Bristol’s Punch Drunk label is notorious for shedding light on new talent emanating from the Bristol area; so much so that Peverelist, the owner, has created a couple of other labels (Livity Sound/Unearthed) to release music that doesn’t strictly adhere to that objective. Over its lifespan the label has, literally, carved out reputations for producers like Guido, RSD, Kahn, Gemmy, Andy Mac and Superisk, focusing its gaze on upfront dancefloor fodder – albeit tracks that are a bit hypercolour, or of fractured, left leaning persuasions. The 20th release though came from Ekoplekz, a Bristol based musician whose music shared little in common with the artists who came before him. That 12”, ‘Stalag Zero’ b/w ‘Distended Dub,’ is essentially two sides of groove based noise that get infected with dub elements thanks to Plekz’s pithy use of delay.
For me it was something of a signal and a change in the tide – something I’d been actively looking for myself. Even having been aware of Peverelist’s diverse music taste for a while, after discussing a few bits and pieces over the counter at the recently retired Rooted Records shop that used to reside on the foot of Gloucester Road before the arches, it still came as something of a jolt. A welcome wakeup call that coincided with the osmosis like perforation of a gluttony of overtly smooth tracks with pretty mixdowns that, while technically brilliant, seemed to lack any kind of decisive or innovative punch.
Ekoplekz’s work is a contrast; stark, jagged and a little bit overly-fucked up. Entirely processed manually, it’s an analogue jettison from the body of one Nick Edwards, a person you might know better as the author of the blog Gutterbreakz. Since that first outing on Punch Drunk, he’s released an album called Memowrekz on Mordant Music and selected live recordings made at the Dalston Jazz Bar and at the Dubloaded night. As we’ve written before, noisy freakouts are not as removed from the edges of dubstep’s convention as you might think, with artists like Shackleton and The Bug making exceptional use of out of drones and found sounds; but with Ekoplekz it’s different. Forget the fact that it’s being put out by Punch Drunk; there’s no Vex’d type muscle, no Cloaks like interpretation of noise as dubstep or even a tangible drum beat. It’s all dark, radiophonic type experiments that come packaged with a machine hum and that static hiss of authenticity.
Darker than Raymond Scott and more ominous than the work of Delia Derbyshire, Ekoplekz’s latest album project, Intrusive Incidentalz Vol. 1 is the recording of his two part process of atmospheric composition. It’s corrosive; constantly falling (in and) out of tune, aurally melting through loops, delay pedals and reverb cycles. Described by the label as ‘violently unstable’ the album, that was released yesterday, further demonstrates Bristol’s experimental underclass. Much like Roly Porter’s recent Aftertime album on Subtext, Intrusive Incidentalz stands on hind legs like a dragon; a daunting beast that’s poised to scare and impress you in equal measure.
James Balf caught up with Edwards to discover a lot more about a producer the internet knows little about…
Sonic Router: Can you introduce yourself?
Ekoplekz: Hello, I’m the recording artist known as Ekoplekz, though some people still think of me as the blogger Gutterbreakz. My friends call me Nick. I’m not sure what my enemies call me, though someone did once call me a ‘wasteman’ on a public forum. I’m 42 years old, born and raised in Bristol, UK, where I still live. My daily life is far too boring to discuss here. Suffice to say I’m self-employed, married with three kids and amazed that i still find the time and energy to indulge my musical interests.
What made you want to start making music? How did Ekoplekz come about?
I was first drawn to making music back in the 1980s. My first tunes were recorded in my bedroom at my parent’s house in 1988, using a cheap Casio sampling keyboard and a domestic tape recorder. Initially I was inspired by a lot of the sample-based artists of the time, like Mantronix, The Young Gods & Renegade Soundwave. I’ve been making my own music off-and-on ever since but for the past decade or so I hadn’t really done much, apart from some half-hearted attempts to learn software-based production. I knew I needed to get back to an analogue set-up, and the trigger for that was finding an old Eko organ in a charity shop in January last year (which partially gave the project its name). I started feeding the organ through various FX pedals and recording the results on my trusty old Yamaha cassette Portastudio. I’ve always liked really lo-fi home-recorded music so decided to just continue exploring that area. I had no inkling at that time that anyone else would be remotely interested, but it seems to be the most popular thing I’ve ever done!
What provokes it?
Initially I was working through a few primary influences, mainly ’70s electronic artists like Cabaret Voltaire, Suicide, Throbbing Gristle, plus Radiophonics and the Jamaican and German stuff. But right now the main inspiration is the creative exchange between myself and my machines, and the process of instant composition that I’ve been developing.
People may know you as Gutterbreakz, a writer that chronicled early dubstep and grime amongst other things, like hauntology and the back and forth with other bloggers from the time (K-Punk, Simon Reynolds, Blackdown). What made you stop the blogging and pick up some synths and how do you feel about blogs today?
