Hailing from Derry in Northern Ireland, Future Skeletons has been producing tracks – as well as being a regular on the clubbing scene – since the early 90s.
Recently, he teamed up with electronica maestro Carl Finlow to produce a series of four EPs, as well as an album,Abandon Hope, which blends a myriad of styles and has received support from Rex The Dog, Jennifer Touch, Ralph Lawson, Marcel Dettmann, Richie Hawtin and others. You can find out more about those here.
909originals caught up with him.
Hi, thanks for talking to 909originals. First off, how would you describe the Future Skeletons sound?
I try to make different genres with a psychedelic vibe. There has to be a hook, even if it’s just a little riff. I like to make tracks for my own DJ sets.
There’s an expectation that you produce a certain identifiable style and constantly refine that style. If I adhered to just one genre I think I’d probably quit.
I’m into house, tech house, breaks, electro and techno in all their forms and sub-variants. You’ll notice from the four EPs I’ve released so far that there are different styles covered on each – from 90’s UK deep house-flavoured tech house on Toko Track, to Detroit techno-influenced tech house on Get Your Act Together, to acidic European techno with Exit Strategy, to EBM with Cash 4 Techno, to Kraftwerk-influenced electro with WTFIGO.
There’s also a goth vibe to the basslines. When I demoed the tracks on this run I was listening to The Cure a lot, particularly songs like Siamese Twins and One Hundred Years.
I put out DJ mixes at different BPMs and genres, aimed at different times of a night out. I have an old-school approach to DJing – the idea that some DJs can’t adjust their sets is crazy to me. I’d hate to show up to a gig and not be able to follow the DJ before and then complain that the DJ before me didn’t accommodate my style.
I’m as comfortable playing 125bpm house as I am 150bpm hard techno, and everything in between – I love it all. I come from a time when you’d hear different sets at different tempos in one night. You’d have the resident warm up playing house, the guest playing something a little tougher and faster, and a resident playing hard techno and trance, or even hardcore.
This has influenced everything I do musically, and is why I produce different genres and play varying sets.
You’ve been producing music for some time – how did you first get into producing?
I grew up in a musical family. My dad was a multi-instrumentalist who played drums in a band on the local circuit – they did a summer season in Ibiza when it was a hippie retreat – and had a residency in The Arcadia in Portrush, back in the late 1960s and early 1970s.
My mum was a singer in a blues band who would open for Thin Lizzy in Dublin before they made their breakthrough. Phil [Lynott] was always very kind to my mum.
My parents met on the Irish band circuit. There were always guitars, drums, and keyboards at home, and my parents were into Led Zeppelin, Deep Purple, Emerson, Lake, and Palmer, and early synth stuff like Vangelis and Giorgio Moroder. I had a fascination with vinyl even back then – the sleeve from Thin Lizzy’s Jailbreak is amazing.
I got into the rave thing because I had ‘cool’ uncles who were into metal and psychedelic and progressive rock, and they introduced me to psychedelics before my mates or anyone really. They used to get me stoned and would give me hash, and got me into shrooms on camping trips.
I was into Pop Will Eat Itself, which was a fusion of rap, metal, and psych rock that used drum machines and samplers, and when I’d pick up their limited 12″ singles, there’d be other stuff in the racks I’d check out. A lot of the time the artwork was a factor.
I started listening to a lot more electronic music because it worked perfectly with my psychedelic experiences as a teenager. I used to take a lot of grief for being into ‘bleep bleep’ music at the time, too. I had been given warnings from the local IRA via my mum – who grew up with a lot of them – because a friend from college and I would travel to Dublin and Belfast to get LSD, weed and records and mixtapes, and were getting a reputation for being ‘druggies’. They were aware of my uncles and they’d tell my mum that ‘they didn’t want that coming here’.
As a result, I feel I have a deeper connection to this music, because I had to wade through so much BS from other people for it. People either didn’t understand it or were afraid of it, and would dismiss it as rubbish. From there, as we know now, it went on to become the dominant youth culture, with a lot of the first generation still going to events, DJing, and producing music today.
My first experience of proper raving was going to the basement of one of the bars on the Main Street in Letterkenny, back in 1990. My mates and I would all be on shrooms and smoking the weed my uncles would give me, tripping out to a local guy who wasn’t the most technical DJ, but he had a solid collection at the time – stuff like Leftfield’s Not Forgotten, Man Machine, CJ Bolland, Energy Flash, and LFO. He was playing a lot of stuff I’d been buying/collecting, so it was great to hear it all segued together on a decent system.
There wasn’t anything going on in Derry around ’90/’91 aside from a night called Harpic Ravematic at a club called Hennessy’s, that aside from my friends and I, no one went to.
The DJ there was rubbish, but he played stuff like French Kiss and Chimo Bayo. He was the resident in an under 18’s club elsewhere and a chavvy place called The Venue where he’d play an hour of the stuff he was playing at Hennessy’s.
Shortly after, we started hearing about Kelly’s in Portrush, that it had started running a rave with English guest DJs. I’d been there previously when it was a Ritzy-style club, so I was familiar with the place and we made the trip there, which was a revelation on many levels. It was where I first tried ecstasy in a club setting, and where skilled DJs from clubs I’d read about in Mixmag played alongside resident Chris Hurley.
I’d drag my other friends, and friends of friends there, and they were quickly converted. We would become regulars, making the trek almost every week and going to the after-parties on the beach. It felt special, like a secret no-one else knew. I got into production because I wanted to get DJ gigs, I had a decent collection and knew a little music theory from my dad.
I started out tinkering on an Atari ST. I even used Music 2000 on the PlayStation 1, with its CD sampler and even though that was limited, I learned a lot.
