Stewart Walker

Athens, Georgia is a town often associated with the indie-pop melodies of REM, but it also happens to be home to one of techno’s most promising new talents

By Nick Craddock

 
Stewart Walker is somewhat of a maverick in this respect – having grown up far from the close-knit musical communities of Detroit and Chicago, his path into techno was forged independently. Drawing early inspiration from the dense textural guitar washes of British ‘shoegazing’ bands Lush and My Bloody Valentine, he was at first moved to pick up the guitar but found himself more interested in experimenting with guitar noise and effects pedals than song writing. An avid interest in British music magazines such as the NME introduced Stewart to early electronic pioneers 808 State, The Orb, and the output of the fledgling Warp and Rephlex labels and accordingly, his interest shifted to the sound of synthesisers. After High School he sold his guitar and bought his first analogue synth. Bitten by the bug, he began assembling pieces of kit throughout his time at college – working part time jobs in order to save money. Initially, he had no access to MIDI equipment and so early experimentation was based around the manipulation of individual tones and sounds. In 1995, Walker left college in favour of a more defined focus towards his music – "Much of my artistic development grew in tandem with each new piece of equipment I bought. My musical aspirations occurred independently of any scene so I didn’t have access to anybody’s studio. Thus I had to work full time and build my studio at the same time. For at least a year I went through an ambient production phase because I sold my 909 for an apartment deposit. Acquiring a sampler in this period then revolutionised my whole production process."

By 1997, he was confident enough in his output to start approaching labels with material. His first release – the minimal drum orchestrations of Amphetamine Sulphate, came out on Sean Deason’s Matrix label in October of that year. This was quickly joined by the Horizontal Transfer 12" on the Deepfried imprint, which hinted at a deep textural approach which would later come to the fore of his productions. A string of releases followed over the next two years on a mixture of both US and European labels, fuelling Stewart’s growing reputation for quality productions which were as suited to the home-listening environment as they were the DJ set. A view further enforced by his debut long player; Stabiles - from October of 1999, which represented the consolidation of Walker’s strongly rhythmical, hypnotic style; "My music is all groove with very little additional decoration. My ideal for techno music has always been to make tracks which are definitely changing but in such a subtle way that the changes are not noticeable unless you compare different parts of the track... I’ve always appreciated the home-listening side of electronic music alongside the more club-oriented tracks. With Stabiles my goal was to specifically bring techno beats into a home listening environment."

Building on the success of the album, Walker toured the US and Germany with his live performance, an experience which he found rewarding – "I felt that live shows would give me more of a challenge and more room to grow as a producer. There are so many ways to offer a live show that is very exciting. As much as I respect DJ’ing, I think it is one hundred percent cooler to see a live performer and know that every piece of music they play is their own."

The Granular Synthesis 12" on Mille Plateau, and split single with Theorem on Richie Hawtin’s‘THX offshoot marked a return to the release schedule, and he has also been feverishly working on a larger body of work which should find it’s way into shops over the late half of this year, perhaps in the form of several different EPs. Although the transition from touring to production was one which he initially found difficult, feeling that he was becoming bogged down with the day to day business side of things, he is pleased with the recent fruits of his labour. In particular, he cites a remix for Carsten Nicolai’s Alva Noto project on Force Inc as one personal favourite.

Walker is spending the summer living in Berlin while he tours in Germany more extensively – a prospect he is enthusiastic about – "I have been remixing and reprogramming the music you hear on records so that the live show would have elements of familiarity but not sound like I was simply playing back old sequences. I think the people who have seen my show would agree that there is definitely a lot of live manipulations happening. Normally I play an hour of music, with my goal being to perform live for 2 hours every time, just so I can perform all of the places that DJ’s play and hopefully make live shows as accessible and flowing as a quality DJ set."

With a UK date just recently added to his schedule, the near future is looking busy for Stewart, but what about long term plans? "I’ve always said that when I’m fifty I’ll probably quit recording music and instead begin making sound sculptures like mechanical wooden drum machines. But for the present, making music is it for me. I’d like to change the method I make music in the near future after my touring season, but I don’t want to discuss how I will do it until I try it and it actually works." I look forward to listening.
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