In depth: Cleric on his Belgian live debut
Hi Cleric, thanks for taking the time.
How did you start off with electronic music? What was the initial spark? How did house and techno music catch your attention?
Well, music itself has always surrounded me whilst growing up. We moved around quite a lot when I was younger, but I always remember having a room dedicated to my dad’s record collection and instruments in every house we lived in. On the weekends my dad would always be in there continuously playing music and dancing - mostly northern soul / funk and jazz.
Really my first experience of the electronic music scene was when I was living in Manchester with my brother and sister. I was always influenced with what my older siblings did, so I stole my brothers ID and started to go to the clubs they went to, places like Warehouse Project and Sankeys in Manchester, which is really where I started out as a DJ.
Being in that dance floor environment really drew me in. Clubbing has an extremely positive feeling, there is a certain friendliness and unity to it. You’re all strangers, but also all there for the same reason, which gives it a feeling as if you know people. From then on everything developed quite naturally, I made sure I was present at certain monthly events and I would start to travel to see different DJs and locations with my friends.
What was fascinating about it?
There was this sense of being in your own little community where people shared similar views. You would see people the same people from DJ different collectives every month, and they all supported each other. This was all glued together with the love of the music, hours / days of playing music to each other at afterparties.
At one of these afterparties I was introduced to the CLR podcasts series, specifically Function 088, which I suppose was when I began my fascination of the different structures and techniques of how the music was made. This really introduced me to other styles of Techno and let me find my own style.
What then made you get into actually working with music? Why did you start DJing?
I never really intended to work with music, it was always just a passion and a social thing to me. Then the group of friends I lived with in 2010 decided to create our own event series and I became a resident of that collective in Manchester. Things have just got a bit out of control, I haven’t slept for a year and now I’m writing an interview.
When and how did you get into producing?
I was actually working at Vidal Sassoon as a creative hair stylist for 3 years and took a big decision to quit and follow my passion. I joined a music college and made good use of their equipment. It was a strange situation as I was 3 years older than everyone who had just left school.
I was using Cubase on a computer at home but the college helped me transition over to Ableton. I also had literally zero money at this time, so being able to book the college studios out at night was a huge bonus for me.
Tell me a little bit about your journey - what have been the most important pillars that led you to the artist you are today?
Len Faki was certainly a big figure (excuse the pun) In helping me get recognition for my music. In 2012, I had stopped DJ’ing in Manchester to concentrate on my productions. I came up with a new alias, Cleric and started to send some projects out.
Len was the first person that became really interested. We planned a release in 2014 on Figure and scheduled a gig at a Berghain klubnacht. This was also my first international booking and was actually my first time playing back in a club after taking a 2 year break.
Things change and people grow independently. I guess that’s what happened with me and Figure, our styles didn’t really match anymore, but I will forever be grateful for what they all did for me in the early stages of my career.
What does your production process look like? Talk me through a typical day in the studio.
I usually start by sacrificing a small goat.
I actually don’t have any rituals or routines. I’m influenced by loads of different things, it could be a film I’ve just watched or something in the news that inspires me. For instance, seeing the current political situation, I was inspired to work on the Blood & Oil EP with the title track containing a sample from Rage Against The Machine’s Zac De La Rocha.
Anything can trigger me to want to go into the studio. Thats why for me, having the studio in my house really works. I might have a sudden impulse to try something out, but if I had to travel far to get to my studio, maybe that surge of inspiration wouldn’t be as strong.
I would also feel frustrated If I went to the studio for the day and nothing was working out. Whereas, If I’m at home, I can take a break easily and come back with fresh ears.
Actually, what does your studio look like? What do you need for focusing / working on your music? (atmosphere, light, etc)
It’s definitely a mess.
I think having other people close to me is important to help me focus. I like to send ideas back and forth to friends. To me it can be one of the most important things as they give you honest feedback.
For instance, if I have spend 2 days working on a new patch that may have started off originally by sampling a toilet flushing and spent hours processing and manipulating it in overly abstract way. You can then send the sound to someone and they will bluntly tell you it sounds like it should have stayed in the toilet….They’re able to hear the sound as it is, not just some magical way you managed to piss off your neighbours for days.
What do you think about the techno scene in 2019? What has become better and worse over the last ten years?
They’re many pros and cons to the most recent changes in our scene. Yes, there is a lot of money in it nowadays and people like to complain about how it’s grown into a mass audience scene. There’s a lot of negativity surrounding these certain areas of our scene. I believe you just have to let people do their own thing and concentrate on yourself.
Yeah, I have my views on social media and how its used by others, but that’s their choice. If you constantly think negatively about what other people are doing, you’ll never be happy in yourself. Personally, I try to approach it like another creative platform or outlet, rather than constantly posting updates.
Musically, I think things have got a lot harder and faster recently, which suits me perfectly. I have always been a fan of aggression in music, but it’s got to be done correctly. It’s easy to put the whack up the bpm and post a video to your Instagram showing that your playing at 140bpm. However, it’s really the journey that’s involved in getting there with the crowd that's important - that’s ultimately what it’s all about.
People forget it’s our role to create an experience for the crowd, it’s not about feeding our own egos.
What are you liking and disliking about the DJ lifestyle?
