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Sturge [Interview]

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Hailing from Ireland but now calling the UK home, Sturge has been promoting electronic music events across Europe and beyond for many years; from Belfast to Burning Man and London to Berlin. As a DJ first, the London resident is as comfortable playing anything from downbeat to techno, but his eclectic sets usually veer towards emotive and driving melodic techno - emotion is paramount in all his selections and taking the listener on a journey is always the intention. As much a regular in the underground scene as he is on some of main the stages in London and at Burning Man, he has shared the stage with the likes of Be Svendsen, Moonwalk, Guy J, Guy Mantzur, Sabo, and YokoO, amongst others. Now, looking to make his mark as a producer, Sturge makes his Musique de Lune debut with 'What Were The Skies Like When You Were Young', alongside remixes from JFR, Dabeat and Tom Banner.

Progressive Astronaut caught up with Sturge to learn more about the release of 'What Were The Skies Like When You Were Young', his background, nightlife in Ireland, DJing and much more. Enjoy

Hi Sturge, thanks for talking to us today. How has your start to the year been so far and please tell us something interesting about your day today?

Thanks! My year has been super interesting! I just moved with my family from London to Ibiza, so we have been adjusting and embracing island life! Today I was at the legendary Word Of Mouth Radio Cafe in Santa Eulalia, where I am a resident most Sundays. We had some amazing music being played from my pals Reza Safinia, Bawab and Jacqui Mateo. It was a really nice evening! Great artists.

Let’s look back on the first half of the year. What is a track which has come out this year that has impressed you the most and why?

There have been so many tracks, but if I had to choose one I would choose Hammer’s remix of Vigil by Golden Features. It encapsulates a sound I veer towards a lot in my sets. The rolling bassline with the ethereal pads and indie vocal work perfectly, it’s a standout track for me.

What was the music genre you discovered first before you turned to electronic music, and what made you continue with the latter? 

It has always been electronic for me from a very young age! I was listening to Ultrasonic, QFX and very early Carl Cox tapes in the early 90s when my mates were listening to Greenday and Smashing Pumpkins! I still have those tapes somewhere in my Dad’s house!

I believe you started promoting parties across Europe before venturing into production, please tell us about your early days promoting events and what made you decide to be an active contributor to the scene in this way?

I was always involved in a minor way when my friends ran techno and acid techno raves in Belfast in the early 2000s, helping at the door or whatever was required. This became more of a passion in the late 2010s when I started running parties in London in smaller venues at first, that then developed into large scale events reaching a peak of 1500 people at one stage. However, I always found it extremely stressful, checking your phone every morning to check ticket sales; and being really happy to break even after putting so many hours in! It's a very difficult game and I have a huge respect for promoters these days. Once production became a focus, I simply didn’t have the time to promote any longer and I would not say I am a promoter these days.

However, I am still involved in putting parties on related to the Burning Man camps I have been involved with over the years. We have had some great nights in Berlin, San Francisco, Ireland and London over the last few years.

What is a track that reminds you of these early days promoting events and what event/situation do you associate with it?

Always the tracks that come to my mind are the mid-90s classics. One track in particular is Rez by Underworld from 1994, this is my favourite track of all time and I still play it a lot, it's timeless. I can’t associate it with one time in particular, but it reminds me a lot of that period. Sorry I can’t be more precise!

You transitioned into being a producer eventually as well, was that just a natural progression and how did you decide to start learning how to produce? Did you have someone help you or are you completely self-taught?

I have always believed that to make it properly as a DJ you need to be producer as well, so it was the next stage of a natural journey for me. I put in an insane number of hours over 5 years learning as much as I could, some self-taught, but also a lot of tutoring from Stevie R, not only one of the world’s best producers, but an incredible teacher. I really wish he lived in Ibiza! I have plans to go and visit him soon in his new studio in Greece to collaborate which will be a real honour and full circle moment for me! I owe everything to him; I really mean that.

How did growing up in Ireland influence your music taste and direction? Or did it not at all?

If I think about, Ireland has always had an amazing dance music scene, this has been my main influence and it filtered down to me at a very young age. I was going to underage raves listening to happy hardcore from 11 onwards! DJs like Tizer, Trix, Carl Cox (the original 3 deck wizard) and Paddy Frazer stand out! There were some very famous nightclubs for that age group, Whispers in Groomsport, The Knightsbridge in Newtownards the first that come to mind.

That then progressed into blagging in with fake ID to the likes of Kellys in Portrush and The Coach, this was bang in the mid-nineties Trance Era that I think influences my tracks to this day still.

Finally, we became regulars every weekend in Shine in Belfast from 2000 or so onwards, purist techno, Carl Cox, Green Velvet (pre tech house!) live, Dave Angel, Dave Clarke, Rolando etc. To this day the best dancefloor in the world, sadly it does not exist in the original format now and is a much bigger beast, but the Mandela Hall days are a thing of legend and a huge influence on me still.