From there I bought an MPC and got heavily into hardware sampling and sequencing. I’d buy old disco records from charity shops and make some embarrassingly rudimentary sample-based house and progressive house music nicking the drums from my record collection and so on.
Nothing really stuck until I got Abelton Live and I started going mad buying plug-ins. I took a weekend course in Ableton Live in Belfast and just started banging out demos – something like fifteen a week – and out of those, maybe ten were keepers that I’d gradually finish as I got better and better at it. The other five tracks would be recycled.
Some of those early Abelton tracks are the tracks that make up the four EPs I’ve released. I have terabytes of this stuff.
You have worked with Carl Finlow in the past – what did you learn from him? And/or vice versa?
I approached Carl for a remix and we got chatting. I’ve long been a fan. I’d bought pretty much everything of his on 20/20 Vision as Random Factor and his electro output under his own name and as Silicon Scally. I knew he was involved in projects – particularly early in his career – that he wasn’t credited for.
One of those is my favourite track of all time: Circle City’s Moments of Inertia on Warp. He made that with one of my favourite DJs, Rob Tissera, back in 1993.
When you listen to it in context, it’s sonically and conceptually head and shoulders above anything released at the time. I love that track. It’s a boundary/genre-crossing record that was supported by notable UK house DJs at the time like Sasha and Billy Nasty and European trance and techno DJs including Sven Vath, DJ Dag, and CJ Bolland.
I try to do something similar, in that I want my music to be supported by a variety of DJs. I don’t want to function in a musical ghetto.
For example, my track Necessary Illusions is essentially Moments of Inertia part II and saw support from a wide range of DJs inc Richie Hawtin, Sam Paganini, Dr Motte, and Gene Farris.
Carl has mixed the original tracks, and in his role as the engineer has played some bits and pieces here and there, as well as assisting with the arrangements on the four EPs. He’s also contributed two remixes as Carl Finlow, and one as Silicon Scally, which while not being radically different from his output, are a lot more club focused, which is the project’s brief.
When the tracks were completed they sounded sort of out of sync with everything else going on at the time, but with artists like Spray and Adam Pits coming to the fore, I’m seeing more of this type of music gain recognition – a very 90’s, UK-influenced take on the swing/feel of current club music, with a fresh and shiny coat of paint.
Carl’s a proper genius – of this there is no doubt. He’s a busy guy with two teenage kids, but he’s always working. We’ll likely do some more stuff in the future. Given the quality of the tracks released so far, we’d be stupid not to.
I’ve learned quite a lot from him, not just sonically and technically, but also in terms of time management.
I think if Carl has learned anything from me, it’s likely how he is perceived by the public and his legacy rather than anything musically, but when someone of Carl’s calibre texts you at 01:00 telling you he ‘finally’ figured out how you did a particular riff – as an aspiring musician, that’s quite flattering and reassuring.
Where do you get the inspiration for your tracks?
One of my favourite things in life is having a little smoke and sticking the decks on, especially with some brand-new music or vinyl I’ve just managed to track down to plug a hole in my collection. I just get such a buzz from it. This usually results in the PC and gear being switched on. I have no problem being inspired.
I’ll hear something interesting and think ‘I can do that..’ and an hour later there are four tracks, four variations on the same theme.
What does the rest of the year have in store for you?
As events have rolled out, these tracks were released just as we were coming out of lockdown, and in the glut of releases during that period I don’t think they got the recognition or exposure they deserve, so I’ve been pushing hard to get these EPs out there to people. They’re strong releases that have been made with care and attention.
Not only have they been mixed and engineered by, in my opinion, the most talented producer in electronic music, they’ve been mastered by one of the best electro producers out there and someone whose music I buy on sight – Assembler Code – and feature remixes from Carl Finlow, Silicon Scally, Transparent Sound, Force Mass Motion, Versalife, Jensen Interceptor, James Shinra, and Sound Synthesis, who has done two remixes for me.
Paul Nicholson, the artist and designer for Aphex Twin, Tom Middleton, and Skrillex is responsible for the artwork across all the releases and is very supportive of what I do both musically and my DJing. This means a lot when you understand that he used to perform with Aphex’s live show and is something of a techno legend himself – he has seen and heard it all.
I’m currently polishing tracks for release on my label WAFS (We Are Future Skeletons) and working on collaborations that I will be able to talk about closer to their release. The new stuff is a little more techno-focused and there is some very lush electro too. I’m very into Benjamin Damage, Perc, Glaskin, Steya, and James Shinra at the minute.
I’m available for playing clubs and events – you can find some past DJ sets on my Soundcloud page. Also, there are four EPs that have seen across-the-board support from major DJs, and are available from Beatport, Juno Download, and Bandcamp.
There is also an exclusive Bandcamp-only album available called Abandon Hope, which is a collection of the four EPs. It has exclusive Paul Nicholson art with a bonus album-only remix from Sound Synthesis that was previously only available on promo – that has got support from Captain Mustache, Jennifer Touch, Totally Extinct Enormous Dinosaurs, LUZ1E, Erol Alkan, Bloody Mary, and Alienata among others.
1 – Ravn Jonassen – Acid G In A Z. Burial Soil
2 – Ement – Fin. PZ Records
3 – Aloka – Concave. Typeless
4 – Acidulant – Heavy Max. Orson
5 – Carl Finlow – Internalized. Science Cult
6 – MRD – Kvål. Possession
7 – Dagga X Manao – Proxy Rave edit. Manao
8 – Infravision – The Anthem. Infravision
9 – Imogen & Ben Pest – Volts. Earwiggle
10 – Future Skeletons – Cash 4 Techno (Carl Finlow remix). We Are Future Skeletons
Thanks to Future Skeletons for talking to us. For more information, visit www.instagram.com/realfutureskeletons.