17-05-2013 | 20.30
We had a Skype-chat with James Holden this week, with the track titles of his new album The Inheritors as the only guideline. Click here to read part one of this three-part interview.
The new upcoming single. We were kind of familiar with this track.
‘Yeah, I made it a while ago. Sounds alright, innit? Considering how messy it is.’
It sounds wild, and that’s a good thing.
So who’s Renata?
‘It’s a silly joke. Make Noise, the modular manufacturer, made a sequencer called René. It’s a Cartesian sequencer named after René Descartes. I liked the look of it, but I didn’t want it because it didn’t work the way I felt it should work. So I made my own version in Max for Live. You had René, so I made Renata.’
You said you think it sounds messy. Can music get too messy?
‘I think not. Being messy is one of the most important parts of the whole record. I wanted to make human-sounding, not mechanical-sounding music. During that period of experimentation, as you can hear in the remixes I did during that period, I realized that sometimes it works in a club, and sometimes it doesn’t work as well as home listening. I’m happy this worked out sounding good in a club.
Renata I recorded on good quality reel-to-reel tape. Other tracks on the album are first taped on old cassettes I had when I was a teenager. I blanked a bit of Guns N’ Roses and recorded my stuff on it.’
How does that work? You record on tape and load the tape into the computer?
‘Yes. You record on tape; it goes out of the tape machine and back into the computer. It’s very dynamic: you can get this sweet spot on the tape where it’s just as crunchy as you want, then melt those spots together on the computer. Each song ends up being record in different ways, because of different tape machines. But not everything is recorded on tape. Sometimes it’s just recorded on the computer.’
You didn’t want the album to represent one certain sound?
‘More like a whole world, not as a tunnel of identical memes. That approach can work as an album, there are some albums like that I really love. But I wanted it to be quite a big thing.’
How would you describe this world?
‘A cynical look at a rose-tinted view on the past, or something. Or: a rose-tinted view on the past, presented as a cynical exercise.’
‘Maybe that’s not the best word for it. It’s something nostalgic, knowing that past isn’t real in the way we present our history.’
The Caterpillar’s Intervention
‘I made that title up during an evening with a bottle of wine when Gemma and I were working out the last track titles, thinking about Alice in Wonderland.’
You did this one with Etienne Jaumet, right?
‘It was something I knew that was good, but it wasn’t finished. I went back to it a couple of times, but I couldn’t finish it. So I sent Etienne a long tape to jam over, and told him the idea of the album. He played six sax solos and then played the chord sequence that is a flipped and reversed version of my theme. His one comes in in the middle and reverses it into different sequences and takes the song over. You’ll hear it I guess.’
How did you work together on this track?
‘The Internet-way: I sent him a file and he sent his back. It would be nice to have him come over and jam together in the studio, but back then it just wasn’t possible. It was such a messy project by that time. So it had to be that way… Maybe in the future I’ll be making music while there’s someone in the room, but this album was rather egocentric.’
You want to make live music on stage too? We saw your show with the Caribou Vibration Ensemble in Gent, your first stage experience as being part of a band…
‘Quite a good place to start. Those three shows were the most amazing thing I did. I’m so grateful to Dan (Snaith, frontman of Caribou, ed.) for asking me. It opened a door in my head: I realized I can do this. It’s not any harder than deejaying.
I strongly feel I worked as hard as possible to deejay as best as I could: suddenly starting to play live in clubs would devalue that. As a DJ I’m doing more live than some live acts I’ve seen. Also: I’m not going to do James Holden live in a club. Then people would come and expect me to play everything from The Idiots Are Winning and The Sky Was Pink remix. That would be horrific.
That was what stopped me thinking about it. But after the Caribou thing and going the live show in Barbican earlier this year… I feel I can do anything now.
I can’t talk about what I might do in the future though, unfortunately. I’d love to tell you, but I can’t, it’s not confirmed yet.’
But there are upcoming shows that will involve you, not as a DJ.
‘Yeah. That’s about as much as I can say now.’
I can imagine it lifts some weight off your shoulders.
‘A LOT of weight came of my shoulders lately. You know you can get fat without noticing? It happens gradually. In the last ten years – without realizing – I devoted lots of little bits of time to lots of other people and lots of other things.’
Would you elaborate a bit on that?
‘There’s no one I hate or have an issue with. I don’t regret working with some other people on the label and I don’t want to be negative about them, but it did take me away from having time to devote to myself in the studio. It was always the idea of Border Community that it didn’t sign people; we’d just release a good record. But there came a point where it snapped: I was a bit angry at some people. I got emails from some producers saying: I want you to release my next record, listen to all this mp3s please. “Please do my next record” x 1000.
In 24 Hour Party People the Tony Wilson-character, the Factory Records-manager played by Steve Coogan, writes a contract. The crucial part – in the end – is: artists will have complete creative control over their works and are free to "fuck off" whenever they wish.
When we started Border Community we’ve only taken the first half of the contract and more recently we’ve been thinking of the second half. Now I’m feeling: If you’re going in a diverged direction, go on and diverge somewhere else. But, I feel so good right now - now the label is just Luke, Nathan, Wesley and me. Everybody’s best friends with each other, everything connects again. It’s like the early days.’
Has it something to do with Tibet? Monks seem to bury their loved ones high-up in the mountains there, after cutting them up to attract birds seeking a prey.
‘Yeah yeah! It's fucking amazing, I saw it on telly and it made me think a little bit, haha. This track has a friend Matt and Luke Abbott and me banging on shit in a parks near our house. Most of the parks have closed up as in locked at night, but the really shitty parks are still open. The song is like a magical experience to be really wasted on the streets, and being scared of people around.’
So you haven't been to Tibet and hung out with monks there?
‘No no no, but I like the idea what they're doing. It has the same kind of cult, primal raw feeling as the William Golding novel. It’s brutal, in how rational it is, but it is also quite lovely.’
‘That's a nice one. It refers to a place in the North-western, a little seaside town – it's quite rundown: Blackpool. They have a festival where they put lights along the street. As a kid, you go and get chips, get on a tram and look at the lights. As a child in the eighties, that made an impression. You probably heard the DJ-tool version of this, which will be released after the album. I play this one a lot, it amuses me.’
Did you make more tools to make your album more dancefloor-proof?
‘I've done a few. There's a bunch I've been playing. Where doing some edit 12-inch series after the album, like the Gone Feral single that we've already released.’
Seth Troxler played the Gone Feral synth tool in Trouw three weeks ago, combined with a cheesy but cool Ibiza-sounding house record.
‘Good! Putting it in a different context, that's GREAT. With a piece like this, I'm so wholeheartedly behind it, even if they play it in the worst commercial club in the world, I still I won't be ashamed, but happy.’
This is part two of a three-part interview.
Text: Berend Jan Bockting & Luc Mastenbroek