Brutalism Made Me Hardcore: an Interview with Modern Love’s Rainer Veil
"It's about seeing the materials as they are. Not beautifying things."
The industrial swarm continues to infest the current techno world, and thanks to labels like Blackest Ever Black and Opal Tapes, new strains of bleak, stripped-back techno are finding favor on heaving dancefloors. Rainer Veil's second EP for Modern Love, New Brutalism, is another stellar release to add to this body of work, and its stark renditions of jungle and rave pulse comfortably alongside the breakneck beats of fellow provacateurs like Karenn, Truss, and Perc. To mark the release, THUMP caught up with Liam Morley and Dan Valentine, discussing architecture, musique concrète, Mark Leckey, and what makes white noise so attractive.
THUMP: Liam, Dan, what's your personal background: where do you both come from, when did you meet, how did you get into music production?
Dan: I started making music as a teenager. I've always enjoyed playing with sounds and manipulating them. I used to have this old 4-track and a Casio keyboard, and I would record onto it and then flip the cassette, so it would play backwards or slow things right down. I used to play the guitar a lot, but it got to the point where I was spending so much time trying to make it sound like something else that I realised that what I really wanted to work with was sounds—so I got a sampler. I grew up near Liverpool, but later moved to Preston to study Music & Multimedia Arts. There was quite a close-knit music scene there, and we met through that.
Liam: I grew up in Lincolnshire, which is a pretty isolated county really. Most of looks a bit desolate, and people can be pretty backwards. I think I got into music because I was trying to create a more interesting world for myself. I started out writing songs on guitar—similar to Dan—but I got a copy of Logic when I was about 18. So that was where I was first putting beats together and things like that. It was just a revelation; being able to make all these interesting sounds, and try putting really disparate elements against each other.
Your second EP New Brutalism has just been released on Modern Love. How did you meet Andy Stott?
Liam: Shlom, who runs Modern Love introduced me to him really briefly years ago at an Autechre gig. SND were on though and they were sick—I wasn't too fussed with Autechre. Andy was talking about soundtracking his own exercise video I think.
What fascinates you about Brutalism? London-based writer and journalist Owen Hatherley refers to it as the only originary British art movement, calling it 'Britalism'.
Dan: One of the things that really interested me about Brutalist architecture was what these structures were intended for and what they eventually became. After the war there were all of these very progressive, utopian ideas for social housing which were built across the north and in London. Many of them ended up becoming very dysfunctional, hard places for people to live and I was really interested by the idea of a kind of failed utopia. There's an atmosphere that you get in a lot of British dance music, especially Jungle, that for me really resonates with that idea, perhaps partly because these environments that I'm talking about are where a lot of that music originated from.
I liked the—maybe accidental?—visual nod to Kosheen's "Hide U" video, The Streets' Original Pirate Material and Distance's Repercussions artworks. Why did you choose Preston Bus station in Lancashire for the New Brutalism cover artwork? Which connection do you have to the building?
Dan: None of that was intentional, but I always liked the Original Pirate Material cover. When I first had the idea for the artwork, Preston bus station immediately came to mind. It is just such an amazing building and I liked the way it could be represented in quite an abstract way; shapes and textures, rather than being instantly recognisable as a tower block. I lived behind the bus station for about a year. I was living in this party house in a really deprived area. It was during quite a difficult point in my life, so I think I have a lot mixed associations with that time and that area which have definitely stayed with me.
Did Thomas Valentine design the sleeve again?
Dan: Thom has always been central to realising the visual aspect of what we are doing. We tend to work collaboratively so there's quite a bit of back and forth. Thom added really interesting touches, like using out-of-date high speed film and developing the images himself to give it the degraded quality we were looking for.
Which references do you see between exposed concrete and your music?
Liam: A lot of Brutalist architecture was constructed from poured concrete, which is left rough and raw so that you can still see the impression of the wooden frame. It's about seeing the materials as they are. Not beautifying things. So whatever sound source or machines, we're using we try to bring out their idiosyncrasies. Rather than seeing things as flaws, we see them as positives.
What's the context for a track title like "UK Will Not Survive"? Hints towards the music scene, or has it a more general context?
Liam: I think there's a few ways you could interpret it. It depends on how you hear the music. To me, it is a comment on the corruption of our liberal society. The internet gives this false impression of freedom which in reality is looking a bit fragile. When they lock down what we look up on the internet, then we'll be in trouble. I genuinely think people are going to wake up in a few years, and wonder where their fucking rights went. I'd recommend reading Naomi Klein's Shock Doctrine and seeing how it relates to what's being on over the last few years.
