Interview – Jyoti Mishra

March 24, 2005

Jyoti Mishra is a musician, re-mixer, photographer, DJ, political activist and gadget geek. You may well know him for his track ‘Your Woman’ under the name White Town.

How’s your day going?

Pretty badly! Since coming back from the demo on Saturday, I’ve come down with flu and my bones ache. I’m taking it like a man: whingeing terribly and making pathetic puppy eyes at my mrs.

You learned to program at an early age didn’t you, what was your most impressive code?

I wrote a game for the BBC that was a kind of Missile Command program but more tactical. You had to figure out where the warheads would be much further ahead and there were no drawn trajectories. I have to say, it was impressive code (in that it actually worked) but it was a profoundly *rubbish* game.

What made you give it up?

My rotten maths, which borders upon dyscalculia. People think I exaggerate this but it’s true: I can grasp theories like non-Euclidean geometries but show me a simple maths problem and I’m likely to go wrong in an amazingly simple way. I just don’t “get” numbers.

I promised myself I wouldn’t ask about White Town and ‘Your Woman’, but I heard that you made the whole track on some archaic hardware. What set-up did you use there?

The gear I used was all pretty old and most of it was second-hand. The total value would probably be just over 2000 UK pounds. This was it:

· Tascam 688 Midistudio (8-tracks on cassette)
· Atari 520STFM running Sequencer One (free prog off the front of ST Format magazine)
· Emax II (Akais – yeuchh)
· Casio CZ101 (cost 50 pounds)
· Roland JX3P
· Casio VL-1
· Crappy old electric guitar.

That was also pretty much all I used for the whole of the ‘Women In Technology’ album, although I did get enough money to move to a digital 8-track (DA38) and get a beautiful Yamaha O2R mixer (swoon). My “studio” was my spare bedroom which was approximately 9 feet square. With squeaky floorboards which you can hear on some of the vocal tracks.

Do you still have that stuff?

Everything apart from the Emax II! That went to a friend who could make much better use of it once I’d upgraded my sampler.

What’s your current music-making kit?

I’m based around a dual-processor PowerMac G5, running Logic Pro. My ins and outs are provided by 3 x MOTU 24 I/O audio interfaces so I can plumb in all my elderly synths and outboard stuff. Most of what I do now is soft-synthesis, the ones that come with Logic are amazing but I’ve added other treats like Albino, FM7 and Absynth. But I still use my old Moogs and Rolands a lot. They have specific characters that are very hard to reproduce in software, unless you model every single component.

Do you think that there is still the opportunity for people to get music released that has been made on such a small budget?

I would say that it’s never been so easy! I’m astounded at the huge levels of apathy amongst contemporary musicians. When I released the first White Town single (in 1990), I had to save up to do a 7″ vinyl pressing, worry about artwork, test pressings etc. And that was after the expense of recording at a proper studio! But I still went ahead and did it as I knew no-one else was interested in releasing my work.

Now…

Now most musicians in the Western world probably have access to tech that will let them record at home and even make a finished CDR, playable by most people around the world. But where is the sprouting of CDR labels? Where’s the DIY ethic? Musicians seem to be back to pre-punk values, waiting around for some cokehead A&R to validate them as artists.

Where do you stand on the current state of the music industry? Do you think that file sharing is harming sales, or is it helping artists reach a wider audience?

I view most file-sharing as time-skip radio: people just listen to things for a while but they’re not that bothered. It’s the same as when I used to tape the top forty as a kid and about as damaging to sales. If you look at my top albums for 2004, most of those I found via illegally downloading their albums. Then I went and bought all those albums, as well as DJing them and publicising them on my website. Without the internet, I would never have heard of those acts as the current mainstream music media is so absolutely shite.

Your a big advocate of laptop DJ-ing aren’t you? What sort of set-up do you use for this?

