Thursday, September 25 2014
Control, humility and precision – emotion, release and catharsis. There’s two sides to Max Cooper. The public side is known for extended festival sets – a hybrid live/DJ performance that explodes from delicate, reflective electronica into abrasive noise within a moment, but just as fearlessly throttles back to moments of stillness and silent beauty – within the same track, across three or four hours of playing, or within the space of a couple of expertly chosen samples. What others producers see as an unbridgeable chasm between different styles, BPMs, approaches, instruments and feeling, Cooper views as a single musical toolbox, with every tool is at hand to a producer who’s been playing out for 15 years.
The private side of Cooper, meanwhile, is the humble scientist, the producer who works while others network, who is more influenced by modernist classical than dance-music trends, and who introduces new releases on his facebook with the self-effacing “I hope you enjoy this one!” Despite the affirmation of being made a Beatport artist of the year 2012, voted one of Resident Advisor’s top 20 live acts, and having, for influential US electronica site XLR8R, a top 10 most-popular podcast and single download, as well as two of its most popular videos, Cooper still feels at the start and not the peak of his artistic ambitions. There are more collaborations with visual artists to come, his debut album, a series of musical pieces inspired by contemporary art, his contribution to the FIELDS live-electronica label and tours – all part of his calling to fuse the gospel of science and rationality with the excess and exuberance of the most creative electronic music.
Blame that on Cooper’s background. Raised in a town outside Belfast, Northern Ireland, as a child Cooper was sent to a Steiner school – the only mixed-religion school in the neighbourhood, but also one that pushed its pupils to be free spirits: independent and questioning, reflective and self-disciplined. And that’s how, first DJing local student club Firefly during his university years in Nottingham, he simultaneously managed to earn a PhD in computational biology (genetics) and produce his first tracks. And how, while stacking up the hours as a genetics researcher for University College London, he wrote his first significant releases for German techno label Traum Schallplatten: the trilogy of “Serie” EPs, each taking a different scientific concept as inspiration, both musically and in the collaborative animated videos he commissioned from Andrew Brewer / Whiskas fX.
Having retired his research job in 2010, Cooper is now established as one of the UK’s most intriguing, prolific electronic acts. There’s now eleven commissioned experimental animations with filmakers like the UK’s Nick Cobby and Whiskas fX, France’s Cedric De Smedt, Russia’s Dmitry Zakharov and Italy’s Vicetto, to accompany his music – and a fanbase that regularly offers up its own own visual take on his tracks. There’s a heavily trafficked podcast series that includes two seminal mixes for Resident Advisor and XLR8R, John Digweed’s Transitions show, the upcoming launch of the Magnetic Mag soundscape series, in which Cooper will release music inspired by the his favourite architectural space; Cooper’s research efforts with the staff of noted music-software house Liine; and his back catalogue of nearly 60 original tracks and remixes … With all this, Cooper has pushed beyond his early apprenticeship as a 4/4 techno producer to become something new and unique in the electronic landscape.
As known now for visual experiments as his yearning and emotional reworks of huge acts like Au Revoir Simone and Hot Chip – and his more glitchy, experimental approach to working with traditional orchestral composers like Olafur Arnalds and Nils Frahm and rising Planet Mu-style mentalist Vaetxh – Cooper continues to evolve, absorb new influence, and change the rules for who electronic artists should work with, and how. The first producer outside of Richie Hawtin’s Minus Records family invited to join Hawtin’s prestigious booking agency, Clonk, he’s also the first musician ever allowed to rework the music of Michael Nyman, seminal minimalist and one of the world’s most identifiable soundtrack composers (The Piano, Gattaca).
With Cooper, there’s contrast, and also unity. A reserved, clinical producer who’s known for the emotion and melody of his music. The writer of delicate soundscapes for the female voice who quietly slipped out an EP of pounding snare rolls called Mechanical Concussion. A remixer of blog bands like MMOTHS, Halls, BRAIDS – and a go-to remixer for techno labels like Herzblut, Bedrock and artists like Bodzin, Romboy and Agoria. A minimalist who likes to relax with a bit of hip-hop scratching and turntablism – and who is working on ways to use turntablism to operate other electronic instruments. A live act known both to be both naggingly hypnotic and blisteringly tough.
A blend of science and feeling, risk-taking live performance and polished musicianship – in 2013, Max Cooper looks ready to become one of the biggest acts in the electronic world.