Melancholy Euphoria: A Heterotic Interview & Full Album Stream
, March 11th, 2013 11:40
Lara Rix-Martin and Mike Paradinas of Heterotic and Nick Talbot of Gravenhurst talk to John Doran; stream their collaborative LP Love & Devotion in full here
Heterotic is the husband-wife musical partnership of Mike Paradinas and Lara Rix-Martin. Their excellent debut album Love & Devotion, out next week, marks Paradinas' return to the musical fray after a couple of years concentrating mainly on his role as Planet Mu label boss. The couple have two albums out as Heterotic in 2013; the debut features guest vocals from Quietus favourite Nick Talbot, aka Gravenhurst, and they have another LP planned for later in the year in collaboration with Planet Mu artist Vezelay. Paradinas has also found the time to revive his μ-Ziq alias to release more solo tracks.
The Heterotic project grew out of Rix-Martin's first forays into producing electronic music while studying equine science at university, which developed into something more serious as her songwriting skills progressed. (She took on the role of producer to that of her husband's engineer.) Eventually, as they started writing songs together, it ended up being more of a creative partnership, drawing together elements of synth pop, classic house and early 90s R&B, bound together by Paradinas' skill for deep, modern production work and Rix-Martin's melodic sensibility.
They were introduced to guest vocalist Talbot by Planet Mu press officer and Hyperdub label manager Marcus Scott, who has known the psych-folk singer since they worked together at Warp, the label who release Gravenhurst's music. Talbot – a songwriter of rare talent – has taken the sadness implicit in Heterotic's music and made it explicit; and despite the pairing seeming perhaps slightly counter-intuitive, it has resulted in a deeply enjoyable album.
I meet up with the three musicians and Scott in the South East London Planet Mu office to talk melancholy euphoria, string theory and song writing at bed time.
The name Heterotic sounds quite priapic to me… very 70s. If Manowar were going to do a slow number it would be called 'Heterotic'. However, since I've been listening to your music this presumption has been smashed to pieces, because it is very romantic and not macho like a Brut advert. What does the name mean?
Mike Paradinas: It's from the Greek "hetero" meaning "both" or "two things combining" and it's also a type of string theory, which we came across when we were looking for a pretentious scientific name for the duo. We came across this word and it had "erotic" in the title. And we'd started writing all the music in bed so it seemed apt…
Nick Talbot: That's exactly what I thought. I thought it was a mixture of heterosexual and erotic but then I found out that it's actually quite a cold scientific name.
MP: It's a type of string theory that has to do with combining two other types of string theory together. Plus it's also used in breeding where two genes are combined.
Lara Rix-Martin: Do you know when you get a cat or a mouse and they are different colours on different sides like they're split down the middle? When they look like they're two different halves stuck together? That's known as heterosis, which comes from the same word.
My friend's sister knew a man who was like that, he was a different colour on one side of his body. Very shy but never short of a girlfriend apparently.
LR [deadpan]: Yep. Girls like that in a man.
MP: It would be like having two different boyfriends depending on what way he was facing.
[LR explains how this happens in biological terms. The explanation is incomprehensible]
LR: In short: it's really weird how it happens.
MP: I've never seen it in humans but I have seen it in mice. In fact I've seen a cat that was completely black on one side and tortoiseshell on the other.
LR: Technically tortoiseshells should only be females but sometimes you can get a tortoiseshell cat with a Y chromosome and that's when this happens. It's a male tortoiseshell and it's all wrong… I've got a whole dissertation on this.
Did you learn all this stuff when you were studying for your degree?
LR: Yeah. I started my degree doing equine breeding and stud management because I used to work in that field.
I guess breeding is where the money is in horses… not in the crispy pancake game.
LR: Yes, there's a lot of money in horse sperm but I found it too boring so I went on to do behaviour and nutrition as additional modules. This included a bit of genetics… anyway, going back to Heterotic…
NT: I just imagined it was homo-erotic changed to hetero-erotic.
And you heard that name and said, "That's the musical project for me!"
NT: There was the on-going joke of calling the album Heterotica… and I've got to say I was quite happy with that.
MP: Lara vetoed that name.
LR: Yeah, I like being sensible and Mike likes being silly.
MP: Well, maybe one day we can call a track 'Heterotica'.
LR: Maybe… I always think it's best not to plan these things. Just let it happen organically. [she shakes her head almost imperceptibly] To be honest we didn't even plan to have a band and call it Heterotic.
MP: We didn't even plan to write music, we were just bored.
