I would have never expected to find you on Planet Mu! So the first question is: how did you get there?
Well i nearly did a record with Planet Mu a couple of years ago! But that one came out on Mordant Music in the end. I've been a fan of Mike Paradinas' work since i bought his "Tango 'N vectif" album 20 years ago and I got to know him personally in recent years so there was already a connection between us. It was great to discover he was into the music I've been making. The door was always open for doing a record for Planet Mu, and it finally happened!
Is there a connection between your arrive in their catalogue and how your music has changed direction in this new album?
There was no deliberate change of direction. In fact i think this record picks up from where some earlier releases left off. But the main difference here is that Mike was helping to choose which tracks to use, so he has helped to shape the overall mood and direction of this release. I think he did a great job selecting and presenting my music. It really helps to have that extra pair of ears adding a different perspective. that's why I insisted he give himself a credit on the sleeve!
Actually I've found some analogies with the sounds we usually link to Planet Mu's recent productions... What do you think about their artists and the particular stylistic way they've chosen?
Well i can't say i like everything the label does. I'm not a huge fan of the footwork stuff, to be honest. But there have been many great Planet Mu records over the years and of course Mike emerged from that whole melodic/intelligent techno scene in the 90s which i was a massive fan of. I think you can hear some echoes of that era on the album. It's a strong influence for me that I allowed to flow freely this time.
I really didn't expect a coming back to Ekoplekz with this sound, also considering what you did under your name and with Ensemble Skalectrik during the last years! How did you get to this sort of dub-abstract-techno?
I spent the last year or two exploring the outer limits of my sound with various side-projects like Ensemble Skalectrik, PLKZFX and under my own name, but I always felt that the Ekoplekz sound would get back to a more direct, emotional and accessible place eventually. And when that happened I knew Planet Mu would be the perfect label to release it. Dub and abstract elements will always be part of what I do, and don't forget I did an EP for a techno label a couple of years ago ("Westerleigh Works" EP on Perc Trax). I've been into techno since forever, but I have to express that on my own terms. I'm not interested in making functional dj tracks.
I also got the impression you took a lot for this sound from Sheffield's ambient-techno tradition. "Severn Beach" looks really like an homage to the first things by Autechre. Does it make sense i your opinion?
Yes, totally. coming back to what I said earlier about the melodic/intelligent scene in the 1990s, albums like Autechre's "Incunabula", Black Dog's "Bytes", B12's "Electro Soma"... All those "Artificial Intelligence" records that Warp released were very important to me. And of course all the early Aphex Twin stuff. And don't forget that Cabaret Voltaire (another shefffield group who I'm often compared with) were making ambient techno records at that time. Listen to their "Plasticity" album or Richard H. Kirk's solo records for Warp. "Virtual State" or some of his Sandoz albums like "Intensely Radioactive". Those records were the soundtrack to my life in the mid-90s so of course the influence will always be percolating in the back of my mind.
You've always produced your music using a lot of old machines. "Unfidelity" seems more to look for a modern approach. Was it the one of the ways you wanted to go through?
"Unfidelity" was made with all the old machines and I don't feel there was ever a deliberate attempt to be more 'modern'. In fact I think it sounds quite nostalgic and I'm sure Mike would agree with that, as he actively encouraged me to let that nostalgic flavour come through. I think the main difference, as you've already pointed out, is that I've allowed that nostalgia for 90s melodic techno to permeate freely in the mix, which perhaps I was suppressing on earlier releases. But if you think it sounds modern I'm happy about that. I've never wanted to make shamelessly retro records. I like to make a record that has some relevance to the period in which is was made. so if I've succeeded in achieving that balance then I'm content!
This time how did you build up your instrumentation set?