Although I’m a Mac fiend, I use a Panasonic Toughbook (CF-T1) cos it’s so diddy and light. This means that I can pop it in my rucksack, complete with a few leads and its PSU and the whole lot weighs next to nowt. I guess a 12? Powerbook would do the job just as well, running Megaseg, which is a lovely little app. On my laptop, I run Winamp (2.78) with the WinCue plugin. This makes for an amazingly fast and responsive DJing system. If someone asks for a band, I just tap their name in the search screen of WinCue and up they come, instantly.

What’s your favourite gadget, what won’t you leave the house without?

I can’t narrow it done to ONE! 🙂

How about:

Home: my PowerBook. It’s the hub of my non-recording work world, plus I do all my photography on it.

Musical: my Roland JX-3P. A terrifically under-rated synth. Goes for a song nowadays, even with the add-on programmer. This was my first polysynth, I bought it when I was 16 by taking a loan out with my Dad and repaying him (with interest!). People have got too obsessed with retro-synth fashionability which is why they pay stupid prices for crappy Junos (single oscillator synths, for god’s sake!) while perfectly good JX-3Ps languish unloved.

General: It’s got to be the internet. Top gadget EVER. Hail TCP/IP!

Are there any that you have your eye on at the moment?

Hmmm… I’m okay for existing gadgets at the mo. What I’d really like is some gadgets that don’t exist yet. For example:

PDA / Phone using a scroll of electronic ink/paper. Failing that, something that could project info on the inside surface of my glasses like a mini-HUD.

1 terabyte iPod. I’ve resisted buying an iPod because my music collection is around 300 gigabytes (all of it legal!). But I figure in a couple of years, there’ll be terabyte iPods so I can finally carry all my music around plus some DVDs?

Apple to manufacture a digital watch that’s basically a teeny Mac, but with the whole OS in ROM rather than loaded off HD. I wouldn’t need a huge capacity for this, just a gig of storage would do.

Who’s your greatest hero?

My Dad. He went through tremendous difficulties coming to Britain in the late 60s. He arrived here virtually penniless before sending for my Mum and my sister and I. During his professional life as a doctor, he faced racism pretty much every day and yet he kept fighting, even when he was denied opportunities because of his skin colour. I’m not even half the man he is.

What’s your favourite album?

Kraftwerk’s ‘Computer World.’ 24 years old now and it still sounds fresh. It kick-started synthpop, hip hop, electro, techno… You name it. Kraftwerk are the most important band of the 20th century. The Beatles and the Beach Boys don’t even come close.

You’re very political, do you see a specific point or event in your life that sparked that, or have you always felt a need to change things?

Nobody wants to be political. I think they’re forced into it. Perhaps if I was from a *white* middle-class family of doctors, I’d be a Tory now and be wanking on about immigrants or foxhunting or something. But I’m not. My earliest memories are of racist abuse, from teachers, from strangers and from other schoolkids. That tends to politicise one. You learn that the Tory myth of meritocracy is a crock of shit: what it comes down to is who you are, not what talents you have. So, from the age of six or so, I understood racial inequality. It was easy for me to recognise, sexism and, finally, the most important delineation: class.
Once you acknowledge the economic basis of social relations, it’s a pretty straight road to Marx. Whether you carry on from there to Luxemburg vs. Lenin, Stalin vs. Trotsky is more chancy. There’s a line in a Woody Allen film, I think it’s ‘Annie Hall.’ The Keaton character is complaining about Allen’s character’s dour outlook. His reply is something like, ‘I can’t be happy when I know there are people dying and starving elsewhere in the world, it puts a crimp in my whole evening.’ That’s pretty much why I do political activity / writing. If I didn’t, I really couldn’t look at myself in the mirror. And even when I do now, I don’t feel great. I know there’s so much more I could be doing to make the world a better place. But I’m lazy and shit.

What plans or projects do you have in the pipeline for the future?

Finish off the new album! It’s been five years since the last White Town album, most of which I’ve spent moving houses and having no studio. Now that I’ve got a proper studio again, I’m getting everything together. I’ve also got a couple of collaborative projects coming together but they’re a bit hush-hush at the mo. What I can say about them is that they’re going to be quite silly.

Thanks for interviewing me!

No problem!

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