Londons Stormfield has many layers to his creative outpourings, from producing his own intricately constructed Autechre inspired beats, to pushing sonic barriers with his label Combat Recordings output or creating visual backings for artists like Roly Porter and Scorn as well as being Electronic Explorations don Rob Booths on call DJ. With so much going on, its been some time since Stormfield has been able to focus on his own production, its one of the challenges you face by being active in so many roles, but over the course of last summer, time and inspiration caught him in an opportune moment and hes been able to put his first self-penned EP out on Combat in over 5 years.
The label is responsible for a steady but relentless output of industrial tinged electro come bass music with Neil Landstrumm, Scanone and King Cannibal aka House of Black Lanterns offer up their own beats with Stormfield even scoring Warp heroes Plaid on remix duty for last years Anodyne releases. Through its steadily paced release schedule its proved itself bastion of a more challenging sound to come out of London, part of the stubborn electro community that refuses to go away, all of which we found out more in this interview with the tireless musical extremist as we speak to him in the week of the release of Collapsing System EP.
I know youve been super busy so far this year, whatve you been up to exactly?
Yeah, this winter's been busy. January: Got back into training, to get fitness up again. Sorted out the Collapsing System release, started a couple of Fausten tracks, filmed a bondage/torture session in Paris. February: Filmed a Soviet military base in Berlin, planned script/choreography/location for a music video Stahlblumen. Did an AV set in Croatia with Errorbeauty. March: Finished off 2 Fausten bits for the album. Attended the mastering session. Filmed a lass with 2 swords running around a warehouse, another one in a dog collar, and a big bloke with a real chainsaw. And the dayjob, obviously.
Howre you enjoying this extended winter? Do you find it is a help or hindrance to your creative flow?
Aside from a car smashing up my bike, this winter has been great! The cold season is the most productive time for me , actually. Theres fuck all to do outdoors, the weathers crap for biking so its perfect for studio time. I tend to find light distracting when working on sounds; turn the lights off and youll notice how things suddenly seem louder and more vivid. My brain slows down in the heat, especially summer – it just feels wrong to stay indoors when its that sunny. Winter is perfect for getting stuff done.
Whats your musical history, how did you first get rooted in the London rave network?
Ummm, long story short: cassette tapes in the back of the family car from about 1980, all sorts of pop/disco/soul stuff, some of it dire, some good. Breakdance music around 1984. Public Enemy around 1987. Throughout most of those years, there was a lot of awful rock music on national radio, quite ego-driven cheesy shite (note, this was in Asia), so when rave music came along in the late 80's it was like a breath of fresh air: Fresh, weird bleepy sounds, lots of energy. But it was specifically a track called Beat Dis by Bomb the Bass that did it, it got played countless times. This led on to discovering the KLF, 808 State, Altern-8, R&S, Warp Records and so on. A lot of the more underground records of the time were missed, simply because we got whatever trickled into Asia from Europe via small independent record shops. There was no internet at the time, it was all word of mouth, and local DJs sometimes kept their playlists secret.
However there was a brilliant CD series called Trance Europe Express (unfortunate name), for a local days wages you got 2 discs with over 20 tracks and a thick colour booklet with well researched articles, which is how I found out about the Aphex Twin, The Orb, Air Liquide et al, and a glimpse into their circumstances. Up until that point these artists existed to me only as names and symbols and album artwork.
There was no outdoor rave culture in the country at the time, but Id read about what went on in England and Berlin, and it really struck a chord: the sense of community, mad sounds all night, illegal venues – it was the total opposite to the local norm of seeing some whiny 80s rocknroll prick strutting around like a poodle on stage. Sure, there was a regular club there, but to hear really, really mad weird tunes – this you could only read or dream about.
Coming to the UK in 1997 for Uni, the college was based in Surrey which meant making solo trips into London to catch Rephlex nights (at the Soundshaft), those were brilliant – it was a whole night of freestyle electronic music and the line up didnt matter. Aphex, Squarepusher, Mike Dred, Bogdan, Ed DMX, Cylob, K Rock and Grant would turn up to play in no particular order. Thats where I heard Windowlicker for the first time. There were a few Warp nights too but these tended to be more reserved, less of a rave.
