There was a brass band in The Prisoner that marched its way through the cult television show's fictional village. But listen to "ALA," the track that gave birth to Law's The Village Orchestra moniker, and you'll understand where the Glaswegian DJ/producer is coming from. A disorienting, squirming piece of experimental electronic music, it reflects the mindstate of Patrick McGoohan's character, a former secret agent drugged and deposited on an island full of people wanting to find out why he resigned his post.
Despite his embarrassment over the adolescent nature of naming himself after a television show, media of all sorts have long been important in shaping Law's outlook on music. "My influences are as much William Burroughs or Iain Sinclair as much as they are Zoviet France and Coil and Autechre," he admits, as if we would think otherwise of someone who titles songs "Non-Euclidian" and "Et in Arcadia Ego."
Then again, there's also "The Esoteric Order of Stinson," which no doubt refers to Drexciya's James Stinson. Electro was one of the formative influences for Law after he waded through rave music—"not trendy Suburban Base or any of the good stuff"—and The Orb—"it was the first concert I ever went to, and everyone seemed to be smoking what looked like cigarettes. There was an awful lot of things all at once that I realized existed, which I hadn't an idea of before."
As much as anything, however, Glasgow itself has had a major impact on Law's musical upbringing. Law has spent nearly his entire life just outside of the city, and while he never attended the renowned art school, he points to the culture and mentality that it has engendered among creative types as crucial. "The thing about Glasgow is that every single person is doing something, whether they're dabbling in music, they're a DJ or they're an artist. I know that's certainly true about London's scene, but certainly there's no other city in Scotland that is like that. Individually, person-to-person, it's anything but competitive, but there's an enormous amount of pressure to think that there is some guy doing experimental sound design and that he's ten years younger than me. It's absolutely brilliant—it forces you to stay on top of your game."
With so many artists/DJs/producers busy being creative, however, it was often hard to find people to actually come to those things. Early in the '00s, Law DJ'd alongside Dave Donnolly (one-third of Marcia Blaine), and they teamed up with a number of nights—Spanner, Off The Hook, Seismic, it's all a bit confusing—to create Numbers. Even so, the crowd was sparse in the beginning stages of the partnership. "We had 20 people to start with coming, 20 or 30 people, in a tiny basement and the people involved in doing the night made up half of those probably. The people actually paying to get in were definitely in the minority, no question about that."
Law parted ways with the increasingly popular Numbers crew, but remains on good terms. The same goes for the aforementioned Marcia Blaine School For Girls. Passionate disagreements about hi-hat patterns and EQ led the trio to realize that they were all control freaks in a way. "We would get up to the stage where we would [take the tape] and one of us would be influencing one of the others to be on our side," Law remembers. "We were [all] so utterly convinced we were right. It would just get ridiculous." The music itself, broadly and best described as electronica, reflected Law's disinterest in genre distinctions.
"I've never played just a straight, one genre set [when I DJ], it just doesn't interest me. Techno definitely informs absolutely everything that I do, but to me a good Ramadanman record is techno. I know most people don't consider it that and would start arguments, but to me in my head Idle Hands or Blackest Ever Black or these sort of things that are on the periphery, in my head, is all techno for me. Good electro is techno. Everything is techno." For more examples of what he means, simply take a listen (or even just look at the tracklist) to some of the mixes of his floating around the web.
The BrokenRoots set, intended to give people a glimpse into the influences feeding into his new Broken20 imprint, moves from Ben Frost to Coil to Donnacha Costello to Kode9 to Mike Dehnert to...well, you get the idea. There is a dark undercurrent running through most of what Law makes and DJs, but it's presented in so many different ways that it's rarely overwhelming. As TVO, you get the club tracks that flirt somewhere around dubstep, electro and techno. As The Village Orchestra, you get the more experimental work.
"So as they pass you, you have the song that that band is playing starting up and as they move on it sort of mixes into what the next pipe band is playing and so on. Anyway, the bagpipes are all in the same key, you know you can't change the key in it, so every song that they're playing is always in the same key. So if you stand sort of slightly distanced from it, all you can hear is this kind of huge, cavernous—it's not quite a cacophony because it's all in key with itself, but you can't make it out—there's drum rolling and there's bagpipes playing and it's just a huge sound all based around the one pitch. So I was sitting there recording 20 minutes of this parade. And it's all running underneath this thing I did called 'The King of All Tears.' So I quite liked what I was doing at the time, but I don't like the photo. I've got quite a smug look in my face as if to say, 'Look at me standing here recording something.'"
An aversion to coming off as pretentious seems ever-present throughout the conversation. Even so, it simply seems natural for him to want to make things interesting for himself and others. "Clean sounding things don't interest me. I mean, yeah, there's a room for them, but personally it's not that interesting. Somebody like Carl Craig is a perfect example of someone who makes music that has incredible clean lines and then he twists it to make it interesting. I love industrial, experimental, abstract music and I love techno and you can bring those two things together. My wife would describe some of the CDs that I've got as sounding like something chewed up and spat out. But if I can combine all the things I love together, then that's perfect to me."
Law, like many other techno DJs at the moment, is finding more room to insert abstract records into their sets as technology affords them the chance to experiment in real-time. Perc's recent RA podcast which folded in Chris & Cosey, Throbbing Gristle, Broadcast & The Focus Group and TVO himself without ever losing its furious 4/4 pulse is a perfect example. Law still makes the distinction in his production, though, between the two names. For now, Broken20 will simply seek to serve both sides of his musical interests. "I always thought, 'People aren't going to want to listen to all the things I want to listen to,' but recently, certainly in techno, there's been so many DJs that are involving abstract records in their sets. I just feel there's a crossover between people who like one thing and who like another that I thought maybe the time has come for me to try and put those two things out. There aren't that many labels that are covering both those grounds at the moment—with good reason because it's a difficult thing to sell I definitely found out. But I started to think, 'Oh if I like [something] and ten people so far have told me they like it, then probably there's going to be other people to like it as well.' So let's see how we go on with it."