This interview was from Issue 7 of DivKid’s Month Of Modular. Click here for that issue of the magazine. Note this was back in April 2016.
So the reader can get to know you a little … first, what led you to music? And what had you been doing as a hobby or professionally leading up to getting into modular?
I was classically-trained for years as a kid, and went on to take a degree in Popular Music & Sound Recording at the first University to offer it, Salford. After that I had a 10 year career as a recording artist and producer, largely under the name Blue Light Fever. I eventually tired of the continuous see-saw hype train of the music industry and retrained as a teacher, moving from that into college technician work (which I know you’re familiar with! 🙂
That takes us up to you working with modular, what were you using it for at the time and how long was it before you started making audio demos for modules?
I completely gave up music for a while after quitting the industry, but eventually got sucked into giving it one last go – but strictly as a fun hobby. I bought a huge Mac and a ton of software, and that was great for a while – but I hit a wall. I was treading the same creative paths over and over again, and also suffering with RSI from being tied to a mouse constantly. I investigated buying midi controllers for my plugins, but decided that setting them up would suck up too much time & energy. Eventually I decided to take the plunge into modular, and found that I was suddenly bursting with ideas and recordings – and they were happening much, much quicker than in the past. A lot of it may not be particularly mainstream, but it was a lot of fun putting it together. I was putting tracks together, including mixing, over a weekend. If you want to get an idea of the kind of music my modular led me to, check them out at:
After a couple of years I started producing demos for modular manufacturers (Synthetic Sound Labs, WMD, Intellijel, Frequency Central etc..). This happened organically, after I had got involved in suggesting ideas for modules and beta testing them – something that had grown out of long email conversations with manufacturers troubleshooting issues with modules. I did demos in exchange for free modules, but eventually decided that he sheer amount of work I was putting in was not making much sense (as much to do with my own tendency towards perfectionism as anything)
I found you online through those audio demos and we got talking then met in person. You were a great help in me getting into modular myself. Was the position you were in making audio demos and keeping active on the Muff Wiggler forum answering questions / sharing experiences and generally just helping other users a big part of why you decided to open up your shop?
Well many thanks! Yes – I used to be so involved in the scene, and particularly on Muffs, that people started coming to me for advice and help all the time. If I’d bought a new module they’d ask what my feedback was after a week or so. I started to wonder whether there might be some kind of business in advice, or modular tuition…but then started to consider the retail angle.
What was your initial idea for the shop and has your initial plan changed regarding stock and general plans for the future?
My initial idea for the store was to ONLY sell products that I had used for ages, and was particularly passionate about – and which had proved to be reliable. I was also initially concerned that stocking new modules as soon as they were released might result in a myriad of problems with faults and bugs, and this was something I was keen to avoid. However, several people pointed out that this wasn’t exactly the best business move in the world, so I have had to try to combine that idealistic approach with a more realistic one, adding emerging modules to my range when I think they suit my brand. In the end, I have only had a handful of returns out of the hundreds of orders I’ve shipped, so I think it’s safe to say that the quality control in Eurorack has gone up a good few notches of late.
I don’t just stock anything that comes out, and only stock things that I think have something really unique to offer. I also tend to specialise in modules that are in that special category, where they are able to produce a wide range of results – whether that be VCOs that can be both precise and unstable; or modulation sources that can turn their hand to any number of tasks. Oddly enough, I am also slightly obsessed with VCAs, which maybe stems from my hi-fi and engineering background. I love to have a range of those, from warm saturating ones (AJH Synth Minimod VCA, WMD/SSF Amplitude) to clean, crisp units and designs that merge flexible mixing into the package (Tangle Quartet, Erica Quad VCA).
I am also very keen to support the brands I stock by trying to keep their older “classic” products in stock. I might only sell a couple of them every few months, but I think it’s important to keep them alive. Recent examples are the Richter Envelator from Malekko, which has never been available in the UK in its current form – something I find hard to believe, as it was a “must have” product when I started out. Another is the “Multimode” collection from WMD – the VCA, Envelope & Expander – some seriously feature-packed designs that are sometime overlooked in favour of their more flagship products.
In addition I am trying to promote UK brands as much as possible, when they fit in with the rest of my range – for example, Expert Sleepers, ALM Busy Circuits and the smaller brands such as Future Sound Systems. I have also been the first UK store to stock Transistor Sound Labs’ wonderful Stepper Acid sequencer. If you’re starting out producing modules in the UK, or moving into that field – get in touch!
Eurorack and the general awareness of modular has grown significantly in the past couple of years. Where do you see it going?
Well, obviously the big boys are getting into the game now, along with a lot of other stores which previously only sold more mainstream music gear. How that will play out is anyone’s guess, but hopefully there will still be a place for the smaller, boutique affairs such as myself as we reflect the DIY ethos that the scene was built on. I actually really like the look of the stuff that the big brands are putting out, but I’m not sure it makes a lot of sense for a store like mine. I have a somewhat “maverick” approach to business that has worked extremely well for me thus far, but may not be completely understood by huge multinational companies! Also, I simply can’t compete with the mainstream retail outfits in terms of purchasing power and logistics – but what I lack in those areas, I make up for with a ridiculous dedication to customer support, flexibility and reliability. I remember from my history as a customer just HOW important it was that the shops I dealt with were friendly, polite and fair, even when things were going wrong – and that is something I really hold onto. I have been incredibly loyal to some of the people I have bought gear off over the years – and often that is down the the person, not the shop.
I will always be looking to stock the “classics”, and to keep my ear to the ground in order to sniff out the most exciting and innovative new products. And trust me, my ear is VERY close to the ground!
Finally, anything you’d like to add?
Thanks to everyone who has supported the store so far, and helped me get off the ground – especially the many loyal, repeat customers. It really does mean a lot 🙂 …and please come and say hello at the various modular meets that take place during the year. Matttech Modular is always in full effect at the regional events (Leeds, Huddersfield, Sines & Squares in Manchester…) and can even be found skulking in more far-flung propositions, such as last year’s “Bells & Whistles” in Peterborough. Hopefully see you at one of these soon!