The Border Community boss seals his return.
It's been a rough few years for fans of James Holden. Since releasing his debut album, The Idiots Are Winning, in 2006, the UK producer's output has totalled a DJ Kicks mix and the music he produced for Kate Wax's 2011 album Dust Collision. Holden has also busied himself with running his label, Border Community, and DJing. But the news of Holden's forthcoming second album, The Inheritors, was welcomed as his return. This dearth of music had not dented Holden's reputation as one of electronic music's most gifted producers. He boldly explored melody and glitch across his mid-'00s output, writing classics like "A Break in The Clouds" and his remix of Nathan Fake's "The Sky Was Pink," while in turn Border Community fostered a family of artists that shared a similar sensibility but each brought something different to the table.
Holden has long taken cues from Germany's pioneering electronic music acts of the '60s and '70s, and the sound The Inheritors is very much in the spirit of seminal krautrock acts like Tangerine Dream and Can. RA.367 was mixed as a "companion piece" to the record, bringing together artists who in one way or another affected its composition.
What have you been up to recently?
Just the usual! Getting the LP ready for release, DJing a bit. I've just done the first couple of all-night sets around the LP. It's an epic amount of work getting music together for them, but a lot of fun, too.
How and where was the mix recorded?
I recorded it in my studio, live, using Traktor, my two custom-made DOWO controllers, a slightly shitty Allen & Heath mixer and a Strymon tape delay pedal, all running through my TL Audio desk and Drawmer tube compressor. DJing through tubes was a new experience—and as you can hear I quite enjoyed playing with the saturation.
Can you tell us about the idea behind the mix?
I wanted to make a companion piece to the album—several other sides of the same coin or a few songs that influenced it (or might help explain it).
It was interesting that you cited "ceilidh music, pentatonic folk scales, and ancient pagan rituals" as influences on the new album. Could you expand on this?
It was part of constructing this sort of world for the album to live in, and the idea of taking some old ideas and aesthetics and evolving them in alternate ways to how they actually ended up fitting into music history, finding the starting points to make the album not pastiche but still anti-modern. And (thanks to DJing) I've long been convinced that the magical, alternate-rules, liberated ritual space of a club is the highest form of music appreciation.
A book of Ceilidh violin pieces and then (much later) Bartok's Romanian Folk Dances are two of the very few things I played on the violin that stuck with me. There's a permitted rawness and realness in both, especially the Bartok—big, grinding open-string 5th chords, scraping sounds encouraged. Big influence. Oh and finally—with some of the sequencing/synthesis stuff I was trying—poly synths with cross-modulating voices. For example, using nice simple scales like the pentatonic one meant that they worked better.
Why did you name the record after the William Golding novel?
I love that novel, and Golding in general, and sort of knew the track with that title was called that pretty soon after I did it, but it fits beautifully with the idea of the LP. The novel follows the last member of a species that was "lost" at evolution, and leaves you sympathising entirely with him rather than with the humans. The LP was meant to be like an alternate universe where the sprawling inventive madness of the '60s and '70s hadn't been out-evolved by punchier, more functional and direct music—a sort of utopia for the non-competitive idea.
What are you up to next?
I dunno. I feel so liberated and empowered (#oprah) having done this LP that anything might happen. I am looking forward to seeing where things go. Definitely having done the live show at the Barbican in the year (and the Caribou Vibration Ensemble before that) I'm planning doing more things in that vein because it was so enjoyable.