It might still be Summer in London, but some of the most affecting, interesting music being made in the city right now comes courtesy of Pariah, an artist emerging in the rain-swept space between classic house and 2step, the dusty grooves of J Dilla and Burial’s night bus jams. His Safehouses EP will be released on R&S this August.
R&S, for the uninitiated, is a Belgian label that’s been responsible for a more than healthy amount of electronic music history, including the release of Aphex Twin’s earliest, and for my money best, work. They’ve recently been reinventing themselves, signing up some of the brightest stars from the fringes of the UK’s ever-uncategorisable dance scene in James Blake, Space Dimension Controller, and of course Pariah.
Born Arthur Cayzer, Pariah owes a debt to Burial; in the Scot’s own words, the Untrue album made an emotional impact on him unlike any other. But unlike some artists, his music isn’t simply an adaptation of that twilight 2step template that Burial made his own; Safehouses stretches its wings way beyond that, with rattling 808 and woodblock rhythms, shuddering bass-hits and subtly treated soul vocals. And that’s only its opening track, the nebulous, incredibly arranged ‘Slump’, one of the slinkiest dancefloor cuts of the year.
Safehouses continues with the stunning ‘Prism’, before rolling through tracks that touch on classic techno and electro, live drum breaks that betray Pariah’s penchant for hardcore, and a mournful ambient closer. We got in touch to talk about nostalgia, “sad music” and the terrifying concept of safe houses that informs this brilliant release.
“Untrue was definitely the catalyst that got me off my arse: it made me get myself a Macbook Pro and a copy of Logic Express.”
Who is Pariah? Introduce yourself to the uninitiated.
“There’s not a whole bunch to tell really. I’m Arthur, I’m 22, originally from Scotland but I’ve been living in London for the past four years or so. By day I study English at uni and in my spare time I like making beats and hanging out with my friends.”
How did you get start making music, and what were your early inspirations?
“I started producing in the last few months of 2008 but I played in several bands, most of them appalling before then. I guess it was after getting really into Burial’s music that I decided to start producing. I mean, I’d wanted to produce ever since fucking about on Logic at school when I was about 15 or 16 but I didn’t ever have any equipment. Untrue was definitely the catalyst that got me off my arse: it made me get myself a Macbook Pro and a copy of Logic Express.”
Tell us about Safehouses – its genesis, the ideas behind it, etc.
“Well, originally, my second release was only supposed to be a single. This time last summer, the only tunes I had finished were ‘Orpheus’ and ‘Detroit Falls’. I wasn’t confident in myself as a producer and I was unsure which direction I wanted to go in. However as I wrote more and more, I began to hear a degree of continuity between the tunes no matter how much they varied stylistically in terms of tempo or genre, though I don’t really lumping things into genres. Therefore, for me, it just felt right to do something a little bit bigger than a single and I feel that this EP acts nicely as a showcase of a range of different styles that still, hopefully, sound like the work of one producer.”
;hl=en_GB&fs=1″ allowscriptaccess=”always” allowfullscreen=”true”>Pariah – ‘Orpheus’
“I think my tastes really show that I’m naturally very drawn to “sad” music.”
The first half of the EP seems more dancefloor-orientated than ‘Detroit Falls’, but at its heart it sounds quite melancholy to me – those haunted vocals and that. Is that fair?
“Yeah I think that’s a very fair assessment. I think my tastes really show that I’m naturally very drawn to “sad” music. Alongside Burial, I’ve been massively influenced by artists like Boards of Canada, Brian Eno, and bands like A Silver Mt Zion and Godspeed! You Black Emperor… generally anything to do with the Constellation label. I think it’s fair to say that all these artists make music that is embedded with a deep sadness and I find that it’s a vibe that a lot of the more ambient jungle, before it got too jazzy and “intelligent”, absolutely nailed.”
Without trying to put words in your mouth, is that something that informs your music in general – the melancholy, nostalgia? I mean the name Pariah suggests that too.
“I’d say that its nostalgia rather than melancholy that effects me emotionally. I find that I can be quite sentimental about relatively unimportant and minor memories of my life. Strangely, tunes like Jodeci’s ‘Feenin’ (LTJ Bukem Remix) or Source Direct’s ‘Secret Liason’ make me feel very nostalgic, which is odd because I wasn’t even aware of jungle when it was around – I was only about 6 or 7. It makes me yearn for a time in music that I never got to experience and I think that’s something that definitely seeps through into my own music. I don’t know if that makes any sense at all… I find it quite hard to explain. [laughs]”
“The name Pariah is actually taken from one of my favourite bands called Cursed. They split up a couple of years ago but they were this Canadian hardcore band and on one of their records they had a track called ‘Pariah’ and I wanted to call myself that, kind of, as a homage to their music.”
“Safe houses are supposed to be places where you are out of harm’s way but people only end up there as a direct result of some sort of forced upheaval of normal life … It’s a terrifying thought.”
The track titles, and the word Safehouses – they’re quite evocative. Any specific meaning behind them?
“The idea of a “safe house” is something that has a particular resonance with me. They are supposed to be places where you are out of harm’s way but due to the fact that people only end up there as a direct result of some sort of forced upheaval of normal life, in my mind, they strike me as being cold and lonely. It’s a terrifying thought that in a flash you can lose your identity, your family, your friends.
“I thought that Safehouses was an appropriate name for the EP because I think the vibe of the music is quite comforting (the warmth of the synths/textures) at the same time as being quite lonely and isolated (the recontextualised R’n’B vocals).
“Most of the track titles don’t mean mean as much as ‘Detroit Falls’ or ‘Orpheus’… I usually end up titling tracks by how they sound in my head – without wanting to become too pretentious an example would be the synths in the breakdown of “Prism” which, to me, sound like light being refracted through glass. There’s another hardcore reference in there too: ‘Crossed Out’ were another band that I was a huge fan of.”
What’s your writing process like? Where do you write, what sort of stuff seems to inspire you most?
“My writing process is scatty to say the least. I’m the least consistent producer in terms of how often I make beats or how often I finish them. I’d say about 70% of my stuff never makes it past the 16 bar loop phase.
“For that reason, combined with the fact that I’ve only been producing for a relatively short amount of time, the only finished tunes I have are the ones already out or the ones that are forthcoming. It’s a strange feeling and, in a way, it means that occasionally I put myself under too much pressure to make music: that I constantly need to prove to myself that I can still write half decent tunes. I’m slightly envious of producers who have a bunch of really great finished tunes that they can gradually release and even though I can imagine that having a massive backlog could, at times, be frustrating it does ease the pressure.”
What’s your plan for after Safehouses – what releases do you have on the horizon, and where do you plan to take your sound?
“Well, after Safehouses, there’s going to be another 12″ single on R&S which will feature a Detroit meets Berlin techno tune with a couple of people doing remixes of it on the flip. Then, after that, there’s going to be a three track EP on Black Acre but I’ve yet to start writing it so I don’t really know what it’s going to be like.
“Hopefully, by the end of next year I will have written an album and I’ve just started thinking about what I want to do with it. Although I want to continue writing more dancefloor material – because I love writing it and I love DJing – when I come to do an album I’d like to write a record that is influenced by but, at the same time, almost entirely removed from the dancefloor with tunes that have a more song-based structure to them.
“Ideally, I’d like to work with some vocalists too. I don’t think that it’s a particularly profound or new thing to say but the reason for this is that albums that derive from dance music often don’t seem to work as albums… it will be a collection of 10 mixable tunes that are more suited to the DJ than to the home listener. That isn’t to say that the tunes aren’t great but often it can be quite a challenging listen without any clear narrative.”