Tuesday, November 26 2013

Tuesday, November 26th at The Crocodile

Decibel proudly presents…

Domino / Warp Records, UK

CLARK : Live
Warp Records, UK

with very special guest

Border Community, UK

Tickets $15 advance  / 21+
Doors at 8pm

The Crocodile
2200 2nd Ave

The first sound on Immunity is that of a key turning, unlocking the door into Jon Hopkins’ East London studio. It’s followed by the noise of the door slamming, then footsteps, and then finally the crisp, clipping rhythms and pulsating bass of ‘We Disappear’ emerge, signposting the most club-friendly music Hopkins’ has made to date. So begins a confident, dramatic record defined by this acute sense of physicality and place; a bold statement after the quiet, intimate Diamond Mine, his Mercury-nominated 2011 collaboration with King Creosote.

Until now, Jon Hopkins has been an elusive character, known to most as an expert producer, Ivor Novello-nominated composer of film scores, remixer and long term collaborator of Brian Eno and Coldplay. Yet as Hopkins freely admits, the fact that his solo albums to date (Opalescent, 2001; Contact Note, 2004; Insides, 2009) have been rather overshadowed by his work with others has meant that he’s been able to quietly develop his own identity, style and sound. Some of the ideas for Immunity have been in his mind for a long time, but there’s never been a rush to get them out there. It’s part of his mission to make music that feels as natural and unforced as possible. Yet from the moment you hear that key turn in the lock, Immunity announces itself as a powerful, multi-faceted beast, packed with the most aggressively dancefloor-focussed music Hopkins has ever made. Initial indications suggest his first foray into riffs and grooves is paying off. See first single from the album, ‘Open Eye Signal’, where a high pressure hiss gives way to burbling, insistent rhythm – a chrome express train accelerating through a sunlit landscape. The track got its first outing courtesy of Apparat at a DJ set in Japan on New Year’s Eve – an email from the German musician informing Hopkins that the room had erupted made for a great late Christmas present. Or ‘Breathe This Air’ with its graceful build and huge contrasts in mood via uppity rhythms, mournful piano notes, and stirring choral drones. And then there’s ‘Collider’, the album’s peak and the track that Hopkins says is the best he’s ever written. A ten minute techno monster, ‘Collider’ is underpinned by a constant, pounding bass pulse and a sinister texture that could be a harshly taken breath inside a gas mask. The towering central riff makes for a mournful, dystopian aesthetic, cinematic like black rain over neon. Yet the bleak euphoria that suggests a knees-up at the end of the world is only half the story – the compelling 4/4 rhythm and hint of a human vocal give this a massive twist halfway through.

Hopkins deliberately structured Immunity with this colossal banger in the middle. The whole album, therefore, works as an idealised soundtrack to a massive night out, peaking with a huge, lost-in-the-moment climax that feels like more than mere hedonism, warm endorphins swilling around the mind. This desire to create dancefloor-focussed music that was a step up from the slower tempo ambience of his previous solo albums was largely inspired by months spent in clubs and at festivals touring Insides. This gradual absorption of anything from the futuristic oddness found at LA’s Low End Theory club night (at which he has made several live appearances) to sterner European techno seeped out in the studio, shaping his mission to find new melodic routes through what were for him uncharted rhythmic territories. What makes Immunity so intriguing, however, is the methods Hopkins used to do this. A curse of contemporary clubbing is the audible strain of laptop-DJd and computer-made MP3s through powerful PA systems. Hopkins, on the other hand, went out of his way to make music that sounded like physically built things with layer upon layer of depth, a long way from the cold CGI artifice of much entirely computer-derived electronica. This desire to use physical, real-world sounds (anything from tapping a piano and drumming on the desk to a two quid tambourine and salt and pepper shakers) as the basis for many of Immunity’s rhythms also comes from Hopkins’ frustration with the ubiquity of certain synthetic drum machine samples in much contemporary dance music. In the corner of his studio sits the piano that he has had since he was eight-years-old, and the instrument features throughout the more nostalgic second half of Immunity… but not always as you’d expect – Hopkins also uses it to explore new methods of sound generation. On ‘Form By Firelight’, for example, the pedals provide the beat, and the strings are struck for chiming tones. Hopkins’ intent throughout was to be open to the world around him finding its way into the music, wherever he was. These happy moments of unintended creation included the reverse alarm of a lorry outside his Bow studio hitting a certain note during a recording session, serendipitously leading the chord sequence down a different path. The whistle and pop of fireworks emanating from the nearby Olympic Stadium were captured and slowed down, to sound like the echoes of a distant battle. Life and grit came from actively boosting things that aren’t supposed to be there, such as the rattle of window frame at every kick drum hit. This method of looking inside the music for interesting details to pull out and tricking the brain with technically incorrect recording methods might have most studio engineers tutting, but here helped to create a mangled reality. In Hopkins’ studio everything can be melodic, and nothing is wasted.

