Camden (or 'Theme from Nuclear Surface') by thank you, merciless onlookers
Recent studies suggest that the average British person will now live in seven different houses during their lifetime. For nearly every year of my life, I have moved house at least once.
I’m not a born traveller and I’ve never lived anywhere exotic – a brace of obscure seaside villages in the North when I was growing up, a random collection of towns across the Sussex coast in more recent years. A flirtation with London, where the changes in location weren’t so much strategic as spasms; violent reactions in opposition to whatever my most recent bad life decision had been.
It is this period that is chronicled, directly and indirectly, by the sounds on this release.
This wasn’t an album I had intended to make. I’d randomly happened upon the recordings recently, most of which were made 10 or so years ago, and I was surprised to find that I didn’t hate all of them. Some of them I quite liked. Interestingly, the ones I thought were good then are not the ones I included here or think are good now.
These recordings were made during a tumultuous, slightly lost period in my life, and the manic flitting from abode to abode was definitely a symptom of this, though I can’t decide if the sounds themselves were.
These were the first “songs” I’d ever recorded, although at the time I wasn’t sure if this was even music or not. It definitely didn’t sound like the music I liked then – hyper-literate indie like The Mountain Goats, or scorched earth black metal like Satyricon. Initially, it wasn’t even composed – just instinctive sketches that felt right to make. They felt so right that I made them all the time, and accrued several albums’ worth of this badly-recorded “not music”.
These weren’t tracks that I played to anyone else, it just felt somehow healing to make things. Later, when I started my own label, Blue Tapes and X-Ray Records, I stopped making these funny sound contraptions and devoted my time instead to discovering and promoting what I regarded to be proper genius music, from artists like Katie Gately, Jute Gyte and Henry Plotnick.
Because the person I am now isn’t the person who made these tracks, it was an interesting experiment in collating some permutation of them into a release for Pan Y Rosas, one of my favourite labels. To whittle it down, I selected one track from each of the houses I lived in during this period of psychic wrongness, and rechristened each piece after the area it was recorded in – Brighton, Kilburn, Camden, Tottenham, Brixton.
It’s not so much an exercise in nostalgia, as an exorcism – a way of driving a stake through that time and these songs. Of finishing.
Here are some facts about this collection:
• Each track was made with a completely different set-up and sound palette
• Apart from some effects, the album starts completely acoustic with the first track, but gradually becomes more electronic, culminating in the final track, which is the only one made in a computer. (‘Brixton’ represents the first time I’d owned a computer good enough to run a DAW. The others were recorded in roundabout ways, for instance, by pre-recording guitar and glockenspiel parts and playing them back through my girlfriend’s old 2-channel DJ mixer, along with samples from an iPod and sounds from a pre-smartphone mobile phone, and bouncing the tracks down to make a sort of collage.)
• The album starts out sounding abstract and anarchic, becoming more and more “composed” as it goes on, culminating in the last track being a sort-of pop song. (Although in terms of actual structure, the reverse is true – the first track was the only one with a pre-written score and the last track was largely off the cuff.)
• The first track recorded for the collection (back in 2008) was ‘Brighton’, which is also the best track
• None of the songs have specific reference points or were really influenced by any other music, except ‘Tottenham’, which is a total homage to a bunch of obvious things
• The tracks were mastered by Myles Boisen, who did a great job of identifying and exploiting some sort of sonic common ground between these disparate, naive experiments
• The album artwork and biog picture are both self-portraits taken in the relevant houses around the time the tracks were recorded
Camden (or 'Theme from Nuclear Surface') by thank you, merciless onlookers is licensed under a Attribution-NonCommercial-NoDerivatives (aka Music Sharing) 3.0 International License.