That’s a tricky one to answer. The whole thing is a bit of a mystery to me, really. When I discovered the first music blogs (Blissblog, Woebot etc) around mid-2003, I immediately felt that I could add something to that discourse even though I had never tried writing about music before. There weren’t as many blogs at that time and so I quickly gained attention.
The dubstep thing was literally a case of being in the right place at the right time. I was totally obsessed with it from around late 2004 to mid-2006 and gained a huge readership simply because there were very few other outlets for news and commentary on the scene at that time – apart from Blackdown. He tended to cover the London scene whilst I specialised in chronicling the rapid growth of Bristol’s scene. But it did become something of a treadmill that I found hard to step off once my interest began to wane. Then came the birth of our unplanned third child in late 2006, which seriously curtailed my ability to keep up with all the late-night clubbing which had been an essential part of reporting on the scene. The blog lingered on longer than it should have really. It was never meant to be a big thing… more of an interesting diversion until I was ready to make some music again. Nowadays I don’t read blogs as much as I used to, and that’s probably due to information overload and the general lowering of attention levels that comes from checking twitter and facebook feeds everyday. I imagine it’s far harder to get your blog noticed these days, compared to when I was active just a few short years ago.
DOWNLOAD: Ekoplekz – Skalectrikz Prologue 1
You’re obviously a fan of soundsystem culture, dub and deep bass but how does this all fit into the music you make as Ekoplekz? Do you see a connection between what you’re doing at nights like Dubloaded and others on similar bills right now? What is it about the nature of the bass scene that can bring in a noisy freak like yourself next to more club orientated music…
I’m in a strange situation, because as far as I was concerned I’d turned away from the club scene and was exploring my other interest in more experimental sounds. I never thought anyone involved with bass/club music would be able to relate to Ekoplekz but the fact that I’m getting noticed is obviously a testament to the open-minded attitude of a lot of people out there. I’ve played totally extreme, live noise-based sets on soundsystems built for reggae and dubstep in between the DJs, but I’ve also played in more traditional live venues alongside guitar-based bands and also in more arty venues. It seems that the more introverted and self-absorbed my music gets the more widely excepted it becomes. Last week Ben UFO played a track from my new album on his Rinse FM show, which I never imagined could happen, but it proves the point that people aren’t always as narrow in their tastes as we might assume. My music is littered with influences leaking out from dub, techno, industrial, etc and listeners seem able to make the connections in their own minds without having it spelled out for them.
What does your studio look like?
Most studio heads probably wouldn’t even recognise or acknowledge my working area as a recording studio. There are no computers, no racks of outboard gear, and no professional monitors; just a couple of ancient keyboards attached to lots of smallish metal boxes by a spaghetti of audio jack cables, ending up going into a semi-functioning cassette four-track machine. The kit I usually reach for is whatever mad piece of junk I’ve just bought for pennies on ebay.
Let’s talk synths, how many have you got and what’s your favourite?
The biggest and oldest synth I have is the Eko P15, a fairly obscure Italian monosynth from the late ’70s, which you can hear all over the music i did on Memowrekz and the Fountain Square EP. It’s great for big lead sounds as well as modulated basslines. I love the sound of it, but unfortunately it’s currently broken. I hope to get it fixed soon.
A couple of more modern things are the Korg Monotron, which I use primarily for filter processing at gigs (you can hear it chewing up a Casio keyboard all over my ‘Live at Dubloaded’ album) and the MFB Kraftzwerg is the most sophisticated thing I’ve used. It’s a small desktop modular synth and the new album is basically the sound of me improvising and experimenting with that, in conjunction with a Trax Rotasynth analogue sequencer and an obscure Russian thing called a Lel UDS. My other synths are all tiny things intended for portable live use, like the Chimera BC8, which has yet to feature on any of my recorded releases.
What do you like about the hands on approach to production and equipment compared to booting up a computer? Are computers something you’ve attempted writing music on or does it not really interest you?
As I mentioned earlier, I did make some effort to get involved with computer-based systems but I just tend to find it all a bit too complicated and ultimately de-motivating. I’m the sort of person who thrives when their options and resources are severely limited. I’d rather have 3 options than 30, or 300. The trick is making sure to have the right devices for drawing out the sound that lies within your head, and that tends to develop through trial and error. For the record, I think the most artistically successful software-based project I ever did was Annex Audio (which is still online at http://modyfier-modifying.blogspot.com/2008/09/blog-post_30.html). That was when I was using Audiomulch to process old cassette recordings.
Since you go about making tracks in a free flowing, heavily improvised style how does recording differ from the live shows?
Ekoplekz began as a home recording project, using multitrack cassette tape to build up a composition with hand-played overdubs, but when I started playing live I knew that I didn’t want to simply replicate the studio material, but create new improvised music each time. So I had to work out how to create interesting music without studio overdubs. As time went on I began to realise that the live ‘no overdubs’ approach was more artistically satisfying for me, and so the studio recordings started to become more like the live performances. I haven’t released any of these ‘live in the studio’ recordings yet, but I hope to put something together for release next year.
