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In Extremis

Non Compliant: An Interview With AnD
Albert Freeman , November 26th, 2014 14:23

Following the release of their excellent debut album Cosmic Microwave Background last month, Albert Freeman chats to the Manchester duo about approaching a full length release, seeing Godflesh play Berghain, and avoiding linear expectations

When the renaissance of the dirty, hard techno movement hit full stride just over a year ago, it was clear it had achieved worldwide critical mass, but if one wanted to search for its beginnings, it is fair to say that Manchester would not be the worst place to start. Industrial centres away from London had always been fertile ground for these kind of sooty sounds, which originally found footing in the industrial scene in the 1970s and have hung on tenaciously in one form or another ever since. Detroit's own post-industrial rumblings, related as they were to much of the underground music of UK and Europe from the 1980s, found a natural fit in this landscape and became a source of inspiration for the musicians. With the explosion in Birmingham and elsewhere in the early 1990s, the nation's already-fertile electronic scene found focus to ascend into one of the few centres of original thought in techno outside of Detroit and Berlin. Manchester, one of the original foci of club culture in UK, has made strong contributions throughout, but with the Mancunian Modern Love label gaining ever more traction over the last decade, indications were clear that there was more brewing there than the few banner names on that roster.

One of the more prolific and noted groups so far has been AnD, a duo composed of Andrew Bowen and Dimitri Poumplidis, who have lain a trail of muck and grime across the techno landscape since 2009. While often reductively discussed for the distorted and banging streak that indeed plays a major part in their sound, the duo have never been quite so easy to pigeonhole, emerging at first on dubstep-related imprints (a split with 16-Bit) before quickly shifting to Horizontal Ground and a string of prestigious techno imprints – London's Black Sun, Hidden Hawaii LTD, Repitch, Ann Aimee – with music that tested many limits, not just a few preamps. Stylistically, it has ranged from dub to drone to neo-hardcore ruffage, with a large portion indeed registering in the red, though often with the tongue firmly in the cheek. Mostly it has shown the duo to be amongst the more literate and diverse of the current crop of hard techno practitioners, and having started an eponymous AnD imprint and collaborated with Tom Dicicco on their Inner Surface label, there stands a considerable body of work from the pair already that gives strong hints as to the breadth of their interests.

Recent months have not seen them take down the tempo of releases at all, nor narrow down the scope: an EP on Samurai Horo found AnD exploring drum & bass mutations, but the bulk of their output has emerged on Speedy J's Electric Deluxe label, a somewhat surprising alliance given the label's purism and the duo's outspoken intention to explore different idioms in electronic music. The additional freedom and exposure has apparently been good for the pair, and after five years of pumping out the 12"s, Cosmic Microwave Background was recently released as their debut long-player and a strong suggestion that AnD has more to offer than a few bangers. More than before, both the craft and the diversity of their music emerges on the album, and with a climate well-suited for experimentation having developed in dance music, it will be interesting to see what the pair does next now that they're freed of the confines of DJ-friendly formats. I spoke to them over Skype following a busy week at ADE, just as the duo plant their feet on new horizons:

It's a bit of a Manchester kind of day here in New York: cold and damp. How are you this morning and where are you now?

Andrew Bowen: I'm based in Berlin now, have been living here for about five months.

Moving to Berlin obviously doesn't change who you are as person, but the different things around you must have an impact?

AB: I think it's really nice here. There's a lot of free events that are literally improvised free jazz or completely experimental stuff, and since I've been here going to stuff like that helps me think slightly differently. You're watching a classically trained musician or a jazz musician who is using weird objects to create these certain sounds and you always wondered how someone did that. Sometimes it's just a chain of effects through a guitar, but you're hitting the strings with a drumstick or using a violin string or something. All these sorts of things definitely help open your mind towards approaches that you wouldn't necessarily had a chance to see in Manchester.

Berlin and Manchester are quite similar in many ways - they're both industrial and the weather is quite similar really. I suppose it's a bit nicer in the summer here than in the UK. The main difference I feel is that there's more open space and parks so the buildings don't seem to be quite so on top of you, and it's also a lot more liberal so it gives you more of a sense of freedom.

