Reality Tunnels: In Conversation with Pinch


Earlier this year Rob Ellis, better known to you and I as influential Bristol producer Pinch, announced he’d be releasing his first solo album in 13 years.

Four and a half years in the making, and coming out on his own revered Tectonic imprint, the LP titled Reality Tunnels takes its name from an idea introduced by Robert Anton Wilson in 1983 book ‘Prometheus Rising’; a concept relating to how we create our own perspectives, how we absorb and perceive things around us and deem what is worthy of our attention. 

This notion translates across the album, with each of the 10 tracks representing Ellis’ production traits, be that in the beats, mood, texture or movement of the track; they all have facets that make them distinctly Pinch tracks, but in a much more unconventional way than his previous productions.

But it’s not only this solo release that’s marked 2020 out as a big year for Ellis. This year also marks another milestone – Tectonic are celebrating 15 years in the game. Started in 2005 as a space for dubstep and techno-leaning sounds, the label is nearing 200 releases, and has provided a platform over the years for artists like Photek, Peverelist, Skream, Smith & Mighty as well as Pinch’s own solo efforts and collaborations with Adrian Sherwood, Kahn, Loefah and Mumdance.

Ahead of the album release, penned for 24th June, we chatted to Pinch about the processes behind the making of the album, the influence of his collaborator Adrian Sherwood and the future of Tectonic as it reaches its 15 year anniversary. 

You’re about to release Reality Tunnels, your first solo album in 13 years. We imagine a lot of people will be asking the same question but why now?

I had finished final mixes in early Feb and already had it lined up for mastering – so I just decided to get on with it. I grew up listening to albums and the format means a lot to me, even now – I see it as the classic, main format for musicians and producers to express themselves. It’s the epic feature length film rather than the budget TV special. I know that for a lot of DJ/producers the LP has kinda become another vehicle for enabling tours/gigs but I still value the format for art’s sake, whatever that means.

You’ve mentioned that ‘Back To Beyond’, the seventh track on the album, was produced in response to an experience you had with infinity, which in turn would become the idea that the entire LP would pivot on. Can you unpack that experience a little more and why it had such a profound impact on you?

This isn’t going to be an easy one to answer! It’s hard to talk about in depth because words won’t really make sense of explaining the experience properly. I know that sounds like a copout, but it’s true! It did leave me with an initial sense of dread – the very idea of infinity is terrifying if you really think about it – then I got stuck with a question in my head, ‘do our thoughts weigh anything?’ If not – can thoughts exist outside of a world of mass? Whatever the answer, it led to a new set of possibilities that I became curious about. I spent about a year watching youtube video and reading articles about quantum physics, and a bit of anthropology – got quite into it for a bit. Learning about the double-slit experiment really blew my mind and it went from there. I wouldn’t say I have any sure-footed answers now, but the journey exploring these ideas has led to some great sources of information and provoked a lot of contemplation, which I realised had been missing from my life. The lead-track on the LP (Entangled Particles Ft Emika) is titled after one of my favourite quantum phenomenon.

How long has the album been in the works and how did you find the process? In many respects, it’s a very different climate now to when you last released a solo album. Did that have any influence on the way you approached it?

About 4 1/2 years in total – on and off, of course. I like taking my time. When ‘Underwater Dancehall’ came out in 2007, I didn’t want to go near making another LP for a while – just wanted to stick with 12s/singles. It took a long time for me to even want to make anything LP shaped and even then it felt more comfortable doing collaborative stuff, with Shackleton and then Adrian Sherwood, but I’m glad I got there again. I wouldn’t say that the current climate affected my approach to making it but it may impact how it’s heard now.

The LP was in the pipeline for some time, so you can’t have foreseen that you’d be releasing it during the current situation we’ve found ourselves in. How has it been navigating the release during the pandemic?

Similar in most ways to be honest. Feels a bit odd still in general – but I’m adjusting to the new ways of life. So lucky to be with my wife – having her for company has made things so much easier than they might have otherwise been. I’m grateful that despite all that’s happening, I’ve got food in the cupboards and a roof over my head: grateful to live where I do, in Bristol, for the community of people around me – for the space I can move about in. Thankful we have enjoyed amazing support for music throughout this crisis, for those Bandcamp days that helped fans put money into our bank account, when it wasn’t really coming from anywhere else. It’s going to be an on-going struggle in a lot of ways, but I’m positive that good things will also come from this strange, dangerous time.

Reality Tunnels takes its name from a concept first coined by Robert Anton Wilson in his 1983 book ‘Prometheus Rising’. Simply put, it’s about how we create our own perspective through our experiences, values and beliefs. Each of the tracks on the album relate to your individual reality tunnels, can you expand on this idea for a few of the tracks and share some of the experiences that helped shape them?

I didn’t in all honesty set out with the idea of the title before writing the LP – that came about after it was made, but it felt like a good fit. That said, I did read the book around the time I got to making the LP so there is a connection. I suppose the idea is that there are aspects to each track that would make them all distinctively Pinch tracks – the moods/tones/textures/movements – but they’re expressions of different beats, my interpretations of techno, dubstep, jungle and so on. That’s where the link to the title comes in really.

You’ve worked extensively with Adrian Sherwood in the studio over the years. We got you together for a chat about Man Vs Sofa a few years back. What were the biggest takeaways from working with him and how did you apply them to the process for Reality Tunnels?

I’ve always learnt something from everyone I’ve ever collaborated with. It’s one of the things I love about collaborating. Having spent many, many hours in the studio and on tour with Adrian this last several years, I’ve taken a lot from the experience. I’ve watched how he approaches a mix, which elements he will set up first and which ones he will focus more on live in the mix; how he will use different delay times and reverb settings on different drum parts and sounds – the way he creates a wide stereo field without using any widening plugins, by panning sounds live; to rely on your ear and not your eyes when mixing down, how to think about instrumentation and arrangement. It’s also specifically led to the cello parts of some of the LP tracks being there as Ivan Hussey, the cello player on my LP tracks, is a friend of Adrian’s – so that’s how we met.

This year is also a special milestone for Tectonic, reaching 15 years in the game. Looking back, what are some of the moments that have really stood out to you?

The first Tectonic Plates comp. Getting tracks in the film ‘Children Of Men’ back in 2006 and going to the premiere and after party with Cyrus and Kode 9. ’Underwater Dancehall’. ‘Scientist Launches Dubstep Into Outer Space’. Red Bull Culture Clash (Bristol). Touring round the world and experiencing different places like Lagos, Cairo, South East Asia. Hosting festival stages and boat parties at Outlook. Playing Glastonbury. 11 trips to Japan. Signing great up and coming artists then watching them prosper.

We know you had an anniversary tour planned but of course with Covid-19 hitting they’ve sadly had to be cancelled. Are you contemplating other ways to celebrate the anniversary this year? And looking further ahead, what does the future hold for Tectonic?

There will be some mixes and the usual things like that. Got some ltd tshirts and jumpers made to commemorate the occasion on the Tectonic website, there will be some more special bits and bobs happening on our Bandcamp page. You can expect more quality releases (got EPs from Lamont and Shed coming after my album drops) and a continued effort to make, find and share impactful, relevant music.

Follow Pinch. Buy Reality Tunnels. Photo credit: Alex Digard.