English electronic duo Plaid have had a long and storied career in electronic music. Their debut album Mbuki Mvuki released back at the start of the ’90s in 1991 and the group has just released their 10th album, Polymer, last Friday. That’s some 28 years of cutting-edge electronic music with the group’s quality always superb and never missing a beat. Continuing to create and perform at the highest level looks easy for Plaid, but of course, it never is. The weight of their concepts and the endless experimentation have resulted in a truly stellar back catalogue.
Plaid have said that the new album’s themes concern “the natural versus the synthetic, silk and silicone, the significant effect they have on our lives”. Combine that with some of Plaid’s most daring compositions, Polymer is one of the finest electronic albums of the year. To celebrate, the duo are sharing their favorite songs with us, one song from each of their albums, plus two soundtrack recordings.
Mbuki Mvuki – “Yak” (1991)
Mbuki Mvuki means the “irresistible urge to shuck off your clothes and dance” in Bantu. This whole album was written with a sampler, a couple of synths and a mixer that picked up the local cab company, so you might hear some controller banter if you listen closely. This might be why this track is called “Yak”. It’s too long ago to remember, but it is inspired by the Detroit masters. Written in Tufnell Park in North London sometime in 1989/90, peak communal-living-rave-days.
Not For Threes – “Kortisin” (1997)
We wrote this with our good friend and long-time collaborator, Benet Walsh. Coming from a folk and classical background, he often brings out the medieval or baroque in us. It was used as an ident on our favourite terrestrial TV station, CH4, for quite a while, which we were so chuffed about. The title is a triple play: court is in session, courtesan, and cortisol.
Rest Proof Clockwork – “Dang Spot” (1999)
Dang Spot – Danger spotting or just that dang spot that appears in the wrong place on the wrong night, be gone dang spot. Apparently Sven Vath used to occasionally play this in the 1990s to finish off a techno set. Maybe it clears the room or maybe it encourages silliness.
Double Figure – “Squance” (2001)
“Squance” is square-dance, it was written to be bombastic and anti-clever. Someone described it as the IDM Birdie song which is about right. We have had some of our best ever gigs in Scotland and this was a kind of homage to the sense of fun and out-of-control partying we experienced there, letting go of it all for a few hours.
Spokes – “Cedar City” (2003)
Cedar City is a city in Utah that we stopped off in on a tour bus, once. The track was inspired by the sense of wonder and gratitude that we could find ourselves in, what to us, was a strange, exotic place, full of bizarre rock formations and people with guns. It symbolises that sense of knowing that we will probably never see this place again and how special it is to glimpse life there, even just for a few hours. We stopped off at a motel to wash some clothes, the washing machine somehow bleached and shredded everything, another reason we remembered the town.
Greedy Baby (with Bob Jaroc) – “Super Positions” (2006)
It was an honour to work with Bob on this. We totally love his work. This was an attempt at conveying the peculiar quantum principle that every quantum state can be represented as a sum of two or more distinct states, particles and fields. “Super Positions” was a mind-melting idea that pushed us to spend a long time considering how to make music that had some relevance to it. We ended up with something that put us in an existential superposition, but it may not have had that effect on everyone.
Scintilli – “Missing” (2011)
“Missing” is for everything and everyone that is missed. We used a lot of synthetic voice on this album which some people found challenging. This was an attempt at traditional song-writing using hybrid electro-acoustic instruments. It was used in an episode of The Young Pope, we are big Paulo Sorrentino fans so this was a high point for us.
Reachy Prints – “Nafovanny” (2014)
Nofovanny is the largest captive-breeding primate facility in the world. It’s in Vietnam. The track is our sense of horror and disbelief that we could treat our intelligent, pain-feeling ancestors in this way. The argument is that the research might save human lives, but we both feel that the ends do not justify the means, especially when that research often effectively means torturing an ape for its entire life.
The Digging Remedy – “CLOCK” (2016)
CLOCK is Circadian Locomotor Output Cycles Kaput, which is a gene that affects circadian rhythms. In humans, a polymorphism in Clock, rs6832769, may be related to the personality trait agreeableness. In mice, Clock has been implicated in sleep disorders, metabolism, pregnancy, and mood disorders (Wikipedia). We have experienced insomnia at different points so this interested us. We tried to convey the perceived malleability of time but also maintain a rhythmical grip on the groove as a contrasting stream.
Polymer – “Dancers” (2019)
We were both breakdancers in the 1980s and ravers in the 1990s. Dancing is really important to us. A controlled, timed movement to music can be profound and mystical, a gear in the endless mechanics of the universe, an unthinking union with it. At its best dancing can feel like a perfect synchronicity with all energy. That is the kind of sensation we were after in an overt and exaggerated musical way, the absolute thrill of dancing freely.
Tekkonkinkreet OST – “Butterfly”
We had fun making this. We’re trying to create the ambiance of a Yakuza type strip joint from the Sci-Fi World of Treasure Town. It’s one of the few times we have used saxophone. Jazz and jazz-funk has been a pretty big influence since we started collecting break beats in the 1980s, so it was a pleasure to try and recreate a jazz-tinged sound with our limited formal musical knowledge. It helped that the film is such a beauty, so easy to write to.
Heaven’s Door OST – “Hydrosphere”
We were playing a gig in France recently, and someone came up after and said this was their favourite Plaid track. We hadn’t heard the tune since the time it came out in 2008 and had kind of forgotten it. The whole soundtrack was written in a very short time, some of the tracks in less than a day so many are still unfamiliar. The whole creative process was like a manic fever dream for us, so it was heartening that this person had found something special in it.