Fin Greenall has made a name for himself over the years fronting Fink, the multi-award winning acoustic guitar based trio, and has now released Horizontalism - a gloriously stretched out ambient reworking of their last album Hard Believer - on his own R'COUP'D label. So it's a bizarre situation to be on a rooftop in a Dalston pub discussing recently reformed 90s metal band Sikth...
“Sikth were awesome man, they were the kings of math, they took it much further than Meshuggah, Gojira, all that lot. I'd love to do a math metal album like them but I just don't have the education for it, these guys are really musically clever. At least with System of a Down I can say “Well, I wouldn't be able to make Toxicity, because I don't have those weird scales that they've got and that groove, 'cause I'm not from Armenia”. A band like Gojira, if I was 12, I'd be thinking 'I could do that'. In India there's a growing metal scene, and it's the sure-fire absolute bonafide proof that something is getting built, because where there are metal bands there are rehearsal rooms, and where there are rooms there are bands, there are gigs, and so on...”
This is not the conversation I expected. By now we're on our second pint, and I've an hour of constant chatter about everything from Berghain to the UK election to the perils of using Cubase. Fin has a very open, chatty nature and, while the metal comes as a surprise, it's not the first of the evening. Rewind an hour and we started by talking about noise-techno producer Paula Temple, a recent remixer of Fink track 'Pilgrim'.
“She's so awesome – I met her at a dinner party, I think, and I asked people for a recommendation for a remix, and they recommended Paula. It's so awesome, her mixtapes are great, they're so different, and most of us don't swim in that fucking brutal bit-too-fast scene. Well I don't. Paula's my gateway into that. I ended up going to Panorama Bar within a couple of weeks of getting to Berlin. It was round the corner from my apartment, and Marcus, who had just done a remix for me on the Warm Shadow single, was playing. So I went along completely straight, no shenanigans, and just listened to the music like I used to do when I went to clubs. I did go down to the Berghain floor, and because it's not necessarily so focused on 'music' I didn't get that so much, but now I'd love to see Paula down there, now I get that kind of pounding brutality. Behind the decks though, not on the middle of the floor. Actually the first time I went to Berghain proper I didn't get in because I was wearing a jumper they didn't like. It had a message on it that I didn't know about because it was a West Coast tattoo parlour trendy thing, and it had a combination of numbers which means something very different in Germany, and I'm a tall white guy with a skinhead... They told me 'We don't like your kind in here'... I thought 'what? But I'm a trendy hipster guy...'” Then someone explained. 'It's your jumper bro'."
Having moved to Berlin a few years ago, it does sound like the city has impressed itself upon Horizontalism; Shakespeare (Nachbarn 39) combines deep bass tones and sweeping moogs into a choral halleluliah, while dub techno echoes abound on White Flag (Nachteule 143) and a frankly thumping version of Pilgrim (Moda 232). Had the city made a permanent musical impression?
“It's definitely allowed me to be way more detached from the cages that you can build around yourself in other European cities. It allows you to be more extreme – you've got to be more extreme because everyone's extreme in their own way. It inspires you to be... more of whatever it is you are. Whatever lifestyle you want is here for you. With Berghain it might not be very healthy, but then the super-vegan health nut thing is there too if you want it. Lots of musicians too, lots of us move there because Paris kicks you out, London kicks you out, New York is too expensive - Berlin is full of people who lived in London and realised that they could make their savings last three times as long. It definitely inspired me to open up and think 'If you're gonna make an ambient record, make it really fuckin' ambient'.
The record is definitely not the usual Fink song collection. Created on a mobile studio set up while on tour, most tracks stretch the material into sweeps of unrecognisable textures. The two new songs, whilst featuring guitar and vocals, fit the mood perfectly – this is not a large scale Rick Rubin production.
“Horizontalism has pops and crackles and all kinds of nonsense on it. It's hissy and badly done and rushed and all that good stuff. It's a massive epic ambient record but I wasn't precious about the process – I was just quick about the process. I didn't want to ruin it by thinking too hard. I don't even know if I listened to it after mastering, just went 'i'm sure it'll be fine'. 'Fall Into The Light' is really badly produced and 'Suffering Is The Art Of Love' is practically a demo, but I was happy with that! I'm getting more inspired by stuff that's a bit scruffier and a bit more scrappy and thrown together. Maybe inspired by the Aussie psyche scene, Courtney Barnett and the like. I wasn't trying to make 'Dance music'. I would have failed at that - I'm not that guy any more. I could listen to a Radio Slave track over and over again and try and copy what he's done, but I can't do that ten times! I'd just end up with copies of that and the rest of the beatport techno top 100. I guess that's the pressure valve that was lifted, when I decided to not make a dance record. I originally pitched this at my manager as a kind of dub record, but I wasn't thinking of 'dub', I was thinking more like Mad Professor's version which is more chaotic and ambient...even though what he does is dub. What I should have said was 'Massive Ambient Album'. And he'd have said no.”
Speaking of Dub, there is a bass theme in Fin's productions. The switch to electronic music isn't a first – the early Fink releases were jazzy DnB of the Ninja Tune variety, and as part of Sideshow, he released to great acclaim on Aus Music and Simple Records in the mid 00s combining house beats and reggae bass with live performance.
