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PLAID Interview
an interview by Alexander Laurence

Double Figure is Plaid's third album for Warp Records. Over the years, the duo has been know as a leader of the IDM (Intelligent Dance Music) movement filling their tracks with lush melodies, stabbing beats, and experimental noise. Double Figure is as good as anything they've done, with tracks fluctuating between warm electronics and Autechre-style experimentation. It's an enjoyable collection, and one of the best albums of the year so far, even though it was released in the UK last summer.

Plaid makes electronic music with Classical sensibilities, in a more accessible way than many artists on Warp Records who seem interested in changing music forever and impressing the academics. I met up with Ed and Andy from Plaid in Hollywood. I was a little late and Mira Calix was already onstage so we went to the back room at The El Rey Theater. Our conversation was very friendly and I found Ed and Andy to be regular and approachable guys, unlike many other artists I have met on the Warp label.

www.plaid.co.uk

_______________

AL: When did you guys meet?

Ed: We met at school. We grew up in East Anglia. It's about an hour away from London on the train.

Andy: It's rural and quite flat. It's agricultural. It encompasses Cambridgeshire, Suffolk and Norfolk. There are four counties in East Anglia and we were in the county of Suffolk. It's the southeast part. It's slightly north and east of London.

AL: Was there a music scene there that you grew up in and informed you?

Ed: We were really obsessed by hip-hop for some reason. It was just arriving in England at the time. It was the mid-1980s. We just latched onto it.

AL: Were you into breakdancing?

Ed: That's what we did most of the time. We tried to be B-boys. We were actually A-boys.

Andy: I was probably the better breaker. Ed was a better dancer.

AL: Were there much Electro records back then in England besides Herbie Hancock's "Rockit"?

Andy: That probably got played every other three records. We didn't have too many records. There was one track by Cold Crush. Other stuff from mainstream movies. There were no independent record stores in our area. Most of the stuff we had were bad quality tapes made from FM radio stations in London or tapes that friends had sent us.

Ed: There were tracks by Ice T when they came out. We would go to clubs in London and hear music there.

AL: Did you play in bands when you were growing up?

Ed: Not really. I started out with drum machines and playing samplers.

Andy: I was in the school band and I could read music. I was in the brass section in school. That was good for me to learn music. I played the flugal horn.

AL: Double Figure is your third record with Warp Records?

Andy: Actually we have done five albums altogether. One on our own label in 1991, Black Dog Productions. Trainer was a compilation of previously released stuff.

AL: Was Black Dog a previous band?

Ed: We did Black Dog at the same time. It was assumed that Black Dog came before because we released the first Plaid album at the same time. Black Dog was a collective and it was never a band. Just like Plaid is not really a band. We don't get up onstage and play instruments. We get up onstage and play tracks that we have written individually. It doesn't fit in with what a band is.

AL: Black Dog was around in the summer of 1988 when Happy Monday and Stones Roses came around?

Ed: It was just after that. It was fueled by rave culture. We didn't go to a lot of parties. But it was like we started to make music because we didn't find music we liked at those parties.

AL: Much of the music on Warp Records seems intimate and introverted and anti-social. Much of what Plaid does is more diverse and outgoing.

Ed: We don't see what we do as serious or academic.

Andy: We like to enjoy ourselves and enjoy what we are doing.

AL: Are you saying that some of the people on Warp Records are academic?

Ed: No. It's that their interests are more on the academic side of things and they want to change music. Like they want to introduce atonality into it. Or they want to use really strange time signatures.

AL: So to like Plaid you don't have to know who Stockhausen or Schoenberg are?

Andy: No. To like anything is not necessarily to know anything else. To like anything comes from a deeper understanding rather than an intellectual connection. I like this because it is like someone else who I know is good. That would be a bad reason to like something. You should put a Plaid track next to a Lionel Richie track and it should be seamless.

AL: Do you still DJ?

Andy: No, not as much as we used to. We are bad DJs. We tend not to maintain a groove very well. We don't get asked to play that many places. Or we get asked to play as people are leaving.

AL: A few tracks on your latest record reminded me of Brian Eno's Ambient 4: On Land. Do you like anything that he does?

Ed: You can't really knock Brian Eno because he has done some amazing music. He is an innovator. Even if you object to some of the stuff he's done lately, the production quality usually is very interesting.

Andy: He loves FM sounds. We are into FM sounds.

AL: What's that?

