Loose Lips

In the Eko Chamber – Dubbing out with Ekoplekz

Interview

In the Eko Chamber – Dubbing out with Ekoplekz

The music of Ekoplekz may have only been in public view since 2010, but Bristol-based producer Nick Edwards has a relationship with sonic tinkering that reaches back to the early 90s. It was via a release on Peverelist’s seminal dubstep label Punch Drunk that the wider world was switched on to the uncompromising sound of Ekoplekz, where heavy swathes of noise meet with dubby effects processing, and a gritty post-punk finish.

In the years since that release, there has been an almost insurmountable volume of sonic product coming out of Edwards’ studio, as Ekoplekz as well as aliases such as Phlekz, PLKZFX, Ensemble Skalectrik and Gloria Gloucestershire. The tape scene has provided a natural environment for the lo-fi, experimental nature of his music, but equally Ekoplekz has struck up a productive partnership with iconic UK electronica label Planet Mu. Starting with 2014’s Unfidelity, Edwards has run through a succession of albums that have seen his sound undergoing a subtle refinement. The errant dub gremlins still inhabit his dusty circuits, but a little more control and space has crept into the Ekoplekz sound, leading up to one of his finest moments to date, the recently landed album, Bioprodukt.

This latest LP (the fourth for Planet Mu) is described as being influenced by the early 90s UK techno phenomenon of bleep techno, centred around Yorkshire and characterised by sparse constructions, alien melodies and voluminous bass. While Ekoplekz may sound distinctly different from, say, LFO, Unique 3 or Sweet Exorcist, those musical characteristics are wholly applicable to Edwards’ music. Given what a fantastic addition he has made to an already mighty pile of sound, we felt it was high time to check in with the West Country wayfarer and take the temperature of his unique craft.    

How do you feel about the new album, Bioprodukt? Did you do everything you wanted to with the album?

None of my albums are planned out from the start. I create a bunch of tracks in a certain time period, then the best ones get selected. Then I live with it for a while. Eventually a vague theme or concept to tie it all together might emerge, but that is always after the event. I don't want to have stories or any firm sense of meaning in my music. It should stand on its own. No explanations necessary. In that sense, Bioprodukt succeeds in all stated aims. It is a product of me. It’s how I feel inside. Nothing more, nothing less.

Would you say your sound has evolved from your most recent albums Reflekzionz, Four Track Mind and Unfidelity?

From my perspective, I would say yes, definitely. I see comments from others who maybe don't follow my sound too closely, who think they all sound the same. It depends on your perspective and level of involvement in my music, I guess. It’s important not to get too far up your own arse…but for me it does show a clear line of development that is still ongoing. I don't want to spell it out too clearly. It’s not an intellectual exercise. It’s instinctive and emotionally driven. You'll either get it or you won't.

It’s been stated that bleep techno is an influence on the sound of Bioprodukt. What is so special about that period of music to you? 

I like deep sub bass and I like a lot of space in the grooves. That's what drew me to the bleep-y stuff, that sensual spatiality. I wasn't really into the breakbeat rave stuff because it was too maximalist, too in-yer-face. Then it got more minimal, focusing on the bass and drums, became 'junglist' - that's when the breakbeat thing worked for me. But I never make any conscious effort to replicate anything. It just seeps out of me naturally, but by then its been contaminated with Ekoplekz DNA, so it always has its own unique flavour.


Your music has always been soaked in delay and reverb - how important is the influence of dub in your music?

Dub will always be there. It’s in my bones. King Tubby, Prince Jammy, Lee Perry etc. I love the lo-fi sound of those records, and again that sense of space and emptiness over the beats. When jungle and early dubstep records came along - all that is part of what makes me tick, musically. It will never leave me. I can't really say why. I am a white middle-class guy. I have no authority or stake in this kind of music. I just love it!

It feels as though your sound has cleaned up via the albums on Planet Mu, where a lot of the material before was much noisier and more chaotic. Have you been consciously trying to tidy up your music?

I had to get a lot of that noise and chaos out of my system. Most of the releases and live shows around 2011-2012 were very intense and uncompromising. But, since then it has been a gradual process of refinement. Yes, the music is tidier and more palatable now. It will never be mainstream, but I am focused on getting ever tighter, more controlled and minimalist in my approach.

There have been a lot of tape releases under your various aliases in the past seven years. Are you very productive in the studio, or are you sat on a wealth of material that goes back a long way?

Because of the all-hardware nature of my set-up, I have to get stuff recorded quickly otherwise I lose it forever. There's no endless tweaking. When you hear one of my tracks, you're hearing something that was built from scratch in about an hour, maybe two, tops. So everything sounds 'live' and fresh. Great! But it does mean that I generate an awful lot of material. Most of it never gets released. And there is a mountain of unreleased pre-Ekoplekz dating back to the early 90s but the cut-off year is 2010. Anything before that is off-limits for Ekoplekz records. Maybe one day there will be an archive release of some of that earlier stuff. Never say never.

Everything seemed to happen musically for you around 2010 with the release on Punch Drunk. What had been happening before that?

Ekoplekz, as a recording project, began in January 2010. Prior to that I had just been blogging and dabbling for a number of years. My musical aspirations were pretty much at an end. But then in 2010 a new creative light bulb went on in my head; Ekoplekz exploded into existence and the music just started flowing out of me, into the machines and on to tape. All the earliest work was documented on some privately released CDRs and cassettes. Then my friend Tom 'Peverelist' Ford heard some and offered to put out a record on his Punch Drunk label. Things snowballed from there. [Planet Mu boss] Mike Paradinas picked up on it very early on, but I actually turned him down initially because I didn't feel I was ready for a big label yet. Then I went groveling back to him a couple of years later.

Your live sets have a very improvisatory feel. Is that how you tend to approach your music in the studio? 

As I said, everything is recorded quickly. I have developed a form of spontaneous composition. I improvise but in a controlled, disciplined way. I know certain chord shapes on the keyboard that work for my music, so I can build rhythmic, harmonic and melodic ideas very quickly. But I keep the composition very simple. It’s the textural and rhythmic side that is more complex. The chords and melodies add a little extra emotion and mood. They are usually the last part of the compositional process. I find it fascinating how just a couple of chords can dramatically alter the mood of a track, but I don't always use them. Some tracks remain skeletal and unadorned.

In the past you’ve collaborated with Bass Clef and Baron Mordant - do you enjoy collaborative work and could we expect to see any more in the future?

I am basically a loner in so many aspects of my life. I have many friends but I tend not to encourage close friendships. I like my own company and I can happily work alone on my music, but I do enjoy collaborating with certain like-minded individuals. The work with Bass Clef and Mordant was pure joy, but both projects seem to have run their natural course now. This year I started a new collaborative project with my friend Farmer Glitch (ex-Hacker Farm). I travel down to his studio in Yeovil and we just jam for several hours. We put out a little album on Bandcamp under the name pHarmerz a couple of months ago.

The tape scene seems to have been a trusted stable for some of your sonic experiments - which other artists lurking in those mysterious corners of electronic music do you find to be of particular interest at present?

There is so much stuff out there in the cassette / Bandcamp underground. I don't have the time or inclination to wade through it all. I tend to follow certain labels run by trusted friends and allies. Mordant Music, Opal Tapes, Front & Follow, Proto Sites. Artists like IX Tab, Kemper Norton, Hoofus, Time Attendant. But I'm sure there's loads of brilliant stuff I've never heard of. You could literally search forever…

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https://ekoplekz.bandcamp.com/album/bioprodukt

Bioprodukt released June 16, 2017