In acknowledgement of his artist moniker, the first BETAMAXX album was entitled ‘Lost Formats’; released in 2012, it became acknowledged as a trailblazing example of synthwave in the wake of the Ryan Gosling movie ‘Drive’ and its acclaimed soundtrack.
Meanwhile, his 2014 remix of TANGERINE DREAM’s ‘Love On A Real Train’ brought wider recognition and enhanced his reputation.
Despite a short publically announced hiatus in 2015 following ‘Plug & Play’, he returned refreshed after a profile boost with his track ‘Redlining 6th’ from 2013’s ‘Sophisticated Technology’ being included in the soundtrack of the Sci-Fi martial arts comedy featurette ‘Kung Fury’.
2017’s ‘Archaic Science’ was like he’d never been away, but it was 2019’s ‘Lost In A Dreamworld’ featuring vocals by VANDAL MOON, GLITBITER and MECHA MAIKO that realised the crossover potential that had been itching to get out since the first BETAMAXX releases.
Despite his zest for collaborations, having also previously worked with PERTURBATOR, ARCADE HIGH and PRIMO THE ALIEN, the new BETAMAXX record ‘Sarajevo’ is a much more reflective solo offering with no vocals or vocoder, a soundtrack to an imaginary film centred around the Bosnian city that hosted the 1984 Winter Olympics.
Nick Morey kindly chatted to ELECTRICITYCLUB.CO.UK about synths and stuff in his career as BETAMAXX.
What got you interested in making music with synthesizers and who were your influences?
Good question and kind of a long story. I attribute my initial interest to Madonna’s ‘Immaculate Collection’ which was given to me on cassette by my mother at a very young age. In my late teens, I heard the track ‘Eyes Without A Face’ by Billy Idol and was smitten by the sounds and melodies that I heard. I took a trip to my local CD store (Coconuts Music, which is long since defunct) and I asked the clerk about this song. He responded “Ahhh, that’s Billy Idol with that rich synthesizer sound…” which made me realize how the music was created and how much I loved music from the 80s.
Fast forward to 2010, a good friend of mine showed me some very early “synthwave” from artists like TESLA BOY, FM ATTACK, MITCH MURDER, GRUM and MIAMI NIGHTS 1984 and I was hooked immediately. At that point, I was committed to taking my shot at making this type of music. I had already had some DAW production skills making techno and other random electronic music. By early 2012, I purchased my first truly amazing synth – the Roland Juno 60, which I still own to this day.
How do you now look back on your 2012 debut album ‘Lost Formats’, that’s a great title?
Honestly, very fondly. I still pop it on now and again and feel the energy and excitement I had back then. It finally got the proper pressing it deserved a few years back, and has since sold out. I think it will be remembered as one of the classic early synthwave albums.
Wow, I haven’t thought about that in a long time.
James and I used to chat back in the day before he got huge. And, don’t get me wrong, I am super happy for him and I think he’s a super genuine and funny guy.
I believe I reached out and simply asked him to throw some parts on it and it ended up working out.
You retired in 2015 but then Gary Numan did so in 1981… what happened there? Are artists still very much vulnerable to burn out despite history having demonstrated that applying too much pressure on musicians can lead to all sorts of issues?
This is not the first time I’ve been asked this. 2015 was a really difficult year for me personally. If I would have met 2015 “me” now, I probably would have kicked my own ass. I attribute it to a low point in my life, but I don’t regret the decisions I’ve made. Artists can be fickle at times, as a good handful of artists get swallowed up in their own emotions. I’m glad to still be producing music.
‘Lost In A Dreamworld’ could be considered your breakthrough record in that it reached audiences outside of what could be considered the synthwave scene, why do you think it was able to crossover?
Generally speaking, I like mixing things up. I like to experiment and crossover genres, especially new wave, house, Italo and post-punk. I happened to connect with Blake Voss of VANDAL MOON through my good friend Shawn Ward from FM ATTACK, and became instant friends. ‘Never Sleep Again’ was proof of this, considering it’s not much like anything else I’ve ever created.
As well as VANDAL MOON, you worked with some diverse vocalists such as GLITBITER and MECHA MAIKO to achieve the variation in styles that were collected on ‘Lost In A Dreamworld’, what was the collaborative process like with each of them?
For these specific tracks, I started with various instrumental ideas and reached out to them to see if they were interested in working with me. Thankfully, all parties agreed and I let them essentially do whatever they wanted, stepping back from a creative control standpoint and letting them have fun and do their thing.
Yes, I do. I feel like that term gets thrown around quite loosely, and I don’t really feel like I fit into that category so much anymore, being that my sound has been more or less consistent over the years.
I haven’t found the urge to start writing polished, carbon copy radio pop with a grid, a palm tree and a sunset on my album cover.
‘Disco Dreamgirl’ does what it says on the tin, was the track’s muse a real person?
I’m not at liberty to say who that is! *laughs*
So after ‘Lost In A Dreamworld’, what inspired you to compose a largely downtempo instrumental concept album such as ‘Sarajevo’?
I was really itching for something new to create and a new style to dive into. I’ve been in love with BOARDS OF CANADA’s music since my early 20s and decided that I wanted to take a crack at writing in that style. I looked at the gear that I have and realized that was totally possible, if not for some hard work and experimentation. The first track I wrote was ‘Sarajevo’, the title track on the album. I had just purchased the reissue of the Sequential Circuits Prophet 10 which provided a lot of inspirational sounds right off the bat for this record.
But why the 1984 Sarajevo Winter Olympics, because for example, there have been two films ‘Cool Runnings’ and ‘Eddie The Eagle’ made about events at the 1988 Calgary Winter Olympics? It’s perhaps not an obvious subject, or is it?
