INTERVIEW: Andrew Odia – aka Slow Rotor, EBA, Faded Alien – an extraordinary and under-heard talent in techno, he remembers house, bleep & bass and new wave in 1980s Sheffield, he makes music today in MCR

Andrew Odia has numerous aliases and production guises, producing expansive and artistic techno compositions, inspired by the motor city. His creations skirt the idiosyncracies of Detroit’s forefathers, fusing sonic discovery from the roots of his Sheffield heritage and has produced a vault of tracks that are altogther different. There’s a scholarly appreciation of techno, with flashes of creative genius, yet he has remained quite under-acknowledged for his braindance techno – it’s urgent listening for the uninitiated.

Right now, dance music lovers are re-examining the genre melding mutations of breaks, trance, hardcore, bleep, bass, techno, and more. While the 80s/90s bleep and bass scene of UK flagships (Bradford, Leeds, Manchester, Sheffield) is being lauded with appropriate hindsight, there are many revisited and rebooted artists, as well as reissued records, and new producers touching base (or is that bass? – Ed.) with relics of decades past. The results, a flow of exciting new hybrid productions right now, despite clubbing lockdown (see the labels currently moving various goalposts and pitches – Holding Hands, Sneaker Social Club, Musique Pour La Danse, Seven Hills, among others).

What an apt time to revisit the music of Andrew Odia, a producer, who – in these times of continually emerging new contexts, repurposed frames and ever-fertile musics – is sounding better than ever.

WTM spoke to Andrew.

What are all the main aliases you have used…?

“Slow Rotor, EBA, ​U.V., Faded Alien, Caution!Horses, and S10…

“Unfortunately no recordings exist of Faded Alien. I had a CD of choice cuts which I lent to someone and never saw back. Also had tons of Faded Alien midi data on disc that I was planning on working on, and in a fit of artistic temperament a few years ago, I chucked the whole lot out.

“Caution!Horses, and S10 – Sheffield’s techno boyband equivalent of E17, without the looks – me, aka “Doc” at the time, another fella called dB, another called MAD Proff – and Rick. I’m feeling a name change coming on from Caution!Horses but I think making music is the priority for the time being rather than thinking up new names.”

WTM – What clubs have shaped your life and sound?

“One club that’s shaped my sound, and continues to have an impact on my life, is Jive Turkey, Saturday nights at Occasions in Sheffield. I think it was called Club Superman before that, or maybe that was a different entity with the same DJs.

“When I got to Sheffield in 1988, I was an indie kid from my school days, it’s what all my friends listened to. But even then, I leaned more towards the electronic, industrial bands like Cabaret Voltaire. Before that, and until about third year in school, I’d only listened to classical music, from early days playing the cello (and lunchtimes playing recorder in Mr. Gibson’s early music recorder ensemble!). I loved it for the way it just filled your brain and painted images for you to disappear into. I was an avid Radio 3 listener. Anyway, when I got to university, after a while two friends of mine started talking about a club they went to, playing this new house music. They tried getting me to go but it wasn’t until my second year that I finally went down, and that was my music epiphany. I can’t remember my first time there, but the music registered with me. It was especially the Detroit techno that hooked me: the electronic side played to my background in industrial bands; and the lack of lyrics, and the almost symphonic sound you could create using technology (well) created those same pictures in my mind and worlds to escape into that classical music had done in the past. Alongside that, there was a diverse mix of black music, old and new styles.”

WTM – Give us a run down of your production life, practice and musical direction…

“My production life started in Sheffield, while I was a student there in the late 80s/early 90s. I got into the music scene there, DJing with friends, and it progressed from there to music making. Someone I knew was getting bits of work at FON Studios so we got some down-time to mess around in there and experiment. Then I found out that a guy in one of my classes had some studio equipment of his own. We got talking and I started booking time with him. When I came to leave Sheffield and moved back to Manchester shortly after, I’d still make the trip across the Pennines on a regular basis, dole money permitting. It’s those sessions that resulted in the first Byo-Jo Recordings release – generously funded by my mum and my sister.

