'Techno is the only music that can't be commercialised, it's the eternal musical underdog' - Scottish electronic aficionados Slam, aka Stuart McMillan and Orde Meikle, stay true to the cause.

Anita Awbi
  • By Anita Awbi
  • 28 Oct 2014
  • min read
‘Techno is the only music that can't be commercialised,’ say Scottish electronic aficionados Slam, aka Stuart McMillan and Orde Meikle. ‘And that's part of the attraction - the more people say they don't like it the more we love it. It's the eternal musical underdog!'

It’s this unwavering devotion to the cause that has seen the Glasgow duo hijacking the city’s subterranean night spots since 1992, commanding the crowds every weekend through their infamous DJ residencies at Sub Club and The Arches.

Meanwhile, their massively influential Soma record label, which first brought Daft Punk to the world, has gone on to release scores of forward-thinking records from the likes of Vector Lovers, Carl Craig, Radio Slave, The Black Dog and Alex Smoke.

Their own musical output as Slam spans the genre-defining 1993 classic Positive Education to their latest LP Reserve Proceed, effectively tracing the development of the genre and the technology that has driven it.

Here, Stuart and Orde give us the latest on their new album, their love of the Detroit techno masters and their militant commitment to the cause…

The inspiration mainly comes from the process in which the album was recorded. We tried to explore methods from the past, for example using sequences and drum machines and hardware we used to use but also using modern technology to move things forward and create something new.

You’ve been making music as Slam for more than two decades – how do you keep it fresh?
Exploring new avenues in technology keeps the music fresh but also as DJs we are inspired by the music we hear on a day-to-day basis. It's important to have a passion for the technology and more importantly to have a passion for the music itself. Also there's a drive not to become complacent, and to look for not only fresh sounds but also fresh and exiting talent.

Is there a piece of studio kit or a particular effect or drum pattern that you really couldn’t do without?
For this particular album, we relied heavily on the Sequentix Cirkon sequencer. Each track was based around a different sequence and then interwoven together to create a continuous album. The sequencer can be used for drum patterns, basslines, sequences and a whole host of other things, and it's a really hands-on tactile way of recording. It takes you away from the computer screen - which is very liberating.

You’re known for your club nights, record label and own music – which bit do you enjoy the most?
It's hard to say which one we enjoy the most. We enjoy all of them equally. I guess there is a symbiotic relationship between them all as each one kind of feeds into the other.

What first attracted you to electronic music? What kind of stuff did you grow up listening to?
Well at first it was Kraftwerk and then the Sheffield scene, Cabernet Voltaire and the like. Then growing up in the eighties and hearing the pop bands that were inspired by Kraftwerk. In the eighties it was hard to escape electronic sounds - they were on the radio all the time. And then when house and Detroit techno came along in the late eighties, it all made sense because of what had come before. I guess you could say that we were subtly indoctrinated from an early age by our musical environment.  When we discovered the music from Detroit that was it for us. The sounds we were hearing on those records inspired us to buy keyboards and drum machines and to start making music ourselves.

We were buying all this equipment - keyboards and such – and we didn't know how to use them properly. But we came across a couple of friends, including Glen Gibbons, who is still our partner in Soma. They had more of an idea how these things worked. We wanted to make a record but there was no real outlet for us to release one on. We all grew up with a culture of indie labels Factory, Rough Trade, Postcard etc so it seemed only natural we start our own label and here we are 23 years later. I think we are Scotland's longest running independent label.

What has been the biggest highlight for Soma so far?
It was a highlight reaching 20 years and seeing the label still releasing interesting and relevant music. There are continual highlights, like when we released our first record and seeing people getting behind it. Releasing Positive Education back in the early days was also a highlight.

But there are too many to mention. We still get massively excited about hearing all our artists delivering new material and also hearing remixes we have commissioned. And there is of course releasing our new album Reverse Proceed.

And what’s been the biggest low point?
Maybe the demise of vinyl sales. We still think of our releases almost like vinyl releases, because as DJs we have thousands and thousands of vinyl. It's a real treasure trove. We loved buying records as there was a real aesthetic value to them and in terms of the creativity with the artwork that made you think a certain way about the music.

How does the A&R side work at the label?
We have a roster of artists which take priority but we are a team, demos are first filtered then sent round for everyone to listen to. It’s a real democratic process. We kind of know what we all like bit it's hard to put in to words.

How have your tastes in music evolved since you first started the label?
It’s hard to say how they have changed exactly. It’s a natural process all I can say is that we don't want to put out pedestrian sounding music. So we are always looking over the brow of the hill.

How has the techno scene evolved since then?
Actually, to the untrained ear, people might say it hasn't. There was maybe a wee bit more individuality back then. But the world was a more fragmented place which allowed people to be perhaps a bit more creative and individual. That's what we still try to look for in Soma releases. I think the biggest change is in the production of music – it’s improved tenfold over the years.

Techno has easily transcended geographical barriers – what makes this kind of music so transportable?
It has always been a true global force because it has a tribal element which resonates with most cultures. If you listen to most primitive indigenous music there is an element of rhythm and distorted sound in it. Also, I think it’s because it's the only music that somehow can't be commercialised. That's part of the attraction - the more people say they don't like it the more we love it. It's the eternal musical underdog!

What’s next for Slam and Soma?
We have an album in the pipeline with fresh tracks showcasing the Glasgow techno scene. The album will be all Glasgow acts and all the music will be previously unreleased material. It’s the one thing people don't always realise when we travel as DJs, when we get chatting to promoters and DJs over dinner they discover that so many of the producers they love are from Glasgow.

Slam’s Reverse Proceed was released yesterday, 27 October 2014, on Soma.