Logos The producer talks minimalism, terror, and speculative sonic environments ahead of new album “Imperial Flood”

Credit: R Griffiths

Logos’s music moves. Across several EPs, a seminal debut album, various collaborative projects, and as a co-founder of Boxed and Different Circles, his output has struck out into the world, gliding through experiments in grime, noise, and ambience. His new album, Imperial Flood, out April 12 on Different Circles, sits at the nexus of these various sonic modes: a keenly felt and rigorously composed set of excursions into the unknown, haunted by specters of unknown futures and lost pasts.

In person, Logos is thoughtful and articulate, with a deep knowledge of the various musical histories his work draws upon. And like his music, his answers are exercises in precision, revealing an approach to the theory and practice of music-making that is open and searching, animated by a constant experimental drive. We talked about Imperial Flood’s approaches to place and space, music that is in and of the Anthropocene, and the continued (ir)relevance of the hardcore continuum.


Could you give a brief history of the album’s development, both in terms of the music’s production and the themes and ideas attached to it?

I started writing it in about 2015. It’s probably taken me a bit longer than I’d hoped; it was a slow process for various reasons. In terms of my approach to the music, there were a few things after Cold Mission that I wanted to hone in on. It probably came out a bit darker than Cold Mission, which was quite diverse in terms of style. I really wanted to develop more of a specific aesthetic, and then develop that over a series of tracks. So there are a few synth patches that I use again and again, which was kind of accidental and then became something that I just accepted and went with. Some of it is exploring how minimal I could go with the arrangements, so some of the tracks — the later ones — have some recordings from hardware and then a couple other tracks in Logic, and that’s basically the entire thing.

And that’s deliberate, I tried to push myself a bit, my production chops. As a producer, you want to be able to say what you want to say without necessarily reaching for decorations that maybe distract the listener, but which are actually hiding — everyone does this, especially when they’re early in their career — that you couldn’t quite nail something. So it was kind of a test to myself. I always think of artists like — three artists in particular: Dillinja, Loefah, and Shed. Obviously they’re working in beat-oriented music, but they’re the three artists that come to mind, in that they can absolutely nail what they want to do. They’re not relying on things to distract your attention from the fact that they can’t make your chest rattle or something. They’re not specific inspirations, but people I think about—

In terms of an approach.

Yeah. Some of it was experimenting with different approaches to writing — a couple of tracks are based around patches for the Nord Modular, which is an extinct hybrid hardware-software modular system. It’s got a specific software patcher that’s proprietary, but everything’s worked on a DSP chip inside the synth — they’re amazing, classics of their era, the late 90s. So there’s some of me fooling around with that a little bit. That’s the production side. 

In terms of the ideas, one of the things I originally had in mind was to write a geographic piece; I was trying to write a sonic place. So, for example, I was listening to Brian Eno’s “On Land” a lot, which is a really quite successful way of constructing a quasi-imaginary environment for the listener. And then for various reasons, I couldn’t quite realize that, but that was my jumping-off point. So I had these ideas about landscape in mind, which are not completely literal; they don’t translate to individual tracks, but that was my broad way of thinking about the music.

I can definitely see that. Listening to the album, I get a real sense of placedness, where the music seems to resonate with the place that I’m listening from and suggests some kind of elsewhere. It’s not being transported to a different place necessarily, but there’s a definite sense of some kind of suggested elsewhere.

It’s quite hard for me to articulate exactly what I tried to do, because some of it is just going where the music takes you. But you get a sense of a slightly altered, twisted place. There are some references to real-place names, there are references to geographical features, and then some of the tracks, I just a wrote a track, I’m not going to try and shoehorn it into a narrative, but there’s still something specific going on. In terms of what emerges from the process, to some extent I take what I’m given, because I work quite slowly, and if I want to write something that’s good, I’m not going to worry that it didn’t quite fit into what I had in mind. But I think that guides you from the start.

Thinking at a compositional level, absent space works slightly differently here to on Cold Mission, which is quite frigid and vacuum-like. Here, absent space seems to operate through more consistent incursions into the sounds, a flood of sorts. I’m wondering how you see space functioning on this album?

The minimalism on this record is not necessarily the minimalism of repetition. There are some tracks which are deliberately repetitive, the track called “Flash Forward” for example, but mainly it’s the minimalism of having few sonic events. That’s different to what people talk about when they talk about Philip Glass. It’s not that kind of minimalism. In the middle period of writing this album, I spent a lot of time listening to Schoenberg and Webern, who are both Second Viennese School classical composers. Webern is more famous for what his disciples took after him. But he’s interesting because his music can be described as minimal, in that it contains few things.

