Vessel (aka Seb Gainsborough) isn’t just a brilliant producer and purveyor of dreamy body music with an anxious undercurrent of frenetic rhythm. He’s also a very keen-minded and articulate 22-year-old. Some might know Gainsborough as part of the Bristolian electronic music collective Young Echo but you’ll love him for his most recent release and debut album Order of Noise on Tri Angle, out a few weeks ago.
It’s an oddly cohesive assemblage of disparate, mutated elements. There’s the tempo-shifting freneticism of ‘Court of Lions’, reminiscent of Shackleton’s textured sound palette, and the glitch-y futurism and compressed cybersonics of ‘Plane Curves’ that shares an affinity with the likes of DL generation artist Fatima Al Qadiri. Both of whom, funnily enough, performed at this year’s Unsound, along with Vessel who gave us at aqnb the opportunity to see, hear and feel the languorous pulse of electronic rhythm. Immersed in ambience and taking vague form its audience was propelled through time slowed down.
Needless to say, a Vessel live performance is an experience worth having, which is why Italy’s Club to Club, beginning today and matching the curatorial inclinations of the Polish event, presents Gainsborough alongside the likes of Laurel Halo, Actress and Evian Christ for another global thinking (hu)man’s festival. In anticipation of his show tonight Vessel took time out to explain the process behind his music, the loose concepts that inform his sound and how he got his start “by making unbelievably shit loops in pirated music software”.
aqnb: There’s been talk of this disruptive rhythm in your music but having had the pleasure of seeing you perform at Unsound, I found there was something entirely physical about your sound. Is that something you were conscious of when translating to a live setting?
Seb Gainsborough: I’m kind of preoccupied with the physicality of sound, and of the transformative qualities of intensity. The inherent properties and affective attributes of a sound undergo radical changes depending upon the space in which it is played and the intensity at which it is played. The music on the album was obviously created in a specific space with strict restraints upon the volumes it could be played at. So I had a similar experience to the one you described in your question when playing the material in loud environments for the first time. I was surprised and gratified that this music, which I was relating to cerebrally rather than physically, had so much force and power in live spaces. It was liberating to relate with the body rather than the mind.
aqnb: Before Order of Noise, was there much live performance?
SG: No, and in all honesty I would not qualify what I am doing at the moment as a live performance. I am simply enjoying playing the music with little or no interference beyond the construction of a continuity; a coherent narrative that allows an audience to hear the music in a relatively undisrupted state. This was always the initial plan. As the shows progress, I intend to deconstruct and interfere with the music far more aggressively. I’d prefer to develop a dialogue with the material this way, rather than just jump in at the deep end.
aqnb: There’s been mention that you stopped clubbing around your late teens. Obviously, you still must be exposed to electronic music. Do you think there’s been a significant shift to bedroom electronics recently because of computer software and the possibilities of online collaboration?
SG: There’s no denying that the prevalence of readily available tools have led to an increasing interest in electronic composition. I’m not sure that online collaboration is a contributing factor to this increase of interest but it is certainly consequential. The cultural effects of this essentially technological or economic advancement are certainly far reaching, and has exposed and encouraged a latent human desire to be creative and be involved in a wider creative discussion. The concurrent development and interaction of the fundamentally hermetic nature of solo composition and the pseudo-community of the internet is fascinating.
aqnb: You mention an affinity for the noise-related artists like James Ferraro and Daniel Lopatin (I can even hear similar sonic elements as Far Side Virtual in ‘Plane Curves’). There’s also the album-title Order of Noise, obviously. Do you have a background in that world?
SG: Not especially. I don’t have an intimate connection with that scene, but I’m certainly interested in it. Noise is a useful catch-all moniker, not least because it is such a contentious one. Even after being the subject of intense cultural, sociological and musicological discussion for some time, it remains an unknown quantity. Or at least, one which describes many things to different people. I find it most useful to describe anomalous zones of interaction between genres. It is simultaneously an explicit sub-genre of musical vanguardism and a term for that which refuses to be subsumed by genre. It’s clearly not without pitfalls but it has the capacity to allow for the primacy of personality, and for an exploration of humanness free(er) from constructed obligations we feel towards the perpetuation of genres.
aqnb: Those aforementioned artists have quite a conceptual approach to their craft. Are there any concepts behind yours? I’ve noticed some literary influences informing your ideas in the past…
SG: There aren’t any explicit concepts behind the music that I make. It is always and above everything a constant investigation of my creative self. To try and remain honest in my creative endeavours at all times has seemed to me to be the most challenging and exciting way to compose music. It’s like keeping an elaborate diary, and a way of keeping in touch with your subconscious state. In that sense, I am informed and influenced by what I read, or listen to, or watch, but it is always a case of that thing being subsumed into a creative process, rather than a creative process that is designed in deference to a concept. I am interested in pursuing a project with explicit designs and restrictions, but not for the time being.
aqnb: When it comes to largely wordless forms of music, I’m always interested in song titles. How do you go about naming your tracks?
