Arriving onto the electronic scene in 1990, Octave One is the brainchild of Detroit’s prodigious native sons, the Burden brothers. Comprised of Lawrence and Lenny as its core unit, with revolving members of Lynell, Lorne, and Lance Burden, it’s fair to say that music runs in the Burden blood. Many rank them amongst the real pioneers of the techno world, forming part of the second wave of Detroit Techno mentored by the Belleville Three (Kevin Saunderson, Derrick May and Juan Atkins).
Originally releasing on Derrick May’s legendary Transmat imprint, the brothers went on to start their own label, 430 West, which has provided a platform for their music in the last 25 years, including their other aliases, of which Random Noise Generation is the best known. In 2000, the release of ‘Black Water’ catapulted them to fame with an iconic track that has since been played the world over as a Detroit Techno anthem.
Ahead of their appearance in Bristol tomorrow, we sat down and got technical with the boys regarding their setup and details of their new album.
When did the Burden brothers become Octave One and where did the name come from?
We had the opportunity of having a song make it onto the “Techno 2” compilation and we were put on the spot by Mr. Derrick May when we were asked what the name of our band was, which he needed for the track listing of the compilation. He left the room and we did a very, very quick ‘huddle’ to come up with a name on the fly that we felt best described us, and the name Octave One was born. And it meant and means all of us (Lawrence, Lenny, and Lynell) working in one accord almost as if sharing the same octave.
Lawrence, you started off DJing, didn’t you? Does that mean that you guys have quite clear defined roles when it comes to the studio or live setup?
Yes, I was the first to go out and dj internationally but we had all come from the dj culture on the local scene. In the studio we kind of lean towards whatever we feel we want to play with but that seems to change on stage…I tend to lean towards playing with the mixing desk and effects and Lenny glides towards playing with the hardware.
Did your move to Atlanta from Detroit help bring a different perspective and approach to what you were doing? Do you think it helped formulate your current resurgence, at this point in your careers?
For anytime you bring something new to the table of course it’s gonna add something different to the soup 🙂 Moving to Atlanta did that for us but also touring as much as we had been also did the same for our ingredients of how we started to create, influence wise. We don’t think the move helped formulate our resurgence but it did help us have a different point of view of what we wanted to do with what we were doing.
Your new album is out this week. What does it mean for you to be releasing on your own label again?
For us it means the ultimate freedom to release it on our label. No A&R reps, PR and marketing depth telling us or suggesting to us what they think should be included or dismissed from the album…it released with exactly what and how we want it to be!
Is it true your new album was made in reaction to ID requests after your Boiler Room appearance? Is public feedback and appreciation important to you in a live and studio capacity?
Quite true! We hadn’t given it a great deal of thought about releasing that body of work as a complete project until we kept reading so many different request asking for the names of various tracks at different ID points. Then people started downloading them from the live set and also playing them out. We told ourselves that we had better do something cause it seems like our fans really want this to happen and soon!
The perception of every listener will be different, but what would you like people to take away from your album, given your intentions when you first started?
Yea, everyone hears things differently that’s for sure but at the end of the day we want our fans to know it is like it was in the beginning…we’ve always done the kind of things that we’ve wanted to do. We never cared what trend was going on that everyone was doing or using sounds that everyone used so we could fit into sets, we always just did what we felt our music should sound like from the very beginning our way and this will always continue to be our approach to creating…Our sound, our way!
Taking a look at your technical set-up now, what was your first piece of kit and do you still use it?
For our live shows gear seems to come into our kits and leave our kits kind of frequently, it just depends on what our needs are at that particular point in time. But it probably seems like the Roland VP9000 has been a pretty consistent piece to our live rig.
Is there one piece of kit that you guys couldn’t do without?
Studio wise, the only piece we couldn’t live without would be our Roland TR909, its still to this day our gem.
Watching your live sets, it’s amazing how in sync you are without any communication. Do you just follow your ears when you play out, or are you just running a well-oiled, well-rehearsed techno machine?
It’s funny to us to hear people say how in tune we are but to us we’re both doing our own thing. We’re both jamming out on the gear that’s in front of us doing what we feel. We work so much in the studio together and we’re brothers as well so that’s where the ‘in tune’ aspect comes into play and we never rehearse, that’s the ‘cardinal sin’ for us. We like what we do to be spontaneous and unpredictable to us, it would get boring and mundane if we started to rehearse it out.
Using the photos of your live set-up, could you talk us through the kit you use for live sets, and give the uninitiated and run down of what they do?
There are so many photos of “The Mothership” out there, but let’s give it a try: The Akai MPC1000 is the main clock and sequencer for the entire rig. It also does many of the drums. The Moog Minitaur does the bass duties, with bass and various synth parts being done by the Dave Smith Mopho and Tetra. The Mutable Instruments Shruthi, Korg Monotribe, Meeblip synthesizer, Clavia Nord Modular, and Ketron SD4 make up the rest of the synths. For drums we have (including the Akai MPC1000) the Korg EMX1 and MFB522 Drum Computer. The Korg EMX1 also serves as a synthesizer. As an additional controller and sequencer we have a Faderfox SC4. We also have various effects onboard.
Is this a condensed version of your studio or do you prefer to bring everything with you?
This is more of a condensed version of the studio. We also have backups of many pieces. Our studio has a different workflow and different equipment. Many cases we have the larger version of the units we carry with us (ie: Mopho keyboard) or different things like the Moog Voyager, etc.
As such strong ambassadors for the use of hardware in a live setting, how do you view the digital approach of laptops, pre-recorded loops and MPCs? Is the increased mobility and accessibility a good thing, or is it jeopardising an art form you hold dear?
There is nothing wrong with the use of loops in live music, we use them, everything has it’s place. It’s up to the musician to make an interactive environment so that he or she can express themselves and not just be a playback unit.
What’s been on the stereo at Octave One HQ recently?
Our fans would probably be stunned at the grooves we like to listen to, but you’ll find on our system right now: Luther Vandross, Rage Against the Machine, Gregory Porter and a host of 80’s music.
Are there any young, emerging producers you’re into at the moment?
We can’t really say that we are, but we’re starting to pay a lot more attention to the productions of The Saunderson Brothers. It’s really interesting to us to see how they’re coming along in there styles.
And finally, what’s next on the horizon for Octave One?
We’re gonna continue doing what we’re passionate about as long as we’re passionate about it!
Octave One’s Burn It Down LP is out now via 430 West. Catch Octave One tomorrow at our Bristol day party with Just Jack, alongside Omar S, Marcellus Pittman, Pender Street Steppers and Harri & Domenic.