One of the most recent signings to legendary London psy trance label Free-Spirit Records, Steve Birch aka Merlin’s Apprentice is actually one of the veterans of the rave scene who’s been making music since he first caught the dance music bug in the ’90s.
While his latest ‘Flotation’ EP as Steve Birch on J00F Recordings has recently rocketed to the top of the Beatport Psy Trance charts, with it sitting at No. 9 at the time of writing, as Merlin’s Apprentice he’s booked for a load of epic events and festivals over the coming summer months, including this weekend’s Goa Creme Festival, the launch of new UK transformational festival Anthropos Festival, the Psymera Summer Boat Party, and of course Tribal Village on Saturday 18th May at The Steelyard. At the same time, he’s only getting more creative in the studio, with collaborations with N-kore and Neill Moore in the pipeline.
With Merlin about to unveil his magic on so many events and productions over the coming months, it was definitely high time this respected artist made his HarderFaster debut…
Hey Steve, thanks for taking some time out to answer a few questions for your fans on HarderFaster ahead of Tribal Village on 18th May!
You attended your first rave at the tender age of 13 which initially inspired you to start DJing, then sold your decks to set up your first studio. Can you remember exactly what it was that made you fall in love with dance music and then inspired you to start making music of your own?
The energy in the music, with it’s high pitched odd vocals and randomness. In the early rave days some sets would go from break beat hardcore to jungle techno to hardstyle then happy hardcore... the natural high that it gave me grabbed my attention the first time I heard a mix tape. Then I attended my first rave and the happy bouncing crowd and atmosphere had me hooked for life!
Within months I’d got my first decks, then later got local gigs at clubs and a radio station, but that wasn't enough. I had so many ideas for what I wanted to add as extras to play in my DJ sets and bring my own energy and happiness to the dance floor. I couldn't afford both, so sadly I sold my decks and purchased a synth, mixer, Amiga and sampler. Then my spare time completely vanished hahaha.
First I started off making rave music, then moved onto Goa trance and euphoric trance for a bit. Psychedelic sounds in the form of Hallucinogen came into my life around 1995.
How did you learn to mix and produce? Was it something you studied for a long time, or are you self-taught?
I didn't know anyone else that mixed when I got my decks, so taught myself with the two dance records I had. It was the same with making music.
I later met a few local people who also made music, one who I'm actually writing some acid techno with at the moment, and randomly sold a TV to one of my rave legends when I was working in a shop and got to go DJing with him at some awesome big raves.
It’s funny, he lived behind my mate’s house and we didn't know until I met him. We used to hear someone blasting out hardcore and we used to do the same! When I met him, he wondered who was playing his tracks hahaha… me hehe!
What were your biggest musical influences growing up? And how about now?
In the early rave days, Paul Oakenfold’s Goa Trance Essential Mix on BBC’s Radio 1 changed my musical life and introduced me to the psychedelic world.
Getting signed to J00F Recordings in 2003 must have been an absolute game changer, especially when your track ‘Spaced Out’ hit the likes of Radio 1. Had it taken long to get that big break? I hope you had a lot of fun celebrating!
I started sending psy trance/trance demos off around 2002 but had been writing it for years, and had always been a J00F fan. At that point I was well into his White Label Euphoria albums. So yeah, that was a shock when I got call from John 00 Fleming saying he wanted to sign ‘Spaced Out’!
Since then you’ve released a load of amazing tunes and albums as Steve Birch and Merlin’s Apprentice. How do your two projects differ? Do you have a favourite release from each of your alter-egos, or do you love all of your children equally?
Steve Birch has an experimental morning/afternoon prog psy sound, that doesn't always mean being blasted to space. I see this sound as more grounding and earth based that will also create images in the mind and take you somewhere on a psychedelic plane.
Merlin’s Apprentice is more of a full on psy sound, with a happy energy and more spacey sounds but hopefully offering something slightly different.
I can’t choose a track, so I have to say ‘Spaced Out’, as it was my first!
As Steve Birch, you’ve literally just released the awesome Flotation EP on J00F Recordings, which as well as your stunning ‘Flotation’ track also includes the beautiful ‘Sun Flickering Through the Trees 2019’. Are the five tracks recent productions, or has this EP been manifesting for a while?