I just spotted the EkoClef live dates you’re doing together with Bass Clef. Can you tell us about how that’s going to go down>
I’m not sure yet, to be honest! There won’t be much in the way of rehearsals, if any. It’ll be a very instinctive, improvised thing, although we may use a few sampled loops and phrases from our forthcoming Tapeswap album as a creative jumping off point. I’ve no doubt that Ralph and I will have immense fun doing it… the question is whether it’ll be fun for the audience to watch…
Ekoplekz – Stalag Zero [Punch Drunk]
How did you hook up with Mordant Music?
The Baron heard my first 12″ (‘Stalag Zero’ b/w ‘Distended Dub’) and from there bought one of my CDR albums, which I was still self-releasing with a PayPal button on my blog. When I got the PayPal notification I recognised his email address so I thought I might as well send him a little bonus disc of unreleased material as a sort of sneaky demo tape. He got back straight away and said he wanted to do something, which became Memowrekz, and the rest is history.
It should be noted that the first person to recognise and unlock the potential of Ekoplekz and introduce it to a wider audience was Peverelist. If he hadn’t stuck his neck out and released my first 12″, I’d probably still be sat there, flogging 50 CDR albums with that PayPal button.
What is it that draws you out the dark side in your music?
As a slightly withdrawn only child, I spent far too much time watching television with hardly any parental supervision. Television in the 1970s was a profoundly weird and unsettling form of media for a child to experience, and I’m convinced that my belief that entertainment should be similarly dark and challenging stems from those formative years of my life. At the same time, I do feel genuinely unsettled and concerned about the world of today and tomorrow, both from a personal and global perspective. I don’t feel particularly safe or secure in the world anymore, and I think that comes out in the music. In many ways, my new album is about trying to reconcile these two periods in my life, building a sonic portal between the early ’70s and now, and tracing the connections.
Is there anyone putting out music now that is influencing you do you think??
To be honest I’m so up my own arse with all the recording, organising and conceptualising of my own shit that I’m probably listening to less contemporary new music now than at any other time in my life. I’m also aware that Ekoplekz was born in a period of near-total withdrawal, and I think I need to stay slightly divorced from most things in order to keep some original thought processes in motion. The other music I listen to usually comes from people who I’m friendly with, most of whom tend to be outsider artists too, like Hacker Farm, Nochexxx and I adore Bass Clef’s side project, Some Truths. And having played several gigs together this year, I’ve come to a deeper understanding and appreciation of the work of Mordant label-mate Vindicatrix, who’s music I initially struggled with. I also have a soft-spot for Pye Corner Audio, but I think the record that I felt most connection with this year was a reissue that originally came out 30 years ago. It’s an album called ‘Symphony For A Genocide’ by the Italian artist Maurizio Bianchi.
Talk to us about ‘Intrusive Incidentalz Vol.1’…
The recordings took place in February and March this year, in two stages. Firstly laying down the synth parts onto multitrack, and then doing the live dub mixes that give it that particularly violent, unstable feel. The working title for the album was ‘Where Were U In ’72?’ – a deliberately cheeky reference to Zomby’s first album, suggesting that the real hardcore British electronic music of yesteryear was being made long before rave music. In particular I was thinking of the electronic incidental music of composers like Tristram Cary and Malcolm Clark, plus the weird KPM library records by Delia Derbyshire, Ron Geesin and Eric Peters that all seemed to reach some sort of zenith around 1972. One of the things I found fascinating about that stuff was that it was supposed to be incidental background music for TV programmes but it was so naggingly alien and intense that it tended to distract you from the narrative, and that’s basically how the phrase ‘Intrusive Incidentalz’ formed in my mind as the perfect title for the album.
Is there anything else you would like to tell us?
I’ll be playing on the final day of the Unsound Festival in Krakow, Poland as part of the ‘Information Pylon’ package next month. That’s free admission, so if anyone’s in town please come along and check it out. There’s also a couple of 12″ EPs waiting in the wings – the Drommilly Vale EP on new label Public Information, and the Westerleigh Works EP which is part of an experimental mini-series on Perc Trax. That features a remix by a ‘living legend.’ Plus, theres a few other live events yet to be announced. But before all that there’s that Ekoclef album and the gigs in collaboration with Bass Clef, which we’ve already discussed….
Have you got any words of advice for the SR readers?
Never trust a grey squirrel. Never befriend one, nor invite one into your home. They may look cute and cuddly but make no mistake they are total vermin bastard-scum. In fact, if you see one, I strongly advise you to kill it.
DOWNLOAD: Ekoplekz – Parity Reversal
Words: Oli Marlow & James Balf
Ekoplekz’s Intrusive Incidentalz Vol. 1 is out now on Punch Drunk.
The Ekoplekz & Bass Clef collaboration, Tapeswap, will be out on the 11th October through Magic + Dreams on cassette and download. They’re playing two shows in support of the project at Cafe Oto in London on the 20th October and FAG Studios in Bristol the day after.