It’s a London thing: An interview with Spatial

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spatial is an electronic musician and multimedia artist from London exploring low frequency vibration with physical intervention through DJ sets & live performance and via recorded media. He equally examines the structural occupation and perception of opti-sonic transmissions through home coded audiovisual installations and the emergent behaviour of chaotic systems by simple rule-based repetition through generative design. He is one of the SHAPE artists performing at the upcoming MUTEK festival in Montreal.

I was wondering about your background. Were you influenced by the UK hardcore continuum?

I grew up on the outskirts of London. I was going to raves and became fascinated by the first-wave cultural shift that came through the city. I went through this fairly typical route of getting into records and decks and later buying a sampler. I grew up with a lot of that sound and seen its different phases: from hardcore to jungle to garage to dubstep. I was very keen to stay in that lineage, to sound very London, very UK. At the same time, I was also into techno.

With the hardcore continuum, were you also interested in its social and subcultural context?

It certainly felt like a really big cultural movement, at least in the early days. Later, the London dubstep scene had an incredible energy. A lot of these things are very London-focused. There’s a strong Afro-Caribbean strain coming through the sound as well. That happened in the early days, like the rave scene in Hackney rubbing shoulders with the sound system culture. This can only really come out of a big city, a melting pot of different cultures. The sonic aspect of it was also important, being into sound systems and sub-bass. The bass driven culture was an artefact of what was happening socially.

The sound system culture seemed to have died down, replaced by a focus on individuals.

I definitely think that those cultures still exist. It’s just a question of whether they are presented in the media. That central focus on the DJ is something that I never really felt comfortable with. It felt a bit different in the past. As dance music became a big commerce, those people working in it had to figure out a way to justify their existence – largely by creating superstar personas. Punters justified the expensive entry fee by bowing down to the high altar of the DJ. The positive effect of this on any party is questionable.

How do you create your music?

I’ve oscillated between hardware and software. With software I sometimes felt there were simply too many options. I switched back to mostly hardware a couple of years ago with groove boxes, drum machines and synths, which I used on my forthcoming album and will also use for my set at MUTEK. I’ll use whatever I need to get the job done though.

When you build up a track, what elements do you start with?

In the past, I used to flip between writing beats and melodies, but now it’s almost always the beats. I’m trying to keep it stripped down. I did a performance on Friday where I used a modular synth and a drum machine, but then I also had a Max patch controlling it. This allowed me to have a certain amount of entropy in it, which I couldn’t really have with the drum machines internal sequencer alone.

You once mentioned that sparser production is meant as an antidote to the over-saturated media world.

That’s definitely part of it, sonically. But it’s also partly a presentational thing. I’m drawn to minimalism as an aesthetic. But even in terms of how you get information out to people, it felt that everything is saturated: all information is available at all times. I’m for a little bit of an intrigue or search, trying to understand things a little bit and adding cultural value.

How does your multimedia work tie into this?

I’m a programmer by trade. I kept the two things separate for a long time and wanted to bring them together. I was also becoming interested in a multimedia setup, rather than just a purely sonic one as well as the materiality of light and people’s perception of it. I was curious about how I could take some of these ideas into a digital domain. I was also exploring systems theory and algorithms.

Are you following the Algorave scene, centred around live coded music?

Actually on Friday I did a little bit of that, but not to the extent Alex and the others are doing it. I’ve known Alex McLean for a number of years from various open-source audio groups. My association with it was actually very loose. I’m really glad to see their progression and success. In terms of what comes out of it, I think it’s a mixed bag: some of it feels too much like process art to me – less focused on the results – but some people are really talented with what they do with it.

Can you talk about your Emergence 12” series?

It wanted to investigate emergent algorithms. I’ve been interested in the idea of a release being a little bit more than just a track or a record. The physical object is a necessity and I wanted it to be an interesting object. I wanted to couple the audio with some sort of digital artwork. Each of the Emergence record pairs those ideas together. It’s difficult to take it into the online domain though. If you visit a record shop and buy a record, what makes you visit a url? The only way to approach it was to only have the url on the vinyl without any other information. Upon visiting the website, you’d experience the emergent artwork and learn about the release. The Emergence moniker is probably related more to the visual component rather than the sonic one.

Are you interested in the deconstruction of earlier styles of dance music in the vein of Mark Fell or Lee Gamble?

I’ve known Lee for a while, he was doing more academic algorithmic music previously. I’d say common ground is we both have a long-running interest in raves whilst having an interest in a more experimental approach to sonic production. With Mark’s stuff, that’s a common reference people make. I hear it less sonically as he tends to be quite austere but perhaps there’s similar aesthetics at play.

What aspect of music-making and listening do you like best?

At the moment, I’m happiest doing what feels most natural to me. Those common threads were always there: the historical element in being interested in dance music culture for a long time as well as having an interest in the computer side of it. Well produced sound coming from any decent system is still a fantastic experience.