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Ghosts in the machine: Mark Pritchard on retiring his aliases and rediscovering 160bpm

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  • published
    12 Jul 2013
  • words by
    Laurent Fintoni
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    Mark Pritchard
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Mark Pritchard: all of the kings are dead, long live the king

Over the past 20 years, Mark Pritchard has been one of England’s steadiest electronic music visionaries. He’s a figurehead who, without a touch of hubris, has been praised for groundbreaking work in both the mainstream and underground press, and has operated across genres – from techno to ambient, jungle to hip hop – with apparent ease. If anyone deserves the badge of ‘pioneer’ today, it’s Pritchard. Just ask some of your favourite producers. And he’s not done yet.

Raised in Somerset but now based in the sunnier climes of Sydney, Pritchard has long had a fondness for aliases that has challenged even the most dedicated musical trainspotter. At my last count, there have been over 20, both solo (Harmonic 313, Troubleman) and in collaboration (with Tom Middleton, Dave Brinkworth, Danny Breaks, Kirsty Hawkshaw, and, most recently, Steve Spacek). As such, the recent announcement that he would be retiring all his noms de guerre and consolidating his work under his real name led many to assume that some of his better-loved musical projects had come to an end. Nothing, however, could be further from the truth: in a day and age where even legends such as him can struggle to expand a dedicated following, Pritchard has simply opted to make life easier for himself.

Tidings of the name change were accompanied by news that Pritchard’s next solo album would appear on Warp, his most regular home since the late ’00s. The album will be preceded by a string of EPs, the first of which, Ghosts, came out a couple weeks ago. It’s a record with a clear club music focus that touches on Pritchard’s varied expertise, tilting from low slung, bass-heavy dubstep riddims to paranoia-inducing drum’n'bass and footwork. The latter sound is particularly important: in the past few years, Pritchard has, alongside Planet Mu’s Mike Paradinas, been one of the loudest supporters of the Chicago sound (I hasten to add the loudness of his support relates to his DJ sets, not his actual shouting – he’s more the softly-spoken type, letting the music, as it were, do the talking.)

With all this in mind, we caught up with the man to discuss the name change, his forthcoming album, and the excitement he gets from the 160/80bpm slow/fast nexus that’s been unfolding at dance music’s edges in recent years.

“There’s definitely a feeling that at the moment there’s an endless amount of ideas to be done around the 80/160 axis. There’s a whole world of music you can try.”

The latest release is the Ghosts EP, which is the first of three?

Yeah, hopefully three this year. Depending on when the album gets finished, things might move slightly. The rough idea is three EPs and then an album. I’ve got lots of club tracks that I just want to get out, so there’ll be at least three EPs before the album. Maybe even four – we’ll see. And then, after the album, the idea is to keep a flow of them coming.

Some of the tracks on Ghosts and the following EP have been around for a while, right?

There’s a backlog of tunes getting finalised. I’d say it’s also getting to the point where there are new ones in there too, alongside the older tracks. I think the second EP has a track that was done this year, and then the third release will also have a mix of old and new. I’m just trying to catch up with myself really.

It reminds me of the situation with Harmonic 313, where some of the music on that album was made years before release, but remained stuck until you could get the project out. Is this something you’re trying to break away from? 

I’d like to get it so it’s not like that anymore – especially with the club stuff, but really with everything. And that’s partly the reason for the name change, because I write stuff all the time and it doesn’t necessarily fit the project that’s happening at that time. By changing the name, I’m hoping it leaves me open to releasing more diverse styles of music at any time, not just having to wait for the correct project. If I do another hip hop tune, I don’t want to wait for another Harmonic 313 album, or if I do a techno tune, where will that fit? Same with an ambient track, and so on. Having it all under one name means I can try and make the releases more diverse. It just so happens that the next three EPs are more club friendly, but that will change through next year. From then on, there will be more varied releases happening all the time. That’s the general plan.

The albums should be broader style-wise. I still need to make them into albums, with the limitations that brings, but there are so many tracks that have been sitting around for ages that don’t really fit anything. At least now, with just one name, I can do something with them. I can vary the styles of the releases and it allows it to be freer and more open. The way I’ve worked so far hasn’t really helped – in the last ten years, it’s been difficult to make all the different styles I write fit. It got to the point where I had to make a change, really, otherwise some of the strongest music I’ve got just sits there for years because it doesn’t fit anywhere. After a while it gets annoying. You have tracks you know are strong and they sit there, then you go back to try and finish them, which doesn’t always work. I want to get to the point where if I write something, I can get it out there into the world quicker.

There are some obvious sonic cues on the new EP, such as the title track’s link to the darker side of drum’n'bass circa turn of the century. Aside from that, was there any particular inspiration you drew from for the new releases?   

I suppose these EPs are things I was writing around the time other projects were being done. Ghosts was written around the time Africa Hitech was happening. I was touring so much that I would write ideas when I was back home. There’s a definite link to it all though, which is footwork to a degree, because I wrote all this in the last three/four years at the same time as Africa Hitech. So footwork is one, and also the fact that I’ve been writing jungle and drum’n'bass for a long time but never finished any of it as different album projects would come in the way. There’s some of that in there too, but doing it so it doesn’t just sound retro.

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