I was really focusing mainly on music where there’s — and this is to an extent what happened on Cold Mission — very few sonic events, so you have to choose quite carefully what they are; and you’re thinking quite carefully about where they’re positioned; and you’re experimenting with what effect they have on you as a listener. There’s a lot of feedback happening when I produce; I listen to my music a lot in draft. And I’ve listened to the album a lot since I’ve finished it, in the car. I can’t change it now, but I still listen to the masters, because it’s a critical thing, a learning process — you’re trying to figure out what effect you’re having on the listener, in terms of where you’ve placed the sounds. I can’t predict what that effect is. Am I wanting a listener to get some sort of meaning from it? Maybe, but I think I was trying to get across themes in a broad sense. Are the effects of the music an emotional response? That’s for other people to decide.

It’s interesting thinking in terms of your discography, because some of your releases could be thought of as experimental, but a lot of your catalog is produced to work in a club at some point. And the effects on a listener in that space are going to be different from home listening or car listening. So leading on from that, and on the subject of place more broadly — in the press release, you talk about eastern England — I’m wondering to what extent this album is thinking about how, in the Anthropocene, the local is always cut through by the global, so any kind of particularity or locality now seems to be wrapped up in the global  —  global weather events, for example.

With place, my starting point was this. I’m from, and grew up for 18 years, in a part of east England with a very peculiar landscape. This isn’t exactly where I’m from, but if you go to the very edge of the east coast, into the drained marshlands between Norfolk and Lincolnshire, and around The Wash —  people who come from very flat places will understand this — they’re pretty wild, they have a pretty weird effect on you. If you go for a walk on a Sunday or something, with your family, you have no markers of distance. I find them to be very fatiguing places. They’re quite inscrutable places; it’s quite hard to work out what’s going on there. They’re wild places. They were one of the last places for malaria to die out. There was malaria in England when they drained the fens. So that was my starting point. 

And I thought let’s try and explore how I might represent that space, and some of the feelings I get from there, in sound. It’s like a game as an artist, working out how you might do that. In terms of wider issues, I know what you’re saying about the Anthropocene, but for me, I started to realize halfway through the album that some of the things that people are starting to think about, or are coming to the mainstream now, were part of people’s thinking about deep ecology in the 70s, 80s, and 90s — the kind of thinking interested in decentring the human being, the idea that we’re outside of nature; these have been challenged for some time. And practically, what’s interesting about that part of England is that you have these intersections with these big container ports, which are part of the invisible flows of global capital and are juxtaposed with bits of the coast disappearing. — famously Dunwich. I’m not the first person to be treading this landscape; Mark Fisher used to write about this stuff, Sebald, it was partly covered by people doing music around hauntology in the 00s. But it’s still fertile to think about. 

Definitely, and this is something that I’m personally interested in — that a lot of things we think of as being unique to the present — in terms of the Anthropocene — actually have these much longer histories. And I’m wondering what, with this album, and the work you’ve done with Different Circles, particularly that Raime EP, the one that Okzharp described as “Anthropocene as fuck,” the connection is between the sonics and this kind of ecological thinking?

It’s a really hard question to answer. The Raime record, and I’m not here to speak for those guys — is it about the type of sounds that are deployed? Or is it about something different? Is it about a sensibility? What I would say is that there’s a coldness there, a hollowness at the center. I mean, we’re staring loss in the face aren’t we? And arguably, almost inevitable loss. Is that what it’s about? It’s also about terror. The kind that you see serious mountaineers talk about getting — an absolute sense of your complete insignificance. And it’s the inevitability of the process, the fact that you’re getting swept up in something that you can’t control, which challenges the idea that we can just solve things with technology.

The prometheanism angle.

Yeah. 

If anything, it’s not really a question for any individual to fully answer, because it’s wrapped up in the broader political unconscious, where we’re all coming to some sort of understanding that things are shifting. But to go back to the question of terror, and particularly in relation to Imperial Flood, what is the role of horror in this album? I wonder if this is where the Jeff VanderMeer reference from the press release comes in.

So, it’s really interesting, the VanderMeer stuff — I really love those three books, I read them around 2015, 2016. And particularly the second one, Authority, and its representation of quite malign bureaucracy; there’s a terror of something that you don’t understand, that’s inevitable. There’s a terror of the horror that’s just below, that’s just out of sight but you know is there, a Lovecraftian kind of horror. I read Mark Fisher’s book, The Weird and the Eerie, which I thought was brilliant. So I think there’s potentially some Lovecraftian horror there. Lovecraftian horror, and with the VanderMeer stuff, there’s a baroque horror, a rhizomatic, organic horror, a cancerous horror—  

Overgrown.

