The story behind Ngoni Egan’s first drum machine is one of chance and charm. 

Having promised his friends in San Francisco a present for letting him stay for two weeks, Ngoni’s Craigslist research led him to the drum machine listings – his welcoming hosts got a coffee table and Ngoni arrived back in Ireland with a Roland TR-707.

Music has always delighted Ngoni, and as he grew up it moved from passive enjoyment to passion projects. His obsession progressed into production, promotion and purveying all things electronic – co-founding electro collective Lepton, DJing, and releasing intergalactic jams on labels such as Winthorpe Records and All City.

The Roland 707 has been joined by a host of other synthesizers and drum machines to make up a much-loved home studio. During his recent move from Dublin to the Netherlands, his equipment also made the journey. For Ngoni, home will always be where his machines are.

We chat about small pivotal moments, the importance of his peer group, and the impact of music on his life.

The first time music really moved you

As a kid, I always loved music – there was always music around the house growing up. My Mum, Dad and sister would play Nina Simone, Luke Kelly and The Pogues, R&B hip hop, Hindi music, music from Botswana – where my family’s background is from. It was a mix of really random styles of music, I was always very open to different styles of music. 

When I was a teenager I always had my iPod or my MP3 player on me – I really started to appreciate music when I started going out to gigs. That’s when I was really amazed, it wasn’t just listening to music at home or outside –  that’s when the passion got more intense.

The biggest influence on you?

The enjoyment of listening to music, the enjoyment of making music is what influences me. Whenever I came back from a gig I always felt like “Oh my God, that was amazing”.

Whether there was a live set or DJ set, I would be thinking about those sounds in my head, and thinking I really want to make some music now.

Having an interest in music, drum machines, and synthesizers – that’s another thing that influences me. Whenever I feel like producing, I look at the drum machine and think “I want to play with that”.

From enjoying music to creating music

I dabbled with music production and when I was about 16, I downloaded Fruit Loops and made some hip hop-like beats and did nothing else for a while. I didn’t really know what I wanted to make, what I wanted to do. 

I started to learn to DJ when I was about 19 and started getting gigs a few years later. Whenever me and my friends were going out to gigs, I was always really really interested in what equipment the artist was playing,  if it was decks or a live set, I was always really blown away.

My best friend’s older sister would have brought us out to a lot of techno gigs, she would have been like a big influence on me and all my friends.

So whenever she brought us out to gigs and I was always the one saying, you know “this person is using this equipment or you know this person is doing this”, and then she said to me “Ngoni you have such a big interest in music, would you not ever think about taking DJing or music production seriously?” 

So I started going to the DJ society in DIT, I’m still really good friends with some of the people I met there.


A studio of my own

Years ago, we always used to go back to a house after gigs and one of the guys had a couple of drum machines and synthesizers in the sitting room, that was the first time I saw somebody with a home set up like that.

I didn’t understand how any of it worked but I was able to have a little go and I thought, “I’ve no idea what I’m doing but this is really cool.” That was my first memory of a home setup. Then I really wanted a home set up but I was in college and was also broke, it took years till I was actually able to get set up.

I got my studio shipped over when I relocated- they said it would take two weeks for it to arrive, but there was really bad snow in Rotterdam, it took them three weeks. I was panicking for a little while because I phoned the company in Ireland and they were “like oh, you know we don’t really know what’s going on right now”. I was really freaked out but they delivered everything ok.

My studio consists of a Roland Tr-707, Elektron Analog Rytm, Elektron Analog Keys, Nord Lead 1, Roland TB-3, Korg MS2000BR, Modular rig, Guitar effects pedals and a Soundcraft 16fxii Mixing desk.

I didn’t have room to get my Nord Lead 1 shipped over but I recently took it back from Ireland on a Ryanair flight –  I booked a seat for it… it only cost me 30 quid! It’s my baby, I’m happy to have all my equipment here now. 

Adding to your studio? 

There’s a lot I would like to add, and I know that I should feel happy with what I have because what I have is more than enough.

The thing is, every time I get a new machine, it takes a while to learn that machine, so I have to stop music production and focus on learning.

So I’m not going to be making music for a while – it’s probably gonna affect my music output. 

I think ideally with music production it doesn’t really matter whether somebody is using hardware or software, it’s the end output or whether the person enjoys the process of making the music is the main thing.

