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Neil Landstrumm really is someone who needs no introduction.

Constantly re-configuring sounds from past halcyon days of dance music to fit his own style, he’s re-invented his own musical wheel on numerous occasions over the last decade and a half – from the Chicago House-indebted Brown by August (1995) through the hard driving techno of She Took A Bullet Meant for Me (2001), to the Sheffield bleep reverence of Restaurant of Assassins (2007), which featured contributions from that time’s top boy vocalists, the Ragga Twins.

From wonky techno, to rave step, to the heavyweight crunk and grime of latest album Lord for £39, to everything in between, he’s a prime example of an artist – not to mention a keen observer and historian, as Landstrumm tells us in this interview – who’s taken in years of experience, and uses it as fuel for evolution and advancement. He’s one of our favourite musicians, and totally worth the two Dictaphones that broke en route to getting this interview to page. Go on Neil…

So how’s the new album been received so far?

“Well I’ve been really chuffed with the reviews so far, which is always a good sign. People seem to get the direction of it – taking in the previous influences and different production styles and blending them in with what’s happening now, and what’s going to be happening next year…”

I guess your main musical trait over the years – and I’m sure this is how every interview with you starts, so apologies – has been reconfiguring past styles of dance music into something harder, weightier, bassier…

“Yeah, that’s a fair comment. I’ve always been into history really, and that carries through into the history of music, because if you can understand the past, then you can predict the future. There’s nothing new under the sun at the end of the day, I’m magpie-picking from the past, really…”

Does that apply as explicitly to Lord for £39 as it did Brown by August with Chicago house or Restaurant of Assassins with early 90s bleep techno?

“I think that the Planet Mu period, if you will, is more like that… What I wanted to do is show where it’d all come from to the new generation. I was slightly too young to really get the full bore of the 89/90 rave scene; I only caught the tail-end of it. So to me, [Restaurant of Assassins] is how that was in my imagination. A lot of those records mean a lot to me, so I’m just rejuvenating them and re-jigging them in my style…”

Something that’s been picked up, both by the Wire and also by a colleague of mine here, is the ground the album shares with some of the newer producers who exist on the outskirts of dubstep – Joker, Ikonika, Gemmy, Rustie’s obviously present… Are they an influence on the record?

“Well… Yes and no, it’s not like I’m going and using these guys as direct influences; it’s more just the zeitgeist, isn’t it? That’s how music works; a lot of people have the same ideas at the same time, and it’s like what you’re saying with the dubstep thing – I don’t particularly think that amount of bass in music was anything fantastically new, it’s gone round and round before…

“I do listen to them though; I like a lot of Rustie’s stuff, he’s got a lot of talent. I guess the difference between what they do and what I do is that I’m more studio-based, I’ve got a lot of hardware, so I get a weighter sound – it’s less trebly, less top-endy…”

Are you still doing a 12″ with Rustie?

“Yeah, it’s been delayed and delayed, but it’s gonna be on Stuff, the label Jagz the Smack was on. I’m just waiting on him doing a remix on him doing one of the tracks…”

Is that a track from the album?

“No, it’s three new tracks, and one’s gonna be a remix, but it’s kind of like the single from the album, if you know what I mean? It ties in with it – though it’s less techy, like one of them’s a real heavy early hip-hop style thing; like Def Jam style.

“It’s just trying lots of different things really, I dunno, I’m trying to stay contemporary… ‘Cause that’s the thing with music, once you do something that’s quite successful, it pigeon-holes you,  and it’s easy to spend the next period not really doing other things. It’s actually quite good to shake off all the past and do something different…”

With this album are there any specific artists you’re magpie-ing from then, so to speak?

“I think with the Restaurant one you could pick out individual things – like there’s a lot of Shut Up And Dance, there’s a lot of early Warp in there… With this one I’m more looking towards the future, it’s more me taking a pop at different styles [than specific artists], like early garage for example, or some of the heavier dancehall, like The Bug and all that kind of stuff. There’s elements of Joker, and Rustie, and I really like those H.E.N.C.H. records. There’s a bit of Digital Mystikz in there, Plastician-y stuff, a bit of early jungle… I’ve been around all the electronic stuff really; I’ve always taken it on board. The only stuff I don’t like is trance… [laughs]”

You’ve said before that what appeals to you about UK dance is the little scenes it falls into – the way they intertwine but also the distinctions between them. You mentioned The Bug, I always view him as more of an observer in that spectrum… Is that the same case with you?

