When I spent time on music message boards ten or so years ago I had no idea just how much of a fertile ground they would prove for a lot of the music that is today taking the (underground) world of hip hop and electronic music by storm.
Case in point – I spent a lot of my formative years as a writer/music journalist in the early ’00s on scratch message boards where, following scratching’s flirt with the mainstream, a new generation of kids started making scratch beats, loops and productions that were in hindsight incredibly ahead of their time in providing one of the many blueprints and early ideas for music that would later come out of dubstep/bass music, beats and electronic hip hop.
One of those kids was Lorn, a producer based in Milwaukee who I first discovered on scratch message boards where people would eagerly swap his beats. Fast forward 8 years and he has become the first non-L.A based (or related) artist to sign to Flying Lotus’ Brainfeeder label/collective, where he’ll be releasing his first official album, Nothing Else, in early June. When I found out Brainfeeder was releasing the album last year it all somehow made sense to me – Lorn’s album was the perfect way to link the scene’s current state back to those early years of experimentation that so few people know about.
While he has been a name on many producers’ tongues for a couple of years, little is known about Lorn outside of his myspace, his only official release (the Grief Machine break record) and a few free releases and remixes that have helped build the hype since the announcement of his LP last year – most notable among those is his refix of Jammer’s latest single for Big Dada, a pretty big look for an “unknown” electronic producer from Milwaukee. It thus felt only right to bring some light to the darkness that permeates Lorn’s profile, as well as his music and thoughts.
Over a few days we bounced questions and answers by email over the internet and this is the edited result. Ladies and gentleman meet the Brainfeeder’s family creepy cousin if you will, Lorn.
“If you ask me, this kind of music didn’t come from any continent…it came from the ether.”
Let’s start by setting a bit of context. I first remember you from the scratch board days when I knew you primarily as this kid from the U.S. that made some of the best scratch beats around. You were one of the first to put out a scratch beats CD back in like 02/03. Then I sort of lost track of you and next thing was I got hold of some of your unreleased stuff circa ’06 via DJ And. Then you put out this scratch record Grief Machine in ’07 (which I remember was on the cards since like 05/06 right?). And fast forwarding again the next time I heard from you was when I returned from Japan in late ’08 and Om Unit was telling me about your new stuff, which led to you being picked up by Brainfeeder. Could you fill in the bits I’m missing or got wrong and just give us a rundown of who you are, how you started and how you got to where you are now?
“It’s crazy looking back on all of that. You’ve got the timeline correct. I started writing music after I got into the whole scratch scene. Problem was that I just wasn’t into, at the time, “modern” hip hop instrumentals – ie. lots of boom bap, chunky rhythms, lame samples. I was really into the darker drum & bass (Technical Itch, Bad Company, Dom & Roland), Electro (Drexciya, Underground Resistance, Anthony Rother) and experimental works from Aphex Twin, Arovane. So it just made sense to me to start making my own scratch beats. Back in the day PalTalk [sort of like an early version of Skype which scratch DJs used to jam together over the internet] was big for the scratch DJs so I’d often skip school and just post up in there and give my beats out to anyone who wanted them. People liked them, I guess, as they were a bit out there, and eventually the 8/16 bar loops turned into tracks with beginnings and endings, then songs with progressions and breakdowns, then EPs and LPs. For the past 7 or 8 years all I’ve really done is make music.”
Staying on the scratch beat period, for you today how important was that part of your life in terms of your musical learning experience?
“Essential. I had no idea what I was doing or getting myself into. Starting from scratch with no real understanding of music theory or instruments was very exciting for me…a lot of trial and error, good mistakes, room to go wherever the fuck I wanted. As I said before there was kind of a natural progression to everything, and along the way I taught myself the piano, chord structure, harmonies, arrangement and more technical aspects like processing and mixdowns. A lot of the shit I made back then sounds gutter but some of it still has me wondering how I even made it.”
Next question is something I’ve spoken about with producers and DJs from that era a lot recently so I’m curious to see your take on it. Do you agree that in some way the experimentation that was going on back then with these scratch beats/loops/music was a precursor of sorts (albeit a not very well known precursor) to the recent rise in popularity of the whole beat/electronic hip hop style?
