Ahead of the Clouds lads’ long-awaited Dublin return this Friday, our own Cóilí Collins caught up with them for a chat and discussed everything from the concept behind their ‘Heavy The Eclipse’ album to working with Speedy J and much more.
‘After numerous waves of social collapse, Glasgow, once a prosperous city, had run to waste in lawless ruin…’
So begins the post-apocalyptic, sci-fi thriller story that is Clouds’ latest album, ‘Heavy the Eclipse’. The Scottish do not narrate over their 14-track epic, although Liam’s chipper accent in contrast to Calum’s dead pan voice would have made for an interesting premise. This excerpt is taken from neurealm.net, a website dedicated to telling the story of 2018’s most left-of-field techno project. ‘Heavy the Eclipse’ places us 400 years in the future, both in sound and sight, with the help of David Rudnick, an artist the duo has collaborated closely with over the years. The final product delivers full descriptions of the different crews running Glasgow as it has spiralled into lawlessness, a map of the Neurealm and the folklore surrounding it, not to mention the odd hardcore banger too.
Calum breaks what seems like the impenetrable ice of a three-way Skype call in telling me that Clouds are probably the first techno duo to receive fan fiction, then again creating an entire universe for your album isn’t common practice in the realm of techno either. “This guy wrote an article and he was writing about the architecture in Glasgow after World War II after the decades and comparing it to the world of Neurealm. People have been responding and they’ve been interpreting it in their own way, which is kind of amazing and more than we could’ve hoped for.” Calum continues, “I think because the world is so expansive and every time we started thinking about it we’d come up with another part of the world to build and add to the story. When people started getting into it by themselves, it wasn’t that surprising because we hadn’t finished exploring it. All the shit that’s going and all the references to the different crews, once you start thinking about it, it just grows endlessly. Once people start drawing stuff and writing about it and interpreting it in their own ways, it seems kind of inevitable.”
While Clouds aren’t shy about producing incredibly experimental music, despite their more well-known club-sounding tracks, unfolding a project as out-there as their newest album made for a daunting task says Calum. “It took us two years and we didn’t really have anything else set up over those two years to do, so it’s basically all we did for two years which is quite a lot for just one project. Once you finally release it out to everyone, it’s a bit daunting, but it’s been really good.” Liam echoed the same sentiment, his voice eschewing a brief sense of relief, “Especially because it took so long for it to come out since we’d finished the music, we had kind of held our breath like, ‘Fuck, how’s this going to go down?’, it’s been a huge relief that it’s been well received, because I was pretty terrified.”
“I think we’re definitely more musicians than DJs”
During an interview with Blawan last summer the Yorkshire producer questioned why so many techno producers stray so far away from their club sound when approaching an album. Liam weighed in on this topic too. “We’ve always liked the idea that albums are very different from EPs and your club records. When it comes to an album you can allow yourself a lot more time to make it.” Calum expanded further on what their intentions were when making ‘Heavy the Eclipse’. “You want to make a statement of sorts. We wrote two records and we’ve been doing this almost 10 years, so there’s a lot of time to think about it in between each record. If you are going to do two in 10 years, you want it to be a bigger project. The album format, although it’s getting more and more left in the past with streaming and stuff, it’s a lot better than putting out a series of Eps. “In terms of concepts I guess we thought that techno has this aesthetic or this idea behind it regarding the future and sci-fi. Especially the scene that we’re in, it’s this dark, grim world and no one does it fucking well at all! I’m not saying we’re the only techno artists doing cool sci-fi shit, obviously not, but we wanted to give it a shot and see if we could come up with something that we thought was cool.
“I think we’re definitely more musicians than DJs,” Liam interjects, with Calum nodding in agreement. “Obviously, we make a lot of club music, but that’s more so deviating from what we actually want to do which is making music like this. We like writing club music as well and it’s a lot less of a strain to do that. We want to make money from this and it’s kind of difficult if you’re not DJing, so you have to find a balance. “I get what Blawan said, a lot of artists who usually just make techno try and write an album. What they do is different shit and they’ve never given proper song writing a shot and when it comes out, you can tell.”
To any casual fan, a ‘Neurealm’ label would have housed the record, but it was in fact released on the legendary Electric Deluxe imprint, spearheaded by the iconic Speedy J in Rotterdam. Having released previously with the legendary Dutchman, the decision made sense. Calum says the process went much further than just a string of emails. “We’d been working with Joachim [Speedy J] at Electric Deluxe for about two years before we went and recorded the album in his studio. The idea always was to do it on ED. We recorded it in his studio, we’d released our last couple of records on his label, he really gave us the freedom to do whatever we wanted with it, with the artwork and concept of it. Whereas a lot of labels would’ve asked us to reign it in a bit. He said that it needed to be what we wanted it to be and not to compromise at all” Liam’s more upbeat tone dims for a minute as he stresses how key the Rotterdam native’s help was in getting the record over the line. “Even with the delays, some of the press people we were working with were asking us when it’s going to be done, over the course of 14 months. Joachim kept saying if we were going to do it, we’d have to do it properly, we can’t hold back any of the expenses, we’d have to do it 100 per cent or not at all. That’s a big reason why we did it with him in the first place. It would’ve been quite rude, actually, to use his studio for two weeks and put it out somewhere else!”
