Interview by Sean Taylor on 13/1/12
Mark Pritchard has released music under a multitude of aliases. From Link and Reload, and projects with Tom Middleton including Global Communication and Jedi Knights, and more recently Harmonic 33, Harmonic 313 and Trouble Man, his monikers significantly chart the development of electronic dance music. The Sydney-based UK expat's most recent project is Africa Hitech: a collaboration with Steve Spacek that has output the 2010 EP HiTecherous, and now the breakout success of their debut LP, 93 Million Miles. But this interview is not just another recap of the stellar career of this exceptionally skilled musician and producer. With 2010/11 also finding growing awareness for his solo work as Mark Pritchard and Harmonic 313, Sean Taylor spoke to Pritchard in depth on his recent work with Radiohead, Wiley, Trim and Bonobo; and discovers, exclusively, the exciting releases that this prolific music enthusiast has planned for 2012 and beyond.
Pulse: How were your shows in Sydney and Melbourne last weekend? It went really well, it was really nice to see Sydney come out in force with 800-1000 people jumping around to that kind of line-up. Last year I did a similar gig in Melbourne with Flying Lotus, but it was Dam Funk and Gaslamp Killer and that was amazing, so I expected Sydney to be good and Melbourne to be amazing, but Sydney was almost the better of the two.
The crowd at The Metro went mad for Out in The Streets. What are you reflections on the success of what some are calling the most DJ'd tune of 2011? Like a lot of these things, the track came out of nowhere and it was quite unexpected. I did it for a documentary on footwork that Warp were producing last year, called Wild 100s, and they wanted a track for a [footwork dance] battle scene. I stayed up all night and made it (that was July 2010) and sent it to them, they really liked it. I played it out and gave it to a few people and straight away they were saying ‘yeah this tune goes off’ and more and more people were getting their head around the footwork thing; around the time of Phillip D. Kick’s jungle kind of thing [the now-defunct pseudonym of UK tunesmith Om Unit].
It worked with that and I'd been playing jungle together with footwork because its 160 bpm and I found if I played 80 bpm alongside footwork and jungle, i could play more of it in sets. So it is kind of a combination of everyone getting into that sound and obviously is a big sample that everyone knew, David Rodigan [MBE] was playing it and bigging us up so that was cool, it really really helped the album (Africa Hitech's 93 million miles).
I was a little bit worried that leading with that as a single would give out a signal to people and then when the album came out it would be different. But it kind of worked in our favour as a big club tune that drew people in to the album and when people heard it, it made people get on board a little bit more because it was unexpected.
So what was your first exposure to footwork, what got you into it? I was really in to Chicago house from the 80's and 90's but ghetto-tech wasn't quite my thing, even though it was really good fun club music. Then around the time Footcrab [Addison Groove] was first getting played out somebody showed me some videos of some [footwork dance] battling and I was like ‘this is mad’. At a similar time, Mike Paradinas [the Planet Mu records boss - read our footwork feature with Paradias on Pulse here] started excitedly sending me stuff and thought it was amazing. I just did a track with Addison Groove for his album which is out in March.
I met DJ Rashad and DJ Spinn in Madrid last year at the Red Bull Music Academy where they were doing an interview which explained they’re journey and why it [footwork] happened. Rashad was telling me that there was stuff, like the stuff i would could footwork now, that had been done ten years ago but nobody liked it. But more recently there was a slight shift on the rhythm (from the classic electro in ghetto-tech and juke feel towards footwork) and for me, that was when i was in.
Moving on to your recent spate of remixes, the Radiohead one's sounded a lot like your early Music for TV and Film work... Yeah it's all done on old synths, no plugins, but the mix is more Harmonic 313 sounding, but a different tempo and vibe. Neither of them were clubby: I actually wanted to do something clubby and I started loads, six or more ideas and just thought I'd see how it goes as I didn't have much time. It takes me ages, for example, the Gonjasufi remix took me a month. Theres a good chance that might of been the reason I got the Radiohead remix; because I was doing something completely different.
I was a bit worried because I didn't know what people would make of it. The initial reactions from the Radiohead fans were quite harsh. When you think about it, Radiohead fans are a certain kind of music fan, they feel ownership over the band, so having me do some weird psychedelic version; people were moaning that I didn't use the vocal, saying they didn't get it. Then luckily, later on a few people made a few comments saying the right kind of things, referring to kraut rock, etc, and then I thought 'Okay, some people understand'.
What was the weapon of choice for the remixes? The Mark Pritchard remix: it was EMS, a very old synth that looks like computer battleships (an old 80's kids game), it's got pins you have to plug in. It's just a weird synth, you never know what the hell your gonna get out of it; it's just really random and most of the sounds are from that. For the drums, I've got this old weird drum machine with a speaker built in and I mic’d it up. They’re quite heavy listening both those mixes, not just something you flick on; they’re quite moody and dark and maybe not everyones cup of tea. Hopefully people go back and listen to it again though.
