Percussa micro super signal processor
Bill Youngman, live at Krake Festival. Photo by Marco Microbi; courtesy the artist.

Bill Youngman, live at Krake Festival. Photo by Marco Microbi; courtesy the artist.

With over a decade in experimental techno (working with the likes of Jamie Lidell and Cristian Vogel), and years more in production, Bill Youngman has earned his veteran ribbons. But this isn’t about the past. This is about what happens when you switch on the machines and make music that can only be heard live once, music you have to dance to in the instant. It’s electronic music with the spontaneity of traditional instrumental music, inside the dance idiom.

And yes, you can dance to it – it certainly had me shaking around in the early Saturday morning of Krake Festival, itself a venue for mixing experimentalism and dance music. (Happily, the video is dark enough that you can’t see me, even up front watching Bill at work.)

Youngman isn’t alone in making music this way, but that’s even more reason to talk to him – as experimental techno is more vibrant than ever, and “live” doesn’t mean simply dropping some tracks into Ableton and mixing.

Now on Killekill Records, Bill is a master producer, but it was getting to hear him live that had me hooked. We talk about that and some encouraging words for the scene —

— and the soul inside Bill’s machines, and how he’s gotten closer to them.

Ghosts in the shell? Lots of Elektron owners swear by their drum machines, but Bill tells us developing communication skills has been vital to his music. "They have hearts, just like humans. At some point, it just becomes second nature and performing feels effortless, the same as dancing and getting lost in it. " Photo courtesy the artist.

Ghosts in the shell? Lots of Elektron owners swear by their drum machines, but Bill tells us developing communication skills has been vital to his music. “They have hearts, just like humans. At some point, it just becomes second nature and performing feels effortless, the same as dancing and getting lost in it. ” Photo courtesy the artist.

CDM: Listening again to the set, it’s rather extraordinary to know that this is a live set, and not prepared tracks or clips, in that it does sound polished. At the same time, it has this feeling of improvisation that you probably would miss in a studio album. How do you walk that line, aesthetically speaking? What does it mean to be live – what should a listener be able to actually hear?

Bill: Being truly live is for myself a physical and mental movement from the body and mind that gets transformed into a sound collage that, with the help of hardware devices, keeps the everyday club-goer on their toes. At the same time, it gives the purist listener / observer more to look at and enjoy from the performance aspect. It’s a personal challenge for me to embrace the audience with a show that can also be enjoyable to watch, not only to dance to.

It’s evident that there was a lot of preparation – a lot of un-improvised work to enable improvisation. How did you go about preparing this set?

Well, preparation, that’s a tricky question. Over 15 years of interacting with hardware improves your communication skills with the machines just as it does with any other entity. They have hearts, just like humans. At some point, it just becomes second nature and performing feels effortless, the same as dancing and getting lost in it. Some factors only come from learning by doing. The ear can be trained to almost instantaneously know what frequencies vibe together.

From the more technical standpoint, I basically create a load of patterns and samples into the three boxes I use live and feel out in the moment, what will work together with what other combinations on the spontaneous tip.

Move over, CDJs. Bill is going to take this one off auto-pilot and make it live. At Krake. Photo: Jens Kilz.

Move over, CDJs. Bill is going to take this one off auto-pilot and make it live. At Krake. Photo: Jens Kilz.

Tell us a bit about the machines. How are they configured together? Why Elektron? (Not doing an endorsement story for them here, but I did notice an all-Swedish trend in your stage rig, so let’s find out why!) Are they now your main devices for the hardware live sets?

I’ve tried out many different combinations of gear, but at this current time, the Elektron series are doing the job in an extremely solid manner. I’m using:

  • An Octatrack, for the longer atmospheric samples and a bit of percussion,
  • The Maschinedrum with UW, for the simpler back beats, running through a small leveling amplifier, and
  • A Monomachine for synths sounds and sub bass.

All three of the machines can be heavily adjusted in real time, so there’s loads of room for experimenting onstage, and it’s quick to get out of a sticky situation if one or more sounds are not harmonizing with each other.

Are you doing laptop live sets, too, or are you now committed to the hardware route?

In the past years, I’ve indeed incorporated a laptop into my sets, due to their sheer power and convenience. I assume that’s why so many hardware acts have turned to computers. There’s literally nothing to carry, and MIDI controllers allow for total control. You don’t get any hassle at the airport and miss flights due to bomb scanning. At the end of the day in the club, it’s simply gotta bang, no matter what medium.

Your music has some really dense sounds, and doesn’t shy away from big, cavernous reverbs. Yet stuff really does cut through. How do you conceive keeping space and definition in this music – in terms of timbre, or for that matter, rhythm?

Keeping space and definition is an ongoing field of research. Knowing what works together is trial and error, as I mentioned earlier. Simply maximizing all sounds will not give more volume and punch, but rather clutter many of the fundamental frequencies ,which are characteristic of each sound in the spectrum of a composition. There have been times when I let everything run at the same time and have encountered many sonic traffic jams.

I’ve also learned a lot from being onstage — that space is your friend. Let sounds breath and give them enough room to move around and feel comfortable in their own environments. I’ve spent many years designing my own sounds and tweaking the existent.

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Your music definitely has some edge and aggression, and it’s of course tightly synchronized – this is still really techno – but it doesn’t lose a sense of fluidity in that. What sorts of feelings go into those grooves; what kinds of inspirations?

The inspiration dates back to when I was solely a party goer and oblivious to how the music was made. I never forgot the early days of listening. That said, my efforts go towards making compositions that sound fluid and are not obvious where there source is from. Once you produce for years, when you hear someone else’s work, you tend to analyze. I’ve been at that point ,and it makes listening to music with a fresh ear almost impossible. The desire to enjoy goes down and down. I’ve been fortunate enough to be able to turn that part of my mind off in the last years and simply listen without barriers.

Can you tell us what what the label Killekill has meant for your current projects?

Killekill has been a saving grace for my productions. I didn’t really know where to put out music a couple years back, and I wasn’t really consciously looking for an outlet. DJ Flush from Killekill got in touch out of the blue and wanted to hear my current productions. We spent lots of time sitting in my studio listening and analyzing the chain of events in the scene in the previous years and picked a selection that would then become Killekill 003. Since then, we’ve continued to do the same and I highly trust his ear.

Killekill has become a family here in Berlin. Between the records and the parties we have a excellent platform for experimenting and pushing the sounds we personally love.

What do you have lined up for the future?

I currently have multiple projects on my plate, some alone and some with others. There are a slew of releases and projects in the works at the moment. I’m taking a breather from touring to get them all done but you can’t force inspiration.

But I must say underground / experimental techno on a whole is so vibrant in 2013. I’m constantly inspired and I’m addicted to creating like never before. Oh, and an album will be ready start of 2014.

Do you have any words of wisdom for the younger up and coming producers trying to get their careers off the ground?

Create for yourself, and from your heart, first and foremost. If the music is right, then it will get recognized on its own. Make your absolute best work and be present. If you can change one persons life with your sound, then you’ve pretty much made it!

Stay tuned and thanks!

Bill Youngman: https://www.facebook.com/billyoungmanelectrostep
Live Video Filmed and Edited by: Lucian Busse – Alien TV, https://www.lucian-busse.com
Killekill Records: https://www.killekill.com/
Link to set: https://soundcloud.com/billyoungman/bill-youngman-live-krake-1