A glimpse into the life of a DJ on the autism spectrum
“It’s like when gamblers win. They keep going until they have nothing left. No matter what it costs them. When I start making a song that sounds good, I can’t stop until I’ve finished it. No matter how long it takes me. It’s an addiction.”
Ritchie Muir, a 22-year-old music producer and electronics engineer, stands in his immaculately tidy living room with glistening white walls and untarnished wooden floor. Not one thing seems out of place. He is deep in thought gazing at an organised chaos of buttons, dials and flashing lights. Ritchie has devoted most of his life to his music. His passion is just as fierce now as when he was a child.
Ritchie had a content upbringing with two loving and supportive parents and a younger sister who idolised him. “My mum and dad encouraged my interest in music. Every birthday and Christmas I was lucky enough to receive a new instrument or a new synthesizer.” Whilst most six-year-olds wanted the latest action figures, his one wish on his sixth birthday was to own a guitar. I ask him what inspired him to start making music. He said, “I think I was nine when I first realised that making music was going to be my thing”. He continued, “I was watching Koyaanisqatsi: Life Out of Balance. Philip Glass’ soundtrack changed my life.” He added, “I remember watching it and thinking, ‘This is it. This is me!” Glass was one of the first composers to employ minimalism while creating a psychedelic experience in the characterless film and has been extremely influential with many of today’s composers.
Although his home life was comfortable and happy; life at school highlighted some challenges for Ritchie. “I used to spend my lunchtimes at school by myself in the music room.” He was recently diagnosed with Asperger’s Syndrome at the beginning of this year, which reconciles with the differences that were between him and the average child of his age.
“I taught myself how to play the drums when I was 10, then a couple months later my parents drove me down to compete in the London Drum Show". His quick-learning and fascination to understand and play music with a variety of instruments accompanied him in his desire to create his own music. He began experimenting with sounds and recorded himself playing different instruments when he was age 11. “I had two MP3 players that could record music. I recorded everything on one MP3 player then played it back with myself playing over the top and recorded it with the other MP3 player. Like a two-track recorder basically.” He continued, “I would use all of my instruments and improvise with things I had at home.” Ritchie’s early discoveries and fascination for music from so early on in his childhood have significantly shaped him and his work today. He said, “Sometimes when I need ideas, I look back on my old experiments for inspiration”.
He was given a laptop for his 12th birthday, a gateway that allowed him to disappear and delve deep into his own world of electronic music. “I would spend hours after school on my laptop, a decade later and I’m still never away from it!” He said pointing to a small pile of battered records with his laptop sitting on top. “I made roughly ten songs a week, I still have every song I ever made.” He played a slow remix he made of a Sonic Youth song from his phone. “Every song I made when I was younger describes my emotions at the time. When I listen back I remember how I felt when I was making it. It’s quite cryptic, it’s like a diary only I can translate.” Ritchie created his own language with the music he made and at such a young age, his ingenuity and passion for making music goes far above and beyond even the most prolific of music producers.
Ritchie excelled mathematically and musically at school and would spend most of his lunchtimes absorbed in his own world of music. I asked him if he thought his Asperger’s had an effect on him in school. “Yes definitely! Even although I was unaware of it… I guess you could say I alienated myself from everyone to make music but I never realised this wasn’t a normal thing to do.” Ritchie added, “I never felt lonely. I only realised later that people might have found it a bit weird.” People with Asperger’s often prefer to spend their time alone and don’t find comfort in being surrounded by people all the time. While Ritchie’s classmates sat in the cafeteria during their lunch hour, Ritchie would blissfully dedicate all of his free time working hard crafting his next musical masterpiece.
Ritchie used his talent as a way to connect with his fellow classmates, “I brought my drum machine and synthesizers in quite a few times. I played for my friends at lunchtime and put on a live set for them. Everyone loved it!” He added, “I think doing that gave me the confidence to play in front of bigger crowds.” This clearly paid off as he can often be found entertaining large crowds – whether at private parties or as the main attraction at club nights, such as Fade at one of Aberdeen’s premier nightspots, 42 Below.
Ritchie’s music is heavily influenced by the artists he grew up listening to with his mum and dad. “I think it’s really important to listen to the same music your parents listen to. My dad is really into Aphex Twin, I’ve sampled him a lot. I often try to make my music sound like his through using different recording techniques.” His mum’s favourite band are Pixie’s, listening to them led him in his own discovery of other bands. He added, “My favourite band is Sonic Youth, a lot of their stuff is 20-minute-long guitar feedback. I sample parts of it and drown it in effects and then put it in the background of a few songs.”
Ritchie’s never-ending quest to discover new music allows him to break down social barriers and contradicts the perception that people on the Autism spectrum struggle with social interactions. Many people with Asperger syndrome have intense and highly-focused interests, often from a fairly young age. “I can talk to anyone, anywhere about music.” His passion for music and his hunger to discover more pushes him to approach strangers who interest him. “I love speaking to random people about music, I’ve met so many people from different backgrounds in different cities and countries who have really inspired me and influenced my work”. He flicked through a box of records, “Someone I started speaking to in London told me about this, it’s called ‘Night Slugs’ by a DJ called Neana.” He held up the record up and added, “I love the art for this record, it inspired me to design my own artwork.” Music is a world-wide ice-breaker, however, finding people who share a similar music taste can be difficult depending on where you live.
The scene for underground music in Aberdeen is forever growing but it is still very niche in comparison to Glasgow and other cities. The Tunnels Club in the centre of Aberdeen allows fans of underground electronic dance music enjoy sets by local aspiring DJ’s- as well as bigger names in the industry from all over the world. Ritchie believes that Snafu, a club that was named in the World’s Top 100 Clubs on more than one occasion before closing down in 2014 and The Tunnels have had a significant impact in shaping the underground music scene in Aberdeen. Ritchie said, “When I first moved to Aberdeen, it was really hard to find people I wanted to talk to about music but now I have a lot of friends whose opinions I really value and have influenced my music a lot.” He added, “Living in Aberdeen has allowed me to do my own thing, if I lived somewhere else I probably would’ve done what everyone else was doing because it would’ve been the easy option”. Despite not having the platforms that there are now, Ritchie has managed to create his own identity and forge his own path through years of intense devotion to his gift.
With a large following on SoundCloud, a website used for sharing music, Ritchie has caught the attention of an array of people worldwide. He smiled, “The Guardian listed my song, ‘Bloom‘ in the ‘10 Songs for the Mac Generation’.” He found the ripped out article wedged between the pages of a notebook. It describes his take on a song by Jamie XX with a reworked version of Radiohead’s song Bloom. “Oh also, you know Travis Scott? His management asked to buy the rights to the song.” He snapped, “I thought it was so rude”. The track is one of Ritchie’s best creations with it reaching 100,000 ‘likes’ in the first seven weeks. Ritchie wouldn’t have been credited for his work, he added, “I turned it down straight away.”
In the past three months, Ritchie has had his own radio show at Aberdeen Student Radio station every Thursday. He is given artistic freedom to broadcast anything he wishes, “I like to play at least one song every week that I can guarantee no one has heard of. I love it.” Ritchie uses this as a platform to educate other people with similar tastes in music and encourages them to listen to songs they may never have considered. Undoubtedly, Ritchie’s devotion to music will never falter:
“I don’t know what I would do if I didn’t discover making music. That’s a very scary thought…”