Diamond Seeds talks to Steve Spon on matters Nostramus and UK Decay.
We recently caught up with Steve Spon to ask him about his re mastering of ‘Earthlights’ an album that he wrote and produced in 1997 for Nostramus. Steve Spon (aka ‘Spon’) has recently re-joined the re-formed legendary eighties post-punk-goth pioneers, UK Decay.
We were fascinated to gain a glimpse into the thinking behind the re mastering of the classic nineties ‘D ‘n’ B noir’ album.
Which, according to one reviewer is “probably the best Drum and Bass album you have never heard”
Where the worlds of drum ‘n’ bass and post-punk and goth collide, stands a man like Spon
We were intrigued…….
D.S.# You have returned to your punk roots playing guitar again with UK Decay, in your musical evolution how does that relate to your D ‘n’ B oriented Nostramus?
“Although it can be argued that the music of Nostramus is completely different from the music of UK Decay, I feel there are threads of similarities between the two. Born out of the alternative punk-post-punk-early goth mela of the early eighties and like many ex punk types, I moved with the musical underground into the heady nineties rave scene. I sacrificed my guitar and took the technological path. It was important for me to continue to create music with an alternative message to counter the commerciality of popular music.”
D.S.# Would Nostramus appeal to the average UK Decay fan given ‘drum and bass’ surely had so much bad press?
“I know Nostramus’s mix of Drum ‘n’ Bass, Dub and Electronica may not appeal to every UK Decay listener but I know it will to some. Most of the guys in UK Decay, actually love Dub and Reggae music and have done so since the 70’s so there is nothing new there. The D ‘n’ B scene has received a lot of bad press in the past. Understandably, for many, the tragic murder of Sophie Lancaster by ‘hoodie’ thugs has put some people off the musical tastes of these low-life monsters. But I believe that mutated minorities in any genre, should not be allowed to hold good music to ransom.”
D.S.# Drum and bass was cool back then?
“From my point of view, the early hedonistic nineties D ‘n’ B scene was an invigorating and exciting proposition for many who wished to carry alternative music forward. The development in recording and playback technologies opened up a new universe of musical exploration and possibilities. Earth shaking bass lines, impossibly tight drum structures, emotive complexity in keyboard sound-scapes and sampling, all led to a new excitement in the then stale music scene. I took the plunge into this maelstrom, as it’s part of my make-up to explore new musical adventures.”
D.S.# Surely being an ex-punk had drawbacks on the emerging drum and bass scene
“The movers and shakers of this emerging British scene were young DJ’s who had no hack with the old ‘rules’ of creating music. Like many others, evolving from the former 80’s punk scene I moved into the D ‘n’ B at a early stage in its development.
I liked the anarchic approach to creating the music and found for a time comradeship and a sense of purpose and enjoyment in the underground party scene. Back then I found a refreshing openness and tolerance to the music and the people generally in the scene…anything went!”
D.S.# What gave you the idea, or set you on the journey to creating a drum and bass album?
“Drum and Bass as well as other so-called ‘rave-music’ was developing it’s own set of rules that related to the flux’s and flow of the dance-floor. My tastes were still on the darker, deeper and hopefully more thoughtful side. At that time I was a recording studio engineer/producer and that made me open to a wide input of styles. Steve Harle introduced me to the D ‘n’ B scene back in the very early nineties. He encouraged me to embark on the musical journey that would eventually create my first album under the name Nostramus.
I called the new album ‘Earthlights’ and it summed up four crazy years of my experience of the underground party scene at a time when the music was at its most vibrant, purist form.”
D.S.# What was your aim in creating Earthlights your first album, how did you go about determining what it would be?
“The album was written using Atari computers, but I wanted it to have a live feel. I invited guests to contribute spoken and sung performances. The tunes included obscure iconic samples to create light and dark moods to give a sense of meaning. My aim was to create the most organic quality as possible, to create a journey for the listener. I wanted something that was easy to listen to, yet also had a deeper, substantial level. As a ‘non’ DJ, I even broke the dance mix rules, making it virtually impossible for DJ’s to mix the album with other tracks. I wanted to make ‘Earthlights’ stand out in a crowd.”
D.S.# Sum up Earthlights message?
“‘Earthlights’ takes the listener on a journey through themes, ranging from our pagan past, to future space travel. It questions and studies the doubts and optimisms of the human race.”
D.S.# How many did Earthlights sell back in the nineties, how did it fit in with the drum and bass scene?
“I released this album first in the UK in 1997, on ‘Recordings of Substance’, and then licensed it to ‘Shadow Records’ for the US market in 1998. In total, there were 6000 sales worldwide. It didn’t make the top ten, but it sold steadily over a period of time and some of the feedback from reviews and emails have been fantastically encouraging. A review a couple of years back summed it up quite nicely “Probably the best Drum and Bass album you have never heard!”
D.S.# What led you to re-mastering Earthlights?
“Although I was reasonably happy with the original mastering of Earthlights, I’ve since become more fluent with audio mastering techniques. In the new edition of Earthlights, I reworked the source master tapes, taking care with every step of the process in order to retain the original concept and flow. I feel I’ve now created a much more considered dynamic to the sound-scape, hopefully bringing the whole thing up to today’s audio standards and listen ability.”
D.S.# Did you just re-master or is there anything else added or taken away?
“Aside from the re-mastering, I have re-edited and re-mixed ‘Babel’ the opening track to the album, mixing in some new warped-up a-men from the un-released Jungle version of Babel. There are also one or two other new samples, subtly crafted into some of the other pieces to spice up the mix. Overall, I am much happier now with the sound and flow of the re-mastered album and I hope the listener will enjoy it even more”
D.S.# What about the rumours of Earthlights II any chance soon?
“I have had most of the material for this sitting on my shelves now for a good few years. Now with the help of Diamond Seeds work is in progress to see this project through. I shall be editing and remixing some of the material and with the addition some new performances and samples, I will collate into the final cut. I am hoping for around March April 2010.
D.S.# UK Decay are famous for being one of the first eighties post-punk bands, to make the crossover from ‘punk’ to ‘goth’
What are your future plans with UK Decay, are you enjoying their revival?
“I am really enjoying playing live with Decay again. It’s a real buzz playing guitar in a live situation, I had forgotten about that.
Because of commitments however, Decay can only play a few times a year, which is fine by me. UK Decay are currently working on a new album, which is an exciting challenge. Getting wild sounds out of my guitar is refreshing to me after so many years of programming songs together. The guys in UK Decay between them have a wealth of new ideas and experience to draw upon. At the end of the day UK Decay were adventuress in seeking out new sounds, we were ‘dark’ back in the day and that’s partly my fault, so they tell me! I look forward to mashing it up with them.”
D.S.# Any future Nostramus beyond Earthlights II?
“We shall have to wait and see!”