We caught up with Belfast DJ and producer Mount Palomar, AKA, Neil Kerr, ahead of his latest remix of post-punk band Enola Gay.
Covering his experience of pandemic anxiety, Black Lives Matter, Mount Palomar shares an honest reflection on what has lead him to take his latest production down a slightly different route to remixing the excellent track titled ‘The Birth Of A Nation’, which we’re extremely honored to feature on our Soundcloud page. We’re delighted that Neil shared his story with ourselves and our readers.
We’ve all put down an immense year and Neil delves straight into how he has managed it all…
This year began with a sense of optimism and excitement, off the back of my first two releases in 2019, the Berghain gigs, the selection by PRS For Music as one of their five techno acts of 2020, getting signed up to Minds On Fire etc… things were all headed in the right direction. This was the year I was due to get signed to a highly regarded booking agency, had begun working towards bringing a manager on board and had new (sub 7 minute!) club tracks ready to send off but then the pandemic hit and almost all of that ground to a halt.
At first it was just kind of surreal and, although I almost immediately wrote off the remainder of 2020 in terms of gigs, I was initially hopeful that come spring 2021 life would largely be back to normal. However, as things got steadily worse with the infection rates and the government’s complete ineptitude when it came to dealing with just about every aspect of the pandemic, I started to get anxious about what the future might hold for musicians. In particular what it might hold for those of us whose careers are spent in sweaty, packed clubs for hours, sometimes days on end. For a number of months, I was yo-yoing between thinking it’ll be fine and work itself out and thinking I might have lost the career I had worked towards for most of my life. My family were really good at keeping me calm and my mum is very much of the ‘if there is nothing you can do about it, let it go, keep moving forward’ frame of mind. She has always helped pick me up when my chin has dropped and this time was no different.
I threw myself into working on new music, bettering myself as a producer and applying for funding to facilitate future work. If there has been a silver lining for me personally this year, it’s that the pandemic in many respects has given me the time to get back to where I feel most comfortable as a producer. As a teenager and aspiring producer in my 20s, my main focus was combining obscure instrumentation with the rawer side of electronic production. I was probably in some respects more forward thinking and innovative as a kid, I suppose I had no fear and no real knowledge of what an electronic producer is ‘supposed to do’. The extra time afforded to me, thanks to the current situation, has allowed me to clear out my studio, dust off my hurdy gurdy and Mongolian horse-headed fiddles and push myself to create work that is fresh and innovative.
Since reflecting on the year, and the many obstacles faced, Neil got the opportunity to reflect on past raves, friendships and acquaintances, plus an excellent dialogue with Joe McVeigh of Enola, which would eventually lead up to the remix we’re sharing today.
‘The Birth of a Nation’ was written in the wake of the death of George Floyd, the original song was a response to the institutional racism that has plagued society for centuries.
I met Joe McVeigh, the lead guitarist and main songwriter of Enola, a few years back at an Annaghtek illegal rave. He maintains that I was wearing a viking helmet, but I have a fairly woozy recollection of that night and no memory of a viking helmet. We occasionally bumped into each other at raves or club nights and I brought him to his first DSNT night, which was an illegal Haus Of Doof party that was fairly rowdy and very much the type of clubbing experience I’m really missing at the minute.
Joe always came across as being really passionate about music, but also as being opinionated and not afraid to speak his mind. He reminded me of myself at that age and I could see that people would either love or loathe him, a character trait that doesn’t seem to phase him at all, which is quite refreshing these days.
He used to occasionally fire me over some electronic tracks that he was working on but I am one of the worst people to send music to. I spend a fair bit of my time dissatisfied with my own music and am picky about music production and what grabs my ear. It’s not that I have a chip on my shoulder, I think I’m just fussy and if you send me something that sounds like a track I’ve already heard 100 times, I find it hard to get excited. Usually I try to offer constructive criticism, suggest ways to potentially better the work, but with Joe I was less civil, actually I was kinda rude… I think I sensed he could take the honesty plus I was pretty stressed out last year, juggling a fairly hectic music schedule whilst trying to maintain some sort of normalcy when barely spending any time at home.
