The album in electronic music can be a tricky medium to negotiate. Better suited to debauchery on dimly-lit dancefloors than homebound headphone-wearers, finding a way (and reason) to package techno in full-length form can take a little more effort than music of other styles.
So when we heard about the new project from Boxia – the delightfully affable and passionate producer who has made a name for himself in the techno world through his work with esteemed label Drumcode, among others – which explored elements of a night out over the course of 14 tracks, we decided we ought to talk with him about what went into creating the concept and delivering on the idea.
So with A Life in the Night Of now released for all to hear, this is what he had to say when we caught up with him at the end of April – covering not just the album but Drumcode Festival, Junction 2, and plenty more.
How's it going, you alright?
Yeah good. I wish it was sunny like the weekend but hey...
Did you have a good one?
Yeah, it was great. I was in Basel on Friday, then Watergate in Berlin, and then at Club Airport in Würzburg in Germany. So it was good yeah.
Have you played Watergate before?
No, no this was the first ever time. I enjoyed it. Also, you get a lot of people that didn't get into Berghain in there. I was opening up the smaller room and it was just great because I started at about 115BPM and then rolled them up to about 126BPM over three hours. It was nice just to experiment a bit, and everyone went along with it so it was good.
Is that something you like doing, slightly longer sets? I saw you'd done your first 'all night long' set recently as well.
I have to be prepared for every eventuality, so several different routes in a set – here, there, left and right sort of thing – so I like [longer sets] but the prep is insane. Some people online say things like "DJs who prep are idiots" but there you go... it's a bit of a Marmite situation for people.
Yeah, well I think you've got to do a bit of preparation if you're approaching something like that haven't you? I guess it's personal preference like you say.
Well, I could just pick out tracks randomly but because there are so many available... I guess the difference with vinyl is that you only really take one record box unless you're playing more than a normal length set. Therefore you're quite limited to what you can do anyway, just in terms of what you have space for in the box. Whereas now it's limitless, so if you don't really know what you're looking for you could truly fuck it up.
Do you use rekordbox, that seems like quite a smart tool?
Yeah I do, it's really good. It's just an electronic version of the manual thing really. But also you can add in nice extra little bits, like loop points – so that if you like to use a stab in a specific track and layer it over another, which I do quite a lot, you can reach them quite quickly.
You mentioned Drumcode, which is a label I know you have quite a relationship with. The new album A Night in the Life Of is a Drumcode release, right?
Yep, out on 3 June.
Can you tell me a bit about the record?
It was 2016 when I signed my first track to Drumcode which was on the A-Sides vol. 5.
Just before that actually, I'd met Adam [Beyer] when I was warming up for him in the car park for LWE so that's how I knew him. But I'd been trying to get in touch with him for a couple of years before that, which didn't really come to fruition because obviously, he gets a lot of emails.
Then we met at the rave, stayed in touch, and I signed in 2016 and again for an EP that came out in February , I think. Just after that one, he was looking for a follow-up release, so I sent him something and he said "I really like this, but I want you to write an album", so I was like "alright then". [laughs]
I went away and by December I'd managed to put it together, fourteen tracks in total, which tell a story. It's actually written as an album, rather than a collection of tracks. This is all DJ related stuff, but it does follow a path and each track is related to different experiences that I've had with people. So I wrote it about other people, and not about me.
Is it fair to call it a concept album, is that a term you're happy with?
I guess so yeah. There are some tracks on there that destroy the dancefloor, I don't know whether you get that on a concept album.I mean it's not fourteen slammers, as such. It's probably ten 'DJing' tracks, and the rest are 'listening' tracks – but you can still DJ them all. There's stuff on there that I guess Âme might play, stuff that Adam would play, stuff that Bloody Mary would play. So it's a real range, but that's my thing anyway. I'm really privileged to pack it up into one album and have Drumcode support it.
Does it give a certain level of focus having an idea like that to tie it all together?
Definitely, yeah. There's one big problem – I've fallen foul to it loads of times and I refuse to do it now – which is going to the studio, sitting there noodling around with an 8-bar loop for ages, not really knowing what you're doing. But it's a bit like a DJ set really, if you prep and understand what you're going in there to do, then you go in and complete the task and come out. Instead of getting stuck in that 'loop blindness', you have an idea of where you're going with it.
