James McGauran: What's in a name? Is
there a story behind your main artist name Microchip Junky?
Iíve never recorded or released anything under my own name. When I set
up my first soundcloud page I was using the name ĎEbbheadí (Nitzer
Ebb fanboy that I am!). But then others were using Ebbhead01 or
Ebbhead2000 etc., and I was being lost in a sea of ebbheads. So I
switched, and was recording under the name Indigo Travis for a while
(and Iíve no recollection how/why I came up with that). A few years
ago I was listening to a song by Robert Marlow called Dogs
which includes the line ďEvolve from the monkeys and microchip
junkiesÖĒ It just seemed right for me. Iím a bit of a tech head
and a geek and the name kind of implies an obsession with technology.
Also, the spelling; junkie would refer to an addict, whereas junky
means trashy, and I do like my trashy movies and all things kitsch. So
thereís a bit of ambiguity when speaking the word ďjunky,Ē which I
JM: Where are you from, and/or where are you currently located?
was born in Stockton on Tees in the north of England, birthplace of
railways and the friction match! I lived in London for quite some time
and then Hertfordshire and Bedfordshire, before finally returning to
the North East 14 years ago when my daughter was born. Iím currently
in County Durham. Thereís not much of a music scene around here,
certainly not for electronic music, although there are 6
musicians/bands in my street, and a studio financed by Stock, Aitken
& Waterman just a few doors down!
JM: Tell us a bit about yourself. How long have you been playing music?
1967 I remember from a very young age my Dad always having the radio
playing in the house, and while his taste left a lot to be desired(!)
it did give me a passion for listening to music. I was also fortunate
to have a friend with an older brother, so I was introduced to (much
better) music around the age of 9. I got into punk in 1977, and then
electronic music (Jarre/Tangerine Dream/Kraftwerk
etc). It was only after hearing Fad Gadget that I decided I needed to
buy a synthesizer. So I bought a Jen SX1000 through my mumís
Littlewoodís catalogue. Spent a while just making the most horrendous
noise (never occurred to me to actually write a song!). I went on to
buy a Soundmaster SR-88 drum machine and a Fostex 4-track and started
producing Ďsongsí (for want of a better word).
have (to this day) perceived my own music as unusual; never wanting to
sound like anyone else, and certainly not writing what I would
consider to be a conventional piece of music. I studied music at
college for about a month, and hated it. I had one guitar lesson and
never went back for a second lesson. Yet I would spend hours upon
hours making sounds on synths. I was in two bands from the ages of
about 16 to 23. One, a four piece, never recorded anything or played
live. We would just sit around at a friends place and jam together
(make noise). Then I was in a synth duo. We did play live a fair bit,
but only in the north east. We were the first band to record in our
local studio using only synths and computers (a ZX81 with a
self-designed sampling board - seriously lo-fi). We also entered a
ĎBand Of The Northí competition and came third out of 500, and got
featured in a newspaper! Some of those recordings are lying around the
house somewhere. We eventually split when I wanted to write more avant
garde/experimental music and my partner was more concerned with his
JM: Is this your only musical project? If multiple, how do they differ?
until late last year everything Iíve recorded (since 2012) has been as
Microchip Junky, but having had a wide interest in many styles of
electronic music, those influences have always been present. I wanted
to write film music, dance music, experimental music etc. I also like
how Richard H Kirk (Cabaret Voltaire)
writes under so many assumed names (and Iím probably unaware of some
of his aliases). So around October last year I started recording under
an assumed name. Iíd intended to write just a few songs, but that
expanded considerably. Including Microchip Junky, I now write under
another 10 aliases, with full albums completed by most of these (some
of which are already online). I will reveal at some point where these
albums can be found, but for now it remains an outlet for me to just
release music just for the sake of it. In most cases Iíve been
composing and completing these albums within just a week or two.
Other than my aliases I have two ongoing projects; One Thousand Exabytes with Rachel Gaskin-Whitrod, and TWOVOLT with Henri Sizaret. I first worked with Rachel on a cover of Adam & The Antsí Whip In My Valise and soon afterwards we decided to write material together. I love Rachelís voice and sheís a very talented lyricist (she writes most of our lyrics). She has also contributed some great tunes to the project. I enjoy working with Henri as we are both meticulous about sound design, both grew up listening to similar music, and he is a perfectionist when it comes to audio processing. I think AkA (Henri) and Microchip Junky both have their own distinct sound, and each compliment the other in the TWOVOLT recordings.
