The amount of concert options on a given weekend in Denver can be overwhelming. This last Friday night, I literally had to choose between three different viable show candidates. Talk about sacrifices, am I right? A certified Colorado problem at its finest.  Some promised lands flow with milk and honey, ours flows with superb music and cannabis.  Sometimes the shows just start of blend together into a sloppy euphoric blur. Sometimes, a show is so mind numbingly wonderful that it is imprinted into your memory for the rest of eternity. Last year, my favorite show hands down was Shpongle Live Band at Red Rocks. I have never experienced such a spectacle, and I can still feel the music from that set pumping through my veins.  I know it’s a little early in the year to name my favorite show of 2015, but Tipper at Red Rocks this last Saturday is going to be a tough mother to beat.

Artists I had the pleasure of seeing included Quixotic, a very Beats Antique-esque group with an out of control violinist. Their music was accompanied by a myriad of beautifully outstanding dancers, gymnasts, contortionists, fire performers, and aerial artists. Tipper played two sets, a dripping and ominous downtempo set, and a classic alien influenced up-tempo set of classic Tipper nature. His music was accompanied by electro-mineralistic projection mapping from the highly acclaimed visionary artist Android Jones. This digital Picasso’s work was projected onto a giant screen in the middle of the stage, creating a visual vortex for his entranced audience. Tipper’s physical presence was almost nonexistent, seeing as though there wasn’t even a stage light illuminating him. He humbly stood on the side of the screen, with only the lights from his mixers and the subtle shadow of his silhouette to indicate his location. The on stage camera that projects onto a large screen for the audience didn’t even show Tipper’s face, only his sorcerer hands slaying the mixer and vinyl. While some would call this a lack of stage presence, I call it a reverence for his art. Tipper doesn’t need to dance around or take “stage selfies” and be all “showy,” his music speaks for itself and reaches its listeners on a deeper more profound level.

While Tipper may have been the main attraction, there’s no doubt that Ott stole the show in my mind. This British producer has really captured my attention the last few years. Awhile back I meet this group of vagabonds made up of folks from Italy and Japan, and even though I had heard Ott’s music before, they were the ones who opened my eyes to the intricacy of it. I love Ott for so many reasons. He understands electronic music better than half the producers I know of, because he was around while it was becoming popular. Being a sound engineer in his earlier days, he is an original gangster when it comes to all forms of production equipment both classic and modern. Ott’s music is so distinctive and perfectly encompasses all of the genres that I love into one. As an artist whose work appeals to a very drug friendly demographic, it should come as no surprise that he’s had his fair share of experience with mind altering substances. That all came to an end however about 17 years ago. These days, Ott gets his “high” from being a husband and a father. I heard him state in a past interview that “There is really nothing as psychedelic and blissful as being a dad.” While Ott has a long list of qualities that I admire, my favorite component of his character is that he does not give a flying f**k what anybody thinks of him. He makes music because it brings him joy, and frankly he doesn’t really care if you like it or not. The man is about quality of sound, not quantity. Why do you think he only comes out with an album every four years? He’s taking his sweet ass time because at the end of the day, the only agenda he’s on is his own. Ott’s Red Rocks set was accompanied by the visual mappings of Joey Paulekas and auditory exquisiteness of Funktion One speakers. Despite having a terribly busy schedule, Ott was kind enough to only answer and elaborate on a handful of questions…

 

 

How did your experience with drug use, particularly with psychedelics, effect or influence your style of production? I heard in a prior interview that your work and creativity really started pouring out once you stopped using drugs. Wouldn’t it usually work the other way around?

Not for me. I found that when my brain was chemically stimulated, so to speak, I was content just to sit and experience: stare out the window, listen to other people’s music, etc. The urge to create my own music was dulled because my brain was already satisfied.  When I stopped using chemicals to entertain myself I found my brain needed other stimuli, and making music fitted the gap perfectly.

 

What lead you to become a freelance engineer? You’ve stated that you were “paid to polish turds in order to satisfy people’s vanity.” Could you perhaps elaborate on that a bit? How did you go from making music for Pepsi commercials, to creating the distinctive sound that is OTT?

