Clark is one of our heroes of electronic music. Appearing in the the early 2000’s he first seemed to be a natural continuation of the 90’s characteristic experimental techno (the so called IDM genre), but he never stayed in the comfort zone and became one of the most distinctive acts in modern music. His skills in intricate melodies, beats compressed ad infinitum, distortions, and the power in his live performances made him unique. And after 9 albums and more than 15 EPs on Warp Records, this year he created his own platform called Throttle Records. E.C.S.T. T.R.A.X. is the first work published there, made with the addition of a Harpsichord. We talk about this and many other things.
Cyclic Defrost: Where are you now, and how’s everything over there?
I’m in Los Angeles at the moment, on a work holiday. The weather is nice.
Cyclic Defrost: You played in Rome recently, in quite an interesting place. (Terme di Diocleziano)
Yeah, it was an amazing venue actually. Can’t remember the name of the museum, there was meant to be a db limit there, but I managed to get the music quite loud, it was fun.
Cyclic Defrost: I’ve seen you performing twice, both times in Barcelona. Second time, at Sónar Festival, I’ve got some sort of a ‘rave’ vibe throughout your set, there were some hints of a Detroit feeling in some of your transitions, and I wanted to know how’s your relationship with techno music nowadays.
I’m a little bit kind of bored of most techno to be honest. I like the energy of certain BPM’s with kind of aggressive electronic sounds, but it feels a little bit too easy to make now, it’s a bit over saturated, there’s so much of it around. I guess I’m quite picky. I’ve also been sort of involved with that music for a long time, that just means you get more selective about what you like I guess. I don’t really see myself as some sort of techno artist, I don’t make that music anymore, there were some influences on the last album though.
I think I’m just more and more finding that it’s too easy sometimes. You need to reinvent a bit, not reinvent but, my last 12 inches is quite different to that. I just don’t know how all of this is going to sound in a few years, it’s such functional music, but it does serve its purpose. Like Sónar, if you wanna go out and have fun, it will be good.
Cyclic Defrost: Regarding the Death Peak tour, how did the idea of the performances come up?
I’ve worked with my wife on that. She is a choreographer. We’ve worked together on about 10 different scores of her, and the lighting and that was kind of her re paying for me. She basically designed that show.
Cyclic Defrost: Do you think that a visual experience is something totally necessary to present an electronic music show? Does it make the performance more complete?
Sometimes you can completely ruin it, I quite often think that visuals completely ruin performances. You just have to be really good, there’s this thing in electronic music that sometimes it just feels like an apology because you are not like some rocker with a guitar doing some cliche moves. You are standing behind some machinery. Promoters get scared that if you just have that on its own it won’t be enough to hold people’s attention. And it’s true that sometimes people don’t have the most commanding stage presence and you need some visual to present the show to the world. I’ve seen shows before where there is too much going on stage, there’s the performer standing in front of this massive TV playing sort of techno visuals and I can’t relate to that. I think it needs to be sort of selective, and completely fit the aesthetic of the music rather than the other way around.
Cyclic Defrost: I once heard that electronic music is not meant to be talked about, since it’s an abstract form of music. What do you think of this?
I don’t really understand the concept of not being able to talk about it. Maybe because there is no traditional notation in techno, people go like ‘Oh, that’s a cool vibe’. Maybe everything is about vibes in electronic music, rather than ‘this chord should go after the fifth of that scale’ or something like that. I feel I can talk about electronic music, maybe it seems more mysterious, maybe it’s a way of marketing it. ‘Mysterious electronic music’.
Cyclic Defrost: How difficult is it for you to listen to music in an intuitive level?
It’s not difficult at all. I kind of follow my instincts and try not to intellectualise music. I need to maybe communicate how I want someone else to play, when you work with other musicians I think you need to be able to somehow communicate how you want them to interpret what you are giving. I generally follow my nose. I don’t think about it before I create.
As a listener, you need to work on that. It’s true that whenever I listen to something I don’t really listen to relax. I’m still very engaged though. But I never have music as a background, I think it’s a fair enough trade. I think most people that are quite good at music listen very critically to everything. Most of all you have to listen very critically to what you create. I’m not saying I don’t enjoy music, but I don’t listen to it passively, ever. And that is quite annoying because you can be in the supermarket and you can not have it as a background, you kind of have to analyse everything.
Cyclic Defrost: Have you ever dreamed of a song and tried to make it afterwards?
I have quite sort of strong sound design dreams. Sort of fantastical dreams, really detailed collages of noise. But I don’t normally wake up whistling a tune.
Cyclic Defrost: Do you find sound palette as an expression in itself?
I think there is too much of it in modern music. It’s the thing that won’t date well. I think in music you gotta have texture and song writing. A lot of techno now it’s just texture, it seems like the idea of a track is only the white noise or the hiss of a kick drum. I like those sounds, but I don’t know how that would sound in 10 years. Or if suddenly all electricity disappears and we are just living by candle lights and musical scores, how do we communicate that? How is that going to survive? How does music survive past it being able to be played on technology? When you listen to Beethoven, you can translate that across hundreds of years and it will survive. How do you translate a texture and how does that emotionally captivate people? I think that sometimes the bar is set too low and we are a little bit too content of living in this world of cool textures. It’s slightly baffling me, you can’t just have noise either. You can’t just have a song, sometimes the sound of a melody, the texture of a melody is more important than a melody. I feel that you need both.
