|Playing favourites: Raime
The gloomy London duo dive deep into their record collections to talk about the psych, punk, grime and drum & bass that has shaped their music.
If Raime weren't signed to a label called Blackest Ever Black, they'd have likely found an imprint just as bleak-sounding to release their music on. Joe Andrews and Tom Halstead's music is unremitting, dark and a bunch of other synonyms for gloomy. Over the past three years they've released a clutch of EPs for former RA Label of the Month Blackest Ever Black, and sounded like little else around. Their tracks are tense affairs, exploiting the delicious push and pull between a minimum of elements. Many of their favourite tracks are no different. RA's Todd L. Burns tracked the duo down in Poland at this year's Unsound Festival to chat about the common threads between the music they love and the music they make.
Takehisa Kosugi is a Japanese installation artist. How did you guys come across him?
Joe Andrews: Just digging man. Just digging. You have your spots [that you go to] in record shops when you go in them. For me, it's always the weird avant-garde, experimental section and the industrial section, you know what I mean? So it was simply the case of picking it out because we didn't know what it was.
In listening to it, I was really struck by how emotive it sounds.
Joe Andrews: Yeah. There are parts of it that are pretty out there and pretty avant-garde, and there's parts of it that are very engaging and quite emotive, even spiritual. I always think that spirituality is something that's quite easy to get drawn to. But spirituality in music is a tricky thing because it can easily lead down a rabbit hole to sort of quasi... like New Age, you know what I mean?
Do you ever worry about that with your own stuff?
Joe Andrews: Of course!
Tom Halstead: It helps having two of us, because we rein each other in.
Is it, like, "Ummm, it's getting a little bit cheesy"?
Tom Halstead: Alarm bells start going off, you're like "oh God..."
"What have we done?!"
Tom Halstead: "We've made a trance record!" [laughs]
Joe Andrews: It's just how you frame it. And it's just how you juxtapose it with other things and what that means as a whole. Something very similar I think is the last two Earth records. I think they've now come to a point where they've got a cellist involved, but it still feels very essential and very involved.
The Danse Society
There Is No Shame In Death
Joe Andrews: I put this record on a mix that I made for Kiran [Sande, Blackest Ever Black label head]. We had discussed all the things that we were into, and he was similarly into those kinds of things and was very interested in what we were into as well. But that was one of the records where I was like, "Maybe he's not going to be that comfortable..." but actually it was one of his favorites, and so it kind of felt like we're on the same path. You know, "Kiran really gets it."
I think it's about 12 minutes long, right? Your stuff, however, is much shorter than I would often imagine it to be. Almost all of the tracks on the album are about five minutes. How important are the arrangements to what you're doing?
Tom Halstead: Very. We go through it and through it and through it, sifting it down. That's why they're not longer, we don't let things breath. Maybe they'll change in time, but I think we spend so long on arrangements, it's so crucial for us.
Joe Andrews: There's a very strong sort of minimalist tradition in us, I think in terms of us not wanting anything that shouldn't be there to be there. If there is anything superfluous, it has to go. There is a rigorous process of going back over stuff: "We don't need that, we don't need that, we don't need that." It's kind of like trying to realize the most eloquent expression of what you're trying to do, and I think that maybe sometimes that leads to us chopping too much. It's always a battle, it's never right.
Joe Andrews: This track represents for a record buyer, it's like...
Tom Halstead: A window.
Joe Andrews: Yeah, you know when you find this one record and it combines a couple of things you're already interested in? So obviously it's a punk record, but it's a very slow dirge-y punk record. I haven't delved into punk loads, so when I heard this I was like, "Ah, OK, this is my way into punk."
Tom Halstead: It's sludge.
Joe Andrews: Yeah, it's like sludge. And when I heard it I was like, "Maybe there's loads of music like this. Maybe there's a genre like this." You know what I mean? That moment where you're like, "This is going to be my new genre that I'm getting into" and then you look everywhere and you can't find another record exactly like it. So I picked this because not only do I love it but because it also represents that brilliant moment as a record buyer where you think you're gonna uncover this whole universe that you didn't know about, but it's just that one tune. That I've found so far anyway.
Hildur is a solo cellist.
Tom Halstead: Yes. She uses the cello in quite an extraordinary way. We did some recording sessions for the album with cellists as well.
Why did you pick the cello specifically?
Joe Andrews: There are a lot of contemporary people that use it. Demdike Stare are going to have it in their show tonight. Bobby Krlic [Haxan Cloak] had it on his last album. There seems to be a fascination with this instrument within our sonic landscape. So we did a cello session, we did two drum sessions in the studio and we did loads of guitar stuff. A lot of the sounds in the record are just from a bit of guitar. And that's just sitting there with the guitar making noises for 30 minutes then going back over it with a finetooth comb, picking the two seconds of sound that you like from that bit.
Tom Halstead: And putting it in the vault.
Joe Andrews: And then going back and doing another session. It was definitely about changing our process to make it feel more alive. We tried to add a bit more energy into it, but throughout the structuring process it still gets clamped down.
That's the funny part. When I heard the final product I didn't immediately say, "Oh, this record is way more organic than what I've heard in the past" necessarily.
Joe Andrews: I think that's good, because I don't think we wanted it to come out organic necessarily. It was for our working process. We get off on that thing when you find that two seconds of sound, and to continuously experiment to get those sounds is loads of fun.
Les Rallizes Denudes
Enter The Mirror
Joe Andrews: This one starts very pleasant, and then slowly sort of just starts to burn and crumble because of the distortion I guess. That's what we tried to do on a few of the records on the album I think. One in particular actually.
