Christopher Port (At Home With...)
Christopher Port is one of the hardest working musicians in the land - you may have seen him behind the kit for bands like I'lls, NGAIIRE, Big Scary and No. 1 Dads, and now he’s taking the time to do his own thing... and it’s amazing. He is just about to put out his debut EP ‘Vetement’ on Pieater and he stopped by last week to perform a set live in the studio. We also had a chat about his journey thus far and talked in-depth about his inspiration and the process behind creating the EP.
Simon Fazio: So, you’re putting this debut EP out under ‘Christopher Port’. Are these the first tracks you’ve written?
Christopher Port: Well, sort of. I had project a little while ago that I did write stuff for but it was more very loose ideas, and the rest of it was pretty jammy, and it relied a lot on the other people in the band as well (laughs). But, yeah, this is the first thing that I’ve done of my own properly; made it all, done it all from the start, all those sort of things.
And usually you’re a percussionist with other groups.
Yeah, I’m a drummer by trade; I’ve played drums with other people for a long time in various different projects, but a couple of years ago I was playing in a band called I’lls, playing drums for them, and we supported a band called Big Scary at the Corner Hotel… and my friend Jo [Syme], who I actually went to uni with plays drums in that band, and it was the first time I had saw her in a couple of years was at The Corner supporting Big Scary… and I was like (in a state of happy surprise) “Oh! Jo! How are you? So good to see you! Blah, blah, blah…”. A couple of months after that gig they were about to start touring their new record which they had just finished at that point (‘Not Art’) and they needed someone to play all the extra little electronic bits or whatever that were going on in that record that they couldn’t cover between the two of them, or three of them playing in the live band.
…and then you went on to play with #1 Dads after that?
So, Tom [Iansek] from Big Scary has done two records under the name #1 Dads but he’d never actually played live before with that project; it’d just been a recording thing. He put out an album called ‘About Face’ and then was planning on touring it, and I was playing at Big Scary at that point, and he knew I was a drummer, so when it came around to doing that, I started doing drums with that.
So through that whole experience were you creating these tracks as you were working with them?
Yeah, so pretty much maybe a few months while I was overseas [with them] I started playing with computer music and making my own stuff, and it was all awful (laughs) for a really long time… but I knew I wanted to do it, because, you know, electronic music has been a huge part of my life forever really. Since I started listening to music it’s always sorta been there but I never fully went there and fully played straight-up electronic music or produced any of my own, so it took a while for let myself fully go there… because years after playing drums, I know drums and I know how to do it, and it’s instantaneous and you can hit it right there and affect the music really quickly.
I guess as a drummer you have that kinaesthetic ability to sculpt the rhythm and the tempo at will through your body…
…are you someone to program in your beats with pads or by hand, or are you clicking away on a screen? How do you go about approaching your beatmaking?
I think the biggest change for me was that… I can always hear different rhythms and in different genres or whatever as playing in a multitude of different bands you need to be able to play different things whenever people want it. The biggest change for me was just after I started playing in I’lls - those guys Simon, Hamish and Dan, it was just at the point they were getting into UK Garage and stuff like that. I always loved that stuff, like when the early Streets were out; that was a huge record! And even stuff like you’d watch on Video Hits and stuff, even like Artful Dodger remixes of Craig David and stuff. (laughs)
Oh I was there, I remember it all… (laughs)
Exactly! It was so good! And I remember loving that stuff at the time but not really having any idea what it was, and then getting back into Garage through the I’lls boys.
That gave me a real focus on what I was hearing and what I wanted to hear. And as soon as I got that, it was pretty easy from there; I had a sort of vague tempo range that I liked, and I was writing a bunch of stuff in that area. But yeah, definitely when it came to actually making the stuff, I would have a rhythmic idea in my head, and I literally would sort of click it in on the computer with the mouse and drag my sounds in. The way I normally do it is when I have the vague beat or whatever, I just try to make it as uneven as possible - not just have it be four-bar chunks or whatever, I try to make it five bars with a weird bar at the end or something, just so there’s constant variation going on. I’d have those beats running and then pretty much play [Roland] Juno over the top… maybe a little mono-synth, this [Arturia] Microbrute thing which I tend run sequences through and play around with in real time.
How important is it for you to have a set palette of sounds that you’re working with as far as when you’re creating tracks. Are you someone who needs to have parameters around what you’re creating? I guess creating electronic music is so infinite in the possibilities, what kind of limitations did you put on yourself for crafting the tracks on this EP?
I think the biggest one is just that it all has to feel good; it all has to be danceable, really. The tracks that have always come together the fastest have been the ones that I’ve feel like I just wanna dance to; just loops that I can listen to over and over and I never really get sick of. Creating tracks all the time you always want to change stuff and alter stuff… it’s hard to ever let a track go and finish it…
I know that, especially when you’re creating tracks by yourself… what’s the process of finishing a track for you? When did you know that the five tracks on this EP were complete? Do you have someone to bounce ideas off or…?
It’s sort of a combination; I know when it gets to a point that I quite like - if I want to listen to it a lot of times it’s usually a good sign that it’s okay. I have a lot of great friends who are constructively critical, who are great at just saying “oh, yeah, that’s cool”… pretty much just showing tracks to people, no matter how bad I think they are. As soon as you show something to someone else, even if it’s in a rough demo phase or whatever, it just give you this whole different perspective - it sounds like a whole different song or a whole different track. It’s incredible how powerful it is, particularly showing someone who you really respect… like my friend Hamish from I’lls is a big one for that; he’s always go really good constructive ideas. My friend Jack Grace in Sydney is also incredible at that; we send tracks back and forth all the time, just sort of getting opinions, no matter how rough they are. It’s good just to be able to let that go and not worry about the perfection so much. There’s a lot of stuff on the EP that just sort of happened… it’s hard to say it happened by chance with electronic music… but I tried with the bar lengths to give myself some randomness, and even doing editing where I’m not evening listening to it as it goes, with MIDI and stuff, just click around on the screen and then…
Yeah, totally! And play with the pitch and stuff and then press play and see if I like it. Sort of stepping back and losing your attachment to the music while you’re making it so you can just be critical - seriously critical - so you can just make it better.
