Label coordinator Alex Horne (aka Uraki Riddim) and Cain talks us through the Fine Grains story so far, bagpipe championships, psychoacoustics and channelling the rural highland landscapes into club music. Catch their label showcase at The Art School in association with Red Bull Music Academy’s UK Tour tonight.
Is there a certain rationale for working with the producers that are released on Fine Grains?
In terms of running of the label, it’s a one man – work on it when I can – venture so it’s essential to have a good relationship with each artist. Especially as I rely on them as a soundboard for ideas with the label too. Quality and the desire to make something that lasts is also important. Given the vast amounts of new music being freely put about these days, we prefer to take time developing a concept and helping the artists deliver something that is a meaningful step forward for them and the label. Probably Cain is the best example of this at the moment through the two EPs we’ve done with him. In time, we’ll be growing more of the initial group of producers introduced on the Fine Grains Vol.1 compilation, and adding some new ones along the way.
There’s a Scottish presence on the label, how did you come across CAIN and ¥oin, what is it about their work that you find interesting?
I’m originally from Aberdeen, so despite living in different countries for the past ten years or so I’ve always kept tabs on what’s happening back home. For a couple of years, I was running club nights consecutively in Norway and Scotland. Through that I met Offshore, a fellow Aberdonian who i had only previously met in passing at hip hop gigs in my youth. He was a big influence in terms of seeing someone from Aberdeen making amazing music and graphics on an international level and, most importantly, being an incredibly nice guy. Sadly, he is no longer with us but left something of a legacy and influence on Aberdeen producers like ¥oin, Lockah & T_A_M, who i had got to know more of through Ewan (Offshore).
I met Cain through Brian (Auntie Flo). He was originally a scratch DJ (DJ Krux) involved with Brian’s Pogo Vogue nights in Edinburgh. I knew most of the guys involved but, only really kept in touch with Bri. Over the years, I visited Glasgow for his Slabs of the Tabernacle night and ended up speaking with Duncan (Cain) at a few after parties. Then one year at Sonar, Duncan passed me this CD of tracks. I didn’t realise he was still actively involved with electronic music and was blown away with the material. They were completely of his own style and unlike anything i had heard at that time, best track of the lot was ‘Maasai’ which is the track that started our story. Regards ¥oin’s production, the same. They both have their own voice and i like their craftsmanship approach. Their is something earnest, narrative yet raw in their music.
Part of the label’s statement is your interest in emergent scenes around the world. What would you identify as these scenes? Is there certain work practises or a certain ethos that excites you, or is it purely based on the sound?
It’s probably more to do with people i’ve met through doing nights and living in different countries. In Spain, It was guys like Mweslee, Noaipre and My Dry Wet Mess, and then in Norway it was more the skweee producers and my mate Inko. Through the latter, i’ve got to know Cohoba who is part of the Stereoptico crew in the Dominican Republic. Of all those scenes, there seems to be an excitement and motivation to do something different, true to the origins, and not painfully following lots of trends. I think that helps with the longevity of the music and the scene. I like that honesty and rawness in sounds, when you can hear the person who made it or the mood they are communicating through the music. Sometimes that sound maybe deep and dark, the next it could be goofy and slow.
Who is that deals with all your design?
Aside from the collaboration series and music videos, i generally take care of all graphic output. I see the visual side of the label being similar to the music, growing with my own work and the people we collaborate with. So far it’s been fantastic to work with Oh Yeah Studio, Florence To, Ling Lee, Joao Doria & Halvor Bodin on one off projects. To emphasise that part of the process, we have a series called the ‘Collab releases’. OL & ¥oin’s ‘Sink EP’ was the first one, the next one is around the corner and is going to be an ice meets sun affair.
Are there any specific designers that have served as inspiration?
For each release it can vary depending on the influences of the music but, overall i guess growing up with labels like Mo Wax and seeing their work with artists like Futura and Will Bankhead was pretty inspiring. In general, Ladislav Sutnar, László Moholy-Nagy and my friends who we’ve had the pleasure of working with on the collaborative releases Oh Yeah Studio, Halvor Bodin…
What’ve been some of the standouts moments of the label so far?
