No genres, no rules: every track on Broken Note’s invigorating new album is, as Tommy describes, a world unto itself.
Entitled Exit The Void, it’s a cantankerous smorgasbord of unclassifiables: industrial strength triumphant cinematic breaks, squat party techno murderation, bone-rattling bloodclart breakbeats and oil barrels of toxic, skin-melting bass are just some of the flavours in his foreboding brew. It sounds a bit like this…
Two years in the making and framed with a political edge (thanks to both its brazen unconformity, dark track title references and its palpable sense of tension) it’s the most ambitious body of work Broken Note has created since his debut album Terminal Static 10 years ago. It’s raw, brutal, complex and as tense as the current global climate. Here’s how it came to be…
When did the album start to take root? Was there a definitive moment?
Yeah, I feel like the album started to really take root about two years ago. At the time I had already been working on a lot of different ideas and I kind of realised that if I focused on the tracks that really spoke to me we had an album there.
You could hear a cohesion between them?
I’d say that their similarities were that they were dissimilar – each track represents its own unique world – as you move between these worlds a bigger story emerges. It’s just a result of my total obsession with fusing genres in a way that excites me and my mates.
The album is own world, too. It grows in momentum and is pretty volatile. This is a political album in a sense isn’t it?
Current affairs have, and will always, influence the Broken Note project – the political climate carves the landscape in which we exist and dictates how and where we spend our lives. I would say the political subtext of this album is very much a reaction to the ongoing oppressive climate we face. That said, the music has never been about being angry for the sake of being angry, it’s a soundtrack for resistance – connecting people that notice the same things and feel the same way. The links have always been there, but they may now seem more obvious or relevant than in the past.
How about the technical connections? How did you make tracks that sit in their own world join together with an album consistency?
I’ve always taken an approach that I should try to do things differently each time. It’s probably not the most efficient way to work, but its important for keeping engaged – I don’t feel like you learn anything new if you repeat exactly the same process over and over. Almost every record I’ve ever worked on I used a different toolset, partly because I like the challenge, partly because I find it helps define a new sonic footprint for each track or record.
One of the biggest technical challenges was definitely engineering all the tracks into a similar balance, as they all used different techniques, sound design and mixdowns. In a way I felt I had to level up as an artist to get there. In addition the first album came out when I was around 19, so in my head I definitely also felt the need to outdo my 19 year old self!
Let’s go back in time and see what he thinks of what you’re doing now…
Ohhh wow, he’d probably be like ‘oh fuck, you’re still doing this?!’ I would say as a project, Broken Note 10 years ago had an already well-defined sonic blueprint, the only things that have really changed is the precision in which I approach the ideas and the world in which the music exists. That is, stylistically I don’t feel the music has changed that much but the world certainly has.
That album was 10 years ago. We had no idea how dark politics would get 10 years later…
Totally. That album was created around the fallout of 911, so it came from a dark paradigm in itself. To be honest I don’t think the strategies have changed much; it’s just our access to information. Now we see how overt these tactics are. A lot of tin foil hat conspiracy theories back then are now mainstream knowledge. The younger generation are now more politically active than they’ve been in 20 years, they’ve inherited generations of inequality with little to no say in the world that’s being governed around them. As a result, they have no choice but to act.
This relates to your free party background doesn’t it?
Definitely. The free party scene has always been a breeding ground for divergent thinkers because of its openness. Even going back to early soundsytem culture and raves in the 90s the levels of diversity in the art was astonishing. That scene in all of its eras has always been a huge inspirational force behind Broken Note – fusing the attitude of the underground with the sound of the underground. That’s the roots of the culture.
But done with a view to the future. That’s certainly been a strong characteristic in your work.
I just make art that excites me – sameness doesn’t excite me and if I keep rewriting the same idea I am in a sense leaving the future unexplored. I wouldn’t be being true to myself if I stayed in any kind of comfort zone.
Indeed. When did you finish Exit The Void?
