THE GARY ESSON INTERVIEW
Let’s start with the basics: how did you get into the dance music scene?
I first listened to a variety of music when I was younger. During my school years a few of us would tune in to underground stuff played on the illegal pirate radio stations. At the time I would listen to US house music from Todd Terry, MK, masters at work and the uk bleep house stuff coming out on labels like Warp. I was really into music from artists like LFO, Unique 3, Forge Masters, Nightmares On Wax.
My earliest tracks were very basic and I would make up drum loops using a double cassette deck. I had a simple Casio keyboard for melodies and basslines and initially started off making hip hop and rnb. I found the rnb stuff trickier to make as I struggled to replicate the slick polished synths used on my favourite tracks on my not so great home keyboard. I started to focus more on dance music which had a more synthesized sound, which I found much easier to make.
When I started at college I picked up a weekend job which enabled me to buy my first sampler keyboard and a new Yamaha synth with drum pads. This would be around 93-94. These new keyboards inspired me to try out new ideas and I would still make hiphop and rnb beats for friends to sing or rap over, but I was now making house beats inspired by people like Grant Nelson - Kerri Chandler and MK. My parents bought me a new computer to “help with my college work”. I proceeded to upgrade the soundcard and bought Cakewalk production software, using the Yamaha keyboard to trigger the sounds.
When the Uk garage scene took off I took time out to absorb the sound and get inspiration. I would listen to mixtapes from Tuff Jam, Norris “Da Boss” Windross, EZ and the Dreem Teem travelling to and from college and work. A friend from school Anil Sharda, shared a common interest in the same types of music as myself and would alert me to new tracks that I might like. One day we were messing around playing back to back on his technics when he dropped the Todd Edwards remix of TJR “Just gets better” and I was blown away. I had previously experimented with samples Marc Kinchen style on some earlier tracks I made, but this seemed to take the sampling game to the next level, not just sampling vocal snippets but also sample segments from other music, to build up the melodies.
I went shopping for old records trying to dig out things worth sampling and over time built up an extensive bank of samples ranging from jazz to folk and rock.
I found that the right sample, a jazz chord for example, could be Time Stretched and fit into a track providing more character and warmth than if I played it myself on the limited equipment I had at the time.
I listened to loads of funk, old soul, folk music, prog rock, in fact anything where I could find an interesting chord, vocal harmony, string section etc to add to my collection of samples. I learned a great deal about sample manipulation, time stretching, pitch, filtering and how to integrate them into my tracks.
The first track I made using cut up samples was called “Not Over”, using snippets from first choice “Let No Man Put Asunder”, which I put on cassette and sent to some labels with no success. Looking back, it wasn’t that great, the samples were out of time, unprocessed with lots of clicks, it was a bit of a mess!!
I briefly messed around with some software called Making Waves which was good for sample based music which gained popularity as the software that Daniel Beddingfield used to make “gotta get thru this”.
I made a couple of tracks with this software but found it a bit limited for what I wanted so I moved onto FL studio, formerly known as fruity loops.
I found with this software I could work quickly to convert my ideas into tracks.
I still use this software to this day but may move onto something like Ableton in the future.
So how did you come to release a record on 2tuf4u label?
I produced a number of tracks on this new software which I burned to cd and sent out to a couple of labels, one of which being Karl Brown’s 2tuf4u. Tuff Jam was among my favourite uk garage producers alongside Todd Edwards, Jeremy Sylvester, MJ Cole for the four to the floor garage sound.
Karl rang me after listening to the tracks and we arranged a meet up in Birmingham. As a big fan of the Tuff Jam sound I was surprised and pleased by the interest shown by Karl and got signed to the label. Karl gave me some useful valuable guidance on how to further improve my productions, track structure etc.
My first release on the label was the Nu Generation EP in 2004. I was still developing my style and my favourite track off the EP was “it’s been so long”.
The second GE ep The Return was released in 2009, five years after your first, why so long?
I had a lot of other priorities outside music which I had to deal with at the time, not being a full time musician and working another job also. Also, although I was glad that my first ep got released, I was not too confident of my production skills at the time and felt that I could have done some things better. I did a couple of remixes for the label after the first ep but I felt I needed to go back to the drawing board and further develop my craft before releasing future tracks. I felt that The Return ep showed a real progression in the production quality with stronger basslines, tighter drum programming and better use of samples.
When you’re working on a track or remix, how do you normally begin?
I normally start with the drum pattern, followed by some samples to play the main melody or riff which I will follow with a bassline. Last of all I will play keys on top to fill out missing areas in the sample.
The amount of samples used depends to some extent on the type of drum pattern. The choppier bumpier stuff may have lots of sound snippets scattered around, while the more musical soulful tracks will have longer samples, melodies over a simpler less busy drum pattern.
Searching for the right samples can be very time consuming. I have often started using a sample which would not fit and I would end up removing it and start all over again.
What are you currently working on at the moment and how does it compare to your earlier stuff?
I recently completed a new EP album, “The Essential EP” which is available right now from 2tuf4u’s bandcamp site www.2tuf4u.bandcamp.com
. Again it follows the bumpy cut and paste format, though I’m trying to progress by using more unusual samples, for example one chops up the music score from a well known movie, but hopefully I’ve done enough sample tweaking to blur the origins!!!
Compared to the earlier stuff I have added more tricks, made the bass hit harder and the drums more snappier.
I am now making a conscious effort to show progression and I’m now experimenting with more two step and deep house tracks. I am now writing full vocal tracks and I’m trying to work with live vocalists instead of samples.
What are your feelings about the uk garage scene right now and which artists are you currently listening to?
In my opinion traditional uk garage sound is going through an evolution process and the boundaries between other genres like Dub Step have definitely merged but the basic sounds are influencing a new generation of producers like Disclosure, Huxley, and Jamie XX. When I get the chance I do listen to tracks from people like Solution, Mike Delinquent, Danny Phillips, Synkro, Surkin, Maya Jane Coles, PDV, 8th Note, CRST, Alessandro, ODM as well as my old faves, Todd, El-b and MJ Cole.
If you weren’t making uk garage what music would you be making?
Im a big fan of Hip Hop and listened at lot to 90’s stuff like Gang Starr, Slum Village, EPMD and a Tribe Called Quest. I would probably be making beats inspired by producers like Madlib, J Dilla, Dj Premier, Pete Rock and 9th Wonder. I also like Dj Spinna who can make equally good hip hop and house beats.