Dimitri Poumplidis: The more you see, the more you implement in your own sound. When the surroundings change, your taste will change. It affects everything. In the UK, it's always very stressful – the way of life and the rhythm of the life is really fast. When we were making these really aggressive tracks a few years ago, we were working full time and then go straight to the studio every night, then gigs on the weekend. Faster and harder music was a way to release all of this stress.

AB: That period of our lives was quite an intense period for both of us because things were starting to really pick up for us as artists, but at the same time we were both working maybe 80-90 hours a week between studio time, going away on the weekends and working a day job and running record labels. It was forcing us into that kind of energy. We had started to send some music back and forth with Truss, and we realised that other people were starting to work on similar stuff. It's nice when you find a bit of a collective energy building within a scene.  

So how has this changed your working methods? I had the feeling you liked to jam out tracks quite a bit

AB: It's a bit of a mixture at the minute. Some things we do together in the studio, and there's a bit of passing things back and forth also. We've been making tracks for long enough we get to know what the other is thinking anyway.

DP: For us it's natural to work in any way, whether we're in the same studio or not. It's the same thing.  

You're quite prolific. Besides the album, I've seen a new record on the Brothers label and then a remix for Eomac. There's probably even more I didn't see

AB: The one on Killekil is coming out in the next couple of weeks. The Brothers record was actually done awhile ago; it's a collaboration between Sunil Sharpe, D. Carbone and Headless Horseman. We finished those in the summertime. There's the album too, but we had that finished for a couple of months now.

DP: The album we finished around June and the remixes in August.  

Did you approach the album quite differently than you do your singles? It's obviously not the same thing as cranking out 12"s.

AB: We definitely spent a bit more time working on an aesthetic that we were going to go for with the album. We spent more time than we do on other tracks, but we do like to work quite fast because we feel like we get the vibe down properly. Sometimes if you go back to a certain track you end up changing things in one direction and then back in another and the idea becomes a bit contrived compared to if you let it roll and treat it naturally as something that happens at that moment. A track is a moment in time. If I ask you a question today about something and you have an opinion on it, your opinion might change slightly tomorrow depending on how you're feeling. That's the way we feel when we write our music. The next day, rather than going in to work on the same track over and over again, we'll just make another track. That works better for us.

DP: The album wasn't so much a matter of making it but what we wanted the sound to be. To make the album took us about a month and a half to record the tracks. We made about 22, and we cut them down to 12. We like to produce fast because the more you hold back stuff the more it loses the feeling and everything else. If we don't finish a track in four hours, it just gets deleted.

So then the album tracks were recorded specifically for the album? Obviously 12"s constrain you towards working more towards the dancefloor and towards the DJ. It would be a rare label that wants to put out an entire 12" of the more experimental bits that pop up on the album.

AB: We spent quite a bit of time considering which direction we wanted to push it in. We wanted to have a certain number of dancefloor tracks on the album, but we also wanted to show people the experimental side of things, and also stuff that's a little more downtempo and melodic than what we would normally do on a 12". We wanted to have the two extremes so that people could have a nice balance between dancefloor and other stuff.

DP: Jochem (Speedy J) has been amazing. As soon as he proposed that we do the album, we said yes straightaway, and he let us do whatever we felt like, which is what we did. It was really nice. It's been a nice platform.

How did that come about? Did the label approach you initially? I found it a bit surprising. The 12"s you did for Electric Deluxe were an easier fit for the label. Of course once you have a couple of singles out there, it makes sense to release the album there too, but the stylistic variation is quite a bit more than almost anything else that's been released there

AB: Yes, the album is more experimental than quite a lot of stuff that they would normally do, but that just goes to show how Speedy J thinks of his label and what he wants to represent. He's always looking to something completely new and looking to push people that wouldn't ordinarily have a release on a bigger label like that. As you said, we had already done a 12" for Electric Deluxe, and we'd been sending him some music for awhile, and he was always really enthusiastic and positive about everything. Then we sent him a package of stuff after that, some of which was quite experimental and weird, 160bpm stuff and other things, and it was when we did that that he came back to us and asked for the album. We were quite surprised really, but when one of your heroes asks you to do an album for his label you don't really want to be turning that stuff down. I think it's a lot to say for his vision for the label that he's ready to push stuff that perhaps other people think might not fit in.   

