We first came across TReen a couple of months ago through mutual friends and were instantly blown away by their vast hardware set up, their open minded attitude to music production, incorporation of mutant sounds, and of course their celebrated live performances. We’re thrilled to have gotten a chance to interview both Dave and Lou, learning more about TReen and their approach to music!
IA: Okay so the first thing we all wanna know about is the set up! What’s striking about the stuff you guys do is the amount of hardware you use – I know the likes of Karenn and TM404 share an extensive love of hardware, along with British Murder Boys and innumerable others, but the scope of what you guys have is very impressive! What’s in the studio?
Lou: Where to begin?!
The set up. Two samplers, one each – a Korg ESX and an MPC 500; a changing line up of synthesisers, at the moment it’s a xox box, an Access Virus Ti and a Bass Station 2 (but we’ve had a Moog Little Phatty, Yamaha TX7 module and a Korg Volca Keys along the way and just about to swap the Ti for a Snow); effects boxes – a Korg Kaos Pad and an old Echorder. All of this goes into a MIDI patch bay so all the machines can communicate and keep in time by running off the same MIDI clock – which is provided by the ESX, so that’s the start of the chain. All the signal goes into a 14-channel mixer, with the ESX kick drums being split off into their own channel. Finally the signal from Auxiliary 1 on the mixer goes into a 266XL DBX rack compressor to form a side chain compression, and that has its own channel on the mixer as well.
The stay-at-home MOTHER of them all is the Roland TR-808 which doesn’t come out to play (oooh except once! – when we played a set on Al iLLEagle’s original Terrahorns. We’ve sampled the fuck out of the 808 and use the noises through the ESX cos them lush ESX valves mean the sound is reproduced really faithfully to the original.
IA: So how long have you guys been making music together, then? What were the beginnings of TReen?
Lou: We’d been making music together since 2010 as Emily Davison vs The Tigerforce. Dave kicked it off when he bought the Virus Ti, I thought he was mad to spend so much money on a synth and then I heard it. It was just one of those Damascene moments; they don’t come around often, so you should grab them when they do. I was like, “Eeep! We’ve got to do a live set!”, there was no question; it was just obvious. We changed the name to TReen a couple of years later – because it would fit on flyers better basically! The capital “TR” is a homage to the studio backbone of our set-up, D’s modded Roland TR-808 drum machine. He bought it before we got together, back in the mists of time when 808s were neither as fashionable nor as expensive as they are today.
Dave: I’d been noodling on computers since all my old hardware packed up thru over-raving around 2003. When Lou suggested it, I thought, “Let’s do this properly”. I already had the 808 from a chance offer from a mate in Rotterdam but I didn’t really play out with it.
Emily Davison vs the Tigerforce
IA: What’s the least amount of gear you have done, or could do a show with?
Dave: It depends on the show, it’s useful to have two sequencers that you can mix the beats back and forth between like a traditional DJ set-up and then anything else can be patched via our midi split. We have a machine dedicated to the sub (Bass Station 2) and it’s good to have a couple of other synths on hand if one goes down, I bought a TX7 for £60 that exact reason and we’ve used an ipad in a similar way. Computers crash, hardware fails, that’s just life.
At one of our early gigs my MPC500 was placed dangerously close to a proper oldschool 70’s bass guitar amp belonging to the hardcore band ‘100% Beefcock and the Titsburster’; the magnets from the speaker drivers totally wiped the flash memory leaving me with only the midi data (stored on the ROM, geek fans!) so Lou had to basically do the gig on her own whilst I played the occasional live bassline from the Novation (BS1) and a couple of midi patterns. I had a Wavedrum that I hit a bit but they’re pretty shit-sounding so I held back out of embarrassment. But an ESX and a x0x on their own can still provide some tearing acid and Lou fucking stormed it. I still had an annoying hippy come up to us afterwards and tell me that we weren’t really playing live because they weren’t real instruments – despite my actually playing live on two instruments.
