Music Photography - Personal Project
This site and the blog in particular, mainly features my client driven work. Documentary photography is my full time occupation and as such, the majority of the images I make are from people that book me for work.
What led me to this profession was a passion, a hobby, a lifetime interest. I've been making photos for as long as I can remember (which is a fair time), but as a career it's short (at least when compared to how long I've been around and making pictures). Since turning pro full-time 6 years ago, my priority - understandably - has been on work for clients. That's how it goes when you start a business. Sometime in 2014, talking to some close photographer friends and colleagues,I had the realisation that personal work - that is, the work that we shoot for fun, for our own enjoyment - had not had the same level of attention as perhaps it should have.
During that conversation, we all agreed to do something about it, and shoot projects personal to us. That's a fairly broad scope in itself, and after a short while I started to have some ideas.
Outside of photography, the only thing that comes close to that passion is music. Throughout my life I've always been making various attempts at playing or making it. Whether that was learning piano as a child, teaching myself drums, or becoming utterly obsessed with electronic music production at around the age of 15 (which for full disclosure sake was 1991...). For a long time, music has been there; as much - or even more at times - than photography.
I have broad tastes: from a classically trained family (my grandfather was a composer) I have an appreciation of that style myself. I enjoy everything from solos, through to piano and cello duets, quartets, up to full symphonic pieces. Beyond that acoustic, indie, rock, grunge (90s kid), funk, hip-hop, rave (90s again), just about anything electronic, and many more in between.
Since the late 80s, my main love, my passion - has been for electronic music. I (still) have 7" vinyls of tracks which I later learned were Chicago House that made it's way onto the airwaves listening to the Top 40 on a Sunday afternoon. From there, my interest widened and I built a healthy collection of mix tapes from raves that I couldn't go to, performed by DJs I'd never see. That was a revelation: extended sets, blended, non-stop pieces of music that only stopped when you had to flip the tape over (C90s of course) and were recorded as people danced and partied.
I was an established crate digger by 15, buying 12" records from the local record shops with my paper round money. I had a fair idea of what I liked at that point, and when you are limited with the amount you can buy based on the coins in your pocket, you learn to be more focussed and decisive about what you love enough to buy. What - for you - is good music.
At around 16 I fell for a style which would be one of the most stable and consistent threads of my life. A style which deeply rooted underground, would surge into the mainstream consciousness, fall out of favour to go back underground, and be one of the most extensive types of electronic music: trance.
I'm not too keen on putting music I like in a category. 'Trance' is a word that I love and hate as the title of the music I know to be some of the most melodic, beautifully composed, layered, and exceptionally produced of any type in modern times. It is also what many - because of that mainstream surge - would at best not understand, and at worse dismiss as repetitive, shallow or (personal pet-hate word coming up) cheesy.
Back to my project as that's way more scene setting than I'd planned. I wanted to combine my love of photography, with the other love of music (not sure if that's come across?). The idea I had was to profile someone involved in the scene, someone instrumental to it's development - a pioneer - with the same approach I would take to photographing any other life event. I wanted to create documentary photography of someone from their home 'normal' environment, through to working in the studio, hitting the road, and culminating in a public performance.
There's not many people in trance - or even the wider electronic scene - who have been part of it for the same amount of time as I've had an interest. Artists come and go, tastes change, their styles move on. But there are some names who exert the same influence, commanding huge levels of respect from fans and artists alike, as much now as they have ever done. John '00' Fleming is one of them.
John isn't the kind of artist craving celebrity or attention. He is someone driven completely by a love of music of exceptional quality. His name is synonymous with that; not just trance, but complimentary genres such as techno, breaks, house and psychedelic. Deep music, underground music. He is a DJ who can genuinely take a crowd on a journey through music whether at huge festival stages, or tiny, dark, sweaty clubs.
