MCHNWRKS is a new record label founded by techno producers Stu Grant (Redshifter, Bangkok) and Owen De Vevo (RhythmDial, New York). Its express purpose being to crank out ‘rough, imperfect, noisy electronic funk from decaying machines’, the edgy imprint favours music produced from hardware. We caught up with Bangkok-based Stu Grant ahead of the label’s first release to talk about MCHNWRKS, his life as a Techno-producing ‘family man’ – and how he sees the city’s underground scene evolving.
So, Stu – first of all – why Bangkok?
I love Bangkok. The people, the food and the general craziness when it goes dark. It’s such a varied place and as long as you can get up early before it gets too hot and busy it’s pretty accessible.
I first came to Bangkok about 10 years ago at the end of a long travelling trip with my wife. We spent only a few days here, and a week or two in Chiang Mai and really felt at ease in Thailand. In the intervening years we had a couple of kids – and when she decided to return to work, we decided that the kids were old enough for an adventure, work was better for her abroad than in the UK (teaching) and I could do what I do anywhere really. Bangkok seemed a cool place to come and good access to Asia for further travelling – so we sold most of what we own (including my studio and about 3500 records) and moved out.
Where were you, and what were you doing, before your move to Bangkok?
Before that we’d lived in Birmingham for many years and I was a part of the Birmingham techno scene producing and DJing with a label called Embryo. I took a break from it all in the early 2000s, when looping techno and vinyl sales were starting to decline – not for that reason, but it was just a good point. I then trained as a network engineer (it was similar to plugging in and fault fixing studio kit, after all) and worked for a few years in that and software to get to the point where I could start a business that wouldn’t take all of my time up, but would provide income.
So, you would say that, as a producer, having a ‘day job’ is important, then?
If you’re a producer in this small scene, Techno I mean, then there is no real money to be made from it unless you DJ and gig regularly – which doesn’t fit with my family life – or start to make decisions with your art that you wouldn’t do if you had the choice. I wouldn’t say that having a day job is important, in fact it’s something I actively try to avoid! But you probably need a stream of income from somewhere.
That’s a very practical insight. Had a lot of things changed by the time you returned to music?
When I returned to making music around 2006, a whole lot had changed. The technology, the lack of ability to shift vinyl easily, the music was different. It took me a long time to find a system that I was comfortable to work within and, in that time, I pulled up my producer socks and got down to learning a lot more about sound design, production, mastering etc. At that time I was still working full time and starting to build a business so time was limited, but as this progressed, I was able to carve out more time.
‘Since I’ve been over, I’ve found Bangkok to be everything I hoped and more. I didn’t expect to find a club scene at all – but there are things going on under the radar just bubbling away.’
In 2015, before we came to Bangkok I ‘retired’ from full time employment and this has finally given me the time to produce daily, start connecting with people again and do things like start new labels and help to build the Bangkok techno scene as well as see my children a lot more and staying fit and active.
Since I’ve been over, I’ve found Bangkok to be everything I hoped and more. I didn’t expect to find a club scene at all – but there are things going on under the radar just bubbling away.
So what made you decide to start a label?
There are three things that I focus on which resulted in me wanting to start labels. Quality, honesty and flexibility.
‘Ultimately, running a personal label is a diary which you should be able to review in years and be proud of your efforts.’
I decided to start my Red Phase label just as a vehicle for me to release my own music. I could have just done this on bandcamp, but as the majority of digital techno is still shifted on Beatport, Juno.co.uk etc,, as well as streaming, to do this you need either your own or someone else’s label. Getting other labels to release your music as you want it to be released isn’t actually that easy at all so running your own is not that difficult to set up, and it helps you retain quality and honesty – whilst giving you the flexibility to do whatever you wish. Anything is possible if you control the full chain.
Ultimately, running a personal label is a diary which you should be able to review in years and be proud of your efforts.
How did the specific concept for MCHNWRKS come about?
As part of my Redshifter project I decided to focus on growth via Soundcloud (obvious) and Instagram. Instagram for me should be more about art and interest than Techno Memes and photos of cats – so I only really follow photographers and artists on there and less producers videoing their Ableton sessions. Owen De Vivo (RhythmDial) was one of the few musicians that I followed on IG because his videos of his hardware sessions were just bonkers. Sequenced flashing lights and distorted bleeps and crashing percussion so it was always interesting to see a new video from him.
Then one day I was preparing for a live set in Bangkok, I guess around December 2015 and I contacted him to ask him for a track as I wanted to take a few loops from it. He sent it over, I mastered it and sent it back to return the favour and we got chatting. It turns out he’s a brother from another mother and we got on very well. We’re both getting on a bit, both have kids, both DJed proper techno for years, both had histories of working within pure hardware studios. He had some of the Embryo releases from the 90s actually. He’s also super committed, really positive and works hard on his music.
