Nathan Fake Interview: Raw Improvisation

We discussed the creative process, forgotten 90s synths and collaborations ahead of his new album and live AV tour.

Mike Warburton

Last updated: 27th Jan 2017

Photo: Nathan Fake Credit: Dan Tombs

Since making an indelible mark on dance music while still in his teens, Nathan Fake's sound has gradually shifted from blissful, IDM inspired dancefloor territory to increasingly experimental terrain. Despite the changes, his ear for melody has remained a constant, right from the full tilt, prog house monster 'Outhouse' in 2003 to the exceptional, sideways techno single 'Degreelessness' at the end of last year.

Since setting up Cambria Instruments in 2014 alongside Wesley Matsell, Fake has continued to produce edgier, more challenging club music culminating in the new single - a slab of pure heft that incorporates whacked out industrial percussion with unnerving vocals and atypical moments of beauty.

Ahead of his imminent fourth album, Mike Warburton spoke to Nathan about the new record, why limitations are good for creativity, and his upcoming worldwide tour.

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I have to start off with talking to you about 'Degreelessness' - what a record that is...

Oh cheers, cool.

From the moment it starts, it's got this real darkness to it, especially with Dominic Fernow's vocals. Obviously there's elements of darker leanings on your EP last year Glaive, but how did this, shall we say fiercer Nathan Fake sound come about?

There's no sort of calculation behind it really, that's just something I came up with, I suppose it's kind of an evolution from the more sort of techno stuff I've done in the past. Melodically it's sort of in keeping with that. But yeah, I didn't really put much thought into it, I just came up with that beat, which was the drum machine fed through a delay pedal and it sounded smudged and not really prominent, but I thought it sounded really striking at the same time, then just played around on the synth over it.

It's kind of bewildering at first.

Yeah with the delays going all over the place.

And then those hats come in which kind of make sense of what's going on... it's in a nice area where experimental and techno meet.

Yeah I was half way though making it when I met Dominic, it was just going to be an instrumental, I wasn't sure if it was going to be on the album or not, or if it would just be a 12 inch release, but he said 'oh yeah, we should collaborate', so I ended up sending him unfinished versions and he sent back what's on the record.

When I first saw read that you were doing something Prurient I thought 'How are his distorted, bloodcurdling screams going to work on a Nathan Fake track!?'

Well I was quite up for him doing that, I was literally like just do whatever you want, and he came back with a more softly spoken thing which still works, but I was well up for like doing something more extreme as well, but whatever he saw fit to do, I just let him do what he wanted.

How did that collaboration come about, how did you meet?

I basically met Dominic the year before last, we were playing at this festival in Geneva, I can't remember the name of it now, but we just sort of hung out back stage all evening. I never guessed that he'd be a fan of my stuff, I mean I really like the Vatican Shadow stuff and I got into the Prurient stuff after that, and I really like the double sided sound he's got.

He's got so many pseudonyms...

Yeah, he's been doing stuff for so long, I didn't even realise, he's been doing stuff since the late 90s, and he's only my age, he's only 30 or so, he's been going since he was 16.

Really?

Yeah it's crazy.

I didn't realise, I initially got into Vatican Shadow then realised he had all these other projects...

Yeah, I think that's quite a recent thing, and with it being techno its kind of taken off - people like dance records, but his Vatican stuff is amazing, really melodic, and I think that's what we talked about, even though on the surface I don't think many people would compare our music, but from a melodic and rhythmic standpoint we've actually got a lot in common.

Yeah absolutely, and I do like that with the new record, when the glassy melody does come in it's clearly your style - the record as a whole is rather different but you can tell it's you if you know what I mean. 

Your last EP on Cambria seems now like a real bridge between where Steam Days left off, and where I'm guessing the new album is heading...

Well I guess 'Glaive' was closer to 'Steam Days' musically and 'Degreelessness' is, well it's probably the heaviest track on the album, but also the most DJ friendly which is why we put it out on 12 inch beforehand - but yeah it has the same sort of things going on melodically but I'm using different instruments and sounds so it does sound really different. I consciously chose to use a lot of sounds that I hadn't really used before, and there's vocals - there's another collaboration in there...

Are you keeping that a secret til it's released?

Yeah the label's said not to talk about it too much...

Fine.

Haha! Musically you'll get a good idea of it from listening to 'Degreelessness'.

So with using different instruments, did you completely change the studio setup for it as well?

I mean not completely, I did make a point of not really using anything that I used on the last record like on 'Glaive' or 'Steam Days' which is a few years old now, but I'm using totally different synths and different drums and stuff, I mean, I guess it might not sound radically different but to me it feels like it is.

I used a lot of obsolete, 90s digital synths - I'm quite into that forgotten era of synths because everyone's into modular stuff now, which is cool.

You can get lost down a rabbit hole with that stuff, but it can start becoming more about modules than the music itself, which is great if you're into that, but I've always preferred using random keyboards and synths, and I've always been drawn to stuff that's not that cool or high end.

Modular stuff is amazing, I've got friends that have done crazy stuff with it, and for that reason I'd rather leave it to the people that are genuinely into it rather than trying to play catch up and you know, copy what they've done.

It's such a vast area isn't it, for just getting into it's almost like, where do I start?