Roll on a few years, I moved to London and by some random chain of events involving a tab acid, somehow ended up working for Fuel Records doing their shows on Breaks FM. In 2002(?) there were also a few regular events like Haywire, Scand, Wang and the Moonpalace Sunday electronica sessions. Most of the rave people I know now (face to face) were via partying or playing at these events.
Howd you describe whats happening right now in your scene, its something that seems under the radar for many people but really for others just keeps on chugging
I try to avoid thinking in terms of scenes these days, that people aspect – its nice to hide away and get on with making stuff, nip in and out of parties, and not get too caught up in the social stuff.
If you mean music exposure, then Id say there is a lot of good music being made, which gets bypassed simply because the public feed is clogged up by labels that have the budget to push stuff promotionally more than others. Whether the music being pushed is any good, or will stand the test of time, is another matter entirely.
Software has reached a point where its possible for anyone to get into producing. Having hardware might mean you get sounds in the right ballpark of the frequency spectrum for phatness, but it doesnt automatically mean making good tracks. Its not what you have, but how you use it.
But pushing the music to new ears – THIS requires time and money and contacts, especially as people are used to being spoon-fed now.
When was it you started up Combat Recordings what was it that made you think one day you wanted to start a record label?
Well, I never planned on starting a label in the first place. Through working with Fuel Records on their radio shows, we got sent loads of demos, some really, really good ones, but the label wasnt releasing more vinyl so the demos stacked up.
Then in 2004 a series of personal shit happened, a bad breakup, could not work, I had to leave the country, and while away someone very close to me died, all this within the space of a few months; Combat was born as way to release the anger at the time, a way of focusing to get through the shit. There was already a stack of tracks waiting to be released. In the middle of COMBAT01 youll find inscribed the words Anger is strength, same as on Collapsing System.
The label is 9 years old and life is a lot better now, but I have to honour the conditions that gave birth to the label, thus it will always sound the way it does. To release cheerier stuff it would have to be under a different label entirely.
Whats your proudest moment so far would you say ?
Releasing Scorn on the label. Although Milanese and Plaid come a close second. Mick Harris is a god.
What would you say is the hardest thing for an independent like yourselves? It seems vinyl has its place again but its still not so easy for smaller operators to make themselves heard
Independents tend to small or one-man operations, so the main hurdles are time and cash. Vinyl is, financially speaking, a total pain in the arse. The mastering, cutting and pressing cost a fair whack. And more again if you want nice full-colour sleeves (records are a thing of beauty after all). And then you have to promote it hard enough to shift the lot. Promotion itself adds another cost. Hats off to the small labels that manage to do it, and Im not talking about labels funded by rich kids daddies.
As a visit to Matt Coltons studio will show, there is a true craft and art to mastering, shaping a track to strict guidelines so that it can make the final transition onto vinyl. And music would not be where it is now without that craft.
But it does annoy me when people, especially the older generation of DJs/ collectors seem to fetishise a piece of plastic first and the music on it second. Im referring specifically to those that buy stuff only if its been cut to 12. Its just silly. A good track is a good track. But somehow it is magically perceived as better, if its on 12. So to some extent, vinyl has now become a promotional mechanism in itself. In biological/evolutionary terms, vinyl nowadays is like the peacocks tail – its an elaborate burden, but a sign of fitness/quality to anyone that can carry it.
Going further, Nico from Ad Noiseam recently mentioned feeling saddened at seeing people buy records to keep, but never play them. My thinking is, whats the fucking point? Might as well buy a blank record or a block of plastic. These people need a slap.
Back to promotion, anyone can send out a group email but music people are generally forgetful/busy/flakey (pick the one you like) thus you need constant chasing and tactful pushing to get stuff onto blogs, music press etc. This takes time which you wont necessarily have if doing a day job and making tunes at night. Which brings me onto another point, production and management are totally different areas of work. To be creative and to focus artistically, you need a certain level of disconnectedness from what others do. But to run a label successfully, on the other hand, requires constantly knowing whats going on around you, scanning for opportunities to push your labels releases, hustling to get contacts and gigs.
