When Chris Clark's seventh album came out, we raved about it (in the literal sense, and using words as well). Recorded in a Lincolnshire country barn, it took a fistful of the icy UK weather outside and splintered it into geometric shards of techno and drone.
Closely following that, the Warp veteran dropped his 'Flame Rave' EP, a hotter set of restless breaks and trance that seemed more of a nod to '90s UK rave culture, decidedly more club-purposed. That being said, none of Clark's constructions ever really tessellate into a straightforward club environment. They might be better suited to a cathedral.
If you've caught his visually rich live show, you'll know that he's a hands-on performer, utilising each digit to attack his hardware, brows furrowed in concentration. Currently on tour with Nosaj Thing in the US, he's been introducing his MFB Schlagzwerg, Moog and lazer halos to the Land of the Free.
We sent over a bunch of questions to the Berlin via St. Albans producer while Stateside to see what's new, and here's what he came back with:
Let's talk about your new live show, which you debuted at Convergence and then Bloc straight after, how did you find those? You've said that one of the benefits of playing is to get instant feedback of its effectiveness, so what were your assessments?
I've really enjoyed holding back more recently, like building intense grooves that people can move to, and then totally evaporating them into smouldering, almost totally static plains of alien drone, filling the dance floor with strobe and smoke.
I love watching people react to that sudden change of focus. It's like vertigo, it totally hypnotises you, that's how I feel when I make the stuff, locked in and a bit out of control, but when I play it live I regain control.
All the static stuff is mostly viola, actually, I love the harmonics of string instruments, I like playing them myself and making them sound like synths and visa versa. To me that's where the real fruit is, total acid dissolve of boundaries between "live" "real" "fake" "digital".
The release of those 'Winter Boots' "booty acapellas" after the album was a surprise (reworking Die Antwoord's Yolandi Visser, Diana Ross and Frank Ocean). Is there gonna be a Part II?!
Yeah, there's tons of them. I went through a phase of staying up all night and tweaking acapellas, everything else sort of bored the hell out of me and I thought the only worthwhile thing to do in music was putting acapellas over beats. What's that quote about leather?
Covering our feet in leather is equal to covering the whole world in leather.
Covering a beat in an acapella is equal to covering the whole world in acapellas.
There you go.
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'Unfurla' was (in our opinion) the standout track on the album, so it was great to see it reworked on the EP. How have you found the response to 'Flame Rave'?
I think it's been good, I only really judge things from responses at gigs... it's the only feedback worth considering really, apart from what close friends say. Internet feedback always feels unreal. I've never suffered from the temptation to read what people say on forums or whatever, I've seen Google-itis mess up too many people to want to go there. It's a distraction at best and Pandora's box at worst.
It's almost total luck of the draw whether you get a good review or not. I get it, there's a lot of music out there and it's difficult to comment on, and it needs to be represented (or misrepresented) somehow. But to place too much importance on that process once you've nailed how *you* feel it should be presented seems absurd to me. It's totally in the world at this point. You've given your baby up for adoption, so you can't really start complaining that it's not being fed enough vegetable puree or whatever.
Expecting everyone to like it is megalomania at it's most impotent and futile. I'm not sure I want everyone to like my music. Quite often things that seem to get universally good responses in the press are strongly disliked by most people I meet.
People used to read the NME and have to wait for two weeks before they could hear the album. These days people, at least the less sheepish ones whose responses I am more likely to care about, can read a review, and make their own mind up by clicking on a link to the music. In 30 seconds they will either be agreeing with the journalist or think he/she is talking utter shite.
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But I generally prefer to just enjoy the real time situation of playing gigs. I get to hear my music loud. I usually work so quietly, not like a mouse. More like a mosquito, sucking the blood from the musical flesh.
I like working quietly because it draws attention to the reality of music being ultimately silent. It all just starts in your brain as a particular configuration of chemicals, the external tools help you realise that and turn it into something corporeal. But it all starts out as a silent thought process. I only like to hear it loud when I'm playing a gig or doing something really specific like mixing a kick for 4 hours.
You've amassed a following that's fascinated by your technique, as your AMA recently proved. What does that feel like?
