SHA Events // Soma20 Exhibition Review
20 Years – a china or porcelain anniversary, a lifetime and then some in terms of a record label. Soma Quality Recordings is no mere label, it’s a family and that’s the exact quality which has seen it succeed where so many others have packed in. 20 years on and Soma continues to lead and inspire in the electronic field.
Over the last Year Soma have been celebrating this milestone with a formidable series of releases from artists familiar and fresh to the label. Claude Von Stroke, Joris Voorn, Santos, Radio Slave, Ryan Crosson, Alex Under, Joe Stawarz, Pig & Dan, Mark Reeve, Carl Craig, Andrew Weatherall and Kink are among those getting involved with label regulars Alex Smoke, Percy X, Silicone Soul, Slam (obviously) and even some previously unreleased material from those two robot guys who first made their name via the label; Daft Punk.
Aside the releases, Soma have also enjoyed a series of club events. Soma20 parties have taken place at Rockness, Fabric and Slam/Soma’s own night Pressure. This weekend has seen the accumulation of the Soma20 celebrations with an exhibition of artwork and a mini session of the much loved Soma Skool at SWG3 in Glasgow.
The main focus of the exhibition was to showcase the talents of Soma’s graphic designer Niall Smillie and the team at fourtwentyseven design. 427 are behind all of the artwork adorning the Soma20 campaign. 20 special limited edition prints of all Soma20 release artwork and sleeves have been created, hand signed and numbered for the lucky few to purchase over the exhibition and online for those who cannot attend.
Alongside the art display, Soma also decided to treat us to a mini verion of the ever popular but not seen since 2009, Soma Skool. The aim of Soma Skool is to provide a platform for people to get a view into creative and musical industries via demonstrations, discussions, Q&A’s and more with leading industry professionals. A highlight for me personally was in 2008; following an insightful discussion on the state of the scene featuring DJ Sneak and Anja Schnieder, rushing straight up to Sneak and getting a signature on my Fix My Sink wax. Possibly sad but very true and a treasured possession to this day, still immaculate within it’s frame – thanks Urban Outfitters for your vinyl frames…. House Music Lives 2008 DJ Sneak
This event was lower key but no less educational. Taking place in the SWG3 gallery, spaces were limited and with interest high, people who acted quickly on the registration front were those who ultimately enjoyed the exclusive, intimate vibe of the setting.
First up fourtwentyseven’s Niall Smillie presents an overview of the deisgn process involved in a Soma project and the subject matter being Slam’s Collecting Data LP. The key point stressed from Niall being all work must reflect what the artist has done. This means listening to the track(s), looking at the artist’s previous associated art and where possible, get the input from the artist themselves. Early discussions revealed Slam wanted something sculptural, industrial, abstract and with muted colours taking inspiration from the infamous Factory Records designs.
Niall went on to describe the various techniques of background design: illustrative, photgraphic and graphic with examples of each from the Soma catalogue. On this occasion Slam opted for photographic then began the process of picking colour palettes, fonts and finally developing images. The next stage is taking a potential design back to the client for approval then the inevitable redesign that follows and repeats until a final piece is agreed and published.
Next up, Silicone Soul‘s Graeme Reedie allows us a look at his first stages of track production using Logic. Graeme starts by grabbing a little loop from a disco based track and brings into logic’s sampler before adding effects including a running filter to bend the sample as it plays. It may seem a backwards way to produce but the secret here is he will always start with this process of making a middle or melody first, beats can come after and by his own admission, making the drums is his least favourite part. A metronome will do to keep time for now.
A bassline is added, FX are next and Graeme bring out his own sounds recordings of pots and pans being dipped in and out of water. This is accompanied by NASA recordings of a satellite orbiting Jupiter and, for good measure, some whale noise. Much more time would be needed to get this all into a feasible track but in this short demo, you can already hear some interesting grooves and get an insight into how Graeme works. Upon questioning, Graeme sites goldbaby as an excellent source for free samples, so check it out.
After a short comfort break we are onto the third display, this time from Sub Club’s Esa Williams and we turn our sights to Ableton. Esa explains he is an ableton tutor and you can easily see why with his structured display of the basic functions in the software. We start on the session view where the layout of the screen is explained in depth before moving into key mapping and controller use. Esa comes complete with an Akai APC40 and if you had been there, like me you would totally want, sorry need one now too.
We continue through ableton and look at warping and effects with Esa’s motto firmly in having fun with experimentation using the plethora of such tools ableton supplies, even before you add your own plugins. A live jam demo is next, the APC40 in full flow and all the while being recorded into the arrangement view. We touch on the ability to chop, change and extend your recorded vibes before this session is over, an hour in a blink of an eye.
Finally, to close proceedings we have Soma team member and ears behind Glowcast Mastering, Conor Dalton. Before setting up his own studio, Conor has expansive training in his art via studies in Dublin, Glasgow and time spent working in Canada. Now a go-to-guy for Soma productions, Conor’s deft touch has featured on tracks from his own musical heroes in Daft Punk, Carl Craig, John Digweed, Slam and many more. We begin with a quick demo showing the difference between a mastered and un-mastered track using Pig & Dan’s forthcoming Soma record Lone Ranger. Although the venue isn’t really suitable for sound engineering conditions there is still a noticable difference between the two.
We follow by covering topics on compression and EQ utilising further demos with Mark Reeve’s Dice and Paperclip People’s Throw (Slam Remix) both of which engineered at Glowcast. Conor lets us in to his two secret weapons; Parallel Compression and Mid Side EQ. I won’t dwell on these, mainly because I am certainly no mastering expert and would probably get something wrong but I’m sure you could find out more from the man himself.
Conor leaves us with the final thought: Take your time, learn your skills and trade. A sentiment that rings true with all the presentations today and certainly to any record label hoping to emulate Soma’s success.
20 Years draw to a close. Here’s to 20 more. I may well be 50 years old when Soma40 Skool comes around but I have a feeling I’ll still be getting there early to get a good seat, taking notes and listening intently.
Thank you to all at Soma for 20 great Years and everyone involved in the Soma20 Exhibition.
Words: Craig Fraser