DP: We met him a few times, and it's really clear he cares about the music more than anything else. For instance, we were playing at an afterparty at the festival (ADE), and even when there were six people left in the room he kept going for the love of it.

It sounds like you guys have a good working relationship, about the best you could ask for. How have you found the response for the album so far?

AB: I think it's been really good. It's been really positive. We've had a lot of nice feedback from people that we maybe didn't expect to like it. We spent a good chunk of four to five months putting it together, and if you work on something for that length of time, you've listened to the music so much yourself that you don't know how to think about it anymore, but once the release comes around you hear what other people think of it. It's obviously just at the start now, and it will digress over the next six months. It'll be really interesting to see where that comes back to.

I think that the perhaps people had been putting you as a group into a kind of niche. Do you find the album is helping you move outside of this?

AB: We did an interview once where we cheekily said it was about going harder and harder, but that was just us joking. We both like harder aesthetics when it comes to electronic music, no doubt… That's exactly what we're all about, but when we said that I think people thought we were going to start writing gabber-tech-core or whatever. We've always been quite experimental with the tempo and styles of tracks that we've written. We've had releases on (Samurai) Horo, which is like 85-160bpm, we've written harder techno, we've written dubby techno as well, we've written drone music, we've also got other aliases that do other things, we do noisier stuff too. For us the pigeonhole doesn't matter. As long as we're making music and enjoying it that's it for us. If people like it, even better.

With the album and the label that's it's on and the music that we've written, I do think it will help push our name a little further out there. With the dancefloor stuff, we wanted it to sound like AnD, but we also wanted to put a slightly new aesthetic into the sound. The heavy distortion, the fuzziness that we get with the polyrhythms… We wanted it to be a bit more sound designed so that it's harsher but it's actually cleaner at the same time. The hardness comes in the feeling that you get. We feel a lot of our music may be harder edged, but it has a lot of funk the grooves. With an album, it's something that you hope people will listen to over and over again, not just play it out ten times like a 12" and move on to the next one. Generally with an album, you want to listen to it a few times and digest it and then get into it more.

DP: Yes, an album is something that you should like more and more if you hear it after a year or two years. This harder aesthetic you were talking about before, it doesn't actually have to sound hard, it's more of a psychoacoustic feeling.  

Has the relationship with Electric Deluxe found you guys moving onto playing larger audiences and things like this yet? 

AB: For the album launch we played at Awakenings at ADE, which is one of the biggest things we've ever played. We actually got to close the event as well, so definitely being with the label is helping. There's a lot of stuff coming up for next year that's going to be on a slightly bigger scale as well. Being with a label of this size, it opens doors for us that maybe we wouldn't have been able to do before.

DP: They helped a lot with gigs, and the tour for the album is being built up now for the next year. We have dates up till August of next year.

Have you experienced any issues with your music being accepted by larger audiences? Often there can be more linear expectations at larger venues.

AB: To be honest, as artists we both don't ever want to compromise. We want to do what we want to do, whether the crowd is 200 people or 2000 or 20,000. We're not going to change our music; we're just going to do what we want. If people book us as AnD, we're not playing any linear stuff to make them happy.

I think what I was getting at was no so much cash rewards but rather the atmosphere. A lot of the music you'd been releasing was the very epitome of banging basement techno, and it can be a bit difficult to play that in larger clubs sometimes just because it doesn't necessarily mesh well.

AB: I think that people actually enjoy it because whenever you go on and play stuff that's a little more intense than what other people were playing, you get a reaction from it. People are sometimes waiting for something to happen, and then you play something that a bit more awkward or less linear, the intensity and the frequencies give them extra energy. Since you're almost hitting them with really pummeling stuff, it makes more energy and is faster for them to dance to.

