“Will sell soul for record. PM me for details.” Just one of the comments on Discogs for Steve O’Sullivan’s Version Blue [BLUETRAIN06], that was released on his less-known cult classic Bluetrain imprint. Version Blue was released in 1999, and the comment was made some 15 years after in 2015, at a time when the price of the record was at its highest and the record was at its most wanted.
And after more than 18 years since their release dates, come archive and fresh cuts of tracks released on Bluetrain as well as the preceding Bluespirit label. It’s not just the ‘Blue’ record labels that are getting the light of day though, but the ‘dub techno don’s’ very own Bluetrain live set. Read on for an insight into the Bluetrain live, some history on Bluespirit and some powerful productions and co-productions to date…
Hi Steve! So first of all thank you for this interview, how are you? It seems like you’ve had a pretty busy year!
All is going great thanks!
What have been some of the highlights?
I reckon playing live at Amnesia last year was pretty special – hearing your own music played through a system that powerful doesn’t happen every day so that would have to be one of my top moments. [smiles]
Are you living in London now?
Yeah I’m London born and bred.
Toi Toi have been supportive of my ‘comeback’ since day one… Isis and Claus have a level of enthusiasm that absolutely has to be admired so it’s always a pleasure to work with them. And after a lot of gentle nudging they’ve persuaded me to take my Bluetrain sound out live for the first time… fingers crossed it goes smoothly!
So you’ll play a live Bluetrain show – that’s pretty amazing! You’ve played live hundreds of times before, and if I’m not wrong, you played a live Bluetrain set a few years back, but we haven’t seen it pop up anywhere recently…
It’s my first time focusing entirely on the Bluetrain sound… so no pressure!
Will you bring the complete live set-up to Barcelona?
I like to keep things simple when I’m travelling so I don’t take my entire studio with me – just a few well trusted machines that I can rely on to do the job… not too much stress at all thankfully.
And how will you adapt your live for this event? What can we expect to hear… dubbed out reggae? Minimal dub techno?…Jazz? Will there be a parallel to the music on your Bluetrain label?
Usually I try to play a varied selection of tracks with some minimal dub techno, house and the odd jacking track or two… but the Bluetrain sound is a little more specific. The challenge will be to maintain that vibe and keep it interesting for both me and the crowd. Without giving too much away I guess you can expect a few deep dub workouts to be played!
The jazz influence in your Bluetrain imprint is apparent. Let’s start with the name “Bluetrain” – is that a reference to John Coltrane’s Blue Train? And the images on the covers of the Bluetrain releases, where are they from?
At the time I started the label I was listening to a lot of jazz and the first 12’ included some jazz samples so it seemed a nice fit. As for the name, I’ve always liked it so in true 90’s style I nicked it! And the images were taken from old albums – the idea was to keep things a little mysterious and understated. I guess the old cliche of letting the music do the talking was what I was after, and as things progressed the sound of the label ventured into more of a dub territory so the later images reflected that too.
You have two “Blue” projects: Bluespirit and Bluetrain. You started the Bluespirit series in 1996, one year before you launched the Bluetrain label. What inspired you to start Bluespirit, and why did you decide to release only white label material? Was it mostly you who produced the music?
With Bluespirit the idea came from Russ Gabriel so I can’t take any credit for the white label concept. He managed the label and I supplied the music. The series included several collaborations with WIS, Lee Grainge and John Beer so although my name may be more associated with it, at the time the idea behind it was more of a collective.
Did the initial Bluespirit releases influence the Bluetrain label?
Very much so… the project was a natural progression from that. The first couple of Bluetrain releases could’ve quite easily been released on Bluespirit.
On Bluetrain, the A2 track on your Special Edition EP wanders into some serious hypnotic minimal dub techno territory whilst another track on the same EP grooves to reggae and dub rhythms. Other tracks see you blending house, techno, dub and reggae where you create your own special sound… what’s your insight on the Bluetrain sound?
It’s always a challenge to describe your own music but I’ll settle for stripped down, deep and dubbed out techno with plenty of echo.
You’ve even collaborated with British dub artists Syd Crossley & John Beer on a few productions. Weren’t you a part of their dub group I-Tones? Tell us, how did you get into dub music, and what dub effects would you say you like the most?
I’ve always loved dub and reggae. For dub effects it’s all about the echo for me…
The I-tones project came about from some Bluetrain sessions with Syd and John. The initial idea was to release a proper dub 12” under the I-Tones name but distribution proved to be a problem, so we eventually released those tracks as Bluetrain (07- Red Eye Dubs).
If I told you who WIS is he’d probably cut my fingers off so my lips will remain sealed.
Ahaha ok…let’s move on! So you’ve also co-produced a few releases with Lee Grainge on Bluespirit and on other labels but with your aliases Ephebe and Original Vintage. Can you tell us about your relationship with Lee? What makes you two work so well together in the studio?
When you collaborate with another artist it can sometimes be difficult to find a flow but it’s been easy working with Lee. He has a great sense of timing and groove which has made my music better. Looking back on it, some of the tracks that we made some 20 years ago stand up pretty well today so we had a good run for sure!
Can you confirm that it was you and Lee Grainge who were the first in the UK to achieve a locked groove loop, resulting from producing music at 133.3333 recurring and then playing the final record at 33.3rpm?
I can’t be 100% sure if that’s the case but we were definitely one of the first to do so…
And finally let’s talk about your recent and upcoming “Blue” releases. First, your re-issues on Bluespirit and Bluetrain that are to be released this year: Archive Cuts [BLUETRAIN 10] and Classic Cuts Vol 1 [SPIRIT 2016]. Both compilations include a selection of hard to find tracks released in the nineties, originally on tapes and now remastered and pressed on vinyl. Can you tell us about Electric Mastering – the company you used to recut the tracks?
When you release on vinyl it’s important to have the best sound possible, which you essentially create by a good mastering engineer. The engineer I use at Electric – Guy Davie – cut the majority of my old records when he worked at The Exchange Mastering Studios back in the 90s. He’s one of the few I’d trust with my music… so yes, I highly recommend Electric Mastering!
Can we expect to see a Volume 2 of re-issues in the future?
Let’s wait and see…
We’ve heard some music on your Bluetrain alias: Foundation Dub: Chapter One on Sushitech – that was released quite recently. Does your latest EP feature all new material? And how would you say your production techniques have evolved since you released your first Bluetrain record?
Yeah it’s all new material and it seems to be going down well so I’m pretty happy with the release. [smiles]
In terms of production technique there hasn’t been too much of a change if I’m to be honest. I now use a computer to record rather than a DAT but the essential sound creation tools have remained the same: Akai Mpc, Emu Sampler and various effects units and drum machines.
Do you have anything else planned for this summer for the Blue projects… that we don’t know about yet?
Well there is a forthcoming reissue of a 12” on Mosaic (archive trax vol.1) – that’s due to be released at the end of June. It includes music from me and Mark Ambrose and although it’s not technically a “blue” project the sleeve is blue so I hope that counts! [laughs]
Edited by Kaajal Shah