Interview: Noa. [LOCO]
Ross Muir is an exciting young musician and all-out creative entity based in Leeds currently working on a number of projects. Defying the conventional educational route, the path that Muir has taken is one driven by passion and intuition. A tireless and impulsive need to create and explore has carved out the beginnings of a journey that is as frenetic and unpredictable as it is inspiring. From running a multi-faceted events company, to refining his DJing narratives, Muir is pushing the limits as to what a party could, or should, be. We sat down with him to learn a little more about what he does, how he’s doing it, and where he’s going. To go with the interview he has also put together a brilliant mix for the first ever edition of the Elevated Mix Series, which you can find below.
/ Hi Ross, thanks for spending the time to talk today. For those that don’t know, could you introduce yourself?
/ Always with a full stop.
Haha the amount of people that don’t get that right is ridiculous.
/ Punctuation is obviously very important.
Yeah exactly. It’s a very fine detail. Everyone either puts it with a ‘H’ or leaves out the full stop as “N O A”, and it’s like “who the fuck’s that guy?”
/ Incidentally, where did the name come from?
I just decided on going with a name that stylistically suited the music that I wanted to play and, I’m not gonna lie, just one that just sort of looked cool. It works quite nicely, it’s short, punchy and it stands out. After coming up with the name I thought about it and was gonna say if anyone asks what the name means I could be like “Noah, the actual Biblical character – I’m bringing tunes together two by two” haha. But I’m not really sure whether that argument stands up in court to be honest…
/ Yeah you’ll have a few copyright infringements there…
You’d get someone like the Pope come in being like “Excuse me?”
/ With his massive prosecution team ready.
/ Let’s go a little bit further back. How did you first get involved with music?
Well if you go right back to the first time I ever performed on stage, I started drumming from the age of around five. I just picked it up and started getting lessons. I caught up with my teacher and started getting better than him, and that annoyed him. Then I went to this prep school in Newbury and they had this end of year Christmas concert where everyone goes forward and sings like a Christmas carol or does some nice solo piece on the piano… And I remember the first time we did that I’d also started playing the guitar, so I’d formed a band that was gonna play at this little Winter carol concert. But we played an instrumental version of JET ‘Cold Hard Bitch’. The audience of parents were just…(!)
But when I was out on stage, I just remembered from that moment onwards I knew what I wanted to do. I started going to gigs and was just absolutely obsessed with the idea of being a performer and being a musician. At high-school I then learnt a few other instruments and I formed a band.
Later, it was was always the done thing for everyone at my school to be funnelled into going to university. But when I reached eighteen I chose to take a gap year. I was like “hang on a minute I wanna see what I wanna do here”. So I picked up a shitty job at Travelex money bureau for a year, and at the same time I was like “right, let’s make something out of this band” that we had at the time, called Empire Safari.
/ That’s a cool name.
We fucking hated it.
/ Haha it’s such a good name!
Yeah well we later changed it at university… But yeah, we had this band Empire Safari and we played gigs around Oxford and in various other places. And then we all decided as a group that Leeds was a happening place for music, so we were like “fuck it let’s all go up there as a band and see what we can do”. So we changed the name to Subserene, came up to Leeds, played various gigs, we were on BBC Introducing, we played at places like the Library and the Brudenell. After my first year (four years ago) we actually played at Glastonbury Festival, at a small little stage there. It was really funny actually, it was so badly organised that our keyboardist couldn’t actually turn up for the gig so it was just the three of us.
I then sort of found myself in a city such as Leeds that’s got such a vibrant electronic dance community, and I remember back in the early days I was well on my bass music, like the Hessle Audio sound, and Apple Pips, stuff like that.
/ Back when that sound was really pushing through…
Yeah when that sort of went through its big stage and I’d obviously started going out and “enjoying” myself, you know?… Haha. I just found myself really, really attached to the music.
One thing I found with the band was that I always felt limited by the constraints of a three-four piece band, but had all these ideas in my head. So naturally, I found that electronic music allowed me to have that element of a band but without physical restraints. Through loop-based music you can put what you want where you want it, it’s all to a click. So I just found myself becoming more and more enveloped in house music and generally electronic music itself, as I was going out to nights, and getting fucked up and whatever…
/ So when did you start getting into DJing, was that in your second year?