Thus, it follows that a small label boss who is also a producer will have their time/effort/cash split two ways, meaning a slower rate of label output. Of course its just a personal opinion, but for some of the very interesting artist-led labels, the label guys tend to do better at curating music, than at churning out a high rate of releases full-time. Swings and roundabouts.
For the first time in a long while youve released something by yourself as Stormfield your Collapsing System EP how long has this been in the making? What were the ideas behind the record?
I havent been happy with my standard of production for a long time, hence the very few releases even on Combat. But its gotten better recently.
Collapsing System started in summer last year, the original was an acid track which I tried to make dancefloor but it just got more and more autistic, so I thought fuck it, lets see where this ends up. I remember being quite stoned in a dark room one night and imagining giant industrial structures exploding and collapsing. The financial crisis, Occupy, Wikileaks and general political shite going on in England/Greece probably fed into it unconciously, hence the name. Id been chatting to Errorbeauty and Nonima around the time; the melodic element sounded closer to what they were doing, and they said yes to remixing it.
Although Collapsing System is the title track, Rebuild is actually the stronger of the two, and more sinister. It came together in about a month. Id met Matt DeFeKt by then, and Matt said hed be up for adding some chunky modular sounds to a remix.
Sea Ice was begun on the hottest day of summer, as a way to take the mind off the heat. It worked, up to a point, although a housemate came downstairs and said can you please turn it down the bassdrum is thundering through the floor!
The tracks seemed heavy enough to warrant a vinyl release, so it happened.
The arrangements of your compositions sound especially on Rebuild intricate workings, sounds like you take a more constructed approach rather than the analogue jam kind of set up, whats your production process like?
Rebuild is definitely a constructed track.
I dont really have a set way of working (yet). But it generally starts with the Machinedrum, its sounds are so huge that you end up fitting other stuff around and on top of it. If you add the Machinedrum later on, then you end up having to spend time EQing and boosting everything else again.
There was a lot of jamming and resampling of the Machinedrum and Reaktor, but it always got cut up and arranged later. I had an autistic little groovebox/synth called the LepLoop at the time, for some reason it would not work properly (yes i did ask around for help), nonetheless it generated a few interesting noises which ended up in the track.
The production process would have been different if my kit was all analogue – a smaller set of creative variables, more straight-up jamming and less fucking about with a million different options. The proper analogue interpretation of this track gets covered in the DeFeKt remix.
Visuals are a huge part of the labels presentation, how do you go about commissioning the artwork for the label?
I research and compile the images that go with the labels aesthetics, a moodboard if you will. These get edited and manipulated in Photoshop / VDMX. Then they get sent to someone whose graphic skills I absolutely trust to shape it into the final printed artwork on the record, like Dan from Disco_R.Dance.
Then for your live sets, theyre usually combine your own visual work as well as being called on by people like Scorn (Mick Harris) to put visuals to his live sets, can you talk us through how you put together your imagery for these live projects?
There is a general pool of images, clips and quartz patches to which I add stuff from time to time.
Coming from a DJ background, the visuals are built from the sound up. I loop the music over and over, and start putting the clips together as presets in a program called VDMX, using 4 layers of video. The mood of the track will determine which clips are used in those 4 layers, and in what specific combination – the composition modes of a clip affects the way the clip underneath it appears. The clips movement might be driven by the audio levels, LFOs or a step sequencer, whatever seems to resonate with the tracks pace/mood.
For the Smashment AV mix on Electronic Explorations, the clips used were mainly dancehall/urban/riot related, and harsh simple colours which to me has a junglist feel.
For the Stormfield acid/electro/techno AV stuff (like at the gig on the 6th of April), the visuals for this tend to be more techy and industrial looking, and darker.
If doing visuals for Errorbeauty, things again take on a more technological / electro theme. I acquired an infra-red camcorder recently, which allows real time video feed from the DJ booth that can be mashed up in VDMX, its a nice move away from relying on video loops all the time. This got road tested in Croatia when she was playing, and works quite well.
The visuals for the London Modular Alliance are different yet again. They have an amazing setup of 4 CCTV cameras with nightvision. The 3 guys jam over a huge bank of modular synths and racks, which looks really strong visually in itself, the cameras are set up in various parts of the room aimed at the gear and the crowd. There are almost no video loops used at all, its a direct feed from the CCTVs into my laptop, and effects/treatments getting added and improvised in realtime. A bit like DJing with just a cable and no records, if that makes any sense.
