A conversation with Paul Blackford [Militant Science Records]

For the next edition of my on-going series of conversations with electro DJs, producers and scene-makers, I travel virtually to the United Kingdom to sit down and have a chat with producer, DJ and label boss Paul Blackford of the mighty Militant Science Records.

For those of you who follow the modern electro scene, you will know that Blackford/Militant Science releases crop up on DJ playlists regularly, destroy bassbins worldwide, and in general funk you up and smack you down. I'm pleased to bring this City of Bass exclusive interview to you.

First things first, for those who don't know you, tell the City of Bass readers a little about yourself...

I'm originally from Chertsey in Surrey which is on the outskirts of London. Growing up I was into Hip Hop and early rave music. I've always liked making my own music from a very young age... I used to jam along to tracks using a s--ty casio keyboard and then got into using tracker based music programs on the Amiga Computer back in the early 90's. I'm constantly coming up with beats and baselines' in my head so thats what drives me to produce.

Man I think everyone back in the day started on Casio! So what's your background with electro music specifically? How'd you get involved?

I heard a lot of tracks in the mid 90's that sampled elements of old electro tracks. The first record I ever brought was '20 Seconds to Comply' by Silver Bullet and since then I've always been into broken beats and hip hop. I was lucky enough to be growing up during the early 90's before dance music had been diluted by the mainstream and big record companies.

I suppose my first taste of modern electro was 8 track music for sound systems on Fuel Records; I was really influenced by the tracks that Keith Tenniswood produced as Barge Charge and Radioactiveman. After hearing those tracks on that release I wanted to try making music that sounded like it. The turning point though was picking up the Breakin' MPC trax by EDMX, got inspired and finally, I sent Breakin' a demo of '1991'.

Did Ed provide any input and guidance for you? Obviously he dug it enough to get you signed.....

The original demo for '1991' was an 8 track album but the tracks ‘Don’t touch that Dial’ and ‘Just Feel It’ were dropped early, which was a joint decision between Ed and myself as they were weak compared to the other 6 tracks. Ed helped refine the tracks for '1991', pointing out to me some suggestions of edits and changing levels in the mix. Ed pointed me in the direction that I needed to be in and I’m eternally grateful for his help in getting my first release together.

There's nothing like having someone established in the game helping out younger artists. I love it when artists put there ego's aside and share that knowledge.. since we're talking records, tell me about your studio and production philosophy - how do you make these records? Whats your process?

I've never been one of these people that's got to have the latest piece of software or hardware, I find that the people you meet that are always buying new equipment and software on a regular basis usually make the worst music because they never really learn how to use the stuff they get. I like to keep things simple, I make a beat then add some bass then stick in some other sounds over the top.

the studio

No doubt. Some of the best records were made using second-hand gear that often times was broken, or limited in some way. The plethora of VSTs makes it really easy to get lost in that box and endlessly noodle with sounds. I recently reviewed your latest album and I mentioned there that I was wondering if you were running masters out to a tape or analog gear, you’ve got this crunchy sound to that record.. can you share a bit more detail on your production process?

For the latest material I’ve been using Nord Lead emulation VST to create synth parts and using my collection of sampled drum machine sounds. The samples I use are always mono and at 16bit. The machines that I sampled from were old analogue, one’s that gave out some fuzz; I think it’s important to keep that in a sample. I never use anti-aliasing or exciters to make stuff sound cleaner. I just don’t see the point of being anal over bit rates and getting the sound really clean, it’s supposed to be played so loud that you end up feeling it more than hearing it.

You've been a force on the electro scene for a while - you have a real distinct sound in your own productions, and on top of that run Militant Science. I read somewhere your mission was to bridge the sounds of electro bass with the intensity of drum n bass - can you speak directly to that and how that influences your music?

When I first started Militant Science I was looking to set up a platform for Electro music that was above 150bpm and in theory could be mixed easily with Drum n Bass. I soon found that I was being sent tracks with the same rawness of fast electro but at slower tempo's. Which is why the mission has had to slightly change.

So what’s the mission now, and more to the point how are you staying so consistent with the quality of releases. Do you find producers are submitting music with a 'Militant Science' sound? Or are you vetting and the label’s taking on your A & R ear, so to speak...

The mission is to provide decent quality Electro to the world. I'm lucky to be sent amazing music from very talented people, I pick the tunes that I like and put them out on the label. For most of the time all the music I'm sent by the regular MS artists makes it onto the label, I think they know the score when it comes to what I'm going to like.

Now and then as with most labels I get sent music by time wasters who are sending out their music to every label they can find without listening to the music the label has already released.

That reminds me of how special I feel when I get a Soundcloud private track that's shared with me and 4857 other people. Your tagline for Militant Science is 'Global Electro Bass Terrorists'.  Does it every piss you off that we've all had to resort to calling our genre of choice "electro ----- bass, funk, etc etc" since the house people took over the name?

It doesn't worry me too much because in a few years we'll be looking back on electro house the same way we look back at electro clash these days.

Skinny jeans and cocaine man ;) Since our initial conversation, you've changed Militant Science into a Creative Commons net-label. Usually the process is the other way around, can you dig into why you decided to go that direction and just put the music out there for free? 

