AS one-third of the team behind the underground music factory that is Glasgow’s Green Door Studio, Stuart Evans has for the past several years dedicated himself to helping countless youngsters in the city discover hidden musical talent and translate it into top-quality records. It’s somehow apposite, then – though surprising given the standout quality of the Motorik dub-disco it has produced – that Evans himself needed a helping hand from another long-standing presence on Glasgow’s music scene to get his own Sordid Sound System project off the ground.
“I love DJing but I very rarely have enough money to splurge on vinyl,” he begins, “and when I do I often can’t find anything contemporary that I actually like. So I worked out that the best way for me to get free records to play in my DJ sets was to make the records myself and get a label to release them on vinyl. I made the first few tracks around two years ago and sent them off to a few labels but I wasn’t really getting anywhere with them. I was about to give up on the whole idea when Gordon MacKinnon (who has been DJing and producing music in the city under the name GK Machine for well over 20 years) got in touch to say he was setting up a record label, and did I have anything I could send him? His label Invisible Inc. has released all three of the Sordid Sound System records I’ve made so far. There would be no Sordid Sound System without Gordon.”
The music on the two EPs and one album Evans has produced as SSS to date has the same irresistible, clattering, undulating mix of organic and electronic elements that underpins most of the best music to come out of the Green Door. If there’s something a little darker, danker and more nocturnal-sounding about it, though, then it’s probably got something to do with the conditions under which the tracks are recorded. You might expect that the co-owner of a recording studio would clear some nice, sociable hours in the place in which to record his own music. The Green Door has far too much important work to do for that, however, and besides, Evans long ago realised that he operates best as a musician under a certain degree of adversity.
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“I record most of the Sordid Sound System stuff overnight in the studio, so I usually have around eight hours in which to write, record and mix a track before the sun comes up, or the whisky runs out,” he laughs. “It’s great that people can make music at home now and spend as long as they want polishing and perfecting it in whatever way they see fit, but I’ve come to realise that most of my favourite records were recorded and mixed with the time limitations that come from working in a studio. For me, making a good record is about capturing a performance or an idea while it’s fresh and then moving on quickly before you have time to destroy it, and my way of working on SSS stuff very much feeds into that. The only issue is that we’re so busy in the studio these days that it can be very difficult to find the time.”
The atmosphere of Evans’ records is spontaneous and a little dark, then, but it’s also, to anyone who’s listened to the records the Green Door has been turning out in recent years, conspicuously of the environment in which they’re produced. “I’d feel like a bit of a fraud if I was extolling the virtues of the studio analog recording process to young musicians while not using them myself,” Evans says. “The Green Door is our ideal of a dream studio. We have all the comparable period equipment – tape machines, analog desks and outboard gear – that were used on our favourite recordings, whether they were Jamaican dub, Krautrock, New York disco, post-punk or proto house and techno. There’s a really magical era in recording that took place in the late 1970s and early 1980s during which people were making incredible, free-spirited music on pretty limited equipment by the standards of what a laptop with music software can do today.”
Though Evans’ SSS material, like a lot of Green Door music, is recorded live and has an edge-of-chaos quality that would seem to suit the gig environment, he didn’t set out to play it live at all. “When i recorded the tracks for the first record it never occurred to me that I might have to play them live one day. I’ve actually only done two gigs so far and I only agreed to do those because of the bands I was playing with – Kubler Ross and Secret Circuit.
“I’m definitely up for doing more live shows, but I’d rather concentrate on special one-offs rather than saying yes to everything. It would also be fun sometime to do a full live-band set and play some of the tracks with bass, guitar and drums in – at the moment I can play most of the tracks live and dub them up through a mixer with a couple of friends helping out on live percussion and bass.” Glasgow’s next chance to see Sordid Sound System in live action will come on May 20 at The African Arts Centre, when Evans plays alongside Pussy Mothers, Cucina Povera, Ghana Soundz and Optimo’s JD Twitch as part of a fundraiser for the Tafi Atome Cultural Centre recording project in Ghana, which we profiled last summer.
Aside from that, a project that might have been lost in the ether were it not for a well-timed email is now extending to remixes for international acts and labels (Evans is currently working on a rework of a track by New York’s goth-punk sorts Ritual Humor and another for Eyes Of Others, an Edinburgh act whose new record will be out soon on an unidentified "cool French label"), several in-the-works EPs and tracks likely to appear over the rest of the year, and a just-released new record called Fear Eats The Soul, described by its maker as “a concept EP made by four imaginary bands from Detroit, New York, Paris and Munich”.
“I guess it’s actually more of a post-concept EP,” Evans laughs, “though I didn’t realise that that was what had happened until I finished all four tracks and listened back to them. I’m not much of a vocalist, so I deal with it by getting imaginary vocalists in to do the job (complete with their background stories). But on this EP it appears they brought their bands and musical partners in as well. There were also some imaginary hangers on as well,” he concludes. “So some of the sessions turned into pretty wild imaginary parties.”
Sordid Sound System’s Fear Eats The Soul EP is out now on Invisible Inc., snippets can be heard here. The next Sordid Sound System live show is at The African Arts Centre in Glasgow on May 20