Quietus Mix 67: Konx-Om-Pax's Glasgow Heat Wave
, July 11th, 2012 10:44
The glassy tones and eldritch atmospheres of Konx-Om-Pax's upcoming Regional Surrealism album complement his renowned visual artwork and firey DJ chops. He speaks to Harry Sword about music and art, and turns in a jacking addition to the Quietus mix series
Those familiar with the kaleidoscopic and hallucinatory visual work of Konx-Om-Pax, aka Glasgow based artist and producer Tom Scholefield, could be forgiven for thinking they may have a decent idea of what his music might hypothetically sound like. Rainbow synths, great colourful swirls of melody, skewed beats? Well, no actually. Far from it. Because where his visual art displays a penchant for sci-fi informed imagery so bold it's practically audible, the music on his debut LP for Planet Mu, Regional Surrealism is a markedly different beast.
Enveloping, largely beatless and often disorientating, its 14 tracks reveal the second strand of his musical DNA, one that pairs up as complementary to his visual work. Eldritch analogue synth collages in thrall neither to twee retro-fetishism, nor overly mannered darkness, Regional Surrealism is instead a loose and meandering amble around the musical side of a creative mind that has worked with some of the most vital labels and artists of the past decade.
Indeed, since graduating from Glasgow School of Art, Scholefield has worked on album covers, videos and short films for imprints including Warp, Hyperdub and Brainfeeder, as well as artists such as Hudson Mohawke, Lone, Oneohtrix Point Never and Mogwai. His idiosyncratic visual identity vamps around recurring themes – outer space, erotically pulsating colour and a skewed view of domesticity.
He's also no stranger to the 1210s. A veteran raver, DJ and promoter among Glasgow's house and techno community, to accompany this feature he recorded The Quietus a rough diamond of a mix: "I recorded this mix live in one take in Rubadub just after the best weather Glasgow has seen in years. First time using an Allen & Heath rotary mixer, I love the sound from it. Totally unplanned or rehearsed, just made it up on the spot with a giant bag of records, some of which have seen better days. Lots of crackle and pops. Plenty of acid, house and techno, and all well road-tested on the dance floor."
The Quietus caught up with Scholefield to talk about making music in Glasgow, sci fi, why psychedelic art is more fun than psychedelic drugs, and the relative irrelevance of the 'new'…
I know in the past you've said that you use music making as relaxation. Is that still the case?
Tom Scholefield: When I make music it's generally a way of escaping the stress of 3D animation: the ballache of doing the visual stuff. Especially the animation, which is really time consuming and can be a bit grating.
I've had a few close to mental breakdowns in the last year because of it, but I still always need to be making things. So when I make music it's a much quicker process to get a satisfying result. I mean, you can make a piece of music in an hour or something and have it as a polished, finished piece - it's an easier hit.
I definitely do less methodical stuff at the moment, because the music is a reaction to the other work. I try to make things more off the cuff. Years ago I was into more meticulous, detailed soundscapes and now I'm into a more live approach - leaving the mistakes in. But that's probably going to change when I do another record - I go through periods of working in different ways.
With your new record, something that struck me is you have this juxtaposition between something that is really quite sinister, and on the other hand rather cosy. 'Lagoon Lesuire', for example. Warm pads, violent stabs…
TS: I think that reflects a part of my personality. I have a very dark, black sense of humour, and I listen to a lot of extreme music. That piece you're talking about - 'Lagoon Leisure' - was actually two separate pieces of music that I decided to juxtapose. A really harsh piece that was homage to David Tudor, using feedback from a microphone - I liked how he'd use space, it was quite long and some of it was pretty violent, with loads of gaps. I accidentally ended up making something that sounded like that, but also I was trying to write a lush Detroit techno track, which is where the melody came from. So I took the beats out, mashed them together and that was that.
Regional Surrealism almost feels like a concept album – very distinct textures run through the LP. Did you approach it that way?
TS: It's more a compilation of materials that I've made over the years. I think the oldest track is 'Hurtface'. I probably made that about five or six years ago, and then some of it was made in the last year, most of it within the last five or six years. When I got closer to having a finished piece I noticed themes running through certain tracks. It was more of a subconscious thing, where I realised what it was after it was finished.
I only started to see it as a cohesive piece when I listened to it at my mate's house last night, actually! I was a wee bit high, and I just thought, 'This all makes sense'. It may have been because it was on vinyl, like, 'This is what it's meant to be on'…
Vinyl carries the gravitas doesn't it? It's got the weight, exists in the solid world, its not just sitting on a hard drive somewhere.
TS: Yeah, even seeing the final mastered WAV's on an iTunes playlist still didn't feel like a real thing, but I also played it in a venue after hours on the system – a big, cavernous room. There was quite a nice reverb to the room, and it sounded cool. I'm chuffed with it.
Were you ever tempted to put it out yourself on your own label, Display Copy?
Having released a few CD's I quickly realised I wasn't that good at running a label - it was a load of work and I didn't really have the time. I wasn't really clued up about how to promote and sell it. I couldn't afford to spend all the time and effort. What I like about Planet Mu is that they put out a lot of music that I listen to on a day-to-day basis - like the Kuedo album. I'd originally sent some of my music to Hyperdub, back when I was doing some stuff for King Midas Sound.
And when you're first presented with an artwork commission, do you have to disassociate yourself from what you might already know about an artist's music? Do you find images start forming before you've even heard the record, just going on previous association?
