Clark talks us through his orchestral tour de force Playground In A Lake
Clark talks us through his orchestral tour de force Playground In A Lake
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Clark talks us through his orchestral tour de force Playground In A Lake
We meet one of the secret curators awarding Weatherall blue plaques under cover of the night
In the first part of our two part Sleaford Mods special, we chat to frontman Jason Williamson about Trump, pop and the fear of messing up
Exploring human-machine relationships and the democratic nature of DIY instruments, Manchester artist Vicky Clarke works in the spaces between technology and sound. Juno’s Greg Scarth hit her up for a chat about lockdown life, sonic heroes and why she sees echoes of sound art in music by Actress and Oneohtrix Point Never.
How an obscure track on a French label became the anthem of Poland’s pro-choice protests…
The longstanding perception of turntablism itself as a masculine activity is finally under threat. We chat to three of the scene’s leading female turntablists on the changes afoot and the remaining impediments
The South London DJ pays tribute to FKA Twigs and tells how she’ll be celebrating IWD
FIRST OF ALL, TELL US WHO YOU ARE, WHAT YOUR ROLE IN THE MUSIC INDUSTRY IS AND WHAT KIND OF MUSIC YOU LOVE?
My name is Alexis and I’m a DJ and producer ! I grew up moving around a lot before settling in London about 5 years ago to study. I’d always been into music but didn’t really know how to get started, so I started working for a local station, Balamii. I started learning so much about music I’d never heard before and asking all the DJs a ton of questions and when I got home I’d start digging through tunes I’d heard that day, it was such an exciting wormhole lol.
I experiment with a range of sounds leaning towards techno, left-field bass. I got into this when I moved to London, I’d never heard anything like it and it captured me straight away. I’ve explored these interests through my productions as well as playing in some amazing venues with some artists I really admire. I love such a variety of music to be honest which I’ve been showcasing more in my Noods Radio residency, a range of punk, experimental, folk, ambient and everything in between:)
WHAT DOES INTERNATIONAL WOMEN’S DAY MEAN TO YOU?
I think it is time to celebrate all of the powerful and talented women who’ve paved the way to where we are now as a society, as well as reflecting on how each of us can lift up ourselves and other women.
WILL YOU BE DOING ANYTHING TO CELEBRATE?
Probably just making sure all the amazing women in my life know how much I love and appreciate them.
DO YOU THINK WOMEN’S ISSUES HAVE BEEN AFFECTED BY THE PANDEMIC?
Unfortunately I think so, in terms of the music industry, it started feel that women were on track for more equal gig line-ups and bookings and that conversations around sexism in the industry were becoming more frequent and open. All of this was so, so needed, so it feels frustrating to see that progress coming to a halt. I know this is the case for everyone and not just female musicians however !
CAN YOU NAME A FEMALE ARTIST WHO HAS HAD A SIGNIFICANT EFFECT ON YOUR CAREER, EITHER ON A PERSONAL OR MORE ‘ROLE MODEL’ LEVEL? WHAT’S SO GREAT ABOUT THEN AND HOW DO YOU FEEL THEY’VE CONTRIBUTED TO YOUR DEVELOPMENT?
In the last year or so I’ve really looked up to FKA Twigs, as an artist she’s so versatile and incredibly dedicated to her craft and everything that she’s decided comes with that. On a more superficial level, her aesthetic is incredible too – less superficial is her music, I’ve been listening to her first two EPs a lot and have taken huge inspiration from them. She’s shown me that I don’t have to pigeon hole myself as an artist.
WHAT ARE YOU UP TO AT THE MOMENT? HAS LOCKDOWN MADE YOU MORE OR LESS PRODUCTIVE? OR HAS IT ENCOURAGED YOU TO TRY NEW THINGS AND LEARN NEW SKILLS?
I have to be honest, lockdown has stumped my creativity quite a lot, not having the outside stimulus of going to clubs and gigs has been tough. It has also caused me to really think and question what I’m doing and what I want to be doing, which definitely isn’t a bad thing. It’s led me to want to branch out as much as I can and explore different avenues of music that I hadn’t before. I was invited to do a Mixmag Lab recently, which was a lot of fun – was so good to be in front of decks again! As well as that I’ve been taking guitar and music theory lessons, as well as teaching myself piano and experimenting with vocals on some of my tracks, it’s all been really fun and I’m excited to hopefully have new music to share with the world soon.
