Our first volume of Technomasters features a chat with a Scottish legendary Detroit Techno producer now residing in Amsterdam – Vince Watson.
Vince’s story goes as far back as Glasgow to his times at school’s weekend discos where he was spining hip-hop and early house records. Being then a frequent visitor at the Royal Academy for Art, Music and Drama in Glasgow, taking piano lessons, before depearting into a world of electronic and ambient music. Watson’s influences are wide taking inspiration from the likes of Herbie Hancock, Derrick May and French virtuoso Jean Michel Jarre. His Techno journey began when Dave Angel picked up one of Vince’s first demos and signed him to his label Rotation in 1995. What followed is residency at Arena in Glasgow and further growth into being a performer, dj and producer.
After a massive string of releases, Vince launched his label – Bio Music, where he was very consistently pushing quality techno, with support and high profile licenses from the likes of Carl Cox to Laurent Garnier. The next step was launching a sister label – Everysoul, focusing on creativity and versatality. Till date Vince has released and is currently signed to the following labels, Tresor, Planet E, Everysoul, Delsin, Bio, Fcom, Ibadan, Mule and Urban Torque and is about to launch yet new and exciting projects. Read on and find out what Vince been up to these days.
“First thing, is you have to open your mind a little bit. Its just too easy to get stuck in a one road and you maybe successful and have your 15 minutes of fame but if you don’t prepare yourself for all the eventualities and open your mind to other things and the type of music you had your 15 minutes in dies off.. and you don’t have anything else behind it youre gonna struggle. “
E: How has your music career change since moving to Amsterdam from Glasgow?
V: I think the music world has changed since I moved here that’s for sure. It is funny because when I moved here I had expectations and ideologies about how things would kind of work out for me. Before moving here, I was playing here very regurarly, sometimes once a month and when I came here I had the expectation that would continue, and I would build momentum, maybe have a residency somewhere, you know the natural evolution of things. But when I moved here, music scene started to change pretty dramatically and I think as a lot of artists started to suffer a little bit, I got cought in that a little as well, but its been interesting. This has forced new ideas, new directions, new relationships with labels and stuff like that as well, its been good.
E: What are some of differences between Scottish and Dutch crowds when it comes to you playing live and djing?
V: To be honest, I don’t think you would ever beat a Scottish crowd (laughs), I mean it’s pretty well known to be very electric, especially when you really give them the energy they really give it back, I think the Dutch crowds, to a certain extent are a bit more quieter, because Amsterdam in particular its such hub where they have like 50 top djs playing every weekend and anybody can go and see whoever they like whenever they want. Glasgow is not so much like that, theres always somebody big playing every weekend but it’s a lot less to choose from. So, I think from that point, they are a bit less spoiled back home as well. But as a general rule, crowds have a bit more energy, they are sort of a bit hyper.
E: How did you get into djing and live performance?
V: I started djing in the early 90’s, started a residency with Dave Angel, ended up doing his club for him for about 3 years. Every month we did a rotation night, where we would invite someone who we really respected along to come and play with us, and then I started sort of build, international gigs started coming around 98/99. My first live gig was actually 2003 and it was in Switzerland, I actually still got the copy of the live set and its absolutely horrific.
E: Are you going to ever publish that?
V: I think yeah, I probably will yeah so some people can laugh at. I mean musically was fine, but it was like the first I have ever used Ableton (laughs) back then I think it was maybe version 1. At that time I was still using hardware and because I knew there was this live gig coming up, I thought ok im going to take some hard gear, and in the same time get Ableton and try it out, my first attempt at live set.
E: I saw that recently you have started to sell off your vinyl record collection, any particular reason why you letting go of your favourite records?
V: Yeah a few reasons really. They were there and I wasn’t able to access them at any time, purely because half of my record collection was back home and half of it was here. And it was frustrating, I couldn’t play any of it, as my flat that I was living in Amsterdam before was quite small so I couldn’t have space for a big vinyl collection. I was in a situation when I had a collection worth nearly a 100k just sittin and doing nothing (laughs). The realization came, I also just had a daughter , she is now 3 years old and I just thought you know, if I just archive this whole collection: A: it gives me access to it any time I want and B: I can get the money for it, which means I can actually put my daughters a really good bit of money away for the future. For me it just felt like the right thing to do. I’m actually half way through the process. I’ve cleaned, archived and put some of the records through RX – to get rid of crackles and pops and stuff like that, I have done half of the collection so I have another 4000 to do (laughs).
E: Must be an interesting process to get all of this done?
V: Yeah, I kind of anticipated it would be kind of a rush but not to the extent that it was. Within maybe 48 hours of me listing the first batch I had nearly 300 orders and it was all Detroit, all dub techno, all the really underground stuff, people were just like wooosh gone in a heartbeat, it was crazy..
