COLLECTIVE: SYNTHS WITH KOOVAJuly 25, 2014
In the fifth issue of Collective, we look to moments in time, rediscovered through stories hidden beneath the realms of conventional culture.
With this concept in mind, we headed down to East London studio of Koova – a producer whose love of both vintage and modular synthesizers has kept him crafting electro music since back in ’86. With bleeps, bops and squiggly bass lines whirring in the background, Koova told us all about his extensive collection, plus their impact on music throughout time.
UO: Hey Koova – that’s one mega collection of synths you’ve got going on. When did you first get into making things go bleep?
Koova: I was 15 when I got my first synthesizer – I’d been learning guitar for three years but I’d always wanted to play synths. I pestered my parents until they finally gave in and bought me a Roland SH 101. It’s a classic Roland – one oscillator, filter, and envelope. I must own around 15 or so truly vintage synthesizers now.
I still remember heading up to Denmark Street to play with all the new drum machines and keyboards that were being released back then. Rod Argent (The Zombies) used to own a shop there, he’d kick us out for playing around with equipment that we didn’t really know how to use.
UO: What bands first got you into producing? Do you have an all-time favourite producer?
KV: The bands that really got me into synthesizers were the likes of Soft Cell, Depeche Mode, Human League, and Yazoo. Vince Clarke was a real master – he was my introduction to this way of making music.
At the moment I’m listening to Kanding Ray – he’s a German producer on a label called Raster Noton, but my favourite artist is probably Gerald Donald from Drexciya/Dopplereffekt.
UO: There are some real classics in your collection, especially the Roland TR-808. Why is it that the TR-808 is still the drum machine everyone talks about?
KV: Every drum sound on the 808 has been sampled and heard in countless songs, but it’s the kick drum that it’s best known for. Modern drum machines are nice, and you can EQ them as much as you like, but the 808 sounds good straight out of the box. In my opinion nothing else has come close to the sounds on this machine, I still use it in a lot of tracks.
UO: What other classic songs have we heard from these machines?
KV: The first Yazoo album was almost entirely recorded with a Pro One – the bass lines, horn stabs, it all came from this machine. I also have a Roland Jupiter 4 which you can hear all over the first two Human League albums.
UO: That’s one monster modular synth set-up you have going too. What’s the difference between this and the more classic synthesizers we know about?
KV: Well, on one side you have East Coast synthesis, which began with people like Robert Moog and other well-known manufactures. They originally designed synths to recreate the sound of traditional instruments in an electronic form. It’s from people like Moog you have your better-known synthesizers, which were used more in commercial pop music due to their easy functionality.
On the other side you had West Coast synthesis, which involved people like Don Buchla and Serge Tcherepnin who designed modules to experiment with complex waveforms. These types of machines were generally used more by experimental composers and rarely connected to keyboards. The Buchla Music Easel (or Electric Music Box) was a more commercial version of this concept.
The beauty of modern Eurorack modular systems is that both of these types of synthesis are combined.
UO: How are you putting all this gear to use nowadays?
KV: The last tracks I released was for Fundamental records. They selected a whole bunch of electro producers who use hardware to each create two songs for a limited release called the 808 Box Set. They really appreciate the craft of producing music in this way. I’m also releasing a track next January on Brok’n Toys Records. It’s all classic electro music, that’s what I love listening too and what I love making.
I also play live shows with other collectors and modular synth builders as the London Modular Alliance; we put all our gear together and create music from scratch live, no computers. We’ll be making some weird noises at the next Hackney Wicked festival on Sunday 3rd August.
UO: What’s your view on the way modern music is produced, compared to the more analogue form that you adopt for your music?
KV: Don’t get me wrong, I use computers to compose my music, and I do have a few digital keyboards I use here and there to write tracks. The sounds you can create digitally are amazing, so why wouldn’t you adopt this more modern way of producing? It’s certainly quicker and the sounds you can create are of very high quality.
For me, it doesn’t matter how you produce your music so long as you enjoy it – I just happen to love synths and the music that I can create from them.