“Absolutely. Guys like Om Unit (known as 2Tall back then), Morganistic, Le Jad, Toadstyle, Ricci Rucker, Paesano and myself included were making what would now be considered dubstep and/or beat music, but we were doing it at the beginning of the decade. At the time the 140bpm range was popular for “double time” beats because it was the perfect tempo to get really nasty with the scratching. The drums had space, you could fill in gaps. My beats just tended to be a bit harder and darker, I guess, and in 2005 I wrote the 12″ Grief Machine which was released in 2007 as a scratch record with scratch samples and scratch beats (you can buy the songs on Grief Machine at lorn.bandcamp.com or through iTunes, Amazon, e-Music too). For some reason though people think it’s dubstep. Take a listen to Rucker’s ‘Dirty Soap’ from 2006 [released on wax in 2002/3 but digital in ’06] and you’ll hear music that easily rivals any modern electronic hip-hop record. If you ask me, this kind of music didn’t come from any continent…it came from the ether.”
“Every family needs the creepy guy who doesn’t really talk much and only drinks wine…right?”
Back to the present, I first heard Nothing Else in early ‘09 around the same time you mentioned it’d been picked up by Flying Lotus for Brainfeeder. Can you give us a bit of background info on how the whole hook up and decision to release on BF came about? As someone who’s based in Milwaukee and partially came from the scratch beats side of things it can seem like a very unlikely marriage at first.
“There are a few stories floating around, mostly in my whole head, about the whole thing. I think what happened was I made a track called ‘Fictional’ on some low and slow dirty vibe and then recorded it to an old cassette, which I then sent to my good friend Nosaj Thing, who then sent that to The Gaslamp Killer, who used that for a Mary Anne Hobbs mix. That or the Australian radio station RRR played it. Either way it’s probably one of the dirtiest tracks I’ve written to date and somehow Flying Lotus heard it and contacted me. After that I played at Low End Theory where I met most of the family (Nosaj, Samiyam, Ras G, GLK) and met up with FlyLo about the possibility of a release. What really drew me to Brainfeeder was the sense that everybody involved really just loved music, loved atmosphere and loved building. As far as my involvement I shared the same sentiments but every family needs the creepy guy who doesn’t really talk much and only drinks wine…right? Right? Also, you are correct I am based in Milwaukee which is a highly segregated city seemingly without a sense of identity where I sleep on a shitty mattress under a window that faces an emaciated and desolate children’s playground.”
Considering Brainfeeder’s recent rise in popularity do you feel some degree of pressure or anxiety releasing your first official album on there? Or is it more a case of being glad for the platform from which to showcase the music?
“I’ve spent 3 years tucked away working on this album and have, in the mean time, sacrificed so much. My fucking soul is in this thing. What else can I do or be afraid of? In creating Nothing Else the only thing I felt the need to prove or quantify was whether or not I was alive. As far as Brainfeeder I’m just thrilled and thankful to have a platform that believes in it and wants to show it to others just as much as I do.”
The album has (for me anyways) a distinctly dark mood and vibe throughout, something that your earlier music also had. I can in a way hear an evolution of that mood/vibe in your music over the years, and your reference to dark d’n’b as an influence reinforces and explains that. The press release also hints at some difficult times in your life. How would you describe the mood/vibe in your music to someone? Would you say it’s deliberately dark or rather something that comes out through the music naturally?
“It just comes out, so describing what I do has always been tough for me. It definitely isn’t deliberately dark. Whenever I sit down in the studio, at a piano, hold a guitar, no matter the time of day, season, mood I’m in, whatever, it just happens. Granted I do feel like shit most of the time, have constant and ridiculous nightmares, deep-seeded resentments and hate a lot of shit, I don’t sit down and make some yo-bro-angry-dark just for the fuck of it. Seemingly unsettling or dark moods feel right to me. I feel at home.”
“I was initially thinking “fuck it, this album is going to be two hours long.”
I noticed a difference in tracks and sequencing between the earlier version of the album I’ve had and the official BF one. Most notably for me two of my favourite tracks, ‘Running Ink’ and ‘Of Hearts’, are no longer on there. How did you go about choosing what to keep, what to remove and the sequencing order? The final version definitely feels more cohesive in a way but is there anything you now wish may have been done different?