We catch up with the irrepressible Róisín Murphy at her Ibiza bolthole and find out why she just couldn’t give up the disco
Meta-disco maverick Róisín Murphy doesn’t appear to have missed a beat since last year’s wildly successful ‘Róisín Machine’ hit the stores. She’s been as industrious as ever: among other things recording charismatic lockdown-inspired YouTube videos from her living room, directing and performing a Livestream event for Mixcloud, and all the while carving out time to work on eagerly-awaited new material. “I wrote a really great track last week… it’s got fucking oboes on it,” she joyfully exclaims from her Ibiza bolthole, where she’s currently riding out a portion of the pandemic wave. “I said I wouldn’t do disco again, but I couldn’t turn it down. It’s just an amazing arrangement.” As well as this top-secret new piece, she’s also been working with production maestro, DJ Koze, on music that’s steadily approaching completion. “The people who’ve heard it are really interested in it, so I think it’s gonna be a bit of a smasher.”
Murphy has been embedded in the club-minded subconscious since she exploded onto the cross-over dance stage in 1998, singing her heart out dressed as a glorious human mirror ball in the video to the hyper infectious Boris Dlugosch remix of Moloko’s ‘Sing It Back’. She’s continued to release imaginative, heartfelt and stubbornly uncompromising music ever since – in the process earning a Mercury Prize nomination for 2015’s ‘Hairless Toys’, and steadfastly working with an untouchable cast of majestically skilled production minds.
Róisín Machine was almost a decade in the making and was comprised largely of new material, book-ended by previously released tracks ‘Simulation’ and ‘Jealousy’. The momentum to actualise the album was maintained in part thanks to the success of the single, ‘Incapable’ – a spellbinding disco chugger weaving the tale of a woman unscathed by love. Such is the gravity of the vocal delivery, one could be forgiven for thinking the song is autobiographical, but that isn’t entirely the case. “It’s not that simple,” says Murphy. “She’s a character. But, I will say I’m – touch wood – fairly unscathed. I think it’s a woman saying: I’m not destroyed, I’m not a cliché, and I’ll always fucking have it!”
The flip-side of unfiltered human desire is examined on the record, too – on string-laden powerhouse, ‘Narcissus’, which tells the ultimate story of unrequited love. “That’s the other side of my coin,” she says. “I’ve had that feeling many times. Just being in awe of a very special guy, let’s say, someone really brilliant. I wanted to write a song about it because I think it’s not too bad to give yourself away to that sometimes.”
While undoubtedly bonded to a core of burning disco magma, the album journeys well beyond the shiny gloss of the genre, and it would be reductive to describe it as solely a disco record. Darker and more abstract tones are easily detectable: from the brooding, unresolved topography of ‘Kingdom Of Ends’, to the broken rhythms of ‘Shellfish Mademoiselle’, or the contemporary r&b infused swagger of ‘Game Changer’.
The album was half-finished when the first UK lockdown was announced, but there was never any question of delaying its release, which was partly down to the prodigious work rate of the record’s producer – long time collaborator and friend, DJ Parrot. “Energy is very important when you’re making an album like that,” says Murphy. “The energy was there to follow it through, and Parrot is like a steelworker up there, you know, keep banging out that steel!”
Richard ‘DJ Parrot’ Barratt (AKA Crooked Man) was one of the first people Murphy met when she moved to Sheffield as a 19-year-old after some years living in Manchester. “Funnily enough, when I first moved to Sheffield I couldn’t believe my luck. It was so easy to meet interesting people there.” It had proven harder for her to establish herself in a scene in Manchester, though life there did revolve around music. “We all loved music in Manchester, going to clubs, going to gigs, collecting records. But we weren’t making music.”
In Sheffield, opportunities for creative exchange quickly presented themselves, and early on, Murphy became friends with Warp Records co-founder, Rob Mitchell, and his wife, Michelle. Perhaps surprisingly, back then a music career wasn’t something Murphy imagined for herself. “I didn’t think I was gonna be a musician,” she says. “Rob used to say to me, ‘I don’t know what you’re going to be, Róisín… but you’ll be something!’ I got a lot of that,” she laughs.
Over the years, the Steel City has punched well above its weight when it comes to forward-thinking musical output. As well as Moloko, Crooked Man, and the Warp Records family, Sheffield has given birth to a wealth of iconic acts, including Cabaret Voltaire, Pulp, and The Human League. Murphy feels that the city’s durable sonic DNA stems from its famed industrial heritage. “They have this pride in their industriousness,” she says. “I guess, when they were running things, all the steel all over the world came from Sheffield. The engineering, everything.” Coupled with this, the city’s changing fortunes following its economic decline meant creative spaces could be rented cheaply, helping to spawn a vibrant local scene. “It was cheap to have studio space… and everything was on the same street more or less. (It was a) classic DIY scene, but there was a real depth to it. There was a lovely synergy and a modernist, futurist outlook.”
