Plaid on Its New Album, the Persistent Influence of Detroit Techno, and How to Not Repeat Yourself Musically After 20 Years
Plaid: Never a duo to get caught in a box.
British electronic duo Plaid, made up of Ed Handley and Andy Turner, has been navigating the digital obliques of melodically askew, syncopated beats since 1991. This Friday, it will bring the music of its new album, Scintilli -- Plaid's first non-soundtrack full-length in eight years -- to Mezzanine. Fresh off a plane to Houston to promote the new record, Handley spoke with All Shook Down to discuss the state of Plaid today, the difficulties of categorizing its music, and how to make music for 20 years without repeating yourself.
When you look back at your initial influences, what part of them do you still recognize in your work?
I reckon it's still fairly easy to identify our inspirations, in that it was mainly the sort of Detroit techno sound that grabbed us, and you can hear that quite heavily in some of our tracks. There's still that content in that it's melodic dance music that stays away from the 4/4 beat, but the emphasis is still the dance and a love of bouncy twangy basslines we got from Detroit. And the first music we were really obsessed with was early hip-hop before sampling, what you'd most likely call electro now.
Where does Plaid now fall in the continuum? Do people still talk about you as an influential group from the Artificial Intelligence, early IDM era, or do people lump you in somewhere else on the timeline?
Our strongest associations are still with that early to mid-'90s era, with its vague definitions. It wasn't really a genre, more a collection of subgenres made with computers. And we're still in a no-man's land in that we're not dance music, nor are we academic ambient composers; we're in a genre-defying space, which is good and difficult as well. We're not dubstep, aligned with techno; even after 20 years we've never aligned with one particular sound, we just enjoy the act of making music. It's not really functional music, not meant to make you do anything.
Dubstep, however, does have its electro influences ... do you feel any connection with recent breakbeat resurgences?
We do feel a small connection with much of it, and we spent the last 20 years in London, so a lot of the sounds that have come from London are familiar. We've seen the influences that have gone into them and how they've grown from nothing. What we're known for are melodies and harmonies, so we're not directly associated with the bass-heavy niches, but we feel a part of a London sound in a way even though we're not distinctly London-sounding.
Where do you find your melodic inspiration now?
It's initially a little bit of '80s synth-pop music, which we had a lot of in England with people like Depeche Mode. We weren't really into that, because we were into the sound coming from America, but it had an influence. And whatever your parents are listening to, which in a lot of peoples cases happens to be the Beatles and some classical, etc. I think when we first heard [Rhythim Is Rhythim's] "Strings of Life," it was such an unusual combination for us ... It sounded so brave, with this urban melancholy, and we've been trying to do that ever since. Now, I think there's dynamic emotional content in everyday life that can be the trigger for all sort of musical chaos. We travel a lot, and that can be a wealth of data to process and turn into something. But home life, as well, can be stimulating if you look at it closely.
Having established certain tonal signatures, how can you escape being too much yourself, so to speak, when making a new album?
Yeah, when you've being going 20 years it's easy to start parodying yourself, and we've been aware of it, but not really done anything about it. We say if we're genuinely stimulated by tones or like sounds it doesn't really matter if it's familiar. So often you might release a track and not be completely happy with it, so maybe you explore a similar set of things within a track on the next album, finding a way to improve on what you did. So we have had variations of ideas on different albums, where we're trying to hone things, suit the time and place. So on one hand, you want people to recognize a style, but on another you don't want people to be bored with it. Ultimately, without a lobotomy, we can't escape ourselves, so we've used collaboration as a way to expand our ideas. We've worked with gamelan recently, and done a fair amount of collaboration with friends. And that's the important thing to maintain so you don't get too stuck in your own style.