The Need of Being Versed in Country Things.
When placing electronic music in a notional environment your mind might wander between the concrete-constructed dilapidation of Detroit, the imposing brutalism of Berlin, or London’s networks of highrises and landings. Rarely will the landscape that shaped Nathan Fake’s upbringing – the sun-dappled shores and fields of Norfolk, with its attendant expansive skies and blissful air of pastoral nostalgia, spring immediately to mind.
There is however a lineage of electronic music inspired by and imbued with a sense of the countryside, spanning from Tangerine Dream’s bucolic synthetic fantasias, to the deep-forest-dwelling of Wolfgang Voigt’s GAS project taking in the Cornish air that altered and warped Aphex Twin’s acid experiments. Fake’s music, with its streamlined gurgles, misty-eyed sheen and Boards of Canada-esque feeling of memorial melodies conjured with one foot in the real and the other in the imagined, fits neatly into this country-continuum.
Having been writing music since he was a teenager, Fake has found himself a near-permanent home on James Holden’s Border Community label, which has also released material by the likes of Fairmont, Kate Wax, and fellow-Norfolkian Luke Abbott. He has dabbled in memory-drenched hypnogogic electronica on his debut full-length Drowning in a Sea of Love, ventured into more club-friendly territory on 2009’s Hard Islands, dropped a handful of excellent singles and produced some sterling remix work for Radiohead and Perc amongst others.
On Steam Days, his third full album, Fake pushes his sound into darker, more fractured territory, largely eschewing the hazy wistfulness that characterised his earlier output. Instead, he concentrates on crafting a series of tracks that creak with a palpable sense of tension that emerges from competing binary oppositions: interiors versus exteriors, night versus day, the build-up versus the delayed- release, melody versus rhythm, a tension that Fake, with his melodic weaving and timbral shifts, never seeks to resolve. As a result, the album is full of twists, rarely allowing itself to settle into a content groove, with Fake changing the rhythmic rules with regularity. It’s a mature sounding record, the kind of album that occurs when the artist has had time to reflect on past releases, reconciling pleasures and interests both old and new.
Just before Steam Days made its way onto the shelves of record shops, Crack was lucky enough to catch up with Nathan Fake and discuss the excitement of releasing records, the pleasure of buying records, the freedom he enjoys as a remixer, and his ongoing love affair with the Norfolk coast.
Does the feeling of releasing a record change over time, or are you as excited about the release of Steam Days as you were when the Outhouse EP came out in 2003?
It’s a different kind of excitement, but yes I’m definitely really excited about this one. When Outhouse came out I didn’t know what the hell was going on really, it was all a little bewildering. Now I’m pretty seasoned so it’s a familiar excitement. But yeah, still totally butterflies-in-the-stomach inducing.
What does one feel on the completion of a record?
It can be a bit vague as to when the record is actually finished. Obviously the first moment of “Yes, I’ve finished all the tracks!” is a moment of total euphoria, but for me it soon gives way to a feeling of “oh, I’d better sort that bit out there” or “maybe I should take this track out” etc. With this record, it took a while to get it right.
Apart from the odd dalliance with Traum (the Cologne based label run by Triple R’s Riley Reinhold), you’ve stayed true to Border Community. Is there any particular reason for this, some kind of label ideology/ethos that interests you?
I just get on really well with James and Gemma (Holden and Sheppard, owners of the label). I think they’re some of the people that know me the best. As such, they pretty much let me do what I want with albums etc. and they know they can let me get on with it without having to interfere too much.
Going back a few years, Dinamo appeared on Superpitcher’s Today mix for Kompakt, a record now associated with the idea of ‘microgoth’ – where do you stand on the continual process of genre appellations being adopted and dismissed? Do you go into the studio thinking about genre as something rigid and to be stuck to, or are you freer in your approach?
Microgoth! That’s the first time I’ve ever heard that! I never think about genres when making music, I think very few musicians do really… I mean, Dinamo and my BC releases were all pretty big in that German techno scene at the time, but I totally wasn’t thinking about that when making the tunes. If I’m being honest I didn’t really know much about it.
Does writing/recording music hamper your enjoyment of it on a personal level? Are you still able to geek out over new 12”s sitting in the racks? Who excites you currently?
I’m still totally able to separate it, only when I’m working on a record I tend to make a point of not listening to any music so as not to get swayed by current sounds. I want everything to sound timeless and visceral. Now I’ve finished the record though, I’ve been listening to a few new things. I’m really into Lukid, I’ve got him supporting at the Steam Days launch party too which I’m dead happy about. Half the time I tend to end up listening to old stuff I grew up with though, Warp stuff and that, Orbital etc. Can’t beat it really, total 90s-head.
Drowning in a Sea of Love now seems to be an almost proto-chillwave record, whereas Hard Islands was, well, harder, and Steam Days has this really propulsive motorik vibe about it; can you describe the how and why your sound has changed over the years?
That’s nice of you to say, some people think all my stuff sounds the same! Drowning sounds so old when I hear it now; I was such a different person back then. I was really young too, and you can hear that in the music. I guess Drowning and Hard Islands were both quite considered records, I had a pretty fixed idea about how I wanted them to sound. Steam Days is way more instinctive, I didn’t really think about how I wanted it to sound as such, it just sort of fell out of me and so I think it’s my most genuine-sounding record to date. Like I said earlier, I didn’t listen to any other music at the time, so my own ideas and my equipment were just inspiring me. But I think you can kind of hear me growing up if you listen to my records in chronological order.
Is remixing something that interests you as much as working on your own material, or are you in the DJ Harvey school of thinking where you should be paid equivalent to the work you put in on re-hashing the tune and the label shouldn’t expect a new track every time you do a remix?
Remixing is definitely an interesting thing to do and it can be loads of fun … it’s such a different working process to writing your own music though. It’s much more like working to a brief, like there’s someone waiting for you to finish it with a certain amount of expectation. It’s just a totally different mindset, I think. I like to make my remixes pretty different to the originals now; I mean these days it’s totally subjective as to what a remix is. If you get asked to remix a pop song and you submit ten minutes of synth drones, you can get away with it cause you’re an artist weirdo.
From one Norfolk boy to another, does the landscape that shaped your upbringing shape your music in anyway? And is there a particular Norfolk spot you’d recommend above all others to Crack readers who might be unfamiliar with the delights of the region?
I’m always thinking about Norfolk when I’m writing music to be honest, so many of my tunes have Norfolk references in the titles and stuff. Favourite Norfolk spots … probably the conservation area just outside Necton, the village where I grew up or somewhere on the coast, Blakeney or Brancaster. Anywhere really.
Steam Days is out now via Border Community
Words: Josh Baines