“Exactly, I’m definitely an observer… I think I’m also a producer and an artist who’s always on the fringes of things, and from my perspective, they tend to be the ones who stick around – they don’t get too heavily caught up in one scene, and then that scene buries them.”

Always evolving?

“Yeah, always evolving; and my… Not my mantra, but my thing has always been that the next record should not be the same as the last one. Yeah, you can set out a style for a couple of years, you’ve got to follow that up, but I think I’m quite hard to catch – like plenty of people have copied my techno stuff, and I’ve always kept changing. And that does piss quite a lot of people off; they’re like “why don’t you do something like Brown by August again?” And it’s like, well that was a long time ago for me. I’ve done it, so why would I want to do it again?”

“A lot of it comes from live sets as well, I’m constantly doing live performances, and do I get a lot of inspiration and ideas from that; you can try things out and see what works and what doesn’t. Because at the end of the day, I’m not just a DJ, I’m a producer…”

With grime  – I don’t know if it’s just me, because I approach a lot of stuff from a grime fan’s perspective – but the sounds you use in this album seem really grimey…

“Absolutely. To be honest, I like the grime stuff much more than the dubstep stuff.  I’ve never quite got caught up in the hype of dubstep. All of a sudden there was this sub-low, 8-bar grime and it’s like this is all brilliant, this is great. This is like a British response to American hip-hop mixed up with what’s gone before with the Northern rave scene and the British electronic scene. The rapping I can give or take – so long as it’s done well, and not just I’ll shoot your mum in the face – but still, when the dubstep stuff came along I thought it was more bland, and kind of wooden, more formulaic…”

I think dubstep’s got more interesting in the last two years, like as different strands appear…

“Yeah, I think it has.”

I was hoping to pick your brain a bit on grime I guess. In the last couple of years it’s gone downhill to me – it’s lost a lot of that early excitement.

“I’ve never been one to be too hard on scenes. I think it did pop its head overground, and that didn’t really do it any favours. But I still think there are certain people that’re involved in it that, alright, they might have done some more commercial bits, but underneath it… It depends what you call grime, and what you define that as.”

Well I’ve always viewed it as more of a scene than a specific sound. Have you heard that new Skepta song?

“Is that the ‘Sunglasses at Night’ thing? Yeah…”

It’s like, this is exactly how things shouldn’t be going…

“Yeah, but then… That’s the way it goes really [laughs]. I think it’s easy to be too cynical about the more up-beat stuff, or the more electro-style stuff. I try to take what I like from it and not get bogged down … A lot of the bigger grime guys got bigger deals, and they’re under more pressure to be more commercial. And they’re getting older…”

So you worked very closely with Mike Paradinas on Restaurant of Assassins. Was that also the case with this album?

“Yeah it was actually – that’s a relationship which has blossomed I think. Mike has a very strong view of what he wants from artists, and what he wants to release, and at first I found that quite… Well, nobody likes being told what to do, do they? But over time it’s really worked… Like we worked from a much larger pool of tracks with this one, we really thought about it – there was a lot of back and forth, and in the end I think it shows. He’s quite like that with the graphics and design as well; like you’ll either get a yes or no from Mike, there’s no in between. And I think if you look at the quality of the label, and what they put out, you can see that it’s worked…”

How big a pool were you working from? And how long were you working on the Lord material for?

“I’ve pretty much dedicated myself to this album from about the Summer of 2007. As for the pool, it would have been the same again, plus another eight tracks or so that it was whittled down from. Like what I’ll do in the studio is that I’ll have an idea, and then I’ll maybe do three or four tracks before I nail it. Like I’ll be trying to recreate a mood, or something that I’ve heard in my head that’s been going ’round and ’round, and I’m just trying to carve it out with the machines. And you might just almost get it, or sometimes you’ll get it but you’re missing something – and that’s the beauty of the digital stuff; you can go back and correct it…

“Also there are quite a lot of vocals, but they’re quite scantily used – there was a lot of collaboration, like Ebola came up for a few days and we must have done five tracks, but only one of them got used for this LP. But then we’re gonna use another two on a Kompakt [misheard as Combat] 12″…”

Would you ever do an all-collaborative LP, like The Bug?

