A relentless torrent of innovation, each new album from Squarepusher can be an intimidating experience. ‘Ufabulum’ – Tom Jenkinson’s latest work – definitely sits in this lineage; ideas swarm around the producer like electrons around a nucleus, buzzing a path which is both beautiful and at times difficult to comprehend.
Departing from his recent work with the bass guitar, Warp have billed ‘Ufabulum’ as a return to ‘pure electronics’ – the technical divorced from the physical. “You’re right to pull me up on this because it’s very much a thing I said at passing to one of the guys at Warp and I didn’t realise at the time that I was possibly being monitored for a possible catchphrase!” he jests. “As it happened, I said this and now it’s coming back to haunt me”.
Not that the phrase is entirely without meaning. ‘Ufabulum’ finds Squarepusher located firmly in front of a computer screen, leaving his bass shredding antics – at least temporarily– in the past. “In a very loose way, what I was trying to say is that this is music which doesn’t contain any live performance as such. It’s music which is generated purely from programming. There’s no live guitar or drums, there’s nothing in it which is live, really. At all”.
A definitive break from a creative process lasting almost five years, ‘Ufabulum’ seems to employ the certainties of technology to supply an upgrade. “Time for the habit to be broken, time for a total revision of priorities, a re-think of the way in which I’m working” he insists. “The other thing to say about it is that live, the way in which I have been working – particularly on a record like ‘Just A Souvenir’ – is where I’m performing all these live takes, I’m the instrumental performer but also the engineer and the writer. At the same time you’re switching between what I feel are two very different mindsets: the mindset of a performer and the mindset of an engineer. From my experience, you make a conscious switch when you step from one set of shoes to another. It’s actually consequently very demanding, it’s very hard work”.
“I’m old school in the sense that I will also get very good live takes rather than chopping together bits of performances to make one hyper-real perfect tape” the producer muses. “I’ll just play one song all the way through until I get it right. It’s a lot of work. I want to get back to doing something.. Again if you’re play a live take on the spur of the moment then everything you do gets recorded, consequently if you’re recording and you fuck up then everything’s fucked up. If you make music in a recorded fashion then you’ve got all the time in the world. If you don’t like something then you just re-arrange it.”
Ironically, though, ‘Ufabulum’ is set to be accompanied by one of Squarepusher’s most dynamic live shows yet. An ambitious mangling of light and sound, the visual element of the concert experience was seemingly drafted in conjunction with the record. “I’ve tried to make a very clean break – as clean as I can make it – with live shows in the recent past, and try to make it.. I’m trying to avoid getting trapped into playing older tunes” he says. “The other thing to say is that of course the two are linked but when I was making these pieces the music was tied to the visual elements which are going to become part of the live show. The visual elements I saw them from the outset as being displayed on massive screens. I don’t want this to be seen as something you see on a TV screen I was it to be seen on something which is five metres wide. So I kind of ended up stuck really, at the end of it. I thought: do I release the music without the pictures? The process in the studio, I was doing my best to try and integrate the two. Does the music work without the pictures? In the end, I was of the opinion that it did. It stands in its own right”.
Kept under wraps, Squarepusher recently hinted at the properties of his new live show with the video for ‘Dark Steering’. A stunning, complex work it featured the producer clad in vivid LED clothing. Seeming inspired by a dream, the track has a near apocalyptic urgency spurred by Jenkinson’s own visions of nuclear rockets searing through the sky. Seemingly, this is far from the first time that Squarepusher’s unconscious mind has flooded the gates of his creative faculties. “It’d odd though because in something like this case there’s a very easy transition to make between what I saw in the dream – rocket tracers in the sky – and a computer generated image which replicates them. It’s easy to make that transition” he explains. “Then there are more difficult transitions to make, where you might hear something in a dream. Something to do with the nebulous nature of dreams obscures the details of what happened, you might be grasping back towards that memory and yet actually I think probably in the end what you do is start filling in the gaps. At the end of the day rocket tracers in the sky is something which you can look at film footage of – it’s a thing which we’ve all seen in the news at some point. If you like, it’s a stock image. If you’ve imagined a sound which you’ve never heard before you’ve got no reference points, as such. You’ve got that single memory of a sound in a dream which you are trying to reach back to and re-create. I don’t think it’s a particularly easy thing to be doing and of course naturally you fill in the gap, improvise and sketch over the bits that you can’t remember so well. It’s still the case – some of the most memorable and vivid dreams I’ve had contain music”.
Looking back, Tom Jenkinson ponders a particular dream which has returned to his slumber time and time again. “I’ve got this particular recurring dream where it’s essentially about a perfect piece of music – I hasten to add that I know how ridiculous that sounds, and I don’t really even endorse the concept or even the possibility that a perfect piece of music can exist” he says. “But simply it’s a track I’ve but written but then lost, and I’ve found it again in this dream and it unifies my work”.
“I look at my work quite critically, I see it as a very splintered, quite messy – specifically with reference to my recorded output which spans 18 years now. It’s a great, big fucking mess. In this dream, this one piece of music is the final part of the puzzle which makes sense of the whole thing. The thing is, I’ve been having this dream for years and the painful thing on waking up is realising that the piece of music actually doesn’t exist. Yet it acts as an inspiration for me a lot, you think: I actually want to make that piece. And of course you can’t. You never really quite achieve the sense of completeness that it seemed to have in the dream. But still, it’s a valid inspirational force.”
‘Ufabulum’ is set to be released on May 14th