“You have no idea how many times I’ve listened through the album forwards, backwards and rearranged. I was initially thinking “fuck it, this album is going to be two hours long.” But then I broke it down again and again until it felt right to me. The tracks ‘Running Ink’, ‘Of Hearts’ and some others were removed for various reasons but basically FlyLo and I, as well as others, felt that the less-is-more approach was more suitable. As it stands now I wouldn’t change a thing. The tracks that were removed, however, will be released on a cassette version of the album along with many other unreleased tracks later this year.”
Nalepa once mentioned to me how impressed he was with what you could do with Ableton. Which leads me to wonder if a/ you make all your music in Ableton? b/ if you don’t what do you use and how does Ableton fit into it? and/or c/ if you do make your music primarily in Ableton what is it about the program that makes it essential for you for making music (as opposed to just using it to perform live which is what most people do)?
“I did do a Q&A with Nalepa’s music class where I ran through my workflow in Logic Pro and shared some of my secrets. For remix work and live sets I use Ableton Live which is ridiculously intuitive. The warping/timestretching in there sounds great and as much as I’m a fan of Logic it really can’t hold a candle to Ableton in that regard. Ableton was the first program in years that really wow’ed me and years later I’m still uncovering new things to use in the studio or live, and as an added bonus it somehow manages to work on my old beat up Powerbook G4.”
And in terms of live shows what do you use for that and what can people expect? Is it strictly your own stuff or a mix of yours and other people’s music?
“The KNIFE [see below picture] is in full effect running an old copy of Ableton Live along with an Akai MPD24. On occasion I’ll also use a little Ozone2 midi keyboard for live instrumentation as well as my trusty Shure SM58 if I feel like doing live vocals which is something I’ll be doing a lot more of lately. As far as what to expect – a lot of my own stuff that you might know and like, some remixes, edits and a lot of my own stuff that you have never even heard. If the set is a few hours long I’ll sometimes incorporate tunes from guys like Current Value, Huoratron, Neonblack or some drone/metal. Whatever I’m feeling for the occasion, I guess. Performing is really intense for me most of the time. I hear my music loud and see what it does to the crowd. It sends me firing straight out of the void. A lot of times it feels like we’re all serving some kind of penance. Yes.”
“Working with others can be a challenge, especially when it comes down to swapping files via the internet, but it forces me, at least, to get over old habits and staples and rethink things.”
Download: Omega Clash – Straighter Metal
Over the years you’ve worked with various other producers, and more recently you’ve done the Omega Clash project with Adoptahighway. Is there anything else you’re working on collabo wise you can/want to tell people about?
“A lot of people sleep on Omega Clash, I think, but our steam is building. Our first EP is out (omegaclash.bandcamp.com) and our second is nearly done which will be picked up by the San Francisco label Frite Nite and released at some undetermined time. Samiyam and I did a track together and I’ve got some other stuff in the works with Lower/Lewis Rowley (UK), Illum Sphere (UK), Emika and a scratch record with Om Unit (UK), and probably some others that I’m an asshole for forgetting about.”
How do you find it working with other people on music, considering what you epxlained with regards to what you’ve put into the music, do you find that working with others is as liberating as doing things by yourself? Or does it force to maybe keep some of what is inside you quieter and instead open up to new ideas/moods etc…?
“Definitely the latter. There is still a degree of unease or menace with the Omega Clash music but it has a different sensibility and complexity all its own which comes from working with Adoptahighway – a ridiculously talented bassist, composer and ex-lofi breakcore producer. Working with others can be a challenge, especially when it comes down to swapping files via the internet, but it forces me, at least, to get over old habits and staples and rethink things. I feel like a real collaboration should be able to hold its own identity and not necessarily sound like X & Y musicians built it. There’s still a lot to uncover for me in that regard but I’m always learning and making those ‘good mistakes’ just as I was when I started all of this.”
What’s next for you? As you pointed out this album has been a long time coming so do you have anything already planned or something you want to move onto?
“Maaaan I have plans. Supporting the album with a tour is crucial. Also I never stop working so there are a lot of new unreleased tracks that I’ll be working out later with Brainfeeder. I’ve written a few short films that I’ll be producing, shooting and scoring on 8mm/Super8 cameras. Lots of remixes. New artwork. Maybe a long-overdue art book. Hopefully finding some opportunities to do original music for film/television/interactive media. I’d like to render Nothing Else to sheet music and have a series of orchestra performances minus the stuffy dress code. Maybe after all of that I’ll start my next album which is tentatively titled Michael Jordan. Ugghhh.”
Photo credit: Nathan Osterhaus