JM: What is the best thing about music for you? What pushes
you to create?
The best thing is that it is just so much fun. Phil Oakey of the Human League once said that synthesisers are the ultimate boys toys, and I would have to agree. Iíve never been one to sit for hours watching TV, and as Iíve been creating music since my early teens, I canít see that Iím likely to stop any time soon. Its in my blood :) I only started putting my music online in 2012, and one thing that drove me to do that was I wanted some kind of legacy for my daughter, I wanted her to grow up thinking, Ďyeh, my Dad did that.í What pushes me to create? I donít know how to answer that. I return home from work and go straight to my studio, and I can be in there 8 or 9 hours every night.
JM: What instruments and/or software do you use in your
Pro X, Reason, Renoise, Native Instruments Blocks, Flesh, Rounds,
Monark, Massive, Reaktor6, Roland System 100, Promars, SH-2, Arturia
ARP2600v2, Jupiter 8v2, CS80v2, Modular V, Synclavier V, Oberheim SEM
V, Matrix012v2, GForce Oddity, Minimonsta, ImpOscar2, UVS-3200, u-he
Beatzille, Podolski, Repro, TyrellN6, Steinberg Retrologue. iOS:
Nanologue, Arturia iSEM, Filtatron, Animoog, iVCS3, iMS-20, Thor,
Nave, iDS-10, iMini, iPolysix, Cassini, Arctic Keys, ZX Plectrum, Mini
Synth, Phonem, Xenon, NLog PRO, miniSynth PRO, Magellan, zMors
Modular, Laplace, Yellofier, trictrac, Figure, iKaossilator, Gadget,
ReBirth, iElectribe, iElectribe (Gorillaz), FunkBox, DM1, Attack,
Impaktor, Sector, MusicIO
Roland SH101, MC202, EG101, SH09, SH201, Jupiter 6, JP-08, D10,
Scooper, Moog Rogue, Werkstatt-01, Korg Microkorg, Microkorg XL,
DDM110, LittleBits, KP3, Kaossilator, Volca Keys, Volca Sample, Volca
FM, SQ-1, Monotribe, EA-1, Monotron, Monotron Delay, Doepfer Dark
Energy, Oberheim SEM, Gakken SX-150 mkII, Stylophone, Stylophone
Beatbox, Bastl Kastle, Jen SX1000, MFB Microzwerg, Nanozwerg, Step64,
Novation Ultranova, Clavia Nord Lead 2, Mutable Instruments Shruthi,
Dreadbox Erebus, Bleep Labs Nebulophone, DSI MoPho, DSI Evolver,
Soundmaster SR88, Casio VL-1, PT80, CZ1000, 1000P, Casiotone 202,
Yamaha DX7, CX5M, CS2X, VSS200, PSS390, Synare 3, Teenage Engineering
Pocket Operators Rhythm, Sub, Factory, Arcade, Office, Robot, plus
various Eurorack modules
JM: How do you approach a new idea/song/piece? What comes first?
Song titles always come first for me. I have a list of a few hundred song titles, so that when I start working on sound or melody, I look through my list and think yeah, this should be called [insert title]. It also helps having a long list of titles, as I can then start grouping them together based on themes or ideas, to form a playlist for a potential album. With regards to my approach to a new piece, I almost always start each studio session in a different way; sometimes Iíll load up some VSTs into Logic and construct a song purely using those software instruments. Other times Iíll maybe connect my Volcas together and hammer out the basics of a song that way. Or Iíll play with the modular or semi-modular synths, where sound alone can sometimes trigger an idea for a melody or song idea. I may start by switching on a synth that Iíve not used for a while. The diversity of equipment and methods helps keep things fresh for me, and Iíve luckily not been struck by creative block, yet. My problem is often the opposite, in that I have so many ideas that I keep jumping from one piece to another.
