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Sneak-Thief’s Criminal Confession (interview)

Reported by Joshua [Trackitdown] on June 14, 2012

Chatting about why he releases his idiosyncratic blend of analogue electro-techno under his nom de guerre of Sneak-Thief, Berlin based Canadian expat Michel Morin is refreshingly candid.

“I steal whatever I can get away with without the majority of people noticing. In my tracks, that is. I'll freely admit that I'm a thief with a fancy for ‘appropriated’ percussion samples and the occasional funk bass-line,” he says.

Recently establishing Neuroplayer Recordings, he’s kicking off the label with his own artist album Mixed Feelings, which ‘steals the best melodic moments from your record collection and heaves them onto some heavy electro-funk percussion’, its accompanying press release explains. More specifically its ingredients include A’ little pain, slight melancholy, measured hope, occasional dismay’ so did he start with a specific plan or vision?

"To be frank, after releasing twenty 12" EP's my only guiding principle is raw, visceral compulsion,” he explains.

“An LP is just a bigger, more concerted catharsis. I look at Bernard Fevre (Black Devil Disco Club) who's 65 years old and just posted on his Facebook page: ‘I return to the creation of the next LP’. When you're that age and still wildly in love with creating music, it has to be a profound, even perverse inner drive. There's no other explanation. 

Musically speaking, my drive manifests itself in manic bouts of trying to capture some perfect melodic moment - while fighting off my own crushing expectations,” he continues. “Every song requires perhaps 100,000 executive decisions, of which a good percentage will be doubted at one time or another.” 

Skrufff (Jonty Skrufff):  ‘Measured hope’ is an interesting phrase, how much do commercial considerations-and musical trends- enter the equation when you’re making music?

Sneak-Thief: “Consideration of what's popular need not apply. I'm all about that magical epiphany when funk musicians first got their sweaty hands on drum machines and synths. That to me is a magical and timeless moment that can last forever; asses shaking all night long. The "hope" part comes in when I step behind my synths at a gig, curious as ever if my studio ideas will connect with all the posteriors on the dance floor.”

Skrufff: I always wonder about your choice of name: what was the last thing you stole physically?

Sneak-Thief: “The last physical object I stole was some expensive aged cheddar when I was 16. Albeit tasty, my rationale was that it was overpriced. Of course I was never caught, unlike the amateurs at Louis Vuitton who had to pay Lindsay-J and I hush-money for stealing one of our songs for their website and spring 2007 catwalk.  As they say, there's no honour among thieves and we ratted on Louis Vuitton which resulted in that incident being splattered on 20 UK tabloids.”

Skrufff: You collaborate with classical musician Lindsay-J: where did you find her? How did the collaborative process work?

Sneak-Thief: “I found her in a nightclub in Canada in 1997, on the eve of her university entrance exam for a Bachelor in Music. She was playing flute in orchestras while I saved up money for synths . . . you know, back in the days when they were actual objects. Working in a studio with a classically-trained musician is both awe-inspiring and terrifying. Sometimes I would cower when accused of not properly completing a melodic progression or counterpoint. Other times I would stick to my guns and insist on the "wrong notes".  

Skrufff: I understand you make all your own analog drum machines, synths, eq’s, mixers and compressors; why?

Sneak-Thief: “At some point in my grandfather's life, he found some nice wood that he wanted to use to construct his own cello. He let the wood age for 20 years then built the damn thing. This story is imprinted in my psyche. 

I built my instruments because I got tired of the workflows and user-interfaces from synth manufacturers. I thought I could do a better job and have something that suited me more closely. Oh yes, it feels absolutely fervid to make tracks entirely with gear whose every circuit I soldered and panel I designed.”

Skrufff: How long did it take to make each machine?

Sneak-Thief: “I finished after 6 years. No really, it's all done. A couple came in kit-form, like the Blacet modules or the Serpent Audio SSL compressor while others were collaborative online projects that were developed with other synth-DIY heads from the ground up. The heart of my 8-rack modular is the ASM-2, which easily took 400 hours to design and build.”

Skrufff: What was the hardest machine to make? 

Sneak-Thief: “The biggest bitch was a Roland TR-808 clone, with over 1,500 components. I wanted the best 808 on the planet so through trial and error added a dozen amazing sonic modifications to it, in addition to the amazing MIDIbox sequencer that turns an antique circuit into a sleek and modern drum machine.” 

Skrufff: What complications does this pose when playing live? (what’s the minimum you can get by with when travelling?)

Sneak-Thief: “30KG. 20 checked and 10 carry-on. Unless I reach roadie-worthy status, I obviously can't bring the full modular with me, so I built a few mini-modular synths and analog effects to compliment the live performance midi sequencer that I developed and programmed, called the (don't laugh) "Sneaquencer." lol.”

Skrufff: It’s 9 years since you moved to Berlin; 9 years on, how have your views changed about the city?

Sneak-Thief: “9 years in Berlin: I watched minimal techno fade away. I saw Kreuzberg and Neukölln go from shit-hole to hipster paradise. Trends come and go, but I stay fixated on timeless aspects of Berlin. It takes money to tame a city, and last I checked the city itself has a growing debt of 65 billion euro. Regardless of what the critics will say, Berlin is gonna’ stay wild and scruffy. Booyah. 

“Berlin varieté is already as good as dead. It’s a shadow of what it once was.” - critic Eberhard Bucher, 1905

Skrufff: Looking back- is there anything you’d have done differently?

Sneak-Thief: “Can't answer that, I'm too busy staring at twinkling lights on my synths.”

Sneak-Thief- Mixed Feelings is out now on Neuroplayer Recordings.

Jonty Skrufff: