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Escape Velocity

Emperor Machine: Dark Room Dynasties And Roman Stoned
Kev Kharas , June 25th, 2009 11:25

It seems odd to be writing up an Escape Velocity feature on Andy Meecham. I’d wager that if you’re reading this then you’d have heard one of his tracks by now, most probably one that was written over 15 years ago when he was part of UK house crew Bizarre Inc. If you that name isn’t ringing bells, feel free to head over to YouTube to check out ‘Playing With Knives’ or ‘I’m Gonna Get You’, but don’t return expecting The Emperor Machine to sound anything like as colossal or euphoric as that – new album Space Beyond The Egg finds its joy incrementally, with the steady creep of kraut-beaten kosmische and dark, arpeggiated disco rather than the brash piano stabs jutting out from his raver past.

Hello, Andy. Your new record often sounds like it’s soundtracking something.

I suppose it does in parts, yeah. I’m quite influenced by films and soundtracks and stuff so I can agree with that.

Any soundtracks in particular?

Andromeda Strain… I suppose the original Star Wars as well, from when I was a kid, and the really early, ‘70s Doctor Who.

The hide behind the couch stuff?

Yeah. When I was a kid, those sounds, man… that’s really where it started for me. ‘What makes that sound? Oh, synthesisers…’ As soon as I could afford a synthesiser I got one. It all goes together for me. Synths and dark rooms and spliffs, I think, is one thing… that I’ve, er, got a problem with really (laughs).

With that in mind, would you say your music’s made more for late night smoking sessions or for the club?

Late night smoking sessions. Usually. If it’s a remix there’ll be no smoking involved, ‘cause I’ve got to concentrate. I don’t smoke that much really, but I do creatively. I much prefer really closing the door and getting on with it. With the dancefloor stuff it can be a lot more stressful because it’s on deadline and I’ll do a version and I’ll think ‘is that good? Do I need to do another?’

Probably just paranoia, to be fair. Where do you record?

I’ve built a studio above my garage. When I bought this house I knocked one of the rooms through and basically it’s now just a room full of synths and records, which is perfect.

Do you not go slightly mad locking yourself away with The Emperor Machine’s strange noises?

All the time, yeah. I was gonna move into a studio in Stafford because I’ve got two children and they do know where I am now, now they’ve grown up. They can hear me and want to come in, which is nice sometimes but y’know, not most of the time.

Are you trying to get your kids into ‘the right kind of music’ or anything like that?

Yeah, one’s really into Cluster… no, no. They do come in the studio, they’re 3 and 2, so you give them some drumsticks and they go mad, whacking the keyboards with the drumsticks. The track ‘Kananana’ on the album, they sing that now, which is kind of cool.

That’s good. You’ve got the makings of a family band.

Exactly, yeah, they’re really into music, it’s good. I don’t push it on them. If they wanna play they can. I give them a mic and plug it into an echo, y’know, it amuses them.

When they are older do you think there’ll be anything you’ll absolutely refuse to let them listen to?

The only thing I’m not into is a few kids’ programmes that just do my head in, but they just love that joy in repetition. They’ll watch a film over and over again…

I remember doing that as a child, watching the same film three times a day for a week…

Yeah, it’s nice.

You know when we do these ‘Escape Velocity’ features it’s usually to focus on bands just taking their first, scared steps out into the world, but it seems a bit odd to be doing that with you, with your two kids and what you’ve already done with Bizarre Inc and Chicken Lips. What is it that’s driven you from project to project?

Boredom really. And record companies. You do one thing and you just want to move on. I’ve always done my own thing separate from what I was doing with Dean [Meredith, also of Bizarre Inc/Chicken Lips]. It’s only really Emperor Machine that’s taken off as a solo project, though.

What you’re doing with Emperor Machine seems very given to abstract imagery – it’s not as ‘straight up’ and club-built as the other stuff you’ve busied yourself with over the years. Is there anything in particular you have in mind while recording?

Emotion really. I can play on a synth all day and I won’t be happy until I’m emotionally involved with it. ‘Til you get a rush or your hairs stand up on the back of your neck. It can take a day’s progress to get to the point where I get something I want – I can scrap a whole day’s work just for one riff or whatever. There was a time when I used to put sci-fi pictures on my wall, just to get me in the mood, but I don’t really need to do that now, I just wait for that feeling.

Yeah, I can understand that. Yours seems like music written from a particular headspace…

Yeah it’s from a headspace, it’s from the heart.

Do you find it odd that some people say they find it hard to draw something emotional from kosmische and kraut and synth music in general? That it’s typified as being something quite cold and unemotional?

I’ve never heard that before, that kraut rock has a cold edge. It’s more of a gut-feeling with me. It’s almost like a rollercoaster, if that makes sense (laughs). That’s the feeling I always work to. With kraut-rock, there are DJs and collectors out there who know everything about those styles and have all the records and I’ve only got a few of them. I’ve got two Can albums probably and people seem to think I have them all, but I haven’t…

I was gonna ask about that actually, with your past and the styles that go together to make your sound I’d sort of imagined you’d have the best record collection of all time…

No, no I just buy what I like really. I used to collect disco – buy the labels – but I’ve stopped doing that now and I’ve sold a lot of records. There was a point when I’d play a lot of other people’s music before a session. With Emperor Machine though it’s not about that. For instance, last night it was about half past ten in the evening and I had a brainwave, thought of a really good riff and I got to work on it. It’s a sudden thing.

Is it hard to maintain those brainwaves and a focus on that intergalactic, space-age world when you’re going to the shops to buy some toilet roll?

Haha, no, because if I go to the co-op I always look at people and think ‘oh, where have you been?’ I always think ‘what do people think of me?’ and then I think ‘well you don’t realise what I’ve been trying to achieve just a few minutes ago’, now I’ve just popped off for some tobacco or something y’know…

An ‘I’ve seen other worlds’ kind of thing…

Yeah, exactly. To go back to the drugs thing, I’ve never done ecstasy, I’ve never taken acid, all I’ve ever done is smoke. It’s just perfect for me. Back in the day a lot of people were shocked that I wouldn’t take anything off them. That’s what it was like then, I’m not sure what it’s like now. I don’t think you get them kind of clubs any more.

What’s the egg?

We were trying to come up with a title and the actual golf-ball, egg-looking thing on the cover, we were trying to work out what it was or what it could be. We tried to stick a ton of words together and Space Beyond The Egg came up and it’s one of those titles that works straight away. Then I found out that a lot of krauty bands use ‘the egg’, it’s a regular thing, talking about ‘the egg’.

A happy coincidence, that?

Yeah, exactly.

Space Beyond The Egg is out now through DC Recordings