E: Yeah, what are the odds Vince Watson is going to sell his collection any time soon you know?
V: I did point that, anybody that they have ever listened, enjoyed any of my mixes or went to see me play, those records are now for sale. There is quite of yours in there (laughs).
E: Oh quite of mine, put them to a good use man. Ok, what are some of those records that you remember first buying, those that were special and you still remember those covers etc.?
V: Yeah, there are many of them, I mean I remember waiting outside the record shop for a van to arrive on a Saturday and they would bring this box and would be like 20 copies of this, 20 copies of that and the guy working at the record shop would give them to the first people that were in the cue you know and everyone tried to grab them, you know how was like.
For me pre-techno and house it would it been Eric B and Rahim, I remember all the singles, all the albums I was Rahim fan at that time, also Ultranate MCS and then when it came to techno and house stuff I remember very very clearly the day I was waiting on Kenny Larkin on Plus 8 – We shall overcome, amazing record but the copy I got was completely warped. I was devastated, so I had to wait another week for replacement, but yeah I still got it. No, I think I have actually sold it (laughs). I think is gone yeah. So there were few records like that when you were god!, and you know I really miss that feelin of having that piece of art. I mean don’t get me wrong. I have released a lot of records that were vinyl releases and its amazing to hold them but that feeling of waiting for unknown sounds, that van to hit the record shop its insane is very hard to explain in words how that felt.
E: Ok, speaking of your music, I personally have a lot of your tracks, maybe not on vinyl but in a digital format, promos, and rips of people like Damon Wild, who used to play your stuff as well. So generally you know when you were sitting in the studio and you were making your tracks, and you felt like, oh this is going to be something special, which one of your tracks that you made felt like that, that track you know is going to be a timeless piece.
V: I can name three. I’m not saying I think they are timeless pieces, just I know when I made them they were solid and I just felt that people would dig them and you know sometimes you can’t really explain what that is, you just get to know after having a bit of experience about what works and what doesn’t. Sometimes you get surprised, but I think generally you kind of know what you are talking about. So way back first one was Mystical Rhythm. Mainly because this was 1999, so this was just pure tech-house, I hate that term..but it was like kind of real cross between house and techno, was just coming trough in the Uk and thankfully I appreciate that I was one of the early guys doing that so I have been kind of known for that for a long time, but Mystical Rhythm was a stand out track from my debut album – “Biologique” and as soon as I let some people hear it – they were like that’s the track, and the funny thing is, it only took me 7 hours to make it, just a live jam. The next was, hm. I have done over 200 records, so is hard to pinpoint, but I do remember Aurelon another one that was quite a big one, had a big club feel, it was really upliftin and I had that sort of feel that ok this is going to do quite well and it did. The most recent one was – Eminescence on Yoruba records, when I did that I knew immediately ok it had that groove it had those chords, it had the feel for it, I just thought ok this is good. Those 3 are kind of the ones that stand out that I knew they are going to do really well. There has been quite a lot of those that I have done and taken by surprise, I thought they were amazing and people thought they were not.
E: It’s very interesting what you are saying, as sometimes we think that the certain track on a record will do really well and it turns out opposite (laughs).
V: Yeah, we love those b-sides tracks
E: Let’s talk about your djing, whats your process of prep for a gig?
V: I’m now fully rekord box, I haven’t done a vinyl set in about 3 years. I don’t miss carrying the vinyl (laughs). As far as approaching it, I always do the same thing, I have 3 or 4 piles of records, and the first pile of records is normally my first 15 minutes. If I know roughly what kind of music is the club asking then I have 3-4 tracks ready to go and after that is free style.
But normally I split my sets up, if I’m playing 3 hours, I would play 3 x 1 hour sets for example, I put 15-20 records in each pile. I like to limit myself a bit because you get such a vast amount of music sometimes you just have that focus of attention when you are actually playing so like to sort of limit the stuff that I got so when im playing rekord box I would make 3 different playlists and have certain amount of tracks in those playlists and stick to those playlists, it actually makes you a bit more creative having those limitations, it’s kind of like being in the studio where you have only 2-3 synths you are going to absolutely rinse the best of those fewer synths instead of having a million plugins in front of you and you actually don’t do any work.
E: Ok, say you were offered a gig and someone says, we want you to pick, Live or DJ? Which one would you go for and why?
V: It depends on the club and depends on the music and also depends on how I feel. The live / dj thing I’m always toss and turn between what I prefer because the live is such a personal experience, I would generally like to play somewhere live where I feel the sound can really represent what I’m doing properly and the set is going to be absolutely top class and the people would be able to hear everything I’m doing you know, if its like a venue where you are really detached from the crowd I always prefer to do a dj set, cause when you don’t have that sense of connection with the crowd people can’t see you actually working on the keyboard, controllers, drum machines and stuff like that, so yeah it really depends but if I were to pick I couldn’t pick one or the other. It’s really hard, there is reasons for doing both you know.
