A conversation with UK electro producer Scape One

For this next episode of my series of conversations with electro DJs, producers and scene-makers, I travel virtually to the United Kingdom to sit down with a producer who's been in the game for a long time.

He's not only managed to keep producing dope electro music all these years, but has also stayed relevant to a scene that has changed several times over in its history. The mark of a veteran music producer and someone who's dedicated to his craft.

I've been listening and playing Scape One grooves since the beginning of the Vocode Project back in 1999, and it's my pleasure to bring this interview to you. With that, let's go.

First things first, tell us a little about yourself

My name is Kurt Baggaley, I live in a small town on the south coast of England in West Sussex. It's situated in the middle of Brighton and Portsmouth and about 64 miles south of London.

Thanks for taking the time to chat with me for City of Bass, Kurt. I'd like to start off and go back to the beginning of your music background. Tell me about your first experiences with electro and what it was in particular that fired you up to begin making electro cuts?

Bognor Robots 1983
My first experiences with early Electro music come from growing up in the 1970s and listening to the likes of Jean Michelle Jarre, Space, Tangerine Dream etc. My older sister used to know a few DJs and would bring back records for me to listen to such as Yellow Magic Orchestra and early OMD. At school my friends and I were beginning to listen to John Foxx, Gary Numan, Human League, Logic System and obviously Kraftwerk.

We used to dye our hair and wear black eye liner, I think we wanted to make everyone think that we were androids or something? We considered ourselves futurists and we found the music to be very synthetic and futuristic. Perfect music for Robots.

It's interesting that you mention that, overall it seems like humans have been fascinated with the concept of future from the dawn of time right? Always, always with what's next. Moving on, I know from our initial discussion you also have a bit of a b-boy background - can you expand on that a bit?

1984 flyer
One of our biggest influences of the time were Tik and Tok, and Fotostat; they were robot mime artists in the UK similar to Shields and Yarnell but with a new wave futurist attitude and they made the most amazing music. Sharp minimal beats and added dark futurist synth to create menace to their shows.

For some reason this particular scene made a bit of an influence on my small town as we had several of us developing the art of Robot mime. In 1982 my friend was seen doing Robot moves at a local entertainments centre by Esther Rantzen who was appearing there. She had a show on the BBC called 'That's Life' and asked him if he would like to appear on the show doing his act. He agreed and began to assemble all of the local robots together and shortly after we appeared on BBC TV.

BBC 'That's Life' 1983: Action starts at 1:40 in, Scape One is the one dressed in white

After this appearance we began doing gigs all over the UK and I was always on the search for new records to perform to and this is what led me to discover how the music was made.

I gotta say, that's a great introduction to getting involved with music! In the early 80s, there was just a fantastic plethora of analog hardware gear coming out... equipment that was finally somewhat affordable after the excessive prices seen in the 70s. Tell me about your first experiences with the gear.

We had a great shop nearby called Coastline Keyboards and they had a back room full of synthesizers such as Roland's Jupiter 8 and Korg's Monopoly. We used to go in there for hours and play with those amazing machines and they didn't seem to mind at all. We also used to go round to see this synth musician who was a session musician for bands like Depeche Mode. He had synthesizers all over his lounge and he played in a similar style to the likes of Vangelis and Klaus Schulze. I remember thinking that he had all these giant monster synthesizers and just the one tiny rhythm box, something like an early Dr Rhythm.

We used to go around to our friends house to begin experimenting for the first time. He was like a young mad scientist with machines and wires all over his room, synthesizers, drum machines and other early effects boxes that he had rewired and soldered to create our own noises. To this day, he still does this and he's a handy person to have around in case one of my machines goes on the blink.

Even though there's so much ease today with producing in the box,  what you described just there sounds like heaven to a gear head. I'm still in the process of building out my studio in the new crib, and have spent the last 2 years in laptop land due to a variety of circumstances, but I always seem to feel the creative juices more when I'm surrounded by record crates and synths. 