Moments that i could share with the producers, from DJ Shadow telling us how much he liked ‘Blainn’ from Cain’s ‘Mora EP’, to bumping into Jamie XX at Jaguar Shoes and then getting great feedback on the Sink EP a couple of hours after sending him the tracks. LV starting their set at Worldwide in Sete with ‘Maasai’ a few years back was definitely a realisation that we’re doing something alright. We’ve been lucky to travel around for a few gigs In Europe too. To be honest though, i quite like just building slowly. Loads more nice little moments than singular big standouts to come i hope. Coming back to Scotland to play in Glasgow is going to be pretty cool:)
What’ve you got planned in the immediate future?
The next collaboration EP is coming soon! Cain’s last EP of the trilogy before his album and in-between that a debut EP for one of the artists that were featured in Vol.1. We’ve just moved to bi-monthly Fridays at The Alibi after a year of Thursdays so that’s gonna be fun to build on that and hopefully more gigs abroad.
Download an exclusive track from Cain via Soundcloud.
You’ve stated you prefer a more tactile and playful approach to making music forgoing meticulous computer based production and wanting to play instruments. What scenarios has this led to?
Recently I was asked to compose music for live instruments (cellos, fiddles, double bass, voices etc…), which was based around Piobaireachd music. Piobaireachd, or ceol mor (‘big/great music’ in Gaelic) is an ancient form of bagpipe music based around a central theme, with variations that develop on this. I used to play in professional bagpipe competitions until I stopped 3 years ago to focus on writing my own music. All my life I’ve sort of existed in two different music worlds – the modern, club music scene, and those of the bagpipe competitions. This was a chance for me to take what I’ve learnt from writing my own music and meld that with bagpipe tunes that I have loved since I was a child.
The concert was nerve-wracking but really exciting. I’d like to build more on this.
What combination of instruments have surprised you?
I love psychoacoustics. I am always trying to create melodies out of strange psychoacoustic sound sources (washing lines being scraped across bicycle wheels etc…). I’ve always been a massive fan of Amon Tobin and he is the absolute master of this. I think that Arca is another good example. I used to write music using a virtual orchestra a lot, but it’s frustrating not having real musicians playing those instruments. Instead now I try to source psychoacoustic sounds that might have the same dynamics and similar timbres to their orchestral equivalents.
Have you come any closer to your intention of including bagpipes in your music?
In terms of my own tunes, I’ve always wanted to incorporate the pipes when it felt natural – rather than just bringing them in because I’ve played this instrument all my life. I think that the CAIN sound might actually suit Egyptian pipes more easily, because lots of the kind of keys/scales that I often work with. However, now I think that I will probably first start using them by sampling the drone sounds, and then trying to create melodies out of those.
You’ve mentioned in previous interviews, the importance of location, specifically the Scottish rural landscape. What would be an ideal location to listen to your music?
As a child I was able to wander around the hills with my brother and friends, we had complete freedom. I think this really helped develop my imagination, and I always feel very connected to landscapes. I’m really passionate about the Highlands, and I love taking friends round places like Glenfinnan – particularly those who have never been to Scotland before. There’s something both ethereal and threatening about harsh, Northern landscapes that I find very beautiful.
At the same time however, when I was a boy I would always dream about visiting countries like India. When we went on holiday it was normally to another part of the Highlands – out to islands like Uist or Barra. Whenever I heard Indian, African or middle-eastern drums (which was normally in documentaries or films) I absolutely loved the rich timbres from them. I suppose that one of the main things that I try to do with CAIN music is to sort of create melodies out of drums. Often I get so obsessed with writing polyrhythms that I’ve sort of filled up all the sound space of a track with drums before I’ve even brought in a synth or instrument. It’s a bit of a problem sometimes….
I always wanted to write music that would both have enough punch and rhythm to get people dancing in a club, but had as much harmonic changes and melodies as I could get away with – so it would also be good to listen to on headphones. I try to capture the feeling of landscapes that I have in my mind when I write the tunes, and I hope that comes across somehow. My dream is to be able to put together sets of tunes that would be ideal for people to listen to travelling on their own, but that could also make a sort of cinematic club experience when put together live.