Hitherto best known as one half of Vex’d, the Bristol production duo whose fierce, grimy dancefloor productions in the mid-noughties became synonymous with, and crucial to the evolution of, the emerging dubstep sound – despite Porter and his partner, Jamie Teasdale, being unimpressed from the off with this catch-all genre tag and the limitations it came with. Indeed, there was always a more open and experimental agenda to Vex’d’s music, and now, following several years of withdrawal from music (“a necessary void”, he calls it), Porter has constructed a solo LP that stubbornly defies easy categorisation.
Deploying some of the tropes of drone and techno music, without submitting to the tenets of either genre, as well showcasing Porter’s gift for classical composition, Aftertime is a staggering achievement, and feels wholly modern, as well as wholly human – relying largely on analogue sound sources (including the Ondes Martenot, a vintage synthesizer beloved of Olivier Messiaen), Porter takes the extreme physicality of Vex’d to a whole new level. For a taster of what to expect, you can download one Aftertime‘s most impressive and agitated tracks, ‘Tleilax’, above.
What follows is the transcript of a phone conversation between FACT’s Kiran Sande and Porter, which took place earlier this week, ahead of Aftertime‘s late September release via Subtext, and shortly prior to Porter’s undertaking an artist residency at the Faster Than Sound festival.
“Ever since Jamie [Teasdale, Porter’s former partner in Vex’d] were friends at school, ever since we started discussing and writing music, we always want to do a beatless thing. The original thought – what, 20 years ago? [laughs] – was that we’d release double-A-side 12″s, and one side would be the beat-driven track and then there’d be an ambient side on the flip. That dream never really came to fruition, but the desire was there from the start.
“Following the end of the Vex’d project, I produced some beat things on my own, but I was getting more and more unhappy with that way of working, so I realised the way forward was to do the things I’d always wanted to. My aunt, who’s the Ondes player on the record, mentioned the Faster Than Sound thing, and it developed from there.”
That’s the Ondes Martenot, the instrument that you made use of on the album, and will be for the upcoming Faster Than Sound residency. Can you tell us a bit more about it?
“Yeah, it’s an early synth. Essentially it’s a keyboard in a wooden case that has floating monophonic keyboard so you can wobble the keys on a bed, so you can get a vibrato effect by the playing of the keys and three crazy speakers, one of which is built out of a gong and one which is like a dulcimer.
“[My aunt] often plays Messiaen, who wrote the most famous Ondes piece. I began to record the Ondes to see what would happen and came back to Bristol with these single line recordings and they’re what I ended up using for the album.”
“I used to hate people who weren’t dedicated to jungle.”
Would someone familiar with the Ondes be able to discern its sound on the album? Or did you do manipulate the source recordings beyond recognition?
“You can hear it quite clearly in the the introduction to ‘Tleilax’. Put it this way: where I want you to recognise it, it’s recognisable; where I don’t, it’s not. The instrument actually has its own huge spring reverb, so it didn’t need to be artificially reverbed.”
What can we expect from your residency at Faster Than Sound?
“We do a five-day residency where we compose an entirely new piece from scratch and then that’s the performance. It’s going to be done almost comopletely from scratch, although I do want to include a lot of field recordings, and i’ve done quite a bit of that in advance.”
I’m guessing the Ondes is a hefty thing. Has transporting it to the festival and installing it there been difficult?
“Total pain in the arse, quite traumatic…it’s really big. [laughs]”
“Total pain in the arse, quite traumatic…”
The other unusual instrument you’re using at Faster Than Sound is the Dobro. What’s that?
“The Dobro is a bluegrass instrument. It wouldn’t be something you’d like the sound of ordinarily. Playing it’s a bit like playing a lap steel guitar, but if you imagine a non-fretted instrument like that, it’s the opposite orientation – the fretboard hovers the strings, there’s like a metal bar upside down which you hover above it. You play with the resonances, and as the metal touches you get a metallic schwang, a really nice sound to work with.”
How crucial was the Ondes o the conception and execution of Aftertime?
“To be honest, it would’ve been exactly as it was if the Ondes collaboration hadn’t come about…it’s just exactly what I wanted to do. It’s very deliberate. Thinking about making music as more of a compositional project. It’s really strange…I don’t really recall too much the production process. I found a copy of the demo and it was almost indentical to the finished thing. [laughs]”
What’s most impressive about the album is how, without recourse to percussion, it maintains its momentum. Was it difficult to achieve this?
“That was the main stumbling block…I mean, it’s not drone music, and I didn’t want it to be. The fourth track on the album, ‘Corrin’, with the bassline – that bassline as was one of the first things I did, and it was the first glimmer of hope that I could create something with enough energy or movement to sustain itself without a rhythm.”
The tracks are quite short, it feels like there’s a strong narrative thrust to how they’re put together…
“Well, once I was in the mode mode of doing one track, I kind of did them all at once, without stopping – spending half an hour one, half an hour on another, and then going back to the start. Maybe that’s why. The main concern was it not being techno, not being drone music, but still having energy.”