That's what I do... I write down every idea I have, hum tunes into my phone, write notes digitally and also in a little notebook. Then I'll come back to them and arrange them into what it needs to be for the idea and write it in that capacity. I did this with the album, based on experiences I had and tried to add a sort of portrait to those experiences.
Easy is probably the wrong word [laughs] but it was nice to have the focus and situational things that I'd noted which I could write towards.
So does each individual track refer to quite a specific moment or person or experience then?
Very much so. I'll give you an example. There's a track in there about my friend who will remain anonymous – he's not even into the music that I listen to, but whenever you go out with him, he always goes missing.
This will happen if we're going for weekends away, he'll disappear for two whole days. Or maybe just on a night, he'll disappear. You get no text messages from him, and he's off having the time of his life with these random people, and then you meet up with him the next day, or three/four days later. One time we were in Amsterdam, and he reappeared about two days later with a tattoo and we were all just like "where have you been?" – but he'd had the time of his life. [laughs]
So there's a track on there which is a really floaty track called 'Where Are Your Friends', which is a carefree moment basically. I mean no one is ever really going to know that story, but if you listen to it you can sort of get it.
Are you a fan of The Streets? That reminds me of 'Weak Become Heroes' in a way, meeting random people on a night out, 'European Bob' and all that...
I absolutely love them yeah. It's exactly like that, it's how I envisage him, skipping away. I wrote this loop with a sort of 'la la lalala la', happy techno sound and I just thought "that is exactly what my mate must have felt like when he was having his great old times".
Did you speak to him about it, ask his permission?
No, he knows nothing about it at all! I spoke to a couple of the people, but not all of them. There's a couple of really deep moments in there which I'm never gonna tell everybody. [laughs]
There's another track called 'Under The Bridge' – I met a friend from Birmingham who I've known for 20 years at the first Junction 2 Festival, which I played at. I hadn't seen him in quite a long time, 10 years maybe, and he told me he was coming. So I put him on the guestlist and he came down.
Have you been to Junction 2?
I haven't, potentially going this year for the first time but I'm not 100% sure yet.
Amazing. Well, there's a specific point when you get to the site, where the main stage is – the one that's underneath the motorway – and when it falls to dusk and gets dark you don't really realise how many people are in this area. It's probably about six thousand, and it's only the width of the M4 basically, but goes all the way back.
We were walking along the bit where you get in, and you can't really see [the stage] until you get to this brow of a hill and then it's just all there in front of you. I was walking along chatting to him, he was saying "mate this is mad", "haven't seen you for ages" etc., and then we got to the brow of the hill and suddenly he's just standing there totally aghast at the whole situation.
There's a point in that track where I tried to capture how he reacted to that moment.
It sounds great. Where there specific cultural reference points for the idea? One of the first things I thought of when I read about the concept was the film Before Sunrise, sort of playing out in real time... Is that how the album plays out, or is more a collection of snapshots?
The tracks are in the order that makes it sound the best as an album rather than being a chronological reference. I tried that but the flow didn’t feel right. Some tracks are snapshots, some are my picture of a situation or person.
Two of the tracks from the initial EP that Adam accepted didn't end up on the album, but the two tracks that did were very much tracks that I'd written about situations. I wasn't intending to do it like that, but it really worked for those two so I did it for the rest. I think it worked out really nicely.
In terms of concepts, I don't actually know what the concepts are for many other albums. I know what Enrico [Sangiuliano]'s was, and it worked really well.
I do understand other people's concepts, which is usually easier with albums from the 70s rather than the more modern album, It's not something I go to, or look for. So as I was writing this and it came together, the concept was obvious: it's about other people and not about me.
Whilst the particular stories are personal to me, the circumstances are not necessarily unique - so I hope people can draw their own associations and emotions to the meaning in the tracks.
Do you think it's an approach that you'll carry forward into future work, even if not quite as explicitly as on the album?
If you write something that has a strong message in it – such as my track 'Point Of No Return', the vocals in it are really poignant to a lot of people. I guess it's like when I was a teenager and listening to a lot of music, music tends to resonate with you when you can associate it with a lot of the things that are going on around you.
Hopefully someone hears a track for the first time at one of the first five or six raves they've ever been to and it'll stick with them forever. I’d love to give that experience to people that other producers gave to me. Perhaps that's what's happening, I don't really know, but people sing me bits of the vocals from songs and stuff. [laughs]
I love that, when they tell me how much it means to them, because obviously, it means a lot to me as well. But when I go to the other side of the world, like South America or something, and people are saying this stuff to me, it's really, really nice, and massively humbling.