BYO1 was supposed to be the first in a string of label releases (I recently got sent a copy of a different mix of one of my BYO1 tracks, recently discovered by a then collaborator in his box of DATs, that was meant for a subsequent BYO2 that never happened at the time). But it didn’t sell when it came out in 1992, my funders were unwilling to continue funding, so I went back to studying. This was now mid-late 90s Manchester. Again I got involved in running some parties, and again that led to writing. I’d been boring people about musical exploits in Sheffield, but they wanted to see what I could do in the present. So a friend who was Art Editor of local listings magazine City Life arranged for me to use Castlefield Art Gallery in Manchester for a performance of current work, if I could get a set of music together. That’s how my Faded Alien persona came about. My gig was in the evening, but took place during a Tim Burton-related exhibition, which went on during the daytime. Those big Mars Attacks! heads had been used in the exhibition publicity, so when it came to decide on a name for my own event, we borrowed the artwork, and the gig was named “An Evening with Faded Alien”. The sound was what you might call experimental electronica – not what I’d originally intended, and a departure from my more techno sounds from previously, but pretty fitting for the space.

“It was after doing this for a while – and funnily enough being invited by a French listener in the audience to play at Marsatac in Marseilles after what was to be the final Faded Alien gig at The Roadhouse – that someone told me about a Finnish singer-songwriter who was looking to get more creative with his music production. I met up with Teemu, we talked, both liked Broadcast, and so started working together as Roger. During our time we put out a number of releases, and along with sometime producer/remixer/friend Danny Webb, also ran the Mate recordings label, and organised Music Is Better (later on, along with the Science Block guys who went on to promote Sequence). One of the Mate releases was a compilation of tracks by artists from both Manchester and Helsinki/Finland, and as a side-project for that CD, I put together the K-Balcony track under the CautionHorses moniker.

“Roger parted company in the midst of putting together our debut album with Roger Lyons. After that, and a stint of club promoting, I disappeared for a good while: work, health, life, etc, needing attention. Then I began to realise that I needed music back in my life. I had a load of tracks in varying stages of completion that’d been lying around for years doing nothing. Someone said I should put a CD together, distribute to friends and family, no pressure, and just see what the reaction was. So I got my little production plant up and running (as a fan of Ford and Motown) and pressed up some CDrs, simply packaged (plain CDr with a photocopied info sheet in there). While I was in Piccadilly Records roundabout that time, I got talking and told them what I was up to. They said they’d be interested in stocking, but I was a bit dubious, as a) this was a very humble, “homely” looking release and b) I’d always had a sense that my own solo material was a bit different, even when I’d been more connected with the music world. Having been away so long, I felt the difference even more now. However, I gave them some copies, it was well received, got distributed by the lovely All Ears in Sheffield and ended up in Tokyo, and Berlin. This was in 2017, and I’ve been releasing material regularly since then. There’s been a reissue of BYO1 on Italian label La Bella Di Notte which was out earlier this year (all sold out now), and the goal is to reach more people with BYO2 onwards by releasing on vinyl at some point, maybe in collaboration with another label or party.

“There is no ‘big idea’ in my current production practice. I usually begin with inspiration that comes from anything around me, be that a rhythmic or a musical idea. So I might hear a rhythm in a dripping tap, or a train going over tracks, or someone rapping on the door; I might hear a snippet of melody or bassline in a car idling, or a group of children making noise in a playground, or a bird singing outside. There’ll be something about it that makes the idea settle in my brain like an earworm, and I’ll turn it round and play with it until it’s in the form I want. I start from that one idea and then just add, add, add. It’s rare I sit down at the keyboard to just wait for that initial inspiration, but sometimes I do just sit and doodle and then, for instance, a bassline may appear. Then it’s add, add, add like above. I’ll record it, loop it, listen and play back. I’ll doodle over the top and a melody might appear. I’ll record that, loop them both, listen and play back. A harmony may then appear, then another counter melody, a second bass, etc. And so on. But recording drum jams is my favourite, and I could do that all day. It’s the same principle as with the music ideas: set up a drum kit, a rhythm may emerge (eg a kick and a clap). Record, loop, play back and listen. Another line might suggest itself (eg an open hat) – record, loop all, play back and listen. And so on.

“Regarding musical direction, I recently bumped into an old school friend who’s now a music tutor. We were chatting about music and talking influences, and he said something to me that seemed blindingly obvious but I’d never really thought about it before – when you write freely, you put into your music influences from those things that have touched you over the years and you’ve kept with you. You hang onto those influences, and they come out in your music, consciously or subconsciously, while those things you’ve experienced but that didn’t do anything for you, figure less or disappear.