Cyclic Defrost: E.C.S.T. T.R.A.X., your latest release, was made with a harpsichord. Do you feel there is an empty space between acoustics and digital that you are trying to fill?
I think so, yeah. I don’t really set out to do that. But it always tends to creep in there. I just like to find live elements or some kind of air around a mix, some sort of live room feel, it just excites me. It will be the last thing that AI can successfully emulate. If all of your sounds are internal, I think computers will be able to make electronic music better than any human. But the live feel, the recording of people playing instruments is more tricky to emulate. I like the interplay of both of them.
Cyclic Defrost: You once said, about new music out there, that you are not really represented by it.
I don’t mean that to sound too harsh, but it’s true.
Cyclic Defrost: Did you get more picky throughout time?
Possibly yes. It’s also in a way that you gotta kind of respect other people’s work. If you are gonna be a Dj, it’s quite a full time job. If you are going to be a real fan of music, or a curator of other people’s music, I can’t deny that. It’s not the intention of the answer to say ‘everything is shit’. The things that I’m learning from music are so complicated that it overwhelms me, and I don’t really get that from modern music. I realise that having taste in music is some sort of an exercise, like a muscle. I’m just very concerned on building my own body of work, and everything else is a distraction. You couldn’t be an amazing Dj and an amazing producer, it doesn’t work like that for me.
Cyclic Defrost: So you couldn’t be both?
I can hear producers that are good producers and good djs, but they are always too influenced by the music they play. You’re blown apart in the wind by what other people are doing. That’s just not me. I’m more interested in creating solo work I think. Each to their own though!
Cyclic Defrost: What’s the latest great thing that you heard?
There’s this new song by Nathan Fake that is really good, not released yet, he sent it to me. Then I also like this artist that’s called Matti Gajeck, who released many things on Monkeytown, completely off the wall. He directed my Beacon video, also a good friend.
Cyclic Defrost: You once said that the aesthetics of the ‘crude edit’ mirrors our era, an era of short attention span. I wonder if these kind of things were essential for you to find your own sound?
You can hear it in my music. ‘Clarence Park’ was made in an Atari and a sampler, I had to finish those tracks in the sessions because I mixed them live. ‘Empty The Bones Of You’ was when I got my first computer, and was able to edit and have 10 tracks on the go. It’s like a blessing and a curse, it still amazes me how much material you can condense in a short space of time, which seems like a modern thing, I don’t just like that. I quite like tracks that don’t do that. It’s quite easy now to chop all over the place. Everything is bite-sized chunks through our attention span that’s being crippled by social media. It’s quite frightening really, to fully engage in a piece of music that lasts over 10 minutes seems quite challenging to the listener, and it’s quite hard for it not be linked to something else. Music has become something that you have on an app or your phone. Even for me, I don’t really just listen to music as music, it just needs to be linked to something else, which is odd. The visual media is the sort of format of the day. For now, until all the electricity goes away!
Cyclic Defrost: What was the hardest thing you had to overcome to dedicate yourself to music?
Nothing really. It’s never been an issue, it never felt like a sacrifice. I never felt like I had to overcome something. Which is what you have to do with virtually a lot of other things in your life. Music always felt like some sort of companion, something that helps me. I never felt the need to complain about it. It’s quite natural.
Cyclic Defrost: Some years ago you said you were even discouraged until you realised that you were obsessed with music.
I think it’s the case of how you were brought up. I was never really encouraged to make music, it always felt like my own thing, that I had to battle other people to allow me to do it. If you are not from a super wealthy family and you want to do music.. It’s not like a good career choice. Sometimes kids are brought up to play an instrument and they get quite good technically, but because their parents are musicians and music is something that is encouraged they go against it and end up hating music. They play in a very formal training but don’t have anything to say. For me it’s quite the opposite, I don’t have formal training but I got loads of things I want to say, which I suppose is all you can offer.
Cyclic Defrost: I saw there is an amazing concert that you will have next year at the Royal Albert Hall.
Yeah! I can tell you that I’m quite worried, time seems to be ticking on, we confirmed a few months ago. It needs to be really good, I’m working hard on that. I never worked with Peter Gregson and Víkingur Ólafsson, they are amazing musicians, so it should be good.
Cyclic Defrost: What are your most memorable experiences performing live?
Montreal on the Death Peak tour was really good. The crowd were amazing, they were just getting involved and dancing, not just filming it. It felt like a proper rave.
Cyclic Defrost: If you could choose freely, what would be the ideal context for a Clark performance?
I like the idea of a tunnel, of doing something in a huge tunnel, something like 3 miles long, with speakers all the way down.
Cyclic Defrost: What’s the latest thing that blew your mind?
Artificial Intelligence. I’ve just been reading about it, and constantly thinking about how AI is going to change music. And I’m slightly scared now, it’s getting really good. And I think in 10 years the landscape will be really, really different. I would love to talk to some software developers about where it can go. I think soon it will get to the point that you can just feed AI a million pieces of music and it will recreate similar versions. When will AI become a more convincing Clark than I am? When will that happen? When that happens I’m in trouble basically. When AI starts spinning out 100 Clark tracks in a second that all sound exactly like me? That’s gonna be possibly soon and I’m not sure what I’m gonna have to do. Become a TV presenter or something like that.
Cyclic Defrost: Any plans for the near future?
I’m just really enjoying making new work. I’m not doing many gigs, just planning the next album.
You can find Clark here.