First Play: Matthias – Hold Me (Matt Pop Radio Edit)

Matthias is Matt Danforth, a Canadian electronic musician known for producing upbeat music full of faithful synth sounds and brilliant, sparkling melodies; music that nods reverently in the direction of classic synth pop but without ever sounding like a pastiche.

His most recent single, ‘Hold Me’ features vocals from his frequent collaborator Mark Bebb (Andy Bell, Shelter, Form). The track includes one of Bebb’s most impassioned vocals in a career of impassioned vocals, here set to a gripping, happy-sad mood that’s the perfect complement to the vocals.

Following December’s single release, ‘Hold Me’ has been given stunning remix treatments by Further. Favourites Circuit3, Reed & Caroline’s Reed Hays with Phil Garrod (featuring a rare Moog and Hays’s distinctive cello), Darwinmcd, People Theatre, Nature Of Wires, MDA/ADM and the inestimable Matt Pop.

Today we’re pleased to bring you an exclusive first play of Matt Pop’s brilliantly-executed, high energy Radio Edit.

Hold Me – The Remixes by Matthias is released February 28 2020.

Words: Mat Smith

(c) 2020 Further.

In Conversation: Wrangler

Wrangler is a trio of Stephen Mallinder (Cabaret Voltaire, Creep Show), Ben ‘BengeEdwards (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.

(c) 2020 Further.

Nokuit – Live At Cafe OTO

Live At Cafe OTO captures the debut 30-minute live performance by sound artist and NKT cassette label head Nokuit, recorded at London’s experimental music epicentre during the summer of 2018.

Presented as a single piece, the set is a bold, antagonising stew of sonic motifs right from the get-go: snatches of news broadcasts, spinning and eddying sounds, recordings of parade ground preparations, noir atmospheres, predatory electronic tones, metallic distortion and squalls of what might be violins are all melded together into something that, in another artist’s hands, might have been noise for noise’s sake.

Instead, the set consists of brief segments of pieces taken from previous Nokuit releases, each one carefully and delicately composed with a curatorial zeal that gives the set a soundtrack-y tension and a claustrophobia-inducing awareness of the value of intricate detail. The result is a busy, restless urgency that is never still for a second and never anything but enveloping and engaging in the completeness of its sonic breadth.

As a piece of brooding, dark ambience, Live At Cafe OTO sounds vaguely like one of the imagined soundtracks for cult books issued by the Bibliotapes imprint, only here the narrative we have is entirely of our own design. Nokuit himself calls it a ‘soundtrack to a film that has left its screenwriters behind’; and yet, in the closing, piano and grubby synth symphony that edges us to the set’s conclusion, we hear faithful echoes of everything from the first Terminator movie to Blade Runner to any other film relying on shadowy, bleak representations of dystopian futures as its central concern.

Live At Cafe OTO by Nokuit was released February 21 2020 by NKT.

Words: Mat Smith

(c) 2020 Further.

In Conversation: Kemper Norton

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Kemper Norton is a Cornish electronic music adventurer who often uses the local history of his home county as the basis for complex, evocative albums that defy easy classification.

His latest work, Oxland Cylinder, is the counterpart to last year’s Brunton Calciner. The titles of these two albums might sound like some sort of abstract concatenation of random words but they are in fact the names of facilities developed for the extraction of arsenic, a lucrative byproduct of the tin mining that Cornwall was once famed for.

Further. spoke to Kemper Norton to find out more about his enduring interest in developing music inspired by the mythology and stories of his local surroundings.

Your albums Brunton Calciner and Oxland Cylinder are concerned with the arsenic manufacturing process that has left abandoned facilities across the Cornish and Devonshire hills. What was it that made you want to use these as the basis for an album?

They’re one of the classic picture postcard icons of Cornwall and have led to areas of the coast being designated a World Heritage site, but I wanted there to be a wider awareness of their original purpose and role in the industrial revolution, and in the West Country and the global economy.

The creation of arsenic as a byproduct of the mining process also tapped into many themes of toxicity, domestic life and physical transformation that I’m interested in at the moment. They’re also buildings that I’ve seen every day growing up and I wanted to explore them more deeply before the landscape changes further into the view from a millionaire’s second home, and it becomes less accessible.

History – Cornish history especially – has a big presence in your work. The new album includes an old tin miners’ song interpolated into the piece ‘Halan’ that threads through Brunton Calciner and Oxland Cylinder, while 2017’s Hungan used a mythical pirate active along the coast as its foundations.

How do you go about researching and unearthing things like that? What is it about the history of this county that inspires you so much? Or is history in general something that inspires you?

