Sian Is Ready to Stick His Neck Out to Make the Music He Loves [INTERVIEW]
Sian is no stranger to the global techno scene. This Irish-bred, LA-based DJ has been building a name for himself for the past 8 years with the steady growth of his impressive Octopus Recordings label.
Known for his dark and sexy hard-hitting techno, Sian blazes his own trail by pursuing full-fledged visionary concepts for his sound and label. After spending several years in the European techno club circuit, Sian followed the evolution of his sound to the West Coast where he began working on his soon to be released album Captial Crimewaves, coming out April 10th.
Striking a chord between the dance floor sounds of proper techno with the LA-inspired sounds of independent hip-hop, Sian is charting new territory in electronic music artistry...and he's not afraid to stick his neck out to do it.
We had a chance to catch up with Sian to discuss the new album, the debate between 'underground vs mainstream' and why he's thankful for EDM.
EDM.com: I’ve been listening to your upcoming album 'Capital Crimewaves' which has a very distinct sound to it...What was the process like for producing material for that album?
Sian: Well basically, from being here in LA I just met and started working with a couple of people who were a little outside the techno realm – like my usual friends – and were more on the hip-hop side oft things. And I’d alway been a fan of the harder hip-hop stuff, so we just kind of decided to start messing around and come up with, I guess, something new and unique. The whole idea was just to combine all the things that we’re into, and out of that came something that sounds completely different and kind of new.
Can you tell me a little bit more about your journey to Los Angeles, and how LA has helped you evolve your sound?
Basically, since I was a kid I’ve wanted to live here. I grew up as a skater – I grew up in the south of Spain and in Ireland and I was always kind of obsessed with California and also the States in general. I kinda knew I always wanted to live here outside of music stuff as well. So then, I started touring more and more in the states, I got granted my O1 Visa and just decided to make the jump. It also was kind of a logical progression of the sound also that I’m making. I kind a felt like I belonged more in the states than in Europe. I had done that whole ‘Europe techno club – small club circuit’ for about 4 years and then I kind of started feeling like I wanted to do something bigger because my sound was kind of evolving into something that would be more for a festival, y’know like a bigger club. So that was another reason why I wanted to relocate to the States. The States and Asia is where I kind of want to do that.
You definitely hear those elements of hip-hop and nose bleeding techno on the tracks “Underrated” and “Kinetic Energy” which both featured rhymes from AG Fernandez…what sparked that collaboration? Did you find the perfect MC to lay on those beats or were the beats created for him?
Actually [AG Fernandez] is the cousin of one my friends and we were sitting around talking about music and mutual interests, and it turns out that he’s really into more dance floor stuff and he was kind of surprised that I was into the long history of independent hip-hop…and we just started jokingly saying that we should work on something. So he started sending me vocals and I started sending him tracks that were not just the downtempo ones but the ones that were more clubby and kind of acid techno. And he just started really digging it and came up with ideas over it. So it was kind of 50/50, like half I would send him stuff and then half that he would send vocals just a cappella, him free styling. And then I’d go and chop it up and fit it with new ideas that I had.
...y’know it’s a risk sticking your neck out and doing something new. But I have this feeling that both of us – me and AG – had this idea where we kind of thought, 'Why hasn’t somebody done this before?'
Do you see that there’s a space in the market for more collaborations between the two genres? Between hard-hitting techno and hip-hop?
Yeah, I hope so. It’s something that – y’know it’s a risk sticking your neck out and doing something new. But I have this feeling that both of us – me and AG – had this idea where we kind of thought, “Why hasn’t somebody done this before?” Brodinski and Boyz Noize and some other people have kind of dabbled in a lot of that, especially like Ed Banger Records and Bromance have messed around with it for sure, but I think that it was a risk that I was willing to take and I hope that more of these kind of collabs come out and that it’s not so close-minded anymore. I think you can kind of get away with it – Like if you look at a DJ like Tiga he’s mixing 80’s pop with techno, 303s and acid, and it kind of made him unique in that way. And that’s kind of what I feel after being a techno DJ for a long time that I would like to take the step into being more of an artist. And taking those kind of chances.
We’re noticing this really strange (but good) movement lately where these kids that used to be into listening to more commercial music, are now getting into a more underground techno sound.
Speaking of the festival sound, do you see yourself branching out more into the festival markets in the States?
Yeah, for sure. I’ve played a few of those. I’ve worked doing some parties with Insomniac here in LA and we have some plans to do a lot more. It’s kind of my goal to take Octopus Recordings and our sound into a bigger arena. We’re noticing this really strange (but good) movement lately where these kids that used to be into listening to more commercial music, are now getting into a more underground techno sound.
So I kind of judge it on that, 'Would I play this? Do I really want to put this out?' That’s kind of helped to steer clear of any trends that come and go...
In the last year or so is that there’s been this debate between the ‘underground’ and the ‘mainstream’, even looking at Coachella’s lineup for example you see Loco Dice and Dixon on a big global lineup. Is there really any argument anymore to say ‘this is underground, this is mainstream’ ?
