I’ve always regretted the absence of coverage of the ‘Imperial Music Scene’ by Felix. As Music Editor I’ve made it my duty to find the brightest young musicians at Imperial and extract juicy musical knowledge from their souls.
Who better to start with then but Martin Archer, an Imperial Physics graduate who has been DJing for Kiss Radio for the past few years and is now returning to us for a PhD on the size, shape and motion of structures in the magnetosphere. He’s a pretty busy guy, but we met up a week before he started his PhD and Martin had a lot to say about student and national radio, spreading the physics love, and new musical interface technologies.
How long’s it been since you graduated and why come back to Imperial?
Four years. Graduated in 2006, and round about this time a year ago a friend put the idea of doing a PhD in my head. I didn’t want to give up my job at Kiss, it’s a cool job. You’d be a fool to get rid of that, so many people would love to do what I do. I didn’t think it would be possible to do a PhD. I was in the pub with my mate and he said you could do a PhD part time which doesn’t cross a lot of people’s minds. I’ve been a bit of an administrative pain to a lot of people at Imperial. I approached someone in the Physics department that I’d done some research with over the Summer. It just set the ball rolling a year ago, and I start next week.
How did you get into DJing?
I’d done DJing before I was even at Imperial. I’d been on local radio for a couple of years, and then IC Radio is a great place to get involved with. By the final year of my undergrad, I was spending pretty much equal time on IC Radio and on my degree. I was doing like 5 shows a week, and I was head of programming for a bit, head of music for a bit, went all out with that. It was so much fun.
By the final year of my undergrad, I was spending pretty much equal time on IC Radio and on my degree
At the end of my degree, I did a bit of work experience round and about, a fair bit of networking, meeting people generally at events with free wine, so people knew me and it payed off. I got a job at a production company who re-launched HMV’s instore radio, rolling it out in all 220 stores using a new software that hadn’t been used before over here but is really big in America. They knew that I’d be able to get my hands round any sort of new software, as an Imperial Physics graduate.
Within nine months it was all running smoothly. And I was sort of doing some work on a really small radio station, just outside of London, in the south west, based in Tollworth, that played some quite bad music to be honest. I’d never come across Kajagoogoo before I worked there – “Too Shy Shy”, really cheesy sort of late 70s-80s record.
It just kept the creative juices flowing a bit, kept me in the radio, presenting. Then one day I sent a demo over to Kiss, and two weeks later I got a job. So I was extremely lucky, extremely well timed, and hopefully I can say I was kind of good. They must have thought I was alright, and I’ve been there for three and a half years now – they haven’t sacked me yet.
I’d imagine most radio presenters and DJs would leave a station after a couple of years.
It all depends on what radio station you’re at, Kiss is quite good in that they’ll only get rid of you if they have a really good reason. It’s not like Capitol, since I’ve been on air for Kiss they’ve had at least two complete line-up changes, maybe three. Kiss only had the one since I’ve joined, and that was when I got promoted. I used to be on in the middle of the night, which was playing havoc on my body clock, I’m so glad I don’t do that anymore. But you gotta start somewhere. It’s been really good times.
I suppose it’s quite a change from IC Radio with regards to the number of listeners…
There were many times at IC Radio when I was convinced no one was listening, not even my mates could be bothered. There might have been the odd person but at least on Kiss you’re guaranteed there’s at least one person there listening, even in the middle of the night. When you’re on in the evenings, you know that there are people listening because so many people send in texts, or messages through Facebook. Facebook is the new platform for interacting with radio stations, or any sort of brands really now. Everyone really gets Facebook, especially young people, so there’s so many people on that. You can directly interact with listeners, and that’s what I love doing the most. Having a bit of a laugh, taking the piss out of people a little bit. It’s a bit of fun and adds a good vibe to the show, I just love that.
Do you have any tips for anybody who would like to get into DJing?
Keep at it. Listen to yourself all the time, critique yourself. Network, send your stuff out and try and get feedback. It’s a tough time maybe at the moment, a lot fewer jobs right now than there used to be, like 5 years ago. There are a lot fewer radio stations to be honest. Student radio and community radio are really where they’ll be taking the new talent from for years to come, so just do as much as you can really. But not to the detriment of your degree, you might need that to fall back on. If you can manage 50-50, probably a bit more on your degree, but don’t let your degree slide.
There are a lot fewer radio stations to be honest. Student radio and community radio are really where they’ll be taking the new talent from for years to come, so just do as much as you can really
What next for you then?