It's still the same old junk! Lots of analogue drum machines, the old non-programmable type. The creativity comes not from programming beats, but from twisting and altering the pre-set rhythms by use of delay, filters, equalization, modulation and other fx. That's how artists like Cabaret Voltaire and Harmonia built unusual rhythms back in the 1970s. Also using pre-set chord and bass patterns from old Casio keyboards on tracks like 'Sleng Zen' and 'Severn Beach', again using echo, delay etc to modify the sound and groove, which is similar to techniques used by jamaican producers like Prince Jammy in the 1980s. Lots of analogue synths, but also occasionally some electric guitar and bass guitar. Just the 'usual things' really.
What role does improvisation play in your composing process? And in the execution?
Nearly all tracks will start from an improvised jam, usually some sort of rhythm track. Once i find something I really like, I will record that to tape, tweaking the sound by hand. Then overdub extra parts on top, like melodies, sound fx etc. Then there is often a creative element during the final mix, lots of improvised dub techique etc. In fact some tracks sound quite different after that dub-mix treatment. For instance, the title track originally sounded much cleaner, but i kept coming back to it and trying difference mixes until i got it just the way i wanted: but it's all done by hand. There is no automated aspect! I record and mix in a 'live' way, strictly old school. The laptop only comes in right at the end when i record the final mix. Occasionally I might need to do some post-production/editing, and I will do that with Audacity, which is basic freeware, but does everything I need.
What is your concept of avantgarde? Do you think your music could be considered as avant?
Well you have to put it in perspective. You and I might think this is quite a melodic album but to a large majority of the music-listening world it probably still sounds pretty weird, experimental and even dissonant. I think its more about your overall intentions. Are you an artist or an entertainer? Do you just want to make popular music that other people will like, or do you need to express something very personal regardless of what sort of potential audience you might attract? For me it will always be the second option... And I think that falls into the spectrum of art rather than simply entertainment.
About that, the recurrence of this "plekz" form in your project name and titles, what does it represent?
it doesn't really represent anything. i just like the way it looks. Not everything I do has deep conceptual basis! (laughs)
Each of your project, what does it represent for you?
Ekoplekz is the core project, the one that will always be a vehicle for my most fully realized work. Ensemble Skalectrik and PLKZFX are vehicles for more unrefined, improvised and experimental ideas, some of which might feed back into the main project. eMMplekz is a collaboration - essentially Ekoplekz with vocals and lyrics, provided by Baron Mordant. Ekoclef is another collaboration, with Bass Clef, which has only spawned one album so far, but continues as a live act, exploring the possibilities of improvisation as a duo.
What do you think of today's electronic music?
Same as always. Some really great music being made. But an awful lot of shit too. The thing that really brings joy to my heart is observing how so many of my friends are finding as audience for their music at last. I have so many talented friends working in music as well as design, illustration etc. None of us are making a serious living out of it, but it really feels like our time is now. They inspire me to reach for greater heights and I hope I do the same for them.
Are you going to play live for "Unfidelity"? How will you build up your sets?
Due to my work and family commitments it's practically impossible for me to do a proper tour, but I try to perform on weekends whenever I can. I don't use a booking agent, but i have been getting a few gigs organised over the coming months. I never make any attempt to faithfully reproduce the recorded work. I might refer to them but I like to build something new each time I perform live, as that keeps things fresh and interesting for me. It comes back to that thing about being an artist, rather than an entertainer.
You raised as the editor of an important blog, Gutterbreakz, that has stopped something like 4 years ago - hasn't it? Where did you put your career as a blogger/analyst?
It was never a 'career'. When the music blogs first started to arrive it seemed a very new and inspiring thing to me. I had never written about music before but it empowered me to try my hand at expressing my opinions. I never expected it to be a popular of 'important' blog, but certainly there was a period when I was writing about the nascent dubstep scene where the audience was huge. But it was never intended as a longterm career path. I have no aspirations to be a music journalist, but it was an interesting avenue to explore at the time.
Just a final curiosity: why do you like letter K so much?
Who knows? (laughs) It's like my friend Baron Mordant is obsessed with the letter M. I just think it has a striking shape and helps a word to really stand out, same as the letter Z. Put them together and it just makes any word look more exciting.