JM: With such an insane amount of music gear it is no wonder you're never at a loss to create!
doubt some folks would find too much choice overwhelming and never get
anywhere, but once you know the gear you obviously have something
specific in mind for certain parts, or as you mentioned, sometimes
finding a sound is inspiration enough and brings the parts and
melodies. As Iím unable to sit at a piano to compose, or strum a
guitar (because its beyond me) I have to rely on technology when it
comes to songwriting. One of the key aspects for me now when buying
new gear is the actual playability or functionality; sometimes Iím not
too concerned by the sounds a machine creates (as I can always process
them to sound better, or different).
matters to me is that the machine provides a different way for me to
work. For instance with the Teenage Engineering Pocket Operators,
theyíre fun because theyíre so easy to compose and tweak
melodies/sounds. Similarly, composing with a kaoss pad - may sound
similar to, say, the Microkorg, but its a completely different way of
writing Ö plugging and replugging wires on a semi/modular Ö playing
with drumsticks next to an iPad running Impaktor. One of my favourite
basslines that Iíve written was for the track Analog Punk it
hits the gut and is unrelenting Ö and it was a complete accident! I
plugged the Nebulophone into my Akai audio interface and recorded
directly into Logic, tweaking the (limited) settings on the
Nebulophone while sliding the stylus along the metal keyboard. I then
sliced a tiny 3 note rhythmic sound from that, looped it and I had the
basis of that song. I do know the limitations that my machines have,
but sometimes a very basic machine can produce stunning results.
bought Native Instrumentsí Flesh, not because the sounds in there are
outstanding, but purely because its functionality is different; its a
great instrument for adding layers to samples, changing textures,
subtle nuances etc. I do love my analog synths, but Iím certainly no
analog snob. Again, part of the fun in composing (for me) is
integrating old tech with more modern instruments, mixing VSTs with
modulars, or a Volca with a Jupiter. Mix and match, thatís how Iíd
describe my studio technique. Creative experimentation.
JM: Do you like to collaborate with other artists? In what
I do like to collaborate, and very rarely turn down requests to collaborate. Unless there is a tight deadline and Iím involved with other projects then Iím always up for a collaboration. In what capacity? Iíve shared stems for people to add to, and vice versa, Iíve remixed and Iíve designed patches/field recordings etc. Iíve been very fortunate to work with so many talented artists over the last couple of years. I have a few new collaborations that are currently ongoing, but highlights of past work have been with Black Marine, Deadkonsumer, FUNT, ManJunk, Meter Bridge, The MAN, Pinky Poet, Vulcan Tea Party, The Black Hundred, Deadlights, Unknown Land, Mangabros, Ghostlike, and Dave Barbarossa (ex Ants drummer). Iíve also remixed Blancmange, Martin Gore, Depeche Mode, David Bowie, Jean Michel Jarre and Visage (in a much less official capacity).
JM: What are you currently working on? Any upcoming releases scheduled? (Feel free to provide links).
working on a Ďsubscriptioní album, whereby one song is being released
each month (with an extended CD to be issued at the end of the year).
This is providing a new challenge for me to write to a shorter
deadline and to have each track in a similar style to make the
completed album coherent. The album is titled ĎFreq.Show.í The follow
up to the Analog Punk album, titled Adrenaline Rush, was begun
last year. A few tracks need some work, and that album will be out
later in the year. Analog Punk is being remastered and will be out in
August (with two new tracks). This will be a free download. Iím also
working on the next EP, titled Turn It Down - which in terms
of sound design is poles apart from the Swing EP which is
being released on 27th May. What Iím now trying to do is release my
Ďtypicalí Microchip Junky work through my own bandcamp page, my more
Ďradio-friendlyí music through E-Con Recordsí bandcamp page, and
everything else (the 10 aliases Iím writing under) appears elsewhere.
JM: Itís interesting how you split your releases to either your own Bandcamp or say, via E-Con Records, focusing more on the 'pop' tunes. Across all your releases and collaborations I can see the diversity of your output, yet everything still has what I guess you could call that signature 'MCJ' sound.
