With its small thickset body, its short members and its big round ears, the koala evokes a teddy bear, but it looks like especially the wombat, its closest non-faded cousin who also lives in Australia but whom we find not in the Australian forests but in the mountain. The fur of the koala is however more thick, its bigger ears and its longer members.
A close relation of the koala has developed since a few years : The Bleaching Agent !
MiXit : Hello, First of all, a traditional question : could you briefly present yourself for those who don’t know you (yet)?
Al : My name’s Al, I’m from Glasgow but have lived in Leeds for about 5 years, I make records, I play records.
MiXit : Let’s speak about the genesis of Bleaching agent. How did it begin ?
Al : It was more about changing how I work than anything else. I was getting tired of spending 6 months agonising over one track at a time, so I started giving myself 1 hour to start and finish a track. I’ve stopped working like that a long time ago, but it has sped up my output quite a bit, and I’m a bit sharper and more decisive as a result. It was anonymous for the first 18 months or so to give myself a some time and space to get going. Working anonymously is great, it’s almost like you’re not there at all, you’re not personally invested in it.
MiXit : On your Facebook page or on your Soundcloud, we can see a koala as a profile picture. What’s the deal with the koala?
Al : It’s a way of having a face and keeping my anonymity. I already had the koala, it was a silly gift for my wife, and he had the most idiotic expression of all the other koalas on the shelf when I bought him, so he photographs well. It’s become a kind of project in itself, and I think electronic music is about playing around with toys anyway, it seems apt. Facebook’s full of musicians getting excited essentially about toys, and they’re almost all men too. That’s probably why there’s so few women producing or DJing, I don’t think we allow women to have childish pursuits in the same way we do men. If I was a woman taking pictures of a Beenie Baby koala, I’d be ridiculed.
MiXit : Who are your main musical influences ?
Al : God, I’ve not thought about that for years now that you mention it. The most enduring influences(outside of the usual techno ones, Downwards, Optimo, I-F, Steve Bicknell etc) are people like Gilbert & Lewis, Swell Maps, Captain Beefheart, Faust, anything that seems to be about making the unworkable work. The past few years has been spent trawling Youtube for weird disco records I could never afford to buy, which is probably having some impact in what I produce and play. You get to a point where you stop thinking about what inspires you, it’s already hard-wired into you. You focus on getting things done, and you figure out what it means later.
It’s a strange though, that talking about influences feels like it’s more about branding yourself, and wanting to be seen in a particular way. I’d never mention Scottish rave bands like QFX or Rhythmic State for example, even though being Scottish and in my 30s they’ve naturally had a huge impact on how I view techno. They’re not the kind of thing a shadowy techno artist should be talking about, are they?
MiXit : You have made several collaborations with other artists as Blacknecks or Forward Strategy Group. Why ? Is it your way to create different music, an ambivalence ?
Al : With FSG it was just something that clicked. Because of the people we are, we knew we could develop something that was a kind of third entity, rather than just a straight mix of Patrick’s and my ideas, and there’s always been a healthy balance of chemistry and tension.
It was probably the same working with Truss, although the first Blacknecks record was kind of made in anger, from my end. I was hoping to just make some techno with a producer I liked, he sent me a load of noise to work with and I wanted to make him regret working with me. Looking back, that’s actually a fantastic starting point for a collaboration. We essentially just trolled and bullied each other for 2 years and put the results on vinyl. It was hilarious. It was also fun to take the arty pretention that can sometimes rear its head in techno, and use it to attack itself.
MiXit : Many artists as you, have made some collaborations which are mainly fleeting/ephemeral. Do you think is it a tendency, an obligation ?
Al : FSG has been going for about 7 years now. We have quiet periods but we always come back with new ideas. Working that way will probably keep us interested in the project for a long time to come. There’s never any pressure for us to keep up momentum. Blacknecks was completely different. We said we’d only ever do 6 releases, as we wanted to end it before we or anyone else got comfortable. Get in, irritate people, get out.
I don’t know how it is for other people who collaborate. It’s sometimes just nice to have some input from outside I guess. With FSG in the beginning we had an interest in a music that wasn’t entirely present at the time. As the landscape of techno changed we tried to keep away from the middle ground, which I think you can do more with another person present. On your own you only have your ideas to go on. With Patrick you play around with each others’, we manipulate each other into doing things the other had never thought of, or even things the other doesn’t want to. It probably sounds like an unhealthy relationship but we’re aware of the rules. There’s never any personality clashes because we’re both pretty easy going.
MiXit : Do you plan to make other collaborations for the next years?
Al : None at all. I’ve never had much interest in working with other people, so it’s strange that I’ve ended up doing it so much.
MiXit : When do you start to produce music ?
Al : 1999 maybe. I’ve got a cassette somewhere of my early tracks, hardcore and noise stuff. I haven’t heard it for at least 8 years. I started producing techno in a serious way maybe 10 years ago
MiXit : How can you produce ? What does it inspire you ?
