Originating as the electronic musical vehicle of Dom Cresswell, AUW has now arrived fully synthwave enabled.

The first instrumental album ‘Across the Plains’ embraced that setting with uplifting melodies and lush reflective moods accompanied by crisp electronic rhythms honed through Cresswell’s past experience in techno, breakbeat and synthpop whilst also displaying cyberpunk elements.

The recently issued second album ‘Twilight Drives’ developed on that tradition with ‘Yellow & Confidence’ being a highlight.

Live, the DAWLess AUW has been augmented by the outlandish but welcoming persona of Seb Durkin and seeing an opportunity to stimulate business at eateries and venues following the pandemic, came up with Duskwaves, a family friendly daytime music event series that has taken place in Kent and London.

Dom Cresswell and Seb Durkin of AUW chatted about their abandoned uranium workings and thoughts on a number of eclectic topics.

ABANDONED URANIUM WORKINGS has been making music for over 20 years embracing techno, breakbeat, production and now synthwave, what prompted you to align yourselves to the movement so vividly?

Dom: Well, I am after all, an 80s child (the clue is in the hairline) so I’ve always felt very comfortable engaging the combination of modern and retro, in both music and gaming scenes. The first bits of synthwave I heard were courtesy of Seb sending me a link to NewRetroWave on YouTube around 2013/14 (he must have known me well). I didn’t really think of working in the genre at the time – if anything, I was on a break from writing music.

It was a few years later I had put some of the more chill synth stuff onto an Arcade cabinet of mine and thought “it would be nice to have something of mine on there” – next thing I knew, I was experimenting with elements of the sound, but all it did was give me the freedom to use a bunch of actual 80s synth sounds akin to Roger Limb in the BBC Radiophonic Workshop which would have been a bit out of place if I’d still been writing tech-house.

Seb: I’m not sure I would necessarily say I align in the strongest sense of the word. My background fundamentally is in “DIY / noise / sludge / doom” but predominantly I love music and I feel like if that’s the case, then anything’s on the table. I think I had a connection with the music Dom was making and the melodies struck me pretty immediately. All this said, there is a part of me certainly that warmed texturally to the genre. It’s given me an opportunity to sing too and whilst I still consider myself somewhat of a charlatan in that field, the endeavour I believe is good for me.

Dom, you produced the 2009 album ‘Navigation’ by ARTHUR & MARTHA, what was it like to work with your brother Adam on that? Is bitter sibling rivalry in music just legend or is it for real?

Dom: Seems like an age ago now… in hindsight, it’s nice to have had that experience together – although it wasn’t our first ever musical collaboration – we tried our hand at a few tracks together back in the 90s, I was sequencing on my Amiga, and he was recording to 4-track tape! If you’d asked me at the time, I’d have probably said it was quite a challenge, but certainly no rivalry, not then or now.

I do recall many time-consuming small mix changes that I’m not convinced anyone would hear anyway. I think we’re both quite detail orientated in our music writing so that probably wasn’t the most productive combination. I’d have to check which track it was that Adam and Alice asked for the end organ to have “the sound of a distant fairground” or something… I do remember they were happy with the result but it certainly felt like one of those Martin Hannett moments.

Your most recent album ‘Twilight Drives’ features an AUW remix of ‘Miscalculations’ from Adam’s current project Rodney Cromwell, how has technology moved on in your process over the 12+ years since ‘Navigation’?

Dom: I stopped using Cubase long ago in favour of Ableton shortly after that album, and I would have only used software samplers back then, never synths – now I’ll use anything. I still like to use the hardware where I can – particularly for layering, but the fact I can do a huge chunk of production and mixing sat on the sofa makes the whole process a lot more accessible, and far speedier, especially whilst not being a full-time musician.

I never really had a problem with software FX, but now there are so many more available, and some are so much smarter, Trackspacer for example is just genius. But also now, I have a small number of softsynths, but I try not to be one of those people hoarding 1000 plugins that I’ll never use. You can’t really refine ‘your sound’ if you don’t put some self-imposed limits in place.

The synthwave production aesthetics shine bright on a number of instrumentals from ‘Twilight Drives’ such as ‘Europa Dawn’, ‘Europa Dusk’ and ‘Yellow & Confidence’, how were these inspired?

