WORDS: Alex Caslano
“The 2000s will always be the decade that contained the most exciting, mental and memorable electronic music experiences for me.” Talking to us from his base in Inverness, John Clark aka Debukas has some stories to tell. During the 90s he toured the world with electro-pop three piece, Bis, while the following decade saw him work with the likes of Franz Ferdinand, Mylo and Linus Loves. He speaks fondly of legendary Glasgow nights Monox and Numbers, both in their relative infancy ten years ago, while he credits Optimo as “turning a lot of people on to the idea of guitars and live instruments in electronic dance music.” It was an exciting time indeed, but with the arrival of his new project, Debukas, in 2010, we get the sense that John is only just getting started.
“The Debukas thing came to be in the space of one day when I made four tracks in my flat using the MacBook Mic for vocals” recalls John. “About a year later I sent them to a few labels including 2020 Vision, and Andy got straight back to me saying he could hear album potential in there.” That album came in the form of last year’s ‘I Am Machinery’, an eleven track journey through leftfield house and quirky electronica. Widely applauded for its warmth, soul and texture, it’s an album which transcends the club, with John’s vocals floating over soft, analogue grooves and spacious rhythms.
“I’ve loved hearing people’s reactions to it” he tells us, “especially to the vocals as I don’t consider myself to be that great a singer. My favourite memory of 2012 was playing live at a heaving 2020 event in London and a guy pushing all the way from the back to the front and advising me to stop the singing. That’s when I starting singing more.” It’s an album which we’ve not stopped listening to since we discovered it earlier this year, the type of record which soundtracks lazy Sundays and afterparties alike. “I’d like to get back into producing stuff for others, but also doing Debukas with guest vocalists” John says when asked about the future. “As always it’s money to pay for, but if I can one day achieve a Stop Making Sense scale production my life will be complete.” Based on his past achievements, anything is possible.
Check out a stream of ‘I Am Machinery’ below, as well as an interview in which we talk about Glasgow in the 2000s, analogue passion and what convinced him that singing on his album was actually a good idea:
SG: So we gather you have quite a colourful history in music as you were once part of Scottish indie band, Bis, and later helped Mylo on ‘Destroy Rock N Roll’; at what point did you decide to break away and really start concentrating on your own music?
Debukas: Yeah I’ve covered a fair bit of ground musically since things got going in the 90s with Bis. By the time I was 20 I’d toured around the world, had major label deals, been dropped, all that. Come 2008 and I’d been in various bands, produced other artists in my studio, made noised up electro (Dirty Hospital), replayed samples (Mylo) and was itching to do something different. The Debukas thing came to be in the space of one day when I made four tracks in my flat using the MacBook Mic for vocals. About a year later I sent them to a few labels including 2020 Vision, and Andy got straight back to me saying he could hear album potential in there. So from 2010 onwards this has been my musical focus.
SG: You also worked with the likes of Franz Ferdinand and did a cracking remix of their 2009 single ‘No You Girls’ under your John Disco guise; would you describe the last decade as an exciting time for electronic music in Scotland and how would you compare it to now?
Debukas: The 2000s will always be the decade that contained the most exciting, mental and memorable electronic music experiences for me, but today there is just as much exciting new music to be found. Between 02/05 for me, Glasgow was throwing up some amount of new nights and the likes of Monox and Numbers went from strength to strength. Optimo turned a lot of people on to the idea of guitars and live instruments in electronic dance music. All that good stuff has definitely shaped what’s happening today. It’s exciting in a different way for me now, being a bit older and not tearing it up in the clubs so much. I’m releasing music, making connections with amazing artists and getting to play in some great cities. As a music buyer in 2014 the sheer choice can be overwhelming, but the excitement comes in finding gems amongst the noise, in places you wouldn’t expect to find it.
SG: Your music is widely applauded for its live, analogue quality and you’ve been fondly referred to as the "one man synth orchestra" by some; where did your love for hardware begin and how did that eventually inform Debukas?
Debukas: Me and my brother got a Juno6 when I was about 13, and a Roland R5 drum machine. We started recording stuff in a studio called Apollo and they had a small collection of synths which we mucked about on. We eventually bought into that place, and eventually took it over. I never really touched a soft synth until about 2007 when I got my MacBook; so for me analogue synths are just something I’ve grown up with. But I do get why there’s a fascination with them and an interest in anyone using them, because they are becoming very collectable and expensive! I couldn’t afford to buy any of my synths at today’s prices.