“The main concern was it not being techno, not being drone music, but still having energy.”
You told me before that you didn’t listen to any contemporary music while making the album. Now that you’re back to checking out new stuff, do you feel like there’s a context for your own work? Do you feel like Aftertime has an affinity with other stuff out there?
“I’m back to listening to music, and really enjoying it, but I’m not completely immersed in any one genre, really. I mean, I was so fanatical about jungle when I was a youngster, to the extent that I used to kind of hate people who weren’t dedicated to jungle….[laughs]. It was long time after that I realised it was acceptable to listen all kinds of different stuff. That was always the worst thing about being in Vex’d, trying to work out where to take it next, when we’d been lumped into a scene that we felt in no way a part of.
“I was chatting to a mate the other day, saying it’s a difficult to strike a balance: ‘cos if I just listen to Eno and tunes I like from the 80s, there’s a danger of becoming either referential, or becoming completely irrelevant to anything. If someone comes up with a genre name for bass-led modern classical stuff then I’ll be in the same position I was a few years ago with Vex’d [laughs].”
Is there any contemporary dance music you’re actually feeling?
“It’s easy to be negative, to act like ‘cos you’re older you’ve heard it all before, but then you do hear something that blows you away. It’s important that new generations come through and do their own thing. It’s funny, Jamie [Teasdale] sent me the Kuedo album he’s done and it was a bit of a shock to the system…it’s a million miles away from what I’m doing, but by sticking with it [dance music], and by keeping properly in touch with what’s around him, he’s managed to stay with it but still do something new, and something true to what he’s about. Come to think of it, I suppose both Aftertime and the Kuedo album have an 80s space opera vibe [laughs]. It’s interesting.”
“The intro parts to Vex’d tunes, the bits before the beats dropped, were always my favourite parts.”
There are definitely shared qualities between Vex’d and your solo work. That sense of your trying to create a really physical music, for one.
“Oh, absolutely. If Vex’d had been a solo project, I’d have continued under that name and be making stuff like [Aftertime]. It’s completely the same world, and everything I attempted to do with Vex’d, but it’s been better realised on this album. What I was hoping to achieve with Vex’d, I feel like I’ve achieved on this album. I still love being in dances, and I still love getting wasted (though I’m older now, so obviously not as much as I used to), and I still love really loud dance music. And what you hear in this album has always been present in that. At dances, I always prefer being spaced out, getting inside the music; the intro parts to Vex’d tunes, the bits before the beats dropped, were always my favourite parts.”
You were pretty quiet for several years between the end of Vex’d and the making of Aftertime. What happened?
“It was a necessary void…I literally didn’t have a studio of any kind for like six months…I didn’t listen to any music, didn’t play anything, didn’t do anything at all, and I didn’t want to think about any modern music at all. When I did listen to stuff, it was lots of classical music, lots of post-rock, nothing to do with British pop or dance music…a complete void. It was such a horrible feeling not being able to push forward new ideas for Vex’d – especially after Degenerate was so easy and exciting to do – and I hated that feeling. So I needed some time to think.
“I really want my own production and my appreciation of other people’s music to be completely separate things. Listening to other people’s music is a hobby, something I do for pleasure, and when I step into the studio it’s like I’ve got a dayjob like any other, like I’m an estate agent or something [laughs]. That’s how I need it to be.”
“It was such a horrible feeling not being able to push forward new ideas for Vex’d.”
There was always an industrial feel to Vex’d, and that seems to have been preserved, if developed and altered, in your solo work. Do you have much truck with the idea of industrial music?
“It’s strange, there are so few words that people use to descrbie music…Industrial is going to come into it, I guess, but I tend to think of it as quite soulless and depressive music. I mean, in my mind industrial is something totally automated, I picture old Soviet machines churning away, you know? I don’t really picture that with Aftertime….if there was a word that had a more organic feel to it, then that would be OK. It’s anti-music in a way, and while in honesty I do love dark, industrial noise, I wanted really to sculpt songs. Even though I wanted those songs to be about a time when all people have died! [laughs]”
“The other thing industrial conjures up for me is a lot of mid-range sound. That’s actually a problem I have with a lot of experimental music. For me personally, unless you’ve got loads of sub and bass in a track then I find it physically really dififcult to listen to. Plus, when you put lots of sub in you can push the mid-range more aggressively.
“One of my personal criticisms of my album is that it’s not quite as hard as i thought it was…I played it to some friends, and they kind of thought it was ‘nice’. It not that I wanted to create something harsh and unlistenable, but it has turned out more listenable than I expected. I’ve only played live twice, and it’s quite effective in that situation, it works really well as loud music. A lot of ‘ambient’ music really doesn’t. I don’t want to name names, but recently I saw an artist I really like perform live and it was intense, but really it was just a mid-range wall of sound, there was no dynamic, no bass. At the end of the day, you’ve just got to have a bassline [laughs].”