For Alistair Hall, Keith “Reptile" Thompson, and Jonathan Shoesmith, their differences shape their creative outlet dubbed The Surgery. Each armed with sharp tactics and musical thread to bring old sounds new life and design innovative accents. Their latest EP, “Hell On Earth," has marked cryptic characters and down the rabbit hole narratives. Yet their personalities are bursting with light, despite their love for the dark side.
Music brought these mates together by happenstance and eventually grew into a passion project. “The synergy was electric!" exclaims Hall reminiscing from the first conversation he encountered with Shoesmith. Hall states that they were initially starting as “a punk band with decks and instruments." Shoesmith adds that they were a bit disorganized: “we didn't even tune the percussion back then. We got up and bashed scales and samples from our hardware."
Their creative personages suit them as they scalpel and weave their way into various types of vinyl and samples. However, The Surgery throws back its name from a self-titled room where the trio performed at the legendary club Mission in Leeds. However, like their styles, there's a more profound significance here. “Jonny thought to name [us] after early Dr. Dre beats because of the amount of chopping and breaks going on," explains Hall.
“Electronic music has a way of harnessing energy and atmosphere in a way that more traditionally 'instrument-led' can't achieve," states Thompson, aka Reptile, named for his tattoo expressionism and spike admiration. He adds that EDM “controls the listener's journey with an extra dash of precision" and is “the emotional connection other styles create with." For Hall, “drum and bass are relentless," yet they all agree that “the heavier, the better."
Their latest single, “Hell On Earth," surfaces from the recent and current dark times our planet is facing. “I remember thinking something bad was going to happen," remarks Shoesmith. “I was going through hell." Like thousands of others, Shoesmith had an onset of unrecognizable symptoms at the beginning of last year. He turned to his music while in recovery. “I went through some recordings that I had done with Reptile and managed to patch something together as kind of a cry for help." In the end, he’s thankful for setting aside the time to stay indoors and stay healthy.
As “puzzled" as the paramedics were of Shoesmith’s unrecognizable conditions at the time, he, and his mates, felt the same regarding if “Hell On Earth" would take off. “Our engineer Fanu," he notes, “was concerned about the multiple pre-recorded phrases and sections, but we decided to release it with a bit of a dance sounding b-side." Reptile’s “grimy" early recordings came in handy for this track as Shoesmith credits, “he’s a large contribution on this one."
Although versed in drum & bass, psy-progression, and a bit industrial, the trio stem from various musical branches of a deep-rooted genre-pool. For Thompson, aka Reptile, his music balance spans from his mother's affection for heavy metal and his father's love of jazz. “This is my biggest contributor to me still being here," he expresses. “My parents set me up for a very open mind and a wide range of influences." Furthermore, his Nordic metal roots transfer laboriously into the electronic realm.
“The way metal channels the darker and least talked about parts of the human experience is something that can be beneficial to other genre listeners." Reptile enjoys breaking “down the divides between genres and breaching the gaps." Moreover, producing is at the very least his form of “self-expression and storytelling." “I'm always flabbergasted by the incredible talents I've had the honor of working with," he says humbly. He, himself, is proof in his belief that “art is only limited by imagination and the resources to bring it to life."
Hall's childhood imagination with vinyl has turned into owning and operating Vinyl Resting Place in the heart of Manchester. As the official “wax expert" among the group, he has a natural ear for listening for subtle sounds and wording that can be used as The Surgery's base material. “Jon and I spent many nights in college combing shops for material to sample," Hall recollects. These samples include, yet are not limited to, “open drums, vocals, dialogue, and weird primitive electronics." It's a heavily invested passion since obtaining his first pair of decks.
“We're usually into BBC Radiophonic material and older records for potential ambient and transitory sounds," replies Shoesmith. “We think carefully about the material we use because we want to show respect to the artist. And we expect the same if someone is sampling our work." He even gives credit to the broken Xbox he sampled simply because it “sounded dope."
Reptile prefers to nod tributes to influential horror composers such as John Carpenter. The satisfaction he receives from incorporating his personality, “especially in an 'unexpected' place like drum & bass", makes him “one happy reptile." Overall, the producers seem to sew classics and out of their element substances into the studio's dark side.
When it comes to remixing, it's a combination of slice and chop, which builds a solid foundation for their own productions. “It's good to do a few bootlegs early on," advises Shoesmith. “It takes you out of the rabbit hole and into producing." Their latest edit was The Prodigy's “Timebomb Zone," from a favorite album of inspiration. For Shoesmith, he wanted to avoid the big room dance feel and go for something unique. He slowed the track down and resampled the word “music," a common thread among The Prodigy.
“People seem to think our tracks were throwbacks to early genres," Shoesmith continues. “It's too easily mistaken, and journalists tend to advert us." He explains that the sampling culture needs a clean slate but not “wiped off the table" completely. In the age of technology and information, everything an artist creates today was “carved out by others" before.
Beyond the studio, their interweb is another foundation for musical composition. For Hall, his “tastes have amalgamated into a personal collection" and now a music lover's paradise. Shoesmith shapes his world as a graphic designer by trade. He helps companies progress through CGI development and 3D model creations. Although deemed a “challenging" artform, Shoesmith says it aids him when designing album artwork.
Graphic design fueled Shoesmith's love of science fiction visuals, the inspiration behind their single “Lost In Space." The song was created on the floor of his apartment, “everything sprawled out and linked to a base node." His navigation among the web of wires propelled his creative energy, which he notes is “why it is a trippy tune." Ideally, he wouldn't mind an astronaut jamming out to “Lost In Space" at some point.
Reptile and his wife own and administer ForTheFlyCustoms, sustainable custom clothing and stagewear. Stitching fresh ideas daily easily reflects into the music studio. Armed with a theatre and performance background, he can still be seen modeling new fashions and is the group's sole stylist. Furthermore, he always finds time to grab a guitar and birth something “straight from the soul."
“Music is our hobby," affirms Shoesmith, which is why the triad remembers not to take life too seriously. The trio’s talents of trimming and gauges stitchwork can confirm that listeners are in capable hands when going down “the rabbit hole."
“Hell On Earth" [Adapted Records] is available for vinyl pre-order here. Estimated full-length album debut January 15, 2021.