The Quietus - A new rock music and pop culture website

Escape Velocity

Under The Hood: Nochexxx & Plastic Horse Interviewed
Harry Sword , February 12th, 2014 05:19

With the release of Nochexxx's anarchic debut album Thrusters, Harry Sword catches up with both the Cambridge dweller and visual artists Plastic Horse, to talk petrolhead musical tinkering and the mayhem of the album's accompanying film

Marshaling his battered MPC, teasing out warped grooves and punching in staggered beats that sit somewhere between vintage electro and techno - though often spiked through with pleasingly crunchy b-boy signifiers - Nochexxx tunes are idiosyncratic and heat-warped expressions of a sinister twitchy velocity.

His first release, the superlative 'Smashing Your System', came out on Werk Discs in 2009, and featured vocals from rapper Sensational. A rough-house jam that swung like hell, it was that rare beast, a DJ tool that shone through with personality, an aesthetic furthered on subsequent 12"s 'Savage Herald' and 'Ritalin Love', which hit a sweet spot between brittle jack and off-piste trippiness. Indeed, it's this very tension that gives Nochexxx tracks such personality; raw music that works the floor but exists on a rather different mental plane, with an oil haze cinematic undertone that's often accentuated in his performances with distinct yellow and black visual accompaniment from Plastic Horse (of which more later).

This month sees the release of the Cambridge-based musician's debut album Thrusters on Ramp Recordings. Featuring 11 tracks that solidify his vision of skewed homespun electronics, this is music in constant forward motion – a hallucinatory journey to the centre of the cactus, and an instantly recognisable audio world. Thrusters refines his vision thus far and also takes in an animated Plastic Horse narrative that involves drag racing, Mexican death skulls, corrupt mayors and Nochexxx's inner psyche. With the album about to emerge, the Quietus caught up with both Nochexxx and Plastic Horse to chat psychedelic experience and punk energy. Welcome to the racetrack...

I often find myself using words like 'queasy' and 'hallucinatory' when trying to describe your music. The blurred edge before an experience becomes fully vivid...

Nochexxx: Isn't there usually a moment of trepidation during a psychedelic experience? I think my nervous energy probably fuels a significant part of my sound. I'm desperately trying to hold my shit together. [laughs] Hopefully my dispositions are being converted into something strong and positive.

<>You make use of the MPC. How do the limitations of working within the box inform your writing?

N: I'm always running out of sample time, so I have to be quite decisive: a lack of options leading to more productivity, perhaps? And all this focus pulling - trimming the start/end points of samples - leads to some kind of ubiquitous wonkyness. Getting my loops right can be pretty tedious! Another positive limitation, I think, is having a tiny LCD screen to contend with. It forces me to look elsewhere. I don't think you can underestimate the impact of visual stimulus, so just watching a record spin is a constant inspiration that never tires.

How did 'Thrusters' take shape as an LP?

N: I couldn't stop dreaming about the Orange Orbit… tyre tracks burning deep into mind. The material became my muscle cars. I kept on tweaking underneath the hood, surveying lap times. Hopefully I've put forth my best GTOs!?

Tracks like 'Crying Bamboo' evoke a subconscious soundtrack memory in me. I feel a very strong cinematic element to much of your music actually. Does the idea of synesthesia interest you?

N: If a synesthetic vision is one where colours are fixed accordingly to sounds, shapes and numbers, then I've changed my tune… It's not something I suffer from. I feel more in line with the shady 'remote viewing' practices at SRI. The environment is never fixed. You get given a set of coordinates/images, then once inside, smells/entities reveal themselves. Move about and explore the sights!

With regards to the "cinematic element" I often fantasize about cutting negatives whilst on the buttons. Editing on an MPC doesn't seem that far removed from how I imagine splicing frames and editing motion sequences to be. There's a physical aspect to it. I've always seen music as moving celluloid anyway. Come to think of it, there's usually a auspicious jog-wheel device seen in video editing suites.

Can you tell us a little bit about your musical background in Cambridge? What lead you to first start experimenting with building your own tracks?

N: When I returned to the UK after having done a stint in Malaysia, I enrolled in a local music foundation course. This gave me the opportunity to fuck about with gear I could not afford otherwise. Dunno, old projects are like bad family photographs, I'd rather not bring them up...

I remember an article in The Wire from a few years back about 'Alternative Cambridge' that featured you alongside Pete UM and Man From Uranus. How has the loose community of musicians around town informed your own work as Nochexxx?

N: I don't think geography bears much relation to my work. I prefer to take inspiration as far away from local proximity as I can. SPACECIDE!

Which artists interest you most from the electronic spectrum, both past and present? As part of the Bad Timing collective you've brought hundreds of artists to Cambridge over the past 13 years...

N: I gravitate towards misanthropic, backyard tinkerer oddball stuff, which for the most part isn't genre compliant. Even better if the working methods these heretics employ are far removed from my own process. My favorite record from 2013 was Jeff Keen's Noise Art. Close tie for second place would be The Space Lady or The Curfew Recordings. My favorite artist of all time is John Bender and the greatest band should probably go to Suicide. That should give you an idea of my current mental condition. [laughs]

As for current music, a lot of ghetto music continues to excite, and I love these new eski hybrids coming from the UK - Logos and Visionist for example. I wish Untold would make more records like his Gonna Work Out Fine EP, and I will always relate stylistically to Actress and Ekoplekz, I can hear their decision making process. Another record I really loved last year was by Charles Manier.

There is a strong functionality to your tracks - they work effectively in the mix, and make people dance. I've seen you DJ on a number of occasions over the past few years, but never in what I'd describe as an overtly 'club' space. I'd love to hear your tunes in a dingy basement, though. Does the underground house and techno scene hold much artistic appeal for you, in visceral performance terms at least?

N: I don't mind admitting I'm an outsider to dance music culture, therefore building functional music is somewhat of a mystery, but at least I understand what a DJ tool is! I think my music inhabits both worlds - not strictly functional, but not entirely bedroom either - and thankfully with the arrival of 'outsider house' [laughs], my music has a better chance of being invited to the clubs. I blag my way through it though, I can't really mix, but my punk energy holds me in good stead. Prefer keeping it dirty anyway! All this nuts-and-bolts production chatter and BPM counting irks me. The last thing I want is for production to be like installing central heating. But, yes, I definitely want to play more clubs.

NOCHEXXX - CHARRO from NOCHEXXX on Vimeo.

Plastic Horse - how did the link up with Nochexxx come about?

Plastic Horse: Nochexxx was a mysterious character that we started noticing on the internet after we'd done a video for Lukid. He got in touch one day, saying he was really into our animation, and wondered if we'd be interested in working on one for his new track 'Charro'. As we got to know his music we realised its escalating chaos, analogue nature and mutating soundscapes seemed to really gel with the wonky visions we were having at the time.

Can you let us know a little about the inspiration for the distinctive 'Charro' visuals? The yellow and black accent colours are subliminally and powerfully effective - to the point where I now hear Nochexxx tunes in yellow.

PH: Nochexxx created the first depiction of 'Charro', mocked up in yellow and black, so he gets all the credit for the main creative direction. It was a powerful image, and it really seemed to capture the chemical glow of the track. We then tried to develop a narrative that mirrored the music: hypnotic, desolate and with pockets of mayhem.

How did you approach the Thrusters movie? You work with a fantastically evocative visual palette that speaks of sleazy Mexicana - death skulls, drag racing, and corrupt mayors. What inspired this direction?

PH: The main story is in essence a biography of Nochexxx and the struggles he's had to overcome. The rise and fall; the dreams and nightmares; the endless pain and anxiety. The sounds he uses in his music have very unique personalities that often spark ideas for characters, events and moods. From the moment we heard Thrusters, we were struck with visions of Nochexxx limping across a decaying carpet, eating carrots for dinner and being tormented by a fly.

Because 'Charro' seemed to work pretty well stylistically, we made the obvious decision of just doing more of the same. There were a lot of unanswered questions in that video, and we liked the idea of building up some continuity between all our collaborations and staying in the same world. That's where the idea of the back story came from. The town is sleazy, mysterious and corrupt, as it is loosely based on where Nochexxx lives. However, we've used creative license here and there, to make things a bit more blockbuster.

Nochexxx's Thrusters is out this month on Ramp.

The launch party, featuring Nochexxx plus Ramp DJs, takes place at Ace Hotel Shoreditch on 1st March. Click here for details.

If you love our features, news and reviews, please support what we do with a one-off or regular donation. Year-on-year, our corporate advertising is down by around 90% - a figure that threatens to sink The Quietus. Hit this link to find out more and keep on Black Sky Thinking.