hadnít realised I had a signature sound until it was pointed out to me
about a year ago. And I didnít know how to take that Ö does all my
stuff sound the same. I felt it was a negative but I was told it was a
compliment and that artists strive for a signature sound. You may know
Iím a huge fan of the late Fad Gadget. I think I wore the needle out
playing his first few albums, but when I first heard his album, Tyranny
& The Hired Hand (recorded as Frank Tovey in 1989) I
thought, what the hell is that!! I hated it. (There are some great
songs on there but its a very different sound to what Iíd expected of
him). And that got me thinking about sounds and styles of music and
does an artist consider they may alienate fans by doing something
different. I remember a conversation with a Jarre fan about the exact
same thing when he released Zoolook in 1984, the inclusion of
sampled sound made that album stand out as being very different to Oxygene
But I like many different genres of music, and I like to write different styles of music. I certainly donít have the fanbase that Fad Gadget or Jean Michel Jarre have and so Iím not too worried about alienating fans!! Its mostly why I enjoy collaborating because it brings something fresh to what I do. The reason Iíve separated some of my recordings across different bandcamp pages is to try and draw a line between different styles. I think most people know what theyíre going to hear at my microchipjunky bandcamp page. The two EPs at E-Con Records bandcamp (I feel) are far more accessible, maybe even radio-friendly tracks. Iíve talked about writing under a number of aliases. A number of these recordings have had some airplay without anyone realising it was me Ö so Iíve maybe achieved what I set out to do, in recording something without that signature ĎMCJí sound.
JM: Unleash your inner geek: What do you love outside of
music that has a large impact directly on your music, or helps inform
your ideas and approach? Art, history, literature, film, science? Is
there specific gear you simply love to use? Go nuts :)
first love outside of music were the films of John Waters and Russ
Meyer, which I discovered as I entered my teenage years. I have no
recollection how I got my hands on the uncensored copies of these
films but I still treasure them all to this day. I love old trashy
B-movies, and Iíve lost count of the number of times Iíve seen Pink
Flamingos! I used to collect true-crime books and could recall
stories about many serial killers with embarrassing precision. These
days I donít read too much, but I do enjoy Neil Gaimanís work.
Specific gear I love to use? Over recent months Iíve used more
analog/semi modular synths that hold no presets, such as the
Werkstatt, Erebus and Microzwerg. I like the immediacy of these
machines where I have to work at building a sound (rather than hitting
a button). I can spend a long time getting the sound right, then hook
up to the Step64 or SQ1 and record something. And then start all over
I played twice in London and once in Rotherham. I also played live on
Keith Whithamís Wired show. The London show in
April was the first time Iíd been on stage for about 25 years. I
made a decision late last year not to play at all this year, not
because I didnít enjoy it, but because I want my next show to be
something different. Plans are afoot for shows early next year.
JM: How important is the live performance aspect to your creative output?
I enjoy playing on stage, I get more enjoyment creating something in
my studio. Iím not a great keyboard player and Iím not a natural born
entertainer; I know my limits.
JM: How does your setup differ for performing live from the studio?
Because Iíve had to travel some distance to play the gigs I was forced to travel light. Last time I played I had an ipad, DSI Mopho, DSI Evolver and a USB keyboardÖ considerably less than my studio kit.
JM: What are some goals you've set yourself as an artist, short term and long term?
I wanted to write a soundtrack for a movie, and that is now underway, which Iím thrilled about. I would also love to have my work used in computer games. Finally, I would love to release an album on vinyl. Currently I canít justify that cost, but maybe one day.
A film soundtrack? Any light you can shed there? How differently are
you approaching working to visual cues?
is a dream of many a musician, I think, myself included. Its a slower
process for me, but it is something that Iíve done (for myself)
previously. Iíve watched a couple of films (that Iíd previously not
seen/heard) with no audio, and Iíve then written a complete
soundtrack. Iíve completed two of these to date, but theyíre just for
education/practice for myself. I wonít release them. I do agree that
its a dream of many musicians to work in film, and its something Iíve
longed to do since I was a teenager. Iím working on a sci-fi film and
I enjoy working to visual cues. As I explained above, its all about
altering technique and working under different guidelines. I like
mixing things up in that way.
JM: How do you judge what of your music is better or worse?
A hard question to answer! Iíve released tracks that have had a lot of radio play, a lot of downloads and even a fair number of sales, but then I can release something similar and its dead in the water. So I certainly donít judge my music on how many downloads or sales or comments its had. I used to, but even in the few years Iíve been on soundcloud, things have changed so much. Its almost like we canít give away music now, nobody leaves comments or criticism, good or bad. I judge my music on its own merits; the technical process that was used, and how much of an ear worm it becomes for me. Every now and again Iíll write a bassline that Iíll listen to for hours, or just a sound that blows me away. If I write something that I canít stop playing for weeks on end Ö thatís when I think yeh, I did something good. Iíve also listened back to some tracks that I thought were good but the mastering is so horribly wrong. Which then tempts me to go back and redo the whole thing. Its never ending!
