With his new ‘Siren Spine Sysex’ album about to drop on Hyperdub, we sat down to talk with Joe Power, aka Proc Fiskal for this month’s feature interview.
Experimental electronic music artist Joe Power AKA Proc Fiskal was first signed by Hyperdub when he was just 19. Hyperdub are just about to drop his latest album ‘Siren Spine Sysex’, an intriguing blend of grime, vaporised Gaelic, Irish and English folk music samples, FM synthesis and 90s ‘rompler’ sounds. The album is in no way a folktronica album however. Power seems more interested in the disorientating effects of using traditional music and referencing very time-specific sounds in order to create a sense of audio confusion in the listener, relishing the time-bending effect of marrying the synthetic sounds of 90s romplers with his futurist beats and soundscapes. (‘Rompler’ refers to sound modules common in the late 80s/early 90s that came with pre-set sounds based on samples. The term rompler is made from ‘ROM’ and ‘sampler’. Famous romplers include the Korg M1 workstation and E-mu Proteus module). It’s a highly effective aesthetic that makes for a memorable album. We spoke with Joe about his history, his musical journey and his strong opinions on folk music…
Attack Magazine: So first off, tell us about your journey into the music industry?
I’ve been doing music and stuff for a while; my dad plays guitar and I learnt to play quite young and wanted to be in bands as a kid. I didn’t know about electronic music, I was really into the whole lineage of punk. And then I got a laptop when I was 12 or 13 and found my own thing and really got into the idea of making electronic music.
Was there a particular artist or moment that got you into dance music then?
No, not really; I remember as a kid being really into Boards of Canada, I’m not even that into it anymore but it was nice, and then I got the laptop and tried to figure out how to make these tunes. Because there was no one around to tell me how, so I got a Korg Electribe drum machine for Christmas and tried to piece together how to make tunes without having the understanding. I gradually got more and more into it and eventually got signed to Hyperdub when I was 19 after getting involved in the grime radio thing.
Grime radio thing?
Yeah, so I was making beats on my own and putting them on Bandcamp, doing like dumb aliases with my friends, and then I reached out to some people in Glasgow, there’s quite a lot of people in the hip hop and grime scene in Glasgow and I got involved in radio. That whole making tunes and giving them to DJs thing, that was a big motivation for me. I don’t really exist in that world anymore but at the time that was my only goal, to get my tune played on radio, such a buzz.
I don’t really do any radio or go to clubs anymore, I’ve become an old man! That whole thing just dissipated and now I just make tunes by myself like I used to.
So aside from the grime influence, how would you categorise your music?
I would call it experimental electronic music. I like the idea of that kind of lineage, of trying to do new things.
So when your first EP ‘The Highland Mob’ got signed to Hyperdub at 19, was that a big deal?
Oh yeah, it was a huge deal, I think I actually sent a demo to them when I was 14, it was a really bad dubstep attempt. They replied, they were like it’s alright but…! I don’t think they would remember, but I recently found the email! I was going to do a really shitty little online EP for one of these little online labels but I was like, no I should send this to a label that I actually respect and then they got back to me. It was surreal. I didn’t really have any goals when I started, but yeah, it was quite good…!
And now you are about to drop your new album ‘Siren Spine Sysex’. Tell us about the Gaelic and folk connection.
Well my parents are not really into folk music at all but my Dad’s family are all Irish folk musicians types, they all play guitars and fiddles and my granddad’s a bagpiper so there was always an over 60s hippie folk scene revival thing was around. [Joe’s paternal grandfather Archie Fisher was active in the Scottish Folk revival of the 60s, his grandfather Al Fraser was a bagpipe player & his great aunt was the singer in iconic children’s folk group ‘The Singing Kettle’.] I’m not really a fan of folk music necessarily, I kind of really hate it in a way! I do like a lot of it, there’s something to it which is really beautiful, but the way it’s used is so horrible, the essence of the music and melodies are really pretty, but the attitude of people who do it, there’s lots of hero-worship, it’s really conservative, sort of fascist, so I wanted to do the thing that I appreciated in it without being constricted.
