Producer duo Ben O’Connor & Jon Verde, collectively known as one of the North's most exciting new exports, OC & Verde have truly seen their quality over quantity approach to putting out music pay off over the past year. From releasing their first track, 'Symphony' on Hot Since 82's label Knee Deep In Sound, they received support from the likes of John Digweed and Tale Of Us.
Their subsequent Maasai EP was backed heavily by Hot Since '82 and some of the genre's biggest names, including Sasha, Steve Lawler, Skream and Yousef, as well as receiving radio play from Danny Howard, Annie Mac and Pete Tong, who has continuously championed them since the beginning, giving Maasai his 'Essential New Tune' award.
This year, the accolades keep rolling in for the Lancashire based duo, with the EP being met with critical acclaim as well as topping best selling lists all over. A string of releases and remixes on John Digweed's Bedrock Records, as well as Selador, Suara and others have been well received, with Pete Tong continuing his commendation, naming them as his 'Ones to Watch in 2017'.
We caught up with the pair ahead of their various Ibiza appearances and their set at Beats Cancer in Clitheroe on Saturday 19th August.
Hi guys, for anyone who's unfamiliar with your musical background, how did you two meet and how did get started as OC & Verde?
OC: I was a DJ/Promoter in Blackburn and Jon (Verde) had a design agency that used to print the flyers that I used for my club nights, Jon told me he had a studio and produced music and that was something I really wanted to get into so I went to his studio and he had probably about 500 unfinished tracks of all different styles of music from electro, Daft Punk/Justice style stuff to indie/pop style stuff (that he had sung on!) to French house and funky house style stuff.
I was blown away with the amount of different music he had on the go but none of it was finished so I suggested we worked together and I brought my knowledge from years of DJing and collecting music to the table. We went through all his music and salvaged what we could and focused fully on making house music and left the bits with Jon singing out!
V: I’d been producing and writing music for years since I was about 12 years old and then started producing and recording for other people when I wasn’t doing that, so there was always loads of cool ideas on my hard drive but it needed some form of direction.
I’d always been into various styles of house and electronic music, when Ben came into the studio he was listening to a lot of minimal at the time, and was very much into percussion and focused on that, he was buzzing with just a kick drum, a snare and a hi-hat coming in every now and again haha. I was a lot more into melody so it was great to mix both our styles and come up with our sound.
What were your clubbing experiences like in Manchester as you were growing up?
OC: I grew up in the Ribble Valley in a small town called Whalley, about 40 minutes out of Manchester, there was literally nothing going on where I lived but in Blackburn, there was a really good house scene, in the early 90s the Blackburn warehouse raves were always on the news.
I was too young really to go but heard lots about them and getting mix tapes of those nights really got me into house music, early clubbing for me was out in Blackburn at 16 going to dingy little nightclubs, there was a place called Utopia with this DJ called Vince who used to be ace at scratching, I'd go most weeks there to watch him and also go to another place in Great Harwood called Monroes, which was nuts! The less said about that place the better.
Manchester wise we used to always go to Sankey Soaps, that was probably the best club I'd ever been to at the time, still is really, such a shame it's gone, had so many good memories in that place.
V: I grew up in a place called Rawtenstall which is a little closer to Manchester and I used to head down there when I got a little older but before that, I used to go to a place called Queens which is still going today. Quite similar to Monroes that Ben mentioned and definitely the less said the better about that place too.
My older cousins used to go to all the Hacienda nights a lot so I used to get given tapes from those places. I actually used to play them that much and annoy people with them that my mate threw it out the car window one day. When I was a little older I went to Sankeys too, Ben and I had probably spoken to each other without even knowing to be fair.
What do you like the most about Manchester's current club scene?
OC: You can't beat the people in Manchester, northerners are always up for it and Mancs are absolute nutters! We've never had a bad gig in Manchester, don't think you can. We've been playing for Covert at Gorilla this year, we did a gig on the 12th January thinking this is gonna be a quiet one after everyone has spent up over Christmas. When we turned up the event was sold out and there was a queue round the block! Can't beat that city for people wanting to party.
V: Yeah, you’ll never have a bad night in Manchester. Even when I’ve not been out clubbing and just been to bars the people are always up for it. It was such a shame about Sankeys closing, we were actually due to headline the main room on the last night but it got moved to Gorilla that week. We’d played there a few times but never headlined the main room so we were a bit gutted about that. Manchester is still ace though, lots of new smaller venues are starting to pop up and some wicked parties are on every weekend.
Hidden is a great venue which we haven't played yet but they have some wicked bookings on there, and you’ve also got Warehouse Project and places like the Albert Hall and of course Gorilla which is a wicked venue. So lots going on and loads more to come I think.
2016 was your breakthrough year, when would you say was the turning point in which you thought things were really picking up pace?
OC: We signed a track called Symphony to Knee Deep In Sound and Hot Since 82 played it at a few festivals as his closing track, a few videos of that happening came in and we posted them online and there seemed to be a small buzz about us off the back of that one track. It was strange really but we got a lot of labels coming to us for tracks/remixes just off that.
We sent Daley [Daley Padley aka Hot Since '82] Maasai & Iboga as our debut EP, he played Maasai out of a massive fire breathing spider at Miami Music Week, a video of him playing the track went viral and literally within the week we had our first booking as OC & Verde at Sankeys then another one at Mint in Leeds. That was three months before the track was even out, it pretty much changed everything for us and we've been busy ever since, the ten years of graft has starting to pay off. That was the turning point for us I'd say.