JM: What was the first synth you played?
The first synth I ever played was the Jen SX1000. And I bought it before Iíd even heard it. Back then (1982/83) I thought all synths did the same thing (how little I knew). All I knew was that I wanted to make noises like Fad Gadget and the early Human League. The Jen is a great synth and I think I made a wise choice - it was also a little cheaper than some of the other machines of that time.
my mid to late teens Iíd travel 30 miles to my nearest synth shop and
play for hours in there on some classic hardware. Over time I got to
know all the staff in there and they would often let me take gear to
test or to borrow for recording sessions. They never hired equipment
out, so I was quite privileged to be able to take stuff away (often
for weeks on end!). Good old days! Its not the same any more. Now
before buying a new synth I watch dozens of youtube tests. Its rare
that I visit music shops now.
JM: What was your first concert?
memory isnít so great any more. Iím pretty certain it was Gary Numan,
supported by Tik & Tok (dare I say
the support made more of an impression on me than the headline!). That
must have been 1983, but from that moment I was going to gigs maybe 3
or 4 times a week, and now its maybe once a year. I used to jump on a
train and head to London (250 miles away) without hotel bookings or
concert tickets (long before the internet!!) but Iíd always find a gig
and a hotel. Loved the spontaneity of it all. There used to be a venue
in my hometown that would attract big names so Iíd go, whether I liked
the band or not. Tickets were maybe 50p or £1. I used to follow tours
across the country in the late 80s. I saw every UK Nitzer Ebb show
from 1988 onwards - without a doubt THE best live band ever. Maybe its
an age thing, but that magic of going to so many gigs has faded for me
now. Old fart, right?
Microchip Junky interview by James McGauran first published on The Black Hundred Exchange
UnMute - Interview by Rob Dyer
RD: You've curated the two volume, 48-track compilation
UnMute Ė a tribute to Mute Records. It looks like a mammoth task!
How did that come about?
RD: How many of the artists finally included did you know
before you announced the project? Has it been a bit of a journey of
discovery of new, like-minded artists for you?
done covers in the past, and have always sought clearance from
labels/artists where possible. I emailed Mute and pitched the idea to
them. They were happy for us to proceed. Daniel Miller wished us good
luck and was intrigued to hear which songs we were going to cover.
RD: You're clearly a huge Mute fan. How easy was it to
whittle down all the songs to the ones you eventually covered?
not whittled down. I havenít remixed or mastered anything that I
received either. I included every track that I received, and purposely
left each track untouched, as I wanted each to be a true depiction of
the sound of each artist, to portray exactly what each is capable of.
Of course, many artists were nervous of submitting material, and
unsure of their own capabilities, but I think the compilation is a
solid release, and everyone involved should be proud of what they
When the project was announced I stated that I wanted covers from the early years, 1978 to 1988, what I consider the golden era of Mute. During that period of time I bought absolutely everything that Mute released. We have got one song on the compilation that was released in 1989, but the artist who covered the track is a good friend, and Iím a nice guy :-) so I bent the rules.
RD: What was it about Mute do you think during those
'golden years' that made the label so essential?
was lucky to have a friend with an older brother, who introduced me to
music at a young age. I was 10 years old in 1977 and listened to a lot
of punk; The Buzzcocks, The Ants, Sex Pistols
etc. I heard The Normalís Warm Leatherette not long after its
release and became totally hooked on the repetitive bass, and even
more so with TVOD. I was listening to the early Human League
and Ultravox, but The Normal seemed to
stand out. Then subsequent releases on the label started appearing in
my record collection; Silicon Teens, DAF, Depeche
Mode and Fad Gadget.
The label seemed a natural progression (for me) from listening to punk. There was a punk ethos to the label, and it was apparent that everything they released was just outstanding. The fact that it was a fairly small label, at the time, meant that it was possible to collect every release and to follow every band. So although The Human League were great in those early days, their label meant nothing to me. I was as much a fan of the Mute label as I was of each band that were signed to them.
RD: Have you met many Mute artists?
