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Escape Velocity

Ooh Betty! Boothroyd Interviewed
Christian Eede , November 18th, 2014 15:45

Following the release of his EP Idle Hours in September, a hungover Peter Boothroyd talks to Christian Eede about living across cities, being influenced by shoegaze and his "irresponsible career path"

Portrait by kind courtesy of Becky Lamming

A busy pub on the Holloway Road is probably not the best of settings for a lengthy chat with 21-year-old Peter Boothroyd, who appears to be in the throes of an intense hangover. Functioning on two hours' sleep, his effort is admirable, especially since he is also not a fan of interviews - he drolly compares them to doing homework at one point during our conversation. Topics of discussion range from his hatred of clubs (the people, the music) to a lengthy musing on shadowy press shots [see above] knowingly designed to look like a stock photo for depression and a parody of the slew of moody press shots that pervade electronic music today.

Until a few months ago, little was known of Boothroyd save for a fairly comical social media presence (which, he maintains, is all completely sincere and a means to "engage with the fans"). Then Tri Angle, also home to Evian Christ, The Haxan Cloak and Forest Swords, announced their impending release of Boothroyd's debut EP Idle Hours, so titled because, as Boothroyd puts it himself, "I'm a lazy bastard and I don't do anything." The label also shared lead track 'NYC', a bleak conflict of distortion, stuttered drums and dread-filled piano samples; it previewed what was to come from rest of Idle Hours and settled very naturally into the Tri Angle roster. 'Skinned' follows on the EP, all gloomy and faintly cinematic, underpinned by abrasive snatches of percussion and jarring sound effects akin to a heavily braking train. Ominous hisses of industry pervade much of the EP, plunging everything into a dense fog, bringing to mind the persistent hums of low-level noise throughout David Lynch's Eraserhead.

"I'm not trying to follow in anyone's footsteps or do things in the proper, set way that others do," Boothroyd says, citing comparisons of the EP to the likes of Burial and other producers of moody electronic music. "I'd never even listened to Burial until after I made the EP. It sounds so fucking loaded when I say this, but I never wanted to be any of those guys, so I don't look at other big producers and want to replicate them."

It's fair to say that Boothroyd's attitude to production and recording thus far has been a relatively DIY one. In an interview with Dazed just ahead of the release of Idle Hours, he described producing and mixing the EP with little more than a pair of "cheap, shitty headphones". His pared-down approach, brought about by necessity more than anything else, made the creative process for Idle Hours a laborious task: "I had no equipment at all, so I had no speakers. It was just a shit computer with a shit version of 'Reason' on it from 2005 and I did everything the long way round, but I did it all somehow and mixed it all myself. I'm not really a technical guy. It bores me."

Progress on Idle Hours was sluggish, owing to just how small-scale this set-up was. "I always want stuff to sound the certain way I have it in my head and to get what I had in my head, with the little equipment I had, took a while," Boothroyd tells me of the late nights spent working on the EP with little more than those headphones to play back his efforts. "I don't really know what I'm doing, so I'm just pressing buttons and seeing what happens." A couple of days after our meeting, Boothroyd expands on the methods behind Idle Hours via email, saying that "quite a lot of it was made of stuff I'd sampled from YouTube videos, synths, guitars." He also describes "old, poorly recorded experimentations with some contact mics in my house and a handheld recorder around Radcliffe [where he grew up]."

Does he think a bigger budget would have made for a very different result? "Definitely, but I don't think it would have been an honest representation of where I was at when making it." He talks of not wanting to give a "false upscaling" when the possibility came about, at the mixing stage, of moving operations into a studio and working with experienced sound engineers. "I wanted it to represent me making music in my bedroom. I didn't want it to be polished." Describing his current situation as a complete fluke, he ruminates a little on what he calls 'darktronica'. "'Darktronica' is a dark world, it's not easy – there's not much money in 'darktronica'. I'm not gonna last long in this scene probably, they'll end up kicking me out soon." One could mistake Boothroyd's unwavering self-deprecation and apathy towards technical chat ("all the boring stuff and the clicking and processing") for an overall ambivalence to his work and beyond, but that would be way too simplistic a reading. For example, he is markedly more animated when it comes to the issue of creative control. "The mixing is a huge part of the process. It's important and the way I mixed it definitely sounds like I did it, rather than in some big studio. I wanted to do everything and be involved in everything."