Who else from Ireland inspired you when you first discovered electronic music? And what was it about their DJing or production which led you to pursue it yourself?

Being born and raised in Belfast, The Shine residents Alan Simms, Simon McDermott and Phil Kieran stand out. They played every week usually before the headliner, always incredible sets, epic DJs; and Phil is still crushing it today! Huge inspirations to a lot of the Belfast music community.

Then obviously the likes of David Holmes who has been so prolific through the years.

It was many years after this that I started production, so the likes of Hammer, Bicep, Swoose, Sally C and Cromby are the more recent acts that inspire me. What they are doing globally is crazy right now, something Ireland should be very proud of! So consistent and raising the bar.

What are some of your best memories from first going to clubs in Ireland? Were there specific nights or sets that really made you feel you wanted to pursue electronic music?

Shine was (and still is to a certain extent) the best club in Belfast growing up, it was like a church and going was our religion. Everyone would buy their paper tickets in advance for the following Saturday. (Annie Mac would very often be working the door on the way in!).. You would get in the huge queue early so you would maximise your time in the venue (10pm - 3am  only!), the calibre of DJs was the best in the world at that time and there was rarely a bad set, the moments shared on that dancefloor at the front left speaker remain one of my inspirations to keep going and pursuing a career in dance music.

You relocated London to Ibiza, please tell us about the differences in nightlife between the two and how the change has affected your inspiration and creative process in the studio.

London is an incredible city and has probably the best lineups and clubs in the world. Consistently all year round, every weekend, there is so much going on! From underground warehouse raves to huge productions in the likes of Printworks (RIP!). There is almost too much to choose from. It really is the benchmark, in my eyes, in regard to offering all genres in one city. Others come close but can’t tick all the boxes.

Ibiza is totally different, it is seasonal, Summer is crazy and the parties are insane! I avoid the big clubs in peak season mostly and spend my time in the likes of Cova Santa, Pikes and sensational Aksaha, where I have been lucky enough to play a few times.

The consistency of London versus the fluctuations of Ibiza has definitely disrupted my flow in the studio a bit which I did not expect, I now realise I need routine! However, I have been patient and spent a lot of time working on a hybrid live set that I am keen to start playing out soon. I have more tracks ready to release and am getting the head down this Summer with the aircon on to focus on the next batch of tracks.

You have a new single ‘What Were The Skies Like When You Were Young’ which is available now via Musique de Lune. Tell us a bit about the track, the title choice and what sort of vibe you were going for on it. And how much play has it gotten in your sets and to what reaction?

The title choice is very simple, which I always like to be with track names, it’s the opening words of the beautifully haunting vocal..

The track came together very quickly one evening in my London studio, I then revisited it a few weeks later as I usually do and I knew I needed to take it to the next level. So, I brought in a very famous cellist friend, Johnny Byers, who I am very lucky to know! He nailed the cello in literally one take!

I was always going for old school breaks and rave journey with this one, but also trying to keep it ambient and not too hard at the same time. I wanted it to be a track that can be played in many kinds of sets. I have used it as a breaker in a harder set, but also as an emotive closer as well. I love its versatility! The reception to it has been a really nice thing to experience as I can see people react to its old school vibes.

Let our readers inside your studio for a moment, what is your current setup and what studio tools are featured heavily in your recent productions and more specifically on your ‘What Were The Skies Like When You Were Young’?

So, I have just finished my revamp with some lovely GIK acoustic panels and traps. Gear wise I currently have a Moog Minitaur, Behringer Poly D, Behringer Pro One, Arturia Microfreak, Roland TR8S & a Roland SH01A, all feeding into the Scarlett 18i20 which is the hub of the studio. I also have the Arturia Beatstep pro midi synced to all my hardware so I can jam Dawless and get inspired that way.  I also try not to add more than 5 or 6 items of hardware as it can become too distracting. These all feature on most productions in some way. I also use many soft synths, too many to list! My current favourites are the Knifonioum and the Arturia V5 suite, especially Pigments and SEMv2 in that bundle.

On this track the Moog Features heavily in the bass line, from memory the call and response plucks are from a tweaked preset in the Artura bundle.

Most elements feature some element of reverb using Valhalla Vintage Verb. Soundtoys Echoboy is also used to a heavy extent across the various elements. Soundtoys Decapitator is also on nearly every track in a production, just to give it that added extra dimension. These are very famous plugins, but they really do stand out and I highly recommend them.

There are also great remixes from JFR, Dabeat and Tom Banner, how involved were you in the selection process and why were these artists a good fit for this track?

I left it up to the label to choose the remixers as I trust their judgement and process. I love who they selected, incredible producers. I think the remixes are a great compliment to the original and the EP is really strong as a result!

You’ve not had much music out yet, so it’s safe to say this is a monumental release for you, what was it about Musique de Lune that made the label a great home for this project?