Speaking of records, the early 80s and mid 80s were a golden age not only for electro, but hip hop as well. Also that classic 80's funk vibe - not quite disco, not quite 70's style p-funk... tell me a little more about the music you were hearing at the time.

Around this time, I began to notice that Electro was also being fuzed with Hip Hop, Funk and Disco. I remember hearing The Jonzun Crew's 'Pac Jam' on the radio with it's haunting vocoder, Bambaataa's Planet Rock and Scorpio by Grandmaster Flash. These records had a different kind of energy and production and the clash of cultures was exciting. I remember that early 80's vibe you mention, tunes like C-Bank's 'One More Shot', Warp 9's 'Light Years Away' and the west coast pop locking tunes like Midnight Starr's 'Operator'. Most of these releases came to the UK as import 12” singles and cost around £5 which was double the price of a UK release at that time. Morgan Khan had started a series of dance compilations called 'Street Sounds' in 1982 here in the UK to make it easier for us to buy these records on one album the same price as a regular import 12”.

These compilations would be mainly Soul, Funk, Disco and early Rap. As more of these records were starting to be produced with electronic instruments the term 'Electro Funk' was being used to describe this music and Morgan eventually began a new series simply entitled 'Electro 1', Electro 2 and so on. This is where the term 'Electro' caught on here in the UK around 1983 and the whole fat lace culture took off.

Yeah, those Electro compilations were huge in the US as well. And you're right, there was tons of traditional hip hop in them as well...

Really these albums should have been called 'Electro Funk and Hip Hop volume 1 etc. In fact by the time they got to volume 10 they decided to change the series to 'Hip Hop' as Rap music was beginning to embrace it's truer sound of sampled funk breaks. Really Electro Rap was a fad for east coast Hip Hop that died out with the advent of the sampler. LA kept the sound going for a bit longer but even the west coast crumbled under the might of NWA's gangster influence.

Only Miami and Detroit seemed to keep the bass sound going during the late 80's early 90's but it was overshadowed by the rave scene here in the UK. The kids that grew up with the Electro albums were now producing Techno or Drum and Bass which were both musical descendants from those albums that made such an impact on youth culture in the UK in the 1980's.

In fact those albums are one of the reasons that Electro is such a confusing genre for people. Everyone from Electro Pop to Electro Bass has used the term 'Electro' to describe the scene they are part of when in fact they are all sub-genres and should be using some kind of suffix or prefix to avoid any confusion. This is not a new phenomenon, it's been going on since the late 70's.

Tell me, as the Hip Hop influence became more prevalent in Electro of the time, how did you adapt and move forward?

I began to get more involved with the culture and we organised jams locally for the kids to break, pop and DJ. We sometimes got MCs and DJs down from London or organized B-Boy battles with other towns. At these events I would turn up with my 808 and throw down live beats while a DJ scratched over the top. I think the crews from London were shocked to see what we had in a small coastal town and they weren’t expecting a protégé Mantronix to appear with an 808.

This continued on from about 1984 to the late 80's/early 90's when we began to do raves, mixing in Acid House and Hip Hop breaks into our music just like most of the UK did around that time. I had a Rap crew called Severe Carnage and we were the south coast's answer to the Brit-core Hip hop scene of that time.

Orson, one of the members of Severe Carnage later started his own label called Transparent Sound and began releasing vinyl. They were some of the first new school Electro influenced records to come out in the UK at the time when Techno and Drum and Bass were at their peaks. I collaborated with Transparent for a few releases like 'Freaks Frequency' and 'Night and Day'. We did a few gigs around the country including a live set on Colin Dale's show on London's Kiss FM.

You mentioned jamming live on the 808, which brings me to my next question. You've been producing records for a while now - tell me about your first studio set up and process, and how you're making beats today in 2010. How has it changed, and do you have any particular feelings about hardware versus software?

Around 1984 I started to use a Soundmaster Stix, an amazing little machine. It was on this machine that I learned how to program beats for the first time. The following year a friend of mine said he had a TR-808 for sale so I paid him £250 and never looked back. I still use that very same machine 25 years later. As for hardware verses software? It's all a matter of taste, I think it's good to embrace new technology but also just as important to keep using old machines if you can. I like the roughness that hardware brings to a production, whether it be analogue or digital.