SG: We saw a great feature you did with Attack Magazine in which you gave them a tour of your studio and all the wonderful gear within it; what’s your most cherished piece of kit and how do you used it in your productions?
Debukas: I’ll always say the Jupiter6, just because it is such a beast. I love its default out of tuneness (which can be fixed at the touch of a button) and versatility. I sometimes use it for drum hits, but mostly it gets pad and topline duties. It’s a physically big and heavy machine, with a lot of controls and a shiteload of character.
SG: Obviously there’s an ongoing (and somewhat tired) debate about analogue Vs digital, and while there are clearly advantages and disadvantages to both, are you quite resolute that hardware delivers better sound? Do you think there is something missing, both in the process and product if you’re staring at a screen and not getting hands-on?
Debukas: It’s an unnecessary debate I think. You go with what works for you, and you’re most likely to be of the mind that what you use is best. Analogue gear is all about the interface for me, and I’m always going to be more creative and get better results when I’m hands-on. In most cases, if I hear a digital reproduction of a synth I have I’ll think the analogue version is that bit better, but that’s not to dismiss the digital world. What you can do with Max/MSP these days is pretty fantastic, and provided I have a decent controller I don’t see that there’s a theoretical difference between analogue/digi.
SG: It was great to see such a positive reaction to your album ‘I Am Machinery’ last year, with many people commenting not only on its warmth and soul, but also the song writing at play. Was it a challenge to make something sound personal and alive using mostly machinery? And did that aspect influence the album title?
Debukas: Yeah I’ve loved hearing people’s reactions to it, especially to the vocals as I don’t consider myself to be that great or soulful a singer. I don’t find it too difficult to combine the human and the machinery aspects; I suppose I’m just a massive Gary Numan fan; but also a massive Stevie Wonder fan. So that figures. The vocals can still be a bit of a barrier for some folk. My favourite memory of 2012 was playing live at a heaving 2020 event in London and a guy pushing all the way from the back to the front and advising me to stop the singing. That’s when I starting singing more. ‘I Am Machinery’ was inspired by going it alone and being solely responsible for my musical actions.
SG: We have to say, we were extremely happy to secure a mix with you and you’ve certainly delivered; were there any particular tracks that formed the basis for the mix and how closely does it represent you in a club environment?
Debukas: The first half of the mix is stuff I’m playing out just now when I DJ - mostly new bits. The second half is a short live set, along the lines of what I did at Sonar this summer. It’s a fairly exact snapshot of what I give in a club environment. I’m mostly listening to stuff on
Mood Hut and Blind Jack’s Journey at the minute, so that may have had an influence on things. Maybe not...
SG: Looking forward, where would you ultimately like to go with Debukas? Do you have aspirations to build on the live show or perhaps work with guest vocalists? It seems like this is very much an exciting time for you!
Debukas: All those things. I’d like to get back into producing stuff for others, but also doing Debukas with guest vocalists. And I’d love to tailor a live show to suit a small band with a few singers. As always it’s money to pay for, and getting hooked up with people that are the barriers to getting this stuff on the go, but if I can one day achieve a Stop Making Sense scale production my life will be complete.
SG: Cool, calm and collected, this month’s Synth Presents mix doesn’t offer big bass or towering builds. Instead, Debukas weaves together a series of stripped-back grooves which take you deep into the afterhours. With the second half of the mix recorded as a live set comprised of his own material, consider this a personal invitation onto his very own dancefloor…and the lights definitely won’t be coming up at 3.
1/ Lee Gamble - Untitled Reversion
2/ Jack J - Take It To The Edge
3/ Seb Wildblood - Hunney
4/ Komon - Walk the Walk
5/ Thomalla - Polymath
6/ Masimilliano Pagliara - A Dream I Get Stuck In
7/ Nuclear Family - Give Yourself to Me
Debukas Live Set
8/ Debukas - Golden Mind
9/ Debukas - Rings
10/ Debukas - Reach Out Feel
11/ Debukas - Loads of Time
12/ Debukas - Shake
13/ Debukas -The Chase