How do you approach making music?

Ableton is my master clock, that’s the brain of my whole setup, and then I have this MIDI Thru box. All the drum machines and synths can be timed from Ableton. 

Usually, I start off blank or with a couple of pre-loaded drum machine patterns. I’d start off making the drums first, so I’d go to the ELEKTRON Analog rytm, that’s the main drum machine that I like to use. I don’t always start using hardware, sometimes I get kicks and snares, my percussion from samples. 

Usually a lot of the time I don’t use all the machines in one go, I would select a couple of machines. I could use two drum machines and two synths or another time I could use one drum machine and four synths to make a track. There are times I might use no drum machine and just Ableton, and two synths –  it depends. If I get bored of something on one machine or move on to a different machine.


Finding your sound

Once, somebody suggested replicating a song by one of your favorite artists to get better at production. I actually tried that once and then ended up scrapping it – I just wasn’t feeling producing that way.

It took a while for me to get to a point where I could just be like “Oh yeah, I have an idea in my head about what I want my music to sound like”, and actually implement that. 

Defekt helped me a lot when I started producing electro a couple of years ago. With techno there are so many different styles, it was much easier to make tracks. When I started producing electro, it’s a much trickier genre because it’s more about the groove and the feeling that makes it electro. I was really struggling with making tracks, I was thinking is this even really electro? 

I asked Defekt and he gave me a lot of really good tips – like the type of snares that are important, the type of snares he uses, making patterns on drum machines that give it that sound. He gave me a lot of guidance around making baselines – he showed me how to use an arpeggiator for basslines.  That really did influence my music a lot and help me to get my sound to a better place and to be really satisfied with what I was making.  

Last year’s lockdown was the busiest I ever was in terms of finishing tracks. I had a studio in Cabra, I could go in and spend the weekend there. It was a positive input on my creativity in the beginning. Now it’s not even the pandemic, it’s more so other things in life – getting settled into a new country and into a new job that slowed down my output.

Hardware vs software?

For me, I think it held me back a little bit because I was focusing on hardware. I was like oh, I’ll get this drum machine, but the reality was, I needed software and a soundcard to listen and sync the drum machine and record and time it in Ableton. 

I jumped into it too soon and I didn’t really do enough research. I was seeing things and being like “oh my god, I really want that”, and then getting it and then realise oh crap, there’s a whole lot of other things that I need to make this work. 

So I was learning as I went and then that slowed me down because if I had just focussed on Ableton, having a set of monitors, soundcard and a MIDI keyboard – a small set up like that, it would have been easier for me. 

I think some people can start off with hardware if they have the right people around them if they have people who know what they’re doing around them. I just think from my personal experience, one thing that did slow me down was jumping into hardware really soon – I got there in the end and started to understand everything.

Getting your music released?

Things have changed from when I first started producing –  it was really difficult. I had no connections or I didn’t really know where to go in terms of record labels. I would finish a track off and think of record labels that I like and I‘d think ‘how the hell am I going to get in with those people.’ 

In the beginning, it was really difficult, I hadn’t a clue who to approach or where to. But the longer I just kept producing and more people I was introduced to, meeting people through Lepton gigs, asking people questions in terms of production, things to do with record labels …the more I started going to gigs and the more I started being around people who are in music. That’s when you get guidance from and suggestions from people saying “maybe do this” that that’s what really helped.

Once you get the first couple of tracks out it becomes easier, – there are people from labels that keep an eye on you.

A Lepton label is in the works – there is a record coming out at some stage next year, it was actually supposed to come out last year and then the pandemic really slowed things down for us.  We have talked to a distributor and a pressing plant, it’s in the works. 

I’d love to get running and programming gigs and events again – it was always really exciting. I really do miss it, I know I will get the opportunity again when the right time comes. 

Can you find Ngoni on Soundcloud, Facebook, Instagram and Bandcamp. 

You can catch Ngoni playing at : 

Oct 23rd – Wigwam, Dublin IE

Oct 24th – Circles at Index, Dublin, IE

Oct 27th – HÖR, Berlin, DE

Nov 7th – with Loraine James, Sugar Club Dublin, IE

27th – 29th  Nov –  SpiltMilk Festival, Sligo, IE

3rd Dec – Amsterdam Weekender, Amsterdam, NL

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