I’ve got a podcast that I do with a mate of mine, who was on the Science Media Production course at Imperial. We got together one evening and thought: “You know, there aren’t any podcasts that really tackle science from a younger angle.” Everyone seems to follow the format of Radio 4, who are very good at doing what they do, but don’t necessarily need to be copied. We thought: “Let’s do science in a Kiss way.” It’s called Droppin’ Science, packed full of post-production, really heavy beats in the background so if you’re listening to it on the train or the way to college or work, the people around you commuting won’t necessarily know that you’re a massive geek, because they’ll hear all the beats going on. It’s meant to be two young guys, in the pub, chatting some science. It’s a bit entertaining as well as being informative, scratching on the side of the cooler, weirder science topics. The more light-hearted the better. There are some serious aspects to it, but we try to cover them in weird ways. We started looking into the heart of the science behind Avatar, and got into some quite deep moral questions. But we’re tackling it from a cool perspective.
There’s another thing I’m working on at the moment which is going to be a school show, with the Royal Institution, called DJ Physics, almost trying to justify my existence, because they’re not that far apart. I’ll be looking at DJing from the scientific point of view. See what’s really going on. Club DJing, mixing, tackling that from the point of view of looking at the equipment, picking out the 4 key processes that go along with them, and getting into the science of what you’re doing to the music, to the sounds. Some really deep concepts are behind that, which actually spread across the whole of physics, so I think it’s really good to get that across. I think that from a proper point of view you only learn these in the first year of Uni, so it’d be really great to get that across to kids. Without getting into the maths, just seeing what’s going on and linking it across to the other areas. DJs are quantum physicists, they’re astrophysicists, they can make silicon chips and can design robotic artificial intelligence. They’re the four concepts that DJing can apply to but there’s so many others as well.
Is that going to be a regular thing or just a one off?
That’s a show we’re taking on a sort of tour, so we’re going to start trying it next month, it’s being put on at the Faraday lecture theatre at the Royal Institution. I’ll be doing a talk where Michael Faraday told everyone about electromagnetism, which is very cool. Hopefully we’ll get to take that to some other schools, to some science festivals next summer.
With DJing being such a big thing nowadays, hopefully it might get kids more interested in physics.
Yeah, it’s something a bit more relatable and to be honest it’s packed full of awesome songs so they’re not gonna fall asleep, I’m gonna be banging out the tunes.
Would you be interested in moving towards television?
Definitely. It’s part of doing the PhD really, to get back into the research community, and then to bring my two careers together, my media and my science. There’s only so much you can do on the radio in terms of science. TV’s great, so much more visual, and there’s so much visual stuff in Physics in certain areas to look at, especially Plasma Physics which I’m doing at the moment. I think Plasma’s some of the most beautiful things I’ve ever seen, absolutely stunning phenomena associated with them. And when you get a TV show you get to travel all around the world, I wouldn’t turn my nose up at that!
Are you doing any DJ sets soon?
I actually do WiiJ sets as well. That’s DJing with the Nintendo Wii controller
Haven’t got any booked but I do do them. I actually do WiiJ sets as well. That’s DJing with the Nintendo Wii controller, I wrote some software to interpret the signals and then control some DJ software with it, so it’s real gestural DJing, by waving my arms around. A lot of people don’t get it. They’re just like “What are you doing?” Then you muck about with some tunes, so much fun. It puts so much control into these two controllers that I just love doing it for myself to be honest.
Are you quite keen on new interfaces for DJing then?
Yeah definitely, I’m really into digital DJing. Some people have started using the iPad to DJ, there’s so many people who use iPhones to trigger stuff. I’m really interested in that sort of thing, seeing what people can do with DJing, to make it a bit more interesting. A lot of people fault it and say it’s not as interesting as vinyl, especially with people who just use trackpads and mice. That’s not very visual, you can’t really understand what they’re doing; it’s boring to look at. So let’s just make it a bit more interesting. Because it is so much more powerful on a laptop. There’s people who say it’s sacrilege, and you should use vinyl, but get with the 21st century! It’s so much fun DJing on your laptop, so why not make it a bit more of a visual spectacle as well?
DJ’s who are very serious about it come up with their own solutions. Like Sasha, who’s a massive pioneer of Ableton DJ sets. He built his own controller, it’s absolutely massive, but it’s gorgeous. He’s got so much control on it. It’s got lights and indicators and he built it himself.
I think if you’re a DJ who’s a music geek, you always look at a DJ’s kit, because everyone uses different stuff and configures it in their own special way. It’s really cool to see what people do. Just get pally with whatever DJ’s playing and see what he’s using, or she. It’s even cooler if it’s a girl. There’s just something about girl DJs. DJing is a very geeky thing, you gotta spend so much time learning how to do it, rewiring your brain. So to see girls who actually put the time in to do it, it’s all the more impressive.
Check out www.martinarcher.co.uk for more info on Droppin’ Science