“I think that explains why my music is so magpie-like: in my own head I’m coming from the direction of techno, but people hear things in there from other parts of my music history that I don’t think I’m consciously aware of. So that includes classical music (as a former cellist and recorder player of baroque music no less!); a love of the six string from school days listening to The Fall, Joy Division and other Manchester bands and affiliates all the way through to James Brown and Funkadelic; disco and funk under the influence of my old DJ partner Pat “Violet Trax” Barry at Sheffield; jazz at Manchester University via Tim “Jazz mag” Birch, partner in crime Jayne Compton at the Jazz Groove Society and Liz Nash with her Blue Note Records collection; electronic sounds from Pelicanneck sessions at Contact Theatre with the likes of Skam; and so on – all treasured memories, and accompanying sounds.

“For example, BYO3 is techno (albeit a weird kind of techno) to my ears: it’s “Hieroglyphic Being meets Sweet Exorcist” in a London record shop; but it’s “Yellow Magic Orchestra but more danceable” in Leeds. The Soundcloud algorithm goes even more tangential, claiming one of the tracks on there is bhangra. I’ve had other tracks described as alternative rock, reggaeton, synthpop, and world music, but to me, it’s all techno.”

WTM – Do you DJ? What records never leave your bag or turntable?

“I got into music production through DJing, but I’d call myself a musician now, who enjoys sharing his very modest but at times interesting record collection. Being a DJ, as I understand DJing, is a skill and a labour of love, an art in itself – part entertainer, part teacher. I was, maybe, once, but not now. Plus I was never very good at the entertainer bit: I played what I liked and if you didn’t like it, it was too bad!”

WTM – Some of Andrew’s top track picks, include:

Weather Report – Heavy Weather

Vandal – The Laws Of Chants Volume One

326 – Falling

Cabaret Voltaire – Colours.

WTM – Who else has inspired you musically?

“That’s a lot of people, in a whole lot of genres. But Robert Gordon and Richard H. Kirk in my music-making formative years were top. I’d scour shops and get anything with their name on it. Rob was a studio wizard pre-WARP with lots of production and engineering credits under his belt, working amongst others with The Fall and remxing The Inspiral Carpets. When I started reading about him, and found out he was from Sheffield, I became even more interested. And then I read an article which featured a picture and found he looked just like me, but with longer hair. So maybe it was a bit of deflected self-love. But I did like his sound: tough and crisp, but still airy and spacious, no fat on any tracks, just what you needed. Richard H. Kirk I’d been a fan of since school days, with Sensoria being one of my favourite tracks of all time: a bit industrial, a bit electro, a bit techno, a bit old-skool indie – a real genre-spanner.

“And his solo material continued to interest, plus the marriage made in heaven which was his collaboration with Robert as Xon. I was a bit obsessed with the Sheffield/Yorkshire sound at the time, so even though I was into the sound of the old Detroit masters, it’s only belatedly I started paying them the attention and respect they were due. I loved and continued to admire Carl Craig (Einbahn is one of my favourite techno tracks); but there was something about Derrick May that went even further. I don’t own many of his records, but there’s some level of craziness in his music that I relate to.”

WTM – What labels and producers inspire you now?

“My finger is most definitely not on the pulse these days, and hasn’t been for a long time, but I keep in some kind of touch with what’s going on via the Piccadilly Records trusty weekly mailout. I disappeared from music for a long time, only starting back up again in 2017.

“This lockdown situation is kind of my normal state as I didn’t go out much before we all got locked down anyway, and I spend a lot of time just pootling round the house and making my own music. I don’t tend to listen to much music, other than my own, which I often have on when I’m cooking. Listening to my old stuff gives me ideas about what to do with new projects. Plus if I listen to too much “other” music, my brain gets pulled in all kinds of directions and I can’t focus on my own work. My brain must be too absorbent. One album I have bought recently(ish) is The Red Notes by Hieroglyphic Being on Soul Jazz, and I thought that was excellent. I’ve got some older Jamal Moss material which is also good, but I thought HB on this album was at times stunning.

“There are occasions when you have multiple music lines going on at once, on top of some cracking percussion, and it’s like controlled cacophony, beats and notes flying off in all directions. One other guy who’s stuff I really like is a character called Fly Insect from Salford, just over the water from Manchester. He’s prolific, yet all his stuff’s good, and he sounds like a true Detroit original. He posts on Soundcloud but I’m not sure whether any of his material’s been officially released.”

WTM – What’s available of your productions?

