In Conversation: James Orvis

Drawing inspiration from the likes of Kiasmos and Stephan Bodzin, Leeds based producer James Orvis’ hypnotic branch of house and techno singles him out as one of the best and most keenly watched producers around. Having worked on countless projects with many a familiar artist to those who follow the Leeds music scene, last year Orvis set his sights on founding the cities’ first live House and Techno record label; Balter Records. With a huge label show coming up at Belgrave Music Hall next month, there’s never been a better time to catch up with the man behind Balter Records.

What’s the first CD/record you remember owning?

Queen – Greatest Hits, it was a Christmas present when I was about 6. I had tons of musical influence from my dad, stepdad and uncle. They were all into different varying styles of rock, prog, indie, ska, punk and 80’s electro-pop. I used to borrow CD’s and vinyl from them all the time.

What is it about the genre of techno that draws you to it?

I wouldn’t say its solely Techno that I am drawn to, I like all electronic genres. Techno to me just means a darker, harder shade of club music and I really like to use it to create moody and energetic moments. I see a lot of people backing themselves into a genre corner and becoming very narrow focussed on a particular sub-genre. Lately, I have been trying to mix up vibes from other sub-genres to try and create something unique that I can call my own. What draws me to electronic/club music is the social culture, the technological innovations and endless possibilities, I feel like it’s the most forward-thinking movement in music and seems to consistently influence other genres.

What does your live setup usually look like? Is there any new kit you’ve got you’ve eye on?

I use Ableton as the brain of the live set. I use two hardware synths, the Elektron Analog Four and the Novation Peak which sounds amazing! I have a couple of midi controllers, the Livid DS1 and the Midifighter Twister, these control mixer elements and FX. Finally, I have a Pioneer RMX-500 at the end of the chain, this is too add DJ style FX for breakdowns and builds, basically to add on the fly excitement. There is tons of kit that I’m after haha, from the top of my head I would say the Moog Sub37 and all the new Behringer remakes! They look and sound unreal, for a live situation though maybe the boutiques instead of Behringer, they are much smaller.

When you’re doing a set, how do read the mood of your audience? Does this influence the direction of your performance?

Up until now, my live sets have been pretty calculated, the tracks can take some twists and move dynamically in reaction to the audience but the running order is usually thought out before the show. This is something that I am trying to move away from, my live sets for next year will become more loose and improvisational. The audience does massively affect the set though, there is an exchange of energy happening and you can feel it. The more fun the audience, the more I loosen up in how I present myself and how I perform. I tend to take more risks and become more playful with the sounds if the audience is engaged. But this also goes both ways, a fun performer can get the crowd moving too, just look at Kink for example! I have been quite lucky that most of my audiences have been great, I have had some iffy gigs though in the past!

You’re originally from Hull and have lived in Leeds for a while – if you couldn’t live in either city, where would you be? Where else has a good electronic scene?

Sounds cliche, but for me, it would be Ibiza, Berlin or some remote log cabin in Sweden by a lake! Ibiza doesn’t have the best music scene at the moment but I absolutely love that island, even without the music its a magical and inspiring place. I sound like a hippie, but I do believe the island has a healing effect when you step foot on it. Its a big dream of mine to live there and create an outdoor party with Balter Records.

Congratulations on founding Balter Records – what’s it like running Leeds’ first live house and techno record label?

That statement seems to be getting us into some trouble lately online haha! But it’s true! We are the first ‘live’ only roster in Leeds, and I must emphasise ‘live’ and ‘Leeds’ again, not the whole world! Running the label is hard work, at the moment I’m running the label single-handedly, but I am looking for passionate people to help run the business side of things.

What inspired you to create Balter Records?

As much as I love Leeds, in the 10 years that I have been here, I have never felt musically connected to a lot of the local club nights and labels. I wanted to create a new brand and collective that would best represent myself and the other artists on the label. It’s also about taking responsibility and ownership of your own success to create exciting opportunities for everyone involved.

You’ve got a huge show with the label coming up at Belgrave in November, how much prep goes into curating this sort of event?

A lot more than I anticipated! But its great planning and running a night! The easiest part is putting together a roster and daydreaming about how great the night is going to be. The hardest part is all the marketing, logistics, finances, booking engineers, venues, dealing with booking agents, creating content leading up to the event etc. Luckily I enjoy most of these things (a rarity amongst artists), it’s trying to allocate time wisely that is the hardest for me, knowing what’s important and what needs to be dropped to achieve the results that you are after. After all that is done, I need to work on my live set for the show! I am already planning the next events too, I think it is important to plan ahead and figure out your next steps.

The merch for Balter Records seems to have a really cool 90s-acid house vibe about it, is this an era you take a lot of influence from?

Not necessarily, it was more of a fun experimentation with some free promo that we were giving out leading up to the event. Because we are a new label and we are trying to tell our story to people that have never heard us before, I thought it would be a clever move to associate club archetypal imagery into the marketing campaigns. People see the smiley or the TB303 and instantly get what we are about. This is been massively helpful when speaking to people face to face on the street to grab their attention. Don’t get me wrong, we pay homage to what has come before, Melatron, for example, is massively inspired by Orbit club, Chemical Brothers, Underworld etc and you can hear echoes of this in his music. We all love a good acid line too!

So, what’s next for both you and Balter records?

A few key events are coming up in November which I will list below, we have a collaboration with Ampify and Novation which I am super excited about. You may have spotted the Jinjé mini-doc and event. I have mine coming up in November with a gig in Shoreditch, representing Balter Records. We also have some unconfirmed international opportunities, may have more news on that soon! Also some great releases on the way from Jinjé, Melatron, Baba & Ganoush and myself. I am starting to plan in next year too, we have our birthday party end of February with a special headline guest.

If you’d like to find out more about James Orvis, you can follow him via Facebook, YouTube, Instagram and Twitter. His new single ‘Samsara’ is now available on Spotify.

Get tickets to see James Orvis at Belgrave Music Hall & Canteen, Leeds on Friday 8th November.

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Image courtesy of Delayed Pleasure.