Recently ive been just invited to dj, I just don’t get asked to play live as I used to. This could be a music thing, there are lots of changes happening at the moment
“My biggest achievement is just being able to go and do it in the first place because I’m very fortunate that I get to do something that I love and people go and get me credit for it, give me money”.
E: Maybe is big tech-riders and small dj booths?
V: Yeah you know I even shrunk my live rig to 1 drum machine, 1 synth and 3 controllers.
E: So, would you mind sharing with the readers what’s your current set up or that’s a total secret?
V: Oh no, there is no secret. I have TR8s, which I have customized.
E: Yeah, I’ve seen your lovely Vince Watson Edition on it :).
V: So, ive mastered all my drum kits from all my records and put them into this drum machine, and is just amazing as it sounds so fat! So all the drums are completely live on the tr8s and all the audio loops, other than strings / piano is coming from Ableton. I have an Akai controller, which I use to control all my effects and builds and stuff like that and then I have Roland system 1, which I use both as a pluggin as well as a controller. I have Sh2 pluggin for my baselines and I used that as a controller for Omnisphere 2 and stuff like that and I also have a Roland 800 pro – 5 octave keyboard that I can play my strings and piano on. It kind of depends sometimes I’m playing house sets sometimes techno sets. So if im playing techno sets I would probably not take the keyboard. If I’m playing house sets I probably won’t take the baseline machine.
E: So, solely depends on the kind of music you will perform, you customize your sets yes?
V: Absolutely, I put a lot of work into my live gigs, I don’t just turn up with the same set up with the same set list from my previous gig, every single live gig. I had done about 150 live gigs now and they all been individual for that event, as I want people to hear things differently each time.
E: Having done such a large amount of live gigs, what is your biggest achievement playing live thus far?
V: You know to be honest my biggest achievement is just being able to go and do it in the first place because I’m very fortunate that I get to do something that I love and people go and get me credit for it, give me money. There is not many jobs you can get in your life and get that sort of outcome so for me that is my biggest achievement – djing and live gigs.
E: I saw that you do lectures at the University. What do you teach?
V: I’m a degree lecturer doing Electronic music production and dj class
E: How would you compare teaching music with producing music?
V: It’s funny because I never thought I would be in education, that education would be a path that I end up on naturally. I can see why they took me to do it in the first place. On my first day I was very curious what I would be able to give them in terms of results, qualities that I’ve got. I had a experience but putting that down to a curriculum is a different thing, now that I have been there for 1.5 years, I know why they took me on because the types of things that I have experienced all the stuff is quite unique comparing to all the kind of lectures at the university so its kind of value for them to have that, but also for the students to have a currently touring artist as their teacher and they actually come to my gigs sometimes which is great as it inspires them even more and makes them want to do it more. So how would I compare, I think, if I didn’t have the experience that I had, there is no way I would be able to do it. Cause I’m not the kind of person who would sit down read a book and study very hard, I would never be in those kind of circles. Now that I’m, I’m really enjoying it, it’s nice to give something back.
E: So, there is always this chat, “I’m a young producer, starting up”, what advice would you give the upcoming producers?
V: First thing is they have to open their minds a little bit. It’s just too easy to get stuck in a one road and you maybe successful and have your 15 minutes of fame but if you don’t prepare yourself for all the eventualities and open your mind to other things and the type of music you had your 15 minutes in dies off.. and you don’t have anything else behind it your’e gonna struggle. So you have to be prepared and just take on all genres just love music for what it is instead of loving a label, this type of music or certain parties type of music.
The school of electronic music is so vast and I don’t think enough of the history of it gets touched now, unfortunately just gets forgotten and people just run off and want to make Drumcode techno or you know, not that I pinpoint Drumcode specifically that is something bad, it is what it is. You know what I mean?
E: Yes, they want to make something very precise, specific, not something of their own, which is their signature sound coming from their heart kind of thing yeah.
V: Yeah exactly, they are trying too hard to make a specific thing instead of going in and putting hours of work into it, gently. I would say this, the only way to get the best thing out of your art is to apply really gentle pressure on it continuously.
E: What do you mean about this exactly?
V: For example, don’t do too many hours and when you are working in the studio take regular breaks. These things are really important. Keep your mind fresh, go for walks, get fresh air, make sure you drink lots of water. All those things sound like crazy health tips and stuff like that, but these things are vital to keep your mind at optimum operating level, so when you are ready to create you can get the best out of you.
