Off the back of a couple of massive LP releases in 2019, his 2020 EP really hit home for us. John Beltran has an enviable history of releases with records on some of the most legitimate labels out there, from Curle to more recently Delsin. It was a pleasure to be able to catch up with John for a chat about his music and his life in the studio.
After releasing your 12th full length on Delsin last year, and also another Placid Angles LP in the same year – 2019 was a big one. It’s seems like a crazy question but, how has 2020 been for you?
2020 has been great musically considering everything that’s goin’ on. Aside from no traveling and DJ gigs. I made a decision early in the shutdown that I needed to increase my output. There wasn’t much else to do than write music.In fact there still isn’t. I’m working on my third Placid Angles LP as we speak.
Also a film that I scored is coming out soon. The project has been in the works for a couple of years and is finally coming to fruition. It’s called Doors. It’s a trippy hip sic fi horror directed by killer young director and good friend of mine Saman Kesh. Look him up.
Your 2020 EP is an amazing work of Ambient / Dub Techno. Did it come together easily? or was it harder to get in the studio with everything going on?
Thank you. I cooked that one up pretty quickly. It’s kinda my sound innit? Easy for me to do technically but yes the emotion is there on this one for sure. Of late I’ve produced plenty of music with what most would consider my “sound” but I don’t always nail the emotion part. Maybe because the deepest emotions aren’t always there? Even when they are there sometimes the music doesn’t quite match the emotion. For example, my song “Eevie” on the 2020 EP has a special place in my heart as my fiance and I were going to name our new child Eevie if it was girl but we unfortunately had a miscarriage. I don’t think the song is necessarily specifically connected to those emotions. I just happened to be writing this EP when we found out and thought it would be a nice tribute to our situation. I don’t think I’ve drawn directly from those emotions of our loss in my music yet. Maybe never will or maybe it’s everywhere in my music. I don’t know. As for getting into the studio it’s just in the next room so no it wasn’t hard! We were all just going into a lockdown globally when I started the 2020 EP. So I suppose there may be a melancholy mood to the music and an uncertainty in there. That’s up to the listener. I definitely needed to keep my mind busy during that strange time. Technically I definitely drew from my LP Hallo Androiden textures on the 2020 EP. My transitions can be pretty deliberate from project to project. So there was some spill over sonically. Lot’s of 808!
How do you see your sound nowadays? what style is inspiring you of late?
Well I’ve always done a little bit of everything. I’m finishing up my Placid LP which is more breaks, ambient pads, feminine vocals and nature samples. Staying true to that sound is important to me under that moniker. It’s a great way for me to visit those great days of the early 90’s when the spirit of the music was full of positivity and community. This Placid LP may just be the best of the three! I’m about to start a new jazz project under Sol Set a side project from 20 years ago with my two good friends John Arnold and Jeremy Ellis.
As far as influences. I’m in an Autumn romantic sort of mood since spending my time with my fiance. We listen to a lot of world music, jazz, tons of Peter Gabriel, Dominic Miller (Stings guitarist), Sting. A lot of Brazilian music. We love an artist named Rodrigo Aramante from Brazil.
Last year you revisited your Placid Angles guise for the first time after 22 years, how was that? is it something you would visit again, or a project you are happy to leave again for a bit?
Haha, read answer above! For me Placid is back to stay. The second Placid Angles LP on Magicwire was a cool revisit but I tried too hard to emulate specific songs from first LP from 1997. Seemed like a cool idea at first but my Placid approach was always to keep pushing the emotions forward. I loved working on it with A&R Sami from Magicwire though and I’m happy the reemergence of the project was so well taken. Look out for the new one though! No label yet.
How do you see your sound progressing? What’s coming up in 2021?
Placid 2021, Sol Set and a new John Beltran for Further Electronix. Oh yeah and a possible Indio EP for Subwax to follow up the vinyl reissue of my Indio LP. My sound is honed in. Love all of my gear at the moment. Just gotta execute these big ideas I have!
How does a day in the studio usually begin for you?
Vitamins, Kombucha and fruit first. No coffee for me just tons of water. So I walk in hydrated, light on my feet with positive energy. I generally listen to something. Maybe something of mine. I do a little reflecting on different things. Whether it be time with my 9 year old son. A great chill evening from the night before with my lady. I sleep really freaking well so I’m usually really motivated. I then start flipping on switches!
