Minor Science: Catch your breath
‘Weil es leichter ist, ohne Stil zu schreiben’ reads the enormous cracked stone slab adorning the cover of Minor Science’s debut album, Second Language. The statement translates to ‘because it’s easier to write without style’, a quote from the Irish novelist Samuel Beckett, when asked why he’d switched from writing in English, to writing in French.
Minor Science is the alias of Angus Finlayson, the Berlin-based, British-born producer to whom style frequently bears no boundaries. His unusual ability to blend, subvert and playfully deconstruct has led to some of the most exciting electronic music of the last decade. His releases on AD 93 (FKA Whities) and, earlier, The Trilogy Tapes, were quietly revelatory, slow-burning club distillations. In 2017, he took Paul Woolford’s hardcore alias Special Request in even tougher directions with his ruffneck unspooling of Stairfoot Lane Bunker. And then there was Volumes, an impossibly complex banger that inadvertently became one of the most remarkable club hits in recent memory.
“That was something I agonised about a lot, whether [Volumes] needed to go further or if it was too far,” recalls Finlayson as to the earth-shaking dimensions on his breakout hit, easily wobbling tongues out of cheeks. “I’ve learned in general that it’s OK to indulge in silliness, because perhaps it counterbalances the nerdy, dusty bookshelves, librarian vibe.”
Friendly and accommodating as he is, it’s fair to say Finlayson lives up to this specific observation in person. Comfortable back in a cosy jumper following a day-long, city-hopping photoshoot he speaks considerately, directly and almost academically, but without a hint of pretense. In a former life, Finlayson was a surprisingly formidable figure as a staff writer for Resident Advisor, and despite a degree in music theory and composition, finds his studio methods that seem intriguing to an outsider “almost boring to talk about” and perhaps wisely feels that “the most meaningful musical work happens on a not fully-conscious level”. He doesn’t watch or study music production tutorials and describes himself as “something of a technophobe”, one whose approach is “very idiosyncratic”.
Finlayson’s ‘show, don’t tell’ approach is refreshing and understandable, particularly as it does frequently feel as if Second Language emerges from some other sonic dimension, a seemingly endless space in Finlayson’s head which has led to an inevitable galaxy-braining of ideas. Jazz, dub and experimental techno are all touchstones throughout Second Language, but no reference feels like mere pastiche. Finlayson’s music journalism days may be over, but he has left those of us still in the trenches with an almighty sign off: an impenetrable record, as fun to listen to as it is difficult to deconstruct. In the history of electronic music, perhaps only Neil Tennant of the Pet Shop Boys made the leap from critic to auteur quite as brilliantly as Finlayson.
© Tereza Mundilova
“I’ve learned in general that it’s OK to indulge in silliness, because it counterbalances the nerdy, dusty bookshelves, librarian vibe”
“My initial idea was to do something around the voice, basically,” explains Finlayson, gamely attempting to boil down the album’s DNA. “I realised that was something that unified everything I was doing. I started off experimenting, treating, processing and building music around ‘found voices’. Samples that had some significance to me. But a lot of those experiments just didn’t get off the ground. Then followed a period of just sort of… fiddling around.”
Not typically one to be found lurking around Panorama Bar come noon on a Monday, Finlayson instead punctuated these periods of “fiddling” with a complete immersion in continuing his studies not only of the German language, but also French. Soon, revisiting his archive, he began to trace an emerging theme, that between the native tongue and the second language. Therefore the record is connected by a network of occasionally ludicrous snippets of YouTube academics cut into mere vowels, consonants, breaths and gasps. “That’s not enough,” protests one participant, utterly helpless.
This is not to say that Second Language is a wholly high-minded listen. Across a lean ten tracks, each spilling over with ideas, Finlayson has delivered perhaps the most unashamedly entertaining, danceable music imaginable for an album largely concerning “various psychrometric and kinetic rules in the English language”. Every few minutes, a small sonic wormhole swallows you up and spits you back out somewhere unexpected. The press release refers to these moments as ‘switch-ups’, and each is executed with such versatility and imagination that Finlayson, crafty as he is, may have enjoyed an alternate life as a scratch DJ. Is he attempting to satisfy his own high standards, or dazzle an imaginary audience?
“I would say that an initial draft of the album had double the amount of stuff, and in the process of making these tracks, I had gone way too far in the direction of pleasing myself,” he admits. “The intent is to walk a tightrope, but the jury’s out. Who am I trying to entertain? It’s kind of an impossible question, as it always has to be both.”
It’s difficult to imagine Finlayson employing this style forever, but for now, it’s thrilling, consistently grin-inducing. One moment you’re absorbed in bristling musique concrete, the next, in dubstep’s reign reimagined, or playfully battered by a cheeky burst of jungle. More impressive still, a latent depth of emotion, perhaps even outright melancholy, maintains an open line to a domestic daily life that he holds closer to his chest.
© Tereza Mundilova
“The tendency, when making dancefloor music, is not to indulge that melancholy aspect,” admits Finlayson, who cites DJ Richard, Call Super and A Guy Called Gerald as significant influences when it came to transferring his ideas to the wider canvas of an album. “I had a huge hang-up, in that, if you’re not making music to be played in the club, then what are the rules? How do you judge whether it’s successful or not? And of course, when I listen to other music, I realise there are an infinite amount of criteria by which to judge it. But in my own music, for years, I got a bit stuck on this idea that if it didn’t have a very satisfying climax and a good intro, how do I even tell?”
Nonetheless, Finlayson has also emerged as a dynamic and adventurous DJ, as fluid when drawing connections with the music of others as his own. Appropriately, For Want of Gelt and Gone Rogue fit nicely into the recent electro resurgence while not forgetting to inject original character and ideas. On Blue Deal, skittering drums and blaring brass sections recall, unexpectedly, the much maligned legacy of big beat. Finlayson’s music is sometimes compared to the experimentations of Objekt or Squarepusher, and on Second Language, he makes it clear he can equal their playfulness and production nous.
Indeed, Finlayson suggests both “velocity” and “silliness” are central to his mind-bending interpretation of dance music. It’s a very British energy, first established in his early days raving in London. “My two really important clubbing experiences when I started going out in London were dubstep and Bang Face,” recalls Finlayson, who played the latter’s festival just weeks after we speak. “Dubstep-wise, this was in the genre’s ‘student boom’ phase, so that meant FWD-Rinse raves at The End with stacked line-ups. I liked the depth, space and headsiness of the music, but I also liked a bit of that jump-up energy. Then there was Bang Face, which threw together all kinds of hard, extreme, niche dance music.”
The enviable spirit of these nights spills over onto Second Language’s compelling patchwork of ideas and influences, an artfully handled collision of the physical and the cerebral. Placing linguistics front and centre, in sound and in vision, the record contributes to the culture of electronic music by beginning a fascinating conversation of its own. “To be honest,” concludes Finlayson. “I just like learning things.”
Second Language is out now via AD 93