V: We’ve mentioned it a few times but the 'Symphony' track actually started out as a remix for Defected and they knocked it back. We’re were really gutted about it but kinda knew it was a mega track so we took the vocal off it, which was the only original element we’d used in the remix, and then our manager sent it to Knee Deep and the rest followed. The Maasai EP is still getting a lot of play this summer from some top guys. Blown us away just how much support we’ve had since then.
A lot of people would have been introduced to you guys this year with Solstice, it was one of those tracks doing the rounds on social media, with everyone desperate to know what the ID was. What are your thoughts on social media being used so heavily these days to source tracks?
OC: Social media, love it or hate it, it's here and it's not going anywhere so you have to embrace it and be on top of it.
If it wasn't for social media 'Solstice' wouldn't have even come out. Every label we sent that track to turned it down or didn't even respond to us about it. We actually binned the track and chopped it up to use as parts for collaborations with other artists and nobody fancied working on it so we left the track, got really disheartened with it and worked on new music.
Then this January Solomun dropped it and a video of it went viral on social media. We IDd the track as ours and the next day our emails and phones went nuts of labels trying to sign it and DJs wanting to play it. So for us, social media has been a very useful tool.
Do I prefer the olden days of digging through vinyl and being in a shop chatting to people and sourcing those tracks that nobody else has, yes I do, but I've not got a time machine and how everything is on social media these days is just the way it is so for us we try to stay on top of it and use the tool to its fullest.
V: I wasn't the biggest fan of social media, but what it has done for us and others has been incredible so we’ve had to embrace it. Basically, electronic music fans and people that go to nightclubs and the people that like our music are mainly the younger generations and young people do everything on social media these days, so if we want to reach people with our music we've got to be present on those channels.
People search YouTube for music more than anywhere else and videos on Facebook and Instagram of DJs dropping tracks can really boost your career so what we think of it is kind of irrelevant, it's just the way it is now so being on top of it is the best thing we can do.
Would you consider yourselves producers first and DJs second, or is it an equal balance between the two?
OC: For me 100% first and foremost I'm a DJ, I've been doing this since I was 13, a DJ is all I've ever wanted to be, the art of it and the technical side of it fascinate me still and I still practice 3 or 4 times a week just at home or in the studio. It really is my favourite thing to do with clothes on.
I never really wanted to be a producer, I just got to a point about 10 or 12 years ago in my career where I couldn't see a way to get any further without making music. Since starting producing with Jon though I love working in the studio nearly as much as DJing, especially now when we get such good feedback from our music. The early years when we made crap wasn't so good, but now I'm genuinely excited every day we're in the studio and when we've been away for a while I'm itching to get back in.
V: It was never crap, it just wasn’t to anyone else’s taste! I’d consider myself a producer mainly and a DJ second really. I’d always played on mates' decks and done a few things here and there to get my music heard, but I've been producing so long that even when I head into the studio to do a mix, I end up sat at the desk producing some beats or writing a melody.
I think being together has helped us cross over into both worlds, so we’re now able to do both and the line is very blurred as to our roles but production was always my first love.
You've been snapped up to some impressive labels including VIVa and Knee Deep In Sound, but what are your all time favourite record labels and which ones influenced you the most?
OC: My taste is quite varied, I've DJed professionally for so many years I've needed to be pretty versatile, so I've been into some quite different labels really, I've always loved Erick Morillo's Subliminal Records, when I was just out working as a DJ in local bars and clubs Subliminal was my go to label for those sort of gigs, also Defected was one as well. I was really into the funky, vocal house stuff back in the day, was all about keeping the girls on the dance floor and those labels did the trick with that.
I got really into Ritchie Hawtin's Minus too, I was massively into minimal techno, still am really, Jon's not a huge fan but I still try and sneak a few into our sets now and then!
I've been into the stuff on Tresor for a while too, love that hard industrial Techno sound and the club is one of my favourite places too. Also, Bedrock has been a massive influence on me, John Digweed is a hero of mine, a truly incredible DJ and the music he puts out on Bedrock always works for me, it's my go to label really.
V: In terms of house music, I’ve always been a huge fan of Defected, I think they’ve really changed the game and it’s been run so well but overall I was always a fan of labels like Kitsuné, Roule and Ed Banger and before that XL and Soma. When you go through those guys' releases, it’s actually incredible the artists they’ve brought through.
What are the main pros and cons of working in a duo?
OC: The pros are not travelling alone, one of us always makes sure we catch our flight or train. Also, I can imagine it's pretty lonely being at an airport on your own so it's good to have someone to have a laugh and a beer with. Another pro is having someone to bounce ideas off, and having the trust in the person to tell you whether it's good or bad.
The cons are mainly more for promoters having to book two flights or two train tickets, stuff like that really.
V: Having someone to discuss the decisions with is the main pro I'd say. Whether it’s a musical one or a commercial one or simply what to have on your sandwich that day. It’s always good to have a second opinion. Ben doesn’t say much when we’re travelling, especially if he’s hungover so that can’t be a pro.
But yeah, costing the promoters more on the travel is a con but then again when we’re playing we have four hands and are able to do things that two can’t.
What does the rest of 2017 have in store for you?
OC: We've got a remix coming out on legendary label Yoshitoshi for a guy called Veerus who's producing some great music at the moment, also we've got a collab coming soon with Eli & Fur on vocals and a few more Ibiza dates, along with our UK and Europe gigs. In October we're gonna be playing a few dates in America for the first time kicking off in LA which we're really excited about.
V: Basically what he said, plenty going on and looking forward to it. Also, I'll add the remix we've done for Veerus has just been premiered by Pete Tong on Radio 1 which is great, he's played pretty much all our music this year so summer's looking good!