From steering Hotflush Recordings through the murky wake of the UK’s dubstep scene to bringing bass music to Berghain and consistently releasing critically-acclaimed productions, there aren’t many depths of electronic music that Paul Rose (aka Scuba) is yet to explore. Rob Smith chatted to Scuba for us about his latest venture, the Not A Diving Podcast, and what drove him to take the plunge into the podcasting end of the electronic music industry.
The first thing that struck me about Not a Diving Podcast (NDP) is that it isn’t just a post-lockdown project. It seems like something you’ve had on the cards for a while. Why do you think it happened when it did?
Well, I wanted to start a podcast for a while. I’d kicked around various ideas about what it might actually look like, and wasn’t able to hit on something for ages. I toyed with a few ideas, like a scripted series, or a series of workshops about the industry, but I couldn’t come up with something that really stuck with me.
I’m a big fan of long-form podcasting, particularly free-form ones where it’s just two people kicking around ideas. When you introduce more voices than that it definitely loses its focus. Eventually, I just said, “Fuck it let’s just do that.” Then it was just a case of figuring out a sharper focus for it, and that’s developed over the course of having put together a new episode weekly now for over four months.
Then it’s just finding people who you think might be interesting for an hour and a half, which isn’t that straightforward. There are lots of cool people in music, but there’s not that deep a pool of people who you would trust to be good in that format. Most of the episodes that I’ve done have been up to the standards that I was hoping to achieve, and most people have risen to the challenge and performed well.
Building on that, in discussions on the podcast, dialogue comes up as a theme quite a lot. In your episode with Tim Exile, you talk about how an element of spontaneity has been lost from electronic music and the industry nowadays. Was the decision to give episodes of NDP a loose, malleable structure an attempt to get some spontaneity back into the conversation surrounding electronic music? An attempt to make it a bit less gatekeep-ey for want of a better word?
Yeah, a big motivation for me was that when musicians get interviewed, often (but not always) it can be quite stiff. The way I put it is like it’s not a level playing field: There’s a very obvious direction that the interviews go, it’s less of a conversation and more of an interrogation, so I wanted to get away from that. I mean there are a lot of podcasts that do this, like Jamie Lidell’s Hanging Out With Audiophiles podcast (but I only discovered that later) and Tiga’s First/Last Party on Earth podcast is also along those lines. But there’s not a huge amount of stuff out there. Jamie’s one is very production-focused and I didn’t want to do that, I mean I really like his one, but I find doing that kind of stuff… the geekiness aspect of it can just take over.
It gets very technical doesn’t it, you can end up talking about plugins for an hour and a half, which can be very useful, but there’s a time and a place for…
Exactly right. I guess I just wanted to talk to somebody that I wanted to listen to, in all honesty. I’m a big fan of Dan Carlin’s Hardcore History podcast, and also Sam Harris’s Making Sense podcast. I think Sam’s ability to talk to different people about different disciplines is really amazing. I’m an avid consumer of long-form podcasts. You know, I’m listening to them every week but they’re all about history and finance. There just weren’t any music podcasts in my weekly list. I was like, if something doesn’t exist, then you might as well do it yourself! So yeah, with the caveat that there are some music podcasts out there already, I felt there was room to do something a bit different.
I was listening to your episode with Yotam Avni and how he’s introduced as a DJ/producer/journalist. I thought that was interesting in terms of talking about levelling the playing field. Do you think that the playing field could be levelled by having more music journalists that produce and mix as well?
Well, I think the overlap between those two things is problematic for me. There are all sorts of great writing by musicians, like David Byrne’s book How Music Works, which is awesome. So, if you want to read a book written by somebody who knows a lot about a subject then yeah, there’s absolutely room for that. But I think a lot of music writing is like direct criticism, which I think is a bit of a shame.
I go into this more in my recent episode with Melissa Taylor from Tailored Communication. We had a long discussion about the decline of the review. I think reviews are important, I just love reading them. I love reading people’s takes on music. To me, a big part of being a really good music journalist is being able to write engagingly about music in a way which makes sense. So, to answer your question, I don’t think musicians should be in the business of criticising other people’s music, you know. I think that’s the area where it becomes problematic, right?
That’s super interesting to find someone praising that longer-form music writing. I’m intrigued to see if the industry could start writing reviews in that style again…
Yeah, I mean, I think in the 80s, 90s and early 00s, or the ‘golden age of music journalism’ (as Melissa describes it in the episode) a lot of music journalism really was quite pretentiously written. Proper written critiques of artists and their art, right. And I’m all over that, I’m totally up for it. Nobody likes getting a bad review, and god knows I’ve had a few of them. But you know, I just find it a really useful way of learning about music.
A great review doesn’t just talk about the tunes, and I guess this is my big problem with the decline of reviews. They’ve degenerated into a description of the music. But there’s so much more you can write in a review. If you’re reviewing an album or an EP, you can talk about the label, you can talk about the context of the artist’s career, you can talk about the context of the label’s output, and you can talk about how it relates to other music in the scene. I could easily write a 500-word review on basically any track, or EP, you know, 1000 words, without any problems, but I don’t know why that approach disappeared from music writing.