Dom: Ah that’s cool to hear, because sometimes I don’t really feel like my sound fits too well into what some people call synthwave anyway. ‘Yellow & Confidence’ and ‘Europa Dawn’ both started as ideas during an incredibly productive spell in 2020; nothing more than writing some chord progressions and letting the ideas naturally grow around a sound I was enjoying, which was very much focused on having a positive, chill sound, rather than moody dystopian sounds.

‘Europa Dusk’ was a little different because it started the same, but as I realised it had an incredibly similar chord progression to ‘Europa Dawn’, I started to borrow elements from that to make it a real evolution. It was the last one to make it onto the album, and in parts that shows, but it also has elements that call back to my first release as well.

The synthwave community is known for some of its gatekeeping as to what it is, so did you have to validate your credentials?

Dom: I really don’t know if I’ve validated my synthwave credentials at all! I think there are also so many sub and micro genres now that I think even the scene ties itself in knots trying to make sense of its own self – sometimes it depends on which social media echo chamber you’re in – even between Twitter, Facebook or Discord there seems to be quite a variation.

I think most scenes, particularly where you see a sudden rise in popularity or appearance in mainstream culture, tend to suffer the gatekeeping problem. In this case, it is largely those who seem to equate synthwave with a very narrow band of the scene (and hopefully they are in the minority) but to me that is just ludicrous, and actually detrimental to letting the scene grow, because all you end up with is a bunch of stale clones, and the more creative artists themselves move onto other things, or look to dissociate themselves from it.

I hope I’ve just let the music speak for itself. I think the modern elements and the occasional use of audible tropes act as a short-hand for some to associate use with synthwave, but actually I spend enough time watching 80s episodes of ‘Top of the Pops’ and enjoying NEW ORDER, ERASURE, PET SHOP BOYS, THE CURE or listening to 80s soundtracks and letting all of that soak into the sound anyway, and because I channel everything into synth sounds, surely that’s synthwave right?

But it gets a bit heated, surely it’s all just music using synths?

Seb: You know I think it’s the same with all genres. There’s a tribalism that occurs and if I’m honest I think it’s destructive. What’s the fear? That we’re a square-wave Trojan-horse hell bent on destroying something from the inside out? Or maybe people just feel like you have to earn your stripes before you’re allowed in. Either way, it’s preposterously hyper-masculine.

How can fresh blood offer anything other than variety and fresh perspective. Personally though, all the people (within synthwave at large) I’ve encountered so far, have been nothing short of cherishable. Maybe that suggests the only real gatekeeping is undertaken by hypothetical wardens of the digital realm. It’s certainly easier to be protective at distance. Right now, I’m just super excited to meet more people and play more songs.

The trouble is, “synthwave” has become this generalised term for music that doesn’t sound like it’s from the 21st century, whether it’s rock, indie, dance, synthpop or soundtrack in the same way “Italo” has now become any midtempo disco number with an octave shift “oompah” bassline… discuss!

Dom: Well this is a tricky one! It feels like it means something quite specific to a certain set of people for sure as I said earlier, but elsewhere there seem to be those with a more open mind. I define synthwave myself as nothing more than an umbrella term for synth heavy / electronic music that doesn’t fit into the usual EDM styles – although of course, there is always that retro element on top of it, but the extent of the retro, the chill, the dark sounds; they are what determine any sub-genre. I’ve actually started coining the term ‘retroclash’ when asked what one AUW falls into. I’ll leave you to fathom the semantics of that one!

Seb: Yes, this too can be confusing. For sure it feels like there’s a puritanical sect of “I was here first” synthwave fans screaming “This isn’t synthwave!” from the back of the room but pigeon-holing is just a shortcut to me finding what I want. And if I find something that I wasn’t sure I wanted, but that actually I love along the way, then who cares? Maybe we should just have done with it and describe ourselves as “oscillator pop”.

You’ve taken AUW out live, are you set to become Kent’s answer to FM-84?

Dom: Well I’d take their listener count for sure! I’m not sure Seb will appreciate being called a man of Kent though! *laughs*

I’d rather AUW stood on its own merit as something different. I’d say we’re creeping closer to NEW ORDER territory with some of the more recent live tracks, but there’s certainly a difference between what we play out, and what’s currently available on Bandcamp, Spotify and the rest. I blame Seb for that because he’s never happy with the studio recordings!

Seb: I think I’ve a burgeoning affection for the people and the county of Kent so I’ve an answer to anything then I’m happy to do it there! *laughs*

It’s trite but I think we just want to be AUW and right now me singing on some of these tracks just feels like a really good fit. It’s giving us the opportunity to perform and that’s wholly positive.