With this sense of place, Immunity is also a sketch of real experiences and memories absorbed by Hopkins over his thirty-three years. These he now tries to reflect and respond to in his music. This might be the quest to recapture the sound of a perfect chord made by water running through pipes in a New York hotel room, or the light reflecting off the surface of the Thames at certain times of the year, the random patterns of nature. This not only makes the album deeply personal to Hopkins, but is key to one of his main inspirations in recording it – the desire to slow down or alter the brainwaves to help us reach different states of mind, whether via hypnosis, music, or drugs.

Self-hypnosis is a longstanding personal fascination that Hopkins wanted to bring into his music, yet it was only on Immunity that he felt he had the technical ability to actually try and make it happen. The quality control that decided whether or not tracks were finished was to come into the studio in the morning, and if the track started sending him off into another world, it was done. Similarly, when it seemed that Immunity might be ready for mastering, Hopkins tested it by lying on the studio floor, hitting play, and seeing where his mind ended up. With a stated aim to see if this music might have a similar effect on those who encounter it, Immunity feels like the accompaniment to a journey of creativity, a trip inside Hopkins’ mind. That keys-in-the-lock recording that begins the album might usher the listener into the studio to be present at the moment of the music’s creation, but it has a counterpoint in the thrilling album closer, and the song that gives the album its name. ‘Immunity’ is built around rhythms that creak and mutter like the workings of an old watermill joined by a simple, elegiac piano part and indecipherable vocals by King Creosote, as if to paint an inverse to the techno tumult that dominates the album’s first half. The very natural-sounding rattle and dying piano notes at the record’s end show just how far we and Hopkins have come on one of the most human electronic albums you’ll hear this year.

A meticulous infusion of computer-generated glitches, lulling synth tones, tweaked live drum samples, and lush ambient textures, enigmatic UK producer Chris Clark hasn’t yet exhausted his ability to surprise us. His signature brand of tense electronica is in constant flux, making us linger on the aerial ambiance, causing us to grate our teeth on his furious beats, and relieving the pressure with strangely soothing melodies. Since signing with Warp – the foremost authority on IDM and distilled abstraction – back in 2001 as a fresh-faced university student, Clark has delivered six acclaimed albums, while his alternately exuberant and sinister sounds-capes have kept evolving in the most compelling, subtle ways. His bucolic new record Iradelphic finds Clark shifting away from a more abrasive panorama in favor of a soothing listen replete with harpsichords, looping guitars, orchestral drums, and a variety of recorded instruments.

Norfolk born and bred heir to the UK electronica throne Nathan Fake has kept fans of fuzzy-edged synths and pounding acidic techno beats alike guessing ever since his debut release at the tender age of 19. And now, having just reached his 29th birthday milestone, he is back with exuberant new album main event ‘Steam Days’, a breathtaking landmark on Nathan Fake’s road to musical maturity which Nathan has rightly branded his “best work to date”, oscillating effortlessly between both ends of the electronic spectrum to reprise both the soothing melodic indulgence and heavy dancefloor assault of his albums of yore. And although a career that has been characterized by such deftly-executed electronic versatility may to the outsider appear chameleonic, schizophrenic even, one thing has remained constant throughout his decade at the electronica coalface: a very real sense of the artist behind the machines, no matter which production hat Fake may currently be sporting.

It was during his upbringing in the rural English county of Norfolk that the first tell-tale signs of Nathan Fake’s artistic idiosyncrasies began to reveal themselves. When an early course of piano lessons threatened to stall at the abstract first hurdle of learning to read music, the young Nathan instead took on the much more daunting task of memorizing by ear with the aim of recalling during practice sessions at home, with considerable – and surprising – levels of success. His induction into the electronic arts would come a little later care of his elder brother’s Orbital tape cassettes, their unashamedly euphoric melody lines likewise effortlessly assimilated by Nathan, providing a welcome lead to play along to on his junior Casio keyboard (little did he know that years later he would end up supporting those same Orbital brothers on their 2012 comeback tour!). And to this day, Fake retains an ability to recall, deconstruct and replicate music that is damn near pitch-perfect, which has come to him via this altogether natural and entirely unstudied route.

This enviable raw, innate musical ability was given a cursory polish when Nathan left his sleepy Norfolk village of Necton at the age of 18 to commence an HND in Music Technology at Reading College of Art & Design, although Fake would end up dropping out before graduation when his musical career suddenly took off of its own accord – and in grand style. His debut 12” release – the Boards-of-Canada-do-techno of ‘Outhouse’ – came care of UK producer-cum-DJ James Holden’s Border Community label in 2003 (the fledgling label’s second ever release), making serious inroads on the dancefloors of Europe. Following hot on its heels came that inimitable (though far too many have tried!) James Holden remix of Fake’s ‘The Sky Was Pink’, confounding all expectations to notch up 12” sales approaching 20,000 at a time when people were already queueing up to ring the death knell for vinyl. The Nathan Fake name thus found itself stamped all over a bonafide modern dancefloor classic, its soaring fake guitars reaching out into the realm of universal consciousness, somewhat inescapably cementing Fake’s club reputation in the process.

But Nathan’s brief spell at Reading College would not go entirely to waste: his course-based explorations of the influence of electronic music on rock and pop production would eventually lay the foundations of his 2006 debut album ‘Drowning In A Sea Of Love’, a melody-rich sweep of shoegazey rocktronica further in the vein of Fake’s epic, psychedelic original version of ‘The Sky Was Pink’. This endearing collection of warm and fuzzy juvenilia translated effortlessly into fully-fledged home-listening album material, making good on the promise shown by his early dancefloor incursions to see through the transformation into grown-up professional worldwide touring and recording artiste, thereby pulling off a feat that most of his then-peers could only dream of as his music broke out of the dance music ghetto to spin off into the record collections of album-buying music lovers the world over.

If his harder-edged 2009 stop-gap mini-album follow-up ‘Hard Islands’ then came as something of a dramatic departure to this new army of home-orientated listeners, the process by which it came about was for Nathan an entirely smooth and natural one. As his extended album tour gradually gave way to the never-ending stream of requests from the techno clubs where he first made his name, various ‘Drowning In A Sea Of Love’ era tracks were beefed up to complement his emerging new material. Evolving gradually in the context of his live performance before finally being pinned down to a fixed recorded form for their official release, these sweaty shirts-off ‘Hard Islands’ jams bear the influence of his experiences at dance music’s front line, infusing them with an increasingly musically ambitious cerebral edge and a reactive response loop mechanism that leaves them even more optimized for maximum dancefloor impact than ever before.

“Playing live a lot has had a profound influence on the way I make music now,” Nathan explains. “It’s all quite improvised and I actually formulate a lot of my arrangements while I’m playing live. I use loops which I can put in depending on the mood, its all free form.” And the resultant Nathan Fake laptop live show is a much more intense, physical and visual experience than one has traditionally come to expect from the one man genre, wherein Fake fits and jerks his way through an unstoppable hour long assault with incredible focus, elbows flailing and body contorted to impossible angles as he throws the noises at his enraptured audience.