Scape One, the Faithful Duo
I do like software, it's great for getting a clean and polished sound but music can sound soulless if it's all too nice and clean. I like to hear a bit of dirt, distortion, things going out of time or out of tune slightly, that's what makes a track real to me, the machines have a soul with the human interface.

No doubt. Lately I've been toying with the idea of running tracks from my software set up through Maxell cassettes and back in just to give it some grit. Tell me about your production philosophy, how do you approach making records?

I may get sudden bursts of melody or a groove and make a mental note for my next studio session. I normally start with a beat of some type, keep it minimal to start with and feel what comes next, choosing a different tempo for each session is always a good idea as it sets a different mood. I like to get the core of a track down within the first few hours, the feel of a track seems to come out in that time. Using an MPC to midi control everything is the quickest route for that kind of expression. I sometimes let the machines dictate what comes next as this is what makes producing electronic music so exciting.

I like to get a track down and recorded in one session if possible, this is mainly due to the constraints of using hardware. I'm always afraid I may lose something when I switch everything off; even if you know you've saved everything sometimes things don't always sound the same when you switch them back on again.

Although once you're happy with the first recording you can revisit the program and change all the sounds at your leisure, the results can be impressive.

I've heard this before from other hardware producers, and I dig that concept of limitations and randomness happening in the studio. I sometimes try to limit myself when producing with software - you can get lost in endless noodling with sounds and settings when you've got that ctrl-s at your disposal. Moving on,
as I do these interviews, I'm always fascinated with what keeps producers going. You've got a long and storied discography, and are still releasing music today when a lot of cats burn out after a few years - what’s your inner drive that keeps you making these dope beats?

Well if you stare at an 808 for too long it starts to talk to you, it says things like “Think of that amazing electro track you've ever wanted? Well it's in here somewhere, come and get it!” That mentality is what makes me keep writing, it's also a lot of fun and the buzz you get from it is great.

I still get excited when a new track starts to unfold, it's like a journey into the unknown. There are periods when you need a break from writing for a while, you can burn out but eventually you come back to it, it just draws you in. I think I'll still be writing for many more years to come. I guess by then you'll be able to send music directly to someone's neural net.

When we initially spoke about doing this interview for the City of Bass, I had mentioned to you that your records had destroyed many a dancefloor when I and Lex Luthor from Vocode Project were actively DJing electro bass in Denver. You've been doing this for a while, do you still get a kick out of knowing your grooves are getting people hype on the dancefloor? You're music overall has a thread of a certain "scape one funk" going throughout it, when you produce are you thinking of the dancefloor specifically?

I think I am actually, unless it's a chilled track but even then I like to have a groove in it. The other advantage of using hardware is that you have to stand up for part of the time. When I used to pop and do robot there where certain records that used to make you want to move in that way and I try to inject that into my music. It's got to make me want to pop or lock but at the same time it must have a groove.

It's great to know that people actually like to dance to my records. For a while all that people would dance too in the UK was a 4/4 beat in Techno or House and it was a struggle to play Electro as the broken beat seemed to confuse people on the dance floor. So my aim was to prove that you can still inject that groove into an Electro record without resorting to the 4/4 monotony.

Getting crowds open is always a challenge. Going back to "scape one funk" .... what I really mean by that is two things: one, your records to my ears have this unmistakable funk vibe that is reminiscent of 80s funk records - I dont mean an 80s sound, but that funk vibe. The records don't sound dark and metallic, harsh, they have a really distinct funk feel to them. This ties in to the second aspect which is you have your own unique sound. A lot of producers starting out spend a lot of time making formulaic music. Talk to me about how you defined your own sound - was it a gradual process, how did you discover your own "inner sound"?

