Parts of this interview were originally published at Pop and Hiss.
Much of “There Is Love in You,” was live-tested at London’s famed Plastic People nightclub, where you recently held a DJ residency. Last week, the news broke that it’s in danger of being closed down due to concerns about drug use and excessive noise complaints. How have you been reacting to that news?
I’ve been hearing about it while I’ve been away on the road, but it sounds really terrible. It’s one of those situations where the police seem to have really targeted it. After all, it’s just another club on a major stretch in London where there’s hundreds of nightclubs right next to each other. I’ve got a feeling that of all the clubs in the area, it’s the least full of bad behavior. It’s been a very inspiring and influential place for many many people in London. Hopefully, it’ll be able to keep going.
Plastic People is a little sanctuary for people whose focus is purely music, and there aren’t many places like that. The people who run it aren’t interested in it as a commercial venue. It’s like a temple of sorts, in the tradition of Paradise Garage.
Specifically, how did it impact “There Is Love in You”?
It had a big effect. DJing every month at Plastic People made me alter the album based on how the tracks worked in the club. Also, those dance sounds seeped into me; it wasn’t a conscious decision, but all the rhythms were certainly heavily influenced. I was able to try out the tracks and see how they worked through a big sound system, and ended up tweaking them. A song like “Love Cry” is designed to be played on a massive system.
When you released “Pause,” you were ascribed the “folktronica” label, which seemed rather silly considering that your approach to mashing up disparate sounds was closer to that of a hip-hop producer. How much do you see yourself in that vein?
I think, on some level, what I do is hip-hop. I mash together samples and sounds and drum loops. I still work that same way and it comes from that basic hip-hop blueprint. The “folktronica” thing had came out of sampling acoustic guitars which everyone from Large Professor and Pete Rock had been doing for years. Or take people like Timbaland: He incorporates a huge variety of sounds. One of the things I love about hip-hop is that the producers are always looking for sounds and samples from everywhere. They’re listening to an incredibly wide variety of music. Pete Rock is knowledgeable about psych rock and folk and other music. The great hip-hop producers and beat makers have broad tastes.
Your career has been marked by several varying shifts in sound. How much of that is a conscious decision to avoid repeating yourself and how much is a reflection of what you’re listening to at the time?
I go through phases of what I’m really interested in. I’m always out buying record and sometimes I just want to listen to reggae or I’ll get back into jazz, and that influences the music and its rhythms. I think my methods and approach are closer to someone like Madlib than a house producer like Jeff Mills.
You remixed a handful of tracks from the Madvillain album. How did that come about?
I met Madlib and Egon and Peanut Butter Wolf one of the first times they came through London and played three shows at Plastic People. It was a really big thing in London, and I’d loved Madlib’s music since the first Quasimoto 12.” I ended up going to Brazil with them on tour, and I’d always loved the Madvillain stuff, so when they said they wanted some remixes, I was up to do something different. They sent me all the acapellas and they were all really short so it was a bit of a challenge. I ended up remixing five tracks, and I think I did all of them in two days. They were happy with it and decided to put them all out as a 12-inch.
Do you listen to much contemporary hip-hop?
I listen to a lot of the old stuff. I was just listening to Pete Rock’s Mecca and the Soul Brother yesterday actually. I’m pretty all over the place with my listening habits. I’ll wake up in the morning and play a prog rock record, then a hip hop record, then a classical record. It’s always constantly changing and eclectic patterns. But there hasn’t been a hip hop album that’s really grabbed my attention in a while. I want something new to come along and change the rule book the way that Madlib did when he came along eight or nine years ago. I’m still kind of waiting on that.
Do you think it’s a matter of a lack of vitality in the genre or do you think it’s just a cyclical pattern playing itself out?
I just think you need some kind of young blood that comes up and changes things up. I’m in my 30’s now, so I’ve witnessed a few musical revolutions take place. The best thing about them is that you can’t imagine what they are before they exist– someone has a new sound and you realized that you never dreamed you’d be listening to something like this. Right now, there’s a whole post-dubstep scene in England that’s very exciting. There are so many great young electronic producers who are fresh and exciting and eventually that’s going to stale. I’m sure there are young hip hop producers around who are just waiting to seize those moments.