As a producer, he has an insanely high standard of working, and engineering his music to perfection. His monthly radio show Global Trance Grooves has been running for 12 years with a huge international group of listeners. Proof - were it needed - that this style of music isn't just something for dancefloors, but is consumed voraciously at any time of day or night, at any place via headphones and home hifis, not just huge speaker stacks.
I contacted John via his management team at the record label he runs: JOOF Recordings. After outlining my ideas, they'd looked at my portfolio and got a sense for the sort of photography I create: natural, insightful, raw, at times gritty. That appealed to John and his team and they agreed to setup some dates.
I first met up with John at one of his own JOOF Editions club nights on home turf in Brighton. In a club that is as dark, hot and underground as you could imagine anywhere being, it was an opportunity for me to test my mirrorless Olympus camera kit in conditions that it was barely possible to see in, let alone take images. As a test run, it was great and I got some interesting, challenging images.
I've spent a lot of time in nightclubs on both sides of the DJ booth (I spent a few years DJing and got to play at some amazing venues in the UK) and I relished being back in the environment with the music I love.
Profile of a Producer
There weren't many opportunities where my availability matched up with John's schedule for dates he was playing in the UK, but the one day that offered us the best opportunity was when he was due to be playing at Ministry of Sound in London.
The plan was to meet at John's home studio, capturing him in the production environment before heading to the club for his set there. I was welcomed into their home by John's wife Selma and their two dogs and we chatted for a while waiting for John to get back from organising the Brighton Music Conference (another thing John and Selma are both heavily involved in). Selma told me at this point, that whilst they receive many requests for photo shoots, they almost always say 'No', and it was my style and concept that changed their mind this time. Something I was really happy to hear.
In John's studio - where there were more computer screens than I have ever seen connected to one computer - he worked on an incredibly layered piece of music for the BBC. John's work isn't just club music - his skills as an engineer and composer see him in demand for producing music for many uses, and in 2014 was scoring an orchestral piece at Abbey Road Studios (spot the souvenir mug).
Ministry of Sound
From John's house, we drove to Ministry of Sound in London. One of the UK's original superclubs with widely known accompanying record labels, radio stations, TV spots, Ministry of Sound is a global phenomenon. What started as a single club with a specific concept (sound quality), has grown to be a brand few can fail to have heard of.
Arriving early and ahead of the main club being opened we walked through the offices where the cogs of this business are kept turning during the week, and made our way to the artist green room before going into the club for soundcheck.
'The Box' at Ministry of Sound is the heart of the club. A simple, dark box shaped room (surprising given the name), from the club's inception it has always been about the music (hence the name). Featuring a sound system that has won awards and the plaudit of best club sound systemin the world it has to be heard to be believed. For an audio nut like me, this is geek heaven.
The music is presented with a clarity and volume that is incredible, in a space considered acoustically perfect. I've been there a couple of times, and whilst loud, it is never a fatiguing experience as the sound is so clean. I read once that the system only runs at around a third power of it's full potential to keep everything controlled. It doesn't bear thinking about the damage that could be done if it was fully unleashed.
John was playing the opening set of the night and the club filled as soon as he started. Many DJs would gravitate towards the peak time slots but John had specifically asked for the earlier slot in order to play a deeper, more progressive type of sound that he believes in so much.
He lives and breathes the club scene and electronic music and remains a true professional. He hang around for a short while after his set - talking to fans, getting pictures taken - before heading home again. Another day at work done.
It's taken me a long time to pull this together, purely down to how busy I've been even over winter. Going back to the reason I did this project - personal work - it has been deeply satisfying to work on something that combines my two passions in some way. It does bring home the challenges that time presents, and the importance of creating the opportunities to produce work for personal satisfaction. I would like to do more.
Beyond these images, I captured a lot of video clips which I intend - hopefully - to pull together into a short film. Video production isn't my strongpoint (at least not in any speedy timeframe, these images have taken long enough) so that's definitely another project to find time for.
Finally, I'd like to thank John & Selma for allowing me access to them like this, and Darren at JOOF for pulling it all together.
London Documentary Photography by Wedding Photographer Andy Rapkins