Seb Gainsborough’s work as Vessel is a tightly-wound cross-pollination of European techno and bass straight out of Bristol, his home town. His début album, Order Of Noise, came out on Tri Angle last year and it made a strong impact among those with a penchant for the darkest of dance-floors. He plays the Twisted Pepper this Saturday, February 16th. You can find all the details for that here.
You are a part of the Young Echo group, which is an interesting little cabal. It seems like the solo producer has quickly become the norm in electronic music but, to me, groups and scenes are still very important. What kind of role does collaboration have in your own work and how do you think it’s seen in a wider sense?
For me personally it’s a vital part of the creative process. When you operate within a group, you’re always engaged in a close discussion about your work – and not just your work in relation to you, but in relation to a definable context. You’re surrounded by peers who aren’t afraid to give you honest criticism, who will offer you perspectives that you wouldn’t always reach yourself. To collaborate with you and open you up to different processes and different ways of thinking about your art. And also, crucially, to take the piss out of your music. That’s really important for me. Electronic music is full of serious people making serious music and being serious, which is all well and good but it can become tiring.
Have you felt any changes in your own working practices and ideas since Order Of Noise was made? How do you think you learned from the making of that album and/or the public reception and interpretation of it?
My working practices are pretty much constantly in flux. I’m like a little chimp when it comes to composition, consistently distracted but always excitable. The record was longer than any other body of work I had made previously, so I had to adjust my vision to accommodate that form. Making the album has certainly contributed to the way that I think about composition and process in general.
You included some very interesting material in your mix for The Quietus that I’d like to ask about. Do you think that dance music right now can be, in a sense, anti-historical? The form is old enough now to have a canon but going back beyond 1980 – in terms of influence and origins – isn’t really done very much. Do you think there’s room to bring in people like John Cage and other 20th century composers/ideas into the club world? What do you think is to be gained from that, if anything?
The founding fathers and mothers of electronic music are to my mind undeniably relevant today, whether they are acknowledged as such or not. Listening to composers like Xenakis, Cage, Feldman, Parmegiani, Bayle, Stockhausen’s lot, the GRM composers, the Italian composers and the Radiophonic guys (to name just a few) , you can immediately see how much these pioneers contributed to genuinely progressive electronic music, and to what extend they laid the framework for all that has gone after. It’s a very intimidating heritage, and one which is hard to do justice to. But I think of late there has been a greater sense of recognition, appreciation and appropriation of those artists in electronic music in general, and perhaps in a subtler way then say in the 1990s when the Warp guys were most active. There seems to be more of a desire to push the form forward at the moment, and there are many artists who are cultivating genuinely individual sounds. And the more experimental music audiences are exposed to, the more normalised it becomes. I think there is increasingly more room to bring some of those ideas and approaches into a club scenario, and that audiences will be ever more receptive.
You’ve presumably been playing live a lot over the past few months, has that experience changed the way you look your own music and your audience? How important do you think actual live performance is with electronic music coming from the club, where obviously the DJ is still king?
It’s had a profound impact on the way that I think about all aspects of my creative output, almost entirely positive. I’ve enjoyed bringing my music into public spaces and communicating with audiences in a way I hadn’t experienced before, which I think has a lot to do with the personal nature of the material. Taking those pieces which were written in an entirely insular and somewhat claustrophobic space and publicly sharing them seems to me the natural culmination of the creative process of creating a body of work. Accordingly I believe that live performance in electronic music is increasingly important. With the growth in idiosyncratic musical personalities and works in a field which is predominately populated by banality and ignorant repetition should come a responsibility to maintain that originality in live performance as well. Audiences have been made numb by the sheer vapidity of most electronic performances. I’m not interested in fetishising the past, but this ultimately does a disservice to the roots of dance music performance, which managed to be unpredictable and progressive as well as functional. I think that’s one of the most positive consequences of the current inter-breeding between the various strands of noise, improvisational music and dance-floor artists. A lot of these artists have substantial backgrounds in live performance, and there’s a great deal to learn from watching them play.
You’ve mentioned being a bit of a gear nut but do you think that gear fetishism can go too far? Like, now that pretty much everyone is using the same software, the exoticism of the more esoteric tools used in the past can mean we either don’t get the most out of the technology we have (which results in re-hashed sounds and emulations) or that those old sounds are held up as “authentic” in a way that is limiting of/damaging to contemporary music?
I’m not interested in acquiring equipment for the sake of it. Everything I get has to have a place in the great circle; I sit in the middle of a spiraling daisy chain of instruments and effects when I make music. Every bit of kit always participates in jams, and every bit of kit has to have something interesting to say, otherwise it has to leave. When it comes to computers the process is obviously different. It can too easily be a case of jack of all trades, master of none. Software companies have their part to play in the torrent of carbon-copy electronic music that we’re exposed to now, given that they essentially hand users Fischer-Price construction sets – ‘how to make Detroit Techno in 5 easy loops’. With a computer you’re only limited by your imagination. I think once you ignore all the tutorials on compression, and ‘how to make that really cool sound that Noisa do’, computers are the most liberating and personal tools for composition – especially if you program your own environments. Ditch the prescribed boundaries entirely and create your own mutable world. To answer your question, I don’t necessarily view it as damaging; it’s an inevitable consequence of increasingly affordable technologies. Just as there is more of this ‘nothing’ music, there is also more music being made which is astonishingly creative. The boundaries are constantly in flux, and the more electronic artists that realise they are currently participating in the most socially relevant, technologically advanced and physically exciting artistic debate the better the music will become.
Vessel plays the Twisted Pepper this Saturday, February 16th. Support comes from Ickis Mirolo. Tickets are €10 and you can get more details over at Bodytonic.