The almost autistic musical aptitude and incredible feats of memory of Nathan’s childhood also continue to inform his modern-day studio productions, as he wrings his astounding results out of the limited palette of a PC and millennium-era Cubase 5 software thanks to his encyclopaedic knowledge of every little detail – bug, quirk, malfunction or bonafide built-in feature – that lurks inside his chosen tools. “My approach to making music, physically and mentally, has actually changed very little over the last ten years,” he maintains, somewhat surprisingly. “I like to keep the technical side of things as simple and familiar as possible.” For Nathan, this absolute and complete mastery of a limited set of tools is essential to ensure the rapid, visceral translation of instinctive ideas into jaw-dropping musical reality.

The method behind the madness may barely have altered, but as we fast forward to 2012’s ‘Steam Days’ update of the Nathan Fake musical manifesto we find Nathan increasingly concerned with a new process he describes as “erosion of sound”, whereby an unpredictable organic layer of post processing is added to the otherwise pristine and all-too-ubiquitous products of computer-bound digital soft-synths. “The last two records sound really clean to me now,” Fake explains. “This one has the perfect amount of grit in it, I think. I’ve put a lot of time into finding different ways to erode sounds, to make them sound wooden and earthy instead of plastic and metal.”

The unconventional low-tech hotch potch that makes up Mr Fake’s idiosyncratic home studio thus combines the analogue richness of a rag tag collection of cheap drum machines with the infinite power and possibility of his trusty PC’s digital audio editing capabilities, all of which is flattened and unified through the crucial final step of recording to one of his beloved vintage home cassette players. “The way a cassette works when it records stuff is pretty unique,” Nathan explains. “You can get plugins but you can never really get the same results unless you use real tape.”

The resultant ‘Steam Days’ album artefact is the considered response of an artist coming of age, drawing upon that self-same characteristic individualism to reach maturity in the full glare of that special kind of musical infamy that comes attached to an insidious club hit. A document of “everything that’s gone on in my head for the past two years”, the ‘Hard Islands’ techno tantrum of Nathan’s mid-twenties has clearly now abated, giving way to a sophisticated organic blend of propulsive percussive body and warming pastoral bliss that effectively distills both sides of his fractured musical personalities into a delightfully varied trans-formative trip.

Long after his post-college move to the big, bad city of London, Nathan’s rural upbringing in the Norfolk village of Necton continues to bring its influence to bear on his music, his pastoral roots weaving their way through harmonious washes of synths and folky refrains, and running deep into the mythology of his track titles. Farm fresh floorfiller ‘Iceni Strings’ is a nod to ancient Norfolkdwelling Celtic tribe the Iceni, whilst local villages ‘Bawsey’ (outdoor swimming spot where the teenage Nathan once narrowly escaped drowning), ‘Neketona’ (the Anglo-Saxon name for his childhood village home) and ‘Castle Rising’ (surreally-named sleepy Norfolk hamlet) all represent personal landmarks in the Fake family folklore. Likewise the insistently anthemic ‘Harnser’ takes its name from his father’s handyman company, itself named after the local Norfolk word for “heron”. “I’ve got a really strong connection with the place I grew up in,” Nathan declares. “Norfolk will always be my home, even though I don’t have one there any more.”

“London is also my home, but I still don’t feel like I totally belong
here,” he continues, having adopted the British capital as centre of operations for his current campaign of touring and remixing (his string of illustrious credits includes none other than Radiohead, Domino’s production young buck Jon Hopkins, Warp’s PVT and Clark, and labels like Ninja Tune, DFA and Lone’s Magic Wire). Though he often ventures beyond the walls of his home studio to embrace the full throb of the city’s ever-shifting musical landscape, every now and then a wistful eye is cast back towards his long since sold family home in Norfolk, and Nathan somehow never quite manages to shake off that nostalgia for good times gone by encapsulated in his ‘Steam Days’ album title. But torn as he is between town and country, between dancefloor hedonism and home-listening introspection, the lone figure of Nathan Fake together with his third album opus ‘Steam Days’ serve as living proof that these seemingly polar opposite worlds don’t have to be mutually exclusive. -Gemma Sheppard