SG: The right word in the right place! It’s usually just a case of sounding out a piece after it’s been finished for a while, feeling around for something that expresses a quality of the music, or abstracting an atmosphere. As long as the name contributes something to the piece, and vice versa, that’s the most important thing.
aqnb: You’ve expressed your initial distaste for electronic music… could you enlighten us on what you mean by that at all?
SG: As a young person with little to no exposure to electronic music (or at least that beyond the everyday glut of rubbish in my immediate environment), I found it very hard to relate to this music which seemed to me to be utterly cold, lacking identity or a sense of a creator, or explicit narrative. I was just in a different place at that point in my life; all my friends were listening to PJ Harvey or Iron Maiden. Everyone has there own epiphany with this stuff though.
aqnb: Can you give us a run down of how you made your way into electronic music? You’ve certainly advanced into quite an abstract creativity quite early on.
SG: I started composing electronic music in the now well-established tradition, by making unbelievably shit loops in pirated music software. My artistic development has been fairly roundabout. If my tools had been purely hardware based, I feel I would have been led in a more straightforward route towards creating music that was really my own. As it was, I spent many years trying to master software and getting lost in the badlands of techniques and tricks. It’s only relatively recently that I’ve been able to really come to terms with how I want to relate, to communicate. Not necessarily what I want to communicate, but how, which is probably enough. Although the general consensus seems to be that the music is abstract, I don’t really see it that simply. It feels like an honest document of my interests in sound.
aqnb: Apropos your work in the Young Echo collective, how important do you think collaboration is in music?
SG: Absolutely vital. Communication and collaboration seems to me the very most important factor in maintaining a healthy and meaningful development of the art form. To be open and to share in what you’re doing with your peers gives you a clearer perception and contextual framework within which to work. I firmly believe that the expansion of the discussion via social forums like the internet have given rise to some of the most exciting cross-pollination in genre, and in turn a drive to elevate the individual and the idiosyncratic.
aqnb: A creative relationship like that must also require your personalities to be compatible. How do you know these guys?
SG: Young Echo is essentially two friendship groups that joined in order to provide a unifying platform for the various music we were making individually. I’ve known them all for a while now. Joe [McGann, aka Kahn], Sam [Kidel aka El Kid] and I used to be in a band together, and I met Amos [Childs] and Cris [Ebdon] through the music they were producing as Zhou. Alex [Rendall of Jabu] joined us a couple of shows in.
aqnb: Do you think personality and a certain element of individualism in more esoteric types of electronic music is a reaction to the homogenous sound and commodified phenomenon of the ‘Superstar DJ’?
SG: I think what we’re seeing is a backlash against the heavily codified, hierarchical and narcissistic elements at the more conventional end of the spectrum. I’m not even sure it’s against the idea of the Superstar DJ, as that phenomenon now occupies new territories denoted by the rise of dance music in North America and is far removed from the immediate interests of many ‘real’ electronic music listeners.
I think there is an increasing number of people who are aware of how utterly mediocre the majority of this music is, and subsequently a growing desire for body music that isn’t necessarily safe and predictable. Many contemporary producers appear to be ruled by a mixture of fear of difference and contempt of their audience. It’s not always healthy to give an audience exactly what you think it wants; an excess of banality and concessions in this regard will inevitably lead to stagnation and indifference. Dance music is rooted in something more dangerous and volatile than the environment it tends to inhabit today. It’s only when people step out of the boundaries that have settled so discreetly around this community, its entrenched ideals and its practices, that the music can develop and evolve.
aqnb: Could it also be an element of what I asked earlier: that electronic music production can be done in the bedroom and, hence, allows for that sort of private introspection?
SG: The space in which you are creative will inevitably cast inflections on the work you make there. The bedroom is inherently a private space, uniquely personal to the individual that lives in it. It’s a bit of a double edged sword in terms of a creative environment; one in which you can no doubt feel relaxed and able to be creative at your leisure, but quite often those don’t seem to me to be the ideal states in which to compose. It can be difficult to detach in such a place, and I think if you are seeking private introspection then it can be better to work in a neutral space. To be able to reflect requires silence, and bedrooms are charged with experience, memories and distractions which can be difficult to distance oneself from. It encourages a personal contemplation of sorts, albeit one which is modulated by an intimate relationship with the space itself. **
Vessel plays Club to Club Festival running 8 – 11 November in Turin, Italy. His album Order of Noise is out now on Tri Angle Records.