No, I started getting into DJing as soon as I was up in Leeds. There’d always been the interest from back in the days going out in Oxford – and trust me I did not go to anything that was considered a good night, the nearest thing you had in Oxford to a good night out in the circles I was chilling around was The Cabin on a Saturday night where they’d be banging out Drum and Bass, and it was never really my thing to be honest. It was always feeling a little bit too fast on the feet, I’m much more laid back than that. But we went out, and embarrassingly went to clubs like Bridge, and all these sorts of Friday night watering holes that you go to when you’re underage, listening to the chart toppers. And that’s when I started getting the bug of DJing and just the interest of pressing all the buttons. In my first year at Leeds I met a now very good friend of mine, actually haven’t seen him enough recently, Nathan Brush; we both lived in the same halls together. I remember one day in first year, we got on a train to go and pick up some decks. I found this advert for a pair Pioneer 1000s and a mixer over in Skegness and I was like “fuck it I’ve got my student loan, I wanna learn to DJ, I’m just gonna do it this way and just go all out!”. So I jumped on the train and agreed to meet this guy at the train station. He then drives me over to his house, and this guy is like a proper old raver from the 1980s with this massive collection of hardstyle and hardcore records that he was trying to ship off to me as well as the decks, and I was like “that’s alright mate”. Just take the CDJs and go, and then from there I literally just sat in Montague Burton, with Nathan, just practicing day after day. Then obviously through that I refined my music taste and my styles and what I got into, and it really started from there i guess.
/ Great story. So, was there a particular style of music you’ve come to like DJing with or is it across the board?
I guess I describe myself as a bit of a bipolar DJ. Because, it’s such an all encompassing term being the DJ, there’s so many roles which you’ve got to fulfil. I sort of divide it into what I’d say is the party DJ who’s got to submit to the crowd and play the music which is gonna get people dancing, and then there’s the artist DJ which is the side I much prefer, which is sort of pushing a more story-telling sound and you’ll hear that side of what I do on the mix I sent out for you, that’s definitely more of the deeper spacier techno melodic stuff. It’s very sort of current with the Innervisions sound essentially, which everyone seems to be vibing on at the moment.
Definitely over the last two years when I started playing out more, that’s always been sort of my benchmark I’ve gone back to with tracks just because I’ve always loved pushing that sound, and I love playing those sets… just because… I can’t really describe it.
/ I don’t think it’s something you can put into words, I know what you mean though. Ok, could you explain what Loco is? How did it come about?
Loco… how did that come about… Well, it’s something that’s been in the back of my mind for, well I suppose since those second year days when I started going out to nights like Squareone. The idea of running a night suddenly appealed to me as soon as I started going out. It was weird, it was just like a natural thing that I wanted to do. I sat on it for a couple of years and got to understand the Leeds scene a little bit and how it works. I mean, I’m obviously still learning now, there’s so much that goes on there, but essentially I spent the last two Summer holidays away in Europe. I spent the first one based in Frankfurt, one of the birth places of techno in Europe, and was going to Berlin and Amsterdam and travelling around all these different places. I met some amazing people at various different parties and places, and got so inspired by the way that they do things abroad, and so I thought “why is it not like that in England?”. Everyone always raves within English reviews about how great the English party scene is, and I do agree, when the English people do go out we’ve got a load of energy and we hit it, and we hit it hard. But there’s a certain element of sophistication that you get in Europe; there’s a lot more effort that’s put into making the party, not just something where you go and you listen to music, but something where you’re immersed in an atmosphere that makes you wanna party, that sort of gives the word party its actual meaning…
I then lived in Amsterdam over the following Summer where I was working with a couple of friends that throw an underground party called Chasing The High Hat, and through that I sort of increased more and more inspiration as to what I wanted to do with Loco.
So back in Leeds around Christmas time 2012 we started sitting down and talking about ideas as a group of artists, me, Kizzy, Sophie and Harri. Well, the first person I actually got involved was Sophie Marschner who I met through a friend, Tom. At a bizarre sitting in a living room with Jack Burbage, who runs Cirque Du Sol, I was chatting to Tom and said “oh Tom look I’m thinking of starting a new night, I wanna incorporate a load of visuals around the edge of it. Do you know anyone?”. So he puts me in touch with Sophie and through her I stumbled across an absolute gem of a person, you know Kizzy, did you meet her at the party?
/ Yeah I met her at the party, she’s great.
So there’s Kizzy Davies, who we got on board, and then we started talking more and more about the stuff that we do, how we do it, and so on. And then this guy called Harri Smith came along, who was sort of the final piece of this initial team that we’d created. There were obviously some others, like my mates Baz and Harry who we’d been talking ideas with.
