemed to be 'attempting' to do anything more than playing the music he liked... I think any overt attempt to ape his eclectic style would fall over very quickly under the weight of pretension, and because nobody else would have the cumulative respect that he built up through his long career. It seems like there are still quite a lot of radio programmes focusing on niche genres, but none which were as hungry for as broad a range of obscure music styles as Peel's - and I think his personality and presentation made the often challenging music he played a lot more accessible. To some extent though, his role as a musical disseminator and educator has been usurped by the internet; it's easy to get all misty-eyed about those nights of sitting by the radio with a C90 cassette trying to tape the stuff you knew you'd never get the chance to buy, but if someone had told me then that one day I'd be able to get hold of any music I wanted without leaving the house, I think I would have been very excited indeed!
What sort of thing are you doing musically at the moment?
I think my main squeeze will always be that early 00s Morr sound - I often make a conscious attempt to begin something in a different style, but the crushed hip hop beats and cutesy melodies invariably creep back before long, and always take precedence over special effects and sound design. I never feel completely in control of the creative process, and when I try to implement an idea that's struck me it usually turns out to lead me down a completely different route - perversely, I think that's what keeps me going. I've almost stopped writing individual tracks now and tend to work on continuous sets which I can play live instead, though I'll sometimes go back and pull out sections to polish up in isolation.
For the last few years I've been putting quite a lot of time into making ridiculously complex digital mixtapes with blends of genres which shouldn't work together at all, especially indie-rock, electronica and rap. With the additon of a breakbeat and an acapella, absolutely any kind of music can become the basis for a hip hop track - I've always loved the genre for its sampling kleptomania (which I try to keep out of my own tracks) but I get pretty bored of funk and soul loops, so these mixes are really just attempts to make the kind of 'urban' mixes I'd like to hear for myself. They seem to go down well, though, and I've been playing these 'Morrissey versus NWA' kind of sets out for a while now. It's disappointingly difficult to wind purists up nowadays.
Do you have any favourite software you like to use for it?
Like everyone else in the world nowadays, I use Ableton Live. It's an amazingly well-designed application for the way I work, and versatile enough to serve even for unlikely jobs like voiceover editing. I don't really use many plugins anymore (partly because I've moved over to OSX and there aren't so many free ones available), but combined with my Korg MS2000, Live's instruments offer more than enough sound creation options for me. In some ways it combines the features I liked best from Acid (sample manipulation) and Buzz (pattern-based midi sequencing), though I do miss the incredible routing options offered by the latter's machine view page. I'm almost tempted to install Windows on my Macbook just in order to use Buzz again, but I think it would be more hassle than it's worth, since it is probably the crashiest bit of software I've ever encountered (Buzz that is, not Windows! although now I mention it...).
Any improvements/new features you'd like to suggest?
If I could have a wish granted, then I'd like a routing screen laid out like Buzz's with visible virtual cables freely connecting modules, as I used to find that encouraged me to work with setups that would never have occurred to me otherwise - but that would ruin Live's sleek two-page interface, so I can't see it happening. There are also a few annoyances with clip envelopes that I'd like changing, but nothing one can't work round...
You're about to move to Berlin shortly. What do you think Berlin offers that the UK doesn't? Or do you think of it just in experience terms rather than making comparisons?
I've heard that the streets of Berlin are paved with techno, and that a month's rent is cheaper than a bag of chips in the UK... No, it's just for the change really. I lived in Germany for a year when I was 19 and really enjoyed it, so I'm hoping that I can still speak the language a bit and that I find the same open-minded participative vibe and quality of life - I can't speak for the whole of the UK, but Nottingham's become a bit stale for me, and I'd like to explore a new place. Berlin sounds like an exciting and vibrant town with lots to offer musically.
Thanks a lot.
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