Mark Pritchard has released music under a plethora of aliases. From Link and Reload, and projects with Tom Middleton including Global Communication and Jedi Knights, to various drum’n’bass collaborations, and more recently Harmonic 33, Harmonic 313 and Trouble Man, many of his alter-egos have played key roles in the growth of electronic dance music. Most were released on Pritchard and Middleton’ seminal Evolution and Universal Language labels (whose releases are finally being remastered and re-released both on vinyl and digitally), which also released early records from Matthew Herbert and others.
I sit with Mark Pritchard on his balcony in Darlinghurst, in the house that he shares with Sydney DJ, Lorna Clarkson. For his part, Mark seems comfortable in Sydney, enjoying the lifestyle and encouraging local musical talent. An altogether enthusiastic person, for whom music is clearly all-consuming, he recounts his musical beginnings in Yeovil, Somerset.
â€œI was lucky that my parents were really into music,â€ he says, â€œand they encouraged me to learn instruments. When I was really young they bought me a junior kid’ drum kit, although I reckon I must’ve been eight to 10, and then they got fed up of hearing that noise and it disappeared. I think my dad always wanted to play guitar, so they encouraged me to learn it, and I did that from maybe 11 to 16. When I was at school, the first thing I got into would’ve been the Specials and Two Tone. I had friends with older brothers who were into good music, and they were passing it on. This Is England, the film that’s just come out on Warp, reminded me a lot of growing up.
â€œThen later, at 14 or 15, I started getting into indie music. The Smiths broke up when I was at the end of school, so I was too young to see them. But I was into them. The Cure, My Bloody Valentine, Sonic Youth, Swans, the Cocteau Twins, Pixies – that era was really great. It then morphed into the dance thing: Meat Beat Manifesto was one of the first things I heard, and even people like the Shamen whose early stuff was with a full band. That’s when I first heard dance music, “cause I grew up in the country; there were free parties but I was too young to go to them. The only electronic dance music I’d hear in the local pubs was really bad pop music, so I was really put off by it. I liked some electronic music, like Kraftwerk, but I didn’ really get turned onto the dance stuff until I left school and was able to travel.
â€œI was trying to put bands together at school, but it was hard to find drummers who would want to come and practise every week, so that’s what led me to buy equipment originally. I didn’ even know what these things did, but I thought, “If I buy a drum machine, then I don’ need the drummer!’ I bought a sampler, and I didn’ really know exactly what it would do – I thought it’d do something, but it did something really different. That’s what led me, at the same time, to clubs where people were playing Chicago and New York house, and Detroit techno.
â€œI suppose a lot of the electronic music I’d heard [before]had been really poppy and cheesy, and when I heard that new stuff I couldn’ believe it. So I used to go clubbing a lot – as soon as one of us could drive, we’d go to Bournemouth and Bristol. We’d go like twice a week, Thursday night or Wednesday night, and then we’d go Friday or Saturday. Bournemouth was a really weird place, because it has a lot of retired people down there, but it had some really good DJs, two guys called North and South, one of whom still DJs house sort of stuff, but they basically were playing all the music that I then latched on to – Derrick May tracks alongside Steve Poindexter, alongside New York house – you’d get a mixture of all of it. I was hooked.
â€œBristol I’d go to more for gigs. It was the nearest place to go and see bands like the Sugarcubes; it had a good club scene, and it really developed. Once Bristol started getting into the drum’n’bass thing it was a great place to go. The mix of cultures there really helped – you’ve got more reggae sound systems; that’s where the whole thing kicked off.â€
Inspired by all this music, Pritchard began making tunes himself in earnest.
â€œOne of my friends had an 808 and another was a hip hop DJ, so he had loads of samples and breaks. We formed a group was called Shaft and our first EP came out on a label called Bassic Records from Leeds. They started out around the same time as Warp, but they only put out a few releases – one by one of the guys from LFO and one by a group called Ital Rockers, a mad reggae-ish bleep anthem. I was about 16 or 17, and we got ourselves a record deal – basically we drove to Leeds to see this label, and they said, “Yeah,’ and we couldn’ believe it. We went back via Sheffield to see Warp, but we were waiting for ages and they didn’ see us; they said, “OK, come back in an hour,’ so we waited in the car park for an hour, came back, and they were like “Oh no, the guy’ gone.’ It was a pretty long drive in my first car, a Ford Escort.
