Self-Portrait: Laurence Guy

Production has, and always will be, a central part of Laurence Guy‘s life; in his own words it’s simply “an extension of himself”.

The London-based DJ and producer first started making music at the age of 11, a process he took to organically and which laid the foundations for many years of future explorations down diverse musical paths.

These musings have found their way to numerous imprints including Studio Barnhus, Mule Musique, Church and his own edits imprint Accidental Pieces which, as the name suggests, was started as a platform to share spontaneous creations without relying on labels and pressing plants.

As well as working on his live show, both solo and as part of the Circle Of Live family, Laurence is also well-renowned as a DJ and selector, unearthing and spreading the discoveries he finds on his regular digging trips both in the club and on his regular Rinse FM residency.

His Self-Portrait mix is a recreation of his first ever live show at the Southbank Centre last year and focuses on the ambient side of his productions; a jam of unreleased material and alternate versions of old tracks. This sits alongside an interview about a lifetime spent producing.

Let’s start with an ice breaker, what’s your earliest musical memory?

Ah that’s a tricky one, probably singing hymns at school (seems weird that we did that every day tbh) or playing the “recorder” which is kind of a flute ( I think) that every one who went to a UK school will have played at some point.

Did you have a particularly musical upbringing?

Yeah I guess I did, I started piano lessons pretty young and my older brother was playing bass. That was about the extent of it. I remember my Dad having a pretty decent record collection that we’d listen to sometimes at the weekend. It was a mixed bag, lot’s of killer, lot’s of filler (sorry Dad), but it definitely sparked an interest in music and records. 

What led you into music production?

A mix of an existing interest in music and general boredom I guess, it could have lead me to anything, but I remember one of my friends parents having “Acid Lab” or “Acid Pro” or whatever it was and every time I went to their house to play (I was probably 8 or 9) I’d just hang around until they’d let me on it as it was fascinating. A few years later I found “Hip Hop Ejay” in a computer shop and started messing with that. It’s a pretty straight forward program where you drop pre existing loops into an arrangement, but you could also create drum patterns and process things a bit also, this really piqued my interest as it all felt kinda natural to me. After that I started using Fruity Loops then eventually Logic/Ableton. I’m not sure exactly what made me start I guess, but I was already doing things like writing stupid songs and making up beats etc since I can remember. I started producing music when I was 11 or 12 and to some extent (and for better and worse) it’s just an extension of my self/life that will never not be present.

Are there any producers or artists who have inspired your production?

There are too many to list tbh (cop out, I know). I’m inspired by everything I hear to an extent, every record I’ve bought or heard in a club or in the car etc. Recently I’ve been taking inspiration mainly from pop music on the radio. I feel like there is actually a lot of interesting music in the charts at the moment, especially in terms of production, there’s a kind of trend for weird “marmite” sounds which is cool. Also, in my opinion, you can’t beat simple, perfectly executed pop/dance hits, like the last couple from Dua Lipa. The main thing I’ve been taking from this kinda music is trying to limit the length of my tracks and arrange them in a really impactful way. This has been both a cynical ploy to cater to the way people listen to music at the moment and a really fun way to break out of a period of writer’s block.

Are there any particular rituals you go through before you head into the studio?

Always! Not necessarily just going into the studio, but in general, I really love having rituals and I feel they have a huge impact on being creative for me. These change periodically but at the moment it’s like this – wake up (not early), have a glass of water, stretch and do some kind of exercise. I’d love to say I haven’t looked at my phone yet by this point, but to be truthful I do this as soon as I wake up most days. Then I’ll have coffee and wonder if I’m feeling like I want to make any music that day. Recently every time I’ve decided not to make any music I’ll find myself starting something in headphones whilst watching TV or something and if I get excited enough I’ll take my laptop into the “studio” and work on it until it’s done. I don’t claim to know any of the psychology behind rituals etc, but I know that for me, making music is as much about doing all these other things as it is about actually making music. I just have to make sure I’m close to my set up for as much of my time as possible. Making music is just another part of my daily routine I guess and it fits in wherever feels right. This is why I’ve never rented a studio full time as I don’t like the idea of heading somewhere and forcing myself to make something. If I have a bunch of tracks that are creatively done but need some fine tuning or whatever then I’ll put the hours in a studio for a couple days but in terms of writing I need to be able to take it or leave it as I please I guess so I always do this from home.

Do you come in with a destination in mind before starting a jam?

Nope, I start with a sample or a bunch of samples or some chords and take it from there.

