Nick Edwards: Interview
“I have made whole records where I couldn’t necessarily tell you how they came about.”
After establishing an immense following through his Gutterbreakz outlet, Nick Edwards began writing and producing music under his Ekoplekz moniker, through which he has released myriad material since its incarnation in 2010. While his website was responsible for both live-blogging the rise of Bristolian dubstep and spreading its nebulous jams worldwide, his music sees the emergence of an experimental artist toying with a panoply of aesthetics in crafting audio for Mordant Music, Punch Drunk, and Little White Earbuds.
This month bears witness to the release of Plekzationz (TMT Review) on Editions Mego, which marks the musician’s first recording under his own name in 18 years. The record sees its creator probing the outer limits of improvisation while testing the boundaries of live analogue setups in a vein of influences ranging from Throbbing Gristle to King Tubby. TMT had a chat over the phone with Nick to discuss the magnitude of both Ekoplekz and Gutterbreakz, as well as the release of his latest album.
You have released material under an incredible array of labels since the Ekoplekz inception. How did your latest project with Editions Mego come about?
As with everything, it was the record label who approached me rather than the other way around. I tend to be quite lucky like that; one thing just comes straight out of another. This all started off with Tom Peverelist from Punch Drunk, who offered me a record deal, then someone else heard my work and they offered to put an album out… and then someone else up the chain did the same, then next thing I know, Peter Rehberg was saying “I’d love to do a record with you!”, so I said “…OK!”. I love the Mego stuff, I’m totally into that end of the electronic spectrum.
Could you tell me about the process of recording Plekzationz? From what I have read, it was quite a transcendental experience and that you went into the studio in order to reflect?
Yeah, I have made whole records where I couldn’t necessarily tell you how they came about. When I am recording with the analog set up I’ve got, I just drift off, you know, I’m really concentrating on the moment. But when I come back to the music afterwards, I can’t quite remember the details of what happened; it’s like something that someone else created. Plekzationz is different though because there was a lot more fine-tuning implemented afterwards. Normally, I would do a whole track, and then mix that tape down into stereo and create a digital copy of it. Whereas with this, it was more of a complex process in taking small ideas and blending them together through the digital realm and through organized process. The only exception is the very last track, which was recorded in a completely different way – Part 4 on Plekzationz is absolutely, 100% live, no overdubs; as it happened, in the moment. I wanted the antidote to the more finely tuned stuff, something raw and ‘in-your-face’ to finish the album off.
So I said to him, before he had even done the portrait, so I didn’t even know if I was going to like it, “OK, you can do a portrait of me, no worries, but, I want it for my record sleeve!” So that’s how we went ahead. Luckily, I quite liked it!
What does it feel like artistically when you are in the process of something like that? Obviously you don’t know fully what the outcome is going to be.
That’s right, all the tracks start like that, even when I’m overdubbing stuff. I have to ask myself questions like “Where does the track start?” “What is the root of it?” [and] “How spontaneous is it going to get?” The real decision is, when do you press ‘record’ and start capturing something; when does it start getting interesting? Then I have to ask when does it stop being interesting and when is it time to turn it off.
And then, once I’ve got that main thing down, I add other elements, try to make it musical and develop it. Sometimes though, I don’t want to do that, I want to get it down raw off the bone and capture the immediacy of that moment, when it was first created, as it were. So there are two different extremes with recording, but they all start with the same basic principles, mucking around with a bunch of boxes and hoping that something will come out of it.
Could you give me an example of how those principals are realized technically?
It’s a pretty arcane process to be honest, a lot of it comes out of curiosity. It’s like, Part 4 of Plekzationz, the live track, there is only actually one sound source – this little synth – which is fed through a splitter cable and sent through two different channels of effects. So, if you are aware of that, and then you hear the track, you can identify the two things that are happening. It is interesting to see what happens when you take different sounds down two channels and process them in different ways and just let the separate parts do their thing. It was just curiosity really – I experiment.
When it came to the release, did you know it was going to be under Nick Edwards, as opposed to Ekoplekz?
Yeah, other people might think I am splitting hairs here, but to me, as the artist, I think it is quite a big leap, especially when taking into account the refinement of the process. By calling it Plekzationz, it still kind of is Ekoplekz, but it’s one step removed as it were. Apart from being completely raw, as it was recorded, it’s me stepping back and organizing the content in a constructive way.