DP: Most DJs follow this philosophy of playing something for the crowd and for the club, but myself I get bored. If you play something faster or different than normal, then I think they like it more. We haven't had any kind of negative experience.

I think overall that's an approach I agree with – you open things up, and it gives you more room to move around. Your music isn't exactly the kind of thing you ease into

AB: Sometimes you get people that look a bit like a rabbit in the headlights for the first ten or fifteen minutes… They're almost a bit shocked, but by the end of the set they're going mental. Once they realize that that's what it's going to be, then they lose it. The same people that are confused at the beginning of the set are the ones on the tables at the end.

It's good to make people hear different things, and it fits with your interests and approach. From what I understand, you both have quite a wide range of music listening tastes, so changing things up is quite natural.

AB: We have a very wide listening scope. I used to work in a record shop for seven or eight years and worked in a music distribution company. I've sold everything from dub reggae and Norwegian folk music to electronic and techno and house and ambient music, jazz, African, all sorts. Quite a wide scope when it comes to what we listen to in the house. Sometimes it's nice to listen to music that isn't electronic music because you start to hear melodies and rhythms that you wouldn't hear otherwise. In a way it opens your ear up to being able to do something in an electronic context that wouldn't necessarily fit or shouldn't fit. I often listen to ambient music or psychedelic rock to cleanse my mind. One of my favourite bands is Acid Mother's Temple. Whenever you're in the studio all of the time and when I was also working in a record shop too, it was pretty much beats from 10 in the morning to 10 or 11 at night, so when I went home the best thing to do was to listen to ambient music.

DP: Most of the times we don't listen to techno or very fast music or the music we're playing in clubs. We like to listen to hip hop, jazz, funk, reggae, dub, some electronica. There's a lot of different things; it's nice to listen to something that's not our everyday to take the mind off. I think of Bauhaus… It's still electronic, but in a different style. Last year, we were playing in Berghain, and we were lucky enough to play there the same night as Godflesh played, a full, proper concert. That was insane. Listening to that band in that building with that sound was ridiculous, nothing better ever.

AB: Justin Broadrick is just a legend. Everything he's done is pretty much the epitome of what we're into, from the Godflesh era to Jesu to JK Flesh to Techno Animal. The good thing about Techno Animal is that, while it's obviously industrial music, but it's built around techno and actual dub. We really love the dub aesthetic, but we like it when it's done with that doomy metal vibe also.

That's wicked. I saw Godflesh play in New York recently and have seen Broadrick play a number of times over the years with different projects. I really like those Friday night dark music events they do at Berghain

AB: It was the Not Equals party. It's Michael from Boiler Room and Red Bull Music Academy; he does CTM also. I think it's really cool what he's doing in Berlin because he really pushes extreme music. You can have stuff like Demdike Stare, the Bug, Mala, These Hidden Hands played with us on that night as well. It'll jump from an actual band to dub to techno and then go back to something completely different. We really like that vibe whenever that happens. It goes to show that people don't have to have a straight flow within a night; sometimes it's more interesting to have something experimental and then something dancefloor, then build on that for another set and take it back down to something a bit more leftfield. It's good to push the boundaries within a club environment rather than to have to have something that makes a linear build from start to finish. As clubbers, people will get a couple acts that they know and maybe three or four they're not aware of, but then those will be their favourites of the night. You get taken by surprise sometimes.

I've been to a couple of those nights there, and it's really nice to see the whole place rammed and proper raving to Demdike Stare or Emptyset, which even for me doesn't necessarily strike me as music to rave to

AB: I think that's what's really great about Sean (Canty) and Miles (Whittaker). Sean has amazing knowledge of everything from Turkish music to a lot of weird VHS soundtrack stuff from Italian horror, disco, house, techno. He's a proper digger and sample freak. He worked for Finders Keepers for a long, long time, and we know him from Manchester. Then you've got Miles who's also an amazing digger and has so many obscure avant garde and jazz records, but he's obviously done a lot of stuff with Modern Love over the years and probably made quite a lot of our favourite dancefloor tracks as HATE Soundsytem, Millie & Andrea, Pendle Coven, MLZ. Those guys have a true understanding of what's completely experimental and different but also know how to work a dancefloor.