I have never been interested in personal songwriting based on my own experiences in a literal way. There are loads of artists doing that and I don’t think we need another bloke telling his stories or desires, but I do feel there are neglected areas and people in history that still have interesting stories, at least to me! History, particularly social history and folklore – both old and modern – have always been a big influence, and I’m sure they will continue to be. As I grew up mainly in Cornwall, that’s bound to be a major element.

I don’t think there’s necessarily anything unique or magical about Cornwall any more than other counties or countries though – that’s part of its image that tourists go for and which residents exploit. The history of Coventry, Croatia or car parks will all have resonance and amazing hidden stories.

You have, on occasion, described your music as being ‘rural electronics’. What does that mean, in practice? Is it a style that comes from what you’re inspired by, or do you think it’s more a set of rules governing how you approach making your music?

When I started I just thought it was an honest way of pointing out that my upbringing is generally rural and I wasn’t that influenced by many urban styles of music, although that’s definitely changed.

The synth sounds, samples and field recordings were explicitly meant to sound rural in the North Cornwall sense – blasted by the Atlantic, rough, salty and hopefully unique. I was aware of artists like Aphex Twin and it was great that a Redruth boy could make it so far, so that in itself was inspiring, but I hope I’ve manage to avoid using tropes and conventions used by other artists too much. That’s pretty much the only rule!

Although it would be tempting to associate you with the hauntological genre, your music doesn’t seem intent on creating this wistful sense of nostalgia but instead seems to mourn that which is at the point of being lost from memories completely. Is that a conscious part of what you do?

Definitely. I can’t be nostalgic for Britain in the 1970s, Doctor Who or the Radiophonic Workshop because they’re not my memories or influences – I only moved to the UK in 1982 as a child. I also think that type of nostalgia for those specific cultural touchstones and era seems both oversaturated and close to cosy UKIP nationalism to me.

The idea of any kind of golden age is bollocks, particularly a recent British one. I’m also not interested in easy references to shared cultural memories of television or whatever. In terms of focusing on specific histories or stories being on the verge of lost , that’s definitely a theme in my work but it’s not necessarily limited to a specific era or mood.

If we take Brunton Calciner and Oxland Cylinder as representative of your interest in taking historical inputs as a starting point, how did you go about actually converting those inputs into music?

I’m not that technical. I use a combination of samples, field recordings and sounds as a mood board for a specific album, and then they undergo a range of processes including granular synthesis and effects processing. Some come out the other end intact, whereas other sounds are absolutely unrecognisable, and others become base sounds for new instruments and melodies. Then they attempt to become songs!

Recently I’ve become interested in using as few sound sources as possible. Most of Brunton Calciner is based on two samples which are layered and continually reprocessed, which ties in with the themes of the album.

The two most recent albums exhibit a strong sense of narrative, meaning its presentation felt more like a radio play than an experimental electronic album. Was that deliberate? Do you see your music as being a form of story telling?

I like stories and narrative in music, and no matter how much I try to avoid it I can’t help creating or following a narrative in an album. It’s rather old-fashioned but I do see each album as a story, with a beginning, middle and end during construction, however ambiguous. At the same time, I don’t think it matters if listeners deconstruct or ignore that.

Do you think could be inspired in the same way by, say, the history of somewhere like London? Or is it under-appreciated histories that appeal to you the most?

Everywhere is interesting if you look at it closely. Even Surrey.

Oxland Cylinder by Kemper Norton is released February 24 2020.

Interview: Mat Smith

(c) 2020 Further.

John Chantler & Johannes Lund – Andersabo

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A second duo outing for Swedish / Australian John Chantler (pump organ, synths) and Denmark’s Johannes Lund (saxophone), recorded during a residency in Sweden’s Andersabo.

Consisting of three long tracks, each piece here is its own unique soundworld full of clashing sounds, vibrant tensions and noisy interplay. Opener ‘Back Of The House’ has a playful quality thanks to Lund’s rapid, fluttering saxophone cycles, performed in such a way that he never seems to pause once for breath; his sax might be the focal point but it is the swirling, droning, seesawing organs that set the mood here, creating a beautiful discordant energy.

‘Open Field & Forest’ acts as a moment of quiet repose, Chantler’s sounds acting like a bed of ambient noise over which field recordings of birdsong, creaking wood and insectoid chatter are overlaid. Lund arrives in the piece’s final minutes with some processed, murky bleating that sounds like metallic scraping, but on the whole this piece is a delicate pause for reflection.

In contrast, ‘Under Barn Floor’ is a busy, maximalist summation of both the preceding pieces, built up from earthy, growling sounds, shimmering organ layers and a grubby, subtly nihilistic intensity.

