Renewable Energy

I’m currently anemic and awaiting surgery on two parts of my spine. So, it would be fair to say that I’m not in great shape physically. However, creatively, I feel that over the last four months I’ve somehow managed to pick up from where I left off back in 2010. That was when I decided to pack up my life in the city and move to a remote part of Scotland, to live in a little cottage on a large country estate. Although I was being creative during that time and I was still getting the occasional track played on Radio 1, my main interests were hill walking, photographing red squirrel, deer and osprey, and avoiding humans. A year after that I moved to Perth, got married, and settled down to a life of next to no creativity whatsoever. It sucked. My divorce papers arrived last week though. Now, I’m back on my old stomping ground – Leith, Edinburgh, Scotland. It was from here that I had once generated enough heat to have my old club night, Edinburgh Dream Factory, written about in music blogs from America to New Zealand. I’m not sure what it is about the place, but that buzz is back, and it all kicked off with a track called “Renewable Energy”.

Over the Summer months I attended a few major club nights, and cool happenings, both here, and back in my home town of Belfast, Northern Ireland. After a few years of writing poetry and lyrics I was, all of a sudden, overwhelmed with the desire to make an Acid Techno record. Techno has always been my thing. I love all forms of music, but if I owned the only record store in the world and the place caught fire, it would be the Techno records that I would be flinging out of the window to the fire brigade. OK, maybe I’d save “Who Knows Where The Time Goes” by Fairport Convention just as the flames began to torch my ball bag, but that’s it – after that I’d be leaping out through the window, thus saving my own great balls of fire, rather than that record by Jerry Lee Lewis. One day in late July I got to work on my first Techno track in years. In my mind, I wanted to have the same power as “Energy Flash” by Joey Beltram. Of course, actually pulling that off would be impossible, but you’ve got to set your sights high. Bono’s been impersonating Roy Orbison for years, God bless his sweaty leather pants – he’s just trying his best.

I began by laying down the beat. What mattered to me was that it sounded mental, and hard. I wanted to lay down the whole track very quickly in order for it to sound urgent and not overworked. I think the basic parts of the track were all written in ten minutes. Originally the kick drum wasn’t playing the fours, as I’d purposely created something that sounded crazy. I then toned it all down, ever so slightly, in order for it to rock a dance floor. I created a simple acid line, then mixed the whole thing down using tiny speakers – I knew that if I could make the track sound as hard as nails through those, that it would shake the foundations of a club. “Renewable Energy (Live In Leith)” was the first version that I recorded. I played the whole thing live, on the spot, without even remembering exactly what each of the parts sounded like before I added them into the mix. I think it sounds really exciting, and the way great live Techno should sound. After that I panned the various channels – Percussion and Hi-Hat etc, left and right, then I recorded “Renewable Energy”, followed by the “Geothermal Mix”. These were more considered, and aimed towards potential airplay. Beyond that I just had a lot of fun making the rest of the mixes in various styles, but employing the same sounds. I always find the best way to do this is to pretend that you are another producer for the length of time it takes to put the remix together, trying ideas that you normally wouldn’t go for yourself. By the time I’d finished, I had ten different versions of “Renewable Energy”, and they were sounding good.

I decided to go ahead and release it on my own label, Unna2ural Wax. I didn’t have any budget at all for fancy artwork, videos or promotion, but these days that kind of stuff doesn’t need money thrown at it, as long as you have a vision and a bit of know-how. The track was called “Renewable Energy”, so I spent an evening  surfing the web in search of images and videos that had a creative commons licence, and didn’t require being credited to anyone. This worked really well, as there was quite a lot of work out there that fitted the bill, provided I was prepared to spend a few hours clicking through a load of shit stuff in search of it. In the end I was able to piece together two digital booklets – one for the official release, and one for a limited edition that I was going to send out to DJ’s as an advance promotional copy. I also found a load of drone footage that was free to use, and some crazy nightclub graphics as well. From that I was able to create two different videos – one for the Geothermal Mix, and another for the Driving Rain Mix.

Initially I was going to release the record on the 23rd of August, as that was the date that my favourite band of all time, The KLF, were set to return, after a 23 year hiatus. However, impatience and common sense got the better of me – who the Hell would be interested in a new record from me on the same day that Bill Drummond and Jimmy Cauty arrived in Liverpool in their Ice Kream Van? Not even me. So, I immediately sent out around 23 copies of the Limited Edition, and waited for the feedback. The thing that I found really interesting about that was, I started to get good comments trickling in from New York based DJ’s who seemed to be hooked on the Tidal Mix. Little pockets of people from here and there began to give feedback, all positive, and referring to things like the timbre of the song. So, I had to look up the word “Timbre” before I could grasp what the Hell they were on about. Something that I found odd though was the complete silence from my close friends. Although a lot of them said that they’d give it a listen, they never got back to me about it. Did they think it was shit? Did it intimidate them? Regardless of that, the feedback that I’d received was good enough for me to go ahead and release the full remix album to the world on August 5th. It’s good that I did it then, because just a few days later my health had deteriorated to the point where I had been admitted to hospital. I had no phone signal in the ward I was in, but I had put out a Tweet on my way there, to promote the release, and that seemed to do the trick. By the time I was discharged, “Renewable Energy” had been bought and paid for by music lovers in America, The U.K., Germany, Italy, Belgium and Holland. There wasn’t an enormous amount of individual sales, but what was interesting was that a lot of the people that had bought the album had opted to pay more for it than the asking price of £4.23. Many paid £5.00, some paid £10.00, and a handful of people had even paid £20.00 for the release! I’m still really not sure why, although I’m certainly grateful. Some of them may have just loved the record and wanted to support me as an artist, others I suspect wanted to use the opportunity to donate some money to me, as a way of saying they appreciate what I do – my blogging, photography, poems and lyrics had maybe struck a chord with them at some point over the last year or so, and this was the first opportunity they’d had to give something back.

By the time that The Justified Ancients Of Mu Mu had returned, my sales got another boost thanks to Scaramanga Silk, who not only asked me to write an article, Liberation Loophole ,for his website about the return of The KLF, which was hugely successful, but he played “Renewable Energy” on his BadMan Material radio show on Hoxton FM as well, saying that it sounded heavy duty through the studio speakers. This spurred me on to do my first mass mail out to radio DJ’s since the turn of the millennium.

The underground success of “Renewable Energy” has given me enough confidence to start pursuing my dreams a bit more. They are relatively modest dreams, as far as Rock n Roll ones go. I’d simply like to be making enough money from my creative endeavours to at least go part time with my day job. I’m happy that finally I’m beginning to build a small, but interested audience, and I’m quietly confident that, with decades of creativity under my belt, I’ll be able to deliver the goods on a regular basis.

“Renewable Energy” by Stephen Clarke 1980 is out now.