SAMPLING WEEK: Still one of electronic music's best kept secrets, Blackpool-based Adrian Blacow first emerged in 2009 with the EP Video Club on the label Skam. Hidden inside its pitch black casing was what can only be described as a filthy menagerie of mangled plunderphonics derived from archived VHS tapes, welded furiously to digitised analogue arpeggios and grizzled, hacked-up beats.
The album Trademark Ribbons of Gold (2010) quickly followed and its malformed bigger brother Persistence in Vision four years later. Sometimes, you have to go backwards to go forwards, and Blacow's fiery blend of retro-sampling and modern digital sequencing adds a fresh nuance to his '80s-influenced sound sources, creating some genuinely haunting and darkly maniacal themes.
What sample sources have been the key to your production aesthetic?
"For me, because I'm only sampling from movies and other random tapes such as TV programmes, instructional tapes and found footage, key samples would have to be raw sounds; stuff that doesn't have any other noises in the background."
Does background noise make it difficult to source pure samples?
"There's nothing worse than finding a great sample only to have it spoilt by a line of dialogue. I suppose this is what led me to having a fragmented aesthetic and why loop-based sampling music has never really appealed to me. It doesn't feel like there'd be enough of an actual music-making process going on that way. I prefer to take smaller sounds and sequence them.
"If we're talking about a specific kind of sample, then I tend to go for movie trailers where you get a wide range of sounds packed into about thirty seconds of audio."
How much of your production involves sampling?
"All of my music relies on sampling, resampling and sequencing of samples. I got a little bored of making music with just synths and stuff, it's like you can do anything you want to with soft synths these days. I wanted something that was more challenging, and I like the idea of solely relying on hunting your sounds before you can actually do anything. In a way, the samples inspire the creation of the track."
Where would you normally derive samples from?
"VHS tapes, which I normally find in charity shops, car boot sales and online if I have to. It's getting a little harder to source them now as they're mostly thrown away."
Do you ever create your own samples?
"I do quite a lot of resampling, passing sounds through outboard gear and recording all the results to a VCR. These gets chopped up and turned into kits or are re-ordered into a new version of a track. You can jam for ages, then go and pick your favorite bits and start sampling again."
Do you prefer hardware or software sampling?
"Both really. Most tracks are shelled out in software then the details are added with hardware. I like software for slicing and hardware for sample synthesis. The old Emu Ultra samplers are great for turning a sample into a synth; they have a real liquid feel to them.
"Some days I like to take a break from using the computer and go all hardware. It's a good way to work without staring at a big computer screen all night."
VHS Head's top sampling tips:
1. Build a sample archive
"It's not really a software or hardware tip, but in general if sampling was an avenue someone was thinking of going down, my advice would be to sample as much as you can and build up as big an archive as you can.
"When you're not really in the mood to make music or are having trouble creatively, it's good to just sit there and play through your archive and make yourself familiar with samples you haven't already used."
2. Consider a hardware sampler for live sampling
"For me it would definitely be the Elektron Octatrack DPS1. I don't think I could ever go back to using a laptop for live work; the Octatrack is so versatile and it just feels right."
3. Use samples in live performance
"At the heart of everything is the Octatrack, which I use to sequence an Edirol P-10 video sampler via MIDI for the visual side of things. It also does audio playback, which really helps when playing back little station idents and movie trailers as interludes for the live sets."
VHS Head's new EP 'Sarah Eats Neon' is released 11 December on Skam, including 100 limited edition vinyl copies in pink mailer bag with braille sticker and hand stamped logos + digital version. For more information, check out his Facebook and Twitter pages.