My passion has always been recording studios first, synthesisers second, everything else third. Recording studios are musical instruments, just as much as any guitar, piano or violin. Huge, infinitely-configurable, modular musical instruments. They call us ‘freelance engineers’ but we’re actually musicians just like them. They pluck strings to shape sounds, we apply bandpass filters and VCAs. They use a bow or a plectrum to make their music, we use faders and knobs.

I loved being a freelance engineer because it gave me a sense of identity during my 20s, it paid very well and it meant I got to use £250,000 mixers and rare, esoteric sound-shaping devices I could never afford to buy myself. It also meant I could indulge my passion for shaping sound without having to do all that tiresome business of writing songs and playing instruments.

Ultimately, though, I was never totally happy in the role, on an interpersonal level. As an engineer you have to spend a lot of time subjugating your ego, which is fine as long as the person you are deferring to is somebody you respect. I found myself taking orders from people I considered to lack talent, and whose tastes were compromised by commercial imperatives. A nagging resentment began to build, so I stopped doing it.

Also, the music business is full of crooks and charlatans and on several occasions I found myself fighting [metaphorically and, on one occasion, physically] with people who had decided to take the credit for my work. So I’d sit in a studio for three days mixing a record and then when I got my copy after it was released it said on the back “Mixed by ___” with somebody else’s name. That happened a few too many times and when I challenged them I was told “That’s just how it works. What are you going to do about it?”

One day I’ll write a book and expose them all.

 

Where did the word Ott come from? What does it mean?

It doesn’t mean anything, It’s what my mum decided to call me just after I was born. It was 1968, there was a lot of that sort of thing about.

 

Tell me about the origin of “Ott & The All-Seeing I”. How do you like to perform with the live band as opposed to playing by yourself? Do you decide when they play with you or not

I love playing with the band. It’s a totally different experience to playing solo. As good, but different. When we play together depends on who is booking us: The band is a lot more expensive and the logistics are a lot more involved, with shipping equipment and getting us about. With the band we need sound guys and tour managers and tour buses, but when I’m alone I travel self-contained and can fly to every gig.

We’re currently writing an album of music together and when that is done the band will start to develop an identity of its own, moving away from my solo stuff. We’ll still play my songs but we’ll also be able to play our songs too, which is very exciting.

 

How do you feel about “Psychedelic Trance?”

The same way I feel about “Country & Western.”

 

One of the most distinguishing factors of your music is its heavy reggae influence. Other than smoking copious amounts of cannabis back in the day, what inspired this? How did you discover a bridge between the electronic world and the reggae movement at the time?

Artists like Scientist, King Tubby and Lee Perry pioneered the use of recording studios as musical instruments and so it was inevitable I would discover dub at some point. The weed smoking probably helped but more of an influence was my big sister’s record collection during the 1980s. She was into Prince Far-I and Lover’s Rock and it obviously rubbed off on me.

Also, the dance music revolution of the late ’80s and early ’90s turned up people like Adrian Sherwood and The Orb, who reimagined the reggae sound with ‘modern’ electronic instruments and techniques and that was a big influence on me.

 

I know that you don’t limit yourself to a single kind of software, you like to be current with all of them. In the 1980’s when analog was at its peak and digital was in its infancy, how did the transition affect your production methods? What are your thoughts on analog vs digital in general ?

It’s too big a subject to go into too much depth here, but for me, where it all gets interesting is when the two technologies combine. Analogue sound under digital control is fascinating and vice-versa. During the 80’s I was just tinkering and feeling my way and I didn’t care how the boxes worked, I just wanted to try stuff out. Analogue wasn’t nearly so fetishised back then – we just used what there was.

The major revolution was in recording, the shift from large, clunky analogue tape machines to recording into computers. That has been a massive blessing and a bit of a curse, and a quick listen to anything from the golden age of recording [in my opinion 1965 to 1983] will demonstrate that the distortions and noise we used to hate were actually part of the magic, and Autotune has made many really terrible records possible.

 

In the past you have compared mixing on a computer vs. on a mixing desk to cyber-sex vs. real sex. What do you use to mix when you’re performing? Does it ever change or do you have a “go to” piece of mixing equipment?

