The archetypical dance music all-rounder, Will Saul is a jack of all trades, master of quite a few actually.
In any given scene there are the glue types. The people who keep the standard at a high level with a brand of adhesive that doesn’t allow the quality to come unstuck. These people aren’t always necessarily just music makers; they are often the sharpest ears, honing in on cutting-edge offerings, pushing things forward and reinforcing their particular vision.
Will Saul, more than most, is an A&R dream. Producer and revered DJ, it’s testament to his status as a dance music aficionado that Saul is perhaps best known as the head of two sterling electronic labels, Aus and Simple Records.
Different in make-up and style, yet run with the same combination of forward-thinking ambition and pristine professionalism, both labels have become figureheads in their respective fields. Aus has pioneered the more experimental side of house from a raft of new producers using dub as a starting point, in the process crafting a near indefinable genre. Appleblim, Midland, Scuba, Ramadanman, Cottam, Joy Orbision and George Fitzgerald have all released on the label at a time when they were bursting onto the scene like a refreshing blast of citrus in the face of monotonous chainsaw dubstep.
Simple Records, on the other hand, has been a consistent player in the more traditional strains of house and techno music, releasing a number of cuts from Saul himself as well as the likes of Motorcitysoul, Marc Romboy, Adultnapper and Gadi Mizrahi.
Saul’s reputation as a selector of the highest order has seen him carry a weight of respect that others might find a little much for their shoulders. His modest yet erudite persona and enthusiastically conversational style showcases a man with a deep-rooted understanding of the industry in which he operates. Having partially retired Simple Records in 2009, Saul has brought the label back to life with a release from Bristol house experimentalist October, entitled String Theory. The working relationship forged in the studio is heralding further results, October being partially responsible for re-igniting Saul’s passion for Simple Records.
Couple this with a DJ schedule that regularly sees him booked at the cream of the UK’s underground venues and a live project under an alternative moniker and you have one of the fullest all-rounders in modern electronic music. He’s also compiled the latest Crackcast mix, which should give you an ample taster for his appearance at our hotly-anticipated CrackCosmique event at Lakota in Bristol on April 7th.
You’ve recently revived Simple Records and October has produced your first track back in the game.
He’s someone I’m working with a lot. I’m back in the studio with him in a couple of weeks’ time. We were introduced by a good friend in Laurie ‘Appleblim’ Osborne and we ended up doing some work together when I moved here from London. We are doing a project this year, we are going to get four or five tracks together by the end of the summer. The sound is loosely based on the fact we both love music from Detroit. We have a nice relationship in the studio, Jules (October) controls the drums and grooves and I play the keys and synths, a good division of labour. He played me some stuff he was doing last year and I was blown away.
It’s an interesting marrying of styles, as we’ve always found he plays out quite hard and driving while your style isn’t at all like that?
It works out well in the studio, but Jules is a very diverse producer and he’s shown that with his EP on Simple. The A-side, String Theory, is very deep and musical, the B-side is very jacking but still very housey and slow in relation to some of his previous releases.
You haven’t released anything on Simple for about a year or so, why was that?
I put it into retirement when we reached our 50th 12 inch. I didn’t know whether I’d start it up again, but it seemed like a natural time to stop releasing for a while. I felt a bit jaded by house and techno at that time and there wasn’t a whole load of stuff I was inspired by. I was much more into bassy, post-bass, step … whatever you want to call that genre. My other label Aus was thriving releasing those kinds of records and I was also in the process of writing an album. But Jules has prompted me to re-launch it. We’ve got an EP by Dusky remixed by FCL and I’ve signed a couple of tracks by Seia. Really beautiful tracks. I’m definitely feeling a little more invigorated by dance music again.
Obviously the artists you’ve released on Aus are about as current as you can get, people like Ramadanman, Appleblim and Midland. What are your feelings about that unidentifiable style of music?