You’ve prided AUW in being DAWless live, but for those music enthusiasts who may not be technical, what does that actually mean?

Dom: In short, it means there’s no laptop on stage – ie no sequencer playing and everything comes from synth(s) / drum-machine. I didn’t really want AUW’s live performance to end up being a two man KRAFTWERK performance, otherwise I’d have just stuck to DJing.

I have no problem with those who do use DAWs live, but you’ve got to remember I was inspired for live playing by watching THE PRODIGY with Liam and his synths on stage in my formative years. Of course, I don’t really want to be lugging a bunch of synths around either at my ages, and the two little Rolands – the MC-101 and TR-6S have become the backbone of the live set.

Seb: What Dom said…

Dom: I can hear the cries of “Neeerrrdd!” from the back of the room *laughs*

Is there a hardware synth you still covet? What is your current set up?

Dom: How long have you got?? I’ve mentioned the MC-101 as a live tool, but it’s also a great machine to sit and try basic ideas out without firing up a laptop. I use it a lot as a sound module.

I still stick to my original Access Virus for a lot of sound layering, since it has such a rich sound. The Waldorf Streichfett will crop up a bit more in the next album too – one of my favourite new synths for pure sound – it reminds me of the work of Ken Freeman in the 80s.

The Novation BassStation and Korg Prophecy tend to feature more as ‘guest’ synths these days. I’d love to say I get the TB-303 in there too, but it certainly didn’t fit the sound of the last album… that’s not to say it won’t turn up again though. One of the biggest changes to my setup in the last few years was the removal of MIDI cables in favour of wireless MIDI – it was surprisingly freeing to remove a whole set of cables.

As for any I still covet… of course – there’s still loads out there I’d be happy to own and use! The question is really whether I need them. The Virus TI2 would be great to have – I understand it’s a step up from my original which would make it a beast. Roland have an annoying habit of bringing out more and more appealing compact synths – digital sure, but I know I’d enjoy the JD-08 and JX-08 and of course the Aira J6 (Roland’s answer to the Korg Volca) looks a lot of fun.

Seb: I think synthesis is fast becoming the most exciting field of musical instrument creation. I’ll stop short of quoting Alice Deejay but I think strung instruments understand their limitations. They’re design classics but synths still have so much more to give us. The explosion of the modular synth market a few years ago was a real signifier that synthesis was approaching a new age of appreciation and the endeavours people are making now are just stunning. If we’re talking coveting though, Moog’s Subharmonicon is pretty high up the list along with pretty much anything “mutable instruments” have ever made.

How did the brainwave for Duskwaves happen?

Dom: Honestly – Seb and I just wanted to play some gigs.

Seb: Yeah, exactly that. We knew that we enjoyed the fruits of our labour and we knew that if we could be excited by it, then maybe others could be too. That’s what leads you to want to play things live. I think sadly, playing shows for promoters you know nothing about is both a necessary evil and a roll of the dice all at the same time. It just sort of makes sense that we can create something for ourselves. A sort of plain where we get to set some of the parameters. Is it more work? Definitely! But it’s also comes with a lot of reward. We’re trying to provide a platform and in doing so, people are returning the favour. That’s actually so wonderful.

Dom: We’d not long come out of the 2021 lockdown and there wasn’t a lot of options available, and of course, one thing I’d seen working with Adam was that the whole synth scene looked a bit broken to me. It was London-centric, didn’t cater anything close to synthwave and seemed to be full of artists who appeared like they either didn’t want to be there or thought too much of themselves. The grass-roots style approach really appealed to me, giving relative unknowns a chance to put themselves forward, and then the idea of making it a daytime event kind of fell into place off the back of that, leading to the name!

Afternoon gigs really are the future, it appears to be working as a concept…

Dom: I hope so. I really enjoy it, and it’s a much more accommodating atmosphere for everyone, and let’s be honest a large portion of fans of this kind of music have families now and probably don’t want to be out till 3am and damaging their ears even more. The great thing about this, is you’ll only have a terrible hangover if you really want it, and you still get the evening to unwind too!

Seb: Definitely the future. As Dom mentioned, we’re kind of in a time of our lives now when spending an hour taking in the N207 night bus home has sort of lost its shine (if indeed there was any shine to begin with). We’re just happier now knowing that we can be accommodating and still leave people with their evenings to focus on other stuff. That’s not to say we don’t want to do shows after dark. Of course we do but it’s nice to give people options.