“Sideshow was awesome, but that's the problem when you make anything with the word 'dub' in it, you're guaranteed to sell zero copies, and if you mix dub with dance music you're double guaranteed. Thing is, the point of the Sideshow stuff was that we really wanted to enjoy doing some live dance music, and didn't care if we sold any copies. There are some really great moments on the last album where you can feel that we really loved this moment. It's a bit like Digital Mystikz where if you don't love minimal stripped back dubstep you're gonna hate it, but if you do, there's nothing like an early Skream or DMZ track to really get you going. I would love to make another dubby record like Sideshow, but also I think we rinsed all our ideas out. We had enough ideas for Sideshow to get through a record and it was cool, it was a great stress release from the world of Fink for me, the bassist, drummer, everyone. Horizontalism is much more a solo pursuit. I had the bits, I had my apartment, I had Berlin in the wintertime. That's enough of a combination to create something – but not from scratch, because then i'm getting into doing a whole Fink album or something. Because it was a reinterpretations record it took all of that pressure off me."
The 'bits' that Fin mentions are the initial samples used to construct the LP – in addition to the stems, some digital traces were recorded with session musicians:
"During the sessions for Hard Believer we sessioned up loads of electronic stuff to flesh the rock stuff out, but when we listened to the sessions by themselves it sounded like an M83 album, to me anyway. As soon as I got my own label, I realised I could do it, just do an ambient album, so I was really excited to get the recording done and get onto that. I didn't add any new samples to the tracks, it's all from the parts from the earlier sessions, because I didn't want to add anything that wasn't already there. Then I was lucky to have the two new songs which fitted the ethos – ‘Fall Into The Light’, which was a reaction to going to Berghain for the first time, and ‘Suffering Is The Art Of Love’ – which for some weird reason really fits on this record, right in the middle. I don't know why, it just does! ‘Fall Into The Light’ is really special, there's something magical about it, more than some 'bona fide' Fink album tracks. Maybe it's the context of being on the LP, or perhaps because there's quite a personal cost on that track, so maybe that means something, but also it's very positive in a weird way. I need to learn to do that more often. Positivity isn't a bad thing. I think I use the word 'positivity' in that track because the night I wrote it I was at Panorama Bar, and Marcus Worgull played a track with the word 'positivity'. I couldn't take my phone out, but I remember making a mental note to work it into a song. The thing about dance music is that it's relentlessly fucking positive. You don't get many dance tracks that are miserable about people splitting up – 'Oh you left me baby' or whatever – cause people just want to have a good time. So it forced me to be positive. So even though the song is possibly dealing with break up, i'm trying to say that if we leave we do so with all the positivity in the world, we own this choice. Like when leaving Berghain I feel great, that I've experienced something that night. Something that's given me my love of clubbing back after ten years away.”
The album is the second release on Fin's label R'COUP'D – named after the point in a musician's career where they've paid off their advance. A subsidiary of Ninja Tune, which Fink have been signed to for years, the next release is a set of 'Fall Into The Light' remixes from Margaret Dygas, Deadbeat, and Prequel Tapes.
"The Prequel Tapes remix just 12 minutes of analogue noise. It's really really really awesome, the best remix I've ever commissioned. That’s the great thing about having your own imprint, you can do what you want. I don’t think Horizontalism would have existed if it wasn’t on my own imprint. Ninja told me that I can do what I want, by mutual consent. You can fuck up a couple of times before we pull the plug and hopefully you won’t fuck up at all! We have to find the right acts, artists who are willing to work hard. Ninja Tune have been great to us, and it could be great for others too – maybe maybe artists who have been through the major label thing and had a bad time, or young artists who have got a wise head on their shoulders, who want an alternative to the big advance thing. We’re actually really not sure about the direction of the label. I’d love to sign the new Ben Howard to R’COUP’D, or the next Laura Marling, that’d be awesome. That’s if we go for the singer-songwriter thing. It depends if you want your label to have a thing or to just be there. Like, for example – XL released ‘Charlie’ by the Prodigy, and now they release Adele, and they did a whole gamut of stuff inbetween. They used to be a rave label, and now they’re just ‘a label’. As for the name, one of my favourite feelings in my career was that moment of recoupment. It’s also related to ‘counting coup’ which was a French term for what the native americans used to do. The only way the French describe it, instead of being shot or killed in battle, it was considered much more glorious for one guy to use a special stick to just touch the opposition without dying. If you were that guy, you were more famous than anyone else in battle – you had to be so fearless because you weren’t even trying to kill them, you just had to ride up to them and touch them with this stick. It’s such a suicidally stupid thing to do, but I can see what they’re saying. It’s really like ‘Fuck yeah! Super dangerous!’"
Inspired by the talk of danger, I venture a theory. I wondered if the title 'Horizontalism' was related to the electronic nature of the recordings, the gridline structure causing inspiration as he worked. Fin is, frankly, disgusted.