â€œFrom there, we did our first white label ourselves – my friend’ dad gave us the money to press it up. We had this cheesy rave hit – just accidental – that we stuck on because we were worried we might not sell enough copies to pay my friend’ dad back. We thought it might sell a few copies, and then it became this huge track, which was pretty bizarre.
â€œI was already starting to write the early Evolution releases, working on my own, and that was about the same time I met Tom [Middleton]. A friend of mine used to put on club nights, and me and my friends used to DJ at them. Tom had just moved up from Cornwall and was really worried there’d be no good music, and I was playing all the music that he was into.
â€œI went back to his place, and he was going, “Oh yeah, this is some stuff by my friend, Aphex Twin’ – he had like 50 cassettes of Aphex Twin stuff, and he was playing me this music. I was like, “What the hell is going on?’ It was all that early stuff, “Analogue Bubblebath’ and so on. There’ still stuff I remember Tom playing to me that hasn’ come out.
â€œSo I heard this music, and that was unbelievable. I wanted to set up a label anyway, and Tom and I started to get to know each other more, started writing tracks together, and that’s when we set up Evolution.â€
Pritchard had by now started making music as Reload, equally inspired by industrial music, techno, and sci-fi soundtracks. Middleton contributed touches, and those tracks were designated with “E621′ (the flavour enhancer monosodium glutamate).
Many of us know Pritchard and Middleton primarily from their stunning ambient releases as Global Communication. Their 76:14 album was preceded by an album of â€œretranslationsâ€ of material by shoegazer band Chapterhouse, commissioned after band-member Andy Sherriff found the Ob-Selon Mi-Nos 12â€, an Evolution release under the name Mystic Institute, with a Global Communication track that later appeared on 76:14.
â€œHe said, “I don’ want you to do remixes, just take elements and then make new tracks out of those,’ so we got 20 DATs full of all these parts. We took elements and slowed them down and added other elements from the songs, and it just worked really well.
â€œWe got signed to the same label, Dedicated, and they really loved the album and wanted us to do our first album. I suppose the Reload album was pretty much led by me – it was always my project – but Tom came in on some tracks. The whole concept behind Global Communication was Tom’ original idea, but we ended up writing all of it together, mainly because I had the studio and I was working all the time. I’d always leaned towards sadder and darker kind of music, and Tom was always more accessible and melodic, so even though to me it’s a lot lighter than something I would listen to, the reason it works is that there is some tension in there. With ambient music you always have to be careful that it doesn’ become new-age, wafty music you’d hear in Byron Bay or something. My favourite ambient music’ got that tension, like Brian Eno, David Sylvian, and Vangelis. At that time I didn’ have everything of Brian Eno, but I was really into David Sylvian.â€
Pritchard and Middleton’ more dancefloor-oriented work as Jedi Knights is also pretty well known.
â€œJedi Knights was a reaction to the fact that at the time, all the things we really liked about club music around ’94 to ’95, apart from maybe drum’n’bass, all the techno and house had got really serious and very soulless, with no funk in it any more. So the Jedi Knights album, the artwork and the vibe of it was very much tongue in cheek – “Where’ the funk gone? Where’ the sci-fi?’ – Richie Hawtin started to do those bangin’ acid tunes, which I really liked – he was the first person to do acid but do it really hard. But out of that spawned all this European hard techno and acid music that just had no funk, and I just wasn’ playing that stuff any more. From then, until about ’97, I played more drum’n’bass than anything else.â€
Working under aliases such as Chaos & Julia Set (with Dom Fripp), Pritchard released some crucial drum’n’bass releases around this period – most on long-gone 12 inch singles.
â€œI started making it because I was basically playing that stuff out, and it inspired the Reload thing. Basically people were asking me what kind of music I was into, and I’d say jungle (or jungle techno at that point), and people used to just laugh at me – all the people that knew the Reload and Global Communication stuff used to think I was joking. But for me, by the time it got to ’92-’93, techno was basically just gone. The original Detroit stuff was amazing, but by then the exciting music was the drum’n’bass stuff.