I use a hybrid of the two approaches. I let the computer do all the remedial donkey work, automating levels and fixing stuff that is broken, and the analogue equipment for imbuing sounds with character and richness. I find music made just inside computers can be a bit soulless and brittle-sounding so I like to run it all through my antiques to give it some ‘realness’.

As far as ‘go-to’ equipment is concerned, the one thing I always return to is my mixer. I like the tactile involvement I get from using it. The analogy I decided upon is that mixing inside a computer with a mouse is like trying to peel an orange with chopsticks. Or trying to paint your hallway through the mail-slot.
Which event or realization led to the end of your drug use? How do you keep your mind and creativity stimulated? In your opinion, how does the use of psychedelics affect human consciousness?

It was seventeen years ago and I stopped because I went mad. During my 20s, living in London and working in the music industry, my social circles were awash with drugs and although my intake was comparatively quite modest, I was always being offered something. Weekends started on Thursday and ended on Tuesday.

In around 1998 I started developing symptoms I didn’t enjoy, hearing voices, compulsions, obtrusive thoughts, depression, and I decided it was time to give my brain a rest. So I stopped and never went back. The unpleasant symptoms went away.

I enjoyed 30% of what I did, the other 70% was mainly a lot of managing comedowns and unpleasant side-effects. I came away with a lot of positive experiences and few regrets but if I could do it all again I would do it differently: I’d be a lot more discerning and treat my consciousness with more respect. And I’d assiduously avoid the company of heavy drinkers and cokeheads.

 

How do festivals in America compare to festivals in Europe?

The main difference is that the festivals I play outside the US tend to be focussed on psytrance and its derivatives, whereas in the ‘States they tend to revolve around Trap and Dubstep. Outside of the US, where I go anyway, Trap is virtually non-existent, and Dubstep curled up and died long ago.

I feel like an outsider in both camps, but I like to think I provide a refuge for people who feel like listening to something different for 90 minutes.

 

I find it rare that for a career musician, you don’t really play any actual instruments. If you didn’t take traditional music lessons, how did you become such an expert at technicalities such as theory, rhythm, and composition?

I play some keys and percussion and I’m an adequate drummer, but my main instrument is my computer.

It’s down to your individual perception, I suppose, but my computer is an ‘actual instrument’. It is a device I use for creating music, like a guitar or a trumpet. I don’t make the same distinction you do.

 

I love the fact that you use a Kaossilator Pad. What are your opinions on using it in the studio verses using it live?

I don’t use it live anymore as it has been replaced by an iPad, which is lighter, thinner and more capable. But the beauty of it is that you can lunge at it with little concern for accuracy or dexterity and it will reward you with the right noises every time.

 

What would you say to someone who thinks that electronic producers are just DJs? 

“Go away you boring dick.”
Which regions of the world influence your music the most? Tell me where the tribal stylings and middle Eastern/African nuances come from. What’s your favorite instrument to record or sample?

I don’t really perceive sound as being geographical. I just hear noises and combine the ones which work well together. I don’t know where half of my sounds come from, I just hear ’em, grab ’em, use ’em. If the scales fit, great, if not I can bend them to shape. The region of the world which influences me most is the place where I live. Dartmoor provides an inexhaustible well of inspiration. You should go there sometime.
What feeling or message do you want your music to evoke in the listener?

Joy.

 

 

To say that Ott’s Red Rocks set made me feel “joyous” would be the understatement of the century. I have a lot of respect for this man as an artist and a person. If you have the chance to see him perform live (which in the states is a rare occasion), I urge you to take it. He will be performing at Lightning in a Bottle this upcoming weekend, along with sets next weekend at both CounterPoint and Infrasound Music Festivals. I’m mostly looking forward to the announcement of his show at the Mishawaka Amphitheatre on August 14th. I haven’t been to this venue before but have only heard incredible things. Ott is going to be the perfect artist to pop that cherry. If you’re going to be in Colorado during the middle of August, you better be there! For those of you who are less fortunate, make sure you stay up to date on this one of a kind producer by following him on Facebook.

 

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