How did you get introduced to the rave scene? I guess when living in Manchester you learn about the works and history of The Stone Roses, Life at Bowlers, Happy Mondays as a matter of course…
Dan: I remember driving over to this abandoned pub in Bolton with some friends, the police shut it down eventually and we were all turfed out into the snow and wind, which was a very surreal moment. It was the first time I had heard jungle, and it was a real turning point for me. Up until that point, my experience of dance music had been boy racers blasting out scouse house. It's difficult to ignore Manchester's history, but I think there are some things that I relate to much more than others. For me it's Joy Division or A Guy Called Gerald. I've never really been into the "Madchester" thing.
Liam: I think I moved here a bit late to be given the Clockwork Orange experience. My exposure to rave music was through Helter Skelter and Sidewinder nights; when me and my mates travelled down to Milton Keynes, or just driving around listening to mixtapes and stuff like that. It comes down to missing the stuff from '92-94 and not living anywhere near a big city, that experience was probably the closest I could get at the time.
What do you like about Mark Leckey's video art piece "Fiorucci Made Me Hardcore"? The conceptual approach to the rave scene? Or the fact that it uses actual footage from raves?
Liam: It was Conor (Thomas) who puts out the Death Of Rave stuff who introduced me to Mark Leckey. I was only vaguely aware of this stuff when he won the Turner Prize. I watched an interview with him after he won the Turner where he confronts this guy from Guardian about the fact he was plugging his work before hand, then suddenly changed his mind and gave him some proper criticism.
It's really funny. He was just really confronting this guy about it, and they ended up having a much deeper discussion about his work that if they'd been totally in agreement. There's no light without heat, as they say. That's the thing about the internet now. Everyone's a critic, so whenever you even upload anything you're always on the edge of feeling like a failure.
Did you buy the vinyl release?
Liam: We've not got a vinyl copy of "Fiorucci…" In a way it's almost more psychedelic without the video component because you've got nothing to relate it to. It's a good example of how when you strip some things down, the more you take away from something the weirder it gets.
Dan: I came to that release later on so never picked up the 12", which is shame because it's been fun to put into mixes. For me it's all about the way that Leckey explores that history and dismantles it, and layers it up. It's that sort of mixed up narrative that really interests me. So much of our culture is focused on looking at the past and re-contextualising it. I find that confusion of time and place can be really evocative and kind of unsettling.
What do you like about white noise? Slow pace? Distortion? Discomfort in music?
Dan: I like music that's really vague. Where things are abstracted or obscured in some way. I think a lot of what we do is about deconstructing and abstracting things. Through taking sounds apart and processing, then you can obscure them and change their mood or meaning. The things you've mentioned are often part of that. One of the most important things for me in music is that it makes me feel something, that it resonates with me in some way. I don't necessarily want that to be comfortable.
When I talk about abstraction or things being obscured, I'm also talking about the emotion or feeling that is being communicated. When I first listened to My Bloody Valentine, one of the things that got me was that it had this ambivalence. This knot in the stomach feeling it gives you. I think that's a feeling you get in jungle a lot too. I think It definitely evocative of the experience of going raving and taking pills.
Liam: I'm just trying to make music that gets under your skin in some way. Music that's just bright and pristine really doesn't appeal to me. I like that feeling when you really love a piece of work, and you feel like you're the only one who really gets it. You have to work harder to get under the hood of some music to work out what's going on, and you sort of grow with it.
You've recently guested at artist and designer Steve Hockett's Stop Making Sense event series. How did you meet?
Dan: We met through mutual friends. He's a very talented and lovely guy, as are Seb and Ben who he runs it with. SMS is a regular thing at Common, which is a great place. They're really dedicated to pushing new art and music, and there is definitely a very creative atmosphere. Nearly everyone that works there is involved in some kind of creative work. It's a very exciting circle of people to be part of.
How do your live setups look like? What kind of hardware do you use?
Dan: When we started out we would just use a couple of samplers, a synth and a bunch of guitar pedals, but as time's gone on we've added a laptop take some of the pressure off the MPC, and help make playing a bit more fluid.
Liam: We're putting the 4-track cassette deck we use in the studio into the live set up hopefully. The idea is just to make things a bit more unpredictable. You're still in control, but you're trying to introduce an element of performance and the risk of something going wrong. A lot of sets these days are just too fucking safe. They sound as clean as the record and might as well just be DJing your tracks—rather than actually playing them.
I think I've understood the haze-reference inside your name, but as a German I'm curious: what does the name Rainer mean to you?
Liam: The name is just a phonetic thing. You have to break it down into its component parts to get anything from it. I'm not sure where the name came from really, but it just sounded rhythmic. And it definitely doesn't relate to what you'd think of it as a German.
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