Glasgow duo Slam have a lot to celebrate right now. Not only did Orde Miekle and Stuart McMillan’s seminal record label reach a 25 year milestone of making a lot of speakers and dancefloors very happy recently, but they just pushed the button on their 500th release last month. Here one half of the cream of Scotland’s techno elite spills the inside gossip on Nastia’s wedding, underage raving in Glasgow and playing cassette demos with Daft Punk in Paris.
On 25 years of soma
‘Getting to 25 years was a huge landmark for both of us,’ said Orde Miekle, sipping on another coffee to keep his eyes open after returning not-so-fresh from Ibiza, where they played to 4,500 people at Cocoon at Amnesia. ‘We’ve been through many musical guises over the years, but the common thread has been that we keep it underground and will not be pigeon holed. It’s been an amazing musical journey.’
‘We started planning for the Soma 25 box set three years ago,’ he says. ‘The whole thinking behind it came in two parts. We asked artists who had influened the sound of the label over the years to do original tracks for compilation. Then we listened to the back catalogue and asked artists to choose tracks they felt inspired by and stamp their imprint on them with a remix. It’s been a long time coming. Asking people like Jeff Mills and Robert Hood to do remixes doesn’t happen overnight.’
‘I think some of us would have been mortgaging our houses if it hadn’t sold out – triple vinyl costs a fair whack to press and print up these days.’
After the vinyl compilation sold out, it was released digitally and followed by the 500th release, which took Robert Hood’s ‘The Bond we Formed’ from the compilation. ‘We did two mixes, couldn’t decide which one we liked best, so decided that both would make the vinyl press.’ These are the kinds of liberties you can take when you’ve been at the top of your game for 25 years.
A lot of the tunes released on the Soma Track series were never meant for release. They started off as tunes they intended on keeping to play exclusively in their sets.
‘There are piles of stuff we do that will never see the light of day,’ says Miekle. ‘An idea we have for the future is a retrospective compilation album, salvaging tracks like the Carl Craig one that have been in the back of our record collection since the 80s and 90s. We have already revisited, sampled and modernised a handful of these tracks in our own way, and there is talk in the pipeline of putting together what could evolve into an album of more up to date versions of these tracks together. We like to make really old, obscure records sound different with some high end production. Watch this space for more next year.’
On playing with his ‘other half’ Stuart MacMillan
‘Because we go back to back, we usually play three records each, with no idea where the other one is going,’ says Miekle. With their signature sets so technically tight, it’s hard to believe that nothing is pre-planned. But it isn’t. ‘I hear Stuart’s last record and whatever it is, I’ve just got to wing it. We rehearse nothing’
So is there ever disharmony in this seemingly perfect relationship? ‘The last time I had an issue was when Stuart unexpectedly dropped some EBM in Berghain. It’s a type of music I quite liked first time around, but I find it its current resurgence a bit faddy. I’ve got a couple of tracks lurking around myself, but I rarely dig them out. Stuart left me with a brutal Phil Kiernan mix of Nitzer Ebb’s ‘Murderous’ from ages ago. I’m not even sure it even made it past promo. I’m stood there in Berghain, thinking “how the fuck am I going to get out of this?” Fortunately I rescued myself with a JoFarr remix at the last minute!’
But these occasions are very rare. ‘Usually Stuart and I sing off same hymn sheet. Freakishly so. Even back in the days when we used to buy records we would always come back with 70% of the same music, even though we had been in the record shop at different times. There’s a real communality in our musical taste. It’s never that difficult to follow on from someone who you are so in tune with.’
On upcoming collaborations
Prepare to get excited. You heard it here first. Slam have a plethora of exciting collaborations in the pipeline. ‘We are in the middle of doing something with Mike Dearbourn for the new Track series. There’s also something big on the horizon with fellow Glasweigian Jackmaster. Jack has been busy in the studio doing his first ever remix, together with Simon Stokes who produced our last album and runs Soma School as one of the few Ableton accredited tutors in the world. It’s such a pleasure to be surrounded by so many talented individuals.’
‘We also have a definite collab for the Track series on the horizon with Cajmere. We’ve known Curtis for about 15 years. Once you get over the fact that he’s a bit different, he is great to work with – a really creative guy. We’ve already got some vocals going back and forth over the pond.’
‘After ‘Pressure Lights’, Gary Beck is someone we will always continue to develop ideas with. There’s also something coming together with Daniel Avery. We were meant to dive straight back into the studio with him once he had finished his album, but he got tied up in other things. But it’s on its way.’