Is the plan eventually to do a ticketed evening event?

Dom: For Duskwaves, I’d prefer not to, but never say never. I’d rather just do events in more interesting places. It’s nice that on a couple of occasions we’ve now found other ways of paying artists and rewarding them for being involved, thanks to some Arts Council backing, and rewarding those who are involved is the only incentive I would have for a ticketed event. If we were do something more evening based, I’d like to think we’d do something new with it, or instead hopefully just get involved with some of the others doing this kind of thing like Electric Escape.

Seb: Potentially but that doesn’t seem to be what people require of us at the moment. One of the first things we were asked when we made the announcement to our peers that we’d play live was “can I bring the kids?”, now happily we can say “yes”. I think that’s important.

Do you have a dream line-up for Duskwaves?

Dom: Emil Rottmayer because I’m a massive fanboy, plus someone else who we’ve never heard of yet, AUW of course and all of our regulars just to show them how much we appreciate them!

Seb: Truthfully I really appreciate that anyone wants to play. It’s all been pretty dreamy to date.

So ‘Drive’ is an overrated film with an overrated soundtrack? Discuss! 😉

Dom: Maybe that’s taking it a bit far! I’ll admit I only recently watched it, and I guess it’s a bit artistic with good cinematography, but I don’t really understand the association with the synth scene. Maybe there’s more on a soundtrack CD or something, but I only counted about 4 or 5 tracks? And there’s no laser grids or stripy sunsets to be seen at all! I think it really needed a Steve McQueen in the main role. I can see why some fans enjoy it though, and I will say that the fact it starts as a brooding arty movie with hardly any dialogue that isn’t mumbled, and yet still has wider popularity is something I find quite reassuring… it’s a far cry from the likes of ‘Fast & Furious’!

Seb: More a ‘Crash’ (Cronenberg) man than a ‘Drive’ guy!

Dom: That’s totally YOU Seb *laughs*

Speaking of driving, the tug of love in F1 between Alpine and McLaren for Oscar Piastri, what a mess! So is this a bit like trying to negotiate to get an act to play an event while a rival is circulating, and then the act decides to play that other event?

Dom: Wow – that has to be one of the most forced topical-metaphor questions I’ve ever had! What is this, ‘Have I Got News for You?’ *laughs*

Synth event rivals? That never happens right? What was the question again??

Seb: Synth promoter love-rival montage, soundtracked by AUW? I’m here for it!

Did THE WEEKND steal that arpeggio from MAKE UP & VANITY SET on ‘Take My Breath’? Can you copyright what is actually a technologically driven function?

Dom: Yes. Maybe – next question please!

Seb: Steal my arpeggio just don’t steal my taleggio *laughs*

What is next for Duskwaves and AUW?

Dom: Let’s start with Duskwaves – we have more artists on the books, and more promoters helping out, so that’s great to see, and we are grateful to them for wanting to be involved; we must be doing something right. I’ve always said I’d be happy to support anyone looking to organise a Duskwaves event wherever they like, and the idea was always to try and help artists and venues make those connections within the scene – maybe there will be more in that direction in the future. We are looking at a little bit of a break before lining up some Winter events – I’ll hold off on saying where until they are properly firmed up, but it’ll be all over the socials as usual.

For AUW there’s always more in the pipeline. I’m not quite done with ‘Twilight Drives’ just yet, and I’m looking at a live stream performance for it in the near future. After that, Seb and I need to get some recording done so that all those songs we keep playing out live can make their way out as releases. There’s a slightly moody reflective album to come out of that – currently titled as ‘Windowed View’ which has at least 5 of our live tracks on it. Then for other new tracks, I kind of have an idea what’s next with a couple of instrumental EPs and another vocal-centric album full of collabs. This could keep us busy for quite a while yet….

Seb: We’ll see what the future hold but just want to keep playing and writing more songs. Music will always be my first and most probably last love, so I have to honour that by giving what I can back. There’s already so much to be getting on with and I’m really excited about it.

ELECTRICITYCLUB.CO.UK gives its sincerest thanks to AUW

‘Twilight Drives’ is released by RetroSynth Records / Synthetix, available as a download from https://abandoneduraniumworkings.bandcamp.com/






Text and Interview by Chi Ming Lai
27th August 2022