Roly Porter Wants to Soundtrack the Next 'Alien' Movie
How the London producer went from decimating dancefloors to crafting sc-fi soundscapes on his new album.
For a time in the mid-2000s, dubstep was the most exciting scene in electronic music. In a relatively short period of time, emerging producers from the UK like Digital Mystikz, Kode 9, and Skream took a nascent form to new creative places, taking full advantage of its relative lack of formal limitations compared to what preceded it. All wobbly vibrations and halved breaks, the fresh sound took hold in places like London and Bristol, before exploding abroad.
London producer Roly Porter remembers the days before dubstep was a dirty word, before it became so stilted and commodified that it sent Skrillex himself into the toned arms of pop prince Justin Bieber. As part of the noisy duo Vex'd, both Porter and his cohort Jamie Teasdale brought a metallic glint and industrial strength to the music. This attracted the attention of Planet Mu label owner Mike Paradinas, who released their debut album Degenerate in 2005.
Since Vex'd called it quits in the late 2000s, Porter's musical journey has taken him far away from the terrestrial club scenes of his youth and deeper into a kind of world-building by way of sound design. Those eager for his return to the dancefloor will not find it amid the densely-packed soundscapes of Third Law, his third solo studio album, and his first for Tri Angle Records. Replete with sci-fi sonics, the new record departs from his prior, considerably more cinematic solo material, to make for a self-contained, deliberately rhythmic opus.
In advance of the release of Third Law, we spoke with Porter on the phone about his new genre-free album, the recent Vex'd reunion, and how he draws inspiration from the films of Ridley Scott.
THUMP: How did you end up linking up with Tri Angle for Third Law?
Roly Porter: That seemed in so many ways like an obvious choice. There aren't many labels that spring to mind with such a varied output, but such a clear vision. [Label owner] Robin [Carolan] and Tri Angle move through different genres quite easily, but there's a really distinct label output. Especially in the last couple of years with stuff like Rabit and Sd Laika, really noisy, torn-apart experimental stuff that's bordering on different genres, but just free.
In terms of how the album is structured, do you see this how you might approach a DJ set? Is there a linear aspect to Third Law?
It would be a punishing, club-destroying, floor-emptying set, as I have experienced many times. It was written in a similar way to the other two, in that I pinned it to a narrative in my head, which I suppose is why it comes across as a sort of cinematic soundtrack-style approach.
In order to write albums, I've found that I do actually require a pretty clear narrative, a story of what's happening. That's what the shape of the album is about, these specific aspects of this journey that are mapped out in storyline before starting.
Keeping with this idea of narrative, something that really stood out to me is the synth melody towards the end of closing track "Known Space." It imbues this sense of hope after some really crushing sonics—was that placement intentional?
That last motif is probably the thing I'm most proud of and was most unsure of. It's almost too traditional sci-fi, something about it that's almost too much. But it just perfectly encapsulates the mood at the end of the album. It's not an ending. It would have been easier to do a massive climax, but it makes much more sense to end in that way. I was quite pleased with that.
What I've tried with this solo project, what I've tried hardest with, is the structure of albums and making a continuous listen. There aren't a huge number of albums that I listen to from start to finish. There are some great ones, Dark Side Of The Moon, and classic albums that make an incredible complete narrative. But it is a relatively rare thing, and something I strive hard to achieve in this day and age of three-minute-at-best listens on Spotify, skipping through things—that's how I listen to music. That's how everyone listens to music.
You came up through a left-of-center dubstep style with Vex'd, yet your solo work moved further and further away from familiar drum patterns. Does rhythm interest you as much as it used to?
That was the big challenge with [Third Law]. I love the idea of pinning the sound of my solo music on more structured rhythmical, genre-based ideas. Some kind of variation on grime or jungle would be exciting, to add melodic ideas and sound design to that world. Making drums is fun. Writing club music is fun. But with this, I wanted to explore rhythmical ideas that fit more into a sense of pace or movement, as opposed to fitting them around club ideas. They were more percussive ideas.
It's been a decade since Vex'd released Degenerate and you recently reunited for Planet Mu's 20th anniversary showcase in London. What was it like playing that material live again?
It was a really positive experience. I hadn't listened to a lot of that music for a long time. Ever since we started out, Jamie and I have always been aware of not releasing too much and being really cautious about what we'd release. When you hear your whole back catalogue from ten years ago, to still feel proud of it and for it still to sound good, for people to be dancing and go mad, all that stuff gave a real sense of pride. The whole path from then until now was pretty solid, like we'd made some of the right decisions.
Overall, there's such a dark, industrial quality to the work that you've done. Where have you drawn influence from over the years?
When I was younger, when I first began experiencing music in clubs, I was fanatical about jungle and completely blinkered from the rest of the world. I had a really good set of people around me as musical influences, one of which was Jamie. I slowly branched out, started listening to more classical music, more metal, more ambient music.
Since then, especially in the last few years, I don't take many influences, if any at all, from current electronic music. In fact, when I'm writing an album for however long it takes, I literally don't listen to anything that anyone else is doing, apart from, perhaps, labelmates at Subtext. I just don't want other people's ideas. That can be construed the wrong way, but it's really important for me.
If you could soundtrack the next Ridley Scott Alien movie, would you?
I would give pretty much anything for that opportunity, because it would just be the most amazing and daunting challenge. The thing with Alien, and it's kind of the same with Blade Runner, it's beyond good sound design and good score. It's defining sound design and defining music. I regularly watch the first Alien movie and it's a masterpiece in every way.
'Third Law' is out January 22 on Tri Angle Records.
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