When I was younger. I always said to myself that you have one short life and to try and see as much of the world as possible. Some of the rewarding things I’ve experienced have all been from touring. Yeah, it can suck when flights are delayed 8 hours, or you miss connections, but I’m forever grateful for what touring has been able to offer me.
Why did you found Clergy?
Like my productions, I wanted to create something that was cemented in time after I had gone. The difference with starting your own label is you are able to control every aspect of track selections, artwork and planning different series. Almost like an artist or fashion designer creating a collection.
I love the label, it will forever be my first child.
You’re mainly using the label as an outlet for your own music - but there have been contributors like Dax J or Kwartz - what qualifies them to release on Clergy?
Obviously the music comes first, I always used to say that that it’s fundamental to work with people have to represent the label and it’s views. It’s important to have a group of people with the same vision and outlook.
I’m extremely happy to have worked with the artists I have done, they have all become great friends to me. We also have our own Clergy/Projects Whatsapp group where we share studio ideas back and forth, but more recently its turned into a meme group.
What is Clergy to you? You’re also releasing on other labels, when is a Cleric production a Clergy production?
Good question, I don’t really know what makes me decide this. With Clergy I work towards a sound or a story within an EP, but with releasing on other labels their management might not want the A1 and B1 to be together, so you never know what the finish result looks like.
Like I mentioned before, you can be in full control of the release on your own label. Working with another table can sometimes be like telling an artist you can paint whatever they wanted, but you can’t use a certain colour.
For Voltage festival you are showcasing a new live performance - how comes? Why the decision to perform live?
I’ve always wanted to play live as I think its the best way to be able to showcase your personal sound and style. I love DJ’ing, but there is something about producing that has always got to me.
When I started to tour around the world, I got to see how passionate people were about the tracks I have created. It's extremely humbling to travel to the other side of the world and hear people tell you that some something I had made holds a special place in their heart.
So I thought as I was always playing with the idea of a live set, it was time to sit down and be able to offer something back to the people that are into my productions.
What is your live setup made of? Which elements are you using for what?
I have experimented with a lot of different techniques and equipment over the course of developing the live set, as it was important for me to have the tools to act quickly and keep the set interesting and different.
For example, I have the Xone 92 as the core mixer with each channel having a different machine input. One channel is for the Octatrak, another Is for the Roland Tr8s, both with my personal loaded samples into. The third channel has a Roland TB03 for some live acid and finally I have a laptop running Ableton through the apollo twin sound card. I’m also using the return channels for the Eventide H9 and a Chaos pad to be able to send each channel individually into the effects.
The laptop for me was something that came in and out of the set up. I have a thing about DJs / live artists staring directly into a laptop screen and wasnt sure if I wanted to use it. For me, I think it offers so much more possibilities and keeps it lot more interesting.
For instance, I have different scenes on Ableton that I can trigger which might last for a few minutes of automation. Automation that would require more than 2 hands to program. This gives me more possibilities to improvise in different situations on the other machines whilst this automation going on.
And how is a Cleric live performance different from a Cleric DJ performance?
They're both very different in their own way. DJin’g to me is about reading the crowd and going down a path that suits that particular moment or environment. Whereas, with a live performance, my focus is more on showcasing myself and my sound and style of production.
What is exciting about performing live? And is there anything that annoys or scares you about it?
I literally shit myself every time, but if you’re not getting nervous before a show, then your doing something wrong. Nerves show you that you care for what you are doing.
Are we going to read more “Cleric (live)” on upcoming line-ups? Or are you even tired of DJing?
I’m defiantly not tired of DJ’ing itself, if anything I get more excited by each show, knowing I can offer more from what I have learnt if I get the chances and opportunities. I’m not sure I will ever tire from something that has become so much a part of me.
Regarding the live shows, we are trying to keep these quite exclusive, only a few shows a year for the right occasions and certain promoters, but there will be a few more coming up for sure.
You are debuting at Voltage festival this year - had you heard of it when the request came? What did you think of it?
Actually, we almost confirmed last year, but unfortunately things didn’t work out.
From the outside looking in, it’s a festival that doesn’t seem driven by the obvious festival bookings just to sell tickets, it’s taking risks which is something I really appreciate in this scene.
Nowadays there are a lot of corporations seeing the possibility to make a large amount money by creating a festival without any substance. You can usually tell by the programming which festivals actually have a passion for the music. Voltage being one.
Do you like playing at festivals and is there anything you consider about a festival before confirming a booking?
About 2 years ago I actually told my agency that at the time I didn’t really enjoy DJing at big stages or festivals, as you can miss that crowd connection which should be the focus of how you build your set, something you get in intimate clubs.
Now, since I developed my live set, I see performing a live at a festival differently. You don’t always need that certain feedback to work out which way you want to go like a DJ set, you go with your own personal flow of the music as every component is interchangeable.
What can people expect from your live-set? Is it going to be a similar sound like your DJ sets?
Sure, I’m wasn't planning to start rapping or anything.
With the live set being solely my productions, it’s a better representation of my style in some ways. Whereas, my DJ set is more of my own interpretation of other’s people’s tracks and expressing my style and performance through this.
I still have a passion for aggression in music, either that be a live show, a DJ set or even a Spotify playlist. (Other streaming services are available - laughs)
- Interview by Lukas Hansen