Squarepusher | Warp Factor Nine: “For me, it’s about being able to operate at different speeds beyond real time”
For a quarter of a century, six-string bassist, multi-instrumentalist and electronics innovator Tom Jenkinson has been tearing the boundaries between sound and genre under the guise of his musical character, Squarepusher. And while he has become one of the most influential electronic artists in the world, he has also performed his music with orchestras, free jazz trios, and solo bass guitar concerts. This month sees the release of a 25th anniversary edition of his debut album, Feed me strange things, which is being remastered and released on vinyl for the first time on his longtime label Warp Records. Coincidentally, he also appears on Blue Note for the first time as a guest on GoGo Penguin’s ingenious. GGP / RMX album, with its version of their track ‘F Major Pixie’ which opens with a bebop slap bass solo that turns into a gnarled electro.
Jazzwise editor-in-chief Mike Flynn spoke to Tom Jenkinson about the remastered re-release of his debut album Feed Me Weird Things, released June 4 on Warp Records, and his jazz-enlightened approach to making music at the -beyond the limits.
Mike Flynn: The remaster brought out some really deep bass frequencies and gave the whole album more oomph and clarity – was that what you wanted and were you happy with the result?
Tom Jenkinson: When we remastered the record, we used the original as a sound benchmark and also to compare relative levels between tracks, length of intervals, etc. It was quite surprising to hear how the album sounded different from my original DAT tapes. It seemed like much of the 1-2kHz band had been filtered out and the music generally felt overprocessed, so the remaster was all about getting a decent overall balance while still keeping the bite. in the original recordings – overall how this sounds in the new edition is much closer to my original tapes. The memory of the first mastering session is clouded by drinking several bottles of champagne, maybe that’s why it ended up seeming so strange.
“For me, it’s about being able to operate at different speeds beyond real time”
There are times on FMWT where you feel like you’re channeling Herbie Hancock and Jaco at a warehouse party – did those sonic clashes sometimes confuse your listeners when you played them live?
TJ: There were a lot of occasions when playing concerts back then didn’t work. On a positive note, I’ve done a wide variety of different shows including drum and bass raves, little club jams, and other chin-rubbing electronic events. It didn’t always work out well, especially at the more dance-oriented events, but there were some really great and memorable moments like the jam with Talvin Singh at his Anohka club night, which I had met at the ‘a very nice event organized. by ADF in Clerkenwell – by the way, I recently found the order sheet for this show and it is included with the memorabilia for the new FMWT edition. The most eclectic events were where things made the most sense, unsurprisingly.
There are some great fretless bass passages on this album – Jaco’s eclectic attitude to music – for example his love of jazz, funk, Jimi Hendrix style sounds and symphonic works – did you- she as inspired as her game?
TJ: I guess his eclectic demeanor was part of why I felt at home with what he did. I’ve always been looking for characters like that because they’re a good antidote to the style police who can judge this, that, and all other illegal music. At a very young age, I was just looking for music that I liked to hear, before I understood anything about specific stories in music, and I never studied music or in a way, I never studied music. have never taken it seriously. It gave me a bunch of references – and something like that is audible in Jaco too.
As well as exploring electronic music and obviously bass guitar, this debut album feels like you are massively exploring rhythm – is that something you got from the intricacies of jazz drums and the polyrhythmic nature of that?
TJ: It is undeniable that I am fascinated by the rhythm. Some influence comes from jazz and more directly from the best drummers I played with as a teenager, but at that time for me that influence was heavily modulated by breakbeat programming in the jungle. There is something about the brutality and conciseness of this music that makes it particularly immediate and compelling to me. In a way, while this description might sound odd, to me it’s more of a pop attitude towards virtuoso crafting, where you get stuck and totally rinse the material off, but in a way where the pulse stays pretty. present, and it is not. go on for ages – kind of a blinking attitude and you miss. I admire condensing something wild into short stretches of time, before the audience had a chance to walk away and disconnect, which maybe was a lesson I learned early on while playing in front of the Essex pub audience.
“I’ve always been looking for numbers like [Jaco] because they are a good antidote to the style police who can judge this, that and any other illegal music ”
How did you first discover this kind of rhythmic concepts and how do you program them? Did you have someone else to guide you or is it just a simple desire to develop and create your own methods of making these types of sounds?
