Techno not techno.
Through the contours of this week's RA podcast, it's just about possible to chart the sound of Lakker, an Irish duo—Dara Smith and Ian McDonnell—who are known for producing techno that's often tough to describe as such. The inclusions of Aphex Twin, Squarepusher and Autechre point to IDM's influence on their music, a thread that runs through their fantastic recent album Tundra—at times the record shared a similar capacity for sophistication and beauty as those seminal artists. The likes of A Made Up Sound, Joe and Damu show how Smith and McDonnell are attuned to post-dubstep and UK bass. There was a bounce to tracks like "ED" on Blueprint and "Valentina Lane" on Stroboscopic Artefacts that could have placed them in that canon, but really there are little quirks like this all over Lakker's sound. Then there are cuts here by leftfield house acts such as Afrikan Sciences, Gesloten Cirkel and Heatsick, artists with whom Lakker share a freewheeling compositional approach. Through the appearances of J Dilla and Stones Throw Records we learn that hip-hop plays a role in their style. In fact, the only thing we don't get much of in the mix is straight-up techno: Smith and McDonnell are by now very much embedded and respected within the scene, but this shows their complex and singular relationship with the sound.
On RA.472 Lakker tie all of these stylistic threads together with a neat trick. Almost all of the music is short loops—beats, melodies, textures—blended into one hour-long piece. If that sounds a little stuffy, well, the results are anything but.
What have you been up to recently?
Dara: At the moment we're working on the Tundra AV show, trying to get something really special that represents the album in a live context.
Ian: We're enjoying the feeling of having released an album we're both really happy with! There's a nice sense of completion at releasing a body of work into the world.
How and where was the mix recorded?
Dara: Digitally in Berlin.
Ian: Yep, it was put together in my little home studio. We thought about it a lot beforehand and gathered lots of loops to choose from, and planned a rough flow through the mix. Then the actual recording of it was done live with a MIDI controller and Ableton.
Can you tell us about the idea behind the mix?
Ian: The podcast came about from an idea to do a mix based solely on loops of beats that we really like. A more loop-based approach to a mix, more like a live set perhaps, than a traditional DJ mix. Not playing any full tracks, just using loops as sound sources to build an extended piece of music. It is how we approach most DJ sets and mixes, but this time with a more limited palette.
As we started to put the mix together we found that it was a bit bare for our liking with only beats, so we added melodic and textural loops as well, with the same intention of not playing tracks in full, but using them as part of the overall soundscape. We did use a couple of full tracks towards the end that seemed to work to round it off. There's nothing like Squarepusher telling you he loves you to finish off a mix!
Tell us a bit about how Tundra came together.
Ian: It was a process of sitting down and really thinking about what kind of music we wanted to put out. We had a few years of putting out various 12-inches with various labels, since Spider Silk with Killekill in 2011. And we could have kept doing that, but we felt releasing an album was more of a statement about who we are as musicians. For us an album could be more representative of our overall sound than the EPs we had put out, more true to who we are and how we have always seen ourselves, and show a wider range of the kind of music we make.
So we sat down after the summer last year and came up with a few ideas about what we wanted the album to be—a complete listen, something that takes a listener somewhere, something that worked from start to finish. And then we went about writing loads of material that would suit. We wrote about 20 new tracks, and then compiled Tundra from them, along with one or two earlier tracks that fit the sound and ideas we had.
Are there qualities you're usually searching for in the field recordings you take?
Dara: It's more about grabbing anything we find interesting, and then having a large database of recording that we know well, so we can just put something in a track easily while the inspiration strikes. It's all about matching tones and atmospheres in the recordings with the synthesis we make ourselves.
Ian: For me there is no specific quality that I can put my finger. Perhaps a sense of space? I don't really know. But I always know a sound that has potential when I hear it.
What are you up to next?
Dara: The AV show is our focus for the short-term future and also perhaps another release.
Ian: Yep, we're working on the next release actually. It'll be something a little different, following on from some of the album ideas, but also something we haven't done before. Tundra has made us excited to write loads of new material again and see where our sound will go next. We want to continue exploring and developing.