Interview: Duckett

Duckett is an artist who has been around for some time. Between 2001 and 2007 he released a number of records on Grimes Adhesif’s Mind Your Head Records, as well as appearing alongside Tom Demac on labels such as Disappear Here and the latter’s own Electronique Audio imprint. Several years later, following regular slots at the fabled Freerotation festival, he popped up again in 2015 on Leif and Joe Ellis’s UntilMyHeartStops with two wonderful records, Parts 1 (Coffee, Women And Skits) ‎and 2 (Waiting For Weather). He also found the time to collaborate with Leif on his Taraxacum LP, featuring on the closing track “Anachronistic”. This year he was asked to recently put together an hour-long mix for the Hessle Audio show on Rinse FM. It followed an exuberant mix from Truancy Volume contributor rRoxymore, and softened the tone considerably. A graceful hour of modular melodies, it garnered multiple repeat listens from this writer. A short while later, Greta Cottage Workshop announced the forthcoming release of The Balsamic State EP, which featured several of the most emotive jams contained in that mix. We emailed some questions his way, and received a fascinating and engaging set of responses, with a TL;DR answer given to each question too. He’s a charming, highly intelligent and irreverent producer, and we’re delighted to share this interview with you.

Hey! You’ve had a recent burst of releases followed by a long period of relative quiet. How much music did you make over those years and will it ever see the light of day? “Those long hard years. I could write a book on that question. Chapter 1: I made tons of music in that time yes, but I was lost deep inside a career that I was kind of sucked into. At the time of my last vinyl release in 2007 I was slowly disappearing down a big hole and would remain down there for the best part of the next ten years. If I don’t tell you what that hole was then no doubt most people will assume I am referring to a deep pit of mental instability; being a lecturer is similar in most respects. The job consumed me. I made lots of music in that time, I need to; it eats me from the inside otherwise. I didn’t want anyone to hear what I was doing because it was for me. It was (and still is fundamentally) to satisfy the need to create and a vessel into which I could channel my frustration at the world into. If I take the guitar out and sit by the river alone, that’s for me also. Is that selfish? I don’t care. I don’t believe in music as a commodity and never will, I’ve always stood against that model, it’s a preposterous one which I believe has fucked up the western perception of music and also the music itself. There never used to be a distinction between the audience and the performer, everyone used to get together with the dogs and the kids and the shit, now we all pay to see someone who is stuck onto a stage and then tell each other how good he was, or how bad she was, or how sloppy they thought he was tonight or ‘I just can’t get in to him at all’, all in whiney meaningless voices. I fucking hate that shit. So the only reason any of my music will ever see the light of day is because I’ve found myself within a culture / group of people who defy a lot of the above.”

Alternative answer: 1TB. Throughout 2016.

You’ve had a long relationship with the Freerotation festival; can you tell us what it means to you? “It means everything. The reasons can be derived from the above question. It has enabled the core artists / residents to retain their individuality and Steevio and Suzybee have built its foundations on that, instead of the other way round. That’s a massive statement and a greatly understated, holistic aspect, but I believe it to be definitive. Freerotation is a party held for the right reasons; it’s small, dense and saturated with good energy and will never collapse in on itself because the core values have never changed. The core values being centred on the people, the music, the friendships and the parity between punters and artists alike. I don’t feel that there is a distinction between the audience and performers at Freerotation. Artists don’t just come and play, they come and party, that’s one criterion for playing. Promotion of positivity in all its guises is across the board and fundamental to its success. I reckon S&S could shift 5,000+ tickets if they wanted to but that will never happen because growth in this context is meaningless and would in a way reflect a brand of capitalism of which S&S (and the rest of the residents) would never sign up too. This all sounds like generic waffle but it’s so true! It’s my spiritual home, where my friends and surrogate family meet once a year to celebrate everything worth celebrating. Everyone who is part of FR has FR as a part of them. It becomes intrinsic. It has a fractal nature. It’s ten this year.”