Ed: He knows how to program a DX7. It's a Yahama synthesizer. It's not obscure. It's what everyone used in the 1980s. No one now knows how to program one except for Brian Eno. It's a digital synth. You would recognize it. It's like a cheesy moog sound. It sounds like a lot of electric pianos and noise. It's not quite convincing.

Andy: You can get some stabby sounds. Some of those Detroit twangy basslines were FM. They were programmed in a twisted way. You can get some nice sounds out of them.

AL: Do you spend much time buying gear and collecting old analog synths?

Andy: We have gotten more into software the last couple of years. We have loads of analog synths in the studio but most of it is broken. The sound is not as good but it's a lot more convenient. We used Logic Audio and things that plug into that.

Ed: We still use analog synths but they brake down all the time. It's very difficult to tell the different between analog and digital. It all hits the digital stage at some point down the line for us. The pitch changes all the time. We are getting fascinated by digital and virtual stuff. With Logic Audio you can write your own drum patches and humanize it. There are random generators that create interesting things.

AL: Some groups have a palette of sounds that they use with each record before they move on. Do you have some sounds that are used with each album?

Andy: Harps and bells are something that we have used on everything we have done. Sometimes we have some distorted voices.

AL: The last song "Manyme" has the female singer, Mara Carlyle. What was going on in that song?

Andy: We worked with her before. We were exploring this new synthesizer we had which does real time pitch shifting. She sang a round and we ran it through this machine. It starts out like a baby voice and then goes down.

AL: The first track "Eyen" has this guitar sound. You aren't afraid of guitars?

Ed: All sounds are good. Benet Walsh came up with this riff and we worked around that. It's a guitar driven track.

AL: "Squance" has a heavy drum track that sounds like a live drummer.

Ed: That has a FM DX7 type bassline.

Andy: We have never played with a live drummer. We are not really a band, like I have said. When we play live we work with a video artist. There's a video show and us on laptops. We could be doing anything back there. Maybe we should project our computer screens to the audience so you can see what we are going to do next.

AL: Have you played with a live singer?

Ed: Yeah, we have done that. We have played with singers and guitarists. Since so much of the material is electronic there's no point in doing it. In the future, we will do it if we have to. But the idea is that it is computer generated. That it is so precise. That's why I love it.

Andy: We have always had reservations. It seems like every time an electronic band gets any level of credibility at all, they get a full band in. "Well we didn't like the electronic stuff. We just couldn't afford the session musicians. We really are a rock band."

AL: There's the one song "Porn Coconut Co." Are you big fans of porn?

Ed: That was a misspelling on a packet. The song "Zala" means "happiness" in some African dialect. Sometimes the words don't means anything. We like the sounds of the words. The sound of the word fits the track somehow. Sometimes you listen to the track and come up with the first word that comes into your head.

AL: Are you influenced by movie soundtracks or anything like that?

Andy: Apparently one of our songs has the same chord sequence as "Hotel California." Somebody recently has pointed it out. It has apparently seeped into our subconscious.

AL: Maybe Don Henley will be at the show tonight seeking a royalty? Do stars ever come to your shows?

Andy: Outkast were at our show last time we were here.

AL: What did you think about critics comparing Radiohead's Kid A to the artists on Warp Records?

Andy: I thought all that Radiohead stuff was so weird. Kid A is not an electronic album at all. There was one drum machine on one track on the whole album. They called it an electronic album. Whatever.

AL: Besides Bjork, what bands have you toured with?

Andy: We did an eight month tour with Bjork. We have toured with Orbital. We were going to play with Moby and Outkast last year but it never did materialize. We are still waiting for our songs to be used on a coffee commercial.

AL: Ladytron is on a car commercial here.

Ed: Ladytron are cool.

AL: "Assault on Precinct Zero" might be a good song for a car commercial?

Ed: Yeah. A four by four assault vehicle.

AL: What other hobbies do you have?

Andy: Playing computer games, cooking, reading, hanging out with friends. Normal stuff really. I am thinking of getting a game cube tomorrow because they are loads cheaper over here. I finished playing Grand Theft Auto 3. I think that there is an alternative ending. There an Observatory at the end that I haven't been able to get to. I reckon it's a Rebel Without A Cause ending, but I can't get to it. I have completed the game and then some. If anyone out there reading this can tell me what to do, please do so. It takes about three or four days of solid playing.

Ed: I play games too. It's a step up from watching TV. I do some Kung Fu. I would love to do Yoga but I don't have the discipline.




-- Alexander Laurence

 

 



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