“I’d love to, but it’s difficult finding the MCs up here. There’s one guy Profisee, he’s holding it up for the grime thing up here [in Edinburgh]; he’s good. Maybe this article could be a way of me reaching out to get some of these guys – like I’m working for people to work with all the time.”

Would you want it to be local to Scotland in the same way London Zoo was with London?

“Nah, nah, I’m not fussed… I’m all for working internationally; I don’t mind. Like the last record, there was a guy from LA on it…”

You had the Ragga Twins…

“Yeah, and that was great. I was playing at Bang Face and they were there, and I’ve always wanted to work with the Ragga Twins. They were just waiting to go on, and I told them I’d love them to do a vocal on a track. Got their number, set it up and that was that. But yeah, I’d love to work with any of the London grime MCs – probably more the heavy, Jamaican style ragga stuff; someone like Flowdan.”

Anyone else in particular?

“I hate being put on the spot like that… [laughs] If I had half an hour to write a list maybe; if I could write it down…>

…write it down, Send it to Mike Paradinas, get some feedback…

“Yeah, exactly. But people, if you want to contact me through myspace, or facebook, then I’m up for it. You know what I do quite like though? Some of that Northern niche – the bassline stuff – Burga Boy and all that. I think if that could break out of that… It’s gone in a bit of a mould now, but I think if some of those producers could break out of that bouncin’ house thing then they could be an interesting new wave of talent. ‘Cause they’re all really young – all these guys are really young! What they’re doing now is brilliant – and they’ve got access to the computers…”

So with Restaurant of Assassins, I think I’m right in saying that was named after a club in 1930s France. What’s Lord for £39 about?

“Well that is… My kind of thing this year, and last year, has been trying to do everything on the cheap, and then appear quite… I tried to describe this on the press release, but it didn’t really come out right. Like running a big car but doing it on the cheap; doing everything slightly DIY. It actually came from a time I went fishing – I’m quite into fishing – I’m sort of a comfy gent at heart; I’m from the Scottish borders, and I was fishing in this really beautiful part of Scotland that I quite liked the isolation of. It’s called Glen Lyon which is near Loch Tay, which is slap bang in the middle, right at the bottom of where the Highlands start. It’s the most beautiful part of Scotland; I didn’t know it that well, and I called up this estate to see if I could get on one of the rivers to do some salmon fishing, ’cause I was gonna be up there with my wife anyway. And the guy was like “aye, nae bother man, it’s just 39 quid.”

“So I went up there, and honestly, I had about eight miles of the most ridiculously picturesque Scottish landscape to myself; the whole river and everything to myself for 39 quid for a day. So I was Lord for £39.”

Someone explained the ‘Ross Kemp as Pixel’ reference to me the other day too…

“Yeah, that comes from Nathan Barley – I’m a big fan of Charlie Brooker like…”

Are there any others with a good tale behind them? I’m hoping you say ‘Dirty Butcher’, ’cause I cracked up when I saw that title…

“[laughs] Well ‘Dirty Butcher’ actually came from when I was playing in Germany, and I’ve got this t-shirt that I was really fond of, that had two dirk knives on the front; it’s like a Martial Arts sort of t-shirt. And I hadn’t noticed at the time, but my deodorant had all caked around the arm-pits; like it was soaked in and really manky. So my mate turns ’round and says “you look like a Dirty Butcher!”

So how long have you been back in Edinburgh now?

“I’ve been back here since 2003, actually…”

I mean I don’t know it that well, when I lived in Scotland it was in Aberdeen, but Glasgow’s got a lot of press lately, whether that’s the Numbers parties, or the LuckyMe lot or whatever – is there anything similar in Edinburgh we should be looking out for?

“Edinburgh kind of tends to hide under a bush to be honest – Glasgow’s more like “let’s tell everybody, we’re brilliant!” There’s a lot of hype around Glasgow – the parties are good though, don’t get me wrong. Edinburgh’s just a bit more… Like I’m playing tonight at Big Toe’s Hi Fi, which is like a local reggae system – it’s already sold out, it’s like 600 tickets. It’s in the Sculpture Court, which is this beautiful – you know, white pillars, with all the Greek sculptures, but they only get it once a year for this party… For me that’s class. That is Lord for £39!”

Tom Lea

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