Alternative answer: A lot / everything.

Similarly, there’s a connection with Until My Heart Stops. Can you tell us about the genesis of the two releases for the label last year? “There are a number of answers to that question. In order for me to catch the bus I would need to be at the bus stop, but in addition the bus would need to arrive. Anything in this world only happens due to a number of coincidences and synchronicity. I am good friends with Leif and Joe; I have a massive respect for them and trust them more than anyone. I can send them anything and I know that they will ‘get’ it. They are honest. In a nutshell they were excited that a long-time friend was making music again and they thought it was ace!! They helped rekindle faith in myself and I can safely say that I have everything to thank them for. I don’t think they know what they’ve done for me. They have been the catalysts for everything and continue to be.

“I would find it inappropriate not to mention Grimes Adhesif at this point, not in the context of the question you asked but for doing the same in the bigger picture. He introduced me to techno when I was still absorbed in Eat Static. It’s 23 years since he came round my flat and said ‘you into Techno?’ The next ten years was me and Grimes in various states of darkness in attics and garages making a brand of music that I thought was normal. It wasn’t. It was ‘Mindyourhead’. As those years slowly retreat back into the midst of time, the relevance and value become clearer and clearer. Fifteen years ago we met Steevio and his gravitational force. The rest is smeared between the past and the future… And Tom Demac :) The story’s not over.

Alternative answer: They run a label; I made some music they liked.

Can we talk about the title Balsamic State? Is there political intent there, or is it just a bit of silliness? “There’s always political intent. Of course there is, if I said no then that would be more of a piss take. I spilt some vinegar. Don’t get me wrong though, I am not necessarily just having a dig at the Islamic State, there is also a tune on the EP named ‘CNUT UK’. I fucking despise the British state for exactly the same reasons, and the United States, as I’m sure we all do. The west (as well as the Islamic State) is being run by fanatical religious freaks who want to end the world. They are all as bad as each other. The only true escape is inwards. Personally though, I don’t believe that any of the George Bushes, Barack Obama, Tony Blair etc etc actually do believe in god. However, I do believe that Abu Bakr al-Baghdadi does. The media is guilty of this war. I haven’t watched any news for over a year.”

Alternative answer: Yes, political intent.

This is your first release for Greta Cottage Workshop. How did that come about? “Me and Matt from Greta go back a long, long way. We were both adopted by the same parents and the friendship grew from there. I’ve seen Matt go through lots of changes over the years and I think that now he is more lost than ever. Not really :) We met through FR a couple of years back, he stalked me on Twitter somehow even though I blocked him twice. I think you get the idea. The record label statement says it all really: ‘A label run with the soul purpose of getting great unheard electronic music out into the world, with no compromise. If it’s good, it goes. Independent, honest but not taking life too seriously.’ I think ‘soul’ is intentionally spelt wrong ’cause Matt’s a ace spella. The whole Greta enterprise is one to be marvelled at, massive respect.”

Alternative answer: Matt runs a label, I made some music he liked.

This release is a bit of a change in direction from the two UMHS 12”s, more focused and possibly more emotive. Were there any particular ‘sessions’ that went into this one, or are you always working? “Always working. Yeah this release feels different from the UMHS stuff, mainly I think because tracks were chosen by the labels to suit the labels. The tunes from all three releases are from the same sessions yeah, I don’t feel it’s a change in direction no. I hope every release will be completely different. I never want to find ‘my sound’ if you know what I mean, as soon as patterns emerge I get scared, bored or both. In respect to that I may find it hard to hold onto a specific audience but as I said earlier, my creative needs come before any potential audience expectations. He wasn’t together at all tonight was he? 5/7 mate.

