Podcast 600: Plaid
A milestone from the Warp mainstays.
Podcast 600: Plaid
A milestone from the Warp mainstays.
Our 600th podcast comes from Plaid, the collaborative project of Andy Turner and Ed Handley, two school friends who found their way into electronic music through graffiti art and breakdancing.
Alongside Ken Downie, the duo formed The Black Dog, which, with their ambient soundscapes and syncopated rhythms through the late ’80s and the early ’90s, pioneered the IDM genre alongside the likes of Autechre, Boards of Canada, Aphex Twin, and µ-ziq. They debuted on Warp in 1993 and, after leaving The Black Dog in 1995 to focus on Plaid—having launched the project with 1991 Mbuki Mvuki via Black Dog Productions—they’ve become mainstays of the British label alongside those aforementioned names. They released Polymer, their 10th studio album, and a more ominous affair, in June, before contributing to Warp’s 30th-anniversary celebrations.
Plaid’s approach is experimental, playful, and collaboration-friendly. Their catalog of reworks contains originals from Red Snapper, Björk, and Goldfrapp—2003’s Parts in the Post collates much of this—and they’ve also worked with the London Sinfonietta and composed for Felix’s Machines, essentially music-making sculptures built by Felix Thorn, and soundtracked events as diverse as reindeer migration in northern Europe to video game series Little Big Planet.
And it goes without saying that this has shaped their sound deeply, most acutely following 2006’s Greedy Baby soundtrack collaboration with Bob Jaroc. The album of sorts not only opened the door to further audio-visual work, notably with Japanese film director Michael Arias, but also because it seemed to earmark the beginning of an exploratory period for the British duo, captured on 2011s’ Scintilli, 2014’s Reachy Prints, and more recently Polymer, arguably one of their finest albums to date. While the glitchy IDM beats and knotty rhythmic detours remain, the sound is more complex, wonderfully cerebral, and immersive.
We welcome Plaid to the XLR8R podcast series with a nostalgic and celebratory mix. Barring the odd exception, all tracks were released in 1989, the year the duo first released as The Black Dog and Warp Records surfaced. Over one hour, Andy Turner and Ed Handley weave together selections from Orbital, A Guy Called Gerald, and more, giving us a glimpse of the electronic music landscape into which one of electronic music’s most defining labels and the Plaid project was born.
What have you been up to lately?
We were busy touring last month to promo the release. It’s always fun going out with a whole new set of material. We’ve developed a new video patch that responds to MIDI which gives us total freedom to build the tracks on the night and it will react accordingly.
It’s been almost three decades since you signed to Warp. How do you feel the musical landscape has changed over this time?
The landscape is more populated now as most music is available easily; it was more difficult to find three decades ago. It’s become much easier for musicians to make their work available which has also added to the numbers. And there have been perhaps 700 new electronic music sub-genres added to classify everything, because just love labels, don’t we?
You’ve completed a lot of soundtrack work over your career. How do you feel this has influenced your sound?
It’s a different discipline writing to picture. There are moments that need to be hit with a certain emotion and we have to realize the director’s vision rather than indulging our own tastes completely. We usually begin by agreeing on a sound palette to draw from and this process has leaked into our the way we plan our own projects, in that we now select new tools that we’re going to focus on at the start of the writing process.
Do you find yourself drawing inspiration and ideas from collaboration?
We’ve always been drawn to melodic percussion which led to collaborations with the Southbank Gamalan, the London Sinfonietta, and Felix’s Machines, and these have all influenced new work. The Gamalan was really interesting as we were learning to write with new tonal scales. We continue to write with Ben who has an indie/folk background. There are always new things to learn.
What are you most proud of, looking at your career?
If we were to select one body of work it would probably be the soundtrack for “TekkonKinkreet.” It was the first movie we scored and it’s a beauty. We were extremely lucky to be involved.
Polymer feels more ominous than your earlier work. Why do you think this is?
We noticed this too toward the end of the process. We think it’s due to the current environment in the UK where Brexit has absorbed a lot of the energy, positivity, and goodwill. We’re fundamentally opposed to it. It’s darkened our outlook and this trend toward support for inward-looking populists is not restricted to the UK clearly. It’s a worry as lies are clear but people don’t care and it’s confusing because there seems no good reason for it or positive result likely from it.
Where and when was this mix recorded?
This mix was recorded in our London studio. It’s been a glorious sunny day and it’s been wonderful revisiting the music we were listening to 30 years ago. It sure brings back memories, so many great parties.
How did you choose the tracks that you included?
They’re all tracks we were DJing or hearing out. Many have influenced our earliest works.
Is there a wider narrative or concept around it?
All the tracks were released in 1989, the year we put our first EPs out with Ken as The Black Dog and Warp released their first few too.
What’s up next for you both?
We’ve got a busy year ahead, more European shows, Japan, and a US tour in December which we’ll be announcing in a few weeks. There are a few smaller releases planned before 2020. We’re setting up a new studio space in London and hope to be writing new things in it toward the end of the month.
Due to issues regarding the GDPR, EU readers can download the podcast here.
01. 808 State “Pacific State”
02. A Guy Called Gerald ”Voodoo Ray”
03. Bang-The Party “Bang-Bang You’re Mine”
04. Forgemasters “Track with No Name”
05. Nightmares on Wax “Dextrous”
06. Unique 3 “The Theme”
07. Steve Poindexter “Computer Madness”
08. Rhythim is Rhythim “Beyond the Dance” (Cult Mix)
09. Adamski “N-R-G”
10. Humanoid “Stakker Humanoid” (Original Mix)
11. Obital “Chime” (12-Inch)
12. Bobby Konders “The Poem”
13. Sweet Exorcist “Testone”
14. Renegade Soundwave “The Phantom” (Original Mix)
15. The Black Dog “Virtual”
16. Steve Poindexter “Work That Mutha Fucka”