This is from a live recording, right? Where's your ideal space to play? Do you have one?
Joe Andrews: I think that it's different, but we recently played at the Purcell Room [in London] and that was an ideal place.
That was kind of an intimate, sit-down venue. Does what you do work in a nightclub?
Joe Andrews: Yeah, it's not club music; it's absolutely not club music. In the start we did play a few club shows and it just... if you're playing that kind of shit, you gotta stand there and you gotta watch it and you're probably not going to move, you know what I mean? So it's like if you put that in the middle of a night where someone's been used to moving before and after… It just really takes away the impact.
I recently went to a Blackest Ever Black night in London, and I enjoyed it because the programming took that into account. The main room was the "stand and watch" room, and the second room was "here's a bit of rave." It also brought together a lot of sounds. Regis next to Source Direct next to Vatican Shadow. Kiran has connected a lot of dots with the label and the nights.
Joe Andrews: That dot joining thing is obviously how we kind of arrived at things as well. You know that there are things that are relevant to you, and you know that they give you a similar feeling, even if they're not in the same genre. I think now in the last five years you've just had people joining dots all over the place. It's been a really fertile period. The boundaries between things have become a lot more blurred and when we were young—
Tom Halstead: Younger.
Joe Andrews: [laughs] Yeah. When we were younger, it was quite kinda strict what you were into. Either you were into hip-hop or you were into grunge and you had your thing and that is where it stayed. Now people are much prouder of being into a whole cross-section of stuff. This is kind of what is happening in a lot of areas, and I think it's really quite a sort of strange, but liberating...
It's great, but it does beg the question if people are having this sort of "all surface, no depth" mentality of things. People taking all of these little things, but never really...
Joe Andrews: Perhaps, but that's the consumer's problem, rather than the delivery or the product developer. So as long as the people who are developing those products or cultural artifacts or whatever you want to call them have a lot of care about what they're doing, then the validity and the authenticity of those statements still exists. So even if you experience it for half an hour, as long as you're incredibly involved and engaged with it, that's fine.
That's a pretty good answer. Almost like you had that one ready.
Joe Andrews: [laughs] I've just thought about it quite a lot I think.
Thru The Vibe
Joe Andrews: Ever since we did a jungle mix for FACT we always get asked about jungle. Which is great.
What is it about this particular type of jungle that you love so much?
Joe Andrews: It's heavy rhythm, the strings, the synths.
Tom Halstead: Just the alien beauty of it.
Joe Andrews: It's just...it's so magic that period. I could have picked a million Omni Trio tunes.
He was doing experimental stuff before he made jungle right?
Joe Andrews: Yeah, he collaborated with Nurse With Wound a few times, and he felt a bit separate. It doesn't always feel so squarely dance floor, his stuff. You don't feel like you're being pushed towards a drop. It's beautifully structured. It's what I listen to on a walk with my headphones. It works loud, but it also works when you're just walking down the street.
Joe Andrews: There are two reasons why I selected that. First, it's Detroit and Detroit means everything to us as well. It was the first time where an ideology and conceptual attitude toward music really hit home. And I just remember being totally obsessed with the escapism of it. The other reason is that we went to see him in Queen Elizabeth Hall or something like that when I was like 19 or 20. He had re-scored an edited version of Metropolis of which this EP is a sample of. It was like the first time it clicked that dance [music] can be simply art at the same time. I remember coming home from that, and my brain was just totally alive. It made me feel so inspired and stimulated.
Do you remember when you first heard this? Was it on the radio or something?
Tom Halstead: Nah, white label.
Joe Andrews: Yeah, white label. I used to be obsessed with grime for a period of time 'cause it felt alive. I used to come up to London and go to Uptown and stand there and look at the wall of white labels. It was like hardcore, people just banging it out making it in a day, making it on a PlayStation, cutting it, selling it...
Tom Halstead: Yeah, that was the most exciting thing because it was raw. And that record in particular it's just, the sound... I still don't know what it is, but it still does it for me. That crazy bass synth thing…
Joe Andrews: Jon E Cash put out loads of records. He was really prolific for a period of time. And, like jungle, we could talk about loads of producers. Like Danny Weed... But Jon E Cash just had his own thing. It was super cold, super hench. It almost had a hollow sound to it. Every record sounded pretty similar, but I still bought them. There's that thing where when you listen to a record and it makes your stomach clench a bit. He was always the guy to do that.
Bohren & Der Club Of Gore
I listened to this record on YouTube, and even there I could feel how heavy it was.
Tom Halstead: Deep. Pooling. Black. Liquid.
I was also ready for a voice to come in...
Tom Halstead:...and it never did! [laughs]
And it never did. For me, one of the things about your records is this very similar sense of tension and dread as it goes along. "Who's going to die at the end of this film? Oh, no... is it going to be everyone?" How hard is it for you to get that tension and keep it there?
Tom Halstead: It takes a lot…
Joe Andrews: Again this comes down to restraint as well. It's getting the balance—pushing it out and then pulling it back.
Tom Halstead: Obviously there are signs and sounds that you can use to inspire tension and dread or whatever you like, but for us it's about really maintaining that so that none of those ever get too explicit and overtake the record. So you're always trying to keep things present but you don't want to throw it right to the front of the picture and leave it there. Present it, pull it back, present another thing, all so it never feels like you're committing to anything. It's always a mix of all these different elements and hopefully that makes you feel like it's never quite explicit.
Published / Monday, 26 November 2012
Photo credits / Paul Clement