Are you the type of producer to work on a track until it’s perfect, or are you more of an impulsive creator, happy with first takes and sketches?

I think this is more about two different stages in making a track, rather than two different types of people. You have the idea stage where you just throw things together without thinking about it, and then the editing stage where you turn this into something coherent. Sometimes they happen one after the other, sometimes it might be each stage or the other for a week at a time. I’d say 8/10 times I end up leaving the track exactly how it was after the impulsive stage, but something about separating the two things makes it easier for me, I think not giving a shit (to an extent of course) is one of the best things for creativity. Using this two stage process helps me as it doesn’t really matter what I do during the creative part, or how much of a mess I make because someone else is gonna fix it and clean it up and make it make sense afterwards. It just happens that that someone else is me in x amount of time.

Can you talk us through how you might construct a track?

In normal circumstances, on Monday/Tuesday I’ll head into Bristol and dig for records to sample and these will be the basis for making music that week. I’ll hit a few record & charity shops and get a bunch of different stuff. At the moment, due to the lockdown, I’ve been trying to sample from my current collection instead, but in different ways, sampling them at the wrong speed, in reverse, or warping the sound a bit by touching the platter etc. I do this super quickly, sampling one after the other and arranging in a really basic loop (or loops) in Ableton. Then I will double the loop and start jamming on the keys or synth, again just super fast, recording and doubling the loop again and recording and doubling. By this point the track is kinda taking shape and I run with it until I get bored or feel like I’m not adding anything good. Then I’m done for the day really and will go climbing or to the pub (when it was possible) or as is the case at the moment, just watch the same shows again and again on Netflix.

How much of your material is sample based and how much is original?

Nearly all of it is sample based but hopefully most of it is also original. I don’t think there’s anything less original about sampling something than using a combination of the same 12 notes of a scale that everyone else does, it just depends what you do with it in either case. I really believe samping is an artform, whether you’re cut and pasting or altering them beyond recognition. I like both techniques. I’ve made tracks where I can’t even remember how I got the source material to sound how it does and there are some where I’ve done so little it felt a bit too “cheaty”. Recently I’ve been obsessed with thosem“obvious not obvious” samples and the really simple sampling techniques of artists like Fatboy Slim, The Avalanches and Kanye West. Especially with Kanye’s tracks, I find that the samples can seem so simple/blatant, but at the same time if they were that obvious why didn’t anyone else think of them?. There’s a weird art to this and he’s the king. “30 Hours” sampling Arthur Russel is a good example. No one in the more house/electronic scene would go there because they would feel some kind of taboo about it. Even myself, I had the mindset of “I’d never touch that” as I felt people would recognise it and think it was too easy or whatever, but when I heard the Kanye tune I was blown away. If you think too much about what could be considered obvious or cool by different people then you miss out on so many things. It’s the same when DJing, maybe there’s a classic disco track you and your peers are bored of that seems an obvious choice and causes the diggers to yawn, but there could be hundreds of younger kids in the audience that are having their minds blown by hearing it for the first time and I know who I’d rather play for.  At a certain point you’ve heard so much that you’re gonna be bored by almost everything unless you change your mindset. You need to have naivety to an extent to do things other people don’t think of. Drake sampling Crazy Cousins is another big one for me, it’s super blatant, but also inspired.  Maybe I’m reading too much into it but I get more excitement out of hearing someone use something obvious in a novel way than finding some rare library record that’s been used.

What’s the most important bits of kit that make a Laurence Guy track?

Turntable/records, Youtube, Moog Sub Phatty, Laptop.

This mix is comprised of 100% original Laurence Guy material. Could you tell us a bit about it? Any tracks that are particularly special to you?

This mix is a recreation of a live show I did last year at the London Southbank centre. It was my first live show ever and a really rewarding one, albeit fucking terrifying. It’s basically an improvised ambient jam based around me playing some synths and triggering stems from tracks. It’s all live, so in this sense it’s completely unreleased, but there are a couple of alternate versions of old tracks also 🙂

Anything on the horizon for you? Any releases we should know about?

Well, as it looks like touring is off the cards for the foreseeable future, I’m gonna split my time between finishing my second album and rock climbing around the UK as much as possible.

I’ve also got a second 12” coming out on Shall Not Fade. This is probably the last “house/club” focussed record for a while as I wanted to get something out before the second LP, which will be much broader.

Pre-order The Sun Is Warm And Directly Above You on Shall Not Fade.

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