That's a good question, I'm not sure where my sound comes from but I guess it could be that I draw influence from other styles of music other than straight up Electro. It's interesting that you point out the 80's because if you actually listen to Electro from 1980 to 1988 you will see how the styles change vastly. The tempos ranged from around 105 to 128 bpm and the beat patterns were more varied. I think a lot of producers in the 80's didn't even know they were making Electro, that is just a term that was used to describe anything that was electronic, whether it be Pop, Funk, Hip Hop, New Wave or Disco.

That's really interesting to hear, because everything today seems so tightly bound by genre rules and distinctions. Bouncing off the above, do you have any advice for new and upcoming producers?

I would say be as original as you can, be an innovator just in the same way that the masters were. Think of ideas and sounds that you can bring to electro that haven't been done before. Electro is about the future and that's what the new artists are, teach us something we don't know already.

What's your view on the current state of the electro scene? From my perspective, there seems to be a sort of resurgence going on right now with a lot of new artists bringing in fresh ideas and new music.. it seemed to dry up there for a while after the last resurgence in the late 90s, and now I feel this renewed energy. It's very exciting, as electro has taken a bit of a hit with the whole house mafia stealing our genre name.

I think electro is very exciting at the moment, there are some amazing producers and artists around right now, some of my favourites are Morphology, EOD, Kobol Electronics, E.R.P. CRC, The Exaltics, TeslaSonic, Franck Sarrio, As1, Weltwirtschaft, Plant43, The Consumer. Also it's great to see some of the best producers still releasing material especially the likes of Dynarec, Luke Eargoggle, Gosub, Mesak and all of Gerald Donald's projects.

It's great also to see 80s bands like Oppenheimer Analysis, Iko, Deux, Ceramic Hello, Das Ding and Ausgang Verboten getting re-releases. Finally it's easy to actually hear these amazing bands at last.

As for the electro house scene? Well I haven't taken much notice of it really but some of what I have heard sounds like a descendant of Daft Punk who in turn are descendants of what bands like Space and The Droids were doing in 70's so I guess some of those artists are just revisiting early Electro Disco which is the roots of House music anyway. This is in much the same way that Electro Bass draws inspiration from Planet Rock and Numbers, these are only certain aspects of electro not the only one.

I see the main problem with the Electro House scene is that it is part of the mainstream and a lot of the artists may have no knowledge of Electro or it's roots and are just jumping on the latest bandwagon but I wouldn't like to say they all are. I would hope that some of them are genuinely into what they do and respect Giorgio Moroder and Patrick Cowley in much the same way that we respect Kraftwerk and Zapp.

Wells said. Any artists or labels you'd like to mention that are newcomers that people should know about?

Check out my home boys Anokie, Jon-e-alpha and Titanium Origami, all part of the extended Scape One family and all very talented producers in their own rights. They have all been writing for many years and deserve the recognition for their amazing talents. Some new labels to check are Solar One Music, Zyntax Motorcity, Abstract Forms and Mathematics.

Where can people find you on the web?

Scape One Official Site
Scape One Bandcamp
Scape One Myspace
Scape One Youtube Channel

To wrap up, what's next for Scape one?

I have a whole series of Eps that will be coming out on Napalm Enema Records over the next few months. These will be available as digital and as limited run vinyl for each release. The first of which is called 'Life System'

I've also just completed an EP for Cultivated Electronics called 'Potent Mutagen' which will feature remixes from from Dynarec and Sync 24.

I've also got a digital album coming out on Militant Science called 'Stellar Remnants'

Finally, I'm in the process of releasing my back catalogue digitally for the first time on bandcamp. To make it even more interesting I have been going through my original recordings to find unreleased versions, mixes and bonus tracks from the original recording sessions that have never been available before.

Kurt, you're the definition of staying busy. Big shouts for taking the time to do this next installment of the City of Bass 'conversations with' series, mate!

Be sure to check out Scape One's extensive back catalogue as well as stay tuned for the new releases. 100% pure unkut from the man like. Respect.

Related: Scape One Planet Funk Express Re-Issue; Scape One Digital Back Catalogue; Scape One '10-10-10' Album Release; Scape One Guest Mix on Radio Elektrana

City of Bass: blogging daily about the electro music scene. Follow along via twitter or the RSS feed

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