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Features

20 Questions: Bruce

The Bristol-based sonic explorer sits down to answer our questions on production, inspirations, and anything else.

Following a storming barrage of kicks and whistles on I'm Alright Mate via Timedance, lauded sonic explorer Bruce (real name Larry McCarthy) recently debuted on Hemlock Recordings with the Before You Sleep
 EP. Bass-driven yet melodic, dense and percvussive, the three-tracker was a perfect encapsulation of Bruce's style: an abrasive, forward-thinking take on traditional techno. Indeed, all his previous material, which has been shared via some of the UK's finest imprints—including Hessle Audio and Livity Sound's Dnuos Ytivil—evidences an immensely gifted producer with a drive to push boundaries, both sonically and aesthetically.

Now based in Bristol, the city where he grew up, Bruce's profile continues to grow—much down to the maturing nature of his releases and an increasing number of DJ bookings. ""[2016] was a year that best laid the foundations of where I want to sonically reach out to in the near future." With this in mind, XLR8R sat down with him to ask him some questions about production, inspirations, and just about anything else.

1. Where were you born and raised?

Within the home counties outside London, in a small town called Chesham in Buckinghamshire—at the very end of the Metropolitan Underground tube line.

2. You now base yourself in Bristol–a city with a rich musical culture. Do you find this an inspiring place to live? How does this influence the music that you make?

Most definitely. Living in such a culturally vibrant and localized city has facilitated my work hugely. Like any city, there is a hell of a lot of talent. But from my experience, what makes Bristol special is how proud, welcoming and auspicious it can be.

3. Did you have any musical training as a kid?

Yeh, I was a right posh boy—I sung in the choir, learned cello and classical guitar. But generally, I feel when it comes to what I write as Bruce, the actual relevant musical training comes from discovering/rinsing/sharing music you love, rather than musical theory. Although given I could never read music and failed my music theory multiple times, such a response is to be expected from a grade five dropout!

4. What was the first record you ever bought–and what music did you listen to growing up?

Probably the CD single to Liberty X Just A Little Bit. Yeh, I know—legendary tune. I had a pretty standard music taste which developed naturally for an early '00s kid. There was help from my parents along the way: Mum listened to Jazz/Soul FM along with Seal, Alicia Keys, and Artful Dodger; Dad played Jimi Hendrix, David Bowie, and Moby. But I was an angry “misunderstood” little shit for the most part so confided in nothing but rock/metal for a while, most of which went on to inform the music I wrote/played in bands. When I started going to parties and getting drunk, I got into R&B, hip-hop and nu rave dance music. But nothing very cool or exciting until I discovered the “underground.”

"I didn't really properly get into electronic music until the later, uglier years of dubstep. It hit the six form study rooms at my boys' grammar school like a fucking storm."

5. When did your fascination with music production begin?

I didn't really properly get into electronic music until the later, uglier years of dubstep. It hit the six form study rooms at my boys' grammar school like a fucking storm. Everyone was crazy for it as it felt so new and exciting. So, realizing I could get hold of the software to give making it a go, I spent all my lunchtimes inside the music rooms tinkering on awful music.

6. When did you begin going to clubs?

When I was 16/17 I went to these underage nights at super clubs like Matter and Fire in London. There was no alcohol served and I lived outside of town so had to stay up till the first train home the next morning. I was such a goodie-two-shoes that drugs weren't even an option so I used to spend a few moments at the entrance every time, explaining to the bouncer that I wasn't taking the piss and if he wouldn't mind, “I would like my Lucozade energy tablets back because Benga has just dropped "Night" and the place is going off!” I was oblivious to how sober I was when I saw Benga, Skream, DJ Hype, Chase & Status all in their prime. The step up after that was Fabric, which obviously blew my mind. It finally made a lot of sense of things...

7. What was the first piece of studio software/hardware you bought?

My laptop, I guess!

8. When did you produce your first ever track–and did it compare to the music that you make today?

Well as I mentioned before, I spent loads of time making stuff but had absolutely no idea what I was doing for ages and didn't take it very seriously. By 2010/11, my sound was slowly becoming informed by “post-dubstep,” and things started coming together. It was around that time that I wrote a track called "Through Her Window" which I consider to be my first properly finished track. It's funny how well it's survived over time but I then didn't write anything nearly as good as that until I got to university a year or so later.

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9. Where is your studio and what is your setup today? What is your favorite piece of studio gear currently?

My “studio” is in my bedroom and it's my laptop and an awful MIDI keyboard. It's been that way since day one. I'm very much of the attitude that “if it 'ain't broke, don't fix it,” and I'm happy working completely in the box. My beloved KRKs did actually break recently though so I've recently upgraded to a pair of Focal Solo Be 6s which are tasty as fuck and one hell of an upgrade.

