This Friday, we’ve chosen music creator and sound technician Connor Barton as our #CreatorOfTheWeek!
Based in Whitehaven, Connor has released a plethora of music under multiple original projects.
These include the gothic electronica of The Interruption and the synth-driven madness of Sethera.
Now a full-time theatre technician at Theatre By The Lake in Keswick, Connor tells us about his experience as a musician in Cumbria and where his interest in music first began.
I sat down with Connor, at the Harbourside Cafe in Whitehaven, to learn more about the man behind the music.
Tell me a bit about how you first got into music
“So when I was really young, probably a bit too young, my parents introduced me to stuff like Nirvana, but then it was The Prodigy that grasped me, my mam just used to play it all the time. Around Firestarter and Breathe, that sort of era.”
“Keith Flint just blew my mind, Rest In Peace, and I just thought, I wanna make music like this! I’d never made music before. I was a kid, like 13 and I was like how do you make music like this mam? And she said, “Oh, they do it all on computers!”
“So, I was really up for this. I had my first laptop and I got my first DAW (Digital Audio Workstation) and I made my first track, took it down to my parents, and they said, I didn't realise you could just do that!”
It’s clear one of Connor's biggest inspirations was his mum, who was very much into the 90s music scene.
Grunge; Pearl Jam and Nirvana as well as more gothic influences like Sisters Of Mercy. Whereas his Dad was more into Oasis and the Britpop scene and was NOT a fan of Blur!
However, Connor prefers Blur due to Damon Albarn and his work with Gorillaz - “He’s far more creative than Noel and Liam Gallagher!” he said, with their album Demon Days being the first record he bought with his own money. However, he also tells me that:
“After a while, I went off it because I got into The prodigy and heavier things, more intense music. I normally go for high-energy stuff so that's why a lot of my stuff is like that. Then just recently, I've mellowed out and got into techno and disco house.”
Who are your favourite 3 artists and why?
“So, my favourite 3 artists... top of the league is The Prodigy. Just because of the breadth of stuff that they’ve done and from a young age I've been obsessed with them, they got me into music… It's the reason I've got a bunch of synths!” (Synthesizer or Synth, An electronic music instrument)
“Like Liam Howlett with stacks of synths. Unfortunately, he does a lot in Ableton (DAW) but still sends MIDI (Music code) to synths and tweaks it and that was where I got the idea.”
As there is a difference between creating music in a DAW and creating music with physical instruments or “DAW-less”, Connor wanted to experiment between these two methods to create a unique approach to his music and says:
“I joked about doing it for ages because it takes a lot of time to learn because you really constrain yourself within the gear you buy, but out of constraints you often come out with really interesting stuff.”
“So I find that with the DAW-less stuff, I'm more passionate about the tracks that I'm creating that way rather than the ones I do with a mouse. It just gets boring after a while. The physical attributes of it and the control you have over it, it just blew my mind! I bought one synth and never stopped!”
So who would you say is your second favourite artist after The Prodigy?
“It's really funny, I got into The Prodigy, and then obviously Pendulum is kinda like the next similar band. Then that led me to Chase and Status and I remember I got into them at the same time that I was hearing a bit of Slipknot and thought, these lot are ridiculous! People can’t honestly listen to their music.”
“But I love them now, the first album I bought by them was Iowa and it's one of the heaviest albums I own”
What are you saying to the masks they wear on stage? Is it something you’d ever do?
“I love it, yeah I'd totally do it! Originally that's how I was gonna do some of my music creations in the past. It's that whole thing of taking on a different identity and you're a different person when you walk on that stage, it's what pop stars do.”
What’s it like to be a musician in Cumbria? Obviously, it’s quite a secluded area to some but it's got a very budding music scene, so what would you say it's like?
“I’d say over the last 5 years it’s really grown massively, especially in Carlisle, probably thanks to Warwick Bazaar and places like The Source. I know Hardwicke Circus came from there and lots of other little bands.”
“But the thing that's really enjoyable to me, is that everybody kind of knows each other and they all keep going off and making their own little projects and it's not just necessarily all just rock cause a lot of people in West Cumbria just do hard rock like cover music and stuff and I don't really bother with that.”
“Whereas some of the stuff in Carlisle is quite exciting. One of my mates has just got a looper like Mark Rebillet and does vocal stuff and a bit with synths. There's plenty of people who just work within DAW’s and release electronic music, which isn’t a massive scene in Cumbria but it's definitely there. It would just be cool to get a dedicated venue now.”
What would that look like to you and where would that be?
“See there are a lot of great venues in Carlisle, like The Brickyard is probably a stand-out one for me just because it is a classic and obviously they have bands on and stuff anyways. They often do local bands. It's always about bringing the crowd.”