Al : Nothing inspires me really, or at least nothing that I’m aware of. I’m very unromantic about producing at times. Sometimes you go on a run of making 10 great tracks in one week, other times it feels like work and you struggle to meet deadlines and so on. You still come up with interesting music either way. Inspiration’s more in recognising the right idea when it presents itself. You’ll always have ideas, it’s which ones you latch onto that matter.
MiXit : Which tools do you use to produce music? And for your live performances?
Al : You’d be surprised at how low-tech it is. No hardware, all cheap or free software. I happened to end up with a DR-660 drum machine a while ago which wouldn’t work. It turns out it just needed the internal battery replaced, which I did, played around with it for 10 minutes and said « nah, fuck this, I want to use a mouse ». People always seem surprised when I tell them I have no hardware, but I’ve always found it easy to avoid sounding ‘digital’. Anything you read about how to produce electronic music properly, how to EQ sensibly, not over-processing sounds and the like, I just do the opposite of all that.
MiXit : You’ve made a few releases for Opal Tapes, Komisch Records for your last EP (Babolat) or Perc Trax and Blacknecks. You manage for each release on these labels to create a special atmosphere, an incredible contemporary techno music which is deep, sometimes « kitsch »…. How can you decide to record on that labels ? According to what music you create, according to an atmosphere or feelings you want to share ?
Al : They all just seemed to happen. The Komisch releases were mainly through selecting from a bunch of tracks I already had. Opal Tapes was done specifically for them from scratch, particularly for that format. I probably did about 2 1/2 hours of material in 2 weeks. It’s a mixture of both, sometimes I’ll have something that might fit, sometimes I’ll be motivated to make something especially for a label.
I’ll pretty much release wherever I’m asked, but I do make a point of sending music that’s not quite what a label might expect. Things don’t always work out, but I think I’m doing the right thing by the labelsand myself. Neither of us would want to release something that’s contrived or forced, and you end up on the labels that are more receptive to something different, so it all balances out nicely.
MiXit : Is it necessary for an artist to record on different labels to explore more difference aspects of a kind of music ?
Al : It depends on the label and the artist. FSG have done a fairly wide range of music on Perc Trax, they seem to have faith in us, and in a way they expect to be surprised. But we do go elsewhere when we feel it’s appropriate. There was no question of Blacknecks releasing anywhere else though, with the exception of Mad Decent, who we did send a demo to and it was ignored. But that was only done so we could mention it in the press release. It was the only time we ever told the truth.
MiXit : How can you define your music ? Do you really identify yourself as a techno artist ?
Al : I obviously am a techno artist, but there’s so little that defines techno that you can do pretty much anything you like within that. It’s sometimes incredibly conservative, even at the ‘experimental’ end, but at its best it feels like it can go anywhere.
MiXit : Many techno artists and labels come from the UK like you. How can you explain this ? Do you think the UK techno scene is that special ?
Al : Any number of things. Good dance music tends to come from cities where industry has died, and we’re an entire country where that’s happened. Plus everyone speaks our language. And we’ve had breakbeat, jungle, garage, dubstep etc in our consciousness, and British producers maybe come from a wider range of musical backgrounds. They’re all factors, or maybe none of them are.
MiXit : Techno music has developed in many different styles since its appearance. According to you, what could be the possible future evolution of this music?
Al : The trance thing’s already happening by the look of things. There’s been a few of us playing the occasional trance track in DJ sets for a while now. I’ve always thought of it as the last taboo in techno but it seems to be breaking now.
There’s always so much going on, what appears to be evolution is really just people’s attention shifting. It happens to be on British techno now, but tomorrow it’ll be something else.
MiXit : If techno had a message for our society, what would it be according to you?
Al : It doesn’t have one I don’t think. It takes the shape of whatever the people involved require it to. There was talk a while ago about UK techno being a response to the political climate, but I don’t think that’s true. It’s essentially groups of people enjoying themselves. Thinking beyond that helps keep things moving and interesting, but at its core it’s a shallow pursuit of joy, and it wouldn’t exist if that wasn’t the case.
MiXit : We now arrive at the end of this interview. Can you tell us what are your future projects?
Al : A few remixes coming this year, including one for Chrononautz, another on Prole Beat, an EP on Overlee Assembly with an old mate doing a brilliant remix, and it looks like there’ll be a mini-series of EPs in some form starting later in the year. And that ‘new FSG EP’ we’re always working on, which has actually just been completed today, probably our best work too. And possibly two or three EPs under pseudonyms that I’ll probably never reveal. In terms of performing, just jetting around playing records, including performing twice at Incubate Festival in September, a DJ set and an FSG live set. And having a baby in the summer. Which is nice.
Please, you can listen to his last podcast :
Thank you Al !