Words have meanings and they have lives too.
Take ‘naive’. It tends to have a pejorative connotation: something or someone that lacks experience or judgement. But centuries ago, naive — which originates from the Latin word nativus — meant native, or natural. In art, this original meaning has persisted somewhat; naive art is produced by untrained artists who exist outside established scenes or cultures. Naivety in art, then, could be said to be about a feeling, a purer state of mind from which creativity can flow untainted by constraints of relevance or critical thinking.
So finding your way back to this native state of creativity can be a means to move forward. That was the case for Alan Myson, the English producer and musician known as Ital Tek. A few years ago, Myson challenged himself to try and rediscover the moods and practices of his early artistic state, and he emerged from the attempt last summer with a refreshed vision and a new body of work that forms the basis of his fourth album, Hollowed.
“With this album I really wanted to re-engage with the naivety and excitement I first had when making music,” he says over the phone, explaining that his decision to step back was triggered by a memory of being in his parent’s garage as a teenager, experimenting for hours on end with no audience. Using a simple setup of guitar pedals, “crappy keyboards” and a computer, Myson wrote “beatless, textural stuff” while learning the ropes of electronic composition.
Remembering how fun that could be, he tried to reconnect with what he calls his original naivety. “Some of my best music has come from that place,” he says. “I wanted to see what I’d be capable of if I removed myself from the pressures of getting a record out for gigs or even just to stay in people’s minds.” The result of this self-imposed challenge is an album that, by not paying “too much attention to details or genres,” is both disarming and engrossing.
“I just stopped trying to care about what everyone else was doing”
Myson is something of an anomaly in the current UK dance music landscape. He signed to Planet Mu in 2006 at 19, and has remained with the label since. A childhood spent playing in bands in Oxfordshire had led him to the total control of doing “the producer thing,” and relocating to Brighton after school, Myson connected with Planet Mu founder Mike Paradinas thanks to a grip of MySpace demos and the good word of fellow Brighton-based Mu artists. His first release on the label, 2007’s Bloodline EP, included one of the first songs he’d ever finished as a solo artist.
Such a consistent relationship between label and artist is a rare thing, and it’s allowed Myson to grow unconstrained. While Planet Mu has been known over the years for the various stylistic directions it has taken under the guidance of Paradinas—from IDM to grime, dubstep to footwork—there was never any pressure for Myson to fit any one mould over the past decade. Instead, Paradinas and his team have shaped what Myson does. “They’ve given me the confidence to express myself the way I want to rather than following what they say. They just keep pointing me in the right direction.”
A common theme in interviews with electronic musicians is the quality of their early work and how it can remain puzzling to them as their ears and mind become trained to a professional standard. In a recent conversation, Alfred Darlington, the Los Angeles-based artist known as Daedelus, called it “the importance of innocent ears.” It’s an artistic El Dorado, a mythical place that every artist begins to long for as they mature. “I just stopped trying to care about what everyone else was doing,” Myson says of his attempt to regain that innocence. Thanks to the stability of his relationship with Mu, Myson was able to step away from the “speed at which things move” and found his way back to a simpler time to write an album free from temporal constraints.
“It’s important to show the journey in your music. I didn’t want to dismiss what had come before”
Hollowed’s most direct reference point is the birth of Myson as Ital Tek in his parents’ garage. The textures he became fascinated with in that early period permeate the new album, with hours of “drones, textures, and loops” newly recorded. “Having this bank of music reminded me of the initial excitement,” he says, his voice still a little giddy. Neither tempo nor style are preoccupations of Hollowed; rather it evokes an ever-shifting mood. The majority of the album’s 13 tracks float on gentle textural beds, unfolding in a slow and natural manner.
The rare moments of rhythmic movement that rise up from this calm sea hint at his most recent work, focused on the sweet spot between footwork, jungle, and hip-hop that other artists like Om Unit, Mark Pritchard, and Machinedrum have been exploring. These tracks act like anchors, bringing the listener back to earth, though never for long. They’re also a reminder of Myson’s evolution. “It’s important to show the journey in your music,” he says. “I didn’t want to dismiss what had come before or the scenes I’m attached to. I still have a love for it and tried to express it in a different way.”
Rather than trying to understand the technique that underpinned his early work, a mirage of the memory, Myson instead tried to recall how it felt to create “an emotional response rather than a technical one.” Where his previous records could be seen to belong to a specific scene or mood of the time, be it dubstep or footwork, Hollowed stands on its own, almost classical in spirit. As it turns out, classical music is the one influence Myson didn’t avoid. He listened to classical albums and attended concerts, and you can hear that lend a certain quality to the way Hollowed unfolds, how it’s unmoored from the computer box so many electronic musicians find themselves trapped inside.
Back in the real world, Myson now feels ready for the next step. With an album unlike any he has previously created, he’s hard at work on a live audio-visual show that can do the music justice. “It’ll be about what works emotionally for an hour,” he says, unwilling to divulge too many details yet. Most likely, the show will reflect the album’s intensity while allowing its moments of thoughtful minimalism to come to the fore. A visual accompaniment is an obvious choice for a more meaningful way to present the music. And just as Hollowed was born from a desire by Myson to challenge himself, this next step presents its own difficulties, and its own rewards.
Read this next: An oral history of Planet Mu