Luke Million isn’t just giving up his time to speak to me today ahead of his next tour; the songwriter/producer/DJ is giving up a chance to buy another piece of (preferably old, but odd will do) equipment.
The man likes gear. Likes buying it, exploring it, putting it to use in his expanding empire of electronic music and production and live performance.
He does it well too: “borrowed” to put some shine and some appeal into remixes for the likes of The Kite String Tangle, Client Liaison and Duke Dumont; producing I Know Leopard; joined by voices such as Sam Sparro (on the slap funk of Back To The Rhythm) and Last Dinosaurs (on the smooth sugared gem, Hypnotised) for cracking singles; and breaking stereotypes as an in-demand live act at festivals and standard gigs.
But he’s also the kind of gear nerd who, when talking about Heard it On The Radio, his new ‘80s-redux dramatic pop collaboration with Touch Sensitive and Asta, says things like "We picked a random patch on a DX7 and the moment I touched the keyboard and the sound came out, the mood was set. We connected with the textures of an 80’s soundscape courtesy of the DX7 being joined with an M1 and the Arturia Fairlight emulation.”
Yes. Sure. Brilliant even. But can Million – whose real name, disappointingly, is not Million, but the cheaper if more divine, Godson - explain to a non-head audience why he loves the gear, what it brings and how it matters to us?
“Well for me, there’s a connection with these older pieces of equipment,” says Million. “Firstly, because most of them are analogue in nature, the sound is produced quite organically: there is electricity passing through it; sometimes they go in and out of tune; they have these little imperfections. They make these happy accidents happen. And because these synths have been used through history there are these nods to classic songs and they take you back to that place.”
He cites as an example not something from his acknowledged heroes such as Giorgio Moroder and Kraftwerk, or Jean Michel Jarre, but rather the arpeggiated synthesisers of Dark Side Of The Moon, Pink Floyd’s prog-pop classic, confessing unnecessarily “I’m drawn to older pieces, older classic pieces of equipment” wherever it came.
(We know this is true not just because his breakthrough track, the neo-70s funk groove of Arnold, used the voice and image of Arnold Schwarzenegger, but because the man didn’t just buy a keytar – that way uncool ‘80s merger of guitar and keyboards – he bought four of them, and plays them on stage. Without shame. “It had to happen,” he says joyously.)
“I love to be able to sit in front of a synthesiser, put my hands on it and have all the controls right in front of me,” he says. “That’s different to the way technology went with equipment, where basically it’s a few buttons and preset sounds and part of the creativity was taken away from you. I feel like it almost becomes an extension of myself, becomes part of you.”
Why does the “human element”, the flaws and frailties of equipment become both a challenge and an attraction?
“There are these kind of magic moments because a lot of the old gear you can’t save your sounds: you make your sound, and your record it, and that’s it, it’s gone forever and you can never get it back 100 per cent,” he says. “There’s something exciting about that, that you can’t do the same things over and over and go backwards; you commit to it, you have an experience in that moment, and you hit record.”
One of his keyboards has an F note which doesn’t work at all, forcing him to work around it, writing in a key that doesn’t use F. That’s not annoying; that’s fun, he insists.
“With advancements in technology there’s all this software that can closely emulate this old gear, but clicking a mouse and playing a keyboard in front of that where you don’t have control of the sound is not very inspiring to me.”
But really, how much of that is because of the romanticism we – let’s face it, it’s not just the musicians; we all do it – ascribe to sounds, and buildings and clothes and tools, we knew from years back? It’s just a piece of equipment with no inherent soul or meaning isn’t it?
“There’s definitely a bit of nostalgia with this. Having a vintage synth isn’t going to make you any better a musician, but it’s that feeling when you find, or you are able to make, that sound that that Jean Michel Jarre used in [his pioneering 1976 electronic work] Oxygene, and you go wow that’s the sound,” Million says.
“What’s most important is being once you start playing with all the knobs and faders, sculpting your own sound. It’s very inspiring for me to take the old gear into new territory. That’s how I look at my music: definitely retro but I want to bring it into the future, and beyond.”
A future that has a keytar. Four of them. Words fail …
Luke Million plays Fat Controller, Adelaide, August 30; Civic Underground, Sydney, August 31; Jack Rabbit Slims, Perth, September 7; Gasometer, Melbourne, September 14; TBC Club, Brisbane, September 20; Sweet Dreams Festival, Canberra, September 21.