PHOTO COURTESY MAD PROFESSOR
At nine years old, Neil Fraser picked apart his first gadget.
The boy, now known as the Mad Professor (Fraser’s pre-teen nickname), used old parts to build a radio from scratch. Years later, the one-time studio technician and dub producer is still pulling apart audio devices. He said learning how technology works helped his songwriting.
“The modern process of making a record takes you down a lot of electric avenues,” said the London, England-based producer. “The more you know about the equipment, the electric avenues and their side roads, the better it is.”
On stage, Fraser builds a makeshift studio to broadcast his mix of slowboiling basslines, echoing vocal snippets and tweaked sound effects. Working for a reaction, he bounces ideas off crowds, watching for a knowing grin or an annoyed look to inspire him to change the mix.
In the studio, Fraser pulls apart and reformulates tracks by groups like Massive Attack, whose 1994 album Protection he reworked into a dub masterpiece. Fraser said this process of deconstruction mirrors his attitude towards life.
“That’s how I try and learn why people do the things they do, and how things work,” he said. “If you understand why the rain falls and why snow comes, you can deal with whatever comes up.”
Fraser said he’s kept the same esthetic over his nearly three-decade career, despite the introduction of new technology. While he doesn’t agree technology helps music get better at face value, he admits new tools increase artistic opportunities.
“Since we entered the digital age, we can do a lot of things we couldn’t do before,” he said. “[But] I have yet to hear a modern digital recording that sounds better than an old analog one. … Some songs in the modern medium make you wonder whether the [studio] technicians have gone deaf.”