Fiction Lab Australia LABCAST 08 - Joe Miller

by Isabel Thomson - Officer

Melbourne by way of Adelaide, by way of Europe’s Joe Miller is a producer we’re super honored to feature on Fiction Lab Australia. Coming highly recommended by Jamie Stevens who we launched the Australian vertical with, we were blown away by Joe’s talents as a selector, emerging producer and his eloquence. 

Moving to Australia from Europe as a child with his parents, he initially found his feet in Adelaide in South Australia before he deciding to take the plunge and give Melbourne a go. 

Falling in step with one of Melbourne’s finest exports, Jamie Stevens, the two have been hard at work in the studio, cooking something vinyl up for Lee Burridge’s All Day I Dream due out on August 3.

Quite the regular at Loop in Melbourne, Joe’s current focus is on melody-rich house, something  that has already caught the attention of big name European producers like Love Over Entropy, Robert Babicz and YokoO. Once he has a decent portfolio together, he hopes to make it over to Toronto and Montréal where labels like Microcastle are championing his current obsession with deep, melodic house.

We caught up with the fast-rising star to chat about his inspiration, studio process, the scene in Adelaide, and what it was like supporting legends like Andrew Weatherall and Agoria. To accompany the lab chat, Joe also put together an unbelievable 30 track (!)  exclusive mix which falls just shy of an hour that we are very excited to share with you.

What’s your story - how did you find your feet as a DJ and producer? Did you have a background in music previously?
When I was about 15, my Mum got a Vaughan Williams CD, and I remember being intrigued by the part of the sleeve notes that talked about "evocation of place" - the idea that you could use music to make someone feel as if they were in a particular landscape. I was reading C.S. Lewis' Pilgrim's Regress at the time, which is about someone who experiences agonisingly euphoric visions of a non-existent island. Then my brother put me onto Northern Exposure 3, which seemed to be doing the same thing - conjuring up topography (especially on 'Belfunk'), mixed up with all the homegrown mysticism of nineties rave culture. 

So when I started playing around with Ableton years later, it was with the idea of trying to make other people visualise places and feel some of the feelings that Germans call Sehnsucht. Because of that, I felt like I'd snuck into dance music through the back door, like what I was really trying to do was landscape painting, and all the stuff about groove and rhythm felt kind of secondary. But I started going to a club called Cuckoo in Adelaide, where the crew were obsessed with the roots of the scene - Detroit, Chicago and the early scene in Berlin - and I started to see how rhythm was a modality just like harmony, with its own power to control mood, dissolve thought and bind a group together.

Who really inspires you as a producer?
I'm liking Powel - he's part of that low-tempo melodic house music thing that's big in Canada, and there's a raw dubbiness and appreciation for organic texture that makes his production stand out in that scene.
I've also really enjoyed working with Jamie Stevens over the last year. Aside from having a well-tuned ear and a work ethic, his attitude is permeated by what the psychoanalyst Erikson called 'generativity' - he acts for the benefit of his musical ecosystem, and not just for himself.

What’s it like in the studio with Joe Miller? 
Very cosy, with lots of incense and windows looking onto a tree-lined street. A few synths, Tascam Portastudio, Roland Space Echo pedal, and everything else is in the box.

What’s your creative process like when you approach a new track?
The first stage of song-writing is really dependent on psychology. To get in the right mind state, I spend a fair amount of time going for walks with an iPod full of old music. Lately, I've been taking along music by Molly Drake, Tia Blake and The Caretaker. 

After that, the process varies from track to track - sometimes, I take tiny samples from early 20th century classical music, then write chords and hooks around the samples using hardware synths or Kontakt VSTs. A lot of the time I just noodle on the Roland JP-8000, trying different chord inversions and suspensions until something affects me.