You’ve also got a Bonobo remix coming out with some retro sounding beats [listen to it here on Ninjatune]: how did you go about making it? That’s the same drum machine I used for the Radiohead remixes. I picked up this Ace Tone drum machine and used that for the drums and played the guitar with a mellotron [an electro-mechanical, polyphonic tape replay keyboard originally developed and built in Birmingham, England in the early 1960s] and a plugin to do the bass. Then when I was in England touring I went to my friends studio in the UK and we put the guitar through his Fender twin amplifier.
You worked with Wiley on his latest LP Evolve Or Be Extinct, how did it come about? What was the experience like? He’s probably my favourite MC from the UK. It’s a close call but his flows and timing are amazing and he has so much energy and charisma it was amazing to work with him and I actually really wanted him on the Harmonic 313 album, but at the time I didn’t have the connection. Then he was in Australia [in 2009] and I played before him at The Metro and I gave him the album promo. I said ‘I really wanted you on this album, have a listen, if you ever want to, I’d love to do something’. I think my name rung a bell, he was vaguely familiar with me and I said ‘I’ve got a studio here, come in for a few days if you want’ and he said ‘I’ll come in tomorrow'. He came to the studio and then stayed for a week. I was just playing him loads of beats, trying some faster things and we ended up recording those two tracks on the album. I got on really well with him, he’s kind of similar to me; he just has to do music all of the time and that’s it.
I was surprised he chose those beats as they’re quite old but I'm really glad they made it on to the album and I'd love to work more with him. There's a few grime people I really wanna work with... in the last couple of years I found grime more exciting than dubstep a lot of the time. I think Terror Danjah, Royal T, and a few other people like Trim and P-Money drop new albums this year so hopefully we’ll see grime break out a bit more.
Following you last 12 inch together, will we see you on Trim’s next album as well? He’s done three tracks recently and I'm always sending him bits or bobs so theres a good chance that will happen; there was one late last year and there's another two which he’s said he wants to do.
Let’s get back to back to your own solo productions: a lot of your cover artwork and sounds are clearly influenced by science fiction, whats next in this area for you? Yeah I'm into sci-fi films, but I also like disco, house and boogie, uplifting things. When I went to clubs I'd like the moody and heavy stuff, that's why I like grime music, some dubstep and also avant garde classical stuff like Karlheinz Stockhausen; I like the powerful emotion that can come through.
The next album I'm gonna do on Warp is all electronic avant garde classical music; I’ve been working on it for over seven years now in the background. I'm in a bit of a tricky situation where I’ve built up these projects and need to keep them flowing but I really need to make the switch this year where the club stuff takes a back seat to this album, or at least get really stuck into it. It's taking too long for me to get this done so I've gotta make it my main focus. I'm not sure yet but i think it will be under the name Reload or Music for TV and Film, thats what Warp want me to do ... and they have signed me to do it this year.
I did an album in ‘93 under the name Reload, its kinds of like Aphex Twin era - industrial electronic stuff - but this [new album] is not about clubs, or trends. It's kind of avant garde, not using any plugins, all old school gear, really dark, sad and emotional, not particularly noisy, but quite full on stuff. So I'll be balancing it out with the other club stuff too, or ill go mad.
Does that mean more Harmonic 313 releases in 2012? I definitely want to get a couple of Harmonic 313 EP’s out this year thats for certain. Lion is a priority for me to put out as an EP with a couple of new tracks too, then an all new EP quickly after it. I definitely will do another Harmonic 313 album but its not going happen this year - its physically impossible - but I can say I’ve got quite a lot of Harmonic 313 stuff backed up, and it will be different from the last album for certain. The rough plan is for more regular digital releases; hopefully every month there will be two tracks coming out. I went through it the other day and theres about 30 tracks, that's just me, which I really want to get out this year.
Manuel Sepulveda, the guy that does all the Hyperdub records artwork will be back for the cover art along with Andy Gilmore for Africa Hitech. There is also a remix of one of the Wiley tracks I've gotta finish off for next week, then theres a remix for Far Out records and new Africa Hitech coming too. Once those are done I’ll switch my focus to the Reload album.
Is it a burden or a boon to have so many monikers? Originally it was a necessity, for example genre purists just wouldn't be interested in anything out of the bracket, so in the 90's we used to make new music with different names and not tell people. But even now some people can be closed minded about genres: when I did the Harmonic 313 stuff, people made comments like “finally your doing some dope shit”, writing everything else off. They might say “you used to do all that house stuff , now you’ve done some proper raw thing”. So basically, the moniker’s help with that, but it's a terrible business plan and now is the worst time in music to have heaps of pseudonyms as people are generally a lot more open minded now.
As an artist, how do you find living in Sydney? I like living here: scene wise it kind of goes up and down. When I first moved here I found it really hard to get gigs and play the kind of music I wanted to play. Over time I found like minded people and eventually they were everywhere around me and as those scenes grew and got stronger across australia.
In the last year its changed a little bit, maybe the hype of dubstep has killed things a bit, but also access to the right kind of venues. We need different sized sound systems between 200 and 400 to cater for the middle ground a bit more. The Phoenix bar is one of my favourite places to play; when they did the Void nights there, it was a nice sound system, no fashion, just people listening to music.
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