Yeah it's ultimately really lovely that people are so curious, and I think it's laughable arrogance when producers try and use that curiosity against their fanbase. You know... making out that what they do (or more likely, what equipment they use) is pretty hard to explain this to the "little people". I usually just turn to Bach piano music and it forces me to eat some humble pie. The math in Bach is immaculate, peerless.
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Also, I'm just not sure how effective I am at giving a prescriptive list of techniques I use because I'm very chaotic in my methods, and I can't remember how I make stuff nearly half the time.
Should we care that Burial might have used Sound Forge, Ableton and Youtube to make 'Come Down To Us', rather than seven customised Kymar systems and a Reaktor patch he spent 20 years developing?
I still think there are 100s of ways to execute the same idea, making "process" a bit irrelevant.
I'm suspicious of the expectation on musicians to talk up the complexity of the craft, I think it provides an opportunity to disguise insecurities and sound "masterful". I find it a bit glib, and it makes me cringe. Maybe it was fashionable when making music on a laptop still seemed mysterious and rarefied. But the mystery has kind of gone now, and in many ways that's a good thing. It's brought back some pure expression in the music, rather than sophistry.
In terms of innovation and tradition, perhaps these things are better framed as "familiar" and "alien".
And if we see them as this, then I'm on a total seesaw between the two. It's a difficult place to inhabit, it's actually a lot easier to be either one or the other. Perpetual innovation with absolutely nothing familiar and emotionally rewarding to hold on to is tiring. It's great in principle but doesn't always make for particularly listenable erm... actual music. But then again there's only so much cliche you can hear without developing a personality disorder. A lot of powerful music is based on excavating subconscious experiences that already exist in the listeners mind, there's no getting away from that. A cheap, overused word for this is "nostalgia" but that's not what I'm talking about here.
I've made plenty of technically dark and challenging material, using very simple techniques. Plotting notes, rhythms and textures on a timeline is a huuuuuuge thing and requires commitment, but there should be nothing rarefied or secretive about the technique you use to do that with. There are so many ways to do this, and they are ALL valid. The proof should be in what the actual result sounds like.
The truth is, I don't return to the more dark, technically challenging material I write as much. It seems customised to a particular kind of situation, rather than listenable and engaging in many contexts.
The things I release are the things I've truly cherished and worked on, and listened to again and again. I listened to that recent Portico remix of mine about 500 times, I love it, I don't wanna sound like a self aggrandising prick... I truly MOCK a lot of what I do and delete it on completion. But that particular song I worked on tons, even though it's simple and poppy, there's a robust formula and addictive structure behind it that I enjoyed planning out, quite meticulously.
Yeah, it's familiar, but I'm aiming for that point where it transcends these things, and sounds effortless and unique. Manipulating cliché and developing it with new, innovative elements in order to say something utterly fresh and original is harder than *just* being original, in some ways.
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For example, it would be original if I made a max path that analysed the bowel movements of North Korean housewives with home invading nano-drones and then built a generative max patch out of the audio > midi results. And then got Brian from FSOL and Eckhart Tolle to rap over it.
But would it sound good?
It might do, actually, heh.
Need to apply for some Belgian arts funding for that maybe.
The things those peeps give arts funding for these days. Anyway....
When a creative practice becomes entrenched and survives on being compulsively adversarial with all sorts of other multi faceted traditions it becomes a bit rigid and inflexible, more like a pleasing conceptual dogma rather than an actual thing rooted in the heterogenous mess of human human experience. Music should be a living, breathing force that people can integrate into their lives, not an artefact of abstract social commentary or identity prop.
It's a genuine escape from identity in a way. A source of pleasure / depth / emotional consolation. I love pop music, some pop music is the most durable, time resistant music on earth, The Cure for example. Bach, for example. A lot of people claim to like 'Trout Mask Replica' more than they actually like listening to it, is what I'm saying.
Although that has it's place, too. Everything has its place, nothing is out of bounds. If you give yourself ultimate freedom then it can be a frightening thing but there's so much fruit there....just takes time, like all the best things in life. Oop I just ended on a cliche. Or was it a profound truth? Can't it be both?
Words: Felicity Martin
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Keep in touch with Clark's live plans HERE.