Posted by: Rebecca on July 13, 2014
Sydney-based, UK-bred Africa Hitech have long been Operatives favourites. Comprising of electronic-music legends Mark Pritchard and Steve Spacek who have both carved out names for themselves with their own music, be it the beat-techtonics of Mark’s Harmonic 313 alias or Steve’s soulful vocals and distinctive songwriting, they shine as collaborators – shrugging off genres and warping the sounds of dancehall, dub and reggae. Headlining at Melbourne Music Week‘s 2013 closing party, we catch up with them for a SOUNDCHECK interview.
As a fellow ex-pat who emigrated here from the UK, I was wondering how your moves to Sydney impacted on your music?
Mark Pritchard: I was worried about it, I thought about it before I left the UK. It was funny though, a friend of mine Danny Breaks said to me when I sent him the new Harmonic 313 stuff I’d written over here, ‘I thought you’d moved somewhere sunshine.’
Steve Spacek: I’ve had similar comments like ‘you sound like you’re still in the hood’.
MP: I think though, whatever you’ve grown up with sets your taste. I think once it’s in you, it’s in you. I wondered whether I’d be making some sunshine reggae.
SS: But it sets that foundation.
MP: Yeah, I mean we both live in Bondi now. I don’t think it was dark music because that’s where we lived.
SS: I feel like I’ve got a clear head living here. Less being in the thick of it. Plenty of sky as well.
MP: It does make a difference. Although I spend most of my time in a basement. At least I see it when I get out.
SS: (laughs) He’s in a basement, I’m in the attic.
I was wondering if the album title (’93 Million Miles’) had anything to do with the move?
SS: Maybe subconsciously and looking back on it. But those were the vibes we were feeling at the time, kind of science fiction.
MP: Yeah, I’ve got this penguin book of science and I use it every now then for song lyrics or titles and I liked that little phrase. But Steve remembered it straight away.
SS: Big Up my high school Science teacher Mr Lavington.
You were both around for the UK grime and dubstep scenes, was it strange that coming over here you witnessed the arrival of that music again?
MP: It was a weird one, because dubstep took very quickly over here. There was a very strong underground scene. In some respects, looking back on it, it was quicker than Europe. I mean, I would play in Sydney and in Melbourne and there was this really good, proper fans for it. And I’d go back to Europe thinking this stuff would be everywhere but outside certain cities, obviously London. There does seem a hardcore fan base for grime here, but it doesn’t seem like it’s grown much – but the music hasn’t taken off like dubstep. But then, dubstep went massive and took off into… whatever it’s taken off into. Not really dubstep anymore, but you could have predicted more – the same with breaks, drum ‘n bass, but the dubstep scene here was quite amazing. And a lot of the guys were getting contacted really early here, I think Kode9 played here in about 2005. When I first moved here I heard people playing really good dubstep at parties and there were crews all over Australia supporting it early. Which was good for us.
You recently did a bit of a retrospective for XLR8R about all your previous aliases/collabs, after a long time making music for both of you, is it strange to look back on all of your releases?
SS: A lot of them I find that they make a lot of sense to you afterwards. Like you look back and it’s like a lot of things are coming back around. Looking back is weird.
MP: Now it’s been a bit longer it’s not too bad – now we’re old. I mean it’s over twenty years for some of the stuff. I mean, when you look at things when you’re younger you think ‘oh that stuff’s old and boring’ but as time goes by and I don’t listen to my own music that often, it’s like you’ve forgotten all of the parts of it. Like you don’t listen to your own tracks because you spent so long on them. I might listen to an old ambient tune I made in ’93 and listen to it fresh and as a piece of music rather than wondering whether this bit should be louder or I should make that bit shorter.
SS: Out of the mix stage.
MP: I’m actually usually quite surprised; it’s not as bad as I thought it would be on a mix basis as well and I always thought the stuff I did back then sounded quite lo-fi.
Do you guys find the new technologies help you be more creative?
SS: I think so, I use a lot of the i-gear stuff, you know, I-pads and I-phones, so I could be sitting here and work a beat out, it’s definitely easier and reliable and as the equipment becomes more powerful and progressive it comes with it’s other downsides – there’s still these problems with samples being too big, you get like your new Mac or whatever and after a year it can’t deal with logic, like it was ten years ago.
MP: I think it’s great, the technology frees you up to be really creative, but there’s pros and cons – the old analogue stuff – there’s no need to be purist like it has to be anyway. But there’s a different way of working with analogue, because of the limitations you work within them, but with the new gear there’s no limitations so you end up tweaking when you don’t even need to. It’s a good lesson to learn, and it’s good to remind yourself of it.
SS: You can link the old and the new stuff together very easily now. Analogue, digital, whatever.
Is that part of the AH manifesto?
SS: Not really, because that’s how we see music anyway – it’s a natural progression, like you’re creating something, why not create something that’s new – even if you’re basing it around something that already exists you always want to move forward. It’s like taking a classic and flipping it in another way, and you know, forward, forward, forward.
What keeps you returning to collaborating together?
MP: We both moved to Australia almost nine years ago, now we live one minute away, we worked together in the UK – we both grew up in a similar time line for music, we both had that growing up foundation. We’re both doing solo projects at the moment, but we always play live together – I imagine we’ll be touring our own solo stuff next year.
Is it more fun with two people on stage?
SS: I think it depends, if we go on stage and everything’s set up in the right way and the sounds right that vibes us up straight away. That’s the thing, sometimes you go on stage and the sound is amazing up front but you get up there and it’s no good, you kind of want to feel what people are feeling on the floor, and if sounds right you can convey that energy back to the crowd.
MP: There’s something nice about playing with somebody and touring with somebody, touring on your own, you know, there’s that whole thing of a DJ touring Europe and it sounds quite glamorous but it can be quite depressing… you know, there’s airports and hotel rooms and then you’re in front of loads of people and they’re all out of it – drunk or whatever their doing, and then you’re on stage and then an hour later you’re in a hotel room again and then you’re going to the airport, having someone to vibe with on stage. And also when I’m on stage I’m not really one of those outward people that you can tell are really enjoying it – I’ve never been a showy person – so it helps to have someone else up there when you’re Djing and can communicate with the crowd – I’ve done it once (laughs).
SS: You never know!
MP: After a few tequilas maybe!
You guys are here performing for Melbourne Music Week – do you think it’s important that a city respects and puts some weight behind the music culture?
SS: I think down here they definitely seem to do that here in Melbourne, there’s pockets of good things in Sydney but the weather is so good everyone’s outside – I live like one street back from Bondi and everyone wants to be out there at the beach – and it can be a bit distracting.
MP: I always thought that Melbourne has a strong music scene, everyone was telling us it was where we should be, you know you’ve got that whole Melbourne VS Sydney rivalry, but its great but the music and the arts seem to be well supported here. I think that’s what makes the city great.
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