We had a chat with Melbourne up and comer Lou Karsh about all things music and his inaugural European tour. The acid enthusiast was also sweet and tender in contributing an hour of live material exclusively for 6AM.
Tell us about your musical background. How did you end up producing electronic music?
I actually tried out a few different instruments when I was young. It was guitar that I thought I would never stop playing, probably until I discovered 90s hip hop one random late night on a crappy mp3 player when I was probably 14-15. I used to focus more on the beats without ever paying too much attention to the actual lyrics. My earliest attempts at producing followed instantly, which included ripping breakbeat records from YouTube and stitching them together in Windows Movie Maker. I would add audio to a blank video and would be forced to re-bounce the entire thing every time I wanted to add another audio track. Soon after that a friend put me onto the program Reason, but it wasn’t really until the end of high school that I properly started getting into dance music. I listened to a bit of it from time to time before that, but as my friends and I started going out more and one of my closest mates started DJing, I naturally eased into making some dance bits here and there. It wasn’t really until I got my first hardware drum machine that it started to become an obsession of mine.
Nice. Which drum machine?
It was a Korg ER1. When I first got it I used to record some jams with that alone. It’s super intuitive and easy to pick up straight away by anyone. It’s like this strange analog modelling rhythm synthesiser capable of making some pretty standard drum sounds, which is what I used it for initially. Then, as I started getting some different gear, I started using using the ER1 for stranger digital bleeps and zaps- kind of like a rhythmical 1 shot synth. It’s got some extremely powerful features and I still use it regularly- it’s a particularly useful tool for electro which has been growing on me a lot recently.
What do you do with yourself outside of music and how do these things influence your creative process?
Most things I’m doing these days tie back to the music in some way or another, so it’s pretty hard to escape. This year I’ll be finishing my final year of Communication Design, which I’ve been trying to balance with music stuff. Quite often I’ll merge both the music and design which is nice. It’s great to be able to handle all the artwork for my own record label LKR Records, as well as do other small freelance jobs within the industry from time to time. Even catching up with friends usually results in conversation about music and more likely than not, if it’s at night time, it will be in a venue that is playing music. It can be a lot to take in sometimes. There are some things I do, such as skateboarding, which are a complete cut off from the music and that’s great, although to be perfectly honest just about all time spent outside of the studio drives me to get back in there.
Having listened to the 303 for a while prior to using one to produce music, do you remember what it was like to actually first get your hands on the hardware? Did it feel like a completely different experience?
The funny thing was that I wasn’t really into acid lines until I actually had gotten my 303. I liked them, but not to the extent I do now. I just wanted some more gear and the Bass Bot TT303 seemed to be a good fit in my setup at the time. A pretty much new and unused one popped up for sale around the corner from me for a good price, so I thought “fuck it, why not.” It wasn’t until I got back home and started toying with the filters on some very basic patterns that I really got into it. Pretty much straight away I downloaded the manual, printed it out and tried to wrap my head around the nicks and nacks of programming bass lines. There were moments I was even practicing writing patterns in my bed with headphones before I went to sleep at night.
Did it take a while to learn? The TT303 is known for being notoriously hard to program.
It took a little while to learn it. There is definitely a learning curve thats for sure, but its not rocket science either. Anyone can do it, provided they are willing to put a bit of time into it. The TT303 has such a powerful sequencer I’m still learning more things about it all the time actually. I’m glad I’ve put the time in that I did, as now I’m able to imagine a melody in my head and get it into a pattern on the TT fairly easily, rather than just input a random scatter of notes and timing information.
I know Tin-Man has had a big impact on your music. Can you elaborate on this?
Yeah he totally has and still does! I just really love the way he programs a 303. As I didn’t have many synths at the time that I had my 303, I had to learn ways to program patterns differently, rather than the straight up 16th step squelch which honestly gets pretty boring after a while. I listened to lots of Tin Man as inspiration to turn the 303 into more of a lead instrument than a bass instrument. It was a whole other story once I saw him play live in Melbourne and learned of the possibilities with two 303s. There was one point fairly recently when I had the three different analog 303 clones in my rig. It was fun.
Sure. I remember being blown away by him at Boney a few years ago, likely the same night. How was he utilising the two 303s?
To be honest i couldn’t really tell you, it was a while ago now. I was impressed as I had never really considered using two before. I wasn’t paying too much attention as to how he was using them. It’s always a bit awkward when someone stands at the front staring and watching every movement of the person playing. I was more just aware that he had two and it sounded great, whatever it was that he was doing. It lead to my own experiments, and generally I found that two work really well together when you have one playing some lower pitched notes and the other playing some higher pitched notes.
Tell us about your studio set up. Further, does it differ much from your live show set up?
My studio set up is pretty much all pieces that can be used easily in a live set up. I often find myself swapping a few pieces into the live rig here and there. I basically run a bunch of things with their own internal sequencing, which makes it really easy to get some loops going in no time at all. Currently I’m running two 303 clones that have different sounds and generally I’ll just use the TT303 for acid. Recently I’ve been using a future retro revolution 2 for it’s filter input, which I quite often pair with a small Modular rack I’ve been building. I’ve got a few small mixing desks, which I’ll swap in and out for different reasons.
Are you writing tracks to be used specifically for your live-sets?
Yeah pretty much all tracks I write and finish currently are arranged on the computer. Since I’m running an all hardware rig for live shows, there are limitations as to how much I can have going at the same time. My live set is a much more minimal take on my music, which is really refreshing. I’m able to keep track and be under control of each aspect at all times- it’s actually a different production process completely. But yeah, I would say around 90% of my live set is new material. From time to time I’ll use a bass line or kit from a track I’ve released if it’s suitable. Also some of what I’ve created for a live set will end up being a part of a future track for release.
Do you find playing live influences the work you do in the studio?
Definitely. Sometimes playing live can really be the test in working out if you should follow through with some ideas and create a finished track out of a live set track. It’s generally pretty obvious if the floor isn’t digging something you’re playing live. Sometimes it’s a matter of improving that track, whereas other times it’s a sign that the track can be replaced with something new and more suitable.
You’re embarking on a European tour next week. Tell us a bit about it and how you’re feeling.
I’m obviously very excited, but also quite nervous as well. It’s the break I’ve been waiting on for some time now so I cant wait to get away from study and work for a while. I’ve got some cool gigs lined up with people I’ve been in contact with a while now. I guess I’m most excited about meeting all these new friends and playing shows with them in some places I’ve never visited before. I’ll also be meeting up with some very close friends of mine from Melbourne too which will be wicked, we’ve got a date lined up where all three of us are playing a night in Zurich. As excited as I am to go to Europe, I am also equally excited to return back to Australia, as for the first time in 3 years I wont have any study commitments. I feel like there will be there huge weight off my shoulders and I’ll be able to spend more focused time on producing and playing shows for the first time in a long time.
Lou Karsh’s new EP ‘Passenger’ can be purchased HERE.