Bubblin' Up: Iron Galaxy
- Words: Glenn Jackson
- Photo: Simran Dewan
Somewhere in Montreal there is a private, K-11 boys school which likely has no idea that a member of its faculty is repsonsible for one of XLR8R's favorite tracks of 2012. With last year's "Attention Seeker," Adam Hodgins (a.k.a. Iron Galaxy) appeared seemingly out of nowhere as a production talent who knew his way around hardware tones and subtle dancefloor play, and with his first full release—the Things We Lost Along the Way EP—out this week, the native Canadian is beginning to reveal the full scope of his abilities.
"In 2013, there's going to be a spread of stuff that's a little more spacey and melodic as well as some more aggressive techno bits," Hodgins told us back in December when asked to share some thoughts for our year-end coverage. "I'd like the Iron Galaxy alias to be known for having some range as opposed to being just a swingy house project." Despite the success of "Attention Seeker," Hodgins clearly didn't want to be creatively boxed in by its aesthetic. After all, when the track landed in August of last year, its lush set of chords, tasteful acid tweaks, and swung drum machines seemed to safely place Iron Galaxy within the context of Montreal's burgeoning electronic scene alongside Jacques Greene and the city's growing number of R&B obsessives. While he hasn't divorced himself from that sound palette completely, Hodgins' new EP does find him staying true to his promise to switch things up, as he's taken measures to step outside the realm of R&B-infatuated dance music.
Though he is not a recent Montreal transplant, Hodgins' production roots actually go back to his time growing up in Thunder Bay, Ontario, where he became increasingly curious as to how the likes of Aphex Twin and Daft Punk managed to craft their music. His research prompted him to buy a sampler and a Juno keyboard around the age of 15, before eventually learning more from a few fellow budding producers, including Dave Shaw (a.k.a. Sexlife), with whom he continues to collaborate today. After his initial musical interests led him down the path of drum & bass, IDM, and a brief period dabbling in dubstep and breaks, Hodgins began rediscovering an interest in house and techno while attending the SAE Institute in London. "For some time, I was doing a breakbeat project with my friend, and whenever we played out, I would be playing early Martyn and 2562 records—things that were in that tempo but outside of that genre," Hodgins explains. "Once a lot of that scene started getting into house and techno, there were these records that were just a lot more interesting to me, so I started to see what I could make within that tempo and style," and thus, Iron Galaxy was born. "That was around the same time I started buying more gear," Hodgins tells as he further details the origins of his project. "I had my sampler, and my Juno, and I had made a few things, but at some point I had started to do everything on a computer, and I was only really able to make sketches [doing that]. When I started playing with the hardware again, it was just way more fun, and so it was easier to finish things."
After relocating again to Montreal—Hodgins had spent a few years in the Quebec city before heading off to school in the UK—Iron Galaxy tracks began appearing on SoundCloud and soon started garnering a bit of attention, which Hodgins credits almost entirely to Twitter. "I sort of revived my Twitter account at one point," he says, "and started following a bunch of musicians, and I think that's how guys like Locked Groove and South London Ordnance fell upon me, because I had my SoundCloud linked in my description, they commented on and reposted a few of my tracks, and their fanbase listened and it sort of went on from there."
In the past 12 months, Hodgins' work has taken a strong leap beyond the realm of SoundCloud; first, with the single-sided "Attention Seeker" 12" landing as one of 2012's standout tunes, and this year with Iron Galaxy appearing on a few high-profile compilations (such as Turbo's Miami Lifestyle collection) and contributing a remix to Locked Groove's "Keep Thorough" single. Still, it wasn't until this month that Hodgins turned in his first full artistic statement with the Things We Lost Along the Way EP for James Zabiela's recently launched Born Electric label. According to Hodgins, the somewhat varied scope of rich, melodically tinged house and techno which appears on the EP is very much the result of his preference for hardware. "I know guys who make amazing music with just a computer," he explains, "but I think you have to work a little harder, do way more automation, and find tricks to make it sound interesting. I like that with hardware, you can just turn it on and jam and there will be inherent errors that are interesting—mistakes that the machines spout out and all the stuff that's bound to happen when your hands are [actually] on something. I'm just looking for those kind of moments and seeing where I can fit them in. There's not too much conscious thought; that's what nice about being able to keep loops going, you can just guide the machines and hope you find something useful in that mess."
Earlier this year though, Hodgins' ability to create new music slowed to a halt after having to move his studio out of the loft he and frequent collaborator Dave Shaw previously worked from. Fortunately, he is currently in the midst of finishing off a new studio, though its location is quite peculiar. As an extension of his day job teaching music technology and music appreciation (among over subjects) to students at a K-11, all-boys school, Hodgins and the school have built a studio on campus. Filled with much of his own gear, along with equipment purchased by the school itself, the studio will serve as a playground and teaching facility for Hodgins' students during the day, and at night, will allow him to get back to producing—a task he is eager to return to. "It was easy to get caught up with work and all these other things," says Hodgins, "but now that I have some time off, it almost hurts a little bit that I can't get in there and play around. I'm hoping that as soon as I can get the studio up and running, I'll be able to get my ideas down pretty quickly." Hodgins describes the space as a rather ideal set-up for his process, with the newly purchased equipment complementing his existing arsenal and the location making it unnecessary to worry about neighbors or getting too easily distracted. "If I can't make music in here, then I might as well quit," he laughs, though it seems unlikely it will come to that.
Photo by Evren Boisjoli
Beyond a fast-approaching European mini-tour and a few live dates around Canada slated for this summer, what exactly the future holds for Iron Galaxy is unclear at this point. Hodgins tells of an EP's worth of material with fellow Montreal resident Sexlife that is almost complete (the two appeared together earlier this year on the aforementioned compilation for Turbo), and potential projects with a number of vocalists, though no official plans have been made. When asked if he's worried about returning to producing after being forced to take such a long break, Hodgins sounds confident, "At the beginning of the project, I wanted to set some parameters of what my range would be, and try to stay within that. Between 'Attention Seeker,' the remix for Locked Groove, and now the EP, I think they create a range I can stay within," adding, "It'll be nice to focus on something new and not just talk about ['Attention Seeker']. I'm very grateful for its success—it's definitely helped put me on some people's radar—but I want to focus on new things and just getting back into the studio." It certainly sounds like he's ready to get back to work.
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