“But I like the intimate venues, I don't know if you ever went to Concrete when it was open?”
Unfortunately, I hadn't but a lot of my college friends went there and were always raving about it!
“It was literally just playing house music and it was around that time that deep house and tech house got huge and I hated it at the time, but now I've got a love for it.”
What advice would you give to an up-and-coming musician?
“Probably just do something original! A lot of people say to have your own sound but what does that actually mean? For me, I didn't necessarily find my own sound, it came later. It was in the process of making it, which is changing it from DAW into the physical world with synths, and that just inspired the sound.”
“I just tried to consume a lot of music and see what stuck with me and what was memorable and that then influenced what I made. A lot of bands and stuff do that and they'll make a jam with their friends cause I've done it before and it's the easiest thing that they can reach for, do you know what I mean? Sometimes they need to experiment a little bit.”
The thing is, original music means something different to each person because everyone perceives music in a different way, so what Connor is saying is to define your originality and take the time to do that.
“You’ve got to really pin down what you do. It’s not about writing hit songs. I think the energy of the song should be what you focus on the most, not whether it's catchy.”
“So like when I think of that sort of thing, originality in music and the energy of the song, I think of LCD Soundsystem cause they’re really weird and do a lot of really long songs. But it is guitar, drums, synths, and vocals and you’d think that would just be boring but it's interesting… and they’ve not done a bad album yet!”
Where would you like to be in 10 years’ time?
“It's a difficult one, mainly because I'm quite a career-driven person. At the moment I'm working at Theatre By The Lake. I just got full-time there as a technician, lighting, sound, operator, stage management, the full package.”
“But through lockdown I got a couple of great gigs as a musician. It was at the University of Cumbria working with dance companies. I would bring in a couple of ideas for songs, bare-bones, and they would be on these systems where you could jam and interact with them. Then I took it into their rehearsal space and they would dance to that and I would just evolve the tracks.”
“I was there for 4 weeks for one of the projects and I only took about 16 bars of stuff but then we turned it into something and we would feed off each other's energy. So if I wanted them to go more, then they could and if they were getting tired, I would pull back and we could affect each other. I did that for 3 different pieces at the uni.”
“That really excited me and that's what I want to do more of but obviously with working full-time now it gets hard to find the time to do it. Really I just wanna do that with dance flows and the theatrical performance thing because I'm massively into theatre, performance art, anything like that. It would be interesting to keep doing that and see what happens.”
What do you like most about theatre?
“That it's the full package. That it's not just some dudes in t-shirts getting on stage and singing a song haha! Often there's a lot of writing and prep that goes into them. I've been behind the scenes of the stage for years now and I know what goes into it, so for me, it excites me and it shouldn't because it's work.
However, that's the key to enjoying work, doing something that you love so much that it doesn't feel like work!
“Yeah, I've cut no corners and all I've ever tried to do is what I enjoy doing and I'm just really lucky to have got to where I am. The pandemic has been a driving force for that, because obviously during it people were like should we go back to work? What should we do?”
“I had opportunities made for me because of it and yes, it was a bit depressing at times because a lot of us were losing our jobs, and I lost mine with an events production company, but it wasn't their fault. So at the end of the day, I thought I’m gonna keep on with what I'm doing and enjoy it.”
Tell us about your next musical piece and give us a feel for what it's going to be like
“So I met this girl, she's called Elara and she mainly performs with DJ’s and it's kind of like a trendy thing at the moment for saxophonists to play with DJ’s and that's how I met her, she was on an Eats Everything gig.”
“I was just helping set up sound, the decks, the sax mic, and everything and we just got talking. I explained about what I do and she was like we should do something sometime and over lockdown she sent me some samples and some tracks and stuff she’d done. I took the stems, altered it a bit, played that as a sample alongside whatever I was jamming to, and eventually just arranged it in a DAW as if it was a tape machine.”
“We came out with this track and I was like I need something else. Do you know Warriors Dance by The Prodigy? It's a really famous vocal sample and I couldn't help it but I had to use that and I hope it doesn't get copyrighted!”
“But when we do it live- we’ve been talking about doing a live session in a studio, Elara is gonna sing it. She's a singer/songwriter and she sometimes writes her own stuff so it was a really good match! And the track we came out with is like that upbeat house thing with sax on it.”
What name is that under and where can people check it out?
“So that's gonna be under Elara, she's the artist. It’ll be on Spotify, Amazon Music, Everything.”
A big thank you to Connor for coming and speaking with me, be sure to check out his new track with Elara and keep up to date with his work via his social media below: