An interview with Casino Times

With releases on Wolf, Futureboogie and Permanent Vacation (among others), long-time friends Nick Church and Joseph Spencer of Casino Times have spent the past six years producing some seriously tasteful house.

Their accomplished production skills have attracted attention from FACT, Boiler Room and Stamp the Wax, with the former recently premiering tracks from their debut album, Familiar Circles (Wolf Music), on their respective imprints and giving the pair an enviable platform for reaching new listeners.

The LP has just dropped on wax and digital and, as Nick and Joe tell me, it reflects their creative journey together up to this point. The pair use a lot of samples as their production base, cleverly reworking an eclectic range of sounds spanning multiple genres. It’s percussively interesting, melodically rich and has plenty of pace to give it that distinctive Casino Times danceability, with seamless progression in every track. The suspended strings in the intro lure you in and the calming synth hook in the final track ‘Foundations’ eases you out, with everything from acid bass lines (‘Overcome‘), dreamy flute arpeggios (‘Oddity‘) and eerie vocals (‘Hope this finds you well’ ft. Desert Sound Colony) in between.

Their DJing rep has led to spots around the UK and Europe including a number of radio appearances and a following for their white label series out exclusively at Phonica Records, Casino Edits, which delves into the pair’s extensive collection of disco records.

So this was an exciting time to catch up with Casino Times. I spoke to them in their studio.

Flux: Hey!

Casino Times: Hello!

Thanks for catching up with me! So what is it you’ve been working on today?

Joe: Well we’ve got an i-D mix coming out in a couple of days which we actually haven’t done yet but it’s coming out on Tuesday!

Nick: yeah we just wanted to try something different. Cus there’s so many random records in this room we just wanted to play.

Is any of your new album going to make an appearance on the mix or is it all your record collection?

J: We had a mix out on Hypnotik last week which had a load of the album on so this is just gonna be weird vinyl stuff.

Sounds intriguing. So we may as well start with a standard first question if that’s alright. Where did you guys meet and what got you into electronic music?

N: Well we both had quite different musical upbringings so it probably makes sense to start from where we met. We both went to Oxford Brookes uni studying Sound Technology and we were working on a lot of the same projects together, so it made sense to take the project out of the classroom and do a bit more stuff for ourselves. And we just had such a laugh the whole time.

J: yeah we had this one module called Experimental Music and there was this final project where together we had to play circuit bent electronics – so like mess with the wires a little bit – and it’d just make the craziest sounds. So Nick circuit bent his whole keyboard. 

N: It was this really shit Casio keyboard and the demo on it played Wham ‘Wake me up’ but we circuit bent the keyboard so you could just totally mess with it.

 J: He had that and I had like a travel Marshall amp and together we did this performance that made no sense but the teacher was like ‘oh yes this is the best thing I’ve ever heard…’ ha.

N: It was a bit of a weird course because half of it was based in the Oxford school of contemporary music and it was very subjective about like ‘how the music makes you feel’ and then the other side was very science and physicsy and if you said any kind of descriptive word in it they instantly marked you down for something.

That’s mad. I bet it helped shape where you are now though! What did you mean by having ‘very different musical upbringings before that?’

J: I was playing in like a rock and metal band for five years before uni and then into the first year and then it kind of disintegrated. I hadn’t really thought about electronic music before uni so Nick really changed my views on a lot of things. 

N: Yeah I’d been running club nights and DJing and stuff in Oxford.

What’s your production process like as a pair now? Does one of you have a particular speciality and the other one something else or do you just bounce of each other?

J: I think I’m quite good technically but Nick’s got the ear. I think if I didn’t have Nick to kind of steer the tunes it’d be a bit shit. 

N: Yeah I think we’re both quite good technically because we come from a technical background. We both have skills in different areas which kind of compliment each other. 

J: It’s quite hard to pin down what it is that works because we’ve been working together for like six years now.

Do you have many artistic differences? And how do you get over them?

N: Yeah we actually had one five minutes before you phoned. We either have to make a compromise or just scrap it. If one of us isn’t feeling something then there’s no point in forcing it. I think we both usually agree on what sounds shit though.

I was going to ask what you think is the secret to a successful creative partnership but it sounds like it just works and you don’t really know why!

N: Yeah we just have a lot of fun doing this. It really is just about sitting down and working and getting all those ideas out. We have loads of unreleased stuff out in the pool of Casino Times but it’s about picking out the bits that are tangible which is difficult.

You guys are London based right?

J: Yeah yeah we’re in beautiful Hackney.

What do you think are the best venues in London at the moment?

J: We’ve always had a special place in our hearts for Corsica Studios. That was where our first residency was. The manager Matt still runs parties – Tief – out of CS. That’s where we connected with a lot of our friends. I think no matter what they put on there it’s always good.

 N: Dance Tunnel is good as well, and the programming there is amazing for the size of the venue it’s such a shame it’s shutting down.

With all the closures that are going on what do you think the future holds? Is there anything more which could be being done?

N: Well now there’s the new Mayor hopefully he’s gonna put the burden on the property developers to soundproof all the buildings. Hopefully that’ll encourage more clubs to stay open.

 J: There are just so many residences being built within earshot of the clubs and the clubs always get the short straw. But you know clubs come and go all the time and people get upset but another one will just open…

N: I don’t agree with that. Lots of them have been London clubbing institutions. Now you just go around the west end and what is there? I remember when I was like 18 going to stuff around Kings Cross and it was a bit sketchy and weird but it was a lot of fun at the same time.

The rate they’re closing at does seem worrying. On a brighter note…the LP – has it been a long time in the works or is it something you started recently? What’s the story behind that?