Sheffield’s apparently magnetic pull appears reluctant to relinquish its hold on Murphy, and the most recent project with Parrot wasn’t the first time she’d been drawn back there to collaborate. Baltimore-born rhythm master Maurice Fulton has long called Sheffield home, and the intergalactic funk he and Murphy created together is among the most memorable work from her sparkling back catalogue. “It was just bizarre going back to Sheffield to go to Maurice Fulton’s studio, do tunes, and then journey back through Sheffield, journey back through my youth, you know? And then straight after that, I’m doing stuff with Parrot which takes me back to Sheffield again.”
Murphy was already an avid fan of Fulton’s freakishly unique sound, and she admits that she pushed hard to make that particular union happen. “I was trying him for a long time. I always loved him. When I heard him do the Kathy Diamond stuff, I just thought… I could kill this too, you know. She’s brilliant as well, don’t get me wrong. I mean… wow!” Fulton eventually agreed to remix ‘House Of Glass’, and the stunning end result and enjoyable working experience convinced him to pursue the endeavour, with the pair going on to release four acclaimed and highly collectable EPs through The Vinyl Factory.
Alongside Barratt and Fulton, Murphy’s list of studio accomplices reads flawlessly, with Matthew Herbert, Seiji, Dan Carey, and Freeform Five among those in the select number. Murphy feels that every producer worked with has helped extract from her musical pearls that have surprised even herself. “The best thing I’ve done is who I’ve chosen to work with.” Her collaborators represent some of the finest subterranean-leaning creators in the game, and as such, one would be forgiven for thinking that outright mainstream success has never been her primary objective. “I don’t know what I’m looking for really, except for making absolutely brilliant stuff,” says Murphy. “But I’m not so jaded or disenfranchised to believe that there isn’t a market for (my music), because I do believe there’s a market for it, and I think it’s OK to think that.”
Murphy comes across as refreshingly down to earth, one of us, and this authenticity combined with her sharp wit and irresistible force arguably renders her more of an anti-diva than a diva. With her verve, lust for theatrics, ferociously captivating live performances, and poetic lyrical content, she’s certainly too vivid to fit into today’s carefully manicured pop mould. Regardless of this, she remains blissfully untroubled by the vacuous world of Instagram-obsessed pseudo-stars with which the planet is increasingly overpopulated. “We’re islands in the stream, all these things in culture. We’re not necessarily that connected. I’m just trying to make fucking amazing music with what I’ve got in front of me.”
Perhaps testament to the projected longevity of her indelible output, in 2019 re-issue specialists Be With Records – who largely operate in the realms of otherwise unobtainable and ultra-rare collectables – saw fit to release Murphy’s 2007 album, Overpowered. Such is its quality, there’s a sense that her diverse back-catalogue will continue to be explored and enjoyed for generations to come.
As well as the tantalising news of her forthcoming music, Murphy reveals that she’s just finished filming a short for the Choice Music Awards to be aired on Irish broadcaster, RTÉ. “It’s really good. I arrive on a tractor! I mean who else is gonna arrive on a tractor in the Ibiza countryside? Come on! And I’ve got a massive big pitchfork. I didn’t have any fancy clothes to wear really, but I did find this branch whittled into a big pitchfork. It’s very ‘get off my land’,” she says, laughing heartily.
Murphy has previously stated that she intends to pursue film direction in earnest once her music career winds down, and she already has a list of credits under her belt for her own music videos – including ‘House Of Glass’ and ‘Narcissus’ – as well as punk group Fat White Family. Due to pandemic-induced disruption, much of her planned film work has been put on ice, but the production of November’s lavish Livestream for Mixcloud represented her most ambitious directorial project to date. “That was the biggest thing I’ve ever done,” she says. “That was a big deal for me to bring that together.”
The candid YouTube performances recorded from her London home during lockdown provided some welcome light relief to her fans. As well as going some way to satisfying her performer’s instinct, producing the videos allowed her an opportunity to hone her new craft. “I love making them and they’re a great little format for learning to make film,” she says. Despite her affection for the medium, today’s fast-paced, disposable media environment is something that causes a measure of concern. “I’m a bit worried about the form because now people don’t want any more than 15 seconds of things. But the kind of music that I’m making now – this record that’s produced by Koze – might suit that better. Like, some kind of weird modernist journey.”
