Slam's Stuart McMillan on longevity, popularity, and the duo's first North American tour in a decade
Longevity is rare in many professions, and it's especially elusive in the fickle electronic-music business, where fleeting trends come and go almost overnight. So it was a very special occasion in 2011 when the legendary DJ/producer duo Slam (comprised of Scotsmen Stuart McMillan and Orde Meikle) celebrated the twentieth anniversary of its highly influential house and techno label, Soma Records.
Slam's debut, Headstates, helped define the tech-house style during the 1990s, and it remains a dance-music classic, along with many of their singles, perhaps most notably the 1993 techno standard "Positive Education." In recent years, the act has reached a creative peak, founding a second imprint, Paragraph, and releasing numerous high-profile singles, as well as doing remix work for the likes of Carl Craig, Pan-Pot and Radio Slave.
Today, the two regularly perform at the world's most renowned nightclubs, including Fabric in London, Berlin's Berghain, the Womb in Tokyo, and the Arches in their native Glasgow. As Slam prepared for its first United States tour in more than a decade (which includes a date at NORAD this week), we traded e-mails with Stuart McMillan.
Westword: The two of you have been friends since you were young. What kind of music did you grow up listening to, and how did you get into electronic music?
Stuart McMillan: Orde and I met when we were in our early twenties. We worked in the same bar and used to fight over who got to put a tape on during a shift. That led to us deejaying together, as we were both avidly collecting vinyl. I was into punk and ska at school, and that led to bands like Joy Division (and later New Order), Soft Cell, and Echo and the Bunnymen. Orde had been into reggae and disco at school and discovered Kraftwerk at an early age. And we shared a passion for funk, soul, early hip-hop and electro.
Is it your friendship or something else that compels you to continue deejaying and producing music together, twenty-plus years later?
I suppose we are like a married couple! We function well apart, and we do parts of the recording process separately on occasion, but we operate very well as a team. Our tastes cross over each other's, and somewhere in that communion, we find and make our best records. We like to deejay individually, too, but it works well when we play live or deejay as a double act, playing a few records each, then letting the other take over for a few. The traveling is easier when there are two of you, of course, too, [and] we share a warped sense of humor that gets us through most stress.
You're touring with H-Foundation, which is Hipp-E from Denver (aka Eric Galaviz) and Halo (Brian Varga from San Diego). What's your relationship with those guys?
We are really looking forward to playing with Halo and Hipp-E again. We worked closely with them ten years ago and released their debut album [2003's Environments] on Soma. We played quite a few times with them back in the day, and I think it will work well being on the same bill again. They are great mates, too.
You regularly play at some of the world's most famous clubs. What are some of your favorite places to deejay?
The Womb in Tokyo; Fabric in London; Berghain and Watergate in Berlin; and our monthly residencies, Pressure at the Arches and Return to Mono at the Sub Club in Glasgow.
What gear are you currently using for your DJ sets?
We are using two Xone:92 [mixers], two Traktor Scratch boxes with four Traktor controllers, Native Instruments Maschine and a GForce Software Minimonsta for bass sounds.
What about in the studio?
We have amassed so much kit over the years, so we have to be selective. We like analog and also digital/soft synths. Our favorite kit at present includes a monster keyboard, the Rob Papen Predator, our NI Maschine as [a] groovebox, and an NI FM8 synth.
Do you have any upcoming releases you can tell us about?
We have a big single to drop [on] our Paragraph label under our Alliances series. It's a collaboration with Pan-Pot called "Media." Then we are starting to write tracks for a new Slam album, which gives us more freedom to experiment and make tracks of different styles and tempos.
The last couple of years we have been making music for the dance floor, with singles and EPs out on Adam Beyer's Drumcode, our own Soma and Paragraph [labels] and Len Faki's Figure. During that time, we have been remixing a lot of our peers, such as Radio Slave, Pan-Pot, Paul Ritch and Carl Craig.
Soma recently compiled a double CD of our singles and remixes from the last four years, and there is some great stuff on there, but it also made us feel like making a proper album for the first time in quite a few years. Having fun in the studio in a different way.
What other producers are really doing it for you at the moment?
ROD, Kyle Geiger, Jerome Sydenham, Regis, Mark Reeve. It's a very healthy techno scene right now. Many new guys coming through, too.
What's coming up on your label, Soma Records?
We have an exciting year ahead, and we just had big success with Gary Beck, Harvey McKay and Pig and Dan. We have new material coming from the established acts like Funk D'Void, Silicone Soul, Vector Lovers, and lots of new artists like Mark Reeve, Kyle Geiger and Roberto Clementi. Keep checking Somarecords.com.
What can Denver expect Saturday night at NORAD?
Well, we love playing house and techno and everything in between, and we haven't played in the States for more than ten years, so we are going to be working hard behind the scenes to make it something special!
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