I can tell you from my experience in running City of Bass, I really push reviews and new music and focus on directing visitors to legitimate retailers where labels and artists can make what little scratch they can. I can't tell you how many visits come in from 'title-artist' searches appended with +.rar or +.free search strings... nobody wants to pay for music these days..is this a pre-emptive Militant Science strike?

The decision to change the label into a netlabel came about from finding the Militant Science releases being shared on blogs and forums wholesale. Pretty much every release was available for free from somewhere on the net and you didn't even have to really dig for it... I was finding that the second and even first result in google for each release pointed towards a free rapid share,mega upload or hot file download.

I went through the long process of contacting all the websites asking for the files to be removed from the servers, they took them down and then almost immediately the files were re-uploaded.


I was around my wife’s parents house a few weeks later and her younger 14 year old brother was on the home computer listening to tracks on YouTube, racking up playlists of music and streaming it off the computer through his stereo. I realised that this is what’s going on now, why bother buying music when you can get it for free off a blog and stick it on your MP3 player or listen to it whenever you want off YouTube or SoundCloud? I thought f--k it just give the music away, it's the way forward.

The decision to change to a free netlabel has been in my opinion the making of the label - I'm a lot happier with the way it's moving now, and at the end of the day it's a case of if you can't beat 'em join 'em. I think in the next few years people will just stream music off the internet and not even bother downloading MP3's, with the next generation of mobile phones and small tablet PC's you can stream music anywhere.

It's an interesting take..we're definitely in changing times and I'm curious to see how it will all fall out. But I'll tell you what, with you making a move like this, I definitely feel like you've helped bring a sense of legitimacy to the net-label concept. I say that only in the sense of there's always been this perception of net-labels being ambient noodling or amateur hour, but then here's Militant Science bringing down the electro hammer. Brilliant. 

Given how much time it takes to run a label, how do you balance the challenges of being a label owner and of being an artist?

I think I learnt a lot of lessons from co-running Bass Gun Records with Smashback. If your going to start a label then think carefully about what you want from it. For me it's a way of releasing my own music and that of others quickly and easily without having to deal with usual bulls--t from a label. I started off using distribution then moved on to only dealing with Junodownload and finally ended up going down the free netlabel route.

Unfortunately for me the business side of music seems to be full of shady characters. Everything goes sour when money comes into the equation, I think with this style of music you end up doing it for love not money.

I absolutely agree with you. With the current state of things in context, it's surreal to think back when you had all the dnb guys getting signed to major labels and pissing off in Ferarri's and M3s. Tell me about your most recent artist release [Editors note: This interview was conducted in part before the release of the album, which I reviewed here ]

My next release on the label is an album called 'Sub Mission'. There's no hidden meanings or messages in the music, it's just music to blast out loud and dance to.

I spent a week going though some old DVD's like Predator, Star Wars, The Thing and The Warriors stealing vocal cuts and sound effects and made up a few tracks using the best snippets. Some of the samples are obvious but some are well hidden.

Anything you want to share about your most recent Militant Science releases that are from other artists?

I'm really pleased that I've had the honor of putting out music by such a wide range of talented artists from all over the globe. Coming up there's albums from Scape One, Soundex Phonetic and also some new EP's from Chordata, Oort Cloud and Melogik.

I always ask this question of everyone I interview - what do you think about the state of the electro scene and where it's going?

Same as it's been for the past 10 years, It's always there in the background. People who listen to it do so because they truly love it and not because it's popular or what Mixmag has told them is cool.

I feel you on that, like a lot of underground music genre’s, there always seem to be some pillars of the community, so to speak, that hold the torch and keep the flame alive. I’ve found it most exciting to see so many talented newcomers in the last few years that are getting me more amped and who are rekindling my love affair with electro. Speaking of, I’d like to get your thoughts on the top newcomers to the electro scene to look out for? Artists or labels or cities doing their thing?

I can't pick any particular artists as there are so many good ones out there but labels to watch are Micron Audio Detroit, Transient Force, Napalm Enema and also look out for Antizer0. The artists on these labels are the one's pushing Electro forward in my opinion.

Share any night spots, cafe's, coffee shops or record stores/clubs in your city that visitors should know about?

There's not much here to be honest and the nightlife is non existent, but there's a Wimpy burger restaurant thats worth checking out.

Ha! Fair enough. Where can bassheads find you on the web?

The best place to find me and also to get in touch regarding demo's for Militant Science is via my Facebook Page

Thanks for taking the time to let heads know a little more about you, to wrap up, what's next for Paul Blackford, from an artist perspective and what's next for Militant Science? 

No worries its a pleasure, Well I spose I'll continue to make beats, remix tracks and put mixes together. And Militant Science will go on to become the most powerful force in the universe and take over the world, so nothing that exciting really.

The back catalogue is pretty much now online minus the material from the artists that didn't want to have their music released for free. And of course, Militant Science will continue to release new music. Big respect to everyone who downloads, plays out and supports music from Militant Science and it's artists. Without you we would not exist.

Be sure to check out everything Militant Science related at the official site. Mad respect to Paul Blackford for taking the time, and thanks to all of you for reading.

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