INTERVIEW: Powell On Albini

Powell discusses unexpected reaction to billboard ad featuring Steve Albini email

Yesterday, we ran an article about what we thought was an amusing little story where Powell had bunged up a billboard ad featuring text from a Steve Albini email telling him that, though he didn’t care whether or not the London-based producer used a vocal sample from a Big Black record, he was not partial to what he described as "mechanized dance music". Suddenly, the news went viral and our tongue-in-cheek headline of "Powell vs Albini" seemed to set everyone thinking this was some kind of beef, with Spin writing that the former had run the billboard out of "spite". Speaking to The Quietus earlier, Powell appeared rather bemused by the reaction: "It was all just a transparent interaction with one of my heroes that turned into this crazy thing," he says. It was also intended to celebrate the artists that Albini listed in his email – SPK, Suicide, Kraftwerk – who, Powell says, have been a huge inspiration on his own work. "The whole reason I wanted to do it anyway was as a discussion point, a conversation starter. It raises so many questions and everyone’s got a different point of view."

Was the intention to start a conversation as much as do some canny marketing?

Powell: I think so. It wasn’t ‘let’s start a conversation, this is how we can do it’. I got an email from Steve, and first and foremost thought ‘this is just incredible writing’. It made me laugh and he was saying things that I believe about music, so it was a chance to say something about the state of electronic music and see what people thought about it. Obviously the bands he lists are some of my favourites, which seems completely lost on people. I liked the tone, the angst, the hatred of so much of what’s going on. Undoubtedly he’s not clued into loads of stuff, but there is a lot of shit electronic music around. It’s become this coffee table, festival-going alternative to rock music. I liked the fact that he was attacking that.

Is that sort of irascible behaviour lacking from music these days?

P: I’ve always been drawn to things that are spikey and trying to rub up against things. That’s what drives the best musicians, you don’t want to just fit in and be beige, and Steve’s attitude is something I’ve always admired. That’s why I’ve got these Big Black records. What’s being lost on people is that it’s being positioned as Powell against Steve Albini but it was never like that, it was me and Steve against stuff – without him I wouldn’t be making this kind of music. I emailed him yesterday to say ‘just for the record it wasn’t supposed to go like this, but it’s funny and I’m doing it because I love you’ and he said ‘don’t worry, I totally understand and appreciate the fact that you love my music’. It wasn’t like I’d made this track and wanted someone famous on it, the sample process is totally organic when I’m making music.

What sort of stuff have you been seeing online about it all?

P: Steve’s an intelligent man with a history of points of views on music, and that’s good, you need people like that in the world, to make people think. Some of the conversations I’ve been reading that have happened since have been great. It says something about the state of the music that Steve’s talking about when I’m instantly described as an EDM producer – ‘he makes electronic music therefore he’s an EDM producer’. There’s no distinction any more, it’s become a catch-all thing.

I believe finding interesting ways to talk about music, rather than just paying for more space on Spotify, is part of the challenge we face today. What would you rather? A billboard with my face on it? That would be beautiful, sure, but dull.

So it was supposed to be celebratory? How does it relate to your view of electronic music?

P: We spend so much time going to festivals and clubs where there are musicians who I think are radical and different. I’m not saying that’s me, but I know people who inspire me every single day, from Russell [Haswell], Jaime and the Diagonal family, to Bill [Kouligas], the PAN lot, NTS etc. — there’s a musical community in London, and all over the world in fact, which is actually quite healthy. People are having a good time, and there are some radical and different things. If this can help to shine a spotlight on some of those things then I think it’s great.

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