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Delivery In Speed: An Interview with M.L. Deathman
Irina Shtreis , September 29th, 2023 09:16

With his searing live set at this year’s Acid Horse newly released to tQ subscribers, M.L. Deathman speaks to Irina Shtreis about ramping up the tempo, cinematic influences from Westerns to giallo, and providing an alternative to damp English dread

Photos by Vicky Holland

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M.L. Deathman is the project of Bristol-based electronic producer Mat Colgate. Formerly a member of Teeth Of The Sea, Colegate has been honing his craft and surpassing genre labels over more than a dozen self-released albums since 2017. Earlier this year he played at Acid Horse, a three-day word-of-mouth event organised by tQ co-founder John Doran and Strange Attractor’s Mark Pilkington in a pub near Alton Barnes White Horse in rural Wiltshire. The performance was documented and is now being released as Live At Acid Horse 23, available exclusively to tQ subscribers.

While Colegate’s previous releases, whether a recent collage of dense sonic experiments Wild Beasts or the sparser Lifeforce released on Hot Fools two years ago, are more specific in their aims, his Acid Horse set is impossible to box. Instead, it’s the best example yet of his ability for sonic hypnosis. It’s trippy in the literal sense, eclectic in its incorporation of shamanic Balearic beats and swirling samples; spectral psychedelic house music that takes you through liminal spaces and those where incompatible worlds collide. Occasionally the ever-building drones have a disconcerting effect akin to the eerie work of The Haxan Cloak, while with a sample of the writer Anaïs Nin reading from her diary, the recurrent line “I remember my first birth in water, I sway and float”, sounds beguiling and haunting. So too does the sound of the Acid Horse crowd, cheering in the background at the same moment.

“My background is in noise and improvisation”, says Colegate, describing his intuitive approach when it comes to playing live. “If it's a giant fuzzy explosion of noise, I just ride it.” This nature is integral to the record’s sense of fluidity, conceived in a manner that takes a different approach to his former outfit Teeth Of The Sea. “The way we worked at Teeth Of The Sea was improvisation-based, [but] then we would basically hammer the improvisation into a structure. It's brilliant for a band like that. But that approach was actually stopping me from doing stuff to the best of my abilities while playing solo”.

Dynamic and mind-boggling, the set signposts a transition for M.L. Deathman; an increase in his need for velocity. “The thing I really like about this Acid Horse set is just the sheer speed of it, this feeling of delivery in speed, that’s something that is coming together. Basically, I started using my equipment in quite a different way. Whereas for a long time, I was letting the nature of the equipment dictate the kind of music that was being played.” While the allusion might not be obvious, Colegate compares his energy and dynamics to those in video games like Streets Of Rage or Final Fight, Westerns and Hong Kong action films. “There’s always something transcendent when I’m watching films like Street Fighter,” he admits.

The visual element is integral to M.L. Deathman, a character of sorts who was fleshed out as a response to doomy serious releases that defined the course of techno music at the time of the project’s inception in 2017. “He is basically just a bloke in a skeleton costume. He doesn’t really have any superpowers, you just can’t kill him, he doesn’t die and keeps coming up again,” he says of his onstage persona.

The spirit of cinema also enters the texture of the music. Colegate, whose interest in films was prompted by work at a video exchange shop, has written about cinema for tQ and uses references in the descriptions of his releases. The concise liner notes for last year’s album Lifeforce (his only one to come out on a label) mentions Let The Corpses Tan, a neo-Western crime film by Belgian auteurs Hélène Cattet and Bruno Forzani, as one of its influences, directors who incorporate aspects of giallo to imbue their films with particularly dark aesthetics reminiscent of directors like Mario Bava and Mario Caiano. “Cattet and Forzani take the atmosphere of those [filmmakers] and just pump up the atmosphere and get rid of the plot’ This plotless meander through stylistic excess,” says Colegate, whose blurry image on Zoom evokes the vibe of an erotic thriller like Roman Polanski’s Bitter Moon. “I like their first two films a lot but Let The Corpses Tan, combining Italian and European gangster and action cinema, is incredibly dynamic. It’s basically just guns and sex, bright colours and a blaring soundtrack. They see how much you can get rid of linearity and have something that still makes emotional sense. And that’s what is actually really important for me as a musician. I’ve always been interested in the idea of how much of the story you can tell using a purely abstract medium like music.

“I like to think [that I’m a film] director. So I’m almost trying to tell stories through music. I wouldn’t necessarily be able to tell you who the characters are, I just want to give you a good idea where you are.”

When conversation turns to the subject of contemporary music and the use of high-end technology, Colegate says that in many cases all he can hear “is an Apple logo.” His current set-up includes a sample station, a drum machine, loop pedals and a dictaphone for both pre-recorded loops and bits created on the spot. “I like the idea of making music with whatever I have,” he says. “Even though what I have is technically bullshit”. Not only does it sound like a reaction to ubiquitous consumerism in arts but also an alternative to “the folkological thing. Folk horror and a hauntological, slightly damp sense of English dread,” he sees as prevailing in British music. In that respect, the resilient persona of M.L. Deathman makes perfect sense, offering something that borders on life-affirming.

M.L. Deathman performs live at New River Studios in London on 29 September with Heimat and Harrga, at Rough Trade Bristol on 7 November, and The Hope, Brighton on 14 December. He is on Instagram here.

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