Today we are pleased to welcome our next guest, UK based artist James Harcourt, who has just seen the release of his track ‘AutoDisco’ on the iconic Imprint Renaissance. James’ track finds it’s home on Vol.4 of the label’s burgeoning ‘Merin EP’ VA series, one that we’ve been following closely and enjoying since its inception. The release marks a special moment for James who is poised for a milestone year ahead. Enjoy!
Hey James, great to speak to you today. Where are you based at the moment?
I’m in Sussex, in the UK – about halfway between Brighton and Gatwick Airport.
There may be some readers that aren’t familiar with you yet. Can you tell us a bit about yourself and your path in music over the years? We hear the 90s played a crucial role in you as an artist?
I’ve been in and out (mostly out!) of music for years and I’ve kept the same artist name… but I only really “graduated” to becoming a “real” artist in 2020 or so. Before that I became dormant and irrelevant for so long, that I’m essentially a newcomer to the scene. The journey started as a teenager playing guitar in punk influenced indie bands… Then I discovered clubs / prog / techno around 1996-1997. My girlfriend introduced me to Renaissance via their weekly night at the legendary Cross club in London. London was amazing at that time – parties all over, packed out, people piling in from all over, 1-in-1-out on the door by midnight. We were raving all weekend and sometimes midweek, they were excessive times! I dabbled with production and DJing a bit but wasn’t really focused. There were pockets of success – I made my first record around 2001 but I hadn’t a clue what I was doing, but somehow it got included on a big compilation… but things fizzled out right after. I started again around 2006 with a label and had a bit of a surge in 2007-2008 with a few Beatport top 10s, a Radio 1 interview and the momentum peaked with a Beatport number one in 2008… but once again, total lack of self-discipline in life and no management or career strategy meant the wheels came off again. I ended up quitting the scene for years, but during the pandemic I felt the calling… so I learned how to mix records properly (finally), mastered Cubase, adopted a creative process that uses a fraction of the time but is way more productive – and most important of all, I made key changes to life / attitude / headspace. So yeah, the 90s was essentially my clubbing education and those experiences stay with you – so I’m sure those feelings are subconsciously a part of what drives that spontaneous energy in the studio flow state. But with production – I’m still learning… I think we always are… but I only reached what I’d call a consistently decent level in the studio last year.
We’re here today to chat about your track ‘AutoDisco’ on the Merin EP Vol.4 on Renaissance. Another great instalment in the VA EP series from Renaissance, with AutoDisco making a brilliant addition. Can you tell us about it?
AutoDisco actually started as a slightly different track, I had a Moog lead line that sounded more like the timbre of a guitar, it was pleasant to my ears but wasn’t quite right for a club track. I returned to it after leaving for a month or two, as often I do with misfires, and built a new track around it. I don’t set out with fixed ideas but somewhere in my subconscious I want to create music that either generates or feeds into the kind of positive energy and excitement you get on the dancefloor or at the bar in a club or even in the entrance to a club when things are really starting to get going – but also to generate emotion and tell a story using sounds and timbres that pique my interest. With AutoDisco there are subtle hints of classic house/progressive/deep, but combined with variations of my preferred ways of producing melodic sounds and progressions… and it is these elements which hopefully make it identifiable as a James Harcourt record.
What does it mean to be releasing through such a renowned label?
The Renaissance brand has always been synonymous with quality – from their London and Ibiza club nights to the legendary mix CDs – during my formative years these were a benchmark that few matched and my favourite DJs over the years, mostly I have heard them at their best at Renaissance nights. Technically it’s not my first time appearing with Renaisance as I had a track called “Arachnofunk” in 2007 on Renaissance Sequential mixed by Hernán Cattáneo. It’s a great privilege to release through such an iconic label at any time, however – and to be on such a carefully curated EP of quality artists is fantastic.
Have the events we have found ourselves in the past couple of years influenced this track at all?
I wouldn’t say so, no. With much of the music I have made over the last year, I’ve transported myself in the studio to a totally different situation anyway. Maybe it’s true that without the lockdown the need and space to be able to do this may not have been there? Hard to say 🙂
What’s your creative process in the studio and have you any go to pieces of equipment?
My creative process in the studio changed completely when I returned to music at the start of 2021. I used to book out days at a time to slave over single tracks all day and wonder why there was almost zero progress after 10 hours straight – and the result was uninspiring at the end of it. In late 2020 / early 2021 the penny finally dropped that distractions like alcohol, social media and – this is the important one – left-brained thinking… so this includes trying to sound like you think somebody else wants you to sound, comparing to other artists etc… all these things needed to go. Any of those things will destroy creativity. I realised that the sessions needed to be much more short and focused – and at a more creative time of day. So I work on music for 1 or 2 hours – maybe 3 at absolute max in one sitting… very early in the morning starting maybe at 5am. This never feels like work, it’s always a joy – even if the result is eventually below par. I turn off the phone, close everything on the computer that isn’t necessary for producing and turn off the left side of my brain. I make sure to complete all the tracks I start to some degree. I like to design sounds in the evening just for 30 minutes or 1 hour – no more, on some nights. I find with these frequent short, focused sessions yields better results than days at a time of flogging a dead horse. If a track isn’t flowing – I just start something new, immediately. Or just have a reset moment… listen to each sound and ditch anything that doesn’t excite me. It isn’t hard for me to become energised and inspired when messing with these synths and modern sequencing utilities and effects… Usually within a few minutes I’ve got a core idea that I can buzz off long enough to arrange into a full track. This first effort is often a misfire, but I’ll usually go back to it in a few days, weeks or even months – and it will become something that hits the right level. As far as go-to equipment goes – the moog voyager, nord 3 and sh-101 are my go-to synths here, but in combination with the power of Cubase the possibilities are hugely exciting.
After a difficult couple of years things finally look like they’re getting somewhat back to normal within the music. What are you most excited about this year and where can we expect to catch you?
For me personally, aside from the restrictions of COVID – the last two years have been a big upturn from what was going on before that in my life. I haven’t felt bored or frustrated at all, quite the opposite. I hadn’t been on the DJ circuit for a while anyway so I wasn’t missing that. This year, I have more E.Ps slated and I’m excited to release those, but generally I’m pretty excited every day 🙂
Thanks for chatting with us today James! To round off, is there anything else upcoming you’d like to share with us?
Pleasure 🙂 I have a new E.P coming next month – and it will be my 2nd E.P for that label. There are other things in the pipeline but nothing that I can really speak about with certainty at this moment.
Buy link: https://lnk.to/REN2204D