As they prepare for a live show in London to launch Elektron’s new record label, we catch up with Ed and Andy for a quick chat about the making of their new EP and plans for their next album.
Ed Handley and Andy Turner are true mainstays of electronic music, continuously active for over a quarter of a century, whether as members of The Black Dog, together as Plaid or separately as solo artists.
Following last year’s Reachy Prints album via long-term home Warp Records, the duo return with an EP to launch Swedish music gear manufacturer Elektron‘s new label, Grammofon. Available exclusively on limited three-track vinyl, the EP – based heavily around sounds from the Analog Rytm drum machine – will go on sale this Saturday at a special Plaid live show at Corsica Studios, London. Remaining copies will be available via Elektron’s website from Monday, with all proceeds going to Macmillan Cancer Support.
Attack: There’s been a bit of talk lately about the early days of the UK techno scene. The recent RBMA article covered a lot of the context but didn’t really touch on much of the production side of things back in the early 90s when you were starting out. What are your overriding memories of the music-making process in those days?
When we started out we worked with the possibilities available to us. I don’t recall being frustrated with the equipment – certainly with my own writing skills, but that persists.
Andy: It was much more immediate. Due to the technology we’d often write and record a track in a single session. Today endless tweaking is possible.
Ed: We would spend all our time doing it. It was more physical, moving from one bit of gear to the next and less concentrated on a screen. Getting that final mix was a special moment because there was no way of repeating it.
What do you remember of the hardware setup you had in the early days?
At the time, did that seem like a really creative, liberating setup, or were there any frustrations that you couldn’t do things you wanted to?
Andy: I’d say we worked with the possibilities available to us. I don’t recall being frustrated with the equipment – certainly with my own writing skills, but that persists. Crippling self-doubt seems par for the course.
Ed: We were learning on the job. It was the dawn of digital recording and we could see this huge potential but we were really happy with what we had.
So if we jump forward to the present day, to inaugurate Elektron’s Grammofon label you’ve created a three-track EP using the Analog Rytm. How did that come about? Were you already using Elektron gear or did they approach you?
There is so much electronically produced music that it’s a constant search to give a track an interesting identity.
Andy: We’re friends with one of the Elektron guys and he suggested it.
Ed: We’d used Machinedrums years ago but the Analog range really appealed to offset our completely digital setup, especially live. We were honoured to be asked – they are incredible instruments.
Were all the tracks created specifically with the EP in mind, or had you already been working on them?
Andy: They were all written for and with the Analog Rytm.
Ed: We had played a live version of ‘Serket L’ before we recorded it for the EP.
You’ve spoken in the past about leaving certain tracks off albums because they were created using different equipment and didn’t fit in with the overall sound. How much do you think the technology itself informs the end result when you’re making music?
Andy: Melody is still very important to us and we’d hope our tracks don’t rely completely on the timbre of the instruments, but this is crucial with modern production. New synths can add a huge amount to our enthusiasm and the finished mixes.
Ed: There is so much electronically produced music that it’s a constant search to give a track an interesting identity. That’s what encourages us to keep looking at the newest music technology.
Do you think, for instance, that the tracks on the Elektron EP would have been a lot different if they weren’t made on the Elektron gear, or is the gear just a means of getting the ideas out of your heads?
We wrote with the Elektron machines and the result is quite different from our regular output.
Andy: We wrote with the machines and the result is quite different from our regular output. We used the process to learn how they worked.
Ed: It’s trying to find the strengths of a particular bit of gear or software. The Rytms are great for complex edits and sounds with analogue warmth and distortion.
How about the speed of the process? Do you think you make music more quickly these days than you used to?
Andy: It depends on what is required, what deadlines we have to meet. I tend to use all the time available – I’m not sure it always helps, but that’s how it goes. It’s definitely slower for me.
Ed: It really varies. It’s healthy to get ideas out fast sometimes. I’ve had a slow patch but I’m speeding up again now – it’s more fun!
For the EP launch you’re playing a live set featuring all three tracks plus “unheard, unreleased, and completely original LIVE material”. Is that going to be improvised?
Andy: We’re working with the machines so structurally it will be improvised but we won’t be writing patterns on the night.
Ed: We’ll be using Ableton to trigger on some of the tracks, others will be sequenced on the machines.
Which do you prefer: recreating existing tracks live or improvising?
We’ll be writing with Benet Walsh more for this next album. We’ve had a few sessions already.
Andy: In a live situation it’s always more fun to be able to create something new but people also like to hear some of our released material so we’ll try and have a bit of both.
What’s the hardware setup for the live show?
Andy: Probably two Analog Rytms, SH-101, DX100, computer, controllers and a Behringer XR18.
I noticed you’re also playing live in Leeds in October as part of Recon festival. Are there any plans to go out on a full live tour or is it just one-off dates?
Andy: We’re not touring at the moment – we’ll wait until we have a new LP coming for Warp for that. We still take on a few dates if offered but we’re trying to keep the tours specific to album releases these days. There’s more interest this way.
On the subject of the new album, how far are you into working on that? What can you tell us about it?
Andy: We’ll be writing with Benet Walsh more for this next one. We’ve had a few sessions already. We’ve really enjoyed working live with him – he brings a lot to the music there and in the writing process.