The Double Life of a Boutique Pedal Maker: A Chat with JC from Anarchy Audio

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  • September 29, 2017

Anarchy Audio is pumping some seriously good sounds out of Perth. The boutique pedal company is a small operation, hand constructing and assembling some excellent effects aimed at inspiring, enhancing, and challenging the modern guitarist.

The sonic venture of Johannes Chuah, aka ‘JC’, Anarchy Audio has built quite a reputation for itself with some unique takes on classic effects like the Roland Bee Baa fuzz, and a Bluesbreaker/King of Tone combo called the Game of Tones, which is just brilliant on so many levels, as well as a slew of original creations.

We caught up with JC to chat the double life of a pedal maker, the joys of taking on classic gear, and the exciting future of Anarchy Audio.
 

Anarchy Audio

Chatting the joys of taking on classic gear, the double life of a boutique pedal maker, and the exciting future of Anarchy Audio.

Hey JC, how’s it going? What are you up to at the moment?

G’day Nick, I’ve been keeping busy trying to catch up on builds to restock stores. 2017 has been crazy as I became a dad, relocated, setup a new workspace, all within the first half of the year. Still settling in and adjusting to a different new crazy life.

Can you tell us a bit about how Anarchy Audio came into fruition?

It began with gear hoarding…constantly buying, selling, trading, modifying and maintaining guitars, amps and pedals from the early 2000s, whilst playing in the local bands in the Perth scene.

When I was no longer able to commit to being in an original band, I still needed a creative outlet, so my interest in electronics was re-sparked by building pedals as a hobby, and inviting local musician friends over to record music with badly programmed drums and backing tracks.

Initially, I was part nervous, part reluctant about starting a business, so AA wasn’t officially launched until 2011.

Gold Class

Is it now a full-time venture for you? What has the process of developing the business side of the company been like?

I live a double life of working full time in noise compliance and regulation for the government by day…and by night, creating devices that make noise. I’ve treated AA basically the same as being in a band, that is, I never set out to make money or to profit out of it, it was and still is more of a creative outlet. I don’t golf, fish or play video games…music and the guitar is my vice. Developing the business has been a massive learning curve, involving a lot of hours, hard work and sacrifices.

I guess whether you are playing music, or being creative in any art, when art sells, it becomes a business. So there was a lot to learn, but once I came to terms about how the whole “machine” worked…you know that saying, don’t hate the player, hate the game? And that other saying “he who advertises the most, sells the most?”

I realised that I wasn’t in this “game” to compete with anyone, nor was I wanting to pump out mass quantities of pedals. My initial aim was on having my workflow and procedures in place before any advertising. Then I focused really hard on building brand reputation by providing good customer service and having quality products. Following that, everything fell into place for what I wanted to achieve, without getting overwhelmed, or more importantly burnt out.

I love your Roland Bee Baa clone (the Baa Bzz) – what is it you love about the original that inspired you to give it your own spin?

When it comes to heavy fuzz, I have this massive love/hate relationship with the Big Muff and Superfuzz circuits. Discovering the fuzz side of the Bee Baa was like…there was something there that I kinda saw as the best of both worlds, and whilst the original had some shortcomings, there was just something else in there to offer. The Baa Bzz developed from that platform, with heavy inspiration from two songs from two of my favourite bands – Rano Pano by Mogwai and that buzzy bee riff from Set Fire to the Hive by Karnivool.

BaaBzz

What are some other classic pieces of gear that really inspire you?

I look at all gear as tools and I don’t believe in bad tones…just wrong applications. I am very guilty of appreciating really shit cheap and nasty old gear as well as having an unhealthy obsession with the Boss HM2. It was just something that at the time completely missed the mark, but managed to spawn an extreme genre, which has now been rehashed in a modern, brutal form.

I’ve been inspired by a lot of classic circuits in the same way as being inspired by guitar idols and learning their songs. I look at it the same way bands might look at doing cover songs, and how some brands/bands can make a career out of playing covers and cloning pedals.