‘Sun Flickering…’ is a remix of an old track of mine, so I’ve been working on these for a while, trying something different and pushing my music into the scene. It’s is a fave of mine as the original always went down so well.
Now I’m clear where I want to go with this sound there will be a few more tracks coming out later in the year. It’s perfect for a prog set at a festival morning or afternoon.
What have been the highlights of your music career? And what goals do you still have for the future?
When J00F signed me. When Dave Pearce played my first track on Radio 1, I thought I’d recognise it, but it went until around half way through until I realised it was mine – I was in shock I think haha! Then I was in even more shock when it got voted no. 2 dance anthem of the year!
To be able to play to a crowd and make them happy is a highlight every time. Being booked to play at Tribal village as I’ve partied there for years and then being signed to Free spirit records...
I would love to travel the world like so many DJs so that’s been a goal for years now.
Paul Oakenfold dropping my remix of a track that I’d first heard him play in his Essential Mix that inspired me all those years ago in one of his new Essential Mixes! My mind was blown hahaha... I've been very blessed.
What’s your favourite synth or plug in right now – or is that a trade secret?
The funniest is the Delaylama, please check it out hahahaha.
What other productions have you been cooking up in the studio recently?
Lots of new Merlin’s stuff and a few remixes of my ‘Star Children’ album.
You're known for your energetic and uplifting sets. Do you have a favourite gig or do you believe you’re only as good as your last set?
You’re only as good as your last set, but I do have some awesome memories for various reasons. But that’s more to do with the crowd than me and what I’m doing.
Mixing is easy, the skill is reading the crowd. I love going with the flow of the dance floor and seeing where it takes us all.
You’ve recently been signed as Merlin’s Apprentice to legendary London psy trance label Free-Spirit Records. How did this come about? Do you also consider yourself a free spirit by nature?
I met the awesome Jay at a friend’s psychedelic wedding in the forest that I played at. We chatted for a bit and I got the opportunity to remix a track from Jay’s excellent new album, so I jumped at the chance. It turned out Jay loved what I did, then my Free-Spirit history was made. I’m a total free spirit, I have been as long as I remember: born free!
You’re very active on social media and have set up the popular page UK Psy Tribe. Is it hard to keep up on the socials every day? Do you manage to ration the amount of time you spend or do you immerse yourself in it as a necessary evil?
Love it or hate it; but it’s needed. I love the wide connection and instantaneousness of it all and it is nice to spread some love and awesome music and events to anyone that wants to get involved. I much prefer human interaction more than anything though.
On 18th May you’re playing a Merlin’s Apprentice set on the Tribal floor at Tribal Village alongside the likes of Cylon, Dickster, Journey, Tron, Alienatic and Foose. What can we expect from your set? Will you be sticking around to enjoy the party afterwards?
It depends when I play. Being full of energy and building up for the next DJ is my moto and I always carry on the party before and after the after... hahaha, need you ask hehe!
You’re also involved with new transformational festival Anthropos as part of your work with The Psychedelic Society. Can you tell us a bit about that and how you got involved?
I’m taking part in the UK Psychedelic Research Test and the Psychedelic Society are making a documentary following my process. We got talking and now I also work for them at various festivals and events giving the odd talk and playing psy dub and chill out in their tent. They are part of the Anthropos festival, so I'm going to be involved in its debut, which I'm very excited about.
We’re also both playing at the Psymera Summer Boat party at the end of June – definitely one of the highlights of the summer!
Yes I can’t wait to hear you play – I hope we don't clash times!
What else do you have coming up over the summer? Will you be heading to many festivals in your love bus?
Ahhhh, my love bus! Yes, here some of the gigs I’m playing at so far this year…
The Psychedelic Society
Ministry of Sound with J00F and Astrix
3 Wishes Fairy festival
The Psymera Boat Party
Black Pearl Festival
Dance Love Hub
Harder Baby Harder
I’m going to Ozora for fun – hopefully I’ll play there one day. And Noisily and Boomtown Festival as well!
Wow that’s quite a summer you’ve got lined up! Finally, if you could give 20-year old Steve a bit of advice, what would it be?
I’ve never been asked that before. Worry less, meditate more and enjoy the ride or STOP now and go and become a monk!
Thanks so much for your time Steve! Looking forward to seeing you at Tribal Village!
Yes you too, I can’t wait. There’s such an epic line in both rooms, I’m very excited!