Oliver Smith has been described as “an excellent DJ” by Armin van Buuren, “the best thing to happen in trance” by Mixmag and “sensational” by DJ magazine. In recent years the highly successful UK trance DJ and producer has released over 50 records and remixes and has performed as a DJ in many of the biggest clubs around the world. Oliver’s music is regularly played by leading DJs such as Tiesto, Ferry Corsten, Armin van Buuren and Above & Beyond. In addition to this, Oliver’s work as one half of the highly acclaimed production duo Smith & Pledger has assured him a place as one of the leading figures in the trance scene.
Oliver’s latest remix, “Breakthrough” is yet another prime example of the melodic, musical talent that has defined him as an artist.
You have played at numerous “superclubs” around the world, like Godskitchen , Turnmills and Passion; when you play at clubs like these, do you still get a “wow” feeling from it, or is it just routine now?
It’s always a thrill for me to play in any club. Big clubs like Godskitchen or Matter (the new club here in London) tend to have a great following and very knowledgeable crowd so that makes them particularly good. Also, the bigger clubs often have a great sound and lighting setup, which is the icing on the cake. Having said that, smaller and more intimate venues also have their charm so I’m glad I get to play both.
What inspired you about “Breakthrough” to complete a remix of the track?
The main thing that caught my ear in Breakthrough was the stuttered vocal that forms one of the main hooks in the remix. It’s quite a memorable and addictive combination of sound and melody. My overall approach for the remix was to pick out a few key elements and put them together with my own sounds to make my own personal interpretation of the track.
Your music has been played by some of the biggest names in trance. What drew you to the trance genre?
I’m a music fan in general but what attracts me to trance and progressive house is the powerful emotional content it can have. It also features a lot of epic soundscapes that really appeal to me and I like the idea of working with synths, samples and drum machines so it’s the perfect format for my music.
Working with major labels such as Sony and Universal, were your expectations different than working with smaller labels?
With major labels they are generally after a more commercial sound. It can be a difficult task to make something that pleases the major label bosses and also the more credible DJ’s. Smaller labels tend to be a bit more into trance and electronic music in general so they understand better when I go for a less obvious path with a remix. Often I find that doing the less obvious thing is the most successful for me.
In terms of djing, what has been the hardest crowd to work with? Is there a particular area you like to play better than others?
I’m constantly surprised at how good the crowds are all around the world. There are so many passionate and knowledgeable fans and people who know how to party. Different countries or regions have slightly different taste so in some places I play a bit more of my progressive or techno influences but in other places they are more up for uplifting trance. I try to have my own take on the music and take the crowd on a journey throughout the night.
Armin van Buuren, Tiesto, Paul van Dyk—all considered to be leaders in the trance scene, are all regularly playing your tracks. Is this a lot of pressure? Or business as usual?
I don’t feel under pressure, as I don’t write my tracks specifically for Armin or Tiesto etc. I prefer to please myself and make the best music I can whilst still staying true to my own taste and convictions. I think my tracks are often quite popular because they aren’t just for the clubs – I try to put in more detail and depth than a lot of producers so that my tracks can stand up to repeated listening at home as well. If I do feel any pressure it’s usually just my own desire to push my sound forward and keep improving.
When you start making a track, is there always a certain form you follow, or do you follow where the track leads you?
There is no set pattern to how I make a new track. I like to experiment with basic ideas first and then choose the best direction. Then I will flesh it out and turn it into a full production. On quite a few occasions I have almost finished a track and then scrapped it and gone back to the beginning as I feel I can do better. Ultimately I just want to make the best music I can and I work hard to do that.
How long does it usually take for you to produce a track, from start to finish?
It can be anything from a day or two to a month. It’s done when it’s done. Having said that though, I do find the ones that come together quicker are often the better ones.
Do you get a lot of inspiration from the different cities you travel to?
To be honest, a lot of the time I don’t really get to experience much of the cities I travel to. Often I will fly there on the evening of the gig, go to the club, and then fly back the next morning! I do like seeing different places and cultures though and when I get the chance to stay on a bit longer I like to have a look around. I’m planning on getting a portable sound recorder so that I can start gathering samples and atmospheres from all the places I go to for inclusion in my new tracks.
What potentials do you see for “Breakthrough”, Dancefloor or radio play?
It’s already seen support on the radio from Armin van Buuren, Above & Beyond etc. and I’ve had a lot of good feedback from fans. It also works well in the club so hopefully you’ll get a chance to hear it next time you’re out!
What tools/software do you use most in music production? Are there certain instruments you prefer to others when working with your sounds?
My studio is based around Apple Logic Pro but I also have a pile of synthesizers and other audio toys that get put to good use. I’m a great fan of the Access Virus, Roland Juno2 and JP8080 but I’ll use whatever tool works for the sound I’m after at the time. The end result is the most important thing, not necessarily how I got there.
Are there any special tips or tricks that you might offer someone looking for advice in producing?
Remember that the central idea and the tune are the most important thing, everything else is just window dressing.
Do you have any upcoming gigs or projects that you might like to mention?
I’ve got a string of DJ dates coming up here in the UK over the next few months in Edinburgh, Manchester, Leeds and Glasgow. I’m also still doing my regular slot on the Anjunabeats Worldwide radio show. Check my myspace page or website for the full details. On the record side of things, ‘Sunrise’, my collaboration with Boom Jinx, is due out in February, then, following that there will probably be an EP with my singles ‘Restless’ and ‘Horizons’. Finally, I’m hard at work on my album, which should be released later in the year. I certainly plan on keeping busy!
Check out Oliver Smith’s remix of Kenneth Thomas and Chad Cisneros’ ‘Breakthrough’ at Beatport, DJDownload or any other fine digital retailer.