Wrangler is a trio of Stephen Mallinder (Cabaret Voltaire, Creep Show), Ben ‘Benge‘ Edwards (The Maths) and Phil Winter (Tunng). Their third album, A Situation, takes the current, destabilised state of the world and sets it to smart electronics, laced with heavy doses of angular funk.
Further. spoke to Mal, Benge and Phil about the genesis of the latest record, how they work together and what J. G. Ballard would make of modern Britain.
The subject matter across the whole of A Situation makes for uncomfortable listening, and yet it sounds incredibly, infectiously funky. Was it a conscious thing to make it danceable instead of utterly bleak?
Mal: I don’t think it is ever ‘overthought’. We make music and rhythms that speak for us, and lyrically I hope don’t we don’t hold any punches. Words should cut through just as the music should, this isn’t a time to look the other way, I hope we can go toe-to-toe with the world we inhabit and nothing hits harder than rhythm, so it’s perfect synergy for us.
Benge: We simply try to make music that we would want to listen to, or dance to, and this is what comes out when we all get together. That’s the great thing about being in a band with three producers – we each have individual styles, but when blended together something unique comes out
Phil: I think people have always needed an escape, when times are tough. A lot of my favourite music has combined a reflection of ongoing problems with a groove that can bring them together.
It seems that the process of making each Wrangler record has started from a fundamentally different place each time. Why is that? Is it to avoid getting too comfortable?
Mal: I’d like to think we grow with every release. It is the ultimate challenge to create your own sound and aesthetic without repeating yourself. I like to think Wrangler are distinct, and recognisable but also keep reinventing ourselves.
Benge: We don’t plan things out very much – we tend to respond to the situation we find ourselves in each time we get together. Sometimes there might be a new piece of gear that we are exploring in the studio, or we might be responding to other circumstances around us. When we were making this album there was a pretty messed up political situation so that fed into the tracks as well.
Phil: It’s pretty unconscious for me. I never have any idea how it will turn out. Equipment and to a degree, whatever I’ve been getting into, will have an effect for sure.
How do the three of you work together?
Mal: It’s easy – we get in a room together (either the studio or just set up to jam) and magic happens! Well, most of the time. In the studio we all chip away at what each of us has done until there’s consensus – which is when it sounds like Wrangler. But importantly, if it sounds like a new version of ourselves, that’s when we know we’ve got it right.
Although we live in different places we have to be together. Often it’s been a while since we’ve actually been together so it’s proper crazy because there’s so many ideas – and bits of new gear – to share.
Benge: We usually work from a starting point of some kind. Maybe Phil plays some loops from his laptop, or I get up some wonky synth-sketch that I have been working on and we go from there. And Mal always has a bunch of vocal ideas hidden away somewhere. One time I remember he came in and sang all these amazing but really dark phrases and I wondered how he had thought of them. Later on I found newspaper he’d been reading lying on the sofa, with all the phrases circled in marker pen.
Phil: I think we’re quite traditional in our approach. We get together, we chat and we play.
I thought I could hear a nod back to the early Warp, slightly disjointed techno sound and also vintage electro on this record, yet it doesn’t sound nostalgic. What kind of reference points were feeding into A Situation?
Mal: I think we are conscious not to ponder the process too much and just let it flow. The beauty of early techno was its simplicity and rawness so we try to think like that. Techno, in the first instance, is music you hear with your muscles.
Benge: I definitely think there are some early 90s sounds coming in to the recent stuff. I’ve been buying lots of those early digital synths that you can get really cheap at the moment, and we used some of them on this record. Maybe we used less of the older analogue gear this time.
Phil: Yeah, there was definitely a lot more black plastic around. And LEDs.
The last track features a poem inspired by The Atrocity Exhibition. What would Ballard make of where we are today? Would he be pleased that he got it so right? Or would he be as horrified as we all find ourselves?
Mal: I think Jim Ballard knew where we were heading, and his later books told cautionary tales of the potential of a collapsing world and the growth of a conflicted and materialistic island mentality. I think his earlier dreams of future worlds would be a little flattened by what we are at present, but I’m sure we all hang our hopes on solutions and resolutions.
A Situation by Wrangler is released February 28 2020 by Bella Union. Wrangler play The White Hotel in Manchester on February 28 and Electrowerkz in London on February 29 (with support from MICROCORPS – Alexander Tucker).
Interview: Mat Smith
Thanks to Zoe.
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