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18 Sep

The London producer talks frankly about rebuilding his life after suffering a stroke

First of all, where are you as you answer these questions?  How is your day going?  Been or heading off to anywhere exciting?

I’m just chilling at home in Watford today. It’s pretty lowkey but I did go for a swim this morning which is always the highlight of my week. I’ve been doing special stroke classes as part of recovering from a stroke I had last Boxing Day. Could barely move at first but physio and swimming are really helping as I rebuild my strength and balance.

The rest of the day I’ll be catching up on music promos and working on some new tracks I’ve been cooking up. I’m home a lot these days but my creative juices are flowing so watch out for new releases next year! The stroke gave me a new perspective that I think comes out in the music.

Give us a quick potted history of your life/career up to now for those who don’t know you.

Music’s always been my thing – it runs through my blood. I started out as a DJ when I was young, buying records and getting into bands like The Jam, The Specials, Ian Dury & the Blockheads, Queen, and The Police thanks to my three older brothers. My oldest brother, Mark still has a massive vinyl collection, but he’s never let me get my hands on it!

I’ve been producing my own tracks since the late 90s but my Robot84 project really took off in 2011 when I released a limited vinyl edit of Frankie Goes to Hollywood’s ‘Welcome to the Pleasuredome’. Greg Wilson played it at Camp Bestival and Pete heard it, but coincidentally I had also sent Pete a copy to see if he liked it. Pete helped me to get it released and I signed to his label Secret Life with whom I released various tracks and got some great remixes.

I’ve released tracks on all kinds of cool labels like Nervous Records, Midnight Riot, Balearic Records, Is It Balearic, Secret Life, Paper, Music For Dreams, Be Adult and many more ever since.

Before moving into production, I spent years DJing – held residencies at various clubs in Edinburgh and Glasgow, such as Citrus Club, La Belle Angel, The Vaults and The Cocteau Lounge, plus my own nights, Carbolick Frolick and Dogtastic with Andy Williams (Midnight Riot). I worked at the famous Bomba Records and co-owned De-Funckt Records (both in Glasgow) with my good mate Colin Gate (Deep Sensation). We sold the shop in the early 2000s. I met so many talented DJs and artists back then who I’m still in touch with now.

Sadly, since my stroke, I can no longer DJ and mix records, which is truly gutting. I’d spent over 35 years honing that craft so that was a bit of a kick in the teeth to discover once I was out of hospital. But, as time has moved on I know that things could have been so much worse so I’m determined to re-learn and sharpen those skills again. I know I can mix digitally,  but after spending so long perfecting my craft with vinyl and all those years djing, I will not give up on trying to regain at least some of that analogue skill.

I’ve also got a huge archive of unreleased projects, and productions and edits from over the years under different aliases that I’m hoping to rework and release in 2024 and beyond once I am able to get back into the studio. The stroke has forced me to change things up and it has affected all areas of my life and work, but it’s definitely fueling my creativity in new ways so I look at it all with positivity and opportunity.

You’re based in London – is that where you were born and bred?  What are your earliest musical memories? What about your first music making experiments?

I was born in Glasgow but grew up in Galashiels on the Scottish borders. Lived in Edinburgh for a bit in the 90s too. First came to London when I was 19 and was back and forth between there, Edinburgh and Glasgow over the years before eventually settling down in the late 90s. Now I live out in Hertfordshire with my wife and son.

My very early musical influences definitely came from my older brothers,  and then later from going to clubs in London in the early 90s. I lived above a pub in Kings Cross, so I was right in the thick of it and would go the Limelight on Saturdays, Boys Own parties were a big favourite too, soaking in that Balearic/House fusion sound.

Started DJing a lot around 1990 during the big House music boom. I played between London, Edinburgh and Glasgow while I worked at Bomba and running Defunkt. I was Djing a lot during that time and with so many great DJs, even drove Josh Wink up to his first-ever Scottish gig in Inverness and he played me a tape of a track ‘Higher State of Consciousness’ right before it blew up.

My first music production experiments were in the mid-90s with my mate Gordon (Blackbeard). We recorded a track at the legendary Nu/phonic studios in London that I still have to this day. Early edits like Basic Bob (Bob Marley) and Spaceface still get played today and sound fresh! I’ve experimented with various styles over the years – house, Afro house, disco, and r&b.

Why Robot84 as a name?

The story behind the name isn’t that exciting honestly! I kept getting mixed up with the Detroit DJ Scott Ferguson which was annoying. So I wanted something new that was unique and not associated with anyone else.

I’d always liked the 80s Italian clothing brand Pop 84 and the name and logo stuck in my head. Then listening to the Arctic Monkeys song ‘I Bet You Look Good on the Dancefloor’ with its line about dancing like a robot in 1984, it just clicked. Robot84 was born.

For years I liked keeping my actual name separate and not being well known – I am quite shy, not interested in having my face everywhere or anything like that, and just wanted to focus on the music. But over time my name’s become public anyway! So the mystery of Robot84 didn’t last too long.

Tell us about your latest ‘Robot84 vs The RAFF’ – who are the Raff?

I produced ‘Robot84 vs The RAFF’ about a year ago in October 2022. The initial idea came from digging through old vinyl records as I often do – I’m a huge record collector and love finding rare or obscure tracks by well-known artists.

Something in a particular old record grabbed me. I knew the track, but I wasn’t overly familiar, but it was niggling at me, an idea started brewing! I experimented with beats, vocal loops and percussion at home to build something around the original track and see if I could bring together what I was visualising in my head.

It came together quickly but I was very unsure about it – if it was too experimental or even just a pile of shit! I always look for feedback from my network of respected artists and DJ friends with most projects, and this was no different.

Kelvin Andrews was the first I sent it to and we chatted briefly about it online – he accidentally pocket-called me one day and being the Gent he is, we ended up having a good old chat about it, he was really encouraging! That glowing feedback from someone I admire so much gave me the push I needed to move forward with the release. It was, therefore, cemented in my plan for ‘23.

Ironically, I then suffered my stroke while on holiday with my family, on Boxing Day. Once I’d come around a bit and was getting my brain together I needed to find focus, and I naturally turned to my music. From my hospital bed, I slowly dictated names of DJ contacts to my wife who used my phone to spread the track and news of my circumstances. With my admin skills being poor at the best of times, this was no easy feat!

The feedback was great as well as the love and support for what was happening, and when I finally got home seven gruelling weeks later, I sent it off to you guys at Juno. And here we are:-)

The RAFF is just a random name I came up with – no real meaning behind it. But the track took on special meaning for me given the trying circumstances around its release. I’m forever thankful to Kelvin and so many others who encouraged me with this, during a tough time. The release means a lot to me. It will always be associated with this big life-changing event with my health. I can’t listen to it without feeling pretty emotional and reliving that experience.

You seem to have found a niche all of your own, that draws on flavours beyond the post rave world of techno and house etc and looks further into the early 80s etc… is that fair?

I never really thought of myself as having my own niche, but I’m flattered you see it that way! My inspiration pulls from a lot of places, but yes the 80s and 90s are big influences in my production along with the 70s. I think there’s an emotional attachment to those eras from growing up in the 80s and being heavily involved in the club scene in the 90s. The sounds and styles from then just resonate with me.

But inspiration can come from anywhere – new or old. It just depends on where my head is at or what I’m listening to at the time. I like what I like and love creating, so it’s a bonus when others are into it too! Over the years I’ve developed a process for bringing ideas to life, and sometimes those seeds get very randomly planted in the first instance.

I’m a lifelong music lover and immersed in it constantly, so that passion comes through in my work I think.

What about ongoing and current inspirations?  Long and short term, musical and non-musical

I find inspiration everywhere – so many artists and DJs I admire, and there are always new people to discover, which is the beauty of this industry.

Looking back, big early influences were 80s electro, hip hop and electronic music for sure. A huge style impact was seeing François K DJ live in New York in 1999 along with Danny Krivit and Joe Claussell – they really opened my ears to the global music scene.

Other longtime UK inspirations were Andrew Weatherall‘s Shave Your Tongue nights, Danny Rampling‘s Pure Sexy parties in the 90s, Bill Brewster’s Faith and Lowlife parties in the 2000s. The Finitribe in Edinburgh in the 90s were a massive inspiration at the time when I was DJing a lot. I was lucky enough to DJ alongside them and I remixed their track, ‘101’ in 2015, which was such an honour. Davie Miller is a very close friend over the years. Harri, Stuart and Orde at the Sub Club in Glasgow was also a big influence and must be mentioned.

It’s hard to name everyone – inspiration and influence come from all over. But having a strong network that I admire and are always happy to provide feedback is so valuable. Artists like Hifi Sean, Ben Santiago, Kelvin Andrews, Heidi Lawden, Harry from the Sub Club, Bill Brewster, Jon Sa Trinxa, Artwork, DJ Harvey, The Idjut Boys, Gerd Jansen and Jim Stanton (Horse Meat Disco) are always there to support and push me. I have so much respect for them all and what they do.

The key for me is staying open to new people and sounds while never forgetting those core influences that have helped and shaped my production journey.

Robot84 at Pikes in Ibiza

What’s next for you after this? 

On a personal level, my main goal is to hopefully make a full recovery from my stroke. It’s been a long and difficult road dealing with permanent brain damage and loss of feeling on my left side but I am in a good place, I can’t complain. While the experience has completely changed my life, it has also fuelled my creative drive and passion for music.

I recently had a big summer digital release with Re-Loved which was an absolute honour to collaborate with the mighty Seamus Haji – a brilliant DJ and I love what he’s doing with his label Re-Loved, I have immense respect for him. I hope we might join forces again sometime!

Looking ahead, I’ve currently got two fresh tracks out on promo making the rounds which I’m excited about. I’m also working on two slower, mellow Balearic-style edits that I think will go down a storm in the chillout sets.

Beyond the studio, my eventual goal is to re-master my DJ skills enough to start gigging again. It may take a lot of time and patience, but playing a sunset poolside set at Pikes or Hostal La Torre in Ibiza again is a dream I’m holding onto. Music remains my passion and creative outlet, regardless of any challenges.

The stroke derailed my life temporarily but it has also pushed me creatively so weirdly, I am grateful for it. And, as said, this release is particularly special because of how it has begun its life alongside that and feedback-wise it is definitely bringing in so much new support and interest in Robot84 which keeps me doing what I love to do.

Check the full Robot84 catalogue on Juno here

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