Percussion is my weakest point, so I do a lot of referencing to get that right. If you're a new producer, that's probably the most time-efficient thing you can do to improve your drum mixing - take percussive sections from tracks that you consider to be beautifully balanced, run them through a spectrum analyzer, and try to recreate what you hear. It takes a long time and you won't be able to get the exact sound you want, but you'll learn a lot about frequency and timbre

You’ve played alongside some of the best of the underground Agoria and Andrew Weatherall. What has been your most memorable gig to date?
It's been nice to warm up for people I respect like that, but the most enjoyable gigs have been unpaid ones away from clubs. The best one in the last couple of years was a nine-hour set at a house party in Fitzroy, with indulgent and broad-minded guests who danced to everything from DJ Marky to Humate to Daniel Avery. They kept dancing past 8am, by which point I'd been playing beatless ambient music for several tracks.

You’ve also enjoyed support from some pretty impressive overseas talent including Love Over Entropy, Robert Babicz and YokoO. It must be pretty cool to hear these guys playing your tunes! How would you describe your musical style and sound and what do you think is about it that has caught the attention of some of these guys?
I expect a lot of what they see in my music is naïveté - there's an innocence to your first few releases that's presumably hard to recapture once you're established, with deadlines and expectations. I also think my songs have a northern sound to them, and the artists who like them are frequently people I file into the 'northern' part of my mental record box - they use a lot of natural textures that sound as if they were recorded in the woods, and they tend to write stuff that's moody like Scandinavian weather.

What’s your tour schedule like? Any plans for a visit to Europe or the US anytime soon?
I'm the world's worst self-promoter, but I sort of formed an understanding with myself that I'd live in my studio and finish a load of demos before my birthday in July, then start looking for a booking agency. I'd most like to play in Canada, as Toronto and Montréal have the best scene for the type of music I've been working on this year.

What are you working on at the moment? Any exciting releases in the pipeline you can share with us?
I'm doing a lot of collaborations - working on an EP for a Canadian label with Daniel Verhagen from the Dandenong Ranges. I'm having my first go at Bandcamp, releasing a joint ambient EP with Badskin and Josh Warry. The artwork is from Kat Mager, the brilliant nature photographer who did the photography for James Holden's ‘Animal Spirits’ LP. 

Then I'm working on a remix for Rob Zile's new Brain Food label, and about to get onto another round of collaborations with Jamie Stevens. We've got a track coming out together on All Day I Dream (August 3rd), which is a vinyl release.

Who do you think is doing really cool things in the underground dance music scene in Australia?
Imogen Henry runs a night called Syzygy at Loop in the Melbourne CBD, and it's one event where I've felt particularly aligned with the promoter's aesthetics. It's half-way between a visual installation and a DJ set, with videos projected over the stage, and musical carte blanche. She's turned the idea of the warm-up set into the centrepiece, and that means you can play music that might otherwise evaporate in the early stages of the night.

If you weren’t producing, what would you be doing?
I've enjoyed writing since I was a kid, and that's something I'd like to take more seriously when I start feeling too old for electronic music. I keep my hand in by sending spurious abstracts to predatory academic journals. 

Favourite places to go out in Melbourne and why?
Most of my favourite events happen around Loop at the moment - apart from Syzygy, my friend Kyle Palmer runs an underground movie night called Sinematek, where we've been going through his back-catalogue of forgotten cinematic gems. The most recent one was Disco Godfather, a weird, life-affirming shambles to rival Tommy Wiseau. To quote an IMDb reviewer: "It's not as good as ‘Sense and Sensibility’, but it's equally as touching."

What made you decide to pack up and leave Europe for Australia?
This one wasn't actually my decision, as my family moved out here when I was nine! 

What is the underground dance music scene like in Adelaide? 
While I was living there, Adelaide had a glut of excellent DJs and producers, but the small number of underground venues created a bottleneck. Cuckoo, Sugar and Ancient World were the places to go - Cuckoo is now closed, and Ancient World is up for sale, but it's nice to see how many of the best touring artists still make it through Sugar - just in the last couple of months, they've hosted Fred P, Zed Bias, Bambounou, Lane 8 and Super Flu. 