Well, before we go any further – I can see this feature is going to be all about pairings and things coming together, so why don't you tell me how you two met?
MP: I met you at a club called the Volks in Brighton…
LR: Yeah, but I didn't see you, so that doesn't count. It's not a meeting if only one person remembers it. I met you at your flat in Dalston when you lived in London. I was seeing your flatmate… well, you know, these things happen. We were friends after that and then a few years later… we met through friends, is the polite way of putting it I think. [laughs] The tidy way of putting it.
Now, I always wonder about the weddings of people who make dance music… how do you resolve the tricky question of who is going to DJ?
MP: I did. I pre-recorded a mix which is on Mixcloud I think, so I didn't have to worry about doing the mix on the day. But then our friends Tom and Scott came down and FaltyDL played. Mark Pritchard was there, but he didn't DJ.
So, you have a romantic partnership. How did you come to have a musical partnership as well?
LR: Basically I'd been looking into making music on GarageBand for the Mac, and Mike said, 'Why don't you have a mess around on Logic?'
MP: Basically we were really bored. There was nothing to do while Lara was at agricultural college and because GarageBand is really difficult to use and Logic is really easy for someone who is very logical like she is…
LR: Oooooooooh. Easy! I'd watch where you're going with this…
MP: What? No. Not that. Garage Band is easy if you're thick. Logic requires certain strategies that you like… you like the way that Logic is organised, don't you?
LR: Yeah. It's set out well.
MP: We didn't set out to do anything, I was just teaching her how to use the software and we ended up making some good tracks by chance. It was fun. We did it under Lara's name at first, but then I was putting more into the tracks than just engineering them, so we decided to look up a funny name to do them under…
LR: That's when we started looking for a really pretentious name as a joke, but once we found the word we realised it was very apt.
I'm going to throw down the Brian Cox, Shoegaze scientist on a cliff top being filmed from a helicopter pop science gauntlet. I'm pretty well read when it comes to science given that I only studied it up until the age of 16 at a school which was only really geared up to teach woodwork, metalwork and solvent abuse. However, string theory is the solid brick wall that stops me progressing any further. I don't understand how it works.
LR: In a weird way that probably means you've understood it.
[Lara explains what it is. It's incomprehensible]
LR: And in short: not even the scientists know what it is.
MP: It doesn't make any sense. You just have to accept what it is. The scientists don't even know what it is yet. It's too difficult to describe adequately and the mathematics don't exist yet so they can't calculate what the right strings are.
Yeah [becoming angry] but you can come up with a good metaphor for quantum physics, just get a cat, a box and some nuclear waste. There is no metaphor to help me understand this, you can't get an extremely fast spinning cement mixer and put an extremely heavy cake in it and push it off an extremely tall cliff or something like that…
MP: All I can tell you is that the scientists think it's real. It's quite a nice, elegant way of explaining what point particles might be and it satisfies that questing part of your brain. It explains what these different point particles are that can't really exist, because they don't have any mass. It tells you that instead they are strings of different frequency of vibrations, which gives them size, so in theory they could exist. So it seems to make more sense to us... but then why should it make sense?
LR: [pause] Exactly.
Well, I'm glad that's that cleared up. So that's how you got your name. What happened next?
MP: We liked the tracks we made, we played them to Marcus and he said, "Why don't you play them to Nick? He's got a nice voice and he could write some lyrics."
Even though if you actually stop and think about it, the paring of you two and Nick is a good one, it seems really counter-intuitive on the surface of things. Were you confident that the pairing would work?
MP: I didn't know Nick beforehand so I didn't know.
NT: We didn't meet until we'd done three or four tracks. But, yeah, at the start it was Marcus' idea. I said yeah, and then promptly I received 30 pieces of music which, for all intents and purposes, sounded finished to me. We work pretty much the opposite way. Mike is very, very prolific… and I'm not. I work very, very slowly. I have a very bad, very poor work ethic. And the little work ethic I do have is hard to locate. I've had people send me stuff before and I've had to be like, "No it sounds totally finished man, you don't need me on this, it's already complete", because it was fucking awful, just dreadful. But with this, I really liked it but what was really difficult was to come up with different melodies because it was already melodically very strong. I think it's safe to say that it's been pretty frustrating for Mike and Lara.
[MP and LR both laugh]
MP: Well, you finished the first one in February 2011, which was two years ago. So… it's not been that long, but for us… maybe it's been quite a long time.
LR: Perhaps what's weird for us is that now the album is coming out those tracks seem quite old and some of the songs that are on the album were only the second or third songs we'd written, and perhaps we've progressed since then. The stuff we're doing now isn't totally different, but it has changed.
