Strung Out Steel: An Interview With Claro Intelecto
, June 12th, 2012 06:33
Alongside contemporaries Andy Stott and MLZ, Claro Intelecto's techno has been a powerful and distinctive voice for much of the last decade. With new album Reform Club shifting label and sound, Harry Sword caught up with him to discuss influences and remixing Depeche Mode
Bringing a grandiose and sumptuously detailed bearing to techno is no easy task, but Mark Stewart, aka Claro Intelecto, has been injecting viscous soul into its steely veins for much of the last decade. Darkly romantic and melodically potent, his early productions quickly became synonymous with a nuanced and sub-heavy view of the genre, at a time when the scene was adrift in a sea of insipid, soul bereft minimal.
But although some quarters were quick to label him as 'dub techno', this never quite captured the full picture - while elements of dub have long been present in Stewart's music, it's the spectres of house and vintage electro that stoke the engine room. The latter, in particular, provided a strong framework for early EPs like Peace of Mind and debut LP Neurofibro: brittle machine rhythms and clean groove, counterbalanced with a keen melodic sensibility, and a natural gift for lush pads.
Ai provided an outlet for early releases before Stewart found a longstanding home on cult Manchester imprint Modern Love, delivering myriad singles and EPs before 2008's landmark Metanarrative LP – a masterful exercise in tension-building restraint. The Warehouse Sessions EP series, meanwhile, tested the less cerebral regions of Stewart's musical DNA; seedy and tracky, they referenced the rather less salubrious edges of techno and electro, evoking buried memories of sweat-soaked wraps, aching limbs and motorway adventure.
Last month saw the release of his new Reform Club LP on Delsin. Rejuvenated after a label move, the record is the most complete realisation of the Claro Intelecto sound – at once sumptuous and melancholy, tough and functional. A welcome subterfuge to any number of glum anonymous workouts, Reform Club is that rare beast; a techno album that works – really works - as a fulsome and satisfying headphone journey. The Quietus caught up with Stewart on the phone to discuss the development of his sound and the emergence of this new LP.
You were on Modern Love for a long time. How did the move to Delsin come about?
Mark Stewart: Basically I'd been working with Modern Love for a long time – I was even working with Schlom [Modern Love boss] while I was signed to Ai in the early days, so it was a really long-standing thing.
For the last couple of years I felt my heart wasn't in it, musically. It just wasn't connecting somehow; it was all starting to feel a little bit forced. Well, to be honest, it was more than that – I was considering jacking it in, it was getting to a point where I thought I was going to stop making music.
For so long the routine was get home from work, go upstairs and start working on something. I'd be itching to get going, but I'd stopped doing that – and you can't force it when you're in that kind of situation and the drive has stopped. It either flows or it doesn't. At the same time I was doing more graphic design work, and it just felt like that part of my life was ending. Also, for the last few years Modern Love had been moving away a bit from techno, and the kind of stuff I was making.
Yeah, the stuff they've put out this last year has been really, really slow - the Andy Stott EPs, the G.H stuff - it seems like they're going in a distinct direction, kind of their own world…
MS: Yeah, and it's absolutely brilliant, that stuff. I mean, the music Andy's been coming out with is incredible. I've been mates with him since school days, and I'll tell you this - I don't think we've seen the best of Andy yet - he's an incredibly talented guy. But yeah, Modern Love was going in a slightly different direction.
So when did you hook up with Delsin?
MS: I met Marsel [Van Der Weilen] who runs Delsin, when I was in Amsterdam. I wasn't DJing or anything – just out on the lash - and we got chatting, got on really well. I'd been into some of the stuff that he'd been putting out, the New World Aquarium stuff in particular. I just decided that I wanted a proper fresh break really, but I didn't really want to come at it from the standing of the stuff that I'd already put out, so I sent in a track to Delsin completely anonymously.