Correct, aside from bootlegs, edits and some self-released stuff, this is just the start for me professionally. I have been very patient with the process, I could have been releasing, in my eyes, fairly average tracks that don’t stand out, stuff I don’t even think I would play much. My benchmark is, would I buy this and play it? If not, don’t release it! Nowadays I really like the tunes and I play them out, so the time is right!

Musique De Lune has always been my target label to release first on and I love what they are doing, the team is great, JFR is a great label manager. The organic growth they have achieved in a relatively short space of time is incredible. It will be a really exciting few years for the label as I have been told what is coming next year! Watch this space!

Now let’s talk about DJing for a moment. You’ve had some high profile gigs over the years, playing at Burning Man, as well as events across Europe and America. I’ve read your sets can be quite eclectic, how would you describe your approach to DJing?

I am a bit older than most of my peers and I pride myself on utilising my knowledge of the 90s onwards and the vast collection of music that I have been religiously collecting from that period onwards. I like to try and get 5 decades into most sets, but sometimes this can be tricky, there will nearly always be 4 though! I try and make that a rule most of the time, coupled with crossing genres during the set, it keeps it interesting for me and the dancefloor!

Can you tell me a bit about how your work as a DJ and performing for larger crowds has influenced your view of music, your way of listening to tracks and perhaps also, your work as a producer?

DJing is always my favourite part of being an artist and always will be, I thrive on it. Playing for larger crowds is exceedingly satisfying, however, give me a 300 cap club (with no phones) and that is my sweet spot! When I play at a festival to a larger crowd, I always find myself being a lot more eclectic and throw in a lot more surprises to catch them off guard! As above, I love playing stuff from every decade from the 80s onwards that have people scratching their heads trying to identify it. There are so many gems that people haven’t heard, Like Eterna by Slam which is from 1995, but it sounds better than most records produced today! When I produce, I make many different styles, but I always have a dancefloor situation where I can imagine it being played; and I try and channel that energy into the track, thinking as a dancer, as much as a producer.

How much prep do you put into the sets you play, or are they spontaneous for the most part?

I always remember an interview with Carl Cox years ago where he said he will prepare 50 tracks that he thinks would fit the gig and picks out of that pool. So, I have always followed this principle and it works really well for me. It creates a bit of control my side but gives enough room for spontaneity on the day. My friend Jim Rider from All Day I Dream; and who is also involved at Musique De Lune once said to me “fail to prepare, prepare to fail” and I really live by this. It is lazy in my eyes not to prepare at least something for a gig. I research the club, the brand and the potential crowd before most gigs.

Current Top five tracks in your sets?

Vigil (Hammer remix) - Golden Features

Falling Up - Carl Craig

Turn the Page - The Streets, Overmono

Eterna (Petrichor Remix) - Slam

Together - Mano Le Tough

If you could set up an event with a line-up of five artists of your choice, who would you book and what set times would you ascribe to the artists?

Wow, this is a hard question! Something like -

DJ Tennis 10-12

Hammer 12-2

Ame Live 2-3.30

Moderat live 3.30-5

Dixon - 5 to Close, whenever that is, he is the top DJ in the world in my view.

If you were not a DJ/Producer what do you think you’d be doing with your life? (Something not music related) 

Probably working more heavily in Finance and being extremely bored!

If you are not DJing, producing in the studio or socializing at clubs, where do we find you? And doing what?

You will find me traveling or at home with my amazing family, I am very lucky to have them to go home to after gigs. My wife is very supportive of me gigging so much! Also hosting friends and extended family, or chilling on the beach in Ibiza! I feel very fortunate these days.

What’s something people do not know about you?

I am a qualified accountant!

What TV series have you been enjoying recently and what are some of your all time favourites?

All time favourites are Always Sunny in Philadelphia, Peep Show, Breaking Bad and Narcos.

Recently I haven’t had much time to watch TV but Guy Ritche’s The Gentleman stands out.

What can we look forward to from you for the rest of 2024? Any releases or gigs you are looking forward to? 

I am literally just back from my favourite festival in the world, a small boutique one in Galway Ireland called Ealu Le Gra (Translates as "Escape With Love"), I have been fortunate enough to play it the last few years.. I have Burning Man round the corner now where I help to curate a stage called Celtic Chaos with my good mate and fellow emerging Irish DJ Daithi Krushier. The Burn is going to be a big focus over the next few months as I have multiple gigs there. I also have my residency in Ibiza at WOM Radio Cafe, where I get to dig deep in my collection to deliver the Balearic vibes every Sunday. This has really pushed me deep into my collection to properly dig! However, production needs to come first for a while, so I am very happy to keep my gigs to a minimum for a while as I refocus on that. I have another release coming on Musique de Lune, but we are just waiting on a remix to be finalised before getting it out. Keep an eye out for it and some others I am lining up.

'What Were The Skies Like When You Were Young' is available now via Musique de Lune: https://tinyurl.com/2djep53b

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