UK music’s roots have always been rather distinguishable. The extended tree of drum ‘n’ bass, jungle, dubstep, garage, grime, rave and more have always been easy to relate back to something. Since the end of the noughties, however, electronic music emanating from UK shores has ebbed and flowed a lot more indistinctly. This has made the job of labelling the sounds a lot harder than ever before.
For many, Pariah would epitomise that hard-to-tie-down UK sound. Having emerged around the same time as Hessle Audio came to prominence, terms like ‘post-dubstep’ were flying around, but that always seemed like a conceitedly lazy way of describing the Aberdeen native’s truly weird sound. Blending at times what seemed like a Berlin-like rigidity with the wobbliest basslines and noises that screamed ‘UK’, Pariah’s sound has never been pre or post anything despite its firm place in UK music’s chronology.
With ‘Here From Where We Are’, his first release in over six years, he takes us down another rabbit hole; a nine-track, drumless album that explores various textures, strings and synths. About as unquantifiable as they come, Pariah has quietly demanded his own space within electronic music, not before or after anything else.
Yourself and Blawan were interviewed a few years back where you both expressed your distaste for the term ‘post-dubstep’. Your music is particularly tricky to slap a label on, has that always been intentional?
I think that genre descriptions and labels can be helpful, but I think quite often people can get a bit carried away. I’ve seen it in the past when there’s been this obsession to define a new sound and a group of producers or musicians suddenly all get lumped in together with little regard to whether or not there’s a genuine scene that can help develop these musicians. This, I think, creates enormous pressure for that group of people to start to deliver on the hype which can, in the long term, be unhelpful.
What led you to making an ambient album, which is slightly more easily labelled than your previous work?
That was the biggest thing I was worried about when the record was finished, I was like. ‘Shit this is just going to be called an ambient album!’. Proper ambient music to me is from Brian Eno’s original definition; ‘As easy to listen to as it is to ignore’. If you’re not setting out to do that, having your record labelled ambient is a bit cutting.
I actually think that ambient as a description is the thing that frustrates me the most because it’s such a lazy term to slap on such a huge range of music. I knew it was coming, I tried as hard as possible when I was talking about it not to use that word.
Partly it was born out of frustration. As a result of me and Jamie [Blawan] doing the Karenn stuff, it left me quite unsure as to what to do and I was writing a lot of music that I wasn’t happy with. I was writing for other people rather than for me, which I don’t think is a particularly honest way of writing music. I was really frustrated to the point where I felt like I was going to pack it all in. I thought, hang on a minute let’s just start out again on a clean slate.
Is that why you released on Houndstooth rather than R&S like you had in the past?
Yes and no. Basically there were some changes at R&S around the time I released the last record, where the person that was there when I first released with them and was responsible for bringing a lot of us onboard around 2010 left the label and that for me made sense to draw a line under doing stuff with them at that point. I didn’t have an idea of what label I’d do it on when I was writing the album. When it was nearly finished, though, I thought it made sense to think about putting it out on a label like Houndstooth, as they don’t have an easily identifiable sound and kind of straddle the line between club music and non club music. I felt it would only make sense for me to release on a label where it would connect with people who were already aware of my music but would also help me to be heard by people who didn’t. If I went completely the other way and released on a label with no affiliations to dance music I was worried that it might not reach the people who were already aware of what I was doing. I guess it was a calculated decision, but I’ve known Rob Booth, who runs Houndstooth, for years.
2018 was a good year for more avant garde albums from more clubby producers, do you think you benefitted from that?
This year has been really good for albums, but I personally would’ve preferred if it was ready to be released last year. The record was 99 per cent done last July , I started it in January 2016, but I worked with some mixing engineers to do the final mix, which took a long time as it was done remotely.
I kind of wish it had come out last year because one of the things I was really conscious of was how ‘ambient’ is kind of in vogue at the moment and I didn’t want to get caught up in all of that. The kind of music that the record has is stuff that I’ve always been making. It’s stuff that I’ve always been writing and wanting to write.
With that being said, would the positive reactions to Djrum, Skee Mask and Objekt’s extended releases not prompt more people to listen to more ‘out there’ albums like your own?
It’s just the worry of falling into ‘techno producer makes ambient album’. I spent a long time getting the track list for the record right, there’s quite a lot of tracks that didn’t make it on, in fact there might have been some better tracks that didn’t make it on, but my whole thing was that it works as an album from start to finish. I guess that I felt that I had something to prove if I was going to do this.
Has releasing a drum-less album affected your DJ sets at all, or is still the same Pariah we’ve gotten to know over the years?
I think it’s fine, I made the conscious decision not to do a live show for it. I always do a live show with Jamie [Blawan] and I think I get as much as I could get from live performances that I do out of Karenn. For me, I felt I wouldn’t get as much out of it if I did this record live. I did one sort of presentation of the album at a festival in Germany, so it was nice to hear the music in a different setting.
I’ve made it clear that if you book me I’m still a club DJ. I separate myself as a producer and as a DJ, I think at this time people are so open to hearing new sounds that I don’t think it limits you [making a ‘out there’ album], it obviously helps if you’re writing club smashers. I’ve been around for almost eight years and I guess there’s a proportion of people that know what I do, what I play and what I do with Jamie. I’ve certainly never had anyone heckling me for not playing ambient music. I have had people heckling me for not playing hard enough and that pisses me off so much. I think everyone’s experienced the ‘play harder’ man standing at the front of one of their sets at some point.
How did you find the rollout process of the album? You’re not the most active on social media and it had been six years since any music of yours was released.
I, after many years of resisting, got an Instagram account. We live in today’s world, you’ve got to do what you’ve got to do. I don’t mind doing all the album rollout stuff and it hasn’t changed a huge amount since when I last did a bigger release either. The speed of which things turn over is a lot quicker. You’ve got a two or three week window to grab people’s attention. I think if you’re in a position where there’s a lot of hype around you then I think that’s when it becomes scary.
If you’re someone like me who’s just coasting along and doing bits and bobs here and there, there’s not as much pressure. Whereas if it’s someone who makes something huge, the pressure is on them to deliver with the follow up with something equally massive, I can see that being really frustrating and it’s happened to a couple of friends of mine.
You’ve moved to Amsterdam, but how important was it living in London when you were coming up. There seems to be a sort of togetherness among producers and DJs there that exists almost nowhere else.
If you look at London, it’s the birthplace for a lot of styles of UK dance music, not all of it, but a lot.
There may be about 2000 techno producers in Berlin, but there’s not these scenes that exist like they do in the UK.
There’s no group of people sharing music, as far as I know, I must add as a disclaimer. It doesn’t seem to have a grassroots thing whereas when you look at Bristol, which is sort of the second city for dance music in the UK and what’s happening with the Timedance crew, these are people that have been around and been active and taken their time to develop themselves as producers and as DJs.
I think it pays off when you have actual scenes and infrastructure in place which support them. It can just be like one club space, with dubstep you had Velvet Rooms and Plastic People. Really just two venues and a group of like minded people sharing ideas. It’s weird that it doesn’t happen in more places. I think Berlin is the shining beacon where they talk about the scene, a place where people are massively into techno but I don’t feel a sense of actual community where there are people trying to help everyone each other out and build things together.
Pariah plays Wigwam on Friday January 11th, join the event here.