How do you wrench emotion out of a machine? That’s a question Nelson native Robbie Slade, who is one half of the electronic pop duo HUMANS, grapples with routinely.
“It’s like any robot in the world. The machine just needs to know what you want it to do and when you want it to do it. We tell it what note to play and when to play it,” Slade said, describing the equipment he uses to create his soundscapes.
“Most people these days are making music on laptops, but we do things a little differently.”
Along with Peter Ricq, who he has been playing with since 2008, Slade collects sound equipment and repurposes the machinery for strange and unexpected purposes.
“Each of these machines has a different strength and character, and most of them were made for a completely different purpose than how they’re being used today.”
One example he uses is the Roland TR-808 drum machine.
“When you listen to old hip hop and you hear that thoom, thoom, thoom that’s the machine, but it wasn’t made for that. It was made for Japanese men to play guitar to, not to be an iconic piece of machinery.”
And because they’ve gone to great lengths to fully use these instruments, rather than simply composing their pieces with software, Slade believes there’s something a little more, yes, human about their music.
“I really like LCD Soundsystem, they do a similar thing. There’s a definite human element people can hear. It’s not as straight up pure techno or house. It’s got some soul in it, and we can sing with it.”
The pair’s album Noontide was nominated recently for a Juno Award for Electronic Album of the Year — a category they share with AM Static (see related story, page 26). Slade said the news caught him by surprise.
“The head of our record label, I woke up with an email from him saying ‘congrats.’ We were all over the moon.”
And they’re proud of the record they put out.
“We definitely upped the ante from anything else we’ve put others before. Instead of producing in our bedrooms we got a proper producer.”
That producer: Nik Kozub, from Edmonton.
“He’s been doing this since he was a kid. He was in a band called Shout Out Out Out Out Out, this synth punk band that was really popular in the early 2000s when everyone was listening to Blink 182. They were way ahead of the curve.”
Slade called Kozub “a huge part of the album.”
And though Slade was initially hesitant about being recognized in such a mainstream context, he said he’s “happy and honoured.”
“It’s a sign that things are going better, but with the underground versus mainstream thing there is kind of a tough line to cross. Basically you don’t want to say you’re either one.”
“We really put our hearts and souls into writing and recording Noontide, so this recognition is extremely flattering and humbling. The other artists in our category are really great too—POMO, AM Static, Discrete and Concubine all have fantastic albums.”
And though he’s passionate about his art, he tries not to take himself too seriously.
“I just want people to dance, and I love it when people hook up at my shows,” said Slade. “I want to be a wing-man or wing-woman for people.”
HUMANS’ latest EP Water Water was released at the beginning of March.