“It’s all available, from the Byo-Jo Recordings website. If you don’t fancy buying from there, take a look at the site anyway as there’s a list of record stores who stock the releases, so if you want to do your bit to support one of those, please do.

“The first record we put out was from 1993 (BYO1), and that’s the only vinyl. I started putting things out again in 2017, and since then it’s been CDr only, in limited runs, and there have been four – an album (BYO2), and three EPs. I’ve not had the finances to release on vinyl, but I wanted to have some kind of physical release rather than pure digital, hence CDr. And I see the digital as being built in anyway – if you buy a copy, you can always rip the audio and use as you want. There was talk of a new vinyl release of Caution!Horses material in association with another party, but as with all plans, things are up in the air at the moment.

“So in the meantime, I’m repressing the CDrs. Currently on BYO2, which someone called a “dystopian future soundtrack” when it first came out. Good listening material for current circumstances maybe. I’ve also been busy writing new material – one album down, new EP starting next month.”

WTM – Are there any other mentionable unsung musical inspirations or venues from your past in Sheffield?

“Occasions, as it was then was just a slightly grotty long room above the glitzy KiKi’s below, about 250 capacity, no flashing lights, just a dancefloor in the middle, some standing room around the outside, an occasional flash of the disco ball (always a highlight), a bar to one side, and toilets. Very basic. But the sounds Winston and Parrot selected were just so good, the surroundings didn’t matter. It became a weekly pilgrimage. Start off at the Student Union bar where all the different parties would gather; wander down West Street, hook a right and nip down a back alley to the off-licence for a bottle of Thunderbird/tipple of choice; quaff along Division Street, tipping a nod to the FON/WARP shop as you walked past; take a right down Rockingham Street and the excitement would set in. Then up the stairs and in. We’d always pester the DJs to tell us what certain records were (Winston more than Parrot – Parrot always seemed a bit more intimidating!). Then it’d be down to FON/WARP shop to buy in the week.

“When WARP Records started  around 1989, that’s when things went to another level. Aroundabout that time, Occasions got a spruce up and refurb. Same size, but now all black, sleeker, and with a new soundsystem – in a way, more in tune with the music. Jive Turkey had always been good, but when local interpretations of house and techno started getting produced and played, from acts and DJs from not only Sheffield but also from places like Leeds and Bradford, it made things even more special.

“It wasn’t now only ‘our’ club, these were ‘our’ records, made by local people, and with the tastes of other local people in mind. There was Detroit techno in there, but mixed with that Sheffield industrial sound heritage, and topped off with soundsystem bass and space. I still remember the night that Mentok 1 by LFO got played for the first time – the place went MENTAL! I’d never heard anything like it. And it’s that musical sound that’s still with me today. On BYO2, there’s a track called Occasional Tracks #1, and it’s my tribute to my own LFO/Mentok 1 experience at Occasions. The album I finished over the summer has an as yet untitled track on it which is an unofficial Occasional Tracks #2, paying respect to the Chicago house that paved the way.”

Where are you based nowadays and what is the scene like?

“I’m based in Manchester, which has always had an embarrassment of riches when it comes to music, of all kinds. DJs of all sizes, bands of all sizes, promoters of all sizes, venues of all sizes. I love it, and I’m lucky/happy to call it home, before going to and since coming back from Sheffield, about 1992. It’s always interesting. That said, I don’t currently really feel part of any scene. I am my own little scene of one! Maybe my music falls between genres to a degree that I’m unclaimed by any group here, and that I kind of understand. Sometimes even I have trouble thinking where I fit in. Maybe I’m too old to associate with now?! Or CDr releases are just not quite the thing maybe?

“Piccadilly Records have been fantastic in their support of a local music-maker, and I have to say big thanks to Alistair Hall at Vinyl Resting Place for initial support; but in the main, I’ve mostly been interacting with people from further afield. Since 2017 I’ve just been making my own stuff and not really getting out much here. I’m very much a homebody, a friendly homebody I hasten to add, but more often ‘in’ than ‘out’. At the start of the year, with the BYO1 reissue imminent, there was talk of getting out and about on the promotional trail, and that would’ve been a good opportunity to press the flesh. Of course events transpired to stop that happening. Funnily enough, during lockdown I’ve been talking to a number of people I’ve not been in contact with in years, so a few meet ups are to be had in the I hope nearish future, and a bit more seeing what’s out there.”

What’s is your most precious piece of kit?

“My soft synths. Virtually priceless.”

Find Andrew’s work at the Byojo shop.

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