Exactly. The horror of body alteration — when you read the VanderMeer books, when people go to Area X: what happens to them, the effects that the area, the landscape has on people. 

It makes sense, with the east of England erosion sort of thing. I was thinking about the China Mieville short story, “Covehithe,” where a father takes his child to the edge of the receding cliffs to go watch oil rigs that have become animated. And it’s this exact kind of terror of the unknown, a kind of cosmic horror. 

Yeah. When I wrote “Arrival,” I was going for a very specific effect. Whether it’s horror or whether it’s the boundary between something horrific and something infinite. 

Yeah, terror might be a better word than horror.

Because you can have terror in the face of something that’s completely beyond your understanding.

Yeah, exactly. Horror needs an object, whereas terror can emerge from just being in a space. To add a different strand to this discussion, you get talked about as being part of the hardcore continuum. How would you see yourself within it, thinking of it as both a set of sounds and as a history?

The hardcore continuum is one way of getting a handle on artists in the UK who aren’t techno artists. And that’s one way of thinking about it — that it’s a separate tradition. Although, I really like those European techno producers who fully embraced the sounds that emerged in the 90s — Shed again is an example of this. There’s actually a bit of a hidden story that’s not really obvious unless you delve a bit deeper — there was a complete overlap in the early 90s between hardcore in the UK and stuff going on in Belgium and Holland and New York as well.

Like Joey Beltram?

Yeah, and Lenny Dee and people like that. So it’s one way of getting a handle on UK artists. And then, my personal history is that dance music is drum & bass, and then in parallel: dark garage, dubstep, grime, and then the diaspora — that’s my personal history. I’d love to have been born a decade earlier and have started working and having success in 95 making jungle, moving into what I consider the high point: Ed Rush & Optical, Jonny L, those people.

I think it’s probably become harder and harder to talk about artists in terms of the hardcore continuum. It was a great concept, because it is a genuine thing, and it articulates something unique about the various contributing streams from the Black musical experience in the UK, in London, and how that synthesized with the white working class influx after acid. And then techno, which itself has a really interesting Black musical history — transplanted into different contexts in Europe and in this country. So it was a great way of getting a handle on things, but, just to talk in genre terms, it’s become meaningless. The fact now is, the totalizing narrative about the genres that people work in has disappeared. 

In preparation for this, I was reading some of your old interviews, and I really liked the one you did with Parris for Hyponik in 2014. There was a bit in that interview where Parris was talking about Batu and that kind of sound, which in some way seems like the easiest through-line to connect the past and present of the hardcore continuum, but it still seems different somehow —  

Yeah, and it is different. I really like Forest Drive West’s music, for example, who works on Livity [Sound] and other labels, and he’s very much in that Bristol tradition that’s grown up alongside the term, which is about a decade old now. They formed their own tradition — Pev and others — which is amazing. It’s not quite European techno, it’s definitely not dubstep.

So what about something like “Teachers”? That seemed like an intervention of sorts, in that it seems to group together a diverse range of sounds. Was that the thinking behind it, or was it more just a fun idea to do?

It’s been an idea that we’ve had for a while. It was just time and place — we just thought “let’s do it properly this time.” I like riffing off other people’s creativity — it’s how we all do things. So obviously it’s a deliberate nod to the Daft Punk track, which was itself a bit of a nod to those Chicago spoken house tunes. It was a fun idea, but they were also people who we believe deserve to be recognized.

Yeah, me and a friend have been going to Boxed for about four years now, and it’s interesting to see how being at that night for long enough, all of those names make total sense in what gets played, in the feel of the night and the histories it’s drawing on. So, to talk about Boxed and Different Circles for a bit, in an interview, Mumdance said that “weightless” [the style expounded by Different Circles] is a mood more than anything else. How would you describe the shifting moods of Different Circles, and where might it go next?

That’s a good question. I can only speak for myself — the UK sound system tradition is always in the back of my mind, so in a sense that’s a good reference point for Livity, for that kind of sensibility. So it’s about integrating that with other interesting things. We’ve got a record from ENA, a Japanese producer loosely associated with drum & bass, coming out, which is very noisy in his own idiosyncratic style. I’m also a big fan of T++, in his various guises, and I had this vision in my head of a syncretic — Livity have got close to this — relatively fast techno, around 140, which is where grime operates, and that, in a DJ context, can operate in the interzone between Basic Channel and Raime.

