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Container interview – “it was just really going off instincts”

Container on borrowing Richard Fearless’ studio and productions past techno

Considering the type of tunes he’s known for, Ren Schofield is a very softly spoken guy. Catch him playing live, though, and the best way to describe things might be ‘abrasive’.

Stripping things to bare, sub-rattling bones, although anything but minimal, his performances and productions as Container are disorientating experiences in industrialist ends of electronic music. White noise refrains, distorted drums, the wild sound of synthesised friction rising from beneath, nevertheless the sense of rhythm ensure his productions under this moniker have found favour with techno heads since those early appearances around the turn of the 2010s. 

Today, though, the acclaimed musical project is subtly pushing things forward in a different way, if you listen closely enough. This week his four track EP, Creamer, arrives, a release worthy of fanfare for more than one reason. Musically, it’s perhaps his most uncompromising to date, closer to EBM than anything else. The record is also his first for the highly respected UK imprint Drone, helmed by Death In Vegas enigma Richard Fearless.

“When I started Container it was just kind of an idea to see how a project based on a type of music I wasn’t that familiar with would turn out,” says Schofield, referencing the fact he also has an enviable track record outside techno, with tracks and albums both under his real name and through projects including Form A Log and The Japanese Karaoke Afterlife Experiment. “So it was just really going off instincts, or just how I thought it should be. I guess early influences for that were mostly a Swedish group called Frak, who run a label, Börft Records.

“I’ve been leaning more, in my mind at least, in a rock direction for a while now,” he continues of recent work. “In terms of the kinds of beats. Once I kind of realised that’s what I had been doing I was interested in pushing it further in that direction. So for this EP I had the idea that I wasn’t really going to think about how it would be perceived by a techno audience. Because what I wanted to do was write as though it was a band. Whenever I would think about it, it was in a live rock context.”

Although quick to point out Creamer sounds nothing like Soundgarden, Schofield tells us he was regularly listening to the late-Chris Cornell’s seminal outfit during work on these tracks. We ask if his idea of a rock context impacted the technical process. He explains it’s less tangible than that. “It’s more just the thought of it eventually being taken out into a live setting. And I guess I’ve always had that approach to things that I’ve been working on. And that’s kind of a marker for whether I think a track is going to work or not.”

Unsurprisingly, our conversation moves to the difficulties in gauging if a track works or not at a point in time when — for 16 months at least — there was no ‘out’ to test the water with. But you could also say the pandemic helped make ‘Creamer, too. Work began before lockdown but the EP was finished under those conditions, and this isn’t the only way 2020’s Great Disruption shaped the release.

“I met Richard [Fearless] because we’d been in contact before, he’d asked me about supporting Death In Vegas shows. When I came over to the UK I met him, he showed me his studio and we hung out a bit,” says Schofield, who relocated to London from the US in 2018. “When lockdown was going on, I was desperately searching for a studio so I hit him up to see if he knew of any places I could get into.

“He happened to be going out of town for a month or so, and said I could just use his place. Which I accepted and was very happy to have. Then he just mentioned the idea of the stuff that I was working on, if I’d be up for him releasing it. And I thought sure, why not,” he says of how the Drone release was formalised. “This just happened to be the stuff that I was working on at the time, and for a few months afterwards.”

Previous Container outings landed via the likes of Diagonal, run by fellow pigeon hole avoidant Powell, cult Ohio and Vienna based Spectrum Spools, and Helm’s benchmark-setting experimental imprint Alter. Along with the new label, Creamer also involved a fresh production process. Specifically the first time Container has moved away from the iconic Roland MC-909 Sampling Groovebox.

“I’d had it for so long, and I’d oftentimes considered getting rid of it for something else, but either the thing I’d buy just wasn’t speaking to me, or I’d discover some new way of using the 909 that opened up a whole new set of possibilities that would keep me going with it. And give birth to all these new ideas to make tracks,” Schofield explains, before recounting how, for all its merits, the Roland had drawbacks. “A big problem was that they weren’t really meant to travel, you know, because they’re this kind of big bulky thing that’s supposed to sit on the rack in the studio and get used. But you’re dragging it all over the place.”

The long-elusive replacement — an Elektron Digitakt — certainly provides a solution to that problem, with small size and comparative light weight. And as live venues in the UK, many European countries, and his US homeland start back up, the timing couldn’t be better. As our call comes to an end, Schofield makes it clear he’s ready to embrace a re-energised scene. “I guess my plan is just sort of work on some new tracks, and to practice the ones from Creamer for a live set… just trying to work it all, get back into that mode again which I didn’t have to think about before. I was always ready for it.”

Martin Hewitt