Once again, a long story… I’m a big enthusiast of brutalist architecture, specifically 80s and prior angular / geometrical style structures. I was looking at architecture online, and stumbled upon “Hotel Igman”, which you see in the cover of the album. I became intrigued about this building, and started reading more in depth about the history of it. I also was fascinated by the fact that, in modern times, it’s a completely bombed out shell of its former self. After I discovered the ‘84 Olympics, I was compelled to write something that I felt about it, and the various stories I have read about Sarajevo. It just seemed right to me and the music sort of poured out of me.
Yes, I’d say so. I think it was an absolutely stunning piece of architecture then and even now. It drew me in immediately and needed to know the whole story. I’ve watched several YouTube videos of people exploring it. It blows my mind.
Had there been any particular archive photographs or videos that you imagined soundtracking, like your own film documentary on those Games for any of the tracks?
I kind of did a deep dive into loads of footage from the ‘84 Winter Olympics and was inspired by a ton of things that I saw, particularly Bill Johnson’s run, as well as Jane Torvill and Christopher Dean’s performances on ice.
How would you have constructed a track like ‘Downhill’ which celebrates Bill Johnson’s gold medal victory in the Downhill event?
I wanted at least one track that was suspenseful and intense. After watching some footage of downhill skiing in Sarajevo, I found the clip of Bill Johnson and could feel the excitement in the announcers’ voices. It was totally unintentional, but I felt that sample absolutely needed to be included in the intro of the song.
The ‘Sarajevo’ title track actually applies some dub echoing, what had been on your mind to shape the track in this manner?
Good question, this was also completely unintentional. The friends I’ve showed that to seem to all say it’s a very “industrial” track, but I guess I just don’t hear it that way. I wanted to lay something down that was really dark, ethereal, and heavy. The CMI sampler I used seemed to compliment the bridge of the song.
‘Ceremony’ closes the album with a slow waltz and it has this elegiac Arvo Pärt ‘Spiegel Im Spiegel’ feel about it?
Truth be told, I am not at all familiar with that artist, although I very much look forward to checking that out. I wanted to portrait a very emotional track with drifting (sliding in and out of tune) synths to give it an almost “unsettling” vibe. I think it’s kind of a beautiful track, and it would suit well in a specific movie scenario.
Why thank you! Yes, I’ve been collecting for a number of years now. I’d say my Sequential Circuits Prophet 6 is to attribute to a lot of my sounds. It’s an extremely versatile synth with a lot of amazing real time features that are easy to get inspired by.
Sequential makes amazing products, which I would recommend to anyone in the market to buy a thick, meaty analogue synthesizer with useful features.
Is there a synth you desire and is there any particular reason?
Not to sound cliché, but I would love to own a real Jupiter 8 someday. Other than that, I’m actually really happy with the gear that I have. I feel like I honestly have too much, but that is usually good for when I’m bored with my main stuff, to switch out to and experiment with.
What do you think of these copycat synths that Behringer are making?
Honestly, not super into them right now. Behringer makes some quality basic musical products, but I’m not super sold on their synths. One of my best friends swears by their 808 clone, but I haven’t played with it yet. I was really disappointed with the Deepmind 12, unfortunately. Programming wasn’t very friendly and I didn’t care a lot for the sounds, it also sounded very thin to me. That all being said, I’ll always give them a chance. Some of their clones are super intriguing, but generally are not available for demos at retail stores.
I don’t feel it’s going in a great direction. Most artists now are focusing on the same equation to make it big. Sometimes it works, sometimes it doesn’t, but the bottom line is that I’m just not seeing a lot of artistry involved, and it’s more or less a “copy and paste” methodology and it seems to really work well for some people. I refuse to not put extremely serious though into what I put out, regardless of potential backlash.
You have both self-released and worked with record labels, do artists these days still need one? How do you see music distribution moving forward?
I feel that, if an artist can’t afford to press their own record and or tape or whatever, go for a label if they’re interested.
You have a strong relationship with Shawn Ward aka FM ATTACK and he has done some additional production on ‘Sarajevo’ as well as being your label boss at Starfield, but have the two of you considered doing a full album together as a joint effort?
Oh yeah, for sure. And I wouldn’t call him my boss in affiliation with Starfield, he’s one of my tightest homies. We confide in each other quite a bit and stay in contact regularly. I’m blessed to call Shawn a good friend of mine. Right now, it’s kind of hard to be able to do a fully collaborative album for the both of us, although that would be really rad to accomplish sometime down the road.
Your recent single with PRIMO THE ALIEN ‘Watch Me’ was a rather groovy concoction, is this an indicator of a future direction for you?
Hopefully! I really dig the groove of that track, and I think it succeeded in a lot of ways. I feel it’s a lot different from anything I had previously released, and it felt good to scratch that itch. I’m not the greatest into diving into “the funk” but I think I did right by ‘Watch Me’.
So will your next album be a pop / dance oriented one or would you like to develop the more ambient side of your music as showcased on ‘Sarajevo’?
Honestly, I really don’t know enough to tell you the next writing style I’m going to be focusing on. It will be interesting and heartfelt, whatever that may be. Lately I’ve been really enjoying the ambient stuff.
Looking forward to collaborating with friends and building something, whatever that may entail. I won’t be straying from producing music.
I would like to go on tour again soon, but I likely won’t be booking any dates this year due to the pandemic. I really miss traveling, seeing the world and meeting new friends.
ELECTRICITYCLUB.CO.UK gives its warmest thanks to BETAMAXX
‘Sarajevo’, ‘Lost In A Dreamworld’ and most of the BETAMAXX back catalogue is available in various formats direct from https://betamaxxmusic.bandcamp.com/music
Text and Interview by Chi Ming Lai
19th May 2021