E: It’s almost like, the Pareto principle 80/20 that 80% of effects come from 20 procent causes. Right? That you don’t need a 5-day working week to get best results just like you don’t need to work day and night in the studio to make best track, right?
V: Yeah totally agree with that.
E: So, what is in the pipeline? A new album for Vince?
V: Haha, yes there is always a new album coming…
E: Or more than one I suppose yeah?
V: Haha, there is an album in 2020, I’m not going to reveal the name of it but I have already started it, it may actually go to 2021 I’m not sure how long that is going to take. There is always a lot going on. Right now I’m working on a really special project for New York times and Netflix. Can’t tell you what it is but is something really cool that will go out once finished. I’m working at the Conservatorium in Amsterdam as a lecturer. I’ve got a radio show, called Radio Drama and want to expand it a little bit, as it’s a little baby so far. I’ve got another Quartz release on BB, which is my broken beats of new jazz kind of stuff. There are actually remixes of that coming on Valantines day. I’ve got couple house singles on Joruba as well.
E: This new project, is that going to be signed under your name – Vince Watson or you are going to come up with alter ego, you are going to wear a mask?
V: Yeah it’s alter ago, cause I’m quite passionate about lots of different types of music but I don’t have an outlet for some of it. I think the project is going to be quite dark and quite serious and I want to reflect completely different moods. I’m hating the fact is going to be me, is just not going to be called me and also because I think the national evolution of Vince Watson name just went towards the house thing. For example my last 3 biggest selling records were house records, most of my gigs now are house gigs, and is just the way things went. I think the way techno went as well. Me as the name in the techno scene has kind of been left behind a little but purely because of big label parties and stuff like that and I’m not really been involved in some of those record labels and I’m quite happy with that is fine. But what I need is an outlet for my techno thing that I’m making so that will be news on that this year but is coming soon. I’m going to launch a label with it, so big news with that soon.
E: Cool, that’s very exciting. It would be good to see how diverse you can get. Speaking of that one of the core challenges that producers face when trying to make new projects is that they still sound like themselves, you know it will still be Vince Watson, cause its you making it. So how do you go so far to really differentiate between your two projects so they are both giving value?
Method acting: Roberto De Niro, has truly mastered this method by exagerating his role in Taxi Driver.
V: Yeah, you know what, it takes time and I have been practicing this project for over a year to get it right, as I’m not making a mistake with this. It has to be right from the first step. So what I have discovered is that the best way is to completely absorb yourself and other djs that playing this kind of music, listen to their sets, literally listen to that music 8-9 weeks. 2 months of listening to that music and then you are ready because then that groove becomes really deep in your psyche and you go to studio and becomes naturally easier to create. You can’t just switch on, making a house tune one day and oh I will start making techno today and then forget it right. You have to emerse yourself in it completely or it just doesn’t work.
E: Yeah it’s like, you stick to it for time that is needed and you try to accomplish it before moving to something else. I remember making an album for 6 months and not touching anything else in the meantime.
V: Yes, to be honest, I kind of think of it like Method acting.
a technique of acting in which an actor aspires to complete emotional identification with a part, based on the system evolved by Stanislavsky and brought into prominence in the US in the 1930s. Method acting was developed by Elia Kazan and Lee Strasberg in particular, and is associated with actors such as Marlon Brando and Dustin Hoffman.
Method actors are basically, when an actor takes a role for a film and comes up on set already in character and is in character for the whole duration of filming and that is even when he is at home or in a hotel is still in the character, and the character doesn’t end until the film is finished. So, I kind of think like that, you get really deep into it. You are constantly thinking, that kind of groove, that nature, that sound. Just you know. When im making stuff in the studio, I generally have 4 quarters of the year when I make certain kind of music for 3 months, certain kind of music for another 3 months. The only way to get results is to totally emerse yourself like that.
E: How do you approach making an album then?
V: The concept is vital. You have to think the concepts I have done so far. For example, two years ago I did Via – that kind of came natural as I was looking for an album I could still listen in the car. That would be this kind of driving deep techno that would take me on a journey while driving, doing gigs and stuff like that and I couldn’t find one that could keep me on. There was always a techno album, most of the techno albums didn’t flow, they had like a deep track and the another track would be something completely different so it didn’t have a common theme all the way through it, so I thought you know what, fuck it im going to make one. So I did via and all the tracks were kind of related to travelling and movement and stuff like that I took a photograph in Tokyo of the taxis at Shibuya station with a long exposure to get all the lights and stuff like that. Sometimes these kind of concepts come natural, but when you have to sit down and think about it – this is when you are doing it wrong. Because you have to just let it flow naturally that’s what I mean about gentle pressure. don’t try to force an issue just let it come to you.
E: Great catching with you, all the best in your ongoing and future projects!
V: Great stuff, thanks a lot it was a pleasure.