In the beating heart of Bristol's Stokes Croft area sits a strange little store. Situated opposite the notorious Turbo Island, modular synth shop Elevator Sound attracts the most niche electronic musicians from the city and further afield. Ben Chilton and Hamish Mitchinson hold down the fort day to day and have provided this absolutely WILD live modular jam for us. It's hard to get your head around the fact this ISN'T a highly polished live set of existing productions. Book these two to play live immediately basically...
For the uninitiated what is Elevator Sound? Ben: We are a community minded, brick & mortar specialist synth store based on Stokes Croft in Bristol. We mostly focus on interesting and unusual desktop synths, drum machines and modular system - although we also run courses, workshops, a festival (Machina Bristronica), gigs, a monthly radio show and loads more!
What is it about Bristol that makes it a hub for this level of nerdery?
Ben: There's definitely something in the water when it comes to creativity in Bristol, there's a spillover from scenes and genres which I haven’t found so prevalent elsewhere. You’ll find grind heads at techno nights and the house crowd at folk shows. This applies to artistic practise as well, people loaning and lending gear, collaborating on projects and introducing each other to relevant meet ups, ideas and new gear!
Hamish: It’s a city where individuality is celebrated, and I think nerdery is just a part of that - people are open to share their passions and interests without fear of judgement. The fact that it's such a musical city means nerdery in that world is especially prominent.
How else do you like to nerd out, aside from music?
Hamish: I’m really into my History, particularly Anglo-Saxon and Celtic. The pagan mythology and folklore that surrounds these eras just fascinates me.
Ben: I’m a huge horror and sci-fi fan, Carpenter, Cronenberg and anything low budget! Otherwise I’ve got a few long running Dungeons and Dragons games on the go (shout out to The Church!) and a small library of books and zines on folk history.
What is the first ever modular synth you came across and ignited your passion in this pretty niche area of music?
Ben: It was back on a student holiday to Berlin - I forced all my mates to walk in the snow to the temporary Schniedersladen spot and they left me there for a few hours. I think it was an ADDAC system that I spent that time with and fully fell in love with how unpredictable and exploratory it was.
Hamish: I was introduced to modular through the shop! I was a first year student at dBs Music in Bristol and Ben came in to do a sorta introductory workshop on Eurorack and promote the shop to us newbies. After that it became a bit of an obsession and here we are.
Tell us about this mix, it’s both of you right? Who’s taking care of which parts, if you can break it down a little for us?
Ben: The Mainframe take care of all parts - we are simply pilots and patch engineering to constraint it within musical limitations. Hamish is responsible for many of the leads, pads and melodic information - while my parts are percussion, basses and some of the more textural effects. A duet if you will, I’m really proud of how both our individual styles came through on this one.
Hamish: So Ben focuses the drums and bass, while I was on main synth lines, chords and the more ethereal bits. There's a bit of interplay in roles we fill, we have ideas on the fly about where each other's sections should go next but it's such a massive system in the shop and it works better if we focus on certain parts and let motifs come and go as we play.
Share a track each that you made that you’re really proud of…
Hamish : The track name is Gorrace is a Gangerous Man.
It’s a bit of a silly tune but there's something about the drums I can't get enough of.
A raw and ready industrial dancehall tune from last year - I like to world-build a lot with my projects to give them a sense of cohesion and place. The Strangling Glass alias lives in a very Tetsuo-inspired world of filth and sinful human-machine fusion, which I feel comes off pretty well here!
What are your fave club nights to go to in Bristol?
Ben: Psychotherapy Sessions, Strictly Yes, Slack Alice, Schwet and the newly minted Health & Beauty are personal favourites. Always the best crowd and each one brings something new and exciting to Bristol for each booking.
Hamish: The Bristol based label Pressure Dome has put on two of the best nights I’ve been to this year. Insanely talented group of producers bringing something fresh and exciting to the table with every release and event.
If someone was booking you to DJ, what would be your USP?
Hamish: I’ll glitch out and layer up every track using a Koass Pad... it sounds sick I promise.
Ben: A lot of crunchy synth pop, chugging rollers, skwonky electro and maybe a little noise to cleanse the palette.
What modular synth would be a holy grail for you to own or even just have a go on?
Ben: It’s always been a dream to get my hands on one of the early Buchla machines - the newer remakes are great but that level of chaos and surprise the 60’s systems offered sounds like such a joy to try and wrangle! Also I’d love to see if the red panel has still got any juice...
Hamish: Buchla Music easel from 1973 has to be the one. It's a thing of beauty - the sounds I’ve heard come from it are so unique, almost organic. It's so inspiring.
What’s your advice for someone considering exploring modular?
Ben: See it like a ‘build your own instrument’ system - you can do whatever you want! Having an idea of what you to do with it is the best place to start, then it’s about finding the modules which sound/perform how you envision the instrument.
Take it slowly and learn your modules inside out, you’ll be amazed at how deep even a simple envelope can be. If you need some pointers or just someone to chat to, we’re always on the end of the phone!
Visit Elevator Sound at 74 Stokes Croft, St Paul's, Bristol BS1 3QY.
Join the boys at Strange Brew with fellow local modular afficiando Finlay Shakespeare on Friday 10th December.