"Oh god no – what a geeky fucking question to ask... [pretentious voice] 'Oh, yes, it was based on the user interface I was trying to generate for the experience... No, I was asked to do a mixtape for a really cool magazine in Germany called Lo:down, which I love. The editor asked for a mix and I said 'Well, Fink's more of a rock band now, so I'd love to do one – I love doing old school mixtapes, ninja-style – but I wasn't sure what to do. So I did an hour mix of what it was like to live in Berlin as I hadn't been there that long. There were loads of interview clips of people like Bowie talking about living there, and me going into gigs and recording everyone yelling 'Danke Schoen' and mixed in with loads of stuff; a track by The Orb, an old Mixmaster Morris Irresistable Force mix, an old Sufi Persian song, a modern ambient track, and I just thought that the mix was very laid back and horizontal. At which point I thought 'That's an awesome name'. I should have stuck with 'The Lo:Down mix', because now if you google Horizontalism, the first result is that mix. In a way, maybe that led to the record. That said, The whole of Horizontalism was done in Cubase. Every moment I should learn a new skill, but i'm too busy and I can't be arsed. I've been using Cubase since the MidiMafiaMob did a crack of it for the Atari on floppy disk, so I can literally think in Cubase. There's loads of stuff that Ableton and Protools kick it out of the park for, but in my game I need speed, I need to be recording stuff now, and can't be dealing with trying to remember how to assign something. Cubase is my demo studio, and usually we take it to some other studio to flesh out and finalise. With Horizontalism, because of the restraints of such a basic system, and the fact that I can't talk to anyone else for advice - because they all use Ableton or Protools - I'm really on my own. I never learn any new tricks from my friends, so I did it all in my apartment. I've got a mobile version of my studio – an old hard case with mic, leads, usb hub etc. Whenever I had a moment on tour where I wasn't getting hassled to do something, I could use downtime to do something that would be my means of escape. Using this dead time for something, maybe a remix for a single. I never expected it to turn into a record."
While still released under the Fink name, it's clear this is the work of Fin solo rather than a full band outing, and unlike the band albums it won't be toured to death.
“The whole concept of Horizontalism, especially for the label, was no stress and no freaking out. I wanted none of the usual fanfare that comes with a Fink record, the stress and hassle. Here's the master, did it myself, cost nothing, Fall into the Light and Suffering were done in my apartment – it's a stress free release for everyone. I like it, i've put it out, I don't care if it goes well or badly. Job done, move on. I'm not going to tour it, so it's not going to be brutalised by six months of having to play Fall into the Light every night, so i'm going to have a different relationship with all the material. We've been using the first three tracks of Horizontalism as our walk in music on the Hard Believer tour though, as they're all roughly in the order of how I made them. I did Fall into the Light, then Looking Too Closely because there weren't any mixes for the single. Shakespeare was a good excuse to do a mix because it has that big Moog in it which was a bit of a gift. Pilgrim was really difficult and I ended up doing it on the US tour in the van. So the Pilgrim remix ends with these big drones, and then the drums come in and we start. It's really cool, and if you're in the audience and you've got your ears on you might hear bits of Shakespeare and think 'I've never heard that'. Our intro tape for the half hour was Thom Yorke, then Tricky, and then those four, so if you're not really listening you won't notice, but if you are you'll spot Looking Too Closely and so on, and then we come on with eBows and the sound guy mixes us in. No one came up to us after the show. In 94 gigs, no one actually asked me at the merch stall about that intro track. But now whenever we hear that version of Pilgrim there's a Pavlovian reaction, and we start getting hyped up and ready to go on."
Oddly for such a reimagining, the last track is Fin's remix of Suuns 'Music Won't Save You'. While it fits perfectly within the album, it seemed a strange choice to finish on such a track.
"Fuck it, I can do what I want! I love their music to death and they’re really inventive. We both played Plisskën festival in Greece a while ago and I was really excited to see them. I got to meet them backstage and they’re lovely guys. Even though there’s quite an electronic edge on the record, they managed to pull it off live. I heard they were doing a remix album, but I was too late to get on that. So I did this mix, which I was really happy with, but wasn’t sure what was going to happen with it, so when this album came around, I was happy that it fitted perfectly on there. I like to describe them as being like Radiohead, if Radiohead grew up listening to Radiohead, you know?"
I had one last question. The parenthetical codes at the end of each remix on the tracklisting aren't explained anywhere in the press releases – Pilgrim (Moda 232) and the like. Was there a meaning behind them?
It’s a little code after each track. Moda 232 is the hotel room that I stayed in on the night that I finished the mix, but all the others have little clues to them. I've never actually explained it to anyone, but if you google to suffix at the end of Green And The Blue, it'll tell you about something that's part of the track, which might lead you to another adventure. One of them is Nachteule 143 – ‘Night Owl I Love You’, which is quite cute. When I finished ‘Looking Too Closely’, I went downstairs and stood in the doorway had a ciggie outside my apartment, and the club opposite to the apartment was So36, so I wanted to keep that, something that absolutely connects that to me and the place and time.
Horizontalism is out now on R’COUP’D, with the Fall Into The Light remixes following on June 1st.