As arguably the most recent galvanising force in UK underground music, the dubstep sound has been the subject of, or perhaps subjected to, insistent scrutiny.
Inevitably, many of those who were figured as dubstep artists often rejected the term, and continue to do so. Sure, this happens to pretty much every genre of music: artists don’t want to be pigeon-holed, labels don’t want to become stale, and listeners don’t want the sound to descend into parody. In the same time it takes for a freshly sound to capture the collective imagination, purists are born, detractors roll their eyes, and we all watch once excited listeners descend into incoherent babbling about which sub-bass frequency is deeper than the next. How dry, and unworthy of what a sound can achieve. Roll your eyes at what you think dubstep in 2013 is all you want, but the genre has given us some of the most powerful music in a generation and if only because of that, the discussion of dubstep and what it can still achieve is entirely worthwhile.
With this in mind, it would be amiss not to discuss Moods of Future Joy, the new album from Bristol-based producer Guido. After two stand-out 12” releases on the Punch Drunk label in 2009 (‘Beautiful Compilation’/’Chakra’, ‘Orchestral Lab’/’Way U Make Me Feel’) Guido released his debut LP Anidea in 2010, and in the time since dubstep has taken a myriad of sonic paths away from what it once was. There’s something of an apt, even delicious irony in Guido’s longevity that makes him stand out, and speaks to the enduring quality of his work in comparison to Purple Sound affiliates Joker and Gemmy.
As a genre that largely existed in the 12” format, there weren’t many LPs that captured the lighter tones of dubstep quite like Anidea. Perhaps it was Guido’s conscious aims not to become part of what he saw as an emerging formula that made Anidea one of the genre’s finer long-player moments, with his ear for colourful melodies and deftly executed instrumentation providing a sincere sort of light relief amongst the murkier sounds of the day. It’s a sensibility that’s carried on into Moods of Future Joy too but as our chat shows, Guido is not one for resting on his laurels. FACT caught up with him to discuss his new album, as well as how the experience of performing with a live band has informed his writing process.
Now that Moods of Joy is out, how do you feel about it compared to Anidea?
I think I definitely have my own sound so, stylistically, I don’t think there’s a great deal of difference in my music between Anidea and Moods of Future Joy. Where I do see a difference is in the way I approached them as projects. Anidea was very organic: I had the majority of the tracks written in a short space of time, and released them pretty much as soon as I had enough to merit a full length. It was more of a burst of energy. With Moods of Future Joy, it’s been much more of a prolonged effort. I’ve been working on particular tracks for months, refining the detail a lot more, and so on. Much more effort has gone into this album. I find it hard to be analytical in this respect so I’m not sure how I’d draw direct lines between both albums, but I do feel that I’m now taking more care in the production side of things. Being more self-critical.
What’s always struck me about your work is that you’ve always tried to distance yourself from being called a dubstep producer, but it’s that desire to break away from the mould that’s made your sound so intriguing.
Personally, I’m not one for genres. I don’t think a genre can accurately describe music at all. You can call it dubstep but then, how diverse has dubstep become? It’s more about style for me. I don’t mind so much being associated with dubstep now as opposed to a few years ago – I think I was quite vocal at not wanting to be pencilled in as a dubstep producer – but I feel that in any genre it’s only certain artists or small pockets of artists that are able to create shifts, rather than whole movements coming together. That’s what I take from the idea of genre and how it evolves.
Could you give me any examples of artists that you were listening to for inspiration for this album in this sense then – people who are experimenting in ways that you’re drawn to?
Well, someone who I’d been listening to a lot whilst making this new album was an artist called Laszlo. I must have heard his Radial Nerve album about two years ago and there’s a lot of sounds on it that feel very live, but you can also tell it’s been produced electronically. I’m really drawn to someone like him because his work is experimental, but you can also tell that he had fun making it. I try and aspire to that.
What do you feel Moods of Future Joy is aspiring to?
For me, it all comes down to the energy and the soul in the music. If you listen to somebody like Vangelis, another one I’ve really been absorbing lately, it’s all completely electronic but hasn’t lost any of its soul. Chariots of Fire is a big inspiration for me because I feel that the intention there is very pure. The soul is intact.
That reminds me of an amazing Bjork quote that’s always stayed with me: “If there’s no soul in the music, it’s because no one put it there.”
Wow, okay, I completely agree with that. Totally. I love Bjork, but I love her even more for that quote now. The creative process of writing music for me is more like a transfer of energy somehow… A lot of the time it doesn’t work but when it does, those are the moments that I’ve tried to compile into this album. Hopefully in a coherent way, too. There’s a lot more that I made that, in a way, I now wish was on the album, but it is what it is and I’m really happy with how it sounds. It’s a more mature album: more “musical” even, with more robust melodies and harmonies than my earlier work maybe.
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Another quote that just sprang to mind there. I remember reading a joint interview with yourself, Gemmy and Joker about Purple Sound back in 2009 I think, where Gemmy said that “melodies are like memories.” I’ve always really like that too: the idea that melodies that you love become a part of you. It makes me wonder about the processes you undergo to translate melodies from the studio to a live setting. I know you’ve performed with a live band in the past, could you talk about the experience of this?