On the best places for techno in Europe
Miekle has lost count of how many festivals he has been to this year, but his pick of the best is certainly a bucket list of techno tourism to aspire to. ‘We were at Kontrast festival in Hessen, Germany earlier this summer,’ he recalls. ‘After that, we went on to do Die Rakete in Nuremberg that night, it’s one of my favourite clubs. It’s set across four floors with five stages in what used to be an old music shop – I think they used to sell pianos. The 24 hour party that ensued there for their birthday was something else. Robag Wruhme played the best set of the night.’
‘I really think the Dutch know how to do techno properly. We are working with Verkenipt for ADE later this year. They’re not afraid to push some proper underground lineups with some really serious techno. Their festival back in July was something else. We went on after ROD who is an absolutely stunning DJ. There was a hyped tent of 3,000 people shoulder to shoulder for two and a half hour – it was absolutely insane.’
Another place a bit more off the beaten track that not so many people know about is Tbilisi, the capital of Georgia. ‘There’s a club there called Bassiani.. Drugs are totally illegal in the country. But there is as much alcohol as you can drink, whenever you want. The dancefloor is a disused swimming pool and it’s about as serious a techno club as you can get in a great space. It’s got a real Berghain feel to it.’
‘We’re just back from Amnesia for Cocoon Ibiza. It was packed – the room was full to bursting with 4,500 people going nuts. We’ve turned down a few gigs on the White Isle this summer, but you just can’t say no to Sven and Johannes. We were up there with Ben Klock, Adam Beyer and Richie Hawtin all belting it out. It was also really special as it was Nastia’s last gig before her wedding.We definitely gave her the send off that she deserved.’
‘Incedentally, just before that gig, we’d just done a mix for Cocoon, which aired on Ibiza Radio. We shot ourselves in the foot with that though really – after playing the tracks on the radio we had to find something else to play at Cocoon on Monday!’
On what’s new for Glasgow after The Arches
Glasgow will always be at the core of everything for both Orde and Stuart. It’s a phenomenal city for art, culture and music, but saw a true stalwart of the scene fall unceremoniously a while back.
‘Losing The Arches was a travesty,’ says Orde, with obvious passion. ‘Especially for the reaons we lost it. They were semi political. There was a lot of pressure from police. If you claim a venue is problematic, to close it rather than change it is just to push the problem on somewhere else. We always felt that the reasons given and decision were very short sighted.’
‘We are actually looking into doing a one off renaissance there. It’s been closed now for couple of years so we don’t know what the space is like, but it would be great to do a party there again. Unfortunately we have to wait and see what the powers that be say.’
The city is really lucky to have had SWG3 open up soon after The Arches closed. ‘It’s a great space and we are really looking forward to Maximum Pressure there this Halloween,’ says Miekle. ‘We’ve got Richie Hawtin, Rodhad and Laurent Garnier drafted in, as well as Deepchord, who are releasing some great tracks on Soma. Beside the club there was an old warehouse which theey developed into an exhibition space. We are going to take it on for the night too.’
The last great Glasgow icon that has fallen is T in the Park. The Slam Tent at the festival was always one of the iconic moments in Glasgow’s techno timetable. After having problems with the original site, there were problems with the new venue and this year it didn’t go ahead. Dance Factory did their own festival called TRNSMT in Glasgow Green. ‘This year it was predominately rock music,’ says Miekle, ‘but we have been in talks with the organisers and there’s been discussions about us coming back with a tent for the festival. It’s going to be a third bigger next year. And while nothing is set in stone, stranger things have happened.’
On how Positive Education led to Daft Punk
Slam first released their seminal Positive Education in 1993, and Miekle eloquently referred to it as their ‘happy albatross’ that has glided over the test of time. ‘Not many people know that it is the reason why we connected with Daft Punk,’ he says. ‘They had heard the tune and really liked it. It was back before the days of the internet so the way you got in touch with people was by phone or fax – whatever contact details were on the record. They said they were a young band from France would we like to hear some of their demos? We were playing a big rave in Paris a couple of weeks after they reached out to us. We arranged to meet up after.’
‘We went back to their friends’ house and they put a cassette take in a ghetto blaster and played us some of their tunes. The first was a track called Alive, which eventally became their first EP. Within 30 seconds, Stuart and I looked at eachother and went “oh my god yeah!”’
‘They mastered their first four tracks – we put them on vinyl. Da Funk came along, and there was a big division in our label, some people didn’t like it, but those who did stood fast. The others gave in. And in the end they were glad they did. The cross section of DJs who played that tune, from Kevin Saunderson to Paul Oakenfold transcended all genres. We caught up with Thomas last year and they’re great guys and haven’t changed. We nearly missed our gig at Rex because we were sitting talking so much. We are so always so happy to be a part of their story.’