J: It ranges a lot. One of the tracks is about three years old. 

N: Yeah there’s been a lot of projects we’ve been working on. So like we were saying before about the sphere of Casino Times ideas that we just haven’t finished – I would say about 5% of that is the album. It’s stuff we pulled together and thought this would make a coherent piece of music. 

J: We started looking through old folders for demos to try and put an EP together, then as we started looking we realised well actually this is kind of working as a full project. So we took a load of those ideas and demos, made them into full tracks and it all came together quite naturally. It could’ve been two EPs but at the time it felt right. 

N: Yeah with an EP there are a lot of criteria you have to meet. The label will be like ‘on the A side there needs to be a banger’ and ‘something a bit weirder on the B side’. With an album you can be like well this is what we wanna do. J: That was what was so great about doing it with Wolf as well – they gave us complete creative freedom just to kind of do whatever we wanted with those ten tracks. That’s why the project feels very complete as a Casino Times album because it’s all us.

casino times1

And the tracks have had debuts on FACT and Boiler Room Debuts so it’s already had a lot of listens and what seems a great response. So what are you hoping the reaction will be from the full LP?

J: I was talking to Francis Inferno Orchestra who had his album out recently and he said that it takes a few months for people to really feel the album. But for us it’s been such a long time coming we’re just sort of waiting for things to happen. I just don’t know what’s gonna come of it really. 

N: We’re trying not to get too caught up with it and just be like right let’s let it do it’s thing. And like you say it’s already had a good response. So it’s just kind of going back to all the other music we want to release and getting it finished ready for chapter two.

How do you think the sound relates to your earlier work? Is it a progression or just a reflection of what you’ve always done?

N: I quite like the word progression. I think as we’ve grown up and our tastes have changed our music has changed with that but I think we’ve always had quite a definitive Casino Times style in a way. 

J: I think the album is such a good showcase of our entirety together so far – it’s a real snapshot of the last six years. We think it’s perfect for what it is but we wanna move forward and make better sounding music. But the thing is not to think too far ahead. We never really think well we need to produce this to go with this, we just sort of make what we want and if it fits together as an EP then great.

It’s great that you’re making music for the creative enjoyment of it.

J: It is hard to do that. Now we’ve got the album we have to make stuff now to the same standard or higher. 

N: We have our own White Label series with these disco edits coming out in a few weeks time which keeps things moving. I think we’re gonna try and do more releases like that over the next year because we haven’t released one since 2013. It’s nice to do things like that. Our original production is quite meticulous and we spend a long time on it which is good but with the edits it’s a bit more of a thrown together thing that keeps things a bit different.

How do you choose what goes on those?

N: So with all the records in this room we find a loop that we really like and build on it ourselves. I think a lot of people get stuck in disco edits and think ‘I’ve got to have this moment where I reference the original and kind of filter off the vocal’. But for us it’s all about finding a really nice loop and jamming something out from it. It sounds a bit rough and ready. I think the newer one sounds a bit like Larry Levan.

 J: Those are some big comparisons Nick! N: Yeah I know well it kind of takes inspiration from when he was doing his mixes in the studio with a limited amount of time to jam those things out. I think imperfection in music is really important because that’s what sort of gives it its groove.

How do you describe your original stuff? To me it spans a lot of sub-genres so it’s difficult to categorise.

J: A lot of the time we try and steer clear of straightforward 4/4 stuff. Tracks like ‘Oddity’ and ‘What’ have got a bit of a broken beat. 

N: ‘Love in Time’ as well. 

J: To us it all has that same kind of danceable tempo and rhythm structure. It’s hard to describe your own sound.

 N: It takes so many inspirations from all over the place. We were asked to describe it in two words for the press release and we were like ‘erm’.

Haha well that’s my job to explain it really! Sometimes it’s definitely better to just let it speak for itself anyway. Do you use any live sounds when recording? I thought I could pick out some live piano and drums…

J: We’ve got a few instruments in here but we rarely use them. If it sounds live then it’s usually samples that we use to build electronics around. That happens a lot in our tracks. Getting like a drum kit in here doesn’t really make sense – we like using drum machines at the moment.

Have you guys got any shows you’re particularly looking forward to?

J: Yeah we’re in London doing ‘Bodhi presents‘. Then we’re playing in Sheffield with Jackmaster. We played with him a few years ago at a festival in Bulgaria and he’s got huge since then and he’s a great DJ so looking forward to playing with him again. 

N: And we’re just tying up some loose ends, some new things in the pipeline that we can’t talk about yet. 

J: We’re hoping the album will spread the word a bit. 

N: We did an album listening party a few weeks ago around here in a little cocktail bar, played the album through a high fidelity audio system and some tannoy speakers.  A load of people came down and listened and then we played some records afterwards it was great. All DJ sets should be like that – it was just one deck and there was no mixer – you put the record on and then turned the volume down and changed the record. 

J: Yeah I don’t think all DJ sets should be like that…

Haha yeah it sounds a bit simple!

J: Hah you know sometimes you’ve gotta mix things up…

Hah or not mix things…Any other artists you think are making particularly exciting music at the moment?

J: Axel Boman’s new tune is amazing on the Pampa Records compilation. So good. 

N: Let me get a list up for you. The new Desert Sound Colony single is very good.

Who appear on your album – nicely done..!

N: Yeah we also did a remix so that’s coming out soon. And then Trevor Jackson I love. His radio shows on NTS are amazing.

Nice. I’ll have to check them out. Well cheers guys for the chat it’s been really interesting. Have a nice afternoon!

CT – thanks a lot you too!