As well as working as a Technician, specialising in DAW software and plugins, Damion O’Brien has also taught on the Electronic Music Production course here at Spirit Studios.
From being picked up by Atlantic Records and Vice, to trending on a major Spotify playlist, Damion has a track record of success in the industry. We caught up with him to find out what he is getting stuck into at the minute.
Damo, before we find out what you’re up to, let’s take it all the way back to the start. Tell us, how did you first get into the industry?
I came up to Manchester to study at Salford University. After that, I started a course here at Spirit determined to be more heavily involved in the music industry. Whilst studying here, I began releasing music online myself. And, I also started teaching here utilizing my background in music tech and software.
When I first started teaching, we were still at the Tariff St studios and it was actually called Dance Music Production. That’s when electronic music was referred to as dance music!
It’s certainly changed a lot since then! Since starting at Tariff St, you must have noticed a lot of changes to electronic music?
Yeah, definitely. There’s been a real merging of styles. When I first started, electronic music wasn’t nearly as big as it is now. The electronic music genre is huge and yet also at its most diverse in my opinion. More people are clubbing, writing and listening to electronic music, and traditional writing has been mixing with contemporary electronic production for a while.
It’s fair to say you’ve always had your finger on the pulse. And, I guess the success of your past students is credit to that.
There have been so many successes, it’s hard to keep up. Or:la & Holly Lester are doing really well for themselves. Or:la has her own night in Liverpool, label and both her and Holly DJ worldwide. James Crossan and Dave Duffy are part of Zutekh team, a key house night in Manchester’s electronic calendar having featured such names as M.A.N.D.Y, Marcel Dettman, Midland and Scuba.
Also, Alexandra Milne, Jo Kira, Christian Shaw, Gary Brown, Carlo Ribeiro, Chris Hindle, Lee Fox, Ben Stevens, Sam Walton, Ben Marsden & many more.
Let’s talk about your own music. You’ve released music under 4 different aliases, tell us a bit more about that.
Yeah, that’s right. Afferent, which covers Drum & Bass and Jungle, Cassini Division, which is Broken Beats and Lo-fi House, Designer Thumbs, which I produce music for Film, TV and Games and also, The Dark Matter, which is mainly Techno.
I release some music online myself and some via labels. Typically the more club styled material is on labels.
I’ve had great attention from German labels especially for The Dark Matter (currently on Antarctic Records) which kind of fits in with the healthy techno scene there.
I’m a studio artist first now, in that I’ve played and DJ’ed live, but I really get the most out of writing from my home studio, which also works out with a busy life.
But, it doesn’t just stop there. You’ve also had one of your tracks, ‘Ride the Yoghurt Pot’ used on a set of Vice documentaries.
Yeah, I have licensed music with Designer Thumbs for media. Someone from Vice got onto the track and ended up using it as the theme for a set of their documentaries.
You’ve also had great success with one of your Cassini Division tracks, Proxy Feelings, too. How did it all come about?
A guy from Atlantic Records got in contact with me and told me one of my tracks was trending on a major Spotify playlist. When I looked, the track had 7,000 plays that day alone and went up to around 20,000 in one day – it went crazy really quickly and has had over 150,000 plays to date. I got a lot of quick exposure from this and it continues to feature on people’s playlists.
So, you specialize in DAW software and plugins here at Spirit. What sort of software have you used to make your own tracks?
After recording to 4 track, I started sequencing on tracker software on Atari ST and Amiga. I then go into using Acid Pro and Steinberg Cubase which I still use today. I have been using virtual instruments and plugins since they first were designed. They’ve definitely come on a bit.
Aside from working here, are you cutting your teeth on any projects at the minute?
I had Cassini Division and The Dark Matter EPs released at the end of last year and so now I’m working on the next ones. I usually release two to three EPs a year. There is The Dark Matter EP coming out next month on Trippy Code.
I’m also mixing a Designer Thumbs album which I’ve been working on for a couple of years. In addition to this, I’m doing some remixing and a collaboration with Danni Skerritt (Dirty Freud) as Afferent.
Alongside working as a Technician, I also offer one-to-one tuition at Spirit Studios.
Releasing your own music under a number of aliases, as well as working full-time, must be pretty challenging at times. How do you do it?
Yeah, working, having a family and releasing music can be a massive challenge. But, being able to keep all these projects together and active is certainly one of my biggest achievements.
My advice, always, is to keep going. The creative process is never straightforward, and sometimes it can feel like you’re not getting anywhere, but don’t give up, because when it works it’s the best thing the world!