An interview with...
LNR: So the first thing we wanted to kick off with - we’ve noticed lots of organic, lots of textural, quite nostalgic stuff in your sound, and we were wondering, what has pushed you to want to explore and to represent that sound in the stuff that you’re making?
LM: It kind of comes from going to different gigs really, and just having different experiences, listening to people like - have you ever heard of Suzanne Ciani? I went to [a show of hers] in York, and it was in a church - she usually performs in quadraphonic, so she’ll say she doesn’t perform anywhere that doesn’t have 4 speakers - and they were all around us, we were sat in the middle of this church, and she’s got this absolute Buchla spaceship machine in the middle. We just sat for, like, two hours and it was amazing. She’d make these textures and could basically fly them around the room and put them in different spaces and it really just makes a whole world - it’s seriously cool. So I started basically trying to do that - but I’ve not got four speakers, I’ve just got two…
LNR: When you’re making music, is creating something immersive, that really engages the listener on all counts, is that important to you?
LM: Yeah, 100%, it’s like when you want something to listen to, not really a background thing, something you could sit down and shut your eyes and be transported… I really like creating environments. With one of the songs I’ve been working on, I made all these different sounds, and it almost sounded like a rainforest, with loads of different types of animals, and you could have each one phasing in and phasing out. By putting it in the left and right speakers, you can almost get the illusion that things are whizzing around your head, and then trying to explore the boundaries between that, and a song.
LNR: How much do you work in a DAW, or do you try and do most stuff, if not all, on your modular setup?
LM: I’ve started getting way more proficient at doing stuff in Ableton. What I’ll do is, I have one of these jams, for like two hours, then scrub through and pick out the good bits. What I’ve been doing recently - with
my mate George, who’s an excellent drummer - I send him a couple of
loops to fit some drums to, and then he sends me them back, and obviously I can’t do any of that stuff not on the computer. But yeah, it’s kind of like a back and forth process between tinkering on the modular and the computer - but as things get closer to the end, it’s basically all on the computer.
LNR: Live performance is clearly something that is really important to how you work, but as a spectator, as an audience member, what makes a really good live experience?
LM: Lots of people probably don’t realise that it’s live. I was like, ‘How can we make people realise that these are actually sounds being produced right now, and not a DJ set?’. I played at this festival in Leeds and I reckon like, 50% of the audience didn’t know that it was actually live. Which is like, that’s fine, everyone’s there for different reasons, and you can just want to have a good time. Anyway, I made this controller from a Wii nunchuck - people know this little Wii nunchuck thing - and I hooked it up to control the bass of the synth with the joystick. I got a really long cable for it, and I passed it out to people who
were standing at the front. When they played with it, there was that head turn moment, where they were like, ‘Oh, this is real, these are the sounds that are being made right now’.
LNR: It sounds like it all kind of ties back to this notion of releasing control, and not having complete control over everything that’s happening - giving your Wii nunchuck to the crowd, letting them control the bass - that all adds loads of variables, right?
LM: Yeah, and someone could yank it and pull the modular onto the floor - hasn’t happened yet, but - touch wood. Occasionally people put a
pint next to it and I’m like, ‘Take that away right now’. That's true stress - I don’t care about not knowing what I’m doing, or if my ideas run out, or if I accidentally put in a sound too loud, but if someone puts a pint near my modular, that’s bad.
LNR: That sort of approach sounds very, like, Steve Reich to me - playing with the sounds and how they’re presented to the listener, and kind of keeping that as the focus, rather than trying to write a ‘song’ specifically.
LM: Yeah, that’s exactly it. Working with modular synths is an organic process - you set up these rules that you want your system to follow, and it’s very much a ‘happy accidents’ kind of thing, where you try really hard to make something that sounds a certain way - and 90% of the time it will not sound anything like what you’re trying - but it’ll still be really good. Which is a fun thing. It’s why I have to sit down, have a jam for like an hour, and have to record it all because I know that when I don’t record it, something great will happen and I’ll have missed it.
LNR: With your live sets, do you have a setlist, or is it more jam-oriented?
LM: This is something that I’ve kind of managed to hone down quite well. Say I’m playing for an hour, I’ll plan like 45 minutes of stuff, and I’ll make a patch maybe in my room the week before, and then I’ll write down a sequence of things, like - I want this to happen, then that to happen, I’ll unplug that cable, plug that one in - in this little book that I take up on stage with me - this little Bible. Inevitably, I always get through 45 minutes of stuff in 20 minutes, because you’re always going
so fast - then I’ve got 40 minutes left and usually I’m like ‘Okay… well… Now’s the time to step up and do something really good’. And that is always when the best stuff happens - always, it’ll be the stuff that I haven’t planned, it’ll be this accident - it’s the same as when you’re producing things, it’s that happy accident, and it’s so fun to do live.
LNR: Do you think a big part of your workflow is kind of based on getting yourself to that point where you have to renounce control - where there’s no more planning, no more structure?
LM: Yeah, there’s a nice element of control when I’m producing and making ideas and I’ve got a very clear idea of what I want that song to be like, but particularly for live sets, I’ll plan to get to that point. It makes me a bit stressed, a bit nervous, but that adds to it - and I’ve got a load of backup things to do - I’ve got this Behringer 303 synth and if everything suddenly goes wrong, I’ll just press play on that, and… Everyone loves acid.
LNR: Emergency acid button!
LM: That’s absolutely what it is - the emergency acid button - and yeah,
hit play on that, then sort out all the chaos that’s been caused.
LNR: It seems to me like you’re mostly a live performer - you’re doing more and more studio stuff, but even when you’re making studio recordings, they’re kind of done live at their inception - as a live performer, do world tours still seem relevant to you, or is the local scene taking more precedence?
LM: There’s something really nice about really small venues, where it’s a little bit dingy - it makes it a bit more personal, I think. Obviously, everyone’d like
to do a world tour - that’d be great. But local venues, venues that I’ve been to loads of times and seen people that I really respect there - there’s this place called Belgrave Music Hall in Leeds, and I’ve seen so many people that I really like there. I’ve got this kind of group - it’s me, a guy called George Purnell, who’s this really great drummer, and one of my mates Ollie plays saxophone - so, I was on the modular and we had saxophone and drums, and we got to play at Belgrave, which was really really great. We did a gig at Hyde Park Book Club as well, that’s a really great local place - it’s got a capacity of like 300,
and it’s just in this basement of a cafe, and we put it on ourselves, we weren’t expecting anyone to come, and then we get there and it’s full, and we were all terrified, like, ‘Oh my god, what if it’s rubbish?’ - but it was absolutely awesome, it was so good.
LNR: The emphasis you put on venues reminds me of this, from a David Byrne book - he says that the venues basically affect the sounds that get played there - like concert halls being built for symphonies - do you feel like that still translates? Like, the venue changes the vibe, and that influences what you’re doing in a live set?
LM: Yeah, I think so. I really like venues that are really up close and personal, it means you can do stuff like the nunchuck stuff, and I’m sure that would translate being on a big stage but yeah, I think it definitely depends on the venue. I don’t know if you listened to Floating Points’ Crush - what he’s done amazingly in that album is create this perfect intertwining of organic instruments like violins, cellos, flutes and things, and put it together with electronic music. That’s something I’ve tried to start doing with the drums that I’m getting recorded - I’ve also been a guitar player since I was really young, that’s why I started doing music basically. Playing like Pink Floyd, Led Zeppelin, those kinds of things, so it’s been really nice to bring that back.