“It's given me a whole new lease of life and I suppose it's made me want to be even more serious about my music,” a chuffed Joseph Keevill tells DJ Mag over the phone when asked about the arrival of his first-born baby boy earlier this year. “He is amazing. He's the best thing... (baby gurgles in the background) and he's just done a massive poo in his nappy! (laughs).”
Changing nappies aside, Joseph's new life as a dad has brought him newfound motivation. For the man who was in the grips of addiction five years ago to now be clean, sober and with the responsibility of fatherhood, the future is looking bright.
“I was never ready for this in my old life,” he candidly reveals. “There was no space for responsibility. I never wanted children as they would have got in the way of my party lifestyle. And now I have met a woman that I love and it's time to grow up a bit, I suppose. And that's the pinnacle of growing up.”
It's not only his domestic life that's come of age over the past 18 months. With two live sets in two summers on the Space Ibiza terrace under his belt and the second part of his 'Live On Cubism' album series now out (download free at soundcloud.com/djmag), Joseph — with his Saytek moniker — has come a long way since throwing illegal raves during the '90s. “Free parties before they became really nasty squat parties,” he adds.
But regardless of what he calls “the trappings of the scene” — the hedonism that ensued after the discovery of Checkpoint Charlie in Reading at the age of 15 — electronic music has been pumping through Saytek's veins since he was hooking his Commodore 64 to a TR606 drum machine and a Gen FX100 synth while barely a teenager. “I fell in love with the music before I went out raving,” he recalls. “I was listening to Colin Dale and Colin Faver on the radio and recording them onto tape, and listening to mixtapes recorded at raves, and I was fiddling around at the studio at the time. Messing around as a kid, I really thought, 'I wanna do this as a career, make a life of it'.”
So that's exactly what he did. An audio engineering course at SAE Institute, plus his experience rigging systems at raves, helped pave the way for a job as a sound guy at Home, before a door opened at The End. By now, he'd already had his first track signed to Console Recordings, and the chance to play his live set at the club on a Tuesday wasn't taken lightly. However, despite impressing all and sundry with his live set, meanwhile scoring a gig at Zoo Project at Sankeys Manchester, it was his experience manning The End's massive soundsystem that really shaped his imagination.
“The End really got me into so many types of underground house music, it really opened my mind,” he recalls fondly. “What I saw the DJs doing there to a room — an 800/1000 capacity room really going off. Feeling like the roof was going to fly off. On a Saturday night when I was working the lights, the atmosphere in that place was phenomenal. I really saw the unity and what house music could do. I'd be there and the hairs on the back of my neck would be sticking up, the music was so good and the atmosphere was so great.”
THE END OF THE BEGINNING
After serving as a Zoo Project resident on the White Isle for a season and putting out a second live album through Channel Zoo at the turn of the decade, he's since teamed up with Mark Gwinnett's Cubism imprint to lay down another two live albums, and it's become obvious he's producing his best material yet.
Using the prospect of a gig on the Space Ibiza Terrace for the DJ Mag party last year as incentive to piece together a 90-minute set using his trademark set-up — Roland MC909, APC 40, RMX1000 and Kaos Pad — 'Cubism Vol. 1' was released September 2012. It's a similar situation this year with the second instalment. Three weeks making and arranging the parts prior to a return gig at Space this June was followed by three or four weeks back in the studio turning it into an album. But, as Joseph points out, the vision of him performing on The Terrace garnered more than enough inspiration.
“That kind of challenge — a gig of that profile — really gave me real focus,” he explains. “I was working under pressure, so I achieved stuff that I wouldn't usually have achieved without that amount of pressure on my shoulders.”
Rather than road test, he saw the occasion as a chance to unveil the fruits of his hard graft for the first time. “I wouldn't have played something at Space that I didn't think was ready to play,” he adds. “But I was happy enough to develop it more to create a whole album out of it.”
ATTENTION TO DETAIL
The intensity of Saytek's vision — the fact he's one of the most focused artists DJ Mag has ever encountered — may seem slightly out of the ordinary. However, when you consider Joseph has been diagnosed with Asperger's syndrome, it makes more sense. That combined with the motivation of the Space gig sent Joseph's creativity into overdrive. A delayed diagnosis, as a kid, may have contributed to his struggle with drugs and alcohol, but his condition is not something that's held him back — in fact the opposite. “Having Asperger's has allowed me to focus 100% on what I love,” he says. “Most people with it are very driven on one subject; they have basically got restricted interests which means they are very interested in one thing. They follow that with all their heart and they have very scientific or musical minds as well, so that together has helped me.”
Acknowledging it as the “geek syndrome”, Saytek's commitment to hardware is also in part a product of his personality. Rather than fast-tracking sounds purely through a digital suite, Joseph would much rather spend longer programming his MC909 in order to get “that certain something” he can't quite put into words.
“I am very hands-on and I come from the days of the old school studio, and I think the MC909 is like an old school studio in a box, but set up to perform with,” Joseph explains. “It might be a bit harder to work with, but the results are really satisfying.”
It's that indescribable quality from which Saytek's sound really benefits, placing him in high regard by house and techno heads within underground circles, in the UK especially. Despite hailing from a techno background, his heart is with house, but his approach bears no strict loyalty to either, instead meandering between the two styles depending on how he's feeling at any given moment.
“I have quite a wide taste in electronic music,” he admits. “It's specific if that makes sense, it's got to sound just right to me, it's got to sound a certain way. It's got to have that rolling element. It's got to excite me.”
Reluctance to turn his back on trusted machinery combined with a specificity of vision is what makes up Saytek's unique musical voice. On 'Live On Cubism Vol. 2', elements of house and techno cross paths seamlessly; acidic top-lines dovetail with warm analogue chords and crisp, intricate drum patterns segue throughout.
But for all the grooves and moves — twists and turns — and moments of melody and warmth, the overriding aesthetic is one that's difficult to define. A haunting air of Balearica, both sultry and exotic — that can only belong to Saytek.
HARDWARE TO BEAT
THE TECH THAT MAKES SAYTEK...
“Has a sequencer, drum machines, synths and samplers all in one box. It’s like having a classic '80s/'90s studio but perfectly geared to doing it live.”
KORG KAOS PAD 3
“Great for drawing in synth lines and special effects in real time. Swooshes and cosmic sounds... also has some great delays and spacey FX.”
PIONEER RMX 1000
“My newest addition. This is great for remixing my live stuff while I am performing, also great for creating drum loops and completely warping sounds beyond recognition.”
“For triggering all the loops I create and running soft synths.”
“I make loads of my loops on this, then bounce it into Ableton, I don't actually take it out live.”
“I have customised it to trigger samples, tweak soft synth filters, and mix Ableton stuff.”
Words: Adam Saville