Hidden Topographies: Logos Interviewed
England can be a difficult space to explore. The sheer weight of history and mythology impinge upon your view, while the constant building and re-building makes finding any kind of consensus difficult to create and maintain. It’s within these cracks, however, that interesting things grow.
Logos – the producer born James Parker – explores these liminal elements, these hinterland fissures on his new album, the fascinating, complex, and impossible to place ‘Imperial Flood’. It’s a record prompted by shifts in his studio set up, but also by both recollection and imagination, a twisted take on England’s forgotten environs.
“Most of it was written in London, mainly because that’s where I live,” he tells Clash on the phone. Wandering through the streets, we can hear cars, busses rush past, the endlessly flow of the capital’s traffic bonding with his voice. “It started off with me wanting to do a record about imaginary landscapes, but it got diverted away from that because I found it quite difficult to realise, and I didn’t want to be that literal.”
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If 2013’s ‘Cold Mission’ was intimately linked with club culture its symbiotic relationship with inner city environments, ‘Imperial Flood’ is out harsh, uncanny environments outwith urban spaces. It pushes out to the suburbs, it’s narrative voice a lonely wandering eye, growing in confusion as structures break down, and the compass begins to spin round relentlessly.
“It’s inspired by some of these landscapes that are rural but they’re not quaint rural spaces, they’re difficult to get a grip on… there might be elements of weirdness about them,” he insists. “I’m particularly thinking of parts of East England. Partly because it’s where I grew up but also that these extremely flat landscapes in England – and in other parts of the world – are very weird spaces.”
“They fuck with your sense of time, the horizons aren’t straight forward, you can’t see things in the same way you can in the North of England where there are hills. These are the things that got me thinking about what I wanted to express in terms of building a space for the listener.”
Much like its predecessor, ‘Imperial Flood’ is guided by an incredible sense of space. It’s lit up by literal landmarks – ‘Weather System Over Plaistow’ for example – while continually aiming to unpick the landscape, and uncover the supressed topography underneath.
“Trying to represent something literally takes on its own dimensions,” he argues, as another car rushes past. “Even on one level doing a recording of a space isn’t straight forward, you’re always editing, and the listener always tends to take something away and it becomes an object for them. It’s interesting to work within that material, but it’s about using the wild to let the listener construct their own space when they’re listening.”
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As a result, Logos’ new material isn’t direct – it’s about trying to communicate the flashing glimpse at the edge of your peripheral vision, and the manner in which perfectly ordinary elements of English terrain can take on the veneer of the haunted, the condemned. As he built the album Logos devoured a slew of speculation fiction, naming the likes of James VanDerMeer, JG Ballard, and Christopher Priest as key influences.
“A lot of it is about memory, and unreliable narrators,” he says of the latter’s work. “But also in a kind of weird context. There’s some really tricky, uncanny stuff – uncanny in the technical meaning – in his literature, and how you can trick people, catch the reader or the listener unawares. These are the kinds of things you think about, and translate into music”.
This tendency comes to its richest fruition on tracks like ‘Lighthouse Dub’; on one part it’s about the disorienting experience of walking along endless marshland, without landmark to guide you; on the other, dub becomes a synonym for memory, for repression, and what remains.
“That was really an effort to drive really, really hard at using minimal instruments, minimal arrangements, to try and get the listener to listen hard on small changes,” he explains. “You hope that the small changes have a strong impact on the listener. They’re like an inverted, hollowing out of some other styles. It’s like pushing at an absence. That’s the only way I can explain it.”
As always with Logos’ work this new album is an exquisite aural experience. It’s something that harks back to his youth soaking up late 90s drum ‘n’ bass, with producers such as Photek excelling at the art, the sheer relentless craft of engineering. It’s an era he’s drawn on before, and it recurs in powerful fashion on ‘Imperial Flood’.
“It’s a huge thing I carry with my all the time, and I return to it again and again and again,” he enthuses. “Some of those tracks, man, they’re not well known… some of the stuff is just unbelievable.”
“It goes back to that beat boy thing,” Logos continues. “They were trying to out do each other all the time. Any producer in that time, it was part of the culture. Which people don’t often realise. I’m trying to do stuff that this other guy – who I’ll be friends with maybe – think, God how did he do that?! Make their jaw drop. And that’s healthy.”
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This isn’t to suggest that his current work is a nostalgic experience. Constantly pushing forwards, Logos is a key component of Boxed, the London collective whose future-facing appetite is already the stuff of legend. He also cites the current work of Autechre as a major inspiration, guiding him to what the producer terms ‘altered pastoral material’ in the press materials sent out alongside the album.
Clash can’t help but pick him up on this phrase – after all, the majority of his influences were urban, surely?
“It’s weird because drum ‘n’ bass was actually quite a suburban phenomenon,” he insists. “Most of the producers were not from the centre of London. Most of it came from the Essex borders, Hertfordshire. Photek bought a Ferrari with his advance from Virgin, and I’ve got this image of him driving around the M11 or country roads in Suffolk blasting out this weird music. It’s a funny juxtaposition to think about.”
“Really,” he says, “what I was talking about with that phrase was about… looking for that eerie, weird angle which is always lurking at the corner of your eye in the English countryside. What’s gone on before? What are the hidden histories of bloodshed, the darkness… things like the English Industrial Revolution, this massive movement of peasants into the cities to form the working classes. The Civil War.”
“It’s a bizarre fucking landscape England, in many respects, which is hidden behind this bucolic exterior,” he marvels. “If you’re interested in the history then it makes you think. I can’t help but be interested by that sort of thing when I’m trying to make art.”
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In that sense ‘Imperial Flood’ has a definite connection to ‘Cold Mission’. Logos’ earlier work hinged on the link between sound and space, overlaying the heritage of club culture with its possibilities, like the negative of a photograph with two images, taken a decade apart. ‘Imperial Flood’ removes this concept from the inner cities, and extends it outwards in time – ‘Omega Point’ and ‘Marsh Lantern’ are haunted by much earlier visions, while surging much further into uncharted future realms.
With such a dense array of literary, cinematic, musical, and historical influences, it’s little wonder that ‘Imperial Flood’ took such a long time to coalesce. “It’s been quite a long gap but it did take me quite a long time to write it. I rejected quite a lot of material,” he admits. “I think the edit process, for me, when your options are restricted and you’ve got to work with what’s available… that’s a way to get me to finish tracks.”
“Too many options aren’t good for me, personally. The album in the end came together quite quickly.”
Looking more directly into the future, Logos remains a lynchpin for Boxed, while he’s working on a release with Bristol producer Boylan. Grime remains a core part of his musical imagination, even if it’s not quite as immediately obvious in his work. “I’ve been around long enough to know that these things go around in cycles,” he says. “The moment people’s attention is off it there’ll be somebody working away on something incredible.”
Perhaps that’s the core of Logos’ ethos: the moment when we are distracted, when attention finally breaks and dissipates, is when confusion sets in, and interesting things start to happen.
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'Imperial Flood' is out now.
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