DP: They have a nice balance, which is good.

I think you could agree that a lot of it is a bit of exercise of restraint. Not too much restraint, because you want things to be a bit wild, but a bit here and there. Watching them tear down that place it was clear they knew exactly what they were doing, but given a more open format like the nights we're talking about, it's easier for groups like yourselves or them to fit in. In some ways that club is the essence of deliberately paced, heads-down techno, but it's nice to see someone flipping it upside down and doing something different

DP: Yes, the variety spices up the night.

Samuel Kerridge has also been doing his Contort nights there, and with that and Wax Treatment there's quite a bit of more open-format stuff happening. I think the scene in Berlin is also opening up a bit musically speaking in the last couple of years

AB: Samuel has been doing the Contort parties now for a couple of years, and the way he works it is that it's always a free event, but the lineups for all of the events were always killer. It really goes to show his attitude as well. He's a Manchester guy too and he's doing it because he likes it. If people come, they come; if they don't, they don't, but that infectious energy and the positivity of people's personalities helps push the scene on a bit as well.

DP: Yes, I agree. He does what he wants with the free parties and has a proper punk attitude.

AB: I think that's why we get on with him [laughs].  

So now that you have an opportunity to put out some more wide-ranging stuff, are you considering doing completely experimental records or something along those lines?

AB: We're open to doing anything as long as it's something that we're into. We're always going to be making dancefloor tracks anyway, but we're pretty much always making experimental stuff. I don't think people have really seen our true experimental side as of yet. We can go a lot further with it. It's something that we're obviously going to be building on. We do have a few things up are sleeve for next year.

DP: New challenges are always nice. We have some new aliases coming.

I think it's a good time for that; the nights we've been talking about aren't arising out of nothing. Of all of this harsher techno stuff around, you guys came in pretty early on in the wave. After awhile, it becomes time to expand or perhaps change directions

AB: I think something that we're always aware as creative people and as artists is that it's about moving forwards always. It's not about going backwards; if you're doing that then there's no point really. We always want to get better at what we do and expand our knowledge. We're always trying to learn new techniques and buy as much equipment as we can actually afford to buy to create a new sound for ourselves. We'll not be regurgitating the same stuff over and over again; it has to keep changing and moving forward. It'll always have our sound to it, because we want to have a sound that is unique, but it'll always be different. Each record should sound different; there's no point in making the same thing over and over.   

So what's coming up next for you? I imagine with the album you're quite busy

AB: Yes, we're on tour playing live sets and DJ sets for the month: in Dublin with Sunil Sharpe and Cut Hands, Lyon for 10 year of Perc Trax, a 4 hour DJ set in Utrecht, then Corsica in London, then there's a lot of other stuff planned quite deep into next year. Release wise, there's the Brothers record and the Killekill, then there's a remix for Rebekah, and there's a remix pack coming out for our album next year, but we can't really talk about that yet. Let's just say we were very happy who is remixing us.

DP: We'll hold back for a bit, and then for the summer we'll release AnD 003 and that's probably it I think. We have remix requests every other week or so, but unfortunately we have to turn them down because we don't want to have a ridiculous amount of records out.

AB: Apart from that, we're working on some new material, but we're trying to have a slightly less hectic release schedule for the next year because we think now's the time to slow down a bit with the amount of releases we've been doing. We definitely have stuff coming out, but at this point each record has to be the next step to a higher and higher level for ourselves.

It's obviously really flattering that people want us to remix so much, but we've probably done too many remixes in the last couple of years so we're going to slow down on that and be more selective. We've been pretty prolific with records for awhile, so now really is the time for us to push ourselves with the experimentation in the studio and see what happens.

Cosmic Microwave Background is out now on Electric Deluxe