Last time I visited the venue, I saw Rhyziel play Bodzin-style techno to a packed floor for several hours. Going back a few years, Sugar was the home-base for Untzz Records, which included Furious Frank (now affiliated with Butter Sessions), Arthur Miles (All My Thoughts) and Mic Mills (his version of 'Wonderland' is the most reliable 2am edit in my rekordbox). Speaking of edits, Adelaide is home to Cam Bianchetti (aka Late Nite Tuff Guy), who's finally getting the worldwide recognition he deserves after beating his fear of flying. 

This answer could carry on indefinitely, so as an arbitrary stopping point, here are three more Adelaide DJs to investigate:

 - Phil Rogers (aka 12" Phildo/Oddessa) - running and playing at Cuckoo gave him a fine appreciation for the art of the long set. He plays out a lot during the festival season, with a style that's deep-hued and restrained (in the vein of Koze's best releases). 

 - Mel Lake is making a dent as a promoter and a DJ, and her Umbrella mix is a wonderfully eccentric mix of Jaar-style house and deranged acid. 

 - Trebek - co-founder of deep techno label Nighttime Drama. He's got a nineties approach to record hunting, and mixes with the precision of an orthodontist. 

Tell us about this mix you put together
I got the first ideas for this one the day after a forest party in Tallarook, where breakfast was soundtracked by Burial and A.A.L.. The brain has its way of clumping unrelated information into gestalts, and I felt there was something tying these songs together that I wanted to build on. I spent a couple of weeks listening through thousands of tracks and trying to find ones that fit that mood, as well as being idiosyncratic and outside the usual genre-moulds. There's a fair amount of emotional range in the mix - the middle section is cockney carjacking music (which is why I added a Lock Stock sample over the Dark Sky track), and then a long coming-home section at the end. Piecing together the ending of a studio mix is like curating end titles music for a film. It's great that the warm-up DJ is a staple element of club culture, but it'd be even better if we had the concept of the wind-down DJ, who would arrive at 5am and administer the techno equivalent of a benediction. 

Warmth - Time as a Reward (Wil Bolton Remix) [Archives]
Baaz - Everyone [Office]
Møzaika - T-T-Tool [Public Possession]
Dans Mon Salon & Danalogue - Hawk [Kollektor]
Solitary Dancer - Heroine Dub [Optimo Trax]
Burial - Rodent [Hyperdub]
Lanark Artefax - Touch Absence [Whities]
Night Christ - Conversation Policy [All City Dublin]
Night Christ - Conversation Policy (Illum Sphere Remix) [All City Dublin]
Suzanne Ciani discussing synthesis [N/A]
Sweet Anomaly & Dugong - What May Come (Oona Dahl Ritual Remix) [Occultists]
ot to, not to - Addiction and Indulgence [Other People]
Dark Sky - Badd [Monkeytown]
DJ Richard - Path of Ruin (Pain Mix) [Dial]
Leafar Legov - Force Majeure [Giegling]
Bedouin - Set the Controls for the Heart of the Sun [Crosstown Rebels]
Rising Sun - The Light and the Dark [Fauxpas]
Alena - Turn It Around (Acapella) [N/A]
Ellen Allien - My Tree [BPitch Controll]
Darkside - The Only Shrine I've Ever Seen [Other People]
Max Cooper - Woven Ancestry (Lusine Remix) [Human]
Apparat - Limelight [Shitkatapult]
Norwell - Bright House [Farbwechsel Records]
Farah - Steps in Between [ÆX]
Four Tet - Lush [Text]
Caribou - Lalibela [City Slang]
nthng - It Never Ends [Lobster Theremin]
Jan Blomqvist - Story's Over (Aparde Remix) [Armada]
Hobie - Luck Both Ways, Dunham Place [All My Thoughts]
Albrecht La'Brooy - Encounter (Midnight) [Analogue Attic]