As obvious as it may sound, you can learn a tremendous amount about an artist simply by asking what music they were brought up on. Since we are well aware this is the name of the game, we hounded techno aficionado Sian to find out what records he has stored away for safekeeping in the figurative crates of his formative years.
Seeing as how the Octopus Records head has had his hands full in signing and producing some of the most genre-defining selections the underground has ever seen, it’s not surprising to know Sian draws most of his inspo from an era when underground was the only option. From his birthplace in Dublin to his stomping grounds in Spain to his current home in Los Angeles, he’s always had an unbreakable affinity for the raw and timelessly real records. He puts a handful of them on blast for us today, as he raps about the specific ones that helped shape him into the extraordinarily informed artist he is today.
His list comes right in time, with Octopus Recordings set to touch down at Exchange LA on Saturday for a very special label takeover. The lineup is more stacked than what should be allowed, including appearances from Technasia, Harvey McKay, Jia and the Octopus head himself.
You’ve picked out a handful of ‘90s club tracks that somehow inspired your own path into producing. From the list, which one track had the deepest impact on you personally, and why?
I would have to say Underground Resistance’s “Transition”; this track hits me so hard every time I listen. I normally can’t handle being preached to on the dancefloor, but this vocal has some serious depth and power—so honest and simple. It has a kinda universal message about hustling, and really going for it creatively, and believing in your game plan. The production is so driving and simplistic, too—almost a continuous build. I’m guessing many other young ravers got the message, too, and went on to work in creative industries.
Obviously there’s a close connection you share with virtually every tune on the list you provided—otherwise they wouldn’t have made it—but can you share some of your fondest memories hearing them played out?
I remember I heard Andrew Weatherall (big hero of mine) drop Ron Trent’s “Altered States” to a packed dancefloor in Dublin at the Temple of Sound as a teenager. This one is freaky, because the record is actually kind of laid-back and dreamy, so to hear it within the context of a hard techno set was pretty inspiring. I have applied this idea to some of my own tracks, like “Shame Cube” or “Sleeper Cell.” They are somehow slow, laid-back and sleazy, but hard-hitting in a club.
What was your big introduction to this type of sound? Do you remember a specific moment when the floodgates opened up and you became an unquestionable fan of the music?
My older brother brought me out to a mind-blowing warehouse party in Dublin when I was 13 (I looked older). It was in a disused, abandoned factory in the city centre, which was cleverly renamed a Multi Media Centre by some hyper-intelligent promoters there at the time. There was a trans wedding, chainsaw sculptures, and semi-naked people serving fruit—plus a legendary Dublin DJ dropping that unmistakably eclectic ‘90s mixture of anything and everything.
How accessible was this sound where you were living when it was coming about? Were there many other people gigging out to the same music you were digging back then?
That was the thing: It felt super secretive and underground. When you met other people at these raves, it felt like a forbidden society, almost. The establishment of normal concert promoters in other genres had literally no idea that the “music video shoot” going on next door in some wrecked, old building was actually a very wild, liberated, psychedelic orgy of completely new music or fashion styles. Nowadays, everyone knows what synths, DJs and clubs are about; during that time, it was more like a cult.
What was your source for keeping up with new records? Did you have special digging spots you would frequent?
Absolutely. The key spots in Dublin were Tag, Abbey Discs, D1 records, etc. Tbh, I always felt out of place in record shops—like a real outsider kid. The staff always seemed to be so full of their own importance and highly opinionated about rare genres, etc.—typical trainspotter guys who kept all the good records out of most kids’ hands, so we used to have to find other ways to get our hands on white labels and unusual vinyl. I actually bought and sold a lot of vinyl myself as a kid and sampled many a kick drum or snare for my own music along the way.
Do you miss anything in particular about that era of dance music? Are there any qualities or characteristics you wouldn’t mind seeing resurface?
One amazing trend I’m seeing lately is the return to more open-mindedness and higher energy on the dancefloor. For a while, the crowds in the last years were a little introverted and self-absorbed. Now, there seems to be a very extrovert and celebratory atmosphere coming back—isn’t that what nightclubbing is all about? Maybe it’s a reflection of where society is at, too: People want to let loose again, I guess.
Not to say current music is more disposable, but there seems to be a stronger sense of timelessness from many records of that generation. Do you agree? If so, to what do you attribute this general expendability of music nowadays?
I think when we switched to digital as record shoppers, there is a sense of fast turnaround, and not many records stick around. In the previous years, vinyl was a big commitment, so the label had to make sure the tracks were total bangers. We always apply this idea to my label, Octopus. We treat every release like it is a big step and should be around forever. Our tagline is “classic, modern, techno.”
Are there any Octopus tracks you feel resemble the essence of any of the selections from your list?
I would say more “inspired” than actually resembling them. For example, my new EP Information (out July 4) is a real product of my experiences at these early raves. Now, hearing those super raw and stripped-down tracks with fresh ears, I feel the idea of reducing a track to its basic elements in order to always crush a dancefloor is something I learnt in those formative dancefloor years!