I’m hearing these tracks for the first time… and… I’m so excited of when this come out… it’s going to be so big! It’s going to be so good!
(laughs) Thanks buddy.
So, I’m sensing a theme - hearing these two tracks for the first time, having heard ‘Bump’ before - there are a lot of cut-up female vocals? Can you tell me where they came from? Is that someone you got in to sing or have you found these samples and you’re manipulating them?
A lot of them are just random people singing covers and stuff.
On YouTube, yeah, it’s a lot of kids singing Ariana Grande or Christina Aguilera songs… I think that’s actually a weird live improvised Mariah Carey thing with a piano player? Oh no… Yeah… Something… There was one of them… I can’t remember… (laughs)… It’s so funny, most of the time I do sampling like that, it’d be late at night finding stuff and I’ll bank it and not even think about it, and later when I’m making a track l’ll just drag something in and pitch it and reverse it or shift it or do whatever…
What about your drum sounds on this EP?
A lot of them are vinyl drums; drums ripped off vinyl - kicks and hats and snare and all that stuff. I really like noisey stuff - stuff that’s got just a lot of character to it - a lot of extraneous noise, and I even have a few drum samples that I use and even a some vocal samples that have full piano chords in it (laughs) and even bass. My first inclination when I started making stuff was to filter it all out so it’s all clean and I was wondering why all my tracks sounded sort-of hollow and just no life or energy to them. As soon as I just dragged samples in and don’t even touch them and trigger them in time, they just sound so much better.
I know you’re a big Four-Tet fan - I think that’s sort of a big thing for him is that he doesn’t carving off the bass end of his samples - he doesn’t do a lot of filters so he gets that character in there.
I think when you’re searching for samples, especially if you sample them yourself, you feel a little bit more of a connection, like they’re your sounds… do you feel that way?
No, not really… I’m not precious at all, it’s basically whatever I want to hear really. I’ve got like a million drum machine samples, and emulators and whatever, and I use some of them for sure… actually, I kind of prefer… it’s almost the opposite really of being over-protective about it. I don’t really care if they’re super individual sounds. I sort of almost like a lot of the tones particularly with UK producers or producers in a certain style they tend to have certain sounds that are specific to a genre almost.
That snare sound in particular… I’m not a drummer so I’m not sure how to describe it, but it’s a sound you hear, particularly the snare sound that you use in a couple of those tracks are very garage, and maybe a little bit of Squarepusher as well? Breakbeat-y?
Yeah, I do like using a lot of that sort of stuff - just stuff that is strong and identifiable with a sort-of genre, but not being a slave to it, you know? Not letting the sound guide the actual music that you’re making but I really like having the sound. Like, my friend Jack Grace is incredible at that, where he can make 808s and 909s kits sound sound really fresh. Very few people can actually do that really well; it tends to get a bit stagnate. There’s a guy as well - a UK producer called Pearson Sound - he’s another one of those guys who can just use really classic 808 and 909 sounds but make them sound really fresh and super interesting.
What about it sounds fresh to you - is it just the way they’re used?
It’s just the construction; it’s the way they put it together and the way the tracks flow. Some people can use those sounds kind of unconsciously without even really thinking “oh, I’m harkening back to this whole thing…”. But, I like using those sounds too - in that track, whatever the main 2-and-4 sound is a 909 rim which is a pretty classic sound - a lot of house music was made on 909s or 808s or whatever, but it’s not a house track. That’s what I mean; I like using those sort of things associate it a bit with those styles but not be tied to it or anything… purely because I like the sounds.
I guess that’s all that matters - liking the way it sounds in the end.
(laughs) Yeah, yeah.
So how many shows have you done now under your own name?
Chris: With this thing I’ve only done two so far; one with Rainbow Chan and one with Kllo - and it’s awesome, it’s all very new territory - it’s kind of rough but it’s getting there.
Are you getting the feel for… like, are you watching the crowd and reacting or are you still a little bit in your own world?
I’m still a little bit in my own world, unfortunately. I’ll get there… the goal is to have enough stuff ready to go and not plan so much. At the moment, I do plan out my setlist and try to think about what the show is going to be like and time I’m playing - what time I’m playing is a big thing - if I’m playing a support slot at 8 or 9pm, even if it’s in a club or something… you can’t go too hard! It’s got to suit the thing, as opposed to playing like 1am, which is just full clubby as you can.
Where do you see the live show going? At the moment you’re playing with an Akai APC?
Yeah, at the moment I’m using the APC which is running everything. At the first show I had a cassette machine which had ambient sounds and scratchy stuff which was cool, through a delay pedal, and I do want to do more of that, but it’s purely lugging stuff around at this point. I do want to incorporate more of that and more analog stuff that’s outside of the computer. I’m going to start introducing my Microbrute and running MIDI out of the computer into that. Just little things like that, but only having two shows I definitely wanted it to be simple. Like anyone else, I’ve got so many ideas about what I want to do, but there’s no point bringing this huge rig to your first show and none of it works and then you can’t play the show… I just wanted to keep it as simple as possible and build it up over time; just have it a gradual thing.
And I’m sure being a drummer you are loving the change of being able to take, like, the train to your gig.
Oh, it’s so good (laughs)… It’s pretty incredible, just bringing a backpack to the gig. It makes such a huge difference.