I don’t think that style is anywhere near running its course. I think a lot of younger producers like Ramadanman, Midland and Joy Orbison have all got a different set of reference points. When myself and Appleblim were their age we couldn’t access entire back catalogues online, you had to go out and buy it. The younger generations have a whole world of old reference points at their fingertips, so they can educate themselves very quickly, which is fantastic. This means they can make very grown up, but still very cutting-edge records which is hugely exciting. I think whatever we are calling this emerging sound won’t die, it’ll just keep evolving because electronic music is as healthy and hectic as it’s ever been. When I was starting to get into music, ten, 12 years ago it wasn’t as open as it is now. I feel I can do anything on Aus and Simple and not get looked down on by house people or dubstep people.
Your own sound has always been very tricky to pin down. Do you like being indefinable, or do you think your sound bridges the gap between house and techno?
It has pros and cons, but I reckon it’s probably prevented me from making shitloads of money. When you release a couple of tracks of a similar style and they do well,you get that hot spell and you get pushed up the ladder and it helps promote you forever. I’m conscious that I have very wide-ranging taste and making any certain style repeatedly doesn’t interest me. New music constantly turns me on and that’s what drives me forward. It’s a double-edged sword really though. I think it’s given me longevity and the labels have never fallen into a rut of a particular type of sound. I’ve always kept the overall mandate for the label wide and that means occasionally I will release a record I know I’m going to lose money on as it keeps things interesting. But because of the nature of my labels it’s important to maintain quality and integrity.
Do you think that means you get booked for more underground nights and venues rather than being on the DJ gravy train?
I’d love a bit of that gravy train now and then, especially as I’ve now got a little baby boy. I do get booked for a range of gigs. I get booked with the post-steppy guys, but also with house and techno guys too. I’m happy with that.
We heard your edit of the Top Gun Anthem …
Top Gun is one of my favourite movies and I love the soundtrack. The mix I was doing was an inspiration-based mix and I included the bells from the Top Gun Anthem. I tried to make all the tracks ones that had given me a ‘hairs on the back of my neck’ moment, and those bells have certainly done that over the years.
Do you intend focusing on any solo production work in the next year or so?
I’ve just finished an album that’ll be coming out this year. It won’t be coming out under my name. It’ll be coming out under a project name, which I can’t tell you as I’m trying to keep some secrecy about it. I’d like to tour it and do a live show and I’d love to get some support from a bigger label to do that.
It seems to be the way to go for a lot of producers these days, to coordinate a live show?
It’s causing me a lot of sleepless nights, that’s for sure. It’s quite diverse, the record varies from 108bpm to 137bpm, and because of that I’m trying to make the record work in a lot of different contexts. I’m trying to make it work in a 2am in Panorama Bar context and a 3pm in the afternoon at a festival. It’s challenging for me because I’ve never done anything live before. I’m very comfortable with my DJing abilities but with this new one I’d be terrified.
What did you go for in the live mix you recorded for our Crackcast?
I never really plan my sets, but it’s a cross-section of great contemporary new tracks and me digging deep into my box as I bring thousands of records with me when I play out. You can always expect a fair degree of melody from my sets.
Where are your favourite places to play?
I played back to back with Scuba at Panorama Bar and it doesn’t get much better than that. Fabric when the crowd is there is always superb. I had a great gig in a small 200-300 person club in Hamburg called Ego. I didn’t start playing till 3am and I didn’t go above 120bpm till 4:30. I didn’t have to thrash it and was able to play slower and deeper and people were still with me.
You’ve recently moved to the West Country. What prompted the move?
I live 20 minutes outside of Glastonbury but I grew up here. I only moved to London when I was 18 to go to university. My partner had a baby in November of last year and we didn’t want to bring up a child in London. Also my parents are down here. We’re absolutely loving it.
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Will Saul plays in Bristol for CrackCosmique at Lakota. Saturday 7th April
Simple Records will release String Theory by October on March 12th