Five years ago, UK producer Jamie Teasdale released the stunning Severant under his Kuedo moniker. Fusing together skittering hip-hop drum patterns, stretched-out synthesizer workouts reminiscent of Tangerine Dream and Vangelis, and the rhythmic detritus left in UK bass music's wake, Severant borrowed from different eras while still feeling fresh. Evoking steely futurism and an ominous sense of cybernetic paranoia, Teasdale offered a thrilling twist on the New Age fixation that consumed underground electronic music in the early 2010s, and little else in dance music or elsewhere has sounded like it since.
Since Severant's release, two words have hovered over Teasdale's career trajectory: What's next? Save for two EPs—2012's excellent Work, Live & Sleep in a Collapsing Space and last year's more experimental Assertion of a Surrounding Presence—he's stayed mostly quiet. That is, until last week, when the venerable electronic label Planet Mu released his second full-length as Kuedo, Slow Knife. In the electronic music world, there are some pitfalls to following up a record like Severant—an album that essentially cemented its own sound, to the point where mentioning its title is the most effective way to refer to the sound itself. Stay too close to your original sound, and you could be accused of giving listeners more of the same; try to blaze a new path, and you risk losing the special element that attracted listeners to your music in the first place.
Faced with these two paths, the 36-year-old Teasdale chose...both. Similar to Oneohtrix Point Never's noisy and sublime Returnal, Slow Knife sees the artist crystallizing his aesthetic while also moving in thrilling new directions. There's plenty of choppy percussive elements and cinematic synth washes to be had—but the album also has its fair share of coruscating sound exercises, dotted with naturalistic field recordings and hollow clamor.
If Slow Knife sounds like two ideas melded together into one cohesive statement, that's because it is: in the five years between Severant and his latest, Teasdale toiled on two different-sounding albums before enlisting Planet Mu head Mike Paradinas to help combine the two into the challenging beauty that is Slow Knife. "He spent countless hours with me figuring out how to edit—how to make this whole thing into a story that makes sense," Vex'd tells me over Skype earlier this month.
When we hop on the chat, Teasdale had just put his eight-year-old daughter to bed—but he was able to stay up a little past his own bedtime to have the below chat about his creative process, running his own label, and why there was such a long gap between Severant and Slow Knife.
THUMP: So why did this album take so long to make?
Jamie Teasdale: I was experimenting with working with people other than Planet Mu. But the long and short of it is that [Mike Paradinas] is a mentor to me at this point—I've become really reliant on his edits and input into forming and performing my work. It also took a while to find which direction the album was going to take. There's two halves to the album: the first half is carefully poised and has an artificiality to it, while the second half gets into the wilderness and lets go of form and genre. When it became clear that I had to pull the two albums together, the challenge became finding a way to connect one to the other, but Mike was very helpful with that.
How do you go about crafting a narrative within an album like this?
The thing that I've started realizing is that in order to really understand how to complete an EP or album, I need to know what it's about—some idea of a purposeful story or experience. Then I can move into which tracks I'm gonna finish and which ideas are missing from the story. A genre of music like jazz is very performative, in-the-moment, and physically kinetic, while electronic music is much more programmed and designed. That carefulness of thought and time is what motivates me. I like jamming and playing with my body, but that doesn't help me finish anything. There's probably other mediums that are more suited to the process of constructing a narrative—I just got stuck making music.
Tell me about what influenced Slow Knife.
Before I can make much progress with an album, I have to know what it looks like—so I put hundreds of pictures around my desktop and walls to build out a place for the music to exist in. I drew influence from a few films, too—like Night of the Hunter, this 50s film that has a predatory aspect and is set in the wilderness of the deep south, and the first half of Manhunter. Musically, I find myself listening to a lot of non-contemporary stuff, like Greek choral music—more for the atmosphere than to directly reference. It puts me into a headspace where it feels like the right kind of texture to orbit around.
You run the Knives label with Joe Shakespeare. What do you look for in terms of aesthetics when curating the label's releases?
Early on, we talked about how we didn't want Knives to become something that just restated our sounds. Joseph's one of the most interesting people that I know—musically and artistically—so we found an interesting line between our interests that also acts as an antagonist against our instincts, which is a really nice place to work in. We restrain some of each other's tendencies and encourage other tendencies, and what we're finding as we go along is that the stuff we put together tends to sound like soundtracks—music that relates to visual media, whether it's film, design, or contemporary art. Or sound as it relates to visuals.
Will there be a visual element when you perform live around Slow Knife?
Yeah, I've been working with a digital art studio called Werkflow—they use the Unreal game engine to do all of their work. They've been working with me on my shows this whole year, and now they're working with this new material in mind. It's awesome to see the world of the album translated into Werkflow's visual material. They also work on games and gallery-focused art work, and it's amazing to have people that I can geek out over gaming stuff with.
Has anyone approached you to do soundtrack work?
A few people, yeah—and in retrospect, I wish I would've taken them up on their offers. I've done a lot more work in that vein in the last 18 months—mostly for advertisements. That kind of short-form sound, of music design, is almost like a day's work. The first long scoring thing that I got to do was last year—the soundtrack for the Metahaven film The Sprawl—and that should be released early next year. I'm having interesting conversations with people about working with video games and film—too early to say for now, but that would be great.
Severant was compared to Blade Runner's soundtrack quite a bit when it came out, and when news of the film's sequel was recently reported, I thought, "Kuedo should score it."
[Laughs] The thing with soundtracking is you have to prove yourself on delivering a lot of high-stakes work before they let you work on something like that. Scoring films is a career choice, and you need to be in it for a long time. Truthfully, I don't know if I want to do that. It's a different path than what my life is now, you know?
Correction [10/20/16]: An earlier version of this piece referred to Jamie Teasdale in places by the moniker Jamie Vex'd. Teasdale retired the pseudonym some time ago, and the piece has been updated accordingly.