Owen is from Rochester, New York, and I’ve learned that the city has a lot in common with Detroit. It’s very industrial, and the noises and rhythms can be heard resonating in his music which is all hardware based. I work with more of an immersive sound which has been getting more so since moving to Bangkok. It’s so hot and busy here: you are always surround by noise of fans, cranky air conditioning units, car and bike engines and loud conversation – so that has influenced my production I think.
‘It’s so hot and busy here: you are always surrounded by the noise of fans, cranky air conditioning units, car and bike engines and loud conversation – so that has influenced my production, I think.’
So you’ve got a pure hardware guy on one side of the planet, and the other you’ve a producer with a vision, remixing and mastering skills, and some business acumen to be able to set it up. I approached him to see if he wanted to get it out there and I would just take his tracks and remix them in my own style – but using only samples from his tracks and that was the concept. He designs machine parts during the day, and only uses machines for his music – so we had to get the word machine into the title. After a few long messenger sessions, MCHNWRKS was born. We’ve spent the last 3-4 months finishing music, remixing and playing the tracks out to find out what works, what doesn’t – because there is no real rush to do this.
Can you give us a sneak preview of any of the forthcoming MCHNWRKS releases?
We have three releases lined up at the moment on which we’ve agreed. The first is Owen’s ‘The Rhythm Dial’ track which was the first track of his that blew me away. I’ve remixed that for the B side and it’s deeper and more club ready. They sound different, but you can play them one after another – and it’s obvious they are from the same family.
Here’s a private sample of the 2nd EP just for your readers.
Finally – where do you feel things are at in the Bangkok underground scene?
What I did notice when I came over was that there was a poor online image of the scene in Bangkok. A number of message board posts that were prominent on google were saying disparaging things about the DJs and nights over here so I started to address it and picked up these old threads to right a few wrongs.
‘[T]here is a base that can be built on – and not putting off club-minded travellers is certainly one of the things that needs to be kept on top of.’
The response from this was amazing really. Lots of emails from ex-pats and travellers both current and future. I discovered an old friend who used to promote a club I played at regularly in the UK in the late 90s. I started bumping into people in Glow and the Dark Bar who’d seen the posts online and followed through to coming out. So there is a base that can be built on and not putting off club-minded travellers is certainly one of the things that needs to be kept on top of.
If you talk about the next level, then I suppose for me that would be to have at least a well supported bi-weekly Fri/Sat techno night running at a good venue, mainly played with local residents (Thai and ex-pat) and the occasional guest. To get to that point, I think we need time combined with effort to continue pushing along with the relatively low numbers. The Bangkok techno scene seems busy during the winter months and full of travellers from Germany, Holland and the rest of Europe, the US, Aussies etc, but I don’t know what will happen in the fallow months. Maybe there are enough ex-pats to sustain it, maybe not. It seems that there are lots of smaller nights running and sometimes 3 or 4 techno nights in a week but with small numbers. Maybe it’d be best to try to pool resources to create something bigger.
A good things is that the infrastructure has improved even in the short time since I arrived. Glow has a Funktion One system that sounds amazing. Beam has opened. However, the opening times are a bit frustrating, really – with most things closing by 3-ish. With a lot of travellers flying in at odd times, often people aren’t getting out until after midnight so it would be nice to see that addressed somehow.
I’m mainly focussed on production though rather than the nights out – but to be taken seriously I think that would be the next step.
How do you look forward to contributing to ongoing development of the Bangkok scene?
In time, local DJs and producers will be teased out, and maybe mentored by the older heads in terms of integrity and professionalism – and a new generation will hopefully pick up the baton so that future generations have options for their music.
I haven’t really met any experienced producers over here, to be honest [SS: Check out amazing Thai techno producer nolens.volens in action here!] – but hopefully young producers will start to find me over the coming months and years so that I can offer an extra pair of ears and some advice to DJs or musicians who are starting to produce. Obviously, I have my labels to release anything I want on should it arise. One of the things I’m currently discussing in Bangkok with a company that provides Ableton training is to run Q&A sessions for his new producers to move this from ‘knowing how to produce’ to ‘knowing how to produce and get your music out there’.
Totally agree that education and mentoring will be key. Indeed, it’s the raison d’etre of this blog also, and the reason for this interview!
Well, thanks so much for sharing your experiences and practical insights, Stu. Wishing you all the best for your first release on MCHNWRKS – and we look forward to hearing them on the dance floor sometime soon!
Redshifter‘s latest release, ‘The Eye of Jupiter’ was released on Red Phase Records on 26th April. MCHNWRKS 001 is out on 7th June on all online stores. Stu is DJing at Obsidian at the Dark Bar on 27th May and playing Live at Tech-Noir 006 on June 2nd at Glow.