Despite making the most of her time in this most unusual of years, Murphy does confess to missing the cut and thrust of live performance and real-world audience interaction. But, more pressing than this is the unease she feels for her stage crew. “I miss hanging out with them. I’m very worried about crew people especially in this. My crew would take a bullet for me, they’re the best.” With the events industry in stasis, she feels not enough has been done to safeguard livelihoods. “So many people are falling through cracks, really skilled people. Also, companies that are very specialised in sound and lighting and stuff like that, not big companies you know? That’s why we shot the Mixcloud Livestream in a place that holds all this sound, light and filming equipment. They have guys they send out to film shows and festivals – all of them out of work! So we used all that in our stream. It looks a bit like I’m in Ikea, but it’s all gear that’s around me!”
When the time eventually comes to resume communal dancing, Murphy feels that starting small will be key to rebuilding. “I think the best hope for us is to start small and build it incrementally instead of just running in and exploding – like 3000 people raving it off. I couldn’t. I honestly think, once we can have 6 people, we’ll have a rave. It’s enough. We’ve got a big system here, amazing system, like a fucking Spiral Tribe artefact!”
Turning to recently released music that’s moved her personally, she very nearly explodes with delight while discussing the irrepressible Kenny Dixon Jr. “The last thing was Moodymann. His album. I just love him! I’m like a psycho woman about him,” she chuckles, before sharing a latent desire to one day record with him. “I could handle him,” she says assuredly.
Finally, the delightfully effervescent songstress once again bursts into a glorious show of colour when recapping on the new music she teased with at the top of the conversation. “It’s gonna blow your mind,” she purrs. “It’s a whole other world. It’s fuckin’ tops down, LA… bouncing up and down on the cars. Hold tight!”
“People seem to have forgotten about the polyphony of different voices that made up post-punk,” reckons frontman Charlie Drinkwater.
“I like to have the sense that it’s an open world to work around” – Calibre tells us about his less than normal Feeling Normal album
The former Rapture duo share thoughts on upcoming album I Hear
Mother of Mars aka Vito Roccoforte and Gabriel Andruzzi (pictured above with singer Jaiko Suzuki) left dance-punk band The Rapture in 2014 and became house DJs and producers under the name Vito & Druzzi. They’ve now settled into their newest ‘kosmische’ project, releasing 2017’s one-off single ‘Hera in the Valley’and preparing their debut LP I Hear for release on March 5 on on Ransom Note.
Tom Middleton is, in short, one of the best known faces in the UK house scene. From his early days, collaborating with Aphex Twin and becoming one half of Global Communication with Mark Pritchard, to making feelgood dancefloor anthems and darker, progressive house vibes as Cosmos and The Modwheel respectively, he’s been a constant presence.
To coincide with our International Women’s Day celebrations, we hit up the Berlin-based producer to talk about creative inspiration in the studio.
Johanna Knutsson’s approach to studio life is unusual by the standards of most producers. Not only does the Berlin-based artist favour a remote location nearly an hour away from her home, but the studio she rents in the unfashionable Marzahn district is also a light and calming environment, with the walls painted pale pink and her friend’s French bulldog, Pepper, snoozing by her feet on the turquoise carpet.
Having grown up in the small town of Tollarp in southern Sweden, the 35-year-old producer and DJ relocated to the German capital around a decade ago, forging a reputation as a distinctive voice in techno before branching out into ambient territory. As a label boss, she operates Zodiac 44 with Luca Lozano and UFO Station Recordings with Hans Berg. As a live performer, she’s also a member of her fellow Swede Sebastian Mullaert’s Circle Of Live collective, alongside a rotating cast of collaborators including Dorisburg and Mathew Jonson.
To coincide with our International Women’s Day celebrations, we hit her up to talk about creative inspiration in the studio, favourite gear and how she balances the harder and softer sides of her musical output.
Juno: Hi Johanna. To start, can you tell us a bit about where your studio is, how long you’ve been there and how you’d describe the setup?
Johanna Knutsson: I have my studio out in Marzahn [on the north-east side of Berlin], 40-50 minutes away from my house. I’ve been out here for about two years now, and even if I’d prefer something closer to my home, I’m really happy with the cheap rent and the fact that once I’m in the studio I tend to stay for at least seven or eight hours a day.
My setup is small, which is not by choice but for economic reasons. I’m always browsing and making sure I buy the right things instead of all of the things. I am always saving money for more synths and drum machines. I have a huge list of things I want to buy as soon as I have the money!
As a producer, are you the kind of person who’s inspired by gear in its own right? Does a new synth or drum machine inspire you, or are they just tools?