A lot of the comments I read online suggested you were pulling the mask back from Ekoplekz and revealing your true self.
Yeah, there is that as well. And from a sheer practical point, I have made a lot of Ekoplekz records in a very short time. There is also another Ekoplekz record very soon to come, and I thought about doing it under my own name just to give it a bit of a different spin, so there was that element. But at the same time, there is that thing of stepping out and just saying, “Yeah, this is me, nevermind the silly name,” because it’s not like I’m a group. It’s just one person; I just wanna be honest, up-front. People often ask about whether or not that has to do with having my portrait on the cover or not, but that was pure coincidence.
So can you tell me about the cover. It was illustrated by Hollis, right?
That’s the thing, I was having a discussion with Editions Mego about doing this under my own name, rather than Ekoplekz, and at the same time this artist I knew in Bristol got in touch and said “I wanna do your portrait!” he just came out with it. But, when he said that, it just clicked into place – it was obvious that I’ll put the album out under my own name, and use Hollis’ portrait for the sleeve. So I said to him, before he had even done the portrait, so I didn’t even know if I was going to like it, “OK, you can do a portrait of me, no worries, but, I want it for my record sleeve!” So that’s how we went ahead. Luckily, I quite liked it!
I saw that you are playing the Rythm Factory under the Ekoplekz moniker soon, how does that fit in with releasing the album as Nick Edwards?
The show is with Modarnt Music, and I record with them as Ekoplekz, so that’s been set up for a while. I haven’t got any gigs lined up as Nick Edwards at all, this is pretty much just a one-off album; there is no promoting it.
Is that going to be another improvisational show?
Yeah, I would imagine so, but there is yet another record coming out next month, which isn’t an Ekoplekz record, or a Nick Edwards record; it’s an Emmplekz record – the music is all by me and the vocals are by [Baron] Mordant, of Mordant Music. It is a new collaborative project. So there may be a bit of that in this gig as well. The project started off when [Baron] just decided to do some vocals over my music and that was it, he was in there. We both thought, “Yeah, this is interesting, maybe we should do a recording project with this.” So I started sending him tracks and he started vocalizing over them. Before we knew it, we had a 14-track album ready! That comes out on Oct. 15, so the gig at Rhythm Factory will probably be a bit of me on my own, and then he will probably join me for the second half for an Emmplekz jam.
The real decision is, when do you press ‘record’ and start capturing something; when does it start getting interesting? Then I have to ask when does it stop being interesting and when is it time to turn it off.
How do you gear yourself up for an improvised performance?
I wouldn’t say that I rehearse for [the improvised shows], but I will usually have a good idea of what equipment I am going to bring, and how I am going to set it up. Normally a couple of days beforehand I will say, “Right, for this gig, I’m gonna work with these particular pieces of equipment and I’m gonna plug them in this particular order.” Then I will run-test it first, to make sure that I can get enough interesting sounds out of that setup. You don’t want to be mucking around, jacking stuff into different things when you are playing live, so it is a fully improvised set each time, but it’s always with a pre-ordained set up. ‘Never have anything set up the same way twice’ – that’s just one of the challenges I set [up for] myself.
Did your experience in writing for Gutterbreakz have an impact on how you record music now and the styles that you derive from?
Coming back to Plekzationz, if you listen to Part 3 of the album, you can definitely hear echos of my experiences with dubstep in there. In some ways, it’s a bit like Loefah’s music, but from a different angle, because he was all about the beats and the bass, but he also had a lot of other stuff going on, on top; a lot of noise with plenty of echos and effects floating around – there was a lot of stuff that was implied in his music through the back, as it were. Whereas, I brought all of that implied stuff to the front on Part 3; with all of the noise and the echos, the bass is also taken out more, as though I am trying to look at the music from a different angle. So I would say that this is not a homage to that era of my life, but certainly to me, to my ears, it definitely draws on that period for inspiration.
But there also is a lot of straight-up dub and industrial heaviness coming through in Plekzationz.
Well, that depends. When I say “industrial,” to some people, depending on what their age is, they assume I am talking about Nine Inch Nails, which I am not – I am talking about the first wave of Industrial music – Throbbing Gristle, SPK, Cabaret Voltaire. The stuff that a lot of people consider to be industrial, I consider to be really bad heavy metal. But, as long as you make that distinction, then I am quite happy to acknowledge an industrial influence!