Yeah that’s very true, melodies have always been a huge part of my work and having the experience of playing then live has been amazing. Revealing, too. In terms of the set up of the band, there was myself on the synth and controlling midi, then a drummer, then a bass guitar player and an electric guitar player, and it was really enjoyable working together. After spending years in a studio by yourself it’s fun being able to flesh out your work in that way. We’ve only played a few shows and didn’t play to that many people, but I found it extremely informative for going back into the studio. The live element did come into the album in a big way because I recorded live guitar on the album, and worked with musicians to try and “flesh it out”, as it were.
Correct me if I’m wrong, but you write the vast majority of your tracks of a keyboard before using any software or production tools?
Yeah pretty much everything is done on the keyboard first. That’s how I like to work. It gives me a more tangible sense of the melodies.
How has this process grown since working with a live band, particularly hearing your sounds through group instrumentation? And how did it informed back on your writing process for Moods of Future Joy?
What I found interesting was how nearly every element of my tracks not only could have translated into a completely live sound, but, actually did? I was taken aback by how musical the process was: not very tinkering or difficult to figure out on a technical level. The bass guitar became the sub and we managed to ditch electronic drum patterns for all live drumming, it just translated amazingly well for me. The last show we played we got really good feedback from the audience, and that feedback really made me want to keep pushing this element of translation from studio to stage.
It’s also made me consider certain elements of how I write my music more deeply. How can I render electronic sounds into live instrumentation in a really captivating way? It seems more necessary now. I don’t rate laptop live shows from Ableton templates. Sorry, but they aren’t really live shows. If I’m playing live I want three or four people there with me, all of us playing together. If we make mistakes then that’s cool, it’s part of the process. It makes it feel more immediate for whoever is watching and listening.
I think that live musicality really comes across in Moods of Future Joy: it feels more subtle, with a slightness of touch to everything. There’s new depths to your sound, as if you’re more conscious of live instrumentation.
Yeah definitely, I’m happy you said that. When I first started making music in Bristol I was friends with a lot of people who were in bands, so I used to go and see them play live a lot. Now, looking back, I that feel that whenever I’m producing a track in my house I’m always, rehearsing, in a way? Rehearsing feels right – like what I’m working on is going to become something much bigger than just putting out an MP3 on Soundcloud.
I think this musicality comes across also in the mix-down process of the new album: it’s a much smoother, more polished listen than Anidea.
Oh, thanks. A lot more care went into the mix-down process on this album than on the last. I wasn’t that confident about mixing down when I made Anidea. I wanted to get someone else to do it for me but, that would have cost money. When I listen to Anidea now I think at points, “Oh, the bass and the kick clashes”. I pick it apart. I think the few more years experience and a more conscious effort to take my time over it has made Moods of Future Joy a smoother listen. I knew exactly what I wanted to do with mixing down, compressing and EQ-ing and so on, so maybe that’s why it sounds more polished. I’m glad you pointed that out.
As a listener, I particularly enjoyed the latter half of the album. It feels like there’s a lot of elements at work here: shades of house and techno, as well as references to african rhythms. What also struck me was the track ‘Afrika Pt. 2’ – I’m assuming that it’s a follow up to your previous single ‘Afrika’? Could you go into this more, the relationship between the two tracks, and the influences that are apparent there too?
Yeah, that was definitely deliberate on my part. ‘Afrika Pt. 2’ came about because of the live show. ‘Afrika’ was our favourite track to play out as a band: during rehearsals we all started doing improvisations on top of it and I thought, “I want to have a live version of this for my album”. Not necessary a sister track to it, but a fuller, more developed version of it. I thought at the time that there was a lot of potential in ‘Afrika’ but I didn’t appreciate it until we performed it live. The energy is so high. There’s an arp sound on ‘Afrika’ that when played live has the bass and electric guitar player both strumming, and Luke was going crazy on the drums…. I feel that ‘Afrika’ was such a release compared to the others, and the structures of the other tracks are very particular in comparison, so I think there was more space to experiment in a technical sense.
In terms of African influences, or just influences full stop, I’d been listening to Fela Kuti massively whilst writing this album. It’s hard to translate into words what exactly it is about him that I find so fascinating, but it’s just energy. Pure, physical energy. Some of his tracks are, what, half an hour long? And you can listen to them and never feel a real dip in energy. The recordings go through changes of course, but grooves as so deep and raw that you’re just completely mesmerised. Someone like Bob Marley is a giant of black music, but Fela Kuti is just as important politically, socially, musically – he’s just not as widely known, for some weird reason. Well, weird to me at least. He’s wicked.
Absolutely, he was incredible. In a more direct, personal sense however, what is it about that kind of sound that you relate to as a producer, or try to emulate with the live show?
It’s the freedom of everything. Everything sounds, free. Every element does what it wants to the fullest. I’ve been listening to Ethiopian folk music too and I’ve discovered such fascinating singing harmonies with in, particularly because I don’t speak the language. Harmonies and melodies go something deeper than words. There’s a mystery within that freedom too, something you can’t touch. I want to emulate the addictive-ness of those feelings.
Do you feel that Moods of Future Joy achieves this?
I think it could be more uplifting! When I think of all the really magical, uplifting music I listen to, I don’t think I’ve quite managed to tap into that fully yet. This album feels more contemplative, I suppose. I think my third album is going to be really positive and uplifting. That’s what I want to express.