Electronic music production has come full circle following decades of evolving digital software, back around to classic drum machines, analog synthesizers, and vintage keyboards. Demand has been growing around the world for this vintage gear and it's offspring, for reasons that become clear seeing it used by the right hands.
Anyone can buy this equipment online but there's nothing like touching and hearing it in the person. Some are nothing short of works of engineering of art that come alive with the slightest knob twist or modulator nudge. And along with the number of physical storefronts has grown a community of electronics-obsessed enthusiasts looking to connect with each other and conquer the next frontier in music performance.
Squarewave Sound is Chris Nielson's answer to such demand in Utah. NCM popped in for some fun with filters, flangers, and feedback at his modest Brickyard adjacent shop to see what all the fuzz was about.
NCM: What was your inspiration for launching Squarewave Sound and are you the first synth/drum machine small business of your kind in Utah?
CN: It is the first of its kind in Utah although I'm not the guy who brought it to fruition. My now good friend, Phil Zinn, would be the one to ask that question. I think I can speak for him though when I say that Squarewave was born from a passion for electronic music and all things synthesizer related. There are many people like us here in Utah and all over the world for that matter. I think it's safe to say electronic music is worldwide at this point. The beauty of Squarewave is that it has brought together a community of people who wouldn't really have otherwise met. Reason being, is a lot of us are somewhat introverted. It has been great seeing everyone come out to share in our love for electronic musical instruments.
NCM: Tell us about your meet-ups and events (at Diabolical Records for instance). What do you see coming out of them, or any effects on the community at large?
CN: We have a few different meetups. We have our quarterly synth meet. This is an opportunity for us to share our instruments with each other. We set up multiple tables for anyone to bring gear to show off and play with. It is really fun to see all the different instruments people are using to make music with and talk shop. We also do a monthly event at a local record shop called "Squarewave Night at Diabolical Records." Diabolical Records has been gracious enough to let us take over their space every third Friday of the month to bring the best local electronic music live acts. We've featured a diverse selection of artists. Acts we've featured range from straight up electronic noise to synth pop. We like to showcase all genres in the electronic spectrum.
"I hope to see a steady flow of new talent emerge from all of this. Salt Lake needs to continue in its own electronic music heritage and hopefully will grow even bigger!"
NCM: When we visited your shop we had a ton of fun playing with everything we could get our hands on. Would you say this is typical of the average visitor? How would you describe walking into Squarewave to a novice producer or synth enthusiast?
CN: That is the goal! We want to make it as hands-on as possible. An instrument should be inspiring to its operator. Only by getting your hands on something can you realize this. I think it is great for the seasoned musician and the novice. We have instruments that are designed to be easy to use as well as some that satisfy the expert and everything in between. The overwhelming response right now is excitement. We are still pretty new and being that it is the first of its kind in Utah, I want it to be really fun for everyone.
NCM: You have performed yourself a bit and traveled extensively the past year to see, hear and share electronic music and machinery. How has that shaped your vision of the shop and it’s potential?
CN: I'd say it's just inspired me to work hard at running the shop here and has helped gain a stronger desire to help facilitate the continued development of an electronic music scene.
NCM: What are some of the brands you carry at Squarewave Sound?
CN: We carry some of the big brand names such as Roland , Korg and Moog as well as some really cool boutique brands such as Dreadbox, Make Noise and Vermona. The list goes on but those are the main ones. We will be adding Elektron later this year.
NCM: Which models are the most coveted or in demand in your shop? Do you take special orders?
CN: Recently Korg released a couple home run synthesizers. The Monologue and it's little brother the Monologue. Both are an incredible value as they are both inexpensive and have really fun features. Beginners and pros have been buying them all up quick! Yep, we do special orders! You can order anything we are a dealer of.
NCM: How long would it take for a first time tinkerer you think to make a fully realized song using some of the models you sell? It can seem quite daunting to mix analog with or without digital production techniques; what advice could you impart to young (or old) producers just starting out?
CN: I guess that just depends on the person and their amount of focus. It could take one week or one year. So many variations. My advice to beginners would be to start with one single piece of gear. I got my first piece of gear in 2002. I put all my focus into that one machine and filled the entire thing up with my own beats. In the process, I learned a ton about synthesis, sequencing, and midi. I'd also recommend a beginners book on synthesis and a book on midi while you use your gear.
I would also say prepare yourself to spend some time in manuals. (Don't let this scare you, though. Youtube is a treasure trove of tutorials) Each piece of gear you buy is its own animal. Trying to learn more than one piece at a time can be overwhelming and cause you to stop doing it altogether.
CN: Label head Karl Jorgensen and I met sometime around 2003 through mutual friends. We started making electronic music around the same time. (He would say he has me beat by 6 months or something but who's counting) We realized that we both wanted to create and perform electronic music so we started doing releases and shows together. We've been pals ever since and continue to be allies in electronic music in whatever form that takes.
NCM: What music or artists could aspiring producers dive into for inspiration and education with their music you think?
CN: I'd say whatever turns them on. Take your favorite electronic artist and find out who influenced them and go back a few generations. This will lead you to some of the pioneers. Kraftwerk, Depeche Mode, Brian Eno, Georgio Moroder, Throbbing Gristle, etc.
NCM: Thinking about the future, how do you see Squarewave Sound growing in the next year or five years?
CN: I hope to see the electronic music community grow in whatever form that may be. I hope to do bigger and better synth related events. I see a bigger and more internationally recognized electronic music scene in Salt Lake City.