The first draft was finished about a year ago, but I needed to finish the final mixdowns and tour to raise the funds to print the record itself. It was pretty invaluable being able to test out the material over the summer with different audiences, different soundsytems, and in different countries. It definitely allowed me to get some distance and technically refine the record to a place it may not have got to otherwise.
Besides the technical level raising, what other challenges were you faced with along the way?
Every time we put out music there is a new set of challenges – and I would say the majority of them come from the time and social landscape in which the music is being released. Even in the last five years getting a record heard has changed so much, there’s way too much focus on social media in my opinion. I have to admit, I have had moments where I am like ‘I didn’t sign up for this.’ Constantly barraging people with meaningless content that doesn’t feel conducive to the art – I mean, should I hire a ghostwriter so that I can focus on important stuff like taking pictures of my dinner?
The other hurdle that all artists face is it feels very much like we’re going back to the old music industry model where gatekeepers are key and the album with the biggest advertising budget wins. This definitely impacts your ability to speak to your audience – for example, most of the main social media platforms reach is now primarily dictated by budget, not content, and most music today is consumed on platforms that are owned or have ties with major labels.
That all being said, I am incredibly grateful. I have gone way further with music than I ever imagined. I started making tunes to play sets at local London warehouse parties – it definitely went way beyond that within a few years, so I’m good at this point. After finishing this album there was definitely a sense of ‘yeah sweet, I’ve achieved something’. I could walk away – I definitely won’t – but I could and know I would feel fulfilled.
Have you been involved with Extinction Rebellion protests?
I feel like if you have a platform to help in some way, you should always give back to the causes that you feel need highlighting. We’ve always been proactive in this area, I think its important to set a socially positive standard – if you happen to have any influence that comes with responsibilities in my opinion.
Yo, Parabolic Hex sets a pretty scatty standard. It sounds like every squat party I ever went to condensed into four minutes. I guess that’s the intended effect?
Yeah…that one is a bit of a wig-blower. Definitely been witnessing some pretty feral responses to it when its been played out live. The intent I can’t really describe, that’s up to the listener.
When you finish a track like that do you feel that catharsis? Do you have to leave the studio or sit down and have a little rest for a bit?
Sometime I do I need to sit down and have a rest for a bit, it can be an extremely exhausting process – but I never do! For me some catharsis occurs when actually writing the track, but the main satisfaction is in sharing it, because by the very end of the process I’d be happy to not hear it for a while. I think a lot of artists feel like that – It’s not about you at that point. I’m never going to enjoy listening as much as others, your just a vessel for helping it to exist.
Do you find you can come back to stuff after a few years and it’s like you’re listening to someone else?
Yeah I’ve definitely felt that – it’s become completely externalised by that point, you can be so much more objective. I think having that distance is sometimes key to really refining an idea, but it’s not always the headspace you’re afforded.
Amen. So how did the launch party go?
The launch party went really well, it’s always special when people come to a night with the sole purpose of hearing something new. The crowd was so rowdy in all the best ways. I got to play music with some of my best mates and share something personal. Everyone from the artists, the crowd, the promoters, and everyone who helped put the night together ALL brought their A-game.
Perfect. It’s being released in an interesting combo of labels isn’t it? Your own label, Slug Wife and MethLab?
We wanted to do it as a collaborative effort and work towards a greater good. There’s a lot of diverse art coming out of those channels, it felt right to share ideas and support each other.
Collaborating and working together is the only way forward to survive in the industry…
I agree, it’s usually where the magic happens artistically. Label wise it sets a precedent that shows things can be done differently to the norm.
Do you think labels play it too safely? Do we need more risk taking?
We always need more risk taking with labels, it’s the only way things progress. I understand why some labels don’t take risks – It’s like the stock market – are you going to take a risk on something uncertain or are you going to play it safe? I get it, it’s just not what I do this for.
So has the album process inspired your next project?
Yes, absolutely. There’s quite a few things already cooking away, its given me tonnes of new ideas – I can’t wait to throw them all down and see what comes out. It’s a ‘watch this space’ situation….