TS: It's a balance between what the artists want, and what I want. What I've discovered from working with musicians is that they have great difficulty in communicating their thoughts and emotions about visual material. They've generally got a vague idea to kick me off, and I'll take that and then just please myself [laughs].
I think that's when you get a good bit of work, if you're trying to please the client too much, I don't know… I get an initial response, then I'll make something that I really like, and generally that means that I'm going to put all the effort into making something to please myself. That means putting effort and time into creating a beautiful object.
In terms of your art influences – sci fi seems to feature heavily, as does a certain 80's sensibility. Is that fair?
TS: I'm going through a bit of a late 70s/80s concept drawing stage at the moment. Geiger, Syd Meads. I love all the concept drawings for Alien and Blade Runner. I just love all the retro conceptual artwork. The Regional Surrealism album cover is actually inspired by a couple of Moebius comic strips.
Is the affinity to sci fi an escapist thing?
TS: I think I have a vivid, incredibly overactive imagination. It's like a sugar addiction. I get a real high and a buzz from bright surrealist colours and forms and shapes. It's a turn on. I just need to be surrounded by that all of the time to feel normal [laughs]. This constant need to be making as well, I think that's fairly closely related to the general state of my mood.
And if you're not working on something, is that a problem?
TS: Yeah, I need to learn to chill out. I tend not to go on holiday. I tend to just go to raves and stuff and party, and that's not generally a good constructive way of having time off.
I've not been on holiday for a couple of years. My management skills are shit, I'm a total daydreamer, but because my stuff's a bit fanciful and weird, being in a funny headspace does benefit the work to a certain extent – it's more the concrete realities of life that get in the way.
Talking of raving - I know you DJ and have promoted nights in the past – have you ever been tempted to make more functional music?
TS: I used to when I was younger. When I was a teenager I would make stuff that was pretty harsh – I was into Ben Sims and Jeff Mills and Surgeon and all that – and I was making hard techno. You know, loop based stuff, done in live takes with all sorts of tweaks and modulations. But I struggled to make dance music because it's so formulaic: there are too many boxes to tick.
I much prefer making beatless music without any template, I suppose. But, yeah, I love techno and that's what got me into music in the first place, so if I was going to make it I'd limit myself, maybe just try to use one drum machine and one synthesiser, give myself a few parameters and make it in the old classic way. It's like when you open up Ableton or Logic or whatever, you're bombarded with menus and options: too much crap, and all too easy to end up not making anything at all.
With regards the current Glasgow scene as it is – Numbers, Hudson Mohawke, Rustie, etc – do you see yourself as being a part of that, musically?
TS: Well I can easily draw comparisons in terms of influences. We're all friends because we like the same stuff. There's more of a musical relationship between Russell [Whyte, Rustie] and Ross [Birchard, Hudson Mohawke] , perhaps, because they produce similar music and they're both influenced by similar stuff. Although Rustie and I definitely share a passion for late 90s trance and know all the air synth arpeggios to a few tracks [laughs].
I can compare my music to a few people in Glasgow - but maybe as the darker, weirder uncle.
And does the 'Drexciyan security blanket' still stand? I remember reading your Wire interview a few years back where you said Drexciya could make everything seem normal at 10 in the morning when you've been up all night.
TS: [Laughs] Drexciya, within our group of friends is a major part of our development, for techno and electro. Glasgow is very much a techno city, it's very Detroit based, more than any other sort of club music.
How about the city itself in terms of iconography? Does it influence your visuals or music? It's an imposing place, with a lot of contrast.
TS: Well, it's generally always a bit grim. The weather's shit, and I think that's why Glasgow has such a thriving creative scene. We're either indoors, making stuff, or out in a club. The general running theme of escapism is an important one. But also I think we've got a good sense of humour. Culturally – it's a very friendly place to live. You can meet people in the street and have a laugh, strangers. You can't really do that in London, that's what I don't like about London.
I want to talk a bit more about your visual art. There's a strong psychedelic element. Have psychedelic experiences played an important role?
TS: Some of my pictures have been far more interesting than some of the psychedelic experiences I've had; brighter, in fact. I've dabbled, and its great to know those plains of existence exist. But this synthetic, hallucinogenic world that a lot of people spend their time in – it's not that great. It repeats: it's the same thing over and over.
Some of the most boring art in the world is truly psychedelic art. You know, people in New Mexico doing 'Mescaline art' or 'Peyote art' or whatever…
TS: It's the same shit. You get into that psychedelic thing where it's the same experiences, where you think 'oh, I've been here before' or 'I've felt this way and I've got this thing going on again'. Whereas if you're getting a high from creating artwork, you've got control over what's happening.
I know you've been outspoken before about the obsession that electronic music culture has with the 'new', dubplate culture etc. Is this something that still strikes a chord with you?
TS: I think in relative terms. Electronic music has only been around for 60 or 70 years, and I listen to stuff from the 50s or earlier. But thinking about it like that - what about music from the middle ages? Could you tell the difference between a piece written in 1500 and a piece written in 1518? Probably not. Think about in a hunded years time, music made in the 80s, could that sound to people like something that was made in 2009? Quite possibly. If it's good, it's good. I only really judge something if it's good, if it's been around for a bit –and you only really know once its been out for a while, and you're still listening to it. People obsess over this irrelevant fact: 'it's new'.
And how do you see your own longevity?
TS: It doesn't bother me to be honest. I see this whole LP as old in a way; some of these pieces are 6/7 years old. I still like listening to them as tracks, I like them as pieces of art. I'm in no rush.