Nick Talbot, aka Gravenhurst
Some of your [Mike and Lara's] influences stem from some of the most uplifting or euphoria-inducing types of music ever made, 80s pop, 90s R&B, Chicago house, Detroit techno, disco – all genres which seem to me to have a melancholy edge hard-wired into them. On the other hand Nick's music is very melancholy and downbeat, but people often use music like this to get over depression or sadness. So essentially we're talking about styles of music that are travelling in exactly the opposite direction from one another. Is there a problem in making these styles of music work together without clashing?
MP: It depends on whether the final result works for you or not. I think our tracks are quite melancholy actually. Even the uplifting ones have this edge of doomed romanticism to them. They have a… [grimaces] faraway sadness to them. So I think that was always there in the music.
NT: I think so, even the upbeat songs, as soon as you put a string synth with reverb on it, an urban sound that evokes the city at night, like on 'Slumber'... It's not a downbeat track but as soon as you add those elements you inevitably get something that is melancholic. There are so many great house records from the late 80s, early 90s, that were coming out when I was going to raves and having the comedown. So many of those tracks were melancholy even though they were fast and you could dance to them.
MP: Baby D, Jamie Principle's 'Your Love'.
NT: Jamie Principle's 'Your Love'. I used to love the Frankie Knuckles version of that. I remember that song from the last night of Don FM. Don FM was a London pirate and when it shut down it had 24 hours of constant music and they'd play it. I remember we tried to tape the whole day of it and that tune featured heavily. It was a really melancholy, comedown Sunday, and not only that, but it was the last day of this pioneering radio station.
MP: Don FM was the only pirate I could get in Wimbledon.
NT: It was the only pirate I could get in Surrey.
Marcus Scott: I think there's a British melancholy on top of that as well, it's the kind of dance music that British people are attracted to.
I think that when you take essentially utopian genres of music it's inevitable. With disco, you've got the idea that you want the night to last forever, for it to be an escape from your quotidian life of grind and eventually the night ends and before you know it you're back in work. But with rave culture it ran a lot deeper, people were genuinely involved in a project to find new ways of living, but any utopian project has failure hardwired into it. With both of these genres melancholy comes from the fact that its adherents know that their escape is only temporary.
NT: If there hadn't been that element of melancholy in the MIDI instruments that Mike and Lara were using, in the string sounds they were using, then I don't think I would have been able to write lyrics for it anyway. I've never been able to write anything that's not downbeat. The irony is, I'm doing some music teaching and trying to get these kids to go out of their comfort zone and to write to commercial briefs and stuff like that but I can't do that… I don't want to fucking do that.
But even though you've said all that Nick, can I suggest that this is among the most positive stuff you've written?
MP: I think the four four pulse just accentuates the depression.
[they all laugh]
MP: It just reinforces the pointlessness of it all with every bludgeoning beat…
A boot stamping on a human face for all eternity under a mirror ball at 123bpm?
MP: There is one song that's more positive than the others…
On the song 'Wartime' where you're describing essentially being in bed with someone and you can smell the back of their neck, is that looking back at something after the event then, because I thought that song was pretty romantic really.
NT: It is romantic. It's very romantic, it's about my girlfriend.
There you go! That's nice…
NT: Now that you say it, it's probably one of the most… it's probably one of the least pessimistic songs I've written. It's not depressing, let's put it that way. Anything romantic does have the seeds of melancholy in it because of the possibility of that great thing ending but yeah, that is one of the least pessimistic things [I've written] because it is essentially a meditation on something beautiful.
Well, even if you don't think the music's that positive I'd say it's still very romantic. I'm not talking solely about romantic love but the romance of taking cabs across the city at night time, of walking home when the sun is coming up…
LR: The romance of life.
NT: It's easier to find romance in the grimier side of life than it is in the mundane things. You can't write a romantic song about Ceefax…
Not even now that it's gone? I kind of miss it. I bet I'm not the only one who misses Bamboozle…
NT: [exasperated] Yeah… Ok, well as soon as you've got loss then you've got romance, but not beforehand. You can conjure something romantic from most scenes of degradation or loss.
MP: It's like us when we first started writing tracks together. Maybe it was because of the loss of the heating that inspired us.
LR: It wasn't that romantic, but it was bloody freezing. We did have to cuddle up quite a lot. It was so nice falling asleep with that electric blanket on…
MP: Actually sleep is an interesting thing because most of the best songs we wrote were done when you were half asleep and you'd wake up if I made a wrong move while I was putting the track together and go, "That's shit, turn it off."
