Douglas Whates is a composer, bassist, recording engineer, and record producer. Moreover, he is a creative multidisciplinarian well versed in web development, sample library production, graphic design, and photography. He is the director of music venture ELSWHR LTD and runs the recording company Red Stereo.
Born in 1981, Whates grew up mainly in Scotland. An inauspicious start at law school gave way to a formative period studying contemporary classical composition at the Royal Conservatoire of Scotland (formerly RSAMD) under the guidance of Dr Gordon McPherson. He won both the Dinah Wolfe Memorial Award and the Patron’s Fund Prize (Royal College of Music) for Composition, and graduated in 2004 with first class honours. While still a student, he had significant works performed by the London Sinfonietta, Hebrides Ensemble, and Paragon Ensemble. His classical output fuses impressionism with a postmodern sensibility, often exploring themes of place, belonging, memory, and yearning. A 2006 concert review in The Herald picked up on this stylistic blend: “For all the gut-kicking punchiness of his rhythms, the angularity of his melodies and his penchant for interjecting into his musical textures explosive and unpredictable drumbeats, the composer Douglas Whates is something of a romantic.” The same review went on to depict 2006 work Miró’s Park as “a soulful piece, beautifully written, richly evocative of solitude and with an unforgettable melodic line that stretched like an upward gaze into the night sky.” Revered critic Michael Tummelty concluded—“seriously impressive writing here.”
Equally active as a performer, multi-instrumentalist Whates began formal tuition aged nine on trumpet and piano; picking up guitar in his teens (his principal instrument while at the Conservatoire); making way for electric bass in his early twenties; focus ultimately migrating to double bass in his mid-twenties. His personal output reflects a broad range of influences, with roots in jazz/improv, post-rock, and the avant-garde.
As a freelance bassist, he has performed the gamut of musical styles with artists and ensembles as diverse as BBC Scottish Symphony Orchestra, Frevo Quartet, Hugh Burns, John Goldie, Royal Scottish National Orchestra; and touring artists including NYC-based sax giant Arun Luthra, and soul-jazz legend Allan Harris. He formed part of the pickup band for variety show Nicholas Parsons: A Laugh a Minute, and has undertaken extensive pit orchestra work throughout Scotland in all of the major theatres. He has toured the UK, Ireland, Europe, USA, Africa, and broadcast live on BBC TV & Radio, RTÉ, Polskie Radio, and NPR.
Around this time, ever fascinated by the intersection of music and technology, Whates began developing multi-gigabyte sampled instruments. The phenomenal success of his first downloadable piano library—whose unprecedented demand brought one of Europe’s main web servers crashing down—set the stage for the NS_KIT series (downloaded over 500,000 times). This series culminated in the 2005 release of the world’s most extensive and detailed drum sample library. The UK’s Computer Music magazine ran out of superlatives, describing it as a “masterpiece […] the ultimate sampled acoustic drum kit […] the most accurate drum kit emulation of all”. This product’s popularity helped establish the company he founded in his teens, Natural Studio, as a leader in the field, with sales of the 5-DVD sample set shipping to customers in over forty countries. Whates went on to program custom VSTi scripts and supply sample content to some of the industry’s top magazines (Computer Music, Interface) and companies (Steinberg, Trillium). He sold the IP rights to his most successful sample library, NS_KIT7, to Canadian developer Atelier Robin in 2008.
With such an affinity for technology and a lifelong interest in recorded sound (some of his earliest memories involve tape recorders and analogue filters), it was perhaps an inevitability that Whates would increasingly find himself working in audio. He is frequently engaged as a producer and recording engineer, with expertise in the studio and on location in varied genres including classical, jazz, alternative, and folk. Industry veteran and three-time Grammy winner Bob Katz proclaimed Whates “a superb engineer”, while Gramophone lauded the James Akers album A Soldier’s Return (Resonus Classics, 2016) for having “all the warmth, colour and expressive richness one could hope for.” He has over twenty years of experience in editing and mixing, is a fluent score reader, and counts among his past clients Psappha, iOcco Records, Wonderfulsound, Katherine Bryan, Euan Stevenson, Richard Craig, GNME, and M G Boulter. His recordings have been broadcast worldwide (BBC, ARD, NPR, Classic FM, Resonance FM) and critically acclaimed in traditional press (Gramophone, BBC Music Magazine, Classical Guitar) and key online publications.
From 2004–2011 Whates ran indie record label Natural Studio Records. Specialising in classical and acoustic music, NSR was responsible for debut releases from then-emerging artists including Matthew McAllister, Aisling Agnew, James Akers, Samantha Whates, Blue Rose Code, Euan Stevenson, and Feargus Hetherington. The label also released albums from more established acts such as Allan Neave, Amanda Cook, Gordon McPherson, David Ward Maclean, Hebrides Ensemble, and the Scottish Flute Trio. For the final release on the label, Whates committed to disc his duo project Lumière with Polish pianist Mira Opalińska, which featured their unique arrangements of music originally scored for arthouse film. Proving particularly popular in Japan, Cześć Records reissued the album for the Japanese market in 2012.
In addition to music production duties at NSR, Whates created artwork for over a dozen albums. Indeed, graphic design work and photography threads throughout his career, with Whates adept in logo design; artist headshots, photoshoots, promo material; product packaging; and traditional print campaigns. Ever concerned with aesthetic quality, and with a particular passion for clean layout and typography, Whates studied type design and authored a geometric sans-serif typeface, Elsewhere Sans, in 2016.
It was Whates’s graphic and web design folio that led to work at Scotland’s premier high-end audio retailer, The Music Room. His role there rapidly developed and between 2016–2019 Whates took on managerial responsibilities and co-directorship. Highlights of his tenure: representing the company at the industry’s biggest event, High End in Munich; representing JPSLabs & Abyss headphones at CanJam London 2018; developing a bespoke website and comprehensive e-commerce platform; creating branding and publicity material for the distribution arm of the business; and capping it off with an exclusive private viewing of Pink Floyd’s Their Mortal Remains exhibition at the V&A in London at show sponsor Sennheiser’s behest.
Starting a family and relocating to East Ayrshire in 2019, Whates continues to write, perform, record, and generally straddle the divide between music and technology. His curiosity for code endures, latterly teaching himself back-end web development via PHP/MySQL and Python programming language, thus paving the way for his latest project Elsewhere Co.—a manifestation of his passion for recorded sound, unusual music, and natural synthesis of his varied interests. He has held teaching positions at the Royal Conservatoire of Scotland, Stevenson College Edinburgh, has given masterclasses and lectures in the UK, Europe, and the USA, and currently lectures in Recording Techniques and the Creative Industries at the Academy of Music & Sound in Glasgow.
Recent musical highlights include collaborations with singer-songwriter sister Samantha Whates and M G Boulter (Waiting Rooms and How to Read); recording composer Jay Capperauld’s cross-media work Afterlife, featuring emerging talents Lewis Banks (saxophone) and Marianna Abrahamyan (piano); and producing/recording Mira Opalińska’s debut solo recording of J S Bach’s monumental Goldberg Variations for new imprint Eleven Kinds (XIK). Current musical projects include a co-led jazz trio with Fraser Urquhart and Max Popp; offbeat electronica under the alias Palermo; and upcoming releases from alt-jazz outfit Small-town Fiction.