If there’s one subsection of society that you thought might thrive during lockdown, it’s the bedroom producer. These tireless, often unsung talents are primed for lengthily antisocial sessions, as any dramas outside just add extra layers of sonic inspiration.
Dan le Sac’s recent EP ‘Scattershot’ is pretty much your perfect dark-but-sparky lockdown listening, and he has self-isolation form.
Two years ago Dan made the soundtrack for a pandemic-themed video game - ‘Quarantine Circular’ - and a few years before that went through what many performers are now facing: the search for a whole new creative outlet when the live work stopped, in his case after an amicable split from his long-time mic-wielder, Scroobius Pip. Dark, less sparky times.
Back then he turned to the streaming platform Twitch – which many live acts have just discovered – although Le Sac’s sizeable following on Twitter will know that he’s less complimentary about other online services.
While quietly knocking out quality beats, he’s admirably clued-up and candid about how the modern music biz works. Or doesn’t.
Clash gave him a call on a weekday afternoon – not that he’s really on the UK clock these days...
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How’s your lockdown going, two months on?
No worse than anyone else’s. I’m pretty isolated as it is, my partner’s in the States so I’m usually on US time, and I’m not the most social animal. But a month in, I went ‘you know what, I miss going out, seeing my mate Pete at his shop.’
Your new EP sounds like a self-isolation record. Was it made before or during?
It was started a week before. I write a lot, so I think lockdown influenced more the tracks I chose to put on.
There’s one where I’d made a joke about 5G [‘Octet Field Effect’]: you know that actually stuff in your house, the remote control for your telly, is more powerful? So I used a synth called a Lyra 8 for that, which is a weird Russian thing, lots of electricity finger-banging each other. I don’t know if I’d have written that track otherwise.
There are loads of bits of magnetic fields on the EP. A lot of the noise is just me walking round the house pointing an electro-magnetic receiver at things and recording it: ‘Ah, that sounds nice...’
It does feel very timely, heavy but not downbeat...
Obviously I’m far, far smaller than I used to be, so the more music I release, the more chance I get of paying my rent; and because of that, whenever I release something, it’s of the moment. Like, I finished the ‘Scattershot’ EP on the Wednesday then released it on the Friday, basically as soon as my partner said ‘it’s done, stop messing with it!’
I suppose on one hand the freedom is nice, but without a deadline you might never finish anything?
Also, no-one’s putting my releases on the radio, except [Radio X’s] John Kennedy and stuff, so I’m not bound by that set of rules, making it palatable for radio play, or Spotify playlists. I don’t even worry about Spotify anymore. It’s not worth my time.
We’ve been listening to a lot more radio during lockdown, and it’s interesting what songs are on rotation: the original algorithm. Does your old stuff still turn up on 6Music or wherever?
Me and Pip are in that core playlist, ‘Letter From God To Man’, and ‘Thou Shalt [Always Kill],’ but we’ve got far, far, far better songs than that. If they could just play one that wasn’t the track we have to give Radiohead 90% of the royalty for…
You’ve always been very open about finances, posting sales graphs on Twitter, which most artists wouldn’t.
I didn’t have a career until my late 20s, and I think that generation of musicians are more open; we’ve got so much opportunity to be transparent. Years ago the artists had no clue what they were making, just a cheque occasionally.
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Although with streaming sites it feels like that again, no-one has a clue until a tiny cheque turns up...
I’ve always been asked, ‘hey if I buy your record, where’s the place that you get the most money?’ I just don’t see the point in hiding it. I mean, if you’re making a shedload of money I get why you wouldn’t want to rub it in. But if you’re in the position that I am, where someone buying a t-shirt actually makes a fucking difference, there’s no problem in being transparent.
Anything artists can do, so that people understand what they’re actually paying for, that when they bought something on iTunes the artists saw less than half. We vote with our money; by buying a thing we’re telling a company that we approve.
Do you care about Apple enough to give them over half of your music spend? If not, somewhere like Bandcamp, [they take] 15%.
I’ve always been pretty open about the companies that I don’t want to support. To this day I don’t buy Nestle, even though I really miss Cinnamon Grahams.
You and Pip did Tim Burgess’ Listening Party recently, how did you find it?
You know what, it was really quick, I didn’t actually realise how short that album was, [2013’s] ‘Repent, Replenish, Repeat.’ But yeah, it was awesome; from a connection point of view, to hear people’s stories about their relationships to that record was pretty rad. It was also nice to have another opportunity to remind people that we are never reforming. It comes up about once a week.
I suppose the nice thing about stopping when you did is that it remains a solid body of work...
Yeah, I’d do it for the money though! That’s the thing, me and Pip are in very, very different financial positions, so I think my artistic moral threshold is far, far lower. They did ask us to do an anniversary show, and they offered a lot of money but I thought ‘hmmm, I’m just not gonna respond.’ That’s a lot of months’ rent though man.
A lot of performers are live-streaming on Twitch now that gigs have stopped – you got on that years ago, streaming yourself video-gaming!
That was not long after me and Pip ended, late 2014. I did it because, again, of being isolated. I wasn’t seeing anyone or talking to anyone, I was going weeks without opening the curtains, and it was just a way of me trying to reconnect with other humans, but without all the kerfuffle of actually seeing their faces. For me it was what got me back in the world.
I’d ended a relationship just before Dan and Pip ended as well, so two 10-year relationships both ended within six months – I was in [dramatic voice] ‘a dark place.’
So Twitch, if you can make money from it then great, but the real value is to connect with people who already like what you do.
You were primed for lockdown then - presumably you were in a similar headspace while doing that pandemic soundtrack a few years ago too?
Yeah! I was in a sense, to get into that mindset. ’Quarantine Circular’ is a big part of why I feel a lot freer to do more ambient-inspired stuff now. I’d always think ‘maybe I should put some drums in here, people expect that,’ but you can do crazier shit in a soundtrack. The context where something’s heard is always interesting. The stuff I’m working on now is quite Chernobyl-y.
You tweeted recently about also using lockdown to archive your old music?
Lots of tapes, from way back to 1994. It’s interesting, I’ll listen back and go “oh my god, that’s when I bought Mogwai’s ‘Come On Die Young’”, because my four-track tape suddenly shifts to guitars and delays.
There’s a record I recorded in a flat in Hornchurch, the first time in my adult life I really felt isolated, just after Uni - there’s actually some rad shit on that one. But I’d still never release any of it.
It sounds like a fairly positive lockdown project anyway.
Multiple times I’ve had to stop, because I’ve heard something on a tape and gone ‘that drum break, let me sample that because it’ll work on this project’ – its good, gets you out of your head.
There’s not a day that you can avoid the stress of what’s actually going on outside your window, so if you’re not feeling creative, these shitty projects are a valid task. Anything that lifts you out of it.
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The ‘Scattershot’ EP and ‘Quarantine Circular’ OST are both available on Dan le Sac’s Bandcamp page.
Words: Si Hawkins
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