If you've been following our podcast, the Lights/Out Selection, you'll have noticed a name that has consistently made its way into the tracklists: Setaoc Mass. The UK-born DJ, who splits his time between Manchester and Berlin, has been making massive waves for himself over the past year, with prominent releases on Len Faki's 'Figure', as well as his own label SK Eleven. His 4-track collaborative EP with Matrixxman, another one of our favorites, firmly cemented his name as one to watch in the coming year. After a brilliant performance in LA not too long ago, we caught up with the busy artist to pick his brain, and get the inside scoop on what it takes to make a name for yourself amongst the techno elite.
1) First off, massive thank you for taking the time chat with us. To begin, let’s go back to the beginning. Where are you from? What was your upbringing like? How would you say that your surroundings helped shape who you are today, both mentally and musically?
The pleasure is all mine man, thanks for getting in touch! I would start by saying my upbringing was very secluded, I lived in an extremely small village with a population of around 500 people, mostly farmers (Laughs). I think this was a real push for me to get out of this place, not in a bad way but just to explore the other depths to life, and finding electronic music really was the turning point in my life.
2) What was the first rave you attended? Was it the event that made you realize you were meant to make music, or was did that come later on? What was the first big record that changed your life?
I think I was around 16 years old and went to Sankeys in Manchester to watch Audiojack, before this there was of course house parties since around 14, playing what I knew the as electro house. For me musically, I think hearing Ricardo Villalobos - Dexter was a massive point for me, just because of how haunting and emotional it was.
3) You are partially based in Berlin and Manchester. How would you describe each sonically? Do they share any similarities?
Manchester is an amazing place and it has a great vibe with great people, the scene there now isn't so big due to council restrictions and other people trying to force young people to stop having fun (Laughs)! Manchester also has a very strong industrial background, which in similar can relate to Berlin, with the dystopian feel to the surroundings. I think Berlin was kind of in a league of its own for a very long time, but now a days you can really feel how much money is being pumped into the city to make it a leader in Europe again.
4) Do you remember your first DJ gig? What was it like? What kind of music were you playing? Were there any lessons you learned from back then that you’ve carried with you today?
Hmm, was also probably at Sankeys bar, I was no doubt extremely nervous. Would have been playing this early minimal style, something similar to Minus which was popular at this time when I was 17 or so. I guess I learned that music selection is so key, always play the music that relates to you and this is how you grow as an artist, having a strong mind to stick to what you think is good.
5) Let’s move into the studio. What does your current studio setup look like? DAW of choice? Do you use any hardware or are you all inside the box?
I'm always using Ableton, at the beginning I had a chance to use Cubase and Reason, but then it was always Ableton which I gravitated towards. I'm mainly using a certain set of plug-ins that I really like, Native Instruments Reaktor is never ending, and this has mostly been my choice for the passed years. I use a Waldorf Blofeld, and had a Korg MS2000 which I resampled a lot of stuff which I can still use today in most tracks, with this gritty noise texture it gives.
6) What are some of your go-to plugins that you think every artist should have in their arsenal? What is one that you think is extremely overused?
As I said Reaktor by NI. Also a lot of these Rob Papen products are extremely well made. With the FX side, I generally use D16 and Soundtoys which I guess Is a standard for most libraries these days. I couldn't really say what is overused, but I think just stock standard plug ins, or over reverb'd kicks.
7) Do you have any strange/unique pre or post-studio rituals?
No shoes in the studio.
8) Not all that long ago you put out a blistering EP with another one of our current favorite artists, Matrixxman. How did that come about? Collaborating can either be extremely inspiring or extremely frustrating. What was it like working together? What would you say your strengths/weaknesses were and vice versa? Did you learn anything new from him?
Me and Charlie first met when I spotted his name buying some stuff of my Bandcamp page, I directly sent him an email saying that I would happily send him the promos in future, and then we finally met in person at Dekmantel festival. We exchanged a series of emails, and we both respected each others productions. Around 2 weeks later, we really set a challenge to ourselves to make an EP together as after the first session we knew it was flowing really well. I said this before but Charlie is an extremely talented musician with a broad knowledge of music theory, so the well planned melodies, and my ideas and tactics for drums and also toughening up the sounds really made this a great techno EP. There was no frustration as we were just fucking around, we wanted to make an EP, and it happened, it was really simple to work with him, we shared the studio time together to the last details, and there was never complications.
9) Since we are on the subject, how would you best describe your sound, and what message, if any, are you trying to convey through your music? Do you create stories to go along with each release, or are they more just random thoughts of self expression?
Every track or every EP could be slightly different, but It always has to have an element of emotion, or something sinister which signs the track of as Setaoc Mass. If it didn't have a signature sound or something to make it different then I couldn't put my name on it or release it. Sometimes techno is too generic sounding, and I like to add something which is just a little off to make it stand out in this modern day.
10) Any exciting projects coming up we can know about?
I'll plan the next SK11006 in the next week, and also in this time I'll be planning my next Figure release. There is also the collab with Cleric out in January 26th, this is something me and him have spoke about for a long time, so I'm super happy to see this come out in a special double vinyl pack.
11) As a prominent name in techno, and one that has played at such venues as the legendary Berghain, what were your thoughts about coming to play in LA for the first time? What about the techno scene in Los Angeles, and America as a whole?
I was so excited to come to America, and it didn't disappoint, love the whole vibe in LA wether its in the club or in the day. I'd seen a lot of stuff online with my name mentioned when it was listed I was coming over, so I was really happy play to a crowd that knew my music.
12) As incredible as it is to be able to make and play your music to crowds all around the world, at the end of the day a DJ is still a person. What does a normal day in the life of Sam look like? What do the first hour to 90 minutes look like on average?
(Laughs) multiple cups of coffee, healthy breakfast, Instagram, shower, emails and then its probably already time to hit the studio, or do something more productive like write this interview !
13) You have the weekend off, and you’re taking a little break from the studio. What are you doing? Do you like to train or go skateboarding? Do you like to read? Watch movies? If so, what are some of your favorite books or films?
I'd more than likely spend some time at home, with my girlfriend and the cat. Usually liking to go out and eat some tasty food or try out some new restaurant neither of us have been. Also indulging in some good quality red wine, which seems to have grown into a nice hobby of mine. In summer a nice cycle is good especially in Berlin where its really flat and easy. Well I just watched this new series of Black Mirror, which is equally amazing as the other 3 seasons, and with the books I was just reading Patti Smith - M Train to Brooklyn which was fitting when I was state side.
14) Now for some random shit. If you were to become a type of pizza, what kind would you be? Döner or fish and chips? What is your spirit animal if you had to pick? What 90s pop song best describes you?
Pizza - Quattro Formaggi
Fish and chips of course!
haha I wouldn't say this describes me, but I have fond memories of Bucketheads - The Bomb on a family road trip to France and this was on the radio, me and my sister in the back seat singing completely the wrong lyrics and dancing around.
15) Before we close this out, again a massive thank you for chatting with us. In all your experiences, and after everything you’ve learned in your career, what would you say is the single most important piece of advice you could give to a new artist who wants to make something of themselves?
Theres a few that I would always stick by:
Be yourself, work hard. Make as much music you can and always try and finish it.
Listen to a lot of music, wether it be your genre, or something completely left field.
Don't always force it, if its not your day experiment with sounds or learn to use your tools.