TJ: I would have liked to have known experienced producers to ask questions at that time, but for better or worse, my early music creation was done in isolation. Aside from a few equally ignorant companions, there was simply no one else who was interested. I dare say that part of the disorganized rambling approach I’ve taken over the years is due to a complete lack of professional input.
TJ: I would say my main strength in music, above all else, is knowing what’s next. In this context, once I get into any kind of composition it is blindingly obvious what each subsequent movement should be and there is more or less no deliberation and it gets me working really fast. In a way, it’s comparable to improvising on a conventional instrument, but with programming it happens at a different pace. Talking about this stuff with drummers over the years, they’re often surprised to hear that I put down drum parts, and sequenced material more generally, by time step. For me, it’s about being able to operate at different speeds beyond real time – in this case, fully imagining a room and keeping it clear in your mind long enough to put it down in slow motion, because it is. too complex to play live. in one fell swoop. You escape what your hands can do in a given tempo. It leads to the surreal funk I’m addicted to, and it fits into what great players can do but is stripped of the limitations all human players face. Of course, other limits appear in their place, but that’s another story.
You talked about your admiration and love for the music of the pioneering jazz pioneers in its heyday of the late 1950s-1960s – what qualities do you take away from it?
Has that mindset spread to how you push the boundaries of computers and other technology in your music as well?
TJ: It should be remembered that all musical instruments are technological. A given technology enshrines the state of knowledge at different points in history, but the basic attribute of an object embodying knowledge is the same. One of my ongoing concerns is trying to be aware of the effects of given technologies – how a particular instrument with its particular history informs what we might want to do with it. Some instruments have less dense reference networks, maybe that’s why I was drawn to the bass rather than the guitar – the idea of the instrument seemed less well defined to me.
With regard to newer music technologies where the reading of musical information can be automated, a dimension of musical effort is removed and thus allows the musician to sit down and do more listening, which is obviously attractive. , but opens the door to complacency – under the guise of borrowed skill. Still, that’s part of why I love it and find it a bit humorous, because it’s kind of a cheat, which in the early days of automated music history led to the stigma built up over it. stuff by traditional musos – that it was wrong and all that. . Still, rock guitar shredding is only viable due to circuitry and high SPL. A piano is only possible thanks to extremely precise mechanisms and maintenance. In our time, it doesn’t seem to me that much of what we do musically is natural – and recording technology has allowed the most subtle tampering of editing performance into “ natural ” perfection and it does happen. all over the music which, you might say hypocritically, makes performance a virtue.
In this context for me, a large single take with a few flaws always beats an advanced composite. “Solo Electric Bass” was one take and no modification. And where raw real-time play collides with sequenced material, the interaction that emerges, as one battles against the other, is one of my enduring fascinations.
You’ve worked with jazz musicians the last few years – touring with the band Shobaleader One and now contributing a track for GoGo Penguin’s remix album – do you find that it brings out another side of your music, you maybe leaving out of what some people expect from Squarepusher?
TJ: My experience with many great jazz players is that they also like a lot of other music and like to play it, so at least in some cases this distinction seems to be as professional as one that says something intrinsic about the people involved. . I guess a lot of people I’ve met find what I do refreshing because it shares some attitudes and ideas, but doesn’t come across in a concise way. But in the end, I shied away from such labeling and ended up in my own category. As you suggest, Squarepusher is now a condensed set of ideas and expectations – being bluntly clear, it is a brand or identity distilled in business technique. I don’t like it, but I also admit that an air of ridicule attaches to an anti-brand stance, because it just becomes embodied in your brand. But still, I’ll still instinctively hate that shit from the marketing world!
Squarepusher is touring the UK this fall on the following dates: Boiler Shop Newcastle Upon Tyne (23 October), Invisible Wind Factory, Liverpool (25 October), Brudenell Social Club, Leeds (26 October), Brighton Concorde 2, Brighton ( October 27), Metronome, Nottingham, UK (October 28) and The Roundhouse, London (October 29) – Feed Me Weird Things Remastered is released June 4 on Warp Records