On the topic of external help, it would also be rude not to mention David Rudnick, the hands that sculpted the look of the Neurealm. While the album holds its own on the music front, the artist’s work goes much further than whipping up a 90s rave flyer and making it an LP cover. Instead, we have a full dimension of anarchic crews fighting for a city in ruin, something Calum doesn’t take for granted.
“The whole concept of the thing was built with David. It’s definitely a collaborative thing, the music was all ours, but when you see the posters, artwork, website or the story, we didn’t just write the story, we wrote it with him and to be honest, he had a lot more input when it came to fleshing it out than we did.”
From there, we quickly move from Clouds the musicians, to Clouds the DJs. Their DJ sets have been a mild source of controversy for years now, with the duo always having a penchant to throw heaps of trance and happy hardcore into their sets, much to the delight of the keener ravers, but not impressing the central-Europe techno elitists. Their biggest show since the release was their ‘Return to Mono’ all-nighter in the iconic Sub Club, where the pairing was left at the controls for four hours. An exciting prospect for the diehards and an overdue show in Scotland’s nightlife capital. “It was two years ago at least since we’d done a Clouds gig in Glasgow,” Calum begins. “For the past few years we’d been trying to play all original Clouds stuff, so doing four hours of all original stuff was quite nerve wracking. We played one edit of a Tiesto tune and a couple of tracks at the end weren’t ours, but bar that it was all our stuff. We’ve written quite a lot of ambient stuff, stuff we usually wouldn’t play or write, just to play at that.”
“It’s cool when you think about being in your home country and being able to do it there and show people what we’ve been doing, especially since we hadn’t played there in some time,” Liam continues, sounding a touch giddier in knowing we were getting onto the topic of trance.
“Sub Club’s pretty well known, so to be given the full night was a bit special.” While it can seem like all fun and games from the outside looking in, deviating so far away from their productions in their DJ sets can have adverse effects on booking requests, which is a key part in maintaining both relevancy and earning a living in such a competitive market. Calum stresses that their switch to original sets was borne more so out of individuality than looking to please a disgruntled techno militia.
“Now that we’re playing our own stuff, we will throw in our own edits of course. There’s just a good euphoria when it comes to playing trance. There’s a lot of people playing trance in techno, and maybe that had a hand in making us switch up to playing our own stuff in sets. There were a lot of reasons, but that’s one… When we do the Headstrong sets, we play some tracks that people might find cheesy, but it’s happening less and less.”
Headstrong is Clouds’ collaborative label with fellow techno powerhouse Randomer, who put together a four-track stomper for the last release. Through the emergence of Headstrong and its distinguished sound in both Randomer’s Dekmantel Boiler Room and Clouds’ contribution to the Dekmantel podcast, it seems as though the duo have finally found a home for one of techno’s most unquestionably moving club sounds.
“We needed to [make a clubbier sound], most of that stuff had been written after the album came out, between the start of 2017 and now,” Calum asserts, showing that while the pair aren’t rigid in their output, it’s organised chaos.
“Our next EP will be out in March or April on Headstrong, but that stuff is more club focused, maybe more warehouse focused even. We thought it was good to put something out after the album. There are people who want to hear us putting out club tunes which is fine, we have fans that want Clouds club music. We wanted to put that out and let people know that we’re still making techno.
“I think promoters were waiting after the album, not knowing what we were going to sound like”
“After the Dekmantel mix we definitely had an uptake in bookings! I think promoters were waiting after the album, not knowing what we were going to sound like. We made that mix to promote the record, but no one wanted to put it out, bar Dekmantel who were up for it. Everyone passed on it!”
Laughing off the fact that one of the year’s most exuberant techno mixes had been heavily slept on, with the pair denying the opportunity to name and shame those at fault, the ‘L’ and ‘C’ icons on the screen slip away after a quick round of goodbyes.
Clouds are a paradox, one the techno world will never fully lay claim to. Their reluctance to stick within the genre’s strict parameters is something that has distinguished them as much as it has held them back, but their latest middle finger to the status quo has been their biggest and most successful yet. They’ve shown that maybe this world wasn’t built for Clouds at all. Maybe Neurealm, that ‘grim, rave state of factional warfare,’ is where they’ve belonged all along
Clouds play Wigwam this Friday with the Techno & Cans crew, join the event page here
(Words by Cóilí Collins)