Andersabo by John Chantler and Johannes Lund was released February 12 2020 by Johs & John.

(c) 2020 Further.

3 Questions: Charlotte Spiral

Charlotte Spiral is a duo of Amy Spencer and Avi Barath, two former Goldsmiths students now writing complicated songs laced with lyrics loaded with emotional uncertainty; those words are only matched in their complexity by the many-layered musical architecture that supports Spencer’s distinctive voice.

“I kind of like it that people think my name’s Charlotte,” laughs Amy. “The name Charlotte Spiral came from a pose in figure skating. We started putting the music on top of old figure skating videos and then Avi and I decided that our band name should have something to with it because it’s so elegant. We wanted that to be reflected in the music.”

Upon the release of their debut EP, the gorgeous, mesmerising and haunting Ideal Life, Charlotte Spiral spoke to Further. about fake medicine and ‘A Lovely Bunch Of Coconuts’ – very probably the one and only time that song’s going to get a mention here, and highly unlikely to feature on their debut album, I imagine.

What’s your earliest memory?

Amy: When my brother and I were kids my grandparents would look after my brother and I, mostly after school and also in the summer when our parents were at work.

I have a strong memory of them sitting together on a bench under the apple tree in the garden. My granddad loved music and he could sing beautifully – he could play the harmonica and even the spoons! My grandma would sing that song ‘I’ve Got A Lovely Bunch Of Coconuts’. I’m sure she sang many other songs too but for some reason that one sticks!

Avi: There is a place in Rhodes that is meant to be very beautiful called Butterfly Valley. Sadly, my earliest memory is of being very sick there. My dad tricked me and gave me a Mentos sweet, which he told me was medicine. I think it actually worked…

What’s the best piece of advice you’ve been given?

Amy: Stop worrying!

Avi: Trust your instincts.

Where are you most productive or inspired?

Amy: I often get ideas for lyrics when I’m travelling or walking somewhere. It’s usually just a line or two that I will finish once I have a chord progression and melody.

Avi: It changes all the time to be honest, but recently it’s been wherever there is a piano.

Ideal Life by Charlotte Spiral is released February 7 2020.

Interview: Mat Smith

(c) 2020 Further.

Avi Pfeffer – A Lasting Impression

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Classical music and electronics are currently locked in a comfortable embrace. This has arisen largely as a consequence of modern compositional methods which rely heavily on the ambience and atmospherics that a careful-deployed analogue synth or some after-hours digital manipulation can add to the music.

It wasn’t ever thus. From more or less the beginning of synthesizer technology becoming more accessible, the game in town was to produce electronic arrangements of classical pieces, and that’s the jumping-off point for Boston composer Avi Pfeffer’s A Lasting Impression.

The four-part suite uses classical structures and figures but is delivered entirely electronically. Beats drift in then ebb away, melodic gestures re-emerge continually and Pfeffer deploys a dizzying array of sounds, textures and rhythms throughout the almost hour-long album. The tonality of these collected sounds is especially important – this isn’t gauzy, drifting ambience or modern glitch-heavy soundtrack noir, but bold, grandiose sounds arranged into longform movements. I’ve never quite grasped the vernacular to articulate why this is, but there’s something about hearing electronics used in this way – a particular challenge when your diet consists primarily of people twiddling modular synth knobs or making electronic pop – that makes me think of Don Dorsey’s distinctive retrofuturism.

Dorsey made a series of electronic albums in the mid-1980s that essentially took Bach’s music and recreated their austere presentation with an enviable kitlist of cutting-edge electronic equipment, much as Wendy Carlos had done twenty years before. He also went on to be the in-house sound designer for Walt Disney World, composing the fresh, euphoric, scientific-sounding music that’s still memorably piped into places like Epcot and Tomorrowland.

I get the same feeling of hearing something exceptionally forward-looking yet locked in a particular era when listening to A Lasting Impression. If the press release had said Pfeffer had written these pieces thirty-five years ago and they’d languished, unreleased, I’d have not been surprised. To do this type of thing today is brave. We’re not used to hearing electronics like this in 2020, and so to enjoy it requires a little adjustment. Once you do, it’s a perfectly enjoyable record, full of interesting details and moments.

My personal favourite sequence arrives with the gleeful, squelchy opening minutes of the third part, largely because it transports me to the deck of Narcoossee’s on a balmy Florida evening several years ago watching The Electrical Water Pageant (originally scored by Dorsey) burble and fizz its inimitable way past with my daughters; just for giving me the the opportunity to reminisce about that makes this album entirely worth it.

A Lasting Impression by Avi Pfeffer is released February 7 2020 by Pumpedita.

Words: Mat Smith

(c) 2020 Further.