Manchester, 2010 – it all happened really quick.
I was fired from a job at Odeon Cinemas for missing a fire drill too many times. I knew the risk of not attending but I didn’t love my job. How could I?! It was just to pay my rent. I was the kid with “Do The Right Thing” on his name-badge when everyone else had Iron Man. So before I knew it I was upstairs in the manager’s office getting fired.
Fittingly, the next day I went for a job interview at Manchester’s (now demolished but pictured below) Cornerhouse art-house cinema. I had more passion for foreign films than most & that got me the job. I went from working 30 hours a week at somewhere I disliked – to like 8 hours a week at somewhere I’d always loved. This freed up a lot more time to Produce music. Of those 8 hours I was “working” – roughly 6 hours of my job was to be inside the screens watching an art house film. I had to man the screens so people couldn’t walk in for free. So I got to be inspired by a lot of arty movies around this time.
Remarkably I was also in my last year of University while holding down this job. I was commuting to Leeds Beckett University. My course: Music Technology (BSc). Since I started the course in 2005 – I’d failed one year, taken a year out, re-sat the year & finally got into my third year. For the third year I was living in Manchester. About 2 – 3 times a week I’d take a 55 minute train to Leeds to attend lectures.
I truly didn’t know if I’d pass my final year. It was already my fifth year since I’d began. Its not that I didn’t enjoy the course – I was distracted by life and making music. I’d also split with my girlfriend in Manchester (we’d only been together 2 years but that was a biggie at the time).
Anyway – all of this happened super quickly. As soon as I got the new job at Cornerhouse, I began buying old soul records in Manchester’s Northern Quarter. This was my favourite shop.
Back at home I’d been watching videos of Daedelus online and had to figure out how to get what he was using (Monome 256). It appealed to me more than any other sampler because you could simply chop more samples on it. I’d been listening a lot to J Dilla, LA Beat Scene stuff like Flying Lotus and the early chillwave movement where artists like Toro Y Moi were throwing Dilla esque beats into the mix too.
After much research I found the software Daedelus used was open source for Max MSP. I had Max MSP because I had built synthesisers in it for my course at University. I downloaded the free patches (programs for Max), but I couldn’t afford a Monome. They were a grand at this point. I was a broke student, who’d already spent all his money on records. So I did more research and people were using the software with the Novation Launchpad. Someone had made a bespoke version you could use with the Launchpad instead. I got one of those after selling a few bits on Ebay, and began chopping.
The first song I made with the Launchpad/Monome software was the song Star Slinger (which became my name). The sample was Cowboy Dancer by BT Express. I played word association from Cowboy and came up with Gun Slinger. I didn’t want to name my track Gun Slinger so as to promote Guns so I just came up with “Star Slinger”.
It didn’t take me long before I thought – I need a name for my music. Lazy perhaps – I just thought “oh this is the first track – this can be self-titled and I’ll go under Star Slinger”.
Then song after song piled up. I had a tumblr following at the time (original tumblr deleted) and I shared the clips with the people on there. It got a lot of reposts/notes as I tagged J Dilla, Toro Y Moi etc.
Two of my tumblr friends suggested to sample Staple Singers Lets Do It Again (Mornin) and another suggested Mint Condition – Pretty Brown Eyes (Minted). I loved both these suggestions and so I chopped the hell out of the melodies. I posted and then also my internet friend Emay (Canadian rapper) who I’d met on MySpace a year prior suggested I send music to No Modest Bear. A Swedish blog run by a called Oscar that had posted him. I didn’t hesitate. Quickly the whole of Volume 1 was finished. I was burning CD’s and giving out to some of my fav chillwave artists at Dot To Dot festival in Manchester. I dare bet at the time they used them as coasters but a few months later I was blowing up and getting asked to remix and tour with them.
Building up a slow buzz on smaller publications was how it all began. I didn’t stop making music though, just because I had picked up some press. Content with creating, I kept on. I started chopping up indie records and built a somewhat sloppy live show, and asked a local magazine in Manchester to film me in a comic shop. The music soon ended up on Pitchfork in the form of a Deerhunter remix, then Gorilla Vs Bear and other influential blogs reached out inc Dazed & Confused for a print article.
Around this time I got into an artist called Teams (Sean Bowie). I loved one of his EP’s, it was more ambient drone than anything but I noticed on his last.fm profile he listened to Dilla and lots of stuff I liked. Down to collaborate we sent music back and forth over Last.Fm and Facebook and chopped up song after song and made an EP entitled Teams vs. Star Slinger. Brooklyn label Mexican Summer gave it a chance and then pitched it to the world. Jordan Kim who worked at Yo Gabba Gabba & now Portlandia reached out and made a video for Close To Me.
Piggybacking off this collaboration and the remixes, by 2011 my older song Mornin got a video from a Alan Jensen and that gave Volume 1 a second life. It reached more ears than I could have imagined. The Guardian called me “best of the year by miles” in 2011 in their Band of The Day segment. I’d gotten a manager & booking agents on my side and began to tour the world.
Little did I know the technique of pitching to a small influential blog was what a lot of people were using at the time and still use today. Literally last year it only became apparent to me that I’d “Traded up the chain” by submitting to the smaller influential blog. I read this book which describes the marketing strategy I’d accidentally used.
Either way – I had taken advice from people on samples and on figured how to get my music out there. So the making of Volume 1 was a really fun interactive experience. It must have only taken me one month to make the LP, but getting it out there meant making a lot of remixes and collaborating/ making a live show, never resting on any one thing.
So yes, on Volume 1 I was a FAN! I was a fan of J Dilla and sampling. I was a fan of the music I was being recommended on Tumblr. I put it all into the work I was making. However, if it wasn’t for all the other little things I did – all the other side jobs I’d set for myself (like remixing bands without permission) – Volume 1 wouldn’t have been a thing. I also doubt if I didn’t collaborate with Teams when I did, Volume 1 wouldn’t have blown up. So yes, invest in yourself, but get about. Meet people, make art with them too. Also get fired, get dumped – because sometimes it helps to be in a vulnerable position where you need to make things happen for yourself.
7 years on, and only 2 volumes in – I wanted to reflect on this experience. Hope its insightful.