â€œEarly drum’n’bass goes right back to guys like Shut Up & Dance – they were sampling Detroit techno and putting breaks over it. It sort of all came from that – chopping up drum breaks and doing incredible things with them. I mean, a lot of people talk about someone like Squarepusher, that early drill’n’bass music, as taking early jungle and then going more crazy on the edits, but if you listen to those original tunes, people were doing unbelievable things, especially when you heard it back in ’92 – they were doing all sorts of crazy edits, chopping things into hundreds of bits, pitching the snares up and down, and they were doing it on their Amigas. It had a little bit more naÃ¯vetÃ© back then, and it was a bit looser because the equipment they had was a bit more primitive, but I always find that really weird, because there’ a whole culture of people trying to recreate that now, and they are doing it in this crazy intricate way.
â€œBut that was more the music I was into, I mean it’s crazy music, it still blows me away when I listen to it now. When I was moving to Australia and I was going through all my records to try and have a sensible clear-out, and when I went through the drum’n’bass I was really surprised at how little I could get rid of. I’ve shipped everything, basically.
Pritchard and Middleton put out seven releases of their own material on Evolution, and then relaunched the label with the same logo as Universal Language, â€œto basically release friendsâ€ – among them Matthew Herbert, under the name Wishmountain.
â€œTom knew Matt because he was living in Exeter, and he was making this music where he was just recording anything and making tracks from any object, which we thought was really interesting. The first thing we released from him was two tracks on the Warp compilation [1995′ Theory of Evolution, which collected early Evolution material along with some newer tracks], and then we did two 12 inch singles. By then he was starting to get a lot of attention, and we didn’ want to be a big business label, so when he started to blow up and people were offering him things, and we told him to just go and do whatever he wanted to do.
â€œWe were just rubbish businesspeople really. We thought blindly that we’d just keep on putting out good music and it’d be alright. We didn’ realise that basically the 12s that sold quite well, like the Jedi Knights album, for example, were just funding all these things. We had a couple of guys helping us, but the Jedi Knights thing just let it roll for a while, and then all of a sudden, when we were stuck in other projects, we were getting into really bad debt. We ended up losing a lot of money on the label, shit-loads of money. A really good distribution company merged, so our sales dropped by half overnight, and we were still employing the people to run the label. Instead of saying, “Let’s just stop it now,’ we kept going and going, losing more money as it went on.
â€œLuckily we both got record deals and that cleared the debt. I got a nice advance, and the money went into my account, and then right out again. So I’ve not been rushing to have a label again. I’ve relaunched the Evolution thing because there’ve been bootlegs, so I wanted to just do 1000 or 1500, as long as it breaks even, just so that people don’ have to pay Â£50 or Â£100 on eBay. It just keeps the music alive, and already people have picked it up who are younger, and they’ve been really into it -those first releases were ’91, ’92. It’s nice to have remastered them too, because the first releases weren’ really pressed that well.â€
Perhaps more than Luke Vibert or Mike Paradinas, Pritchard’ many aliases, both collaborative and solo, seem to have their own character. Pritchard is now working on a new Reload album, although to the consternation of certain fans, other projects keep getting in the way.
â€œI’ve got lots of tracks done for that album, but the album I’m doing for Warp at the moment has had to take lead, because I’ve got more of that done and I want to get it out. It’s Harmonic 313 this time; instead of having to come up with another name, I just put a “1′ in there. I thought it makes it easier, because I’ve got too many names as it is.
â€œThere will be some more Harmonic 33 stuff [with Dave Brinkworth, who earlier collaborated with Pritchard on the drum’n’bass project Use of Weapons]. There are basically three sides to that project. Harmonic 33 was originally very independent sounding hip-hop mixed with sci-fi, very sample-based, but playing stuff alongside it to make it sound like a sample, so you don’ know whether it is or not. And then the album we did for Warp was basically me and Dave trying to make the sort of stuff that I would dig for – sample library type music – but with no samples.
â€œWe were thinking of doing some library music, but we we were liking the tracks so much, and if you release a library album, the tracks don’ ever get used – they go into a library, and if you want to use them, you have to license them back. So we really wanted these tracks to come out, and I’d given these tracks to Steve [Beckett] at Warp, and that’s why the Reload album’ taking so long. One day he said to me, “So what’ve you been doing with those library type tracks?’ and I said that I’d been working on them but didn’ want to release them as a library album, so he said, “Well why don’ we put them out then?’
â€œSo that jumped the queue and now the Harmonic 313′ jumped the queue. The Reload thing’ still there, but it’s next on the list, basically.
