What, for you, is Wismountain “about”? What distinguishes it from your other projects or aliases?
“Wishmountain was pretty much the first time I’d expressed my real musical voice I guess, which is when I first bought a sampler I sampled an apple-crunch, and to me that felt new and exciting and different and challenging. That was in 1988…I was 16. I had a Casio (FZ1? sampler and it just had eight outputs, so I thought, I’m going to take eight sounds out of this object and send each sound out through one of those eight objects and write some music out of those eight noises. And it was like a magic trick, it was trying to get people to dance to the sound of a pepper-pot…or a VHS cassette player without plugging it in or a radio without turning it on.
“I was pretty fed up with 909 or 808 drum machines, I’d been hearing them for years.”
“It was about animating inanimate objects, but doing so in a seductive way, in order to make people dance, and also to reimagine dance music in a way, because at that point I was pretty fed up with 909 or 808 drum machines, I’d been hearing them for years – by 1990 you’d heard thousands of records made with a 808 or 909, and as a side note, I can’t believe we’re here 22 years later STILL LISTENING TO THOSE SAME BLOODY NOISES, amazing noises though they are. It just solidified, like the guitar has in rock music, it’s just solidified into a fixed texture that’s used in dance music. So for me it was about animating inanimate objects and providing a different a palette of textures and sounds.”
“I was like OK I’ve got a week spare, let’s make a record, so I thought about making dance music. Wishmountain, which I thought I’d retired. I’d wanted to do something about supermarkets for a while now, because they’re such a part of our everyday life and yet they’re inscrutable in many ways – we have very little genuine interaction with them, other than simply to buy the things in them or not. That’s the extent of our interaction with them – you don’t got there to express yourself, you don’t go there in groups. It’s a very clear transaction, and to me it carries with all the stories of our time, the good and the bad. When you think about the battles around resources, climate change, and so on. The food that we eat has a massive impact on those stories that we read about in the paper. But I didn’t want to get into a big supermarket piece so…
“We could call our piece of music, I don’t know, ‘I Hate The Fucking Olympics’ but we don’t, we call it ‘Pyramid X’, this incredibly abstract nothingness.”
“I just really liked the idea of calling the record Tesco. We have so much power, and we so rarely use it: as musicians, we could call our piece of music, I don’t know, ‘I Hate The Fucking Olympics’ or ‘I Hate The Fact That Dow Jones Is Sponsoring The Olympics’, but we don’t, we call it ‘Pyramid X’, this incredibly abstract nothingness. So I like the idea that I’ve got this power, and it’s all about trying to use it in fun, creative, engaging ways. So the word ‘Tesco’ now means something different to me, and potentially to a few people who might buy this record.”
“I thought, let’s take the top 10 bestselling items in Tesco and make a record out of them, and that’s what I did – I did it in four days from start to finish. All the sort of politics and all my earnest head-scratching and planning and thinking about it, that’s all in there, but it’s designed first and foremost to be a reanimation of a product in a different context. I like the fact that Andrex doesn’t really sound like toilet roll anymore…that’s not what I intended, but that’s what it’s come out as. And having those restrictions as well – just eight noises. Also I’ve been doing [other things] for 20 years now, so it felt like re-forming – like all these bands that get together from the past. I’ve re-formed myself for a record!”
From what you’ve just said, and with reissues of some of your key albums from the past on the way, it seems like you’re beginning to reflect more upon your early work. In doing so, I wondered, what common themes emerge for you? How does the young Matthew Herbert differ from the Matthew Herbert of today?
“I think the biggest, most obvious shift that’s happened in my work over the years is that basically it was very tidy, very ordered, very sparse and absolutely precise when I first started and now it’s very messy, My music’s very messy. I think that reflects my experiences – I set out making records as most people do I presume, with naivety and enthusiasm and thinking that you’re expressing meaningful about yourself. But I guess an accumulation of experiences makes you realise that the world is in fact messy and difficult…Life is never quiet, it’s never ordered and you can never control it. There’s a certainty and sure-footedness that I had at the start and gradually it’s got murkier and messier and more complicated. I’m still very clear about the gestures that I want to make, but I just don’t think it’s maybe as black and white as I thought when I started.
“Life is never quiet, it’s never ordered and you can never control it.”
“When I started out, a lot of what I did was a reaction to the music that was around me at the time, whereas now I hardly listen to music at home. I obviously listen to a huge amount because I still DJ still, and a lot of music comes through the studio, but I don’t listen to a huge amount of music in the way that I used to. So my reference points are now much more things that are going on in the newspaper, or in literature, or in a story that someone might tell you about something that’s really important or meaningful to them. I often get asked about the political nature of my work and it’s like, well, I’ve made over 25 albums now – am i just supposed to talk about my girlfriend?”