A Space Between – An Interview with Drox

One day, during a torrential rainstorm in Sydney, Australia, Adrian Burns felt particularly inspired to make some music. With the internet down and his day job resigned to the back of his mind he felt a creative urge nudge at him. It had been two years since his last self-released EP as his main artistic outlet, DROX and with the rain lashing down on the zinc roof of his house in a suburb of Sydney, he took the short walk from his back door to his studio in his backyard and fired up his equipment. With the hum of his immense collection of synthesisers, drum machines, computer and mixing desk, he set out to create some new music. “I pulled out some sketches and made some new stuff and that formed the basis of the EP”, remembers Adrian some months later over a Skype call. Using those pieces and some older, finished pieces, “that fit in with the concept”, Adrian put together Rainflow, four tracks of dubby dancefloor creations that sit somewhere between Basic Channel’s more meditative rhythms and Matthew Herbert’s intricate sound design.

Rainflow is a change in approach for DROX, one that sees him move away from the contrapuntal raw machine music made for dancing we’ve come to know from the Australian producer and step into ideas of atmosphere and an aural feeling. “There’s definitely that feel — well for me anyway — of that idea of background noise and things in the distance which is what I was trying to convey,“ explains Adrian. It comes together through four magnificent tracks that progress with the ease of a Sunday morning, enveloped in a wispy, fragile atmosphere that crunch just beneath the surface. Like the sound of rain filling every moment of silence, Rainflow bounds with a distant noise, filling in the gaps between the beats as drum machines and synthesisers pulse with repetition like a mantra.

Although only the second solo release to make it out from DROX and a departure from the electro/IDM of his first EP, Adrian Burns is no amateur at music and today has carved out a career as a producer, DJ and electronic music figure in his hometown Sydney as one of its unsung underground heroes. I first met Adrian in London, UK where he had shown me a way into the obscurities of genres, tying lines of reference between the likes of Black Devil Disco Club and Mr. Ozio like a selector and collector. A very informed and technically skilled musical mind, he’s a DJ and producer that has taken his time and wasted none of anybody else’s with frivolous musical anecdotes to get to this point. Both Pitch The System and Rainflow are consolidated releases that share a little of Adrian’s diverse eclectic influences in different ways while at the same time relaying some of the producer’s musical identity.

Adrian I had always known to be a true master at the incredible possibilities of the inanimate machines and the tactile and human possibilities they contain, so it came as no surprise when a few years back I had received word that he and a friend had collaborated to establish a new studio space as Analog Cabin. When Felix Warmuth who Adrian describes as “a friend who I’d written a lot of music with in the past” had found themselves living in the same city for the first time in many years the two friends quickly fell back into old routines, working together both as artists, DJs and promoters. When Felix, during a purchase of a Sequential Circuits drum machine “found out about a studio” the two made a quick decision to take over the space and set up the Analog Cabin. They immediately moved in and “bought a desk”, but a big part of establishing project was “setting it up”. Learning a lot about practical things like soldering while at the same time expounding on their creative knowledge with things like signal routing. Good friends Rob Erskine & Mike Witcombe also joined and started working out of the studio space, and naturally also became an integral part of the label. As other people generally just dropped by to hang out or record, the Analog Cabin expanded, and today it has modulated into a little community in Sydney.

From there, they’ve quickly evolved from two friends in a studio to something of a musical collective that has seen people like Trus’me record an album there and curious individuals like Legowelt just drop in to admire the space and touch the synthesisers.  

A digital label too has sprung out of the space today and DROX’s Rainflow marks the third release from them. The label, which so far features one compilation and another EP by Nude Dude, is very much about the “people that are involved in the space and people that have come down and record” there. As a result they “had a lot of music — archives and hard drives of unreleased stuff —  and there had always been a vague plan to release some of the music”, for all the people involved in Analog Cabin. Adrian himself had spent many a long nights in the studio after a normal working day, working till 3am and “spending a lot of hours just writing”, before heading home, crashing and doing it all again the next day. At one point they came  to the conclusion:  “Ok cool we’ve got all this great music, but what are we going to do with it” and the label was inevitably born.

In the meantime they’d also started working on Truss’me‘s Planet 4 album, an album in which they “were involved in the initial creative process” and engineered. “It was interesting because while we were in the studio, he started talking about some of the concepts that made it onto the album” remembers Adrian and that resonated with Adrian’s work as DROX. “I quite liked that”, clarifies Adrian ”creatively thinking it out before you do stuff”. It’s a method that was central to Rainflow too as Adrian went about crafting that atmosphere that makes such an significant impact on the EP. It’s “pretty close” to the sound Adrian has always strived for as DROX , and he believes he has certainly “improved in that area” on this EP.

Central to Adrian’s working processes is the machines and as you can expect from a label called Analog Cabin they are prominent feature, but Adrian is nothing if not diverse. “One thing I like to have is a contrast”, says Adrian, so to avoid “getting caught up in being exclusively analogue and sounding pretty lo-fi,” Adrian likes to incorporate a lot of “high quality digital stuff in the box.” Most of the work on the EP was done at home, and while some pieces started out as jams at the Analog Cabin, Adrian enjoys the luxury of having an equally impressive space at home to finish pieces and record new tracks, at more reasonable hours than the 3AM timeslot  he’d gotten at the cabin. “Rather than working late at night” he would work on music during the morning, and today believes it might have had a significant influence on the writing process.

Still Night from the EP evokes some of that feeling that you might get in a club at seven in the morning, but more than that it also ties a thread to the other tracks on the EP, something Adrian specifically tries to convey in the tracks that he selected for the EP. The tracks “have a similar feel, but they also feel like different parts of an evening”, says Adrian. With six tracks to choose from he dropped two in favour for the tracks that “sat well together, almost like a documentation of an evening.” It was a new method to Adrian’s more effervescent machine creations from before and showed “a different style” to what DROX usually sounds like, without losing touch of the core essence of his creations. Rotor Vibe (Dub Mix) became the catalyst and the lynchpin for the entire EP, a track Adrian had sweetened on after doing a little more editing. Through Rotor Vibe we draw parallels to the other tracks with each following its own distinct path towards the dance floor with that focus on sound design the pivot point throughout the EP.

For his next EP however Adrian hopes to leave the dance floor behind and although the concept hasn’t quite formulated entirely in his mind, he envisions “getting some other people involved” and “getting outside of their comfort zone” on a future physical release. He wants to “push forward on the whole concept idea” while at the same time “learning new techniques and trying different things” away from the dance floor. ”I’ve written dance floor stuff for a while, so I thought it would be a nice challenge to give that a try”, and although this is merely the first signs of a sprouting seed, something surely impressive will flower from this, much like a torrential pour inspired what became Rainflow.