Get to know James Harcourt, the Synth Maestro of Parquet Recordings
Get to know James Harcourt, the Synth Maestro of Parquet RecordingsFebruary 24, 2022
A veteran of forward-thinking melodic house & techno, the UK’s James Harcourt is all about tapping into his audience’s deep sonic passions with expert synth work and thought-provoking arrangements. After discovering dance music during the UK’s wild ‘90s acid house explosion, he’s been releasing records for over 20 years via labels like Selador, Sincopat, Sum Over Histories, and more.
James Harcourt’s latest release, India / Impulse Control, comes to us via Beatport’s Label of the Month, Parquet Recordings, and is the label’s first release of 2022. Parquet has been supporting Harcourt’s sound since 2017, previously releasing blissed-out tracks like “Acceptance,” “Deliverance,” “Infrared,” and more.
We caught up with James Harcourt to learn more about his raving origins, passion for classic synthesizers, plans for 2022, and more.
Hey James, thanks for joining us! How has 2022 been treating you so far?
Hi! 2022 is a joy so far, despite Covid, 2021 was a great year to return to music with a renewed love of creation — and today I get more joy from that process than ever before. This renewed sense of focus and direction has continued into 2022 and the results are starting to materialise, so I’m in the best place right now both for many years, both musically and personally.
You’ve said that your music is often inspired by “the incredible energy of the ’90s UK club scene.” What were some of the first and most memorable raves you attended in your youth?
Yes, the energy more so than the music in some of those parties had a big impact on me – particularly as I was like an overgrown toddler at the time.
My first actual time in a club was in 1996 at a techno night called Voyager in Islington in London where I was living. It was relentless “UK techno” from Andy Weatherall. At the time London was like a sweetshop at night, with rammed parties happening all over: The Gallery at Turnmills, Renaissance at the Cross, the five-room rave ”Freedom” at Bagleys, all north of the river. South London was like a clubbing world of its own with Trinity, Strawberry Sunday, Escape from Samsara and other nights. At one stage they were all weekly with huge queues and one-in-one-out before midnight. It just felt like everyone was living for hedonistic weekends where things would be almost out of control. This couldn’t last of course, and by the early 2000s the unity and joy was gone and a mix of shameless commercialisation and joyless counter-commercialisation had replaced it – for a while, the forces behind the music were no longer positive.
How did you first get linked up with Parquet Recordings?
I discovered the label for the first time around 2017 via my first essential Parquet track I reference below, and soon realised it was a great and consistent label with a clear musical identity, and part of my musical output felt near to that. So I sent some demos which I felt might fit, and fortunately, Normen (Solee) signed one and it has proven to be a great outlet for me. Solee sets a consistent quality threshold and is honest with artists and uncompromising to that standard of quality, and that is exactly what is necessary to run a great label.
What are three essential Parquet Recordings tracks?
Boss Axis – Riviera (Microtrauma Remix)
I had finished a gig in Bristol around 2015 and heard the DJ after me play this. At the time I wasn’t making very good music and was struggling in life generally. I think hearing this track loud was part of the seed of what (a few years later) became my renewed sense of direction. It’s a perfect example of really pushing one or two synth elements in a way which is not just audibly pleasing but emotionally powerful.
Solee – Ten (Wally Lopez Remix)
Around 1996, as I was thumbing through the new releases in the record shops, I’d be immediately interested and musically curious if I saw a name on a label which I wouldn’t normally associate to that label style. This Wally Lopez remix is a perfect modern example of this curiosity and I subsequently listened to and used it on my introductory Parquet mixtape that I did back in 2017 when I first released on the label – it’s a real roof-raising house-tech arrangement but with the melodic element still central.
James Harcourt – Acceptance
I’ve chosen this one because it has turned out to be one of my most popular tracks from last year but flew under the radar at the time of release. Also because it will be included in the prestigious Parquet “Most Wanted” vinyl 12-inch series in the coming months and was a landmark in that it was my first track to be supported and featured by Sasha in episodes of his live sets and Last Night On Earth podcast series.
You’re a connoisseur of classic synthesizers. Can you tell us a bit about your collection and which synths you are favoring these days?
I’m not a collector – there are producers out there with whole rooms of every classic synth made, I’m a long way from that. I would say I’m more of an expert in the very few synths I own. I believe there is something to be said for limiting your options to boost creativity.
As a result, I own a small selection which I have got to know really well, a few classic Rolands – SH101, SH09, Juno106, a Moog Voyager, which I have always loved since I bought it in 2008, and a few digital synths which also have character: Nord 3 and JP8080. I also have a TB 303 but only use it sparingly. I feel inspired just thinking about these machines, but it’s the Moog Voyager which I love the most. The oscillators just have a wonderful tonality and richness, which makes it the centrepiece of the studio.
You just released your fifth record with Parquet Recordings, India / Impulse — a release that Solee says perfectly fits the label’s “modern times sound and orientation.” Can you tell us more about the record and how it came to life in the studio?
Yes, these are two tracks that emerged from sessions late last year and are both comprised of just a few core elements.
“India” started with a Moog melody. The Moog is a monophonic synth but I love to use the oscillators to create melodies and use subtle waveform or other modulation to create the timbre and resonances that pique my interest. It was used to create the main lead and the whole track is built around that. This is my first ever track to be included on a Spotify editorial playlist “Electronic Rising” and went immediately to my top three most-streamed within a week.
“Impulse Control” is a darker and more club or festival-suited track, with moments of very high intensity contrasted against a simple percussive techno groove.
Both tracks were a lot of fun to make and I’m really happy for the EP to see the light of day.
What are you most looking forward to this year, and what is your release schedule looking like?
I believe there is a lot of truth in the benefits of being present in “the now” rather than looking too much to the future or looking back.
Release-wise I’m very excited for an upcoming four-track VA on Renaissance in a week or two that features my track “Autodisco.” And after that, I’m really excited for my next full EP, which is coming on Sincopat in the Spring.
Cameron Holbrook is Beatportal’s North American editor. Find him on Twitter.