I guess the first question is pretty obvious: Why now? Or, rather, why in October of last year did you guys decide to get back together?
Tom Middleton: I guess there's always a moment where you feel a tipping point in culture. I've been sensing for the last couple of years that ambient electronica has been on the ascent again. You can hear the references that people are drawing on currently, and I think now feels like the right time to reevaluate music from that era and also to connect with a new fanbase. I mean obviously Mark and I have got a lot of devoted Global Communication fans that have been patiently waiting for 15 years for us to actually get out there and play this music too. So why not?
What are some of the things that you've been listening to lately that made you feel this stuff is in the ascendancy?
Mark Pritchard: [I think] there's loads of different genres that are taking on that sort of sound. I mean the Burial album—even though that was a while ago—was a massive album that did really well. That's got beats in it, but so did a lot of electronica from that time. Lone, who's doing great stuff at the moment, has echoes of 808 State, early Detroit techno, UK electronica. People are always checking out music from the past. It just goes around in cycles.
resonant energy can touch people."
How did you guys originally meet?
Tom Middleton: It was quite funny actually. I'd moved to Taunton in Somerset, for my studies. There was very little going on there, but then one night I saw that there was a night put on at the local club. It was Mark. He was DJing, and playing all the tunes that I was loving at the time. It was a fusion of Detroit techno, Chicago house, New York garage. Carl Craig, Derrick May, Kevin "Reese" Saunderson, Juan Atkins, Todd Terry, Masters at Work, Strictly Rhythm, Jack Trax, it was all the right kind of music and I stayed until the end of the night. I went up to say "hi" and I seem to remember, did we go back to my place? We listened to some music and just continued the vibe from there really.
Mark Pritchard: Yeah, definitely, it was also the seeds of the UK, I suppose what became jungle and drum & bass.
Tom Middleton: Yeah, proto-jungle, early rave really, wasn't it? Lots of breakbeats and things mixed into Detroit techno. It was a real melting pot at that time and everyone was trying out new directions. I remember that night was a good blend of everything—a touch of rave, but mostly just high-quality imported electronica. There weren't really many rules at that point, you could hear that there were certain rhythmic structures that started becoming popular, but there was a tremendous amount of experimentation. I think one key thing too is that we were, at that age, going through an emotional renaissance. We were all about the same age group, leaving school, leaving home for the first time, moving to new territories, leaving first jobs, first serious relationships. It's quite interesting the external factors that impact on a young person at that time. Emotionally speaking, there was quite a lot of naivete and quite interesting ways that people were using this electronic music medium to express their feelings.
That was the key factor in this whole thing that no one really talked about. The communication of emotions in sound. That really became our collective manifesto for everything we worked on, trying to be true to how we were feeling. There was a purity and an integrity to the emotional content of the music. I think, even now, there's a ton of research to quantify emotions and sound that hasn't been done. I've kind of dabbled with books. Looking long-term, it's something I'd like to explore at a university research level because you think about music and how it can affect people profoundly. It's transcending language, culture, age, sex, sexuality. It's really quite extraordinary how resonant energy can touch people, and if it comes from someone's feeling—that converted into notation and that notation going through this analog, digital and back to analog conversion decoded by the brain and then someone reinterprets that resonant energy, those frequencies, in the same way that the composer intended it... That's absolute magic right there.
I imagine that it's nearly impossible to get the parts out of the original versions of the tracks on 76:14. How do you go about performing it live?
Tom Middleton: Oh well, that's really fun. Luckily we have technology to actually almost forensically unravel music, you might have heard of Melodyne, there's a kind of polyphonic version of it that you can put a piece of music into, providing it's not too complicated, you can actually extract elements of the music. So I think that might be a fun exercise to sort of look at what we could extract forensically using the current state -of-the-art technology. Equally, there are moments in the music where things are less busy and you can probably take sections and create new loops. You can filter off frequencies, parts of the bandwidth, the spectrum, just use the tools that you've got to create new components if you like. So it's a kind of remix/live interpretation, but we want to keep things as close to the original format as possible. I think inevitably there's going to be parts of it that are reinterpreted, revised. It would be impossible to do it exactly as it was and I think it would be unfair for anyone to think otherwise.
Tom Middleton: Yeah, there are a few threads to the conversation this year, one is the Back in the Box compilation. What that represents in terms of our reference points and inspirations, is equally how they haven't really dated. I mean it's a very timeless sort of classic style that still has mileage in it. I think giving people a taste of that now, remastering these lost underground gems for a new generation of vinyl and vinyl collectors and DJs and music lovers I think is really important. It's the historian, archivist attitude that we both have. This year seems to be about a reappraisal of the first few years of the early '90s, celebrating it and giving it back to the new generation.