It’s always fun with a new machine to learn, but the [main] synth I have – a Nord Lead – has been such a helpful and inspiring tool for me. She – it’s a she – has really opened my eyes to exactly how much you can do with sounds, and how a small turn on a knob can develop the whole vibe of a sound. I am never going to get rid of her, no matter how many more synths I buy.
Looking at your studio, the first thing that stands out is the aesthetic. How much does that matter to you?
I realise that an all-pink studio with plants and cute knick-knacks isn’t the first thing one imagines when talking about techno production, but it helps me a lot to feel comfortable and being in an environment that I’ve created for myself and my personality. I can of course sit in other studios and collaborate, but when I open the door to my own studio, I’ve never once not smiled or felt an incredible peace. It’s like my hideaway where I can create exactly whatever I want and be free.
Do you like to keep the same studio setup or change things up? Are there any particular pieces of equipment that are completely essential to the way you work?
Like I said before, my Nord Lead is the heart of the studio body. I change things up more in terms of pedals, filters and effects, or use my Korg Volca for bass instead of the Nord. I also love my [Roland] RE-20 Space Echo, it’s such a keeper.
Do you mainly work with synths, not samples?
I just started working with samples. Up until now I’ve always made every little sound myself but learned that there are millions of samples out there already, that I can mess up and turn into my own. For this I use my [Ableton] Push a lot. It’s much nicer than staring into my computer screen. My relationship with MIDI is a love/hate type of relationship, but at the moment we’re good together.
What made you want to start using samples as well as creating your own sounds?
It came up when I was on tour with Circle Of Live in August last year, because I didn’t have my whole studio setup with me but wanted to work on music in the hotel room. I got really into Splice, where I found a lot of cool samples.
The two strands of your musical output, generally speaking, are techno and ambient. Do they represent different parts of your own personality and creative approach, or does it all come from the same place?
Yeah, this is something I ask myself as well sometimes. I understand that those genres are on very different ends of a spectrum, and even if I sometimes think that it’s easy for me to make both I really need different mindsets to create any one of them. I have to psyche myself up or down on the way to the studio depending on what I plan to make that day. There are days where I go in planning to finish some ambient stuff, for example, but can’t stop making dance music, or the other way around. [I] gotta do what feels right that day. My whole output is driven by my emotions, and I completely trust them.
Does that mean that you begin working on music with set ideas about what you want to achieve? Do you have a plan in mind before you go into the studio, or do you start playing and see what happens?
Yeah, I do go in thinking about what needs to be started or finished, and give that a go. Most of the time it works, but some days are darker than others and then I’m incapable of forcing myself to create something ‘functional’, and have to channel that into the music. It works for me, though. I’ve learned to not force anything.
I think you said once that you don’t listen to techno when you’re making dinner, but what about being inspired by other music? Are you inspired more by music in similar styles to what you make, or music from other styles and genres?
Well, I’ve changed a little. I just have to listen to it in my headphones, then I can listen to anything anywhere and anytime! It’s when dance music is filling up a room that isn’t a club, that’s when it annoys me. Techno needs to be loud, not half-assed in some weak speakers. Most days I just listen to my friends mixtapes. I’m lucky to have the most talented friends, no matter what music they make.
I’m really inspired by 70s stoner rock, and new space rock or adventure rock. Check out Hällas and you’ll know what I mean. I think it’s because they also love their echoes and reverbs, which is a huge thing in my productions. It’s the most fun type of concerts to go to as well. Sunn O))), for example. Hell of a show.
Do you find it easy to balance the creative side of studio production and live performances with what I guess we could call the admin side of running your labels, and so on?
I don’t run any of the labels on my own, fortunately. I think it’s so helpful to work with friends and go over things together. I would put out way more music if it was just me; I’m too eager and excited, and not very business-minded or patient. I’m very thankful for my label partners Lucas Hunter, Michael Ho and Hans Berg.
I want to finish with a really broad question. What do you find most satisfying about music technology and what do you find most frustrating?
The most satisfying thing about it has been to realise that even when you’re using your equipment ‘wrong’ you can discover and create something beautiful almost by mistake. It’s never-ending really, and it never gets boring to work on sounds and notes.
The most frustrating – for me, at least – has been to figure out ways to save your work. The first time I experimented with using external hard drives I lost three months of album work, so I learned the hard way. Other unsatisfying [aspects] don’t have to do with music but with the technical side of things. I am definitely not a computer geek even if I really wish I was.
If anyone reading this would like to spend a day with me, helping me create a system for automatic saving and efficient computer backup, get in touch please.