“I don’t possess or keep any arrangements or song files, all hardware and software is routed into one Ableton page zoomed down to 60%. I have two Ableton projects, named ‘studio’ and ‘live’. Most of the time I will be working on three or four tunes in the same page and just record audio. I don’t save presets on my gear. The Greta stuff and UMHS stuff were likely on the same page being worked on at the same time and interchanging ideas between both. It’s great not saving anything, I have one chance to get it right. If I record a tune and the next day I realise it sounds fucked for any reason, i.e. because I worked on headphones or because my ears are fatigued after a long day, then that’s it, gone. The mystery is retained. That’s why a lot of my stuff sounds the way it does, fucked.”

Alternative answer: I’m always working, no particular sessions.

Your tracks often have hugely imaginative titles — “Nervous In Regard To Waking Up”, “Are Things OK At Home”, “I Passed The Devil On The Stairs Today”, “Valentines Day Is For Animals” and of course “I Ain’t Seen The Cat For 3 Days Now”. How do these relate to the tracks, and where does inspiration for these come from? “It’s difficult to give a general answer to that. When working in the studio the world is a million miles away but life was affecting me before the session and will begin too again straight after. As soon as I get to the point of actually naming a tune it needs to mean something, it needs to reflect something about the mostly unconscious circumstances that led me to create it. Normally at the end of a session (I won’t leave the studio until I have completed the tune I’m working on) is when the removed world of the studio comes crashing head on into the real world again, they don’t meet often apart from in the titles which are hugely symbolic most of the time, to me at least. You left out ‘The End of Attlee close and the Kids In It’.

“Nervous In Regard To Waking Up” — Figuratively relishing the morning before you’ve even gone to bed. When each day consists of shit that you hate then this is what happens.

“Are Things OK At Home” — My job means I need to ask this about once a day on average. It gets to me because quite often things are not OK at home. I can’t stop thinking about these poor kids with lives that you could not make up having to confide in their fucking lecturer. Am I really their only option / choice? Am I really that approachable? So it seems. I get burdened. No one ever asks me if things are OK at home.

“I Passed the Devil on the Stairs Today” — I figuratively did. It was scary. I hope it never happens again. She was on the way up.

“Valentine’s Day Is For Animals” — This originally had another title ‘Valentine’s Day is For _______?’ It’s up to you. It was written on Valentine’s day.

“I Ain’t Seen the Cat For 3 Days Now” — I hadn’t, it was worrying me, it was not even my cat. A little black one comes in the garden for a fuss and some starlings each day, she stopped coming, I convinced myself she’d had been run over. She hadn’t been.

Alternative answer: The titles relate to the creative process rather than the final product.

The mix you did for Hessle’s Rinse show was really special — I don’t know how many times I’ve listened to it over the past few weeks. After I tweeted you about it, you mentioned the track entitled “Sometimes When I am Alone it Feels Like Everyone I Know and Love has Died”. Are there any plans for its release? “Thanks! That’s my favourite track. No plans for its release, no. Who the fuck would release a suicidal track like that? I’ve had so much positive feedback about that track but basically I don’t think it fits any probable outlets that I am affiliated with at present. It’s not a dance tune, it’s not a chill out tune, it’s not even a tune, it’s a raw emotion pulled kicking and screaming into the frequency domain. I can’t listen to it without being catapulted into my own turmoil, again. Why would I send that to someone? Why the hell did I chose to play that on the Hessle show? I think because I understand its gravity. It’s a musical epitaph. It’s personal and no one would understand. I should omit the word ‘sometimes’ from the title. I should delete every trace of it completely to be honest. It’s also a celebration of victory over the darkness. It’s a common misconception that an artist’s best material is written at her lowest points; it’s a generic assumption that’s been prevalent since the birth of perception. When I am at my lowest points I am in the corner shivering, crying and shaking. How could anyone create anything at that point? Impossible. The creation is born from the victory over that when you get up and move into the centre of the room, dry your eyes, and still the physical and mental self. Victory, shoulders back. The energy is now trapped inside the creation and reversed polarity. Phase shift. I’m free to look at it from a distance, as a separate entity, like puss on the mirror in the shape of flower that hasn’t been wiped off. The whole Hessle mix has that narrative, I could have chosen to do something different but I am not in control……………….”

