As part of Bristol’s Young Echo crew, Seb Gainsborough showcases a very specific kind of eclecticism.
EPs under the Vessel moniker for the likes of Left_Blank and Astro:Dynamics, as well as a recent release for Kidkut’s Immerse imprint as Panther Modern, straddle the divide between the dancefloor and its smudged, shadowy negative. Gainsborough claims his interest in the two realms “developed concurrently”, and you can tell – while almost every aspect of his music may be inclined to shapeshift between releases, the results always seem purposeful, distinctive and rigorously conceived – no mean feat in a landscape where thoughtless genre-hopping is too often the defining M.O.
As such, Order Of Noise, Gainsborough’s debut LP under the Vessel name, represents the full emergence of one of the most distinctive and accomplished new production talents of the past few years. Due for release on Tri Angle this month, it’s a dense, thought-provoking proposition, equal parts confrontational and welcoming, quixotically poppy and defiantly abstract. And although – as per Gainsborough’s roving tastes – tempos and rhythmic templates fluctuate wildly, a basic ear for sonic novelty and a rich, murky, dubwise aesthetic binds the thing together. Taken alongside Holy Other’s Held, the album also shows that Tri Angle’s taste for the esoteric is as refined as its knack for uncovering the hidden pop gems of the underground – and suggests a long and illustrious future lies ahead for both label and producer.
FACT caught up with Gainsborough via email to discuss his love of the dancefloor, his commitment to Bristol, and how he went about putting the album together.
Your work has found a home on shorter-format releases in the past. Could you talk about how you went about putting the album together? How did your approach differ?
“For me, the two processes are incomparable. Because I had never considered making an album up until the point that Robin [Carolan, Tri Angle boss] suggested it, I began with absolutely no concept or preconceptions about what it was I was going to do. It allowed me to leave any baggage at the door and create a body of work with a unified aim, rather than tracks assembled piecemeal. I spent the first week compiling source material. This then acted as the foundation for the next six months. It was a pretty organic process. I let the earlier tracks ripen a little bit and used them as fertiliser later on.”
The album covers quite a lot of stylistic ground. Were you culling tracks from a much larger pool of sketches, or did you write with a very specific goal in mind?
“Probably a bit of both. To begin with I was simply writing music in real time, day by day, with an aim to establishing some kind of tangible trajectory to latch on to. That was the only goal to begin with. As the pieces developed I began to get a clearer picture of how the record could develop. From then it was easier to make strategic decisions about what content I wanted to keep and what was disposable. As I said though, nothing was really thrown away. The first week of the process was the only time I created totally new material. I probably ended up with 30 or so songs and sketches all contributing to the final product. I think that was the most interesting part of the whole experience – when what was essentially quite disparate material began to take on a definite form.”
You seem to flit between different sounds and tempos quite quickly in your output. In creating a longer-form statement, did you worry that it would lack consistency? Did you consciously try and stick to a narrower stylistic range?
“My concession to that worry was to restrict the sonic palette. Composing across a range of tempos and styles is something that comes naturally to me, and I felt that to consciously latch on to a given genre would undermine my stated beliefs about electronic music – that it would ultimately be more restrictive. There were certainly moments in the process where I was concerned that it would never sound like a cohesive statement. In fact it was probably only the final week where it came together fully.”
Perhaps this is a simplification, but the album feels quite a lot darker and less poppy than Tri Angle’s characteristic fare. Did you feel like Robin was looking for a particular side to your sound in putting together the album? Or were you given free reign in terms of what tracks went on there?
“Robin was keen for me to develop something that was personal and original for the record. He essentially gave me free reign to experiment. He was there to give feedback on the tracks and the shape of the record, but apart from that he let me go wild. I think he knew that he wasn’t going to get anything particularly straight from me.”
Given that you’re now releasing on a US label with global reach, do you still feel a commitment to the Bristol scene?
“Yes and no. I think it’s important to help cultivate the local scene, to keep things moving and growing. Young Echo is a platform through which I feel I can do that. I’ve got no real attachment to any particular scene here though, so I feel a sense of freedom in that respect.”
The various members of the Young Echo crew have all achieved their own success in the past year or so. Are you keen to keep the crew together? Do you try to maintain a group aesthetic or approach across the six of you?
“Yes, we’ve got no intention of parting company. The general opinion is that we’re only just starting to reach our potential as a group. The best times are definitely ahead of us. We don’t try and maintain a group aesthetic, but only because it’s just become totally ingrained into our collective psyche. It’s kind of an anti-aesthetic anyway.”
You’ve recently released a couple of dancefloor tracks on Immerse as Panther Modern. Do you see yourself pursuing a career in the more conventional club world alongside the music you make as Vessel?
“Not a career I don’t think, but I love that music, and I can’t see myself ditching that anytime soon. There has got to be a balance between the mind and the body I think. I wouldn’t feel comfortable committing to one or the other.”
How do you view the relationship between the dancefloor and the more esoteric side to your output? Did you come to the dancefloor through experimental electronic music, or vice versa?
“My interests in dancefloor music and experimental music developed concurrently. All creative acts participate in a feedback loop. In that sense all aspects of my creativity, dancefloor or otherwise, contribute to and influence all other aspects. I’m not interested in setting up boundaries or forcing distance between these disparate aspects. I feel like doing that runs the risk of dulling the excitement I feel when I sit down to make music.”
Could you talk about the technical process of making your tracks? It sounds to me like bits of hardware are involved. Do you alter your process a lot depending on what kind of thing you’re making, or do you have a fixed setup for everything?
“I’m defiantly a gear head, but I don’t really like indulging in technical fetishism. I use everything available to me to make sounds, and I keep it as flexible as possible to suit the context. Hardware, software, coding and recording all played a part in the creation of source material.”
A couple of the tracks feature female vocals. Did you collaborate with a vocalist? Is that something you’ve done before?
“The vocals on the album were all contributed by my close friend and collaborator Lily Fannon. We’ve worked together for a long time. Those particular vocals had been sitting on my computer for many years now. Although it wasn’t the intended result I feel like they add a sense of cohesion to the record, albeit quite a subtle one.”
A lot of these tracks feel like soundsystem music – in terms of the way the frequencies are balanced, the prominent use of basslines etc. What kind of context where you envisaging for them as you made them?
“Somewhere dark and loud.”
Finally, what are your plans after the album? Do you have more releases in the works?
“Waiting for the post-album writer’s block to lift and starting an ambient gabba label.”