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In Extremis

Circuit Bored: An Interview With Chrononautz
Harry Sword , November 4th, 2014 14:33

With the second part to their excellent Public Domain Fuckover series released this week, techno duo Chrononautz chat to Harry Sword about their background in the DIY punk scene, musical chaos and avoiding repetition

Photo by Alicja Debicka

Bucking the groaning applecart marked 'identikit Beatport techno' like Roger Moore toppling a table of ripe pomegranates in a souk (raising an eyebrow in the rear view mirror as livid stallholder waves a rhythmic fist in theatrical retribution), Chrononautz inject a hefty dose of DIY punk spirit into eclectic jams.

Purveyors of a kaleidoscopic sound grounded in raw techno and acid, Chrononautz (Dom Clare and Leon Carey) are veterans of Leeds punk/hardcore/art world. They have been involved with myriad bands- most recently lauded experimentalists Chops - and channel their obtuse techno primitivism through a prism of telepathic improvisation: one that embraces chaos and astute sound design in equal measure.

Because although the past few years have seen a number of excellent live techno workouts (not least Karenn and Blacknecks), Chrononautz are set apart by their head twisting psychedelic chops. It is an approach that favours near constant motion – and, crucially, musical progression - over brute repetition.

Twenty minute workouts are the norm, and the duo have been remarkably prolific over their short tenure thus far, releasing the Public Domain Fuckover 1-6 series in January. Largely improvised, this series of jams (most of which are between 10-20 minutes long) are an excellent place to start. From searingly abrasive acidic gear ('#4', '#6') to eerie sounds ('#2'), the 'Public Domain' series shows Chrononautz working way off grid, drawing on influences as varied as acid and oddball free jazz.

With the hardcore work ethic of the midnight obsessive, they have a plethora of other material on the way. The tweaked out fire of the forthcoming Noments LP; a four way split 12" with Pal, Roundhouse Kick and Pete Blas on One Eyed Jacks; the next tracks (#'s 7 –13) in the Public Domain series.

As they tell the Quietus, it's all about longevity….

How did you guys meet? I was wondering if you ever went down to The Orbit (seminal and long defunct Leeds techno night that used to be held at 'The Afterdark' in Morley)?

Dom Clare: No, although funnily enough we know a few people that used to be involved with The Orbit. They were telling us some mad stories of having to pay people like Sven Vath six grand in cash in the office (laughs). We met years back though. We were both heavily involved with punk rock, proper DIY – squatting, making venues out of weird spaces. Art rock and crazy shit like that, we did all sorts really, used to make odd electronic music back then too. I actually recovered a hard drive recently that has a few tracks I made about 12 years ago. I might release that at some point.

Leon Carey: Our first band started in 2000/1. We've never stopped playing with each other since then. Musically, of course… not in that way, not in that way… [laughs]

Chrononautz' music is visceral and banging but highly progressive - unlike a lot of techno. This isn't loop-based music

DC: I don't want to say the word "repetitive" - but with a lot of techno you hear the first thirty seconds and you know exactly what the rest of it is going to be like. With our stuff, one thing for sure is that we won't make it the same for ten minutes. It's not in our nature. If anything it's a case of reeling it back so that it doesn't go too far.

Do you have any idea of where you want to take tracks before you begin? Or is it a case of setting the tape rolling and seeing where it takes you?

LC: Dom and I have different roles for each other. I'm the engineer, the techy. We get the tapes rolling and then just play about and see what comes out. Then it's over to this lad, who will sit getting it together and putting it into a cohesive form.

DC: Sometimes we'll go through, edit half an hour into five minutes or 15 minutes and then there are other times when we order it as we go along and the order that we record it in becomes the track, like with Noments, which was hardly edited at all. Generally though, we don't do a huge amount afterwards.

I can't really imagine you working with generic sample libraries…

LC: It's all hardware. We still use samples but we will only sample ourselves (laughs), so we'll go in and record stuff and then sample that and feed it back in. And then we'll use a sampler as well, but it is all hardware. We never really listen to other people's records and think "we should do that".

And how about the live approach?

DC: You have to remember where we come from. I used to spend about 300 days a year touring the world with bands. We're used to being on the road, playing live. Here we've spent the time in the studio working out what we can do and how to do it. But it's got to the point where we feel we have our launch pad, if you like – and we know that we can record it to a level where we can release it.

LC: when we decided to do this we were in another band and decided that we wanted to do something that was completely different to what the other two wanted to do. Previously, we'd rush into things - start gigging straight away and we wouldn't have time to forge a sound. We want to build something with longevity here – we want to be doing this for a long time. For the past two years we've locked ourselves away in the studio in order to really learn how to use the machines.

And what provided the initial impetus to make electronic music together, rather than form another band?

DC: We've always listened to a huge variety of stuff. If I turned my computer round now you'll see an entire wall of records. Our previous band Chops involved electronics, saxophone - all sorts of weird stuff. I toured with Chrome Hoof for a while, and Leo's (Smee, bassist) brother Mylo runs Power Vacum Records and produces under the name Bintus. When I was on tour with them I found out how much he was into acid house. That pointed me in the right direction. I was looking for that stuff but I didn't know where to find it. He gave me a massive list of records.

In terms of touring though, we got bored of the circuit; being in the same venues and not being sure if people were putting the band on because they genuinely liked us or because we were there a few days back with someone more famous (laughs). I used to help out with other bands touring, driving, loads of stuff.

