As one half of Global Communication and Jedi Knights, Mark Pritchard has released some of the most important records of the early nineties, and his work continues to influence younger musicians today. Now working with Dave Brinkworth as Harmonic 33, he has taken some time out of his busy schedule to talk to us about his recent solo record as Troubleman, the new Harmonic 33 album, the importance of library music, his forthcoming Reload album and the forthcoming string of Global Communication reissues.
What is your musical background? How did you come to music?
My parents encouraged me to learn instruments at school, firstly the drums then later the guitar. The first musical movements I got into were 2 tone and ska at school, and then later indie stuff like Pixies, Sonic Youth, My Bloody Valentine and the Smiths. Then when I left school, I started going to clubs and fell in love with Detroit techno and Chicago/New York house. Films like 2001, THX1138, The shining, Forbidden Planet and various other sixties and seventies sci-fi films also played a big part in my early discovery of music.
How did you come to work with Tom Middleton on Global Communication and Jedi Knights?
I met Tom whilst I was deejaying in a club in Taunton, in Somerset. I'd already recorded the first Reload EP and was toying with the idea of setting up a label. Tom and I got chatting and found we had a pretty similar vibe on music. He played me some music he had been working on (including some Aphex Twin material) which blew me away, so we decided to try working together on music and then the Evolution label was born.
76:14 was voted by the Guardian as the best ambient album of the nineties, and it has clearly influence a lot of musicians since its release. Did you have an incline to how defining this album was going to be? Do you think that artists can feel when they are working on something special?
It's impossible to tell how important an album will be while you are working on it. Sometimes you get a feeling about a track as it evolves - that it is a strong track, but as for a whole album... it is difficult to tell. While the process is happening you're often too close to it to judge.
Although Tom was involved on Reload, it was said to be more your project. How did you split the work between the two of you?
Global Communication and Jedi Knights was always a 50/50 creative process. Reload was a project that I had already begun before meeting Tom but as it evolved he ended up collaborating on some tracks.
I read that there were rumours of a new Reload album a couple of years ago. Was there any truth in this, and if yes, what happened? Will you ever release anything as Reload again?
A new Reload album is currently underway and will be coming out later this year through Warp. I've already recorded a track featuring Beans, which is a spoken word piece with electronics, but don’t worry, it’s not going to be a hip-hop album!!!
What happened to the Evolution and Universal Language labels? Will you ever be bringing them back?
Some of the catalogue will be available again at some point through Bleep.com but there aren't any new releases planned. At some point I’d like to do a few more Evolution 12", maybe bring back some of the old names but we wont be setting up a label to release other peoples music again.
You have recorded under an impressive range of aliases over the years. Is it a way for you to keep different influences or inspirations apart?
Recording things under different aliases gave me the freedom to put out different styles of music without one release being judged by another. This was quite important back in the early nineties as people tended to stick to one style - being purist in their music buying often shunning other styles.
You recently released an album as Troubleman on Far Out Recordings, which was mixing dance floor moments with Latin influences. What influenced you for this particular record? Was it a record that you had in mind for some time?
The original inspiration for the Troubleman sound was mid-tempo club tracks with a hip-hop flavour. I was trying to get away from boring 4/4 club music and wanted to try out some different drum patterns at a faster tempo but avoiding breaks type sound. Kenny Dope was a big influence as I used to really enjoy the odd Bside and Masters At Work tracks where he'd use a break. When it came to doing an album I decided that I didn't want to do a whole album of club tracks as generally that can be a bit boring, so I decided to try some bossa and some vocal tracks to vary the album up.
How different was it for you to work with vocalists? Did you have to adapt your style to accommodate lyrics?
I was really lucky with the vocalists I worked with. The track featuring Spacek was just jammed in the studio, he wrote the lyrics while I was writing the beat. The track featuring Eska was written five or six years before as a remix that didn't get used, so I resurrected the beat and Eska wrote to it. The two tracks that Nina Miranda vocaled were written with vocals in mind. I didn't really have to adapt my style. I just had to be conscious about leaving space for the vocal.
How did you and Dave Brinkworth meet and how did the idea of Harmonic 33 start?
I met Dave when I was living in Cornwall, around 1997/98. He was running a studio and he lived just up the road from me and a friend of mine whose studio I had used introduced me to him. We later worked on Kirsty Hawkshaw’s album together and when we had spare time, we would start making beats together. The first music we made together was drum‘n’bass under the name Use Of Weapons for Droppin’ Science. I had been focusing on making hip-hop after Tom and I stopped working together and had already done some tracks (the Underwater Lady track from the first Harmonic 33 EP appeared on a Kirsty Hawkshaw promo a few years before). So we did some tracks and played them to Danny Breaks, and he decided that, as he was keen to release his hip-hop stuff also, he would set up Alphabet Zoo Records, for which we recorded two EPs and a 12" featuring Grand Agent.