As for Scorn visuals… prior to the Bangface Weekender, Micks instructions were simply LET ME KNOW ABOUT VISUALS I LEAVE IT TO YOU, GET SOME EYES AND PASSAGES IN THERE IF YOU CAN, TUNNELS ETC I LOVE THAT STUFF. Scorns sound works best in a pitch black room, so the visuals themselves were kept quite murky, deep sludgy browns and sickly yellows, sexual torture and bondage scenes, and eyes/tunnels of course. Subtle but harrowing and suffocating, like his sound.
The visuals for Roly Porter were similar in colour, but he specifically said no people at all! So it was mainly textures, fires and shapes extruded along the Z-axis by audio levels.
Visuals have evolved further with the Fausten project, the crew includes a proper photographer/filmmaker, theres a few of us, so actual filming gets done beforehand. Locations so far include a bondage dungeon in Paris, a soviet military base in Berlin and running around a warehouse with 2 real swords and a chainsaw in Hackney. The next Fausten AV set will be a live studio web-stream in late April.
If doing AV stuff on my own, its necessary to link the audio and visuals at points so they affect each other automatically, after all you only have one pair of hands and its all in realtime. Its a bit more relaxed when doing just the visuals for someone elses music, you have time to experiment, although in that respect Im not a VJ – the visual work has to be specifically for someone whose music I already know well, and like.
No, wait – actually, I did VJ once, this was for a Tsunami charity relief gig. A mate and I turned up at this massive venue and were horrified to find it infested with fluoro psy-trance types, you know the ones with plastic butterfly wings, chickpea dreadlocks, neon facepaint, lentil poi and stuff. So we set up and started projecting harsh black and white clips of gunshots, hammers and nails. At some point the resident VJ clocked it and began projecting Bollywood movies over the screens, so we typed a load of rude text and projected that on top. At some point we got shut off and called it a night.
And for the Broken Note set at Glade Fest, there were a lot of riot clips and a certain Prime Minister being set on fire.
You put the remixes on the vinyl in favour of your own tracks what was behind that choice, I personally thought your original tracks were more than vinyl worthy
I come from a background of DJing with vinyl, thus its been hardwired in my head that stuff on a 12 is meant for DJs to play to a dancefloor. Logically, this means the most DJ-friendly tracks of the lot. The original Collapsing System is more of a listening track, thus the remixes went on the 12 instead. The original Rebuild made it on the 12 because its definitely strong enough for the dancefloor.
Sea Ice IS heavy enough, and would have made it too but there simply wasnt enough space – you can only go up to 12 minutes per side of vinyl before the cutting/levels start to suffer. Even then, drumnbass people will tell you that the most powerful cuts are at 45rpm, only one track per side. Anyway, Sea Ice is a dub techno track while the others are all more electro-ey.
If someone wants to put Sea Ice out on 12, they can have it!
Can you tell us about Errorbeauty, Nonima and Defekt the three remixers for this release?
Nonima is a brilliant producer whose work I discovered via friend's recommendations on Facebook. Hes done several albums all of which Id recommend getting. The work is varied and top-notch, Im genuinely surprised the bigger electronic labels havent signed him ages ago, instead of putting hype on mediocre bands. He churns out tracks constantly, there were actually 2 different remixes from him, the second of which got picked as more Combat-ish. The first one got re-absorbed and will surface as a different track at some point.
I met Error via the Electro group on Facebook when she replied saying she liked a mix that was recorded at ScanOnes night in March. Shes been DJing and producing for some time, and is quite good at it. We kept in touch when she moved to London in the summer, and I ended up getting dragged out to a few parties I hadnt been to in years, it was interesting seeing stuff through fresh eyes again. She said the Collapsing System remix is the best bit of work shes done so far. You might also spot her in a Fausten video at some point.
DeFeKt is a friend I met via Anodyne and working with London Modular Alliance. We had a jam last autumn, modulars and a laptop, which got edited into a show on Sub FM.