IA: It could be said there are advantages to having a laptop in a live setting, was the move to hardware prompted by anything in particular?
Dave: I started on hardware in the late nineties because computers couldn’t do very much and were really expensive, I yearned for a laptop so badly and got one in about 2001. It had 128mg ram and ran Reason ok but not well enough to trust dropping stuff in and out live.
There is so much freedom with laptops nowadays, they are amazing. You can design tracks so they can be mixed together and never be performed the same way twice and Ableton seemed to get its shit together after version 7, as did the reliability of usb connections for controllers but it’s not the same as having a buffet of sound machines. I find latency thru usb can still be a bit looser compared to the feel of analogue especially on knobs and sliders. Basically, I think analogue signal is a glorious thing, it IS the sound of electricity and I love that fact.
Lou: I always wanted to do a hardware live set because DAW’s do my head in; I found them really frustrating to use when I was first working out the basic architecture of electronic music. Using the ESX-1 changed all that; maybe I’m just a tactile learner or maybe I just like flashing red buttons, but I learnt more about how decent tunes are structured from having to work from within the confines of the ESX’s framework than I ever managed when I was faced with a blank screen song file: I just never knew where to start. Plus, if I am being brutally honest, I think that when peeps play out on laptops they look a bit like they’re doing their accounts.
TReen live at the John Peel Centre
IA: On average, how much preparation goes into a performance? Are there pre-programmed sequences that you save beforehand, or is it all created from scratch?
Dave: When we play live we have two sequencers running a maximum of an 8 bar loop (usually 2 or 4 bar loops to keep the sequencers running to the same bar count) then everything is punched in and out live, either on mutes or faders on the desk. One song can have 20-30 layers and the combinations of each layer provides the build ups and drops. We try to keep key elements to certain pads (top right pad on the mpc is always the sub on the bass station for example,) so if it is dark or we are a bit confused(!), there are areas to ground or remind us what could happen next.
Other live tricks we use if we’re feeling confident, is the playing of improvised parts on the synths or messing around with the analog delay echo in a dub style.
Lou: A decent monitor set up is our main requirement as we tend to spend the first 10 mins in a blind panic troubleshooting the mix. When possible, we use the teknival method of playing in front of the rig and just using it as a very big monitor: best fun ever.
IA: You’ve got quite an eclectic output, we’ve seen you hammering out acid techno, footwork, even stuff with a real ska swing to it – I’m guessing when you guys start making tunes it’s an anything goes approach? Or do you tend to focus on a specific sound or sounds from time to time?
Dave: We’ve always been committed to getting people up and dancing. We’re both always listening out for samples and things we like that we can incorporate into the set, be it a style, a sound or a trajectory. It must be spirited in some way. No imitating – stealing outright is fine though ;)
Lou: Haha! It’s not stealing, it’s just re-contextualising stuff and bringing it into the unique hardcore/breakbeat folk tradition of the UK!
IA: If, for some reason, you had to abandon your entire record collection and could only save three items what would they be?
Dave: In the apocalyptic scenario of which you speak I think I would leave it all behind and just go on the rampage until I met with a swift death.
Lou: Haha I stupidly lost/gave away all my records to random people in a squat I was living in just off Old Street in 2003 because I “…didn’t want to be tied down to earthly things”. Perhaps if I could just have Rah Digga’s Lessons of Today back? That would be great. Cheers. :)
TReen and MC Gigante live at Maui Waui Festival
IA: Do you have any up-coming gigs you’d like to mention?
The Waterfront, Norwich this Friday 28 March. After that we’re taking a rest from live shows until Lou’s “Hyper-On Birthday Gala Experience” on 24 May.
Huge, huge thanks again to Lou and Dave for sharing their time with us! We strongly encourage you check these guys out, as you can see from the videos posted here they are extremely talented and very creative. You can get their EP’s “Footwerk Makes One Free” and “4 Trax 4 Electro Skankin” through the links below.