Let’s get into the details, tell us a little bit about your current studio setup?
Oh man. I’m loving a couple of my new synths. My Prophet and Korg Wavestate are gonna bring my listeners a lot of joy for the next couple of releases! I’m basically a Dave Smith and Korg guy. I also use Omnisphere and Machine as virtual plugins. I record in Digital Performer at the moment. I will be integrating Pro Tools into my set up for my Jazz project. I will be running Pro Tools with an Avid S3 provided to me by Avid as a sponsorship. I’m excited to get my head around that amazing little monster.
Are there any bits of kit you find yourself using a lot?
I used Omnisphere quite a bit for scoring Doors. I also used my Moog Mother 32 for some insane arps that set the sic fi tone for the score. Other than that I just let it flow and scroll presets for the most part. I generally let the pros make the sounds and I just find and use them! I don’t like spending time in the studio doing anything but writing the music.
How do you usually start to lay down a track – Do you perform or program?
I perform everything. No plugging in notes from this guy but I do have to move notes that I played to the correct spot because my dumb computer didn’t quantize something the way I wanted it to! This human is in full control! I don’t usually start with chords then rhythms necessarily. It’s never the same from day to day. If I’m feeling feisty then I get the beats poppin’ first and if I feel introspective then it’s chords and melody first.
Can you share any production techniques that you think would really help people?
Well. I’m kind of known for my arpeggios no? So historically I would play chords and when I found the change I liked I would master them by moving my fingers rhythmically so the changes are locked into my hands and muscle memory. I then would hit record and move the fingers to the rhythm (off beat though with a swing) for a couple of bars. Going up the scale and back down sometimes and sometimes up the scale then abruptly back down then up with one note then down for two for more variation. Old trick but not for young electronic producers in the mid 90’s. I definitely do less of that nowadays. Less is more to me the older I get. Quality over quantity.
Do find it important to work quickly? or do you take your time?
Depends. I work quick on remixes. I generally get an idea of what I want to right away after hearing the song. But yeah I’m a work horse. I like to crank it out.
Your mixes are superb, the tone and gelled sound is immaculate. What is your technique to give it that uniform nicely pulled together sound?
It wasn’t always that way. I have a few releases that sound awful to me. Like what was I thinking at the time. Ten Days of Blue is so refined and defined and Placid Angles The cry is so mushy but I guess I was trying to say two different things on those projects. I now have a grasp on post production that I didn’t have in the 90’s. But to your point. I’ve mastered the Korg Dave Smith mix. They sound great together. My Delsin LPs all have that blend with a little Omnisphere and Machine thrown in. It seems to be my new recipe for that uniform sound you speak of.
If there is one thing you have learnt in the past couple of years in terms of music and production, that you could tell a younger self. What would it be?
That’s a good question. I think all of what I would tell my 90’s self for instance would be told by my 35 year old self. I’m now 51 and I actually try and draw on the enthusiasm of my youth nowadays. Sure technically there is a ton of boring stuff I could go into but for me my music is all about emotions. Now if it was 51 year old me talking to any age me before now I’d say keep it up kid.
What is the most important production skill set that people need to nail down?
Hmmm. I say play the keys. You may suck at first. You may not but you won’t suck if you keep at it and have great ideas and vision of what you want your music to be. Being a musician is a process. Sometimes we hit lighting in a bottle early on according to the critics but we have to remain on course and trust the process. I’m still chasing my perfect song.
Can you clue us into some people who are inspiring you that we might not know?
Like I mentioned before. Dominic Miller is at the top of my list along with artists like Gustavo Santaolalla, Manfredo Fest, Rodrigo Aramante and Djavan. More so because I’m starting a jazz latin project soon and feeling out inspiration for that. As for more contemporary machine music artists I’m digging Floating Points. He has a great tune called “Anasickmodular”. I’m working with a couple of great artists at the moment Barbara Braccini AKA Malibu and Baby Blue. I’m a huge fan of Cinematic Orchestra and of course Radiohead forever. I also can’t wait to play Caribou’s “Home” for my first time back playing an intimate bar gig. The vibes will set the night on fire. And we all need that again. Bad.
What next for you?
“The world Chico and everything in it”. Kidding. Music, healthy living, healthy mind and family. The important stuff always.