I remember one particular day slabbering at Joe about a track he had sent over. It was a decent enough track, I just wasn’t really feeling it, was in a bad mood that day and at times I can be as subtle as a brick covered in sandpaper. I politely relayed to Joe, in a forceful manner, that I felt that his talents probably lay in his love of guitar music, not the world of doof. I think I wrote something like ‘this is the electronic equivalent to Oasis, go back to your guitar’, knowing fine rightly that he loathed Oasis. In retrospect, I am surprised he didn’t tell me where to go, in fact I am sure he did. Though to be fair, Joe soon decided to set down his midi keyboard and get back to being in a band, which is where he shines. Now, I don’t want to accept full credit for this, but I’ll happily accept 10% of all his future earnings from the band.
Fast forward a few months and in autumn of last year Joe formed ‘Enola Gay’, one of the best post punk bands I have heard come out of Ireland. There is a visceral nature to what they do that feels authentic, I could see from very early on that there was a fearlessness and a huge sense of ambition in their approach. Joe wears his heart on his sleeve and writes about matters that he cares about and that comes through in their material and was certainly the case with their debut release.
When I first heard ‘The Birth of a Nation’, it was a surprise departure from their usual post punk anthems. I remember thinking that, despite lacking first hand experience in the subject matter of the track, Fionn’s slightly demented vocals and Joe’s screeching guitars, captured the mood of what was another depressingly dark episode in America’s troubled narrative. What I hadn’t realised at the time was that the track was written in response to the repugnant racist treatment of one of his black female friends who was harassed, threatened and vilified online following an incident at a BLM protest in Belfast.
With my sister having lived in LA for quite some time now and given that I was due to fly over earlier this year for the birth of my nephew, the turmoil in the US, exacerbated by a president who is the human embodiment of a dangerous, vile narcissism, left me feeling particularly sick. I spent some time reading quite a few articles by those on both sides of the divide, by those who had experienced police brutality due to the colour of their skin but also by those convinced that the problem isn’t racism, it’s the media. Undoubtedly one of the most horrific and worrying patterns in society these days, is the willingness to bend the facts to suit an agenda. I found it disturbing to see that so many people were making the argument that police brutality against black Americans was essentially because black men were thugs. They didn’t say it as blatantly as that (most of the time) but the insinuation was that, due to the higher rate of crime amongst black males, this was proof that basically young black men were the problem. No thought seemed to have been given as to why crime among black males was higher, no concern about what the root cause of this was, no acceptance that for centuries, those in power within the US actively made it almost impossible for its black citizens to thrive and succeed in a manner afforded to their fellow white citizens.
Even thinking about this again makes my blood boil.
Ironically, having grown up during a sectarian civil war where people were murdered due to their religious beliefs, I, like many other people, find myself in 2020 wondering if we are going forwards or backwards when it comes to accepting and celebrating each other’s differences.
I had actually been working on a new EP late last year called, ‘Still Got The Disease, Honey,’ written as a reaction to the extreme nationalism that seems to be almost in fashion and a badge of honour for millions of people worldwide these days. That work sampled a conversation with one of the last African American slaves, alongside a performance by the Aleppo orchestra. It was a body of work that dealt with nationalism and colonialism, though to 99% of people it would have just sounded like some mad breakbeaty techno release. I still like to have a concept behind the tracks I am working on, I find that I care about the material moreso, even if no one else really knows the meaning behind it.
When deciding on whether to remix the Enola Gay track, I was completely exasperated by the intolerance that had become almost a campaign slogan for those wanting to capitalise on people’s prejudices. In an age when protest songs are less important than inane TikTok candyfloss soundtracks, I felt that the Enola Gay track was a breath of fresh air and I was happy to come on board the remix, after all what’s the point of being an artist if you never say what you’re thinking through your work?
For the remix itself, I knew I didn’t want to write some pretty synth melodies and a clubby bassline, before I even switched on my computer, I knew I wanted my synths to sound like they were screaming. I wanted the remix to sound pissed off, a sort of furious refusal to remain silent when so many people continue to beat the us against them drum. LIke I said, it’s rare these days to hear protest songs, or at least it’s not as commonplace as it was when I was growing up. Whereas some people these days would hear a track like the original ‘The Birth of a Nation’ track and think why are white Irish boys writing about the death of a black man thousands of miles from where they live? I am of the view that the louder we shout in defiance against racism and discrimination of any type, then the better a chance we stand of finally moving on from centuries of injustice.