I don’t mind offering clones from time to time as small runs or limited editions but I’d much rather focus on offering my own interpretation, my own take or something fresh. Unfortunately, just like being in an original band, the masses will still want you to play AC/DC, so it is a bit of a challenge.

All your effects are really beautifully designed. Who’s behind that?

Thank you, a lot of time is spent throughout the process from the initial circuit prototype, layout, to working prototype and then final product. I am behind all the circuit and PCB design layouts, and most of the exterior designs are initially conceived roughly by myself in Microsoft paint which is then refined by my wife, sister or close friends…all of whom have a much better understanding of graphic design than myself.

The decision to go with stainless steel faceplates was due to its quality and the ability to swap enclosure colours from time to time. But I will also utilise our in-house laser engraver for custom small runs or one offs.

What is your personal favourite pedal of yours. Why?

At present, the Hereafter (dual mode delay/chorus) particularly when used in conjunction with a looper station type pedal. It’s quite fun to record loops of ambience and then play over and create layers of overdub.

I love the way you categorise your effects – enhance, distort, modulate, obliterate. What is your favourite type of effect?

I generally view pedals as icing on top of my amp tone with some amps needing a bit of a kick in the front end. I like to use overdrives/distortions and fuzzes all as boosts into an amps set so that they can be dynamically controlled with your picking hand and guitar’s volume control. Having a heavy right hand helps but kicking in some dirt on top is probably my favourite way to play. Delays and verbs used sparingly in a wet/dry signal ratio is also how I like to keep things clear.

The Chaos Star is really interesting. How did the idea for this come about? What inspired the pedal?

I have to give props where they are due, as this circuit is heavily based on one of my early DIY influences, the Uglyface (circuit snippets by Tim Escobedo).

My spin on it was to tame the beast, and allow it to be utilised as a sort of EQ and signal shaper on top of an already crunchy high gain amp. So with the Threshold knob turned completely up, there is a noise gate-like quality to the pedal, and it’s very quiet, yet very filtered and useful for leads. However turning the Threshold back unleashes the self-oscillator and there’s a myriad of “unuseable” and un-guitar like tones within.

The Chaos Star was never intended as more than a limited run of about seven pieces, however I was contacted by my Japanese distributor and a deal was struck. Whatever I have left over is all that’s available and once they are gone that will probably be it.

Who are some other builders who you are really vibing on at the moment?

I’m a huge fan of MI Audio Effects right back to the very first Tubezone and Crunchbox. They were and still are an inspiration. I also like what I’ve seen and tried from fellow Aussies like ClinchFX, Dazatronyx, Klinger, Midnight, Bondi , DVK , MC Systems. There’s quite a few of us making a racket and I’m sure there’s a few more to help carry on the torch and rep Australia on the global tone map.

Going on from that MI, Ulbrick and Tritone amplification are producing amp build designs and tonal qualities that rival anything coming out of the rest of the world.

What can we expect next from Anarchy Audio?

You can expect to hear more about AA, as I’ve recently assembled a small team of local musicians and artists to form what I call the “A-Team.” They all have different skillsets and ideas to bring to the table, so I’m very excited to see how much more can be accomplished by having all hands on deck.

I have split up the product line into 2 sections.

Custom runs, which are an extension of previous custom one offs, and only available on a rotating roster, offered exclusively to our followers on social media pages/groups and mailing lists. There will be options to choose from variations in artwork, circuit features and enclosure layouts. These will range from utility splitter/mixer boxes to pedals using rare components that I don’t have enough to offer as a production run, to an all analog spring reverb driver…and more!

And production pedals. These are available online and in stores, they are what you see on the website. These are still all hand assembled, hand soldered and wired, but are more of a constant in the product line.

I’m on the verge of finalising the artwork and templates for the next release, a tonewood destroyer aptly titled “Deadwoods”.

Check out more from Anarchy Audio on the website.

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