LR: I think to be able to tune into my musical ability [laughs] I have to be in a really, really relaxed state because I am dyslexic and I find it hard to convey my ideas in the actual world outside of my head. So if I'd just had a bath or was sitting in bed, hopefully I could get into doing a melody because for whatever reason I'd be able to tune into it.
MP: That's right, you would get out of the bath and sing me a melody, I'd put it into Logic and we'd start a song like that.
Now that I don't take drugs any more, falling asleep is the most psychedelic thing that happens to me. And as I get older, this process of nodding off gets stranger and stranger. If I drift off while working and go and get a cup of coffee and come back and read what I've written, it's often sheer madness.
LR: Yeah, most of my dissertation was made up like that… It's locking into that part of your brain where your subconscious is quite clever.
Even though Heterotic make original sounding material, there is a strong influence of late 80s/ early 90s electronic dance music to it. Do you find that as we move out of a period of innovation and into a period of refinement that looking backwards for inspiration just simply becomes something that's necessary or more interesting to do?
LR: I don't consciously think about those sorts of things. I'm into a lot of music but not like Mike is. With Mike, it's his whole career to be into music and to know a lot about it. So I guess he added a lot of his influences to this.
MP: Yeah, through the whole 90s it was a very exciting and interesting time for music, and there was a huge element of competition. Now there still is interesting and exciting music being made in certain places, but maybe not by 40-year-old people who live in the United Kingdom. But it is being made. For example when I was making those initial tracks I was listening almost exclusively to Chicago footwork, and obviously there isn't a direct influence on these tracks, but I think maybe there is rhythmically, I was trying to use a lot of polyrhythms and repetition on the arpeggiator. A lot of the tracks that I'm talking about here didn't end up on the first record, but maybe they will on the second. We've made a second album with another singer Vezelay where we've used some of those early tracks that I'm talking about. But it is in the air. But then this album is also really influenced by OMD, Heaven 17 and early Human League, which I was into when I was a young man.
NT: I love those bands as well. Do you know the video to [OMD's] 'Souvenir', where they're sitting around reading books and driving round in increasingly more sophisticated cars as the film progresses? Well seeing that on Top Of The Pops is one of my earliest memories. When I was growing up, seeing a man on Top Of The Pops with a synthesiser… that was music. That was just normal. Synth pop also has a melancholy edge for me, and that's because it's the first music I can remember hearing. For me, my happiest memory is of me being three…
MP: And it's all been downhill ever since.
NT: It was before school and my life consisted of me going to the shops with my mum, and that was before the world outside encroached on any of this. So my memories of this time are of an idyllic time, and anything happening afterwards as being melancholy. When Britpop came around there were lots of people talking about how terrible the 80s had been, but that was complete horse shit, because not only did incredibly strong music come out in this period, but it was selling loads as well. When you look at the pop music of the 90s, it's nowhere near as good in terms of songwriting. I think a lot of people are still very conscious of Thatcherism and make the mistake of conflating the politics and the music of the decade.
Yeah, the irony being that synth pop had nothing to do with Thatcherism, it was already in the post; it was already a done deal by the time she was elected. Britpop, on the other hand, was born directly out of Thatcherism. Anyway, there is a lot of forward looking music around at the moment that references the 80s, not the least that made by Games, or Daniel Lopatin and Joel Ford, who I think you have a spiritual kinship with.
MP: Thanks. But I think they're better than us.
A lot of music around at the moment tries to take a short cut to evoking similar feelings by overuse of plug in FX. A lot of chillwave is guilty of this. I wanted to know how you manage to make the music so emotionally resonant, so evocative of almost verbally indefinable emotion, without resorting to heavy handed use of digital psychedelia?
MP: Hmmm. I'm not sure actually.
LR: Well, I wasn't actually alive in the 1980s, so I have no real connection to that decade. So maybe we have been referencing that decade, but it's not something I'm explicitly aware of.
MP: You have an idea of the decade in your head that's more based on a perception than reality, and that's what you're trying to actualise through the music maybe.
LR: Yeah, it's weird because I was born in 1990…
Really? I'd already been homeless once by then…
MP: There are some specific references though as well. The song 'Blue Lights' is influenced by New Order and one of them was influenced by 'I Love Your Smile' by Shanice. But I don't care what people's access to music is. I don't care if they've downloaded every 80s track ever, I don't care if they've never heard any 80s music at all: I only care how they feel when they listen to the music.
Love & Devotion is out next week on Planet Mu