After individually being at the forefront of electronic music for two decades Andy Turner and Ed Handley, better known as Plaid, come to Brighton on a mission to share and demonstrate their expertise. Producing dreamlike audio excursions often involves pushing music technology to its limits, and now the pair is offering the chance to learn some of the tricks of the trade. As part of a special event in conjunction with tech giant Native Instruments, the Warp Records duo will perform at the Diskordance club night and run workshops exploring the latest developments in dance music equipment.
The relationship with Native Instruments goes back a long way, Plaid building their performances around the company’s equipment from an early point. So what’s the appeal of this particular product range? “It’s built from the ground up for that specific purpose,” Andy Turner tells me. A vinyl purist for most of his career, his move into digital DJing was born from necessity, as it offered an escape from the age-old hassle of transporting lots of equipment and vinyl across the world. Now there’s no looking back, but he’s keen to highlight the distinction between good and bad DJs still exists, despite technology doing much of the ‘heavy lifting’. “With all of these tools is very easy to beat match and throw things together. Coming from a using vinyl it does seem like cheating a little.”
Of the two workshops, the first will examine Traktor, one of the most popular pieces of DJ software, Showing how the powerful piece of technology can be used as a live performance tool. As well as futuristic approaches to DJing, the workshop features a demonstration of live interactive remixing with Native Instruments’ purpose built Traktor remix deck. “The thing is now to explore the software and hardware, and see what you can get out of them. It’s possible to do something exciting, but still keeping your eye on the dance floor and responding to people and what they’re into.”
The second workshop revolves around Komplete 10, the latest generation of its industry standard production suite, and the range of controllers supporting it. It’s a music tech development Turner is especially close to, have designed presets for the software’s dazzling array of sounds and effects. It’s a great opportunity for anyone interested in music production and emergent technologies. For the Diskordance club event later in the evening, Plaid will be joined by Pawnsphinx, Flint Kids and ADJ, with the entire line-up all using tools from the extensive Native Instruments hardware and software range.
Plaid returned with their tenth album ‘Reachy Prints’ last year, marking a decade since Turner his long-time collaborator Ed Handley set out in this venture,. Lending the listener odd snatches of melody, mechanical beats, sweeping analogue synth, evocative rhythms, it was a suitably powerful and imaginative release from the pair who first recorded together as part of legendary techno act The Black Dog. For an act so dependable and familiar sounding, they demonstrated they were still capable of offering something wonderfully unique each new track.
The possibility arriving with each advance in music technology undoubtedly offers chances to create the new and exciting. But it also provides fuel for the software vs. hardware argument. While analogue equipment makes a great noise with minimal effort, the variation and expansion possibilities of computer bound music production offers genuine appeal. “You can take on an old bit of kit and it’s instantly making great noises. There is a lot more you can do with software, unless you’re using an enormous modular rig. I think a mixture of the two is the ideal.” Turner is adamant whilst technology has always driven electronic music, melody and rhythm only comes from the heart. He freely admits he can become a little obsessed by shiny new bits of kit though.
Plaid might create new and incredible audio experiences, now moving into physical modelling synthesis to generate almost other-worldly noises, but the pair aren’t obsessed with sound design above all else. “We do try and create sound palettes that have an edge and sound just a little bit different. But a lot is simply happy accidents when you’re exploring synths and making them do things they’re not supposed to do.”
Now finding themselves working on developing a new album release, Plaid rare also working on tracks promoting various bits of new kit. This new technology might bring new presets and methods of working, but the main mission is to find out just how far the equipment can be pushed. Certainly it helps having flashy bits of kit about, but innovation and enthusiasm will always remain as the most important things in a musician’s armoury. “We not solely driven by sound palettes, it tends to be writing things that have an emotional resonance that would be more of a goal – writing something that excites us.” As you’d expect, the tweaking and exploratory process is the best bit for the pair. “It’s just very fun. The finishing process is not always as fun, only because it means committing to something.”
Plaid come to Diskordance, at Brighton’s Komedia, on 20 Mar 2015