Years ago I was a guest on the ĎMute busí that used to bring people
into the capital to see Mute bands. I got to know a lot of people
there. I have an ex who knew Martin Gore so I was lucky to meet him a
number of times. Iíve followed Nitzer Ebb
on tour from 1988, and got to know Steev Toth, their then tour
manager. Being on their guest list and hanging out with Julian Beeston
are some of my happiest memories. In the early days of the internet I
ran a Nitzer Ebb website (long before what they now have). Bon was
aware and I interviewed him for the site. This was later re-printed in
In 1988 I was working in a recording studio in my hometown. Erasure, whilst on tour, were recording in studios around the country for b-side tracks on their Chains of Love single. I was lucky to be in the studio when they recorded The Good, The Bad & The Ugly and have met Vince and Andy many times before and after that. I first met Daniel Miller at a Nitzer Ebb gig in Edinburgh, and a few times since. At the Mute hosted event in 2011, Short Circuit I got to meet Boyd Rice, Flood, Moby, Alison Moyet, Komputer, Richard H Kirk, Andy Fletcher, Martin Gore and Daniel again. Iíve met Renegade Soundwave, Angela Conway (A.C.Marias), Alan Wilder, and Bruce Gilbert, Colin Newman and Graham Lewis of Wire.
RD: Any Mute artists you still follow/always seek out
RD: You've collaborated with Henri Sizaret of AkA on
TWOVOLT. I'm a fan of his work. How did you get together creatively
and what about it works for you both?
was musically stagnant for a number of years before I started adding
tracks to soundcloud in 2012. Henri was one of the first who had
commented on my first track there, stating ďYou are mad!Ē
(which I took as a compliment). I was following quite a large number
of artists on soundcloud back then, and Henriís music always stood
head and shoulders above most. I was taken by his use of sound; I
often hear good songs but theyíre let down by weak sounds. Henri had
I released my first album, Analog Punk in 2015 and asked Henri to remix one of the songs from that album; Who Stole My Chips. I loved what he did with it; some of my sounds are recognisable in there, but the structure was totally altered. I asked again if Henri would remix another of the Analog Punk tracks; Swire of Tintwistle. I got not one, but four remixes from him. These appear on my Analog Punk Revisited album.
We were both listed
to play The Hope & Anchor in Islington in
November 2016. I suggested to Henri that we write just one song
together, to play at that show, which he immediately agreed to. That
song became Decay. The idea to turn that one song into an
extended release quickly followed, and a limited run of 25 CDs, titled
Envelope was given away at that concert. We are currently
working on a further EP, Zweipunkte and we have also completed
a TWOVOLT remix for another artist.
talked about a TWOVOLT cover on UnMute and the first choice was I
Start Counting. Both Lose Him and Letters To A Friend
were mentioned. We couldnít choose one, so we did both. David Baker of
I Start Counting says the project sounds Ďexcitingí and heís
Ďhonouredí to have their music covered! Personally, I think the
creative process works so well as we both seem to have identical
visions for where we want a piece of music to go. I think we both have
distinct styles but I think they gel very well. If I send part of a
track to Henri I know what I can expect him to return to me. And I
think that works both ways. Iíve heard people say that they can hear
the Microchip Junky sound within a TWOVOLT recording, but also that of
AkA (Henri). So its cool that people can hear each of our
contributions in the cumulative result.
RD: What's next for John Peacey? A well-earned rest, or more releases imminent?
so immersed in music (spending a minimum of 8 hours a day in my
studio) that I find myself plotting future releases all the time. Iím
currently writing and recording an ongoing Ďsubscriptioní album,
whereby one song is being released each month of this year to those
that have subscribed. The album is called Freq.Show and an
extended CD is being produced for release at the end of the year.
further album, Adrenaline Rush, is being released later this
year, as well as a remastered version of Analog Punk due out
this August to celebrate its second anniversary (with a couple of
previously unreleased tracks). Iíve started writing and recording
using different methods which do not sound like anything Iíve done
previously, and for that reason Iíve started releasing music under
another 9 assumed names. This idea was inspired by Richard H Kirk and
his many pseudonyms. These albums will be revealed later in the year.
Finally, I do plan to continue the UnMute project. Initially with a Volume 3, which will contain remixes of tracks from the first two volumes. There are also tentative plans for an UnMute Festival hopefully in 2018.
Places you may now wish to visit: