Interview // James Holden

James Holden webPhoto by Sonny Malhotra

“Some of the squares were really offended by ‘Gone Feral’. Good. I didn’t want them at my gigs anyway.”

Immersing oneself in the decades of electronic music and its accompanying theories and ideas is a daunting task beyond the pale of most aficionados. James Holden, however, has always thrived in its annuls. In new album The Inheritors, his first for seven years since the genre-bending The Idiots Are Winning, Holden has created a peerless sonic palette breathing life into its heritage as much as forging a breathtaking new ideal for a spectrum he holds so dear. Will Grant catches up with him to discuss the albums origins and his reactions to his new organic environment.

How has your mentality towards production changed in the seven years sincle The Idiots Are Winning?

I’ve learnt a hell of a lot. At one point I worried I’d wasted my time – it took maybe a year learning MAX/MSP’s software before I was where I wanted to be with it.  But I couldn’t have done it without that learning, and now have a slight feeling of having superpowers – can’t wait to get back in the studio with them to be honest!

Was the intention behind building these new ‘tools’ and programmes for The Inheritors an effort to liberate yourself from a more constrictive library of synthetic, digital sounds?

Not so much the sounds, as the structure; the notes themselves, the way the whole thing hangs together. Rather than write the notes I designed machines that would play the notes I wanted. I wanted something denser and more importantly I wanted to be able to ‘play’ these clouds of notes in real time so that the expression is in the notes. Unlike classical music (or most electronic music) that expression was captured from a moment – it really happened, it wasn’t built, sculpted or planned.

You’ve mentioned how the process of some of the production with the modular synths as “a fight as you control to steer them”. Was that a frustrating or thrilling process?

Thrilling! Any musical performance is like that – playing the piano is a fight to get my fingers in the right place at the right time, playing the violin is an eight-rounds-bout I always lose, trying to avoid squeals and scrapes.

The Inheritors is “still music for raves, just for better raves than currently exist”. How do you think your audiences will react to the new material?

In some ways I don’t care: the audience is only the people who like the latest work. I’ve developed a pretty cynical attitude to other peoples’ opinions in the last 10 years. Music gets tied up in peoples’ identities, which is wonderful, but it means if you want to move forward you have to be happy to say goodbye to some people. Some of the squares were really offended by ‘Gone Feral’. Good. I didn’t want them at my gigs anyway.

There’s a lot of Berlin noise to be heard here as much as nods to your peers’ work, especially in some of the tracks percussive nature. Were you conscious of that?

I’ve listened to a lot of that stuff – went mad for Amon Duul for a while, and likewise Harmonia – but I wasn’t really trying to make a referential record. In some ways that stuff ‘gave me permission’ to do some of this, but in other ways there were elements of kraut that I was trying to avoid. Krautrock was this German reaction to Anglo-American music in that era, so a British person in 2013 can’t legitimately try to make krautrock.

Many might categorise The Inheritors as ‘psychedelic’, but do you feel that word could be naive towards what you wanted to achieve sonically with this album?

I’m fine with that word. It’s a wonderful idea. And I’m fine with music being enjoyed just as an experience like that. I wouldn’t want to insist people engage on that level with it – it was all means to an end really: the experience, the feeling of it, that’s the important part to me. I’m not Autechre and wouldn’t want to be.

Did you find what you were creating was reactionary to your years within the DJ circuit since The Idiots…?

Yes, definitely. I’m quite contrary by nature so I guess spending my weekends in clubs – with everyone well-groomed and wanting their music the same – was always going to turn me against that..

Not a lot is said about your feelings towards London – what have your experiences of playing here been like compared to some of your worldwide adventures?

I love London. It’s the only city I could imagine living in (apart from perhaps Mexico City). And I love playing here – our Border Community parties at Corsica Studios are still some of the best I’ve ever done. It’s a proper metropolis in a way that no other European city really manages. Everything is here, every strata and subdivision together. I like that.

Do you think it’ll be another seven years before we hear another Holden album?

Haha, no I really hope not.


James Holden plays an all night show at Corsica Studios on June 15th // The Inheritors arrives on June 17th on Border Community.