Alternative answer: No

The mix you did for All Points Between on KMAH featured similar elements, but was a lot tougher. What goes through your head when you’re asked to do a mix like those — or is it a natural, organic thing that happens how it wants? “Building a set for me is usually like having a hundred jigsaw pieces from a hundred different jigsaws. I do what I can and they tend to have a life of their own. Quite often there is material that will only be used once. I never want to play stuff twice, sometimes it’s inevitable but that’s the criteria when I set out. I have no patience, quite often my sets consist of material that is only days old, and quite often I will delete a lot straight after. For example, twenty minutes of the Hessle set is figuratively deleted, gone forever, and the same with the Severn Beach mix. Sometimes I feel like contacting whoever and asking them not to put the mix up!! I actually did that with the last Greta Cottage Radio show I did, the show went out on the Saturday night and Matt normally puts it up on SC Sunday morning. I hated it, panicked and did another mix at 6am Sunday morning and sent it him. I take chances and quite often wish I hadn’t but all in all that’s a good thing….I think. As Matt said in the SC tag: #heisabigtoedproatrefiddlingtheflowyo”

Alternative answer: Utter panic.

Can you tell us about your day job? How does the academic side of music tie in with your life as an artist? “I’ve been lecturing in Music and Music Technology for ten years. I was actually head of the department and assessments for five years with nine staff under me. What a load of bullshit that was. I kept on saying yes to promotion, I thought it was a good thing and that’s what we’re conditioned to do. I’ve always tried to capitalise on opportunities but simply put I got trapped with a decent salary and found it impossible to back out for fear of security, especially with the recession. It’s such a complex story and one of increasing weakness. Anyway, two days a week now and just teaching what I enjoy: Acoustics, Music Production, Audio Engineering etc. I enjoy the job again now. It kept me out of the studio for years at a time and subsequent frustration was beyond words. It made me ill, physically and mentally, I fucked up loads and took the piss in the end. The academic side of music has absolutely nothing to do with my life as an artist apart from threatening to extinguish it completely, at which point I would have had no will to live, never mind work. The job threatened everything that’s important to me. Money is not. I learned a lot in that time. I still have that captive audience a couple of times a week and I have a story to tell, which is more important and beneficial to the students than impedance or identifying room modes. I secretly tell them things I should not, life is happening. The value of music is that of a vehicle for emotional well-being, not as a career. The college does not really care about the students, it says it does but it does not. It’s a monster, but there are some people that care, I hope I am one of them.”

Alternative answer: I fucking hate my day job, music is not an academic subject even though they try and make it one.

What do your students make of your music? “Hahahahahaha. As somehow who is familiar with the culture, attitudes and musical tastes of a fair-sized cross section of today’s youth, it’s very concerning. It’s not they don’t understand dance music, that’s fair enough; it’s that they don’t seem to understand music at all! I spend most of my time with them philosophising about the spirit of the music, the ‘muse’. Trying to steer and condition their minds to some better place. It’s mostly futile but I will carry on because that’s my mission. Some of them have heard of Tom Demac, :) the rest are into Bon Jovi! No joke. They certainly don’t get my music. They find me on SoundCloud and ask if I’m famous because something’s had 500 plays. They will no doubt find this interview in time; I need to be careful what I say. Little shits.”

Alternative answer: Nothing. Weird lecturer.

You once tweeted that “Originality is mostly born from failure“. Is this true of your own musical endeavours? “Did I say that, wow, profound! I spent years trying to make ‘house and techno’. I never succeeded once. I would say that it’s not as true now as it used to be. I think if we all succeeded in achieving exactly what we set out to achieve then the world would be a boring place. Originality and evolution have accidents and failure present as key ingredients, not every time no, but often.”

Alternative answer: Yes.

Finally, what’s your favourite duck? “Sydney, my dad.”

Alternative answer: 15, PE, rugby ball.

Aidan Hanratty

Dublin ...

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