Who are your favorites among this generation of post-dubstep?
Joy Orbison and Floating Points. Mosca has been the most exciting thing I’ve heard in the last few months. He’s making pretty crazy next level stuff. There’s a lot of very good records coming out really really quickly these days.
Are you familiar with the stuff coming out of the Low End Theory in Los Angeles? Flying Lotus is probably the most known of the producers from there, but it’s pretty similar to the post-Dubstep London stuff except the garage and 2-Step influence is more muted in favor of stuff like Madlib and J Dilla.
Flying Lotus is wonderful. It doesn’t surprise me that J Dilla has been placed on such a pedestal considering you hear his influence so intensely nowadays. I’m more inclined to just listen to him than the stuff descended from him, because he already did it, he was the best. Usually, I’m like ‘well, this is nice, but I’ve still got my dilla records to listen to.” When I was in the United States, eight or nine years ago, I was touring with Prefuse 73, and I feel like he was doing stuff then that’s very similar to a lot of the stuff coming out of the UK now like Bullion and Hudson Mohawke. I really admire both of those guys, but more pointing out that he was pretty ahead of the curve.
And on some level, Shadow was doing very similar stuff fifteen years ago.
Definitely. Shadow was one of those revolutions. It feel like we’d been listening to all these hip hop records for ages with one loop and a drum break, and he came along and put 20 records together to make just one track. It’s a pretty simple, but at the time, it seemed like the blueprint for what I wanted to do.
Your career has been characterized by a series of stylistic left turns. How much of that is a conscious decision to avoid repeating yourself and how much of that is a reflection of where you are at the particular moment of recording?
I want my music to always be changing. I’ve got a lot of records now and you want your music to always be different. I don’t see the point of putting something out unless I’m going somewhere else with it. I don’t feel like I have one style to perfect, every record is more like a musical journey documenting where I am at that moment. I look at it in a position to how jazz musicians approached it. With a musician like Miles Davis, there is no one Miles Davis, you get to see his musical evolution at each stop.
Do you feel that it’s difficult today to have a career marked by stark stylistic shifts, or is it easier than it’s ever been thanks to the niche culture of the Internet?
I think people don’t release as many records, so when you put one out, it’s a much bigger statement. You want to make the perfect album and your tour it, and the tour is about recreating the album. Back in the day, those jazz albums reflected where the artist’s were at that particular day, the next day was bound to be different and the music was constantly changing. The thinking nowadays is more geared towards working on a project for three years as some sort of definitive statement.
Was this desire to downplay a record’s significance part of the reason why the Burial split was released with no liner notes and no real publicity campaign?
We just wanted people to focus on the music. We put it out that way to sidestep the annoying discussion about us collaborating, we just wanted people to listen to it and not have to explain how it came about. It’s nice to have a label of your own to release stuff because another one might freak out and have an agenda focused around getting us in a magazine.
You guys knew each other from your school days, but how did you end up deciding to collaborate?
We were talking about doing it for ages, since the first Burial 12-inch. We’d gone to school together and always wanted to work on music, but it was a matter of one day getting around to it. We worked together in the studio, we didn’t do it by e-mail at all. At first, we were doing it for fun, and once we had something that we were happy with, we decided to put it out. It was a fun process. I’m really proud of it — especially the “Moth” track. I think people expected us to put out a gloomy dark dubstep thing, but it came out a slow, soulful, house-type track. It nods more towards Moodyman than to something like Skream.
What did you learn from your collaboration with Steve Reid?
He’s just a master of rhythm, and for a guy from London who grew up listening to American hip hop, I couldn’t help but learn a ton. The American hip-hop tradition is different from anywhere else, no one else can match American soul and jazz music. It’s almost kind of out of reach and to find myself working with Steve Reid, the master of the drum tradition, who played with James Brown, and Bo Diddley, and Miles Davis, was just incredible. I got to learn things about groove and rhythm in real time — playing with Steve changed my whole attitude towards composition and structure. He’s an incredible musicians from an incredibly gifted era that’s dying out. He’s from a different era, and I’m not trying to be nostalgic– it’s nice that things move on, things always have to move forward, but learning from Steve was incredible.