So how did you go about making folk and electronics work?
I really didn’t want to do a folktronica thing, I really like James Ferraro, his sounds and the way he uses the disgusting side of stuff – so I went looking for a certain type of Scottish sample material from YouTube, I’d type in Gaelic goddess music and find it, sample it and cut it up into different shapes
I was trying to reproduce that thing that a lot of that music has where it’s presented as really authentic music but it’s clearly synthesised. So I bought a Kurzweil K2000 because its a cinematic keyboard and it’s got all these flutes, cellos, strings and choirs and I wanted to tap into that romper ROMpler thing where it’s like traditional instruments that sound really plastic and digital and I took a lot of samples from games with flutes and accordion sounds.
You seem to relish that almost cheesy, plastic element of how ROM modules sound…
Yeah, I was really into that. I didn’t want to do a nostalgic thing but those sorts of sounds, I really love them, I really love a bad accordion synth, it sounds really beautiful in a way, or a really shitty choir preset can sound lovely.
I wanted to use these sounds in a way that wasn’t nostalgic. But they have a history, they evoke a certain thing and then you do something different with them and it makes your brain go Bleaugh!
What other romplers did you use?
I don’t want to big-up synths too much because they’re a waste of money really! I’ve got too many. I went through a stage of bargain-hunting synths, Casio and Yamaha and they take up way too much space. But I’m quite untechnical so I quite like having the physical thing – I get quite freaked out by VSTs! So I’ve a Yamaha V50, which I probably use the most, it’s an FM synth, I found it off this guy on Gumtree for £50 because he didn’t know what it was and it’s really powerful. I’ve really got into the FM synthesis thing, these sounds carry a weird history that you can access by using them and you can do stuff with them that other people haven’t done with them quite easily if you just have a different viewpoint. Like, I don’t really care much about synthesis but with FM you can easily make sounds that no one else has made.
How did you go about putting the album together?
I had lots of loops and bits and pieces that I’d demoed, and a couple of bits that were a couple of years old but the actual work when I sat down to finish the album was about two weeks to a month. I had loads of rough beats and ideas that I would send to Hyperdub and Kode 9 would be like ‘that one, that one and that one!’
So Kode 9 was like your editor?
Yeh pretty much. I’d do rough drafts, just like a minute or two and he’d guide me as to what was good, which is great because you make enough demos and it gets hard to know what’s good. I find it easy to come up with ideas but finishing tunes is really difficult so it’s nice to have someone else to say.
And how do you know when a tune is finished?
You could just chip away at endlessly and even now when I listen to the album I think I could have done this or that differently or whatever. Sometimes you do them quickly, it depends on the song. Sometimes you just get a nice rush of like a month where you just finish things.
So are you happy with the album now that it’s finished?
I like it! I’ve listened to it too much so I don’t know what I think of it, I’m kind of a bit sick of it personally but I’ve had to deal with it for a year or two. But there are bits and pieces, little elements in the album that I think I would like to do more with, little seeds of what I might do next.
And finally, what do you have planned for the coming year?
I’m working on a couple of ideas. I’m in a bit of a lull right now, I’ve got all these highfalutin ideas but it’s hard to pick what to do. This album took me a while, I was talking about doing a medieval album as a joke for years and all these ideas gradually come together over the years and I think I just need some time to consume some other ideas I think. I’ve been trying to read, watch stuff that’s not on TikTok; let my brain think of things!
Ultimately, in terms of a career, I just want to leave behind a bunch of nice albums. I really like when you go on Spotify and you find an artist and they’ve got loads of albums – like when Chick Corea died, I’d never really listened to him before, but he left this body of work. I think leaving a big body of work, that’s the only thing I can think that is worthwhile; just doing a bunch of great albums.
‘Siren Spine Sysex‘ is released on 30 September 2021
Artist photo by Sophie Lunts