Lessons In Jumping Around with Iron Galaxy
As the trio polishes its sweeping choreography of synths soaked in lush bass lines and an acidic elixir, Hodgins took a breather to chat with MUTEKMAG.
Michael-Oliver Harding - May 30, 2014
No one can chastise Adam Hodgins for not practicing what he preaches. The momentum-building acid house, propulsive techno and emotive bass-music maker also moonlights (daylights?) as a media and music teacher at a K–11 boys school in Montréal, leading wide-ranging workshops and classroom discussions about the ethics of sampling and the magic of Ableton Live. Little do his pupils know, the machine-literate Hodgins (who goes by the nom de rhythm Iron Galaxy) happens to be one of uptempo dance music’s rising stars, with a critically lauded debut single awash in melancholic synth cascades (“Attention Seeker”) and an EP for Berlin-based Born Electric. His rapidly ascending trajectory, further enhanced by raves from the likes of XLR8R, Mixmag, BBC radio staple Gilles Peterson and Amsterdam’s Boiler Room crew, hits a hometown milestone on Saturday with his debut MUTEK/EM15 live performance, alongside collaborators Dave Shaw (aka Sexlife) and Francis Latreille. As the trio polishes its sweeping choreography of synths soaked in lush bass lines and an acidic elixir, Hodgins took a breather to chat with MUTEKMAG.
So many producers speak of how one particular electronic strand – whether it be house, drum ‘n’ bass, techno, or so on – initially caught their ear. What’s interesting is that you seemed really broad minded from the get-go, citing early influences such as Aphex Twin, Daft Punk, DJ Shadow and Boards of Canada.
Maybe that’s why I didn’t have any early releases, because I was really jumping all over the place! Around the time I was in high school, [Daft Punk’s] Homework came out, then there The Chemical Brothers and Prodigy started to hit North America. You would turn on MuchMusic and hear that kind of stuff; that’s where I was first exposed to [DJ Shadow’s] Endtroducing….., Boards of Canada and Aphex Twin.
When I lived in Whistler, I would go record shopping in Vancouver, and that’s when I started getting into DJing. It got me started on two parallel paths: more melodic IDM stuff, and drum ‘n’ bass 12 inches! These days, I’m more focused but I still want to do different things. I’ve stayed within a certain realm of tempo, but I’ve done some harder records and some more house-minded records, perhaps not as diverse as jumping from drum ‘n’ bass to house, but it’s no fun to do the same thing all the time.
That explains why you’ve already made it abundantly clear that you don’t want to be tagged as the “swingy house” guy.
For sure. It’s great not to have to make a million aliases. If you take a total left turn, I guess that’s what you have to do. I just don’t want anyone to go, ‘oh, that’s not like ‘Attention Seeker’! I don’t want to feel obliged to come up with a new name each time I change up the BPM by 5 or 6 beats, or decide to release a techno track instead of a light house track. I guess it’s about striking a certain balance, as you don’t want to alienate people either.
I think doing stuff with Dave [Sexlife] has helped, because the music we create is a bit more techno. If someone is expecting a sweet house jam and it’s more techno, they can just reason it as, ‘oh, but he did it with someone else.’ Really, I’m just lazy about it and wouldn’t want to go through the trouble of making another alias or Facebook page!
After dabbling in dubstep and breaks, the Iron Galaxy project took off during your time at SAE Institute London, where you rekindled your longstanding infatuation with soulful house grooves. What do you make of the house and garage revival sweeping through England care of a new generation of producers (Disclosure, Duke Dumont)? Do you think that renewed interest have any ripple effect on house producers across the pond?
It’s nice because the kids at the high school I teach at might know Disclosure, and both Disclosure and Duke Dumont are light-years ahead of the EDM stuff. It gets younger audiences into the music and makes it more accessible. It’s like when I started listening to Aphex Twin, the guy at the record store would tell me: ‘you have to listen to this, it’s really important.’ There would be two super melodic tracks, while the rest, I’d be like, ‘what’s that crazy sound I’ve never heard before!’ It got me into more experimental sounds. Disclosure is like those more poppy, melodic tracks. They have great taste and are pushing interesting people, so it’s great to see guys like that have success. I don’t think it hurts the scene at all. All the kids at my high school go nuts for Hardwell, because that’s what they know, it’s their entry point, but eventually their tastes will refine and get more interesting. I listened to a lot of shitty music in high school; it’s all a bit of a gateway.
Can you tell us about your teaching duties at this K–11 boys school? You seem to offer very comprehensive musical teachings!
I guess you could say that. The kids range from 5-to-16-year-olds. I teach a variety of things, from computers and middle school rock climbing to music appreciation (or “music technology”). We basically start the year talking about copyright and the music business; we look at sampling and the moral issues around it. Then, we make music with Ableton Live. They’ll start playing around with samples, producing a little drum song, and other music history components. Right now, my students are working on posters: they can choose any music subgenre and research it– its most seminal song, artist, some of its influences. I also do an extracurricular media club, which is basically a DJ club in the school’s studio, with two turntables, two [Pioneer Electronics] CDJs and a mixer.
I read that the school invested in a full-fledged music studio, which now also serves as your official recording playground, containing the bulk of your personal synths collection?
Yes! Initially, I would bring in bits of gear to set up for a particular classroom. I told the administration I’d be willing to bring in my stuff and really make it more of a studio – rather than a computer with a sound card and a mixing desk. But obviously, I didn’t just want to bring in a couple bits, because I wanted to have a functional studio, so they said I could have afterhours access. It’s nice, for instance, when a kid’s doing a poster about trap music, that I can take him down to the studio and show him an 808. Or if a kid is doing something about acid house, then, ‘here’s a 303!’ I bought a lot of classic machines over the years, and it’s more fun for them to get their hands on the stuff. They come up with much more creative stuff that way.
You’re an outright gear hound and a strong advocate for all kinds of instinctive tinkering with equipment, spitting out mistakes and stumbling upon moments of unrehearsed magic. Do you think the many synthesizers you’ve amassed over the years have contributed to your sonic signature?
Well, I love the way the 101 sequences, so I use that a lot; you can hear it all over my last record and it’s starting to become a particular sound. I don’t have a lot of outboard effects, but I have this really nice reverb delay unit that came out end of ‘70s and early ‘80s. It’s just a beautiful sounding unit and I use it on everything. So that alone, inherently, probably adds a particular sound to anything I throw reverbs and delays on. The fact that not a ton of people have them adds to that too. I just own too many synths, and I’m at the point where I can pick out what type of synth each sound contains! They definitely have their unique characteristics, and if you’re always using those particular pieces, that’s undoubtedly going to colour your music.
You already performed at MUTEK in 2004 as part of Bryce Kushnier’s Vitaminsforyou live project, but this is your first time out of the gate as Iron Galaxy. What are cooking up for us with Dave and Francis?
I don’t want to just stand up there by myself with a laptop, kind of scrolling through Ableton scenes. While it’s still based around Ableton – it’s the timing device and there’s backing tracks of stuff we couldn’t play back – there’ll be quite a bit of improv and Dave is doing a lot of the drums. I reverse-engineered all of my songs, put them back into the drum machines. We’ll have a 24-channel mixing board, three drum machines and a couple synths to be played live. We’ll also do a cover of Aphex Twin’s “Ageispolis”, which should be fun! Hopefully, people will recognize that. If you know Aphex Twin, it’s kind of iconic. That’ll be a fun way to end it off.
Iron Galaxy performs at EM15 as part of Métropolis 3: Tripping The Light Fantastic on Saturday, May 31 at 10 p.m. http://em15.ca/en/events/929-metropolis-3