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Sian Pulls Back the Curtain to Reveal His Techno Wizardry

While you stream his new EP 'Crimson Shell,' take a peek at the Octopus label boss' beat laboratory.

by Christopher Metler
Nov 3 2014, 11:04pm

All photos are courtesy of Sian.

'Classic modern techno.' It's a concept that Dublin-born, Barcelona-based Sian considers himself and Octopus Recordings in the business of making.

"Myself and the label are really a product of this generation. We both stand for now and I really don't relate to anything retro actually. I think it's our job to be creating something new and looking directly forward, instead of repeating something old school or passé. I want the tracks to last and have a timeless feel. The most important thing for me is to get super contemporary and experimental music into the hearts and brains of clubbers."

This determined outlook was the principal inspiration in founding Octopus, now one of the top five selling imprints in the genre. While Sian had been releasing on other prominent labels he admired, he felt the sounds he had going on were not being fully represented.

"I had a simple vision, really. Just putting out big weird dance music that could rock both a club or festival, but also make people maybe think a little. It was clear, bold and really to the point."

The clean, black-and-white design behind all Octopus artwork goes on to reflect that kind of minimalist aesthetic. As do calculated offerings from prominent names like himself, Nicole Moudaber, Carlo Lio, Alan Fitzpatrick, Gui Boratto and more, as well as a roster of up-and-coming artists that Octopus is planning to grow.

Ultimately, Sian believes the simpler ideas are strongest and that people respond to directness.

Sian's latest knife-edge EP continues the Octopus tradition of inventive, enigmatic dance music. Look no further than the name itself: Crimson Shell.

"My titles are actually quite thinly veiled references to my hidden aims and ideology. Somewhat of a different approach to most techno people, who use quite unimaginative titles like "Compressor," etc. I think it's a good way to pique people's interest in the backstory about an artist or their life."

After all, that's what guys like Sian are writing music about: their experiences and journey through this strange business. "If you have the balls enough to try and make it as an artist," he affirms, "then your voice and ideas are your assets. So you've got to be individual. I guess my classical education gave me a different take on the scene!"

But how does that self-professed 'different take' apply to the creation of an EP rather than an album-length LP, which can perhaps tell a further story? Is the purpose of an EP for Sian to simply put new tracks out there or is it a less is more kind of thing?

"I guess dance music is all about the single or EP, since DJs play individual tracks in a club environment. I personally really like when techno artists do albums and the tracks are almost all dancefloor bangers. Although most people feel an album belongs in the headphones or home listening sphere, I think we should be proud of the fact that we make music to move people. I tried to do this on my last album, 2 Meters Above Midnight. I decided to make a more tripped out long player, chopped up with audio clips from old movies, recordings of friends late at night and my own speech. I think that kind of an experiment needs an extended running time, whereas a single has to hit immediately."

And in Crimson Shell, Sian has exactly that: bombs that detonate upon impact.

The EP kicks off with its eponymous lead track, a tough, low-end focused anthem that possesses the kind of drops to work any room. Following that up is "Manta Ray," which squirms and phase shifts as it builds, an unexpected effect from running so many channels through the phaser FX unit at different modulations. Then there's "Model Slash Hooker," a no-nonsense, lights out and boogie type of tune, its main synth is dead simple and most of the work is in the booty bass. And finally, on closing number "Vapour Trails," Sian delivers a spaced out, late night vibe that also has the power of elephants fighting, with hovering synth stabs serving as the key.

If we've painted a picture of Sian as something of a mad scientist, then good. Because that's exactly what he is, often working from his floor lost in a maze of cables and FX boxes. The man uses and abuses unconventional studio gear like few others, and in a special exclusive, he has offered THUMP an uncommon glimpse into his beat laboratory.

Ableton Push

SIAN: This Ableton Push is a controller surface, step sequencer and all-round magical box for me. It also serves as an amazing live show controller, volume and sends mixer too. It basically controls every aspect of MIDI to the synths, the sequences on my Ableton software and manipulation plugins onscreen. The brain of my studio, if you will.

Moog Sub Phatty

Now this monster is a modern classic by Moog. They added a third oscillator, which is solely a sub. This means it wobbles the guts out of the low end. Serious tight and solid bass. I used this on "Manta Ray." It seems to add some big thunder to the bottom. They also have this now infamous Moog multidrive, which is like a boost to the filter section, so the frequencies get hot as hell and a bit grungy when you turn those dials up.

Korg MS-20

A late '80s synth originally, I think. It got reissued with a smaller body and the original circuitry of the earlier MS-10. It's semi-modular, which I love because you can patch a lot of the functions into each other on the outer panel or to anything else. It also has this really random vibe and doesn't behave as you might expect it to. You can hear this bleeping and rumbling all over my last album's heavier tracks.

EHX Big Muff Pi

This one is every musician's secret friend! Jimi Hendix, Pink Floyd and just about every hardcore band in the world since the '60s abused this guitar fuzz pedal. I use it for giving electronic drums, synths and bass some warmth and crunch. It's really great on low frequencies too, since it's got the filter section or tone knob. I like to use these kinds of pedals since not many techno heads are aware of their powers.

Moog Little Phatty Stage II

This was the last synth model that Bob Moog—the legendary inventor and electronic pioneer—apparently worked on. It has crazy smooth and funky abilities. I'm using it a lot for noises and melodic loops alike. For example, 2 Meters Above Midnight's opening track, "Manhattan Project," is all this. Or the lead track, "Crimson Shell," from my new EP has lots of the characteristic Moog wobble. It's got an arpeggiator onboard too, which rocks for just letting it run like crazy and modulating the devil out of it!

Crimson Shell drops today on Octopus Recordings. For an exclusive free fifth track from the EP, please visit iTunes.

Follow Sian on: Twitter / Facebook / Instagram / SoundCloud

Tour Dates:

November 8 Warehouse Circus Project, Phoenix
November 14 Octopus Label Night, Panther Room Output, New York
November 15 Octopus Label Night, CODA, Toronto
November 21 Monarch San Francisco 
November 22 Octopus Label Night, secret location, Los Angeles 

You can follow Christopher on Twitter at: @theCMprogram

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