More recent Raime?

Yeah. More recent Raime, with a broken sensibility, so not a 4/4 sensibility, with lots of sub-bass, that can move dancefloors for an hour, or more. I don’t think anyone’s achieved that, and it’s something I’ve had in my mind for a while. Is that where Different Circles goes next? I don’t know. But that’s on my mind.

I was late to grime, I didn’t grow up in the UK, so it was something that to me felt very new and different when I came here. And one of the things I found interesting about grime, which is applicable to other hardcore continuum sounds, is how portable it is. What do you think it is about those sets of sounds that allows for such a wide range of affective, tonal, and textural experimentations, while also allowing for thorough conceptual work to be attached to it, if you want to put it there?

Talking about it in terms of sonics, the music being so sparse makes it relatively easy to reverse-engineer and experiment with. There was a phrase I really liked from the Low Company mailout, which was describing a record — I think it was that Dipteria record — and it was talking about how various musics on it had been subjected to “stress-testing.” So people have been approaching these styles and going, “Well, we’ll take this conventional, relatively stable format — it’s got rules — and we’ll subject it to some stress-tests; we’ll import techniques from noise and IDM. And we have access to techniques that have developed since the music first came out, and we’re going to fuck with the original tracks.” So it’s the sparseness of it, the fact that it becomes like a fun game to stress-test it. Whether you end up with better music at the end of it, though — I mean in some ways, I’d still rather go and listen to Danny Weed from 2003. But all producers enjoy challenges, so I can see why it happens. That’s one reason why that’s happened. I’m not entirely sure what you mean by portability — do you mean that it can be played in different contexts? 

I guess, but I was actually thinking geographically, like how you get grime from Australia now, for example.

I think it’s just the internet. And also grime, dubstep to an extent, and drum & bass before it — drum & bass was one of the first UK musics that — even though it wasn’t necessarily designed for this — was really successfully exported. There were some hard-working touring DJs in the late 90s, who decided that they’d look beyond the UK, and they probably had to develop links with promoters, and were playing to very small crowds at first, and there was no money to be made when they went to Australia or New Zealand, or the US the first time. But then, by the time they went back five years later, the crowd had expanded. And then the internet is just a massive force multiplier for that sort of thing. So now this music is treading on those networks.

Yeah, that makes sense. And I think the point you made about wanting to go back and listening to old music that still works in the club is really interesting. Different Circles came up with the instrumental grime wave, and while a lot of people have moved away from it, or turned towards the deconstructed club thing and moved away from the dance-floor, you guys have managed to switch between those two different modes, without it seeming forced.

On one level, we just sign music we like. And for Boxed, we book people we like and try and do something that’s true to our original philosophy. With Different Circles, it’s not about treading over the same old ground; it’s about keeping what was exciting about the music in mind, rather than the very particular format of the music itself.

I’ve got one more question, and it’s about Mark Fisher. Were his ideas important for you during the time that you were writing Imperial Flood? And especially in relation to what you were just saying about Different Circles, does that relate to Mark’s conception of “popular modernism,” of new forms that are genuinely new, rather than simply the haunted old? What effects have his thinking had on this album, if any?

It’s really difficult for me to answer that question. In terms of the content and themes of the album, Imperial Flood is probably more influenced by a New Materialist way of thinking. Particularly when we connect back to talking about the Anthropocene, or the decentring of and moving away from anthropomorphic agency, towards objects, for example. I read K-Punk a lot when he was writing it — The Weird and the Eerie is brilliant.

I think drum & bass — Goldie, Metalheadz, Ed Rush & Optical, Jonny L, Digital, Photek — there was a certain retro-futuristic aspect to their aesthetic, particularly Goldie’s sample choices, but that was a real, genuine form of popular modernism, I believe. And that’s what everyone should be chasing. But it’s partly time and place, partly the scene you inhabit, partly the audience’s capacity and interest. And it’s grime as well, and then moving on, it’s grime and dubstep in its early phase — they were genuine popular modernisms in music in this country. And the situation at the moment is that there’s amazing music being made, but it doesn’t feel like it — and I include myself in this — am I really striking out into new ground in the same ways that they were? Probably not, because those were exceptional moments in time: when drum & bass was coming up or when Wiley was coming up.

But it’s also about the lens with which you look at things, so there’ll be things happening now that aren’t being talked about in the mainstream media, and not even in the dance music media, which will be shocking us in three years time. And that’ll be brilliant. All you can do is plow your own furrow. 

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