Radcliffe was Boothroyd's base before deciding he had had enough of "a shit little working-class town where nothing has happened for about 400 years," as he put it in that same Dazedinterview, and relocated to London. "I wanted to get to London and the most obvious way was to go to uni, but I didn't really have the qualifications, so I just blagged my way into art school and did 'sound art', which was complete nonsense," he says of the his short-lived art school tenure. He dropped the course four weeks in after asking himself "what fucking job was that gonna get me?"

Asked if he thinks his somewhat pessimistic outlook on his birthtown shaped, in some way, those initial ideas that went into Idle Hours, Boothroyd agrees – "It doesn't sound like California, does it?" Honing in on that thought, he raises the northern connection that many of Tri Angle's acts share, namely Evian Christ, The Haxan Cloak, Holy Other and Forest Swords, joking that there must be something about the north that makes people produce moody electronic music. "The environment likely had an effect on me. But also, the record sounds quite angry and intense and that's just how I was – quite frustrated. I'm a failed grime producer, so when I stopped doing that, I turned to noise. This record is all 140bpm, but I just turned everything up."

Work on Idle Hours was split between London and Manchester, sketches of half-formed tracks, created during years of boredom in Radcliffe, reworked and reshaped into the finished product upon moving to the capital. The Tri Angle deal came about thanks to an online friendship between Boothroyd and Milwaukee-based Sd Laika, who had recently signed to the label. As Boothroyd plainly puts it himself, "half a song got passed on and we had a chat. They were like 'do you wanna do an EP?', so I said 'alright'." Until that first contact was made, Boothroyd had only been producing bits and pieces here and there, aimlessly. "I had to figure out how I wanted a finished product to sound. It was a pretty intense process because I was doing it all whilst relocating and adjusting to another city."

Following that early exchange, Boothroyd began to pull together those various drafts, made during his teenage years living in Manchester "with no money", and assemble something more substantial. "I hadn't made it all and then sent it before I got signed, so when I got signed, I started getting something together. I dug into my hard drive of 'hits', pulled out four bits I had on there that were the foundations of the tracks. They were the starting points." He says that, a few weeks after the EP's release, he feels quite detached from it all. "I made it over a year ago and I'm in a different place now. I made most of it in Manchester and then finished it in London and in the last year, my life's changed massively. Before, I was just on the dole in Manchester and in the last year I've been doing all sorts, so that music represents the place I was in then, when I was on the dole I suppose."

Digging further into the break that finally made him start to take production more seriously, Boothroyd jokes that making experimental music is the most irresponsible career path anyone could take, specifically when it comes to holding down the basic finances needed to live day-to-day. "I was making music aimlessly because I don't have time to be a fucking avant-garde producer or composer. There's no 21 year olds out there making 'noise' music, so I'd never have been able to do it all without a record deal."

For all his disapproving talk on the workings of experimental music though, Idle Hours does appear to be a record born entirely out of exactly that: experimentation. To refer back to his earlier dismissal of respecting outlines set by those before him, Boothroyd admits that he finds the trial and error aspect of his work most exciting, more so perhaps than having completed the overall project. "I surprise myself while I'm doing it, so I'm like, 'This sounds interesting.' I've been playing around with software for five years now and I still don't really know what I'm doing. I kind of do, but I still like to surprise myself with it all a bit."

One of the central takeaways from the few interviews Boothroyd has done so far is his apparent antipathy towards electronic music, a judgement supported all the more by tweets such as "don't like techno at all, it sounds like fucking sweaty armpits." This judgement is somewhat incongruous to his own output, one could argue. When I ask him about this, again over email, he explains: "I've never really had the chance to properly explore all this specialist stuff my EP has been grouped in with. I'm 21 years old, none of my mates back home were ever interested and I never went to any sort of niche club night in Manchester where it might be played. It's only recently, since moving to London, that I've had access to most of this obscure 'electronica'. I'm still developing a taste for it."

When Boothroyd talks about what's influenced his work, he doesn't mention the electronic music that most would immediately opt for as a reference point. "A lot of different music influenced the EP, from 'Tomorrow Never Knows' to Death In June, but predominantly it was grime, specifically the harsher and more industrial elements of it. And shoegaze, specifically My Bloody Valentine's Glider, which was a big deal." He disagrees slightly with my admittedly lazy reference to industrial music in relation to Idle Hours, raising the idea that, to him at least, there are more tinges of psychedelia than anything else. "It's not easy for me to describe my music, which I think is a good thing. I'm very happy that I've released a record that I can say, with a straight face, sounds like a cross between Tinchy Stryder and Slowdive."

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