Before the making of Nathan Fake's 2017 album,
Providence, his struggles with writer's block were well documented. Thankfully, he pulled himself out of the creative mire and delivered one of the best leftfield techno albums of last year. Rather than repeat himself, the Sunder EP seems him bridge the gap between Providence and any future album with something altogether rawer.
Consisting of four tracks the EP was recorded on just four pieces of equipment: an old Marantz tape deck, a Jupiter 6, a broken Akai drum machine and a Yamaha Reface DX. The idea was to hit record and just see what happens. No overdubs, no edits, no touch-ups. What you hear on the EP are snapshots of a moment. That may surprise a few people considering the precise and meticulous nature of his work, but the results are thrilling on an EP that captures the raw adrenaline of its creation.
"Sunder" opens with a surprisingly rudimentary, steady beat coupled with Fake's characteristic, artfully manipulated, synths all interspersed with flashes of noise. Those familiar with Fake's work may find it jarring how raw and relatively unprocessed the track feels. It is noticeably starker and more stripped back than anything Fake has done before, as he lets the songs take the lead, preferring to trust his instincts rather than overthink things. As such, there is an edge to the tracks on the EP. A real sense that they could collapse at any time, highlighting Fake's ability to dynamically straddling the divide between restraint and chaos.
The second track, "Arcaibh" hits with ringing, crisp snares, a looping beat and deep, elongated synth washes that he gently twists to create a sense of wavering melancholy. It is Fake at his most intuitive with a palpable sense that he is having a blast experimenting with drum pads, mixing them with his distinctive widescreen techno before fusing it all together to end as a distorted, white noise cry.
"Serotonin Drops" is a much more expansive, ambient piece with a '80s sci-fi twist as yawning, winding synths are woven around a ticking, rhythmic pulse. "Cloudswept" opens with crisp, clean hi-hat and layers of disco-tinged synth chords that gradually intensify then break like the distant roll of waves that swell and grow before crashing on the shore. Once again, Fake revels in the process of experimentation as he cleverly mixes in the percussive sounds of a bouncing ping-pong ball and toys with a whopping harpsichord effect. There is a real joy to be had from listening to Fake trusting his instincts.
Sunder is a not a muso's EP. It is not important to have any of the backstory of how it was created. For the casual listener, it is simple a set of fresh and invigorating techno tracks that provide a further reason to engage with an exceptional talent. Nevertheless, for those who have followed his work through the years, it is a delight to hear him so energized by this fresh approach to making music.
In a PopMatters exclusive, Fake goes into further detail on the making of the EP in a short interview below.
How was your approach to the writing of Sunder different to last year's Providence album?
"Sunder" is a lot rawer than "Providence", the tracks were written and recorded in a single session, so the whole EP took like two to three days to make in its entirety, so obviously there's that rawness - the tracks were recorded in a live jam setting, rather than arranged in a sequencer, etc. - "Providence" was a lot more "choreographed" I guess. But those two records each have their own energy.
How comfortable were you working in that way?
It's great, very liberating, although not really something I want to repeat for an entire record. But I find there's loads of adrenaline in the tracks, something which is very hard to capture when you're arranging a track in a linear DAW-style fashion. Playing live shows is very important to me, and something I've always put a lot of energy into and that finds its way into my music, and this EP is reflecting that.
Where did the idea of limiting yourself in terms of hardware come from?
I mean I've always been very limited, I've never owned loads of gear, or at least I've never used a whole bunch at the same time. I usually like to focus on one instrument for a track, like try and get a variety of sounds out of one synth, rather than thinking "this synth is good for bass, this one's good for chords" etc... I think it's good to recontextualize sounds and instruments rather than being conservative and sticking to imagined rules. There's a lot of that in music, and I find it pretty tiresome. I think this EP is less about the equipment and more about the immediacy and the kind of snapshot it offers of that point in time, this kind of ephemeral energy that was recorded in real time. I'm not trying to make out I'm some kind of visionary by recording music live. It's just the idea of recording a record this way was exciting. I'd also like people to come to the record not knowing how it was recorded etc., I'd like it to be listened to for the sake of it, I don't want the record to need explaining it before you listen. It is conceptual but it's also totally not conceptual, it's just music for dancing or sitting, etc.
Was there something you were genuinely excited about using?
To be honest, I was excited about using this Akai Tomcat drum machine - no offense to Akai, but I saw a YouTube video of it, and it looked so shit, I really wanted one. I love shit gear. As I said, no disrespect to Akai they're obviously at the top of their game in general, but the Tomcat is such an awkward drum machine. It has pretty ugly sounds which don't really sound great together. You can hear it on "Sunder", and on "Serotonin Drops" on the kicks. It sounds pretty 606-ish on "Serotonin", but on "Sunder" you can hear that awkward splat that the kick has, even though it's quite buried under the synths.
Were you surprised by how any of the tracks turned out?
No, I mean I knew what results I wanted. I just kind of knew what I was going for and pretty much managed to achieve it.
Can you always find the sound that's in your head? How easy is that?
Usually, I can yeah. I'm so un-tech it's stupid, but when it comes to replicating a sound on a synth I can usually get there, depending on how well I know the synth, but with normal subtractive synthesis, etc. I can get whatever sound I want usually. There's a lot to be said for stumbling upon sounds too, and I also like the idea of using sounds you've been given without much scope for editing, kind of crowbar-ing stuff into your own worldview is quite satisfying/exciting for me.
What do you think you've learnt from the making of Sunder?
That I'm kinda done with that sound and want to do something new now :) but the live versions of "Sunder" are a hi-fi version of the EP which I'm excited about playing and seeing how they'll evolve.