With any underground scene you quickly realise everyone knows everyone

DC: Exactly – I've been involved in many scenes over the years and - hopefully - will soon be starting a record label involving people from different scenes putting together new music – people in the free jazz world, the rock world, people involved in techno. I want to pull people together that don't necessarily know each other to jam. [laughs]

The idea of the jam is intrinsic to Chrononautz music. Do you ever feel a pressure to make more ostensibly 'DJ friendly' music?

LC: We've had some really nice words from people like Bleaching Agent and Truss but a common thread is "I don't really know how to DJ this stuff". Because our music is live and the machines we use…I don't go through it and get the tempo solid – the beat slips and the midi jumps and we leave it in. We love the mistakes.

It reminds me a little of the chaotic vibe of hardcore – where you could have a tempos all over the place and breakbeats sitting next to 4/4's. Does chaos interest you musically?

DC: Yeah, we don't have a very good concentration span. I don't give a shit how people make music though, if it works it works – you can do it by copy and pasting and it's easy to make it the same for ages. But with us, some of the synths we use, you change it by one fraction of a dial and the sound changes beyond all recognition - and that is a big part of the fun.

LC: When I used to listen to music as a kid, it wasn't the song I was listening to - it was all the stuff around it  - the weird production tricks. That used to intrigue me more – I want to make music where people notice a little chime, or one keyboard note that comes through - a split second that changes the song completely. It's idiosyncratic I suppose. We've never done anything straight up, it's just not who we are. The first bands we were in, we were messing around with 5/4 or 7/4 timings, playing hardcore punk. It was sort of ridiculous and we got a lot of funny looks off people; it's not thinking about it like we want to write straight up pop music or techno or anything, I personally want people to listen to it and say "did you hear that bit?"

I was listening to one of your tracks earlier today. All of a sudden – a flute! 

LC: (laughs) I know the one you mean - I know the exact bit. I'm glad you noticed that.

And how does the live set operate? You guys have played together for a long time in other capacities. Do you have clearly defined roles?

DC: The thing is, me and Leon, we know each other so well. Al from Blacknecks and Bleaching Agent, he saw us play recently. He's a good friend of mine - we met through going out clubbing but I actually had no idea for about eight months that he was in FSG or that he was Bleaching Agent or anything like that, he never mentioned it (laughs) – but he saw us play and said "how the fuck do you manage to play for an entire hour and not look at each other". Well, it's because I know what Leon's about to do even though he doesn't know what he's about to do himself. But then I have no idea what I'm going to do at any point because I'm not a musician. I know sounds and how to make them, and that's all I can do.

LC: And I know rhythm and melody. Essentially, I love pop music; I love R&B; I love jungle, ridiculously. I grew up as a teenager in the 90s, and going to parties, that was what was played, so I grew up around that.

You were both heavily involved in the DIY punk scene. Did you have any involvement in the free party movement in the 90s?

Dom: I grew up in the middle of nowhere, near Hereford. We were these weird little punk kids. But there was obviously no place to go and see gigs so we'd end up in these fields at raves and I'd be like [adopts petulant teenage voice] "what the fuck is this repetitive dance music shite... where's the fucking hardcore?" But now that I listen to it, 15 years later it's like, "this is awesome".

The music will be in your unconscious memory probably, somewhere in the DNA

LC: I'll suddenly hear something and it'll be like, I remember that being played. It takes me back to a strange little field somewhere. And now it's probably being played in some wine bar, electronic music has been assimilated.  Our common thread is psychedelia though. It's funny because if you think of a psych record you wouldn't necessarily think of us, but then again you wouldn't necessarily think of techno and think of us either. There is no point in limiting things; that's stagnation.

The visuals are a big part of what you do. Do you spend a lot of time on this Dom?

DC: It's funny because I'm obsessed – I'll literally spend 14/15/16 hours a day on it. I spend a ridiculous amount of time on it. Last weekend it got to 2am on the Sunday and I was doing my solo thing, working on a video which was this enormous factory; like a progression through time but all in the same room, and you hear it differently each time because the angles different. I've been working on it for months. It's like the Noments record that we have coming out – there's a 40 minute video that is going to be a part of that. This is all I know [laughs] I do a lot of work < a href="" target="out">as Rendered Eyes.

And are the visuals going to be a big part of the live show?

Leon: I'd like to be able to say that we could do some stuff as Chrononautz, but maybe more conceptual. We're quite instinctive, but I think we'd be good at making something a little more conceptual, like Emptyset have done.

Can you tell us about the forthcoming Noments record? How did the recording process work?

Dom: We were originally going to put the record out on another label and made it in two nights. I mastered it by re routing pretty much every channel through a Gristleizer – you know the little box that Chris Carter made? – pretty much every single channel is rerouted through one of those, and that's why it's really intense basically. And when I listened back to it I realised that I'd done fucking nothing to it at all.

So no post production at all?

Dom: Apart from EQs and blasting it all through the Gristleizer, nothing at all. And then when I played it back I thought, "I know what this is about" and made the video for it. Leeds is full of massive Brutalist buildings that are being knocked down at the moment. The Yorkshire Post building, the international swimming pool, which our old band played on, plugging in a generator at four o'clock in the morning and playing this ridiculous music really loud [laughs]. There is a video of that [laughs].

But with regards to Chrononautz, our aim is to be the most exciting live techno that there is, really. Time to smash it out. [laughs]

The second part to Public Domain Fuckover Series is out now, listen and watch the accompanying videos above. Both parts are available to download from Chrononautz' Bandcamp page.

Chrononautz play live in Leeds at SECT at Wharf Chambers on December 5th, alongside DJ Skunkrock (Plex), DJ Ford Foster (Opal Tapes, UTTU) and Linnemann (Hope Works)