The hypothesis is that people won’t read it. The data available to editors has increased so much that they can very accurately measure the appeal of a feature. So, shouldn’t that mean that the consumer/reader should be better catered for and readerships should be increasing? But the opposite appears to have occurred. So, something’s breaking down there, somewhere.
You mentioned wanting to talk about the context around tunes a lot more, which I’m all up for. With say, a folk record, you might be able to relate to the context more immediately, as the singer directly describes characters and settings and there tends to be narratives in the lyrics. Do you think that electronic music being mainly instrumental is one of the reasons why (as it’s got bigger and more profitable) conversations about it have tipped away from talking about the context?
Oh, I don’t know. I think it means there’s less obvious stuff to talk about, that’s, for sure. But I don’t think that means there isn’t anything to talk about. I mean I don’t want to slate journalists as a kind of a whole. You know, I have a habit of lumping all of them in one bucket and then chucking that bucket out. But I do think there is certainly in some corners of the industry a lack of imagination in writing about music. I’ve never worked for a magazine, I’ve never been in the newsroom as it were, so I don’t know to what extent this has to do with editors, or whether it has to do with journalists. But, you know, something’s broken down somewhere; to me, music writing could so easily be done in a good way and it’s not.
Obviously, there are other factors at play. You can point at different ways that people consume media generally. In Melissa’s episode she points out how there are so many more outlets to read and get information nowadays, but for me, none of it completely mitigates the fact that there should be a market for good writing. I suspect that the reason that there isn’t as much good writing is that it’s really hard to put together, and not many people are good at it.
Sound, thanks so much for that, to tie things back to the podcast, one of NDP’s main aims is to look at the psychology behind musicians, particularly electronic musicians. You’ve done a lot within the industry besides produce and mix. Did your A&R and label boss experience get you more interested in the psychology of how musicians operate? Was it something you’ve always been curious about that grew as you got into the industry? Or was it an interest you discovered over time?
Yeah, I mean it’s interesting you put it in that context because I hadn’t really thought about that. But I think you’re right. One of the things I’ve found most interesting about running a label has been getting involved with the development of people’s careers, and the development of people’s musical styles. That side of it I find highly motivating, actually. I’ve had a few great experiences over the years. And obviously, the psychology of making music is just absolutely key in that.
I can draw on my own experiences as well, being a producer myself. I hadn’t really been consciously aware of being interested in that side, until I’d done a few episodes of NDP, actually. It just got me thinking ‘Ah, that was a great episode, what was good about it?’
So yeah, it wasn’t a primary interest right at the start when I’d only just started recording episodes, but it has become a key area. It’s a difficult one, you know because you can’t just ask someone how do you feel about music. You’ve got to try and find an angle in the course of a conversation. Especially when it’s someone you don’t know very well, it’s a tricky skill and my interviewing experience is pretty limited. But I think when you get chatting in-depth with someone, and you start getting that information, It’s super interesting. It’s an aspect of the podcast I really want to develop.
You’ve mentioned in the podcast that you’re into reading up on history. For me, a lot of the satisfaction in collecting and discussing records is in the taxonomy and classification of music and working out where I place it in my collection. I was wondering if you see parallels between writing about the past and looking at events from different perspectives in a historical sense, and then also collecting tunes from the past and putting together your own perspectives on the tune?
Well, I think the building of a record collection is inherently a kind of historically literate process, you’re building an archive. It’s taking yourself down rabbit holes and trying to build up your coverage of say, a label’s catalogue. It’s been a while since I was an avid collector of physical records, I do miss it. I spent many years accumulating records but just had to accept at one point that I was never going to have enough and I’m glad to have reached that point.
The zen state…
Yeah, but I think you’re right when you point that parallel out. It’s just that. The building of an archive is absolutely a kind of building of historical records, it’s just another way of putting it, you know. I think the two things compete in correspondence. But also, I would say that dance music generally, is pretty backward-looking.
Paradoxically, it’s very obsessed with the 90s. It’s increasingly resembling rock and roll, in the way that rock is obsessed with the 60s and hasn’t ever really got over it. Whilst there have been bands that have transcended that, the scene as a whole is still very much living in the shadow of the Beatles and the Rolling Stones, and, to a lesser extent, Led Zeppelin. And I think the dance scene is beginning to look like that. Particularly with the recent trend toward super hard techno. Like 150bpm techno, that’s just early 90s Belgian techno with very little done to it, like hardly any update. Is that really where we are, we’re just going around in circles, are we just doing what happened in rock?
As someone born in 1998 who’s into breakbeat hardcore I’m guilty as charged, but yeah I completely agree with that statement.
I was born in ‘79. And I grew up listening to guitar bands who were living in the 70s. So, it’s the same thing, right?
Just a final question, which is maybe more of a traditional Q&A type one and was inspired by your conversation about different clubs and spaces in Berlin in your episode with Appleblim. If you could interview anyone from electronic music in any club or building, who would it be, and where?
Well, this question isn’t actually as hard as it might seem. I have a pretty long, but at least slightly realistic list. I think Francois K would be the one that I’d pick out. I’m hoping to have him on, I just haven’t asked him yet. I want to build up enough of a library first. He’s just got this incredible history of involvement with music going all the way back to the 70s. So he’s the person that I’m most looking forward to digging into. As for where, I record them all in my studio on the phone… but in an ideal world, it would be in New York, somewhere in lower Manhattan.