â€œHarmonic 313 is more electronic sounding, very Detroit-inspired – growing up in the “80s – and sort of a Jay Dee thing. Still very electronic, but trying to get the grooves of hip-hop, and, at the moment, not that many samples. The other Harmonic stuff is very organic – some people think, “Oh Mark’ now doing this’ – like they love the first hip-hoppy stuff but they didn’ really like the Warp album, and when I do the new album they’ll be, “Why’ he doing this really techno stuff?’ But there will be another library album, and so on – I like doing all of them. Harmonic 313 just came on strong all of a sudden – I wrote quite a few tracks that had heavy bass-lines, a bit of grime, a bit of dubstep, a bit of Detroit techno, a bit of hip-hop – all these things I’m trying to pull into it – and it just seemed to write itself, very naturally. There’ some echoes of like ’93, ’92 electronica – and I offered them to Warp first because I felt I had to, because I still hadn’ done the Reload album.â€
â€œOver the last seven or eight years I’ve been doing stuff in that vein, like early Detroit sounding mixed with industrial. I might do an EP that has that sound, but I really want this album to have that brief of the first album: I want it to turn into something that doesn’ sound like anything else. At the moment it’s not got even any drums in it -the stuff that was inspiring me to do that album was basically avant-garde classical music and sci-fi films. I didn’ really know these composers, I’d just heard the music through films, and then eventually I started to learn about Ligeti, Stockhausen, Penderecki, those type of people, and also sci-fi film sound design. But at the time I was going to drum’n’bass clubs, so that’s why it had this kind of fast energy to it. This time round I’m not really sure what I’ll do with the drums, haven’ really worked that out yet.
â€œI’m trying to write in a different way; I’m not using plugins, I’m not using timing reference on the computer, I’m not looping things or playing stuff in through MIDI, I’m just trying to use the computer like a tape machine, playing stuff into it to not sound like anything else that’s going on. Playing old synths in, manipulating them, so things happen unexpectedly. It’s like 50 per cent dark and heavy, industrial sounding, and then 50 per cent sad. There will probably be some acoustic instruments in there – strings? – and this “waterphone’. Just using all sorts of mad instruments, mixing it with electronics, trying some tape looping to recreate the [musique]concrÃ¨te thing. I just want it to turn into whatever it turns into.
â€œOne track I’ve pretty much finished has Beans on it, so people were like, “Oh no, is it hip-hop?’ but it’s him doing spoken word, which is what he started out doing – in return for me doing a couple of beats for him. It’s like Andromeda Strain kind of electronics. Really, really heavy. I just played it to him, and he was like, “OK I’m ready,’ and did it perfectly on the first take. He’d written the piece about eight years before and never found a way of using it. As the track ended, the last words came in, and he’d only heard it once.â€
In 2002, Pritchard was put forward by Tony Nwachukwu (Attica Blues) as a possible participant for the Red Bull Music Academy. Without any expectations, he took part in 2002′ Academy in Sao Paolo and was blown away. He has since become more involved, and in 2004 participated in the Rome Academy, where he met Lorna. They spent some time in England together, and then came to Australia.
â€œI’d finished a few projects at the time and was due a break, so it was just perfect timing that I just came here for a month and it became four months. It seemed like a mad thing to do – what was I doing moving to Australia, moving all my stuff? But at the same time it was like, if I come here for a year and everything goes wrong, or I don’ like it, I’ve still been here for a year. And I haven’ regretted it even slightly. The only time I regret it is when I see a flyer for a thing in London I want to go to. But I’ve been back a couple of times this year, so every time I do some DJing but I try and keep nights free so I can go to FWD>> or something.
â€œThere’ this funny Melbourne/Sydney thing. People always say Melbourne’ better, why did you move to Sydney, you’d be much better off down there. But so far, I’ve liked the nights in Sydney – I haven’ had a good DJ experience in Melbourne particularly (although I have to big up Joe Seven, John Cammo and Ransom, and Jerry Poon). But the people in Sydney – especially at the nights I’ve been going to like Void, Submerged at the Abercrombie and the Frigid nights – the people that go to those nights really love the music and can’ wait to hear it. There might only be 80 people, but those people are there because they want to be there, they’ve been waiting for it all week.
â€œThe first time I played at Submerged, it was free entry on a Thursday night, there were maybe 50 to 80 people, and I played for an hour, and I think that was the first night I played here where I felt I was actually playing music to people. I was thinking, well, I’d rather do that than try and play to some people who want something that I haven’ got, and I’m working my ass off and end up going home really pissed off. When I first got here I was being put in places where people maybe knew what I’d done in the past, and maybe thought I’d do something that would fit with what other people were doing, but I don’ really do that, so it’s quite tricky. So now there are enough things happening, I’m starting to get more DJ work for the sort of stuff I want to be doing.â€
Not content to simply reside in Australia, make music and DJ at clubs, Pritchard, along with Lorna, has adapted a London club night called CDR to nurture upcoming Sydney electronic music talent.