Yeah that's what I feel about it.

Do you feel limiting what you're using boosts your creativity?

Yeah I do quite like setting myself boundaries with the gear I work on, and I suppose that's the thing with using modular and stuff like Max MSP - I remember reading an interview with Autechre and they were saying when they first started using Max it was like they didn't know what to do it with it, it was this utterly blank palate that they were given, but you kind of have to set yourself boundaries when you work with it otherwise you just won't do anything.

I've always enjoyed using synths that don't actually do much and just have a few sounds on them... 'Degreelessness' was done all on one synth, like every sound was from the same synth.

You're going to be releasing the next album on Ninja Tune, you've previously released longplayers solely on Border Community, so how did that change come about?

I've always been well into Ninja Tune, obviously they've been around for ages and I think in the last few years they've almost reinvented themselves with a more a diverse sound. I've done a few remixes for them so I've always sort of been on their radar and they've always been in touch.

After the last remix I did for them which was of a Dorian Concept track (below), they said they'd love to hear anything I was working on - they expressed an interest in hearing stuff but at that point I didn't have a lot of new stuff, so when I started they were my first port of call.

It was quite surprising in a way that they were into it as it's fairly different to the stuff they normally release, but like I said they do have a really diverse roster now, they're great guys, it's amazing to be on a label like Ninja, it feels like a big step.

Yeah they've worked with Actress and his label in recent times...

Yeah Werkdiscs which I love.

Is it counted as a sub label?

Yeah like Brainfeeder and Big Dada.

And then there was Helena Hauff's album which came out last year or the year before which had more of an atonal, electro slant to it. When you're not working on your own stuff, what other artists do you listen to?

Technicolour put out some really good stuff, like Hieroglyphic Being and Jay Daniel, amazing stuff, although this last year I've not sort of listened to huge amounts of new music as I've been working on the album and I tend to subconsciously forget to listen to music when I'm so busy on my own record, I can't even remember the last record I bought... But yeah the Hieroglyphic Being 'Disco's of Imhotep' record is amazing.

Jamal Moss has such a unique sound.

It's so heavy, super loud and distorted but somehow really crystal clear as well. I don't know how the fuck he makes his records but it's amazing - It sounds so compressed but really open and airy at the same time. I don't know how the fuck he does it, it's insane.

So in the next few months you've got a live tour coming up with live visuals as well...

Yeah we're still working on that, but it'll be ready for March when the tour kicks off.

Who's doing the visuals?

We're working with a guy called Matt Bateman who's done visuals for LFO, Jon Hopkins and Clark in the past, and he's also done the album artwork which will be revealed in due course.

There's was loads of hype about Hopkins last live AV show...

Well the guy who does most of his stuff is called Dan Tombs who lives in Norwich here, but him and Matt did some things together, they did a big AV show in London and Matt did some visuals for him there, but yeah I haven't actually seen much of it but I really like the work he's done in the past so I'm really excited about it.

It's been a while since I did the live AV thing. When my first album came out, which was like 10 years ago or more, we did visuals with the tour which was really good but that was the last time I had a real visual show. I've done one-offs since then but it'll be great to do a proper tour with that again.

I suppose my live shows in the past have been all about being raw and improvisation, which it still will be - it'll be a more free form take on the album tracks and other older tracks, but the essence of the live show before was that it was quite simple and dark, it was purely a sonic thing, but I'm really excited about having a nice stage show to present. 

Will you be playing mostly new stuff then, you mentioned you'll be playing some older stuff...

Yeah I'm gonna gonna play some of the older stuff, it's nice to revisit that, but  yeah, mostly the new stuff.

The tour takes in a number of dates across the UK but you'll be heading off as far as Australia and Japan.

Yeah the tour kicks off in Norwich, then the next day after that is Australia and then over to Japan, then Europe before heading back to the UK where most of the dates are in April, I think the Liverpool show's in March and Manchester's in April.

You'll have played that far afield before, is it something you relish?

I love it, I love all the travelling. I've been to Australia a couple of times but there's a funny vibe there as its massively far away but Australians are pretty similar to British people. It's funny, you can find yourself somewhere in Europe and it's like another world but Australia is like miles away but it's just a hotter version of England.

It's an amazing place, people are so friendly and cool there, and places like Melbourne and Sydney have got really good music scenes, and the crowds are pretty up for it.

You mentioned before that you're based in Norwich, has there ever been any temptation to do what so many in the electronic music community seem to be doing and move to somewhere like Berlin or Amsterdam?

Haha well yeah I did live in London for about seven years prior to living in Norwich. I've been tempted of course, I wouldn't be so tempted to move to Berlin nowadays but a few years ago when I was there for a few days I was thinking 'Yeah, I could live here' but then that's only while I was there, when I got home I was like, 'Naah I'm fine here' [laughs].

It's a great place but nowadays moving to Berlin isn't quite as interesting anymore, I mean Berlin is an amazing city but I think with being an electronic musician, there's a bit of a stigma there now. I've heard about Lisbon or Porto being effectively the new Berlin now so maybe that's where everyone's going to start moving - it's a bit warmer than Berlin anyway.

Head here for Nathan Fake Tour tickets.

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