On your first album, the sound was very much rooted in hip-hop…
Yes, but we didn't want to have to come up with another name and as the music is related, we thought we would have an offshoot project for Harmonic 33. We have got loads more Harmonic 33 hip-hop instrumentals planned for this year also.
The new album shows an interesting focus on library music. Is that something that you've been interested in in the past?
I’ve been collecting library music and soundtrack music for years, and it played a huge part in shaping the sound for the first Harmonic EPs. Luckily, the library boom has died off, so prices have become a bit more reasonable. The musicians involved in making library music were usually top musicians of their time, so when given various themes, they came up with some incredible music. I think the fact the pieces were not for commercial release gave the musicians total freedom to experiment and make some out-there stuff, as a lot of the time the quirky stuff got the synchs. Obviously not all of it is great but a lot of it is worth checking, especially from the sixties to the eighties. After that it went downhill sharpish.
None of the sounds on the album were sampled. Instead, you and Dave choose to recreate everything. How difficult was it to recreate what you had in mind, and did you get to where you wanted to?
It was a big challenge to get the tracks to sound how we wanted. The main battle is with computers and modern equipment; they have much larger frequency ranges than older equipment so stuff tends to sound too bright. We tried to play everything live, and any sound that was programmed we would send back into the live room through a miked-up speaker to give impression that it was played live by someone in the room. Hope that makes sense?? It was all a learning process for us but that's what makes it interesting. I'm pretty happy with the results. There are some old mics and mic preamps that I’d like to get my hands on that would help us achieve the sound we want, but unfortunately they're not cheap and are pretty rare.
The album is called Music For Film, Television and Radio Volume 1. Does it mean that there’s more to come?
We are planning on doing at least one a year.
Considering the evocative aspect of some of your work, would you ever be tempted to work on a soundtrack?
I'd love to do a film soundtrack, if the film was good!! I've had a few pieces used I have never been commissioned to do a entire film. Fingers still crossed on that score.
You have also remixed a considerable amount of tracks over the years from the likes of Aphex Twin, The Beloved The Orb, Nightmares On Wax or Slowdive to name but a few. Is your approach of a remix very different from working on one of your track?
It is not really that different. the main problem I find with doing remixes is that sometimes people will ask you to do a remix and then tell you they would like it to be on the lines of a certain track or mix you've done before. This can be a problem as I like to let tracks evolve naturally and not have any boundaries set. Other than that I try and find something that I like in the original and build around that.
How do you choose to remix a particular artist or track?
I usually just get a call or email offering a remix, then I ask to hear the track and take it from there. The only time I’ve actively pursued a track was when we did the remix for Jazz Carnival by Azimuth for Farout Recordings.
You’ve also had your work remixed quite a lot. Is there a remix that you particularly liked, and if yes, why?
I liked the remix that Ed and Andy (Plaid) did for Le Soleil Et La Mer (Reload), because it was a good mix and it was nice to get a version of that track by my favourite electronic artist.
Do you always get to choose who remixes your work? Is there anyone in particular you would like to see working on one of your tracks?
Yes we always have full control. I’ve always wanted to get a remix by Anthony Shakir from Detroit, other than that Jaydee, Dabrye, Pete Rock, Primo, Carl Craig, Underground Resistance to name a few.
You haven’t worked with Tom for quite some time now, and you have both seemed to go in different directions musically. Would you ever consider working on a project together again?
We may try and write some new Global tracks for the re-issue project that should be happening this year. (Re-issuing 76:14, the Chapterhouse remixes and Remotion with some exclusives and unreleased stuff).
Do you get the chance to listen to new musicians, and if yes, what do you think of the artists that have been emerging in the last couple of years?
I really liked the Savath & Savalas album that Scott Heron co-wrote. I think he showed that he's definitely someone to check in the future as he seems to be trying out different styles. I really like the Detroit hip-hop scene, i.e. Dabrye, Jaydee, Lacks and Waajeed etc. Jaydee’s drum programming is coming from another dimension. I like bits and pieces of the broken beat stuff - Seiji, Nepa Allstars, Bugs and Dego. I really love Madlib's different projects. Although you could say I am biased, I think Danny Breaks has dropped some heavy tracks (Jellyfish, Windscreen Wiper). On a 4/4 tip, I really love Theo Parrish and Moodymans records. I’m always on the look out for new stuff, but most of my record buying is more on a digging tip.
Once the new Harmonic 33 album is out, what are your next projects?
There's a compilation of early Troubleman remixes and singles with some exclusive tracks coming out on Farout Recordings at the end of March. As I said before, I'm currently working on a new Reload album for Warp, which should be out this year. There will be some more Harmonic 33 instrumental EPs, and we will probably start another Music For Television, Film & Radio album later in the year.
Email Interview January 2005
Thank you to Mark and Marcus
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