" I am pretty much one hundred percent samples, of which I source from vinyl I've bought or music sources that I find around me."

10. You’re known for this dense, percussive sound. How clearly are you able to produce the sound/sonic vision that you have in your head?

I've got a pretty stupid imagination. That helps. Sometimes I have tune ideas that are almost cinematic in how vivid they are in my head. But, usually, those visual, mental ideas only inform the production rather than defining it. I am pretty much one hundred percent samples, of which I source from vinyl I've bought or music sources that I find around me. The origin or musical/cultural context of those sounds occasionally inform the tune but in most cases, it usually manifests itself from the richness or sonic quality of the samples.

11. You keep a low profile despite an ever-growing fanbase. Is this a conscious decision?

Do I? Well everyone knows how lame social media pretty is and I'm pretty old fashioned when it comes to sharing culture. Plus my humor doesn't work well with a character limit and I rarely check my spelling after giving little care to my typing so it's probably for the best.

12. Do you perceive what you make as club music?

Pretty much, yes. It's 2017, so I reckon at this point the boundaries of what is/isn't club music are well and truly broken. But at the end of the day, shit still needs to bang and make people boogie, even if it's very slowly and with a tear/fear in their eye. So I tend to overlook typical dance music requirements in favor of techniques that are better at translating emotion and ideas through sonic design that fucks with people's expectations. In many cases, this means the music is hard to define and transcends the context it was intended for but I'd say that's just a natural coincidence.

13. Talk us through your studio processes: are most tracks conceptualized in your mind or the result of spontaneous jamming–and how long do they take to complete?

Like most people working in the box, sometimes it takes weeks, consciously battling with an idea that get's redrafted countless times. Other times my conscious thought will be totally switched off and the music almost writes itself. Like I mentioned before, I'm all about the samples, and I like to capture sounds that fuck with their instrumental definition. Through this process, I'll attack impulses and spaces that can be easily manipulated to work as gestures and textures in somewhat unconventional fashions. Once I start manipulating the sounds it's just a case of pushing them as far as they can go until something relevant comes out.

14. How have your production techniques evolved over time?

My core processes haven't really shifted a great deal since I've begun. So over time, it's just been a case of becoming more aware of what I'm doing, both technically and contextually within the current movement of UK dance music. Performing has been a major influence, especially when I realize how much of a fucking pain my “creative,” and “unconventional,” music can be to mix in the club. But I'm a soppy git, and my music almost always comes from my situational, personal mindset. So I guess whilst my end goals haven't changed a great deal, my music has just matured much like I have over the years!

15. Your first release came in 2014 on the Livity Sound off-shoot, Dnuos Ytivil. How did that release come about— where did your relationship with the label come from?

Just through being a big fan of the label. I simply sent Peverelist tunes, hoping he'd get back to me and one day he did!

"I also need to stop partying so much and as hard because I'm not recovering as quickly as I used to!"

16. Since then, you’ve maintained a steady stream of releases–more so in 2016. How much time do you spend in the studio per week?

It's hard to say as I go through patches of writing nothing and then writing solidly for short amount of time. In the most part, I generally work best to briefs or targets and thrive under pressure. I've only recently quit my day job and gone full-time music so I want to use the time to start writing more naturally but I'm yet to properly routine myself. I also need to stop partying so much and as hard because I'm not recovering as quickly as I used to!

17. 2016 was a particularly big year for you–with releases on Hessle Audio, Idle Hands, and Batu’s Timedance. Is that the year where you felt most assured of your sound? How do you reflect on this year?

All those tracks came from different places, both in a literal and emotional sense: "Petal Pluck" off the Hessle release is a tune from 2013; The Trouble With Wilderness release is focused entirely on the breakdown of a relationship I was in; Im Alright Mate' on Timedance is specific to the time I spent back at my parents' house after university. So other than finding a home for creative ideas, indebted to both recent and former specific periods of my life, it was a year that best laid the foundations of where I want to sonically reach out to in the near future.

18. Your latest release is called Before You Sleep<?i>. What’s the story behind the name? Is there a story behind most of your track names?

Almost every track has a story. Being the prick I am, I've always revelled in boring the hell out of those around me by indulging into the in-depth meanings to my track names SO I'M SO GLAD YOU ASKED: "Before You Sleep," is about evading sleep in favour for losing oneself in the lonely and soulless depths of the internet. As the twilight hours bring on inevitable and irrational melancholy, you try and escape the inevitable self-loathing through suspending your consciousness with escapism as you ruminate on your existence. But over time, your ego and insecurities come into focus and you realise this whole process had no real positive gain so you give into fatigue and set your mind to reset for the morning.

19. What’s next for you?

Getting over myself and going to bed at a sensible hour.

20. Having released several EPs, do you intend to work on an LP soon?

You'll have to wait and see!

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