â€œIt’s a really nice idea – if you’re making music, it’s really valuable to hear it on a system, and also it builds a little community vibe, you’ve got all these people hooking up, meeting people. Also, people were always encouraged to send ideas, so if you’ve got some vibe you’re working on, just send it through and we’ll play it.
â€œThe club scene in general’ no longer geared towards trusting a group of people who can introduce you to some music you maybe don’ know. It’s changed over the last few years so people want familiar things, they don’ want to be challenged, so we hope CDR will be somewhere for producers to go and check out new things. It’s on a small scale but it’s growing. I try and get people out there who are a bit jaded, people who maybe used to DJ but don’ really any more, a bit older, so there’ a whole time of life to go through, but I think they should go out and check out one of these nights.
â€œThat’s why I like playing dubstep out – it reminds me of drum’n’bass. When drum’n’bass kicked in, it was referencing such a massive, wide range of music, so when you heard d’n’b early on, you’d hear ragga, techno, house and ambient influences, soundtrack samples, all these different weird mixes. Then it became a big formula, with your Good Looking, your Metalheadz and so on.
â€œWith the dubstep thing at the moment, you can go and hear lots of different things. Some people might play more of the atmospheric Burial type stuff, some more of the Planet Âµ, slightly harder-edged stuff, and then they’ll play more the Tempa sound, someone like Skream who’ quite hype, energy type music, some of it’s on the house tip, so you’ll get all these different things on the one night. That’s why I’ve gotten so excited about it.
â€œPeople were moaning a bit late last year that it’s starting to sound formulaic, but if you listen, enough people are doing it now that I’m always finding stuff that’s inspiring. And it’s still in a place where, hopefully, they’ll learn from where drum’n’bass went wrong – split off so you go and hear someone who just plays “that sound’ for the whole night and it’s just boring. So when I went to FWD>> it was just great, “cause you’ve got NType, who’ just really good interesting music that’s quite hype, and then you’ve got Kode9 who’ really deep… and people will drop other things in, like you might hear some old-school drum’n’bass at the start of a night, and someone will do a dub set, and somebody might do an early dubstep set, playing old tunes. People aren’ afraid to drop some of those early tunes in, they’re not like, “I’ve gotta have the latest thing.’ So everybody seems to have a pretty good outlook on it, and I’m hoping it’ll keep morphing and changing.â€
So are we going to hear some new tunes from Mark on the dubstep tip?
â€œYeah, I’ve got quite a few tracks on the go. I shouldn’ be making any “cause I should be finishing off these albums, but I’ve got a few labels interested and I’ve played a few ideas to people, so I’m hopefully going to do something for Planet Âµ, and hopefully for Deep Medi – Mala’ label – and Tempa. I’ve been working on tracks for a while, but when I put something out, it’s gotta have my take. I want to push it to do things I do in my own production, like messing with the timing a little bit, trying to get more of an unusual kind of Jay Dee timing on the drums rather than being just quantised, and using old synths a little bit as well.
â€œThere’ a track coming out on a Planet Âµ comp, mixed by Hatcha [10 Tons Heavy, out now], which I played to Mike [Paradinas, who runs the label] about a year ago and he said he wanted to put out on Planet Âµ as a 12 inch. I said I’d need to finish it off, but then it was on the hard drive he gave to Hatcha to do the mix, and Hatcha liked it and put it in there. I was a bit annoyed at Mike for doing that on the one hand, “cause I sort of just whacked it down on headphones, I hadn’ even sorted the timing out, it was all played in live a lot of it, but it’s now on the mix in a really lo-fi demo form.â€
And that would be it, except that Mark Pritchard is such a hugely generous and enthusiastic soul that we retired after the interview to his studio, where he showed off his many vintage analogue synthesisers, the aforementioned waterphone, with which you can make extraordinarily spooky sounds, and then took me on a tour of his recent music and a vast collection of dubstep recently digitised from vinyl. It’s clear that the vagaries of geographical location could never dampen Pritchard’ creative spirit, nor his desire to share wonders with others.