That's an interesting way of doing things
MS: I really wanted them to hear the tracks without having any ideas of me through any past associations. I thought it would be a good idea for it to be heard for what it was, rather than them having a load of preconceptions about stuff I'd done before.
I felt like the only way I could get back into it was with a proper clean break, and that seemed like the best way of doing it – starting from a fresh standpoint where I could have been anyone. I just wanted them to take the music for what it is. Luckily, the guy who was doing the A&R for them really liked it, passed it over to Marsel who also really liked it. That was it.
How did you find the writing process for Reform Club? It really works as a cohesive whole.
MS: It started off as a few individual tracks – I think we had 'Quiet Life', 'Still Here' - tracks that were a bit more ambient at first. And I had more bits like that, and we did think, 'Well, maybe it's going to be more of an ambient thing,' but then I kept getting these great bursts of writing, and more and more music appeared.
There was no real brief though. I always had a vision for the music I wanted to do – and this album is definitely the real me, by far and away the closest I've ever come to showing what I'm all about. The other great thing was that Marsel and me were really on the same wavelength. Like, if I asked him which of my tracks he felt were the best, it always seemed to be the same ones that I'd pick.
Have there been any major influences in the writing of the LP? There's been a four year gap since the last…
MS: It'll sound really odd, but I've listened to hardly any music for a long time. Since 2009 I've basically listened to no electronic music whatsoever, so I have no idea what's going on right now.
I've been completely out of the loop - this album wasn't written with any kind of outside influence at all. Now I'm on Delsin, I've since been keeping up with a lot of their releases, but other than that, not a great deal, although saying that I have really been feeling Cosmin TRG stuff. Also, the new Actress LP is incredible.
When you started making music you were pretty quickly labelled as a 'dub techno' artist. I've never quite got that, not in the classic vein, anyhow.
MS: I'm glad you've picked up on this actually. I personally don't think that any of my tracks sound like 'dub techno' in the classic sense. Its not melodic for a start, you don't get too many strings in dub techno and I love the strings… It's more rhythm focused. If we're talking proper Basic Channel stuff, then no, not at all, my music doesn't bear much relation to that stuff. I've been called all sorts though, from IDM through to deep house. Fundamentally though, what I do is techno.
You remixed Depeche Mode last year - that must have been a proper buzz…
MS: Yeah, it was a bit of a dream come true. Actually, if there was one thing that really got me back into this, it was the Depeche Mode remix: they were childhood heroes of mine. The guy who ran Mute got in touch and said that Martin Gore has chosen me to do one of the remixes - on every one of their releases he has a choice of who does it - and he'd chosen me, which was a bit mad in itself!
So, they said they'd send the parts over and there was going to be a really short turnaround, and I was sitting there waiting and they didn't come, and I was like 'Shit, what's wrong?' It turned out that there was some sort of problem which meant mine was shelved for a while, but they said to keep in touch. A year later I got sent a choice of pretty much everything Depeche Mode had ever recorded and told to pick!
How about playing live? Are you out on the road much with this album?
MS: Well I don't DJ, but I've got a live set sorted out for this album. I've got a fair few shows sorted, I'm playing at [Berlin's] Panoramabar fairly soon actually.
Will you be doing the obligatory Berlin five hour epic?
MS: [Laughs] God, no! My live set is an hour. Even if I played everything I'd ever done I doubt it'd be that long…
An hour? That'll be the shortest set that place has ever seen…
MS: You know, I played in Munich a few months ago and the promoter got in touch when he heard some of the new stuff, he said he was worried because it was sounding a bit slow [laughs]. I'm not stupid, I'm not going to go in at 4 in the morning when everyone's fucked and put them to sleep, you know? I'm really looking forward to getting this out there though.
What are your plans for the rest of the year?
MS: I've got a 10" of a track called 'Old Station Park' out soon, a couple of remixes later in the year. No more albums for a while though. If I keep up my current workrate, I'll be a middle-aged man by the time of the next one [laughs].