I dunno we always look at it like there’s two types of music: good and bad. I’ll do a release with an artist like Pirupa, someosomeone that can do techno and bigger Ibiza dance floor stuff, and be “commercial” in that sense, or I’ll release someone that no one has ever heard of that’s making really hard, dark techno. So I kind of judge it on that, “Would I play this? Do I really want to put this out?” That’s kind of helped to steer clear of any trends that come and go, like the whole prog-nose thing at the moment which we’ve really steered away from. And then it’s kind of served us well, ‘Do we really love this? Do we want to put this out?’
...EDM works as a filter, or like a net. Like everybody starts out at a common denominator and I think even if 50% or even 20% of those kids tastes mature and they start to look a little bit deeper and find other layers of music that they like within that, then that’s perfect for us because it brings all of those kids into the scene...
One of the things that you notice about these incoming generations is that as they get older, maybe the way that they party is a little different, maybe they just exposed to new music, but certainly there does seem to be that you ‘grow up’ a little bit and realize that all the ‘feelings ‘ aren’t want you need and what you really want is something that you can groove to until the early morning...
It’s kind of like the gateway. That’s why I’m so kind of grateful in a way – there’s so many techno DJs are a little bit anti- what people call EDM…but with us we’ve alway been really grateful. For example we’ve had people like Above and Beyond or Moby or deadmau5 or Axwell chart a lot of our stuff and we’re kind of left here scratching our head like… Firstly, how did they find out about us? And secondly, how the hell are they playing this to a 30,000 person crowd? And that’s like a gateway, EDM works as a filter, or like a net. Like everybody starts out at a common denominator and I think even if 50% or even 20% of those kids tastes mature and they start to look a little bit deeper and find other layers of music that they like within that, then that’s perfect for us because it brings all of those kids into the scene, whereas they’d probably be listening to – God only knows… Coldplay or something.
How long has Octopus Recordings been about? Where did the concept come from?
So basically, I found myself stuck in the middle of a few different labels when I first started out. Like I was releasing initially for labels like Aus Music and y’know labels that went on to become really important in the scene and crossover, but the exact type of music that I was making wasn’t really being represented anywhere so the logical thing was to set up my own label and give it a shot independently. So about 8 years ago I fully took that over and then began to…y’know we were really quite lucky from the start, or fortunate I should say, that the first release went well and from there we had the confidence of a lot of the bigger DJs and it kind of stepped up from that.
You guys even have your own showcases and throw your own events. Did that start around the same time…?
No, that took a long time to sort out actually. That was something I had wanted to do for a long time and it just took me a while to get to the point where the clubs weren’t just interested in booking me, they were interested in some of the roster artists and some of our curated lineups kind of thing. So it’s been going great actually, we’ve had a run of sold out parties and our next step is to host a small stage at one of the bigger festivals, so like hopefully this year or next we’ll be doing our own platform on a bigger scale than just the clubs.
I think that the main thing is to let more concepts, like for example like the Enter's or the Drumcode stages or Pryda & Friends, or stuff like that and kind of let more ‘known’ name introduce other names. So it kind of works like okay, people like Richie Hawtin…then they could say… “Okay I like these other artists that he’s introduced me to.” and so it kind of develops a little ecosystem around that one figurehead.
Especially with these festivals getting so big it’s getting competitive to book these so-called underground DJs who are getting booked up everywhere too…
What do you think that does for some of the more grassroots dance communities? When it gets so saturated that fans expect top-tier talent all the time, how can we promote growth from the bottom up to get a new generation of artists working and creating their own events?
That’s a really good question, actually. I think that the main thing is to let more concepts, like for example like the Enter's or the Drumcode stages or Pryda & Friends, or stuff like that and kind of let more ‘known’ name introduce other names. So it kind of works like okay, people like Richie Hawtin…then they could say… “Okay I like these other artists that he’s introduced me to.” and so it kind of develops a little ecosystem around that one figurehead. I think those kind of ideas and just promoters having the confidence… Obviously you need your big anchor headliners, but also to look at a small grassroots label. Like there’s some local kids here in LA that are selling out 1,000 capacity clubs, nobody knows them internationally, but they’re local heroes. So having the knowledge to spot those can translate to a bigger scale and it will work.
What are some other exciting things that are coming from Octopus Recordings in 2017?
Aside from the album, label showcases in Detroit [Movement] and Miami [Miami Music Week]. But apart from that we’re looking to do a small stage at different festivals…whether it happens this year or next it’s already in the works. But otherwise I’m going to be developing our roster artists Shelley Johannson and Juheun. We’re releasing stuff from Gregor Thresher, we’ve got another one coming from Pirupa. We’re remixes of the album from Hoshina Anniversary, Heroes and Villains, a lot of cool stuff that’s slightly under the radar but is about to pop.
Grab Capital Crimewaves when it comes out April 10th via Octopus Recordings