That must be particularly rewarding getting that feedback like you say, when you've put that little bit more into it.
The pressure to write a banger every time you put a release out is hard. Having such pressure to write something that's going to be Beatport number one is really difficult [laughs]
I think the last few of my releases on Drumcode and on Alan's label [We Are The Brave] before that were all quite unusual, so people have embraced what I put out there, which is quite nice; they're not always bangers.
Presumably it helps a lot having the support and backing of people like Adam and Alan, putting stuff out on their labels?
Oh absolutely, I owe an awful lot to all of them.
The first person that ever gave me any support was Darius Syrossian. I wrote some music that was quite genre-less really. Not really tech-house, a bit techno – but I sent it off to him and he phoned me, which was really unexpected. I was trying to work out whether it was a good idea to quit my job and try music because I'd had enough of working [laughs]. Which I did a few years later!
Darius phoned me a few times saying he liked my music, nothing ever really came of it with him in that way, but it made me think that perhaps people would like my stuff.
So I scatter-gunned it from then. I sent music to everybody. From the Swamp81 people to FaltyDL, to Victor Calderone, Richie Hawtin, all sorts, and it seemed to resonate with a lot of them. It was Adam Beyer that was the first to take a true interest in signing me, actually before that it was Shadow Child, and then after that it was Adam, then Alan. It's also nice to have had remixes with Maya Jane Coles amongst other renowned artists.. So for all of those people, I couldn't speak any higher of any of them.
But you could say that Drumcode have even further invested in me as an artist because of the time and effort they have put into the album. Being on some of the label showcases is really great. I'll sometimes play a closing set for them or a warmup, and it gives me the opportunity to hone my skills as well as trying to make a difference at the raves as well. It's such a great thing to be a part of, and because the album is diverse in sound, even if I play a warmup set, I can still play parts of it, they aren’t just all for peak time headline slots.
I see you're on the Drumcode Festival lineup again this year, having played the first one last year. How was that first edition?
It was really good. The Truesoul stage was really good – you had Tiger Stripes on first, then Ida [Engberg], Reset Robot, and a few others. That was a really nice little stage.
Luckily for me it started to rain [laughs]. This was at about 2.30pm, so it wasn't at its full complement which was about 12,000. When it started to rain everyone came into my tent. By that point I'd progressed about 30 minutes into my set and then it was absolutely lit. At the end, I played 'Blue Monday' by New Order which was an absolute killer, at about three in the afternoon.[laughs]
I don't know if you've ever been to NDSM, but the site is incredible. Concrete floor so there's no dirty trainers, easy to navigate, you can get from one side to the other in a few minutes. It's set up well, and the production level is outrageous so it's so good. The stages are quite close together, but there's no noise clash, they've got that set up really well. They use a lot of metal containers to deflect the sound, it's great.
Do you think you learned anything from that first edition that you can take into the next one, or is it a case of approaching it like any other set?
I'm just going to do the same thing as I did before [laughs]. I don't know what set I've got yet but when I do, I'll make sure it fits the programming because it's so important for me to get that bit right. And it's important for Drumcode as well I think because if you have people turning up in the middle of the day and playing 135BPM it's probably not going to go down very well, to be honest. [laughs]
There's quite a lot of emphasis on setting the tone if you're at the start – it's an unwritten rule for DJs which some people follow but maybe the new school don't so much. Like if you're playing before Adam, whatever you do, don't play the tracks that he's probably going to play. But people do that, they get on before and play the bangers or the top ten and it's only really the big headliners that can do that.
It doesn't make a lot of sense for someone to stand in the crowd for six hours and hear the same songs twice. So that level of thought has to go into it, when I'm playing somewhere I'll check who's playing before and after and make sure I'm not playing tracks that they are going to play. Then you become something different in a night, and probably more memorable. So it makes sense for me to do that.
Beyond that, what does the rest of the year look like for you?
Bookings-wise I've got a fair amount of Drumcode stuff coming. Quite a lot of shows in Germany. Electrozîles Festival in Switzerland. Others that I don't think have been announced just yet. And then Drumcode Festival. So plenty of stuff coming up which I'm pleased about, so all good.
Well, best of luck with all of that, and also with the album.
Thanks very much.