We recently caught up with one of the countries leading house/techno producers, Ryan Sullivan after one helluva successful EP release on his very own label – Triplefire Music.
MCBN: We’re excited to chat to you not only as one of South Africa’s leading producers and DJs but also because we know your skills and contribution extend far beyond making music and delivering epic live shows – tell us more about yourself and all the projects and brands you’re currently affiliated with.
RYAN: There’s a lot on the go at the moment with Triplefire Music, my record label which controls a variety of music industry related services and products. Of course, we put out our own records and handle licensing and publishing as well as DJ and live performance bookings for our label artists.
KONA is our flagship monthly eventing brand which fellow Triplefire artist Hans Zen and I started together and then, of course, there are the Triplefire Label Nights which are a series of label showcase events which take place a handful of times per year.
We also offer third-party support in label management, music promotion and PR services, music distribution, licensing and publishing.
Audio and music post-production services are also a major part of our offering through our Refine Audio studio where we handle mixing and mastering services for artists and labels the world over and we’re rolling out our educational offering through courses covering creative concepts, music theory and the technical aspects of music creation and production.
MCBN: Tell us more about the journey of your music career, how did you get to where you are today, from early beginnings in the 90’s to signing your first record in 2005 to launching South Africa’s leading niche house and techno label – Triplefire Music.
RYAN: It’s been a long and very rewarding journey as I learn a lot about the world and plenty about myself along the way. It all started when I was in my preteens, discovering electronic music through the radio and then by swapping cassette tapes with friends at school. I felt this strong pull towards the music world and had a desire to create original music, however, I had no idea where to begin. In my search, I found a specialist record store selling drum n bass, house and techno vinyl and began collecting and taught myself to DJ.
Hustling gigs at house parties and pool bars in Johannesburg was how I started playing out and then got into the bars, then clubs and eventually festivals and began hosting my own events.
Along the way, I was learning how to produce music and eventually released my first few records on Glo-Tech Africa which was the first underground electronic music label in Africa (at least to my knowledge). I eventually worked for that label and assisted in event promotion, marketing and label management.
Sadly, that label didn’t survive but I had already managed to release on other labels around the world by then so with the help of the contacts I had made in the UK and Europe, I started my own company, Gut Feel Records. We released music from a variety of South African artists and a good few from around the world and eventually, after many hard lessons learned, facing the crash of vinyl and the beginning of the digital music era, I closed it down and started Triplefire Music with a larger, clearer vision and of course more experience.
MCBN: Take us back to the late 90’s in South Africa, describe your perspective of the electronic/rave scene back then, what was it like coming up in that era and who were the local Selectas that inspired you to get behind the decks?
RYAN: By the mid to late 90’s the rave scene in South Africa was huge, with about thirty thousand people attending the largest of events on a regular basis. I was young but made sure I was as close to the culture as possible, but instead of dancing and raving, I was on the sidelines and in the shadows, observing and studying what I was seeing, hearing and feeling. I would record DJ sets on the radio, my favourites were always the complex mixes by Carl Cox. I’d even skip seeing him live so that I could stay home to record the set on the radio to study them inside out.
It was a super inspiring time for me as it was all new and fresh to me, sonically, visually and physically, to experience electronic music among such large crowds on huge sound systems was just magical. Of course, I was young, naive and impressionable, so I’m sure that had loads to do with the impact it had on me too.
Local DJ’s that influenced me back then were Hans Von Burg, G-Force, Nelson (now known as Afroboogie), Dizzy, Brian Banshee and Greg Kelly among others.
MCBN: Other than electronic artists, who or what other genres have galvanised you and your music production?
RYAN: Most of it is still electronic music but everything on the Suburban Base and XL Recordings labels, Prodigy, Leftfield, Mike Oldfield, Peter Gabriel, Beatles, Nirvana, Vangelis, William Orbit, Orbital, Swayzak, Adam F, Chemical Brothers, Apollo 440, Sasha and John Digweed, Carl Cox and many others.
MCBN: You’ve just released a new EP on your own label (Triplefire Music) titled Dusty/Hole. Tell us more about the moody-melodic theme felt throughout the EP, was there anything/one specific you drew inspiration from for the record?
RYAN: I make a lot of music and it varies in style, this record was about showing another side of me. It’s dark and very bass heavy, especially Hole, which was about a rough and raw noise bed under broken beats with melody and harmony created by my voice and electric piano to impart emotion.
Dusty is simpler in its musicality but designed as a ‘heads down, eyes shut’ kind of slow techno track, purely for the dance floor in the early hours of the morning.
MCBN: The EP has been gaining a lot of positive traction overseas with the likes of YokoO, Laurent Garnier, John Digweed, Sasha, Nick Warren and Sasha Carassi giving outstanding reviews – how does it feel to keep receiving such massive support throughout your career?
RYAN: It’s always rewarding to receive positive feedback from one’s seniors and it’s obviously a confidence booster and over the years has aided my growth. Feedback from artists around the world and dancers on the dance floors are the only ways to truly tell if you’re onto something good or not, so it’s vital to be open to and responsive to feedback.
MCBN: Your music has allowed you to travel quite extensively and play shows across the globe, what would ‘earmark’ as one of your most memorable international shows and why?
RYAN: They’re all filled with great memories but a highlight, without a doubt, was the first ADE event I played at in Amsterdam for Frisky Radio’s showcase event. The amount of South African people that arrived in support caught me off guard and amazed me and of course, the awesome people that come together from all across the globe for a party like that makes it a unique and very special event to me. I had worked with some of the people behind Frisky for many many years but had never met in person until that night, so I’m truly grateful for that particular event.
MCBN: Beyond running a record label, making music and even hosting monthly KONA events, you’re also a highly respected mixing and mastering engineer. Tell us more about Refine Audio and what you love best about this aspect of your career.
RYAN: Audio Engineering has been a huge part of my life since I was in my late teens as it goes hand in hand with creating music. While learning how to create music I worked in some of our country’s top recording, mixing and mastering studios and learned from legendary engineers while working with legendary African artists as well as many great artists from around the world. All of those experiences helped me with my own music and created a secure source of income while learning the ropes of the music industry.
I particularly enjoy mixing music for other artists as it’s the most creative side of audio engineering and it’s quite a meditative process and mastering is something I’ve done for most South African artists since 2002 and it remains a huge part of my career.
MCBN: Describe your Dusty / Hole record in three words.
RYAN: Raw, Dark, Punchy.
MCBN: We know you’re passionate about local, upcoming talent so tell which Triplefire artists everyone should keep their eye on right now?
RYAN: Definitely Hans Zen, he’s been working behind the scenes, almost undercover, for many years now and is a very talented classical violinist, so his musical ability is outstanding. Damian Yoko is also a superbly talented young producer which is evident in his debut record on Triplefire titled Simunye as well as his upcoming remix of Matthew Loots – Flashpoint. The whole roster is great, so it feels terrible to single out only a few artists.
MCBN: Lastly but certainly most fun, if you could have any artist in the world remix your latest EP Dusty/Hole, who would it be?
RYAN: Johan Stemmet. Ok really, I will work with Charles Webster.