Having had various discussions we then did our first two events during the last term (Summer of 2013). We did one for Spectrum, which was our first ever thing we’d done out and about. We did a complete revamp of the inside of Wire [club], with drapes, circles, balls… I remember me and Baz were sitting outside the day before the party with bits of string wrapping them around balloons, and being like “what are we doing here, is this a good idea?” Haha. But essentially all five of us went down into wire and created this immersive space for this first Spectrum launch, and the reception from it was absolutely amazing. From the back of that we then had our first gig with Flux, and got a room host for their closing party at the end of last term. We managed to pack out the Black Box [room] from front to back for the whole evening. Everyone was really enjoying the atmosphere, the room, the music, it all came together really perfectly. So we were sort of thinking “right, we’re onto something really good here”.
/ So was the Audio/Visual aspect of Loco there from the beginning?
Yeah, it’d always been there. The idea for us was that I wanted to do something in Leeds that stood out, made a difference, and also that no one else was doing essentially. Being able to run a night as a collection of audio-visual and music just seemed to make absolute perfect sense. So yeah it was always the plan from the beginning. We solidified our position as a production company in that first house party that we did, when we moved in this September to this house you’ve been to. We found that house and were like “yeah, this is gonna be a good place to throw some good parties, let’s go and live there” haha.
/ Yeah it’s a pretty incredible house you’ve found…
And through doing that first party, and completely decor-ing it out and setting it up, we sort of gave birth to Loco. I’d say that’s when we officially, as Loco, gave our launch, when we threw our first party at Arncliffe.
/ You really came into your own and for the first time I guess it felt very real…
Madness. I’ve got so many ridiculous fond memories where I was running outside of our house, just taking it all in, having the idea take off so well. We did a little promo video of the house of what it looked like for the party and the event just kept growing and growing and growing, until like 1,400 people were attending on Facebook.
/ Slightly over capacity then…
Haha I was like “Ok, I think we’ve got enough people”. I recall the evening of the day we opened the guestlist and as soon as it hit 7pm there was just this stream for about, I counted something like thirteen minutes before I could use my phone again… messages going ping ping ping, walking home with a huge smile on my face. And then for the party we had Harry Wolfman down, Recreation, Luke Pompey, loads of huge Leeds names, all just getting involved just because they liked what we were doing. And well the rest is history really, we just carried on from there.
Yeah definitely. Every day I have an overall idea of the direction that we wanna be going in as an events company, but the best thing is that every day we’re being offered new opportunities and new things are coming our way. Which means we’re really allowed to mould ourselves as we want to. When we started out, initially we were just gonna be an events and A/V company, but increasingly we’ve had various commissions that have come our way for doing other projects. We did the Leeds RAG Fashion Show a couple of weeks ago, that was part of I guess more our commission and decor side of things.
Basically, Loco at the moment’s split itself into two facets, there’s sort of our commission based work that we do with other companies. So as I said we did the fashion show, we’ve started doing the LocoVision cube concept for 2020Visions. We’re just doing some stuff weirdly enough for a hair salon in Leeds, they’re doing a show down in London. So we’re sort of an all-round arts collective in that respect, but then also off of that we let our hair down by throwing the one off mad events and parties. It’s really working out quite nicely. At the beginning of this year I couldn’t have asked for things to get better.
/ I think it’s good that you’re not boxing yourself in or limiting yourself to a particular route. Keep your options and possibilities open…
Yeah definitely that’s the way we want to do it. I’ve got such a talented team of artists that are currently behind me, and just using them for parties is a complete waste of their skills. The guys that I’ve got, as I say Harri, Sophie, and Kizzy at the moment, are just coming towards the end of their studies, but the amount of effort that they’ve put in to help create Loco as what it is today, deserves all the credit to them really. It means that we’re now in the situation where we can go forward and find ourselves opportunities with other companies and grow as artists, and eventually, what we can start doing is really start pushing boundaries with the events that we wanna do. We never want to sit and rest and say “ok here we are, this is done”. I’m hungry, as I know all the other guys are, to push ourselves as artists and as a collective.
/ Sounds like you’re well on track. So you did a show back in February, holding down Room 2 at Fabric with the cube concept you mentioned earlier. I know from my perspective it was an amazing show – especially under the circumstances. It felt like it was a quite a milestone for Loco in a lot of ways…
Totally. That was possibly one of the most surreal evenings of my entire life, because I reflected a lot at that point on what I’d done so far within music. And I remember as I was sitting in the Green room in Fabric, chatting to Tristan [Dungeonmeat], Craig Richards was just chilling over there, fucking Burnski as well, all the lads basically were just chilling out, and I was like alright, so here’s us little poxy Loco guys. But then after we came back from the gig and seen it all go down, it really took a week or so for it to really sink in and appreciate what we’d done. Because, I mean, the project came under such short term circumstances, we had two weeks between the inception of the idea and the event. It was essentially a meeting between Ralph Lawson, Kag and myself, where I pitched forward ideas of what we could achieve, and we developed there and then the concept of the cubes within a matter of a cup of coffee. It was like two weeks, build, let’s go!
So it’s all really just expanding from there… But yeah playing in Fabric was such an amazing experience.
/ Sweet, so did much change after your initial outing at Fabric for your Leeds gig later on in March? Because obviously you had a lot more time to plan and reflect and change a few things.
Yeah, I mean for the Fabric show as a design team we were working flat-out. I remember myself, in-between doing all the other sides of the project, doing eighteen hour days in order to get it all sorted and ready. We set out the foundations, but it was always going to be a developmental thing that would inevitably evolve and change, and that’s the great thing about this project. So yeah, for Leeds we had more time to build the concept and make it work, in different ways. We also got Ableton involved, who want to demonstrate new ways of using their push controller as a controller for visual software.
Ok, so the creative process was broken down into different sections, which were basically: practicality, design, development. The cubes needed to be transportable, and needed to fit various specifications so they were able to travel for the world tour, as well as deciding what material we should project on.
The visuals were where we sort of took the main helm. The interesting thing was we were working on such a tight time scale… actually, it was a really interesting way to work. You can surprise yourself when put under such constraints with how your mind draws in and makes solutions happen, but it was really a large team of collaboration. The main stage where Loco and our visual guys came in was the actual using of the specialist visual software that we use, and the way that we were gonna implement that into a live show, as we obviously wanted the visuals to reflect the feel of the label. 2020 have a very strong optical illusion sort of element to their branding, so we wanted to incorporate that. But, pure black and white visuals are quite boring really, there’s nothing particularly exciting, you can watch it for a while but as VJs we felt we wanted to do something that was a little more engaging to actually react with the audience. One day we actually outsourced the animation side of it to my uncle, Guy, who’s a great animator and film maker and he does a lot of stuff in 3D. So he was in charge of creating the black and white content. And then we got Sophie, who’s sort of our ‘master of footage’, who builds stuff with this layer of background footage, and then it was just a case of sitting down and playing around with the Resolume software. Whilst playing through with Resolume, we had days of various back and forth communication and then finally one day the idea twigged of the way we could integrate this background footage that Sophie created with Harri’s live VJing skills and with the 2020 optical material. So with the whole thing, the way we set up the software is so that we can merge them altogether, depending on mood, depending on tempos, depending on what we’re trying to express with the visuals.
So I guess that’s where we are in terms of the creative stage at the moment; and we’re just refining the way in which we set up the Resolume software for now really.
/ Amazing. So what’s next for Loco? How are you
planning to push and grow project?
Well obviously we have Ableton, who we’re trying to get heavily involved with the project. But essentially we want to start pushing boundaries with live visual performance. There’s various ideas that we’re working on at the moment that are gonna sort of integrate the two softwares into something new. We’re gonna try and make it so that Ableton is controlling Resolume itself, and moving forward on that side of things for the 2020 show.
Aside from the 2020 stuff, there’s Meats & Beats around the corner which will be great fun, 3rd of May is the first one and then we’ve got a couple more in the pipeline. The big one that we’ll be doing is on the 6th June, and we’re gonna do that as a proper mini-festival, with stalls and a full-on 800, people fingers crossed. Also fingers crossed we’ll have the go-ahead to do the very first rooftop music party in the Belgrave Hall as a little pre-warm up to that, so that’s really exciting.
/ Awesome, just going to end by asking you a little bit about the mix you’ve prepared for us?
Yeah, the mix that we’ve got is a collection of, as I was saying earlier, the stuff that I fit under my artsy-DJ and my story-telling mode. So it’s a nice collection of some really deep spacey techno tunes, I’ve got a couple nice new tracks in there as well, there’s the A-side from Slipstone‘s new release that I start off with, which has been done by Kesper, and that’s obviously a fucking great record, I’m really happy to be pushing that. And at the last minute, I’ve just discovered as well Bade Records, who are a small local London-Leeds record label, who sent me a couple of promos for their stuff, so you’ll catch that in there as well.
/ Sounds great. And finally, what do you have planned for the coming Summer?
We’ve got a Cube show on the 25th May, Sonar Festival from the 14th June, possibly Gottwood though that’s unconfirmed, then I’m playing in Ibiza 23rd-30th, playing at a festival in Amsterdam for Chasing The Hi Hat, possibly Berlin afterwards, then Beacons festival, as well as Unknown in Croatia which will be great fun. Though it’s hard at the moment with it all going so fast to be able to plan even the next day really…