Its nice how chunky and physical the modulars sound, a few tweaks and you get sounds very quickly in the sweet-spot. His approach allows him to jam out tracks very quickly, which gives the remix a good contrast to the way I currently work. Hes also a very good DJ, switching seamlessly between electro and techno.
We chat online regularly. Id just done the Hanya Acid mix on Boothies show, thus the recent Combat Sub FM show was given over to all 3 of the remixers, you can check that here.
Youre often called upon as secret weapon yourself, for Electronic Explorations Rob Booth he calls on you when people like Boiler Room commission mixes from him to put them together how does that relationship work? You do more than just stitch one track in to the next one Im sure
How does that work? If its an interesting challenge and theres time, Ill do it. (Unless the tunes are shite)
DJing under the Combat banner usually means a specific mood of music, so the Boiler mix was a nice way to show the other stuff thats influenced me over the years via tapes and mix CDs, even though I dont own many of the actual records. The Boiler Room is only about the second of 2 techno mixes Ive ever done (by the time there was cash to get decks, I was rapidly buying jungle / drumnbass 12s, the early techno records had slipped by). The Boothie Boiler set is an Ableton mix with about 4 things constantly running together, aimed at maintaining that relentless, full-on feel youd expect from a peak-time club set.
The Electronic Explorations Compilation mix was a different kind of challenge, how to fit that many tracks of varying tempos together within a tight deadline. To do this, I started mapping the raw tracks soon as they arrived, and jamming with them to get a basic flow, putting them in clusters of similar mood/key/tempo, and then working out ways to transition between these chunks smoothly. The raw tracks were then replaced with the mastered versions soon as Richy (Binary Feedback Mastering) sent them over. 43 tracks in all (?). Job done.
From a technical viewpoint of making mixes, I was massively interested when Final Scratch got first announced, because playing digitally meant being able to play unusual edits of tracks, weird bits of soundscapey stuff, and also enable me to carry more music to a gig: I was doing 5 hour sets monthly which meant you really had to plan the records carefully, build the night up and bang it out toward the end but not run out of the peak tunes too early. And then, have to wander around 3am looking for a nightbus while carrying a rucksack with 80 records hoping not to get mugged. So the laptop was the next logical step. Long story short, Final Scratch was too expensive for me, and Scorn told me about Ableton, which Surgeon had started using, so I started beatwarping tracks and have never looked back.
Are you enjoying his new relocation to your local land of Stoke Newington?
Still hardly ever see him! Hes always going out to various gigs. He lives with my mate Julien (Monster X) so I sometimes see him at home. Julien gives Boothie grief whenever he hears anything cheesy being played in the house 🙂
I wanted to ask you finally about your newly announced album its coming out on Ad Noiseum under the name FAUSTEN can you tell us a bit more about this? It was previously a secret about who was exactly behind the project
FAUSTEN (which is German for.. um… go look it up) began one afternoon when Monster X and I were jamming in the studio. There was a screen showing the evisceration scene in the film Taxidemia; we were doing a live soundtrack to it. Some housemates heard the horrific sounds and opened the door to find us grinning maniacally in the dark, at a film of a guy pulling his own guts out and dropping them in a jar of fluid.
So FAUSTEN began as the black research wing of Combat, whatever extreme stuff Julien and I did went into it. It grew over 2 years to become a distinct sound of its own, apart from the Stormfield / Monster X stuff. A lot of it is heavily influenced by the work of Mick Harris and Autechre and by films like Salo, Calvaire, The Human Centipede, A Serbian Film, Texas Chainsaw, The Men Behind the Sun, and of course Gaspar No.
We thought it would be funny to go under a secret name so as to write a silly/ridiculous artist bio, but as the gigs came people quickly knew it was us anyway, so there you go.
Fausten has a brother in Serbia called Ontal (production name for Boris Noiz and Dekode). They do some of the most bleak, cold industrial techno at the moment.
Wed spoken with Ad Noiseam a few times and finally this winter the FAUSTEN album happened, which was amazing timing because by then FAUSTENs visual side had grown very strong, and remixers like Dadub, Ontal and Oyaars had come on board too. Release date for this is the last week of April. There will be a live video-stream to go with it and theres a bit of info on it
Kirsti Weir of the very excellent Null & Void blog