Like that time period, I think right now that DJs and producers are pretty open to reaching between genres. Has that always been the case, or is that something that's only happened in the past couple of years in your opinion?
Mark Pritchard: Back when we started DJing, people were playing all the different styles of dance music together and, I suppose, as those different styles developed it splintered out. For me, I never really felt that comfortable with it. I had a problem DJing through the later part of the '90s because I always liked lots of different styles. I've noticed in the last ten years, it has slowly started to change. Probably in the last four or five years it's been stronger and stronger. I'm finding in most places that people saying, "I don't want to hear a whole night of dubstep," or a whole night of whatever style. That's been great for me. I always find that there are times when there's not enough music coming from a genre that's exciting me to play a whole two hour set of it.
It's great that it's becoming more accepted, and people are taking more chances because it takes a lot of balls to switch tempos when the crowd is there. You are taking a risk, and I can see why I lot of DJs don't do it, especially DJs that rely on DJing to make a living. If you talk to 90% of DJs, they all like different styles, and they want to be able to play different styles, but sometimes it's tricky to do that. In the area of the music I've been playing for in the last ten years, which is predominantly music coming from the UK that somehow has bass involved, that stuff links for me really well. The hard thing is going from 4/4 to some of these styles, I definitely have a challenge...
Tom Middleton: Not for me, never been a challenge [laughs]. Mark, if you think about it, our eclecticism goes right back to the early '90s anyway. Since then, my manifesto for festivals has always been to play whatever you want, whatever works, whatever is appropriate and, you know, some of the first sets we played would have everything from house music, techno, ambient, world music, jazz, funk, soul, disco, dub, rock right the way through to drum & bass, electro, breaks, whatever. I've never been afraid of mixing up styles.
What's really amazing about the crowd over the years is that you get a festival audience that is actually really open to that. I think festival audiences are more receptive because you get so much variety over the course of a weekend, you can get away with that eclectic approach much more. In a club it's a bit more difficult, you have to be a bit more focused and puritanical in your approach. A good selector, a good DJ, knows that in a certain situation, it's only right to play one style, one tempo, one format, but, hey, throw those curveballs in and see what happens. That's part of the fun.
Have you guys spun together much in recent years?
Tom Middleton: No, I think the last time was ADE and then before that it was probably fabric when we produced the compilation [in 2006].
Mark Pritchard: Yeah, most years there will be a gig. When I first moved to Australia, there was definitely a period where it was a bit more difficult. We DJ'd together through the '90s loads and into the 2000s. It's weird, though. When we come together, even though we haven't seen each other for ages, it always seems to work no matter what styles either of us are focusing on. It always comes together naturally.
Do you guys have visuals for the shows that you're going to be doing?
Tom Middleton: We've actually been exploring Victorian-style visual trickery. Things like zootropes, harmonographs, puppetry, projections, a much more analog real-world way of communicating visual ideas just using light and streams. In the same way that the music on 76:14 had no titles, the visuals are going to have a similar thread—they're going to have suggestions of imagery, but nothing really clear. No hyper-crisp Hollywood CGI. We want to go back to that much more enigmatic and mysterious projection of shadow, which inspires more in the imagination.
Do you feel like that mystery has gone away from things in music, especially with the internet being such a prevalent part of how people interact with it?
Tom Middleton: It's not only the internet, it's the technology, software, the way people interface with machines and how they're able to express themselves. I mean it's just very easy to create. So I think that the craft is lost. The intention is diluted because the tools, if you like, are so simple and easy to create mediocrity. It's back to art again, isn't it? Having to work hard to express yourself using your tools is the key to it really. Thinking about what we're trying to achieve with Global Communication this year, even though we've got state-of-the-art kit, it's still going to be a major challenge to deliver that because this is something that was created in the early '90s and we've got to try and recreate, reinterpret and reevaluate this music in a new era, in a new time, but not lose the intention, not lose that purity.
You were talking about being naive earlier, when you first started out. It's trying to get to a point where you're naive with these really complex tools so that you can have these moments of serendipity.
Tom Middleton: We know too much now! [laughs] Our inexperience was an asset in the early days and now you've lived a little, you've been around the world five times, you've experienced many languages, cultures, people, places. Trying to get back to that place where you didn't know so much, when it was a lot more intuitive, a lot more flowing, is quite hard. I mean, us being the jaded, embittered old traveling DJ/producers that we are now. [laughs] No, I mean it in the nicest possible way. I think we get to a point where we kind of have to have a chuckle because we do sound like we're kind of moaning and grumpy, but we've seen a bit of the world now, we've got a perspective on things, we know what we like, we know what we don't like. I think we're not afraid to say, "That's rubbish, that's great." We have an opinion, we don't have to justify who or what we are or why we're here, we can just get on and do the things we love and I think now, 2011, feels like a great time to say, "You know what, this music has a lot of value and importance."