Luke Abbott // Interview

luke abbott visions

Pizza. Beer. Tunes. Could you dream of a better day? It’s all coming true on Saturday (August 8) as the Visions Festival returns to Hackney. And as you may have gathered by now, the day-long orgy of culinary and aural delights has been keeping toes tapping here at London in Stereo HQ as the festival aims to feed our brains and nourish our stomachs across six Hackney venues.

To help prepare you for Saturday’s fun and games, we’ve been busy bringing you unparalleled insights into many of the artists performing on the day. We’ve talked punk with American troublemakers Merchandise and Ho99o9, quizzed Gazelle Twin about her favourite albums, and shot the breeze with Shamir, Loyle Carner, Theo Verney and The Big Moon ahead of their sets. We’ve even let Fuck Button Benjamin John Power – aka Blanck Mass – recount his days working in a glue factory and chronicle his recurring nosebleeds.

You are welcome. But last is certainly not least when it comes to the sublime power and beguiling dexterity of musician Luke Abbott.

The young Norfolk soundsmith has been quietly shifting the tectonic plates of sonic exploration since he unleashed his rugged Holkham Drones (2010) album, on the out-there experimental electronic label Border Community. It chronicles the majesty of the northern Norfolk coastline bycapturing its sounds with field recordings, running them through his special Frankenstein studio mash-up of modular analogue and digital equipment to create a piece of unrivalled meditative beauty.

“I like to make music for the places that inspire me. Holkham is a beach in Norfolk that I used to go to as a kid. I live in Norwich. It’s lovely. It’s my home,” Luke says.

He followed it up with the surreal and heartfelt album Wysing Forest (2014), named after the Wysing Arts Centre in Cambridgeshire. Over a six week period as its inaugural musician-in-residence, Luke recorded the album’s sonic building blocks. While earlier this year, Luke returned to the musical theme of Norfolk by releasing an LP of music from his first-ever feature film soundtrack for The Goob – called Music for a Flat Landscape – on his new label, Buffalo Temple.

I tried to bring the landscape in as a living, breathing character in the soundtrack.

“As a place, Norfolk is a little thread that has been running through my thinking and music, which in turn is helping to establish my place in the world,” Luke explains. “I try to explore how people exist in their environment and examine their relationship with the landscape. I tried to bring the landscape in as a living, breathing character in the soundtrack. To make music from the place and let it seep into the action of the film.”

But what can you expect when Luke arrives in Hackney for Visions? “Come and hear something psychedelic. Come and hear some music for the universe,” Luke says with a wry smile.

luke abbott

It’s a tempting invitation from the bespectacled sonic prankster, who is set to perform at the Brewhouse in the London Fields brewery. No doubt he will be bubbling up something deeply affecting from his portable studio. “I’ve got a really nice modular case – it looks like a picnic hamper,” Luke explains. “It’s a nice companion to the laptop and kind of looks like something from Fortnum and Mason – complete with a range of fine mustards, of course –  with cables running out of it. I try to make a performable instrument out of it and still ensure it is light enough to carry on­­­­ the road with me.”

When I rang him at home in East Anglia, Luke admitted he was in the process of ‘taking apart his live set and putting it back together again’. “I’m trying to rework it,” he says with a chuckle. “I’ve been touring with one particular set-up since the Wysing Forest album. So I’ve got a week in the studio now and I’m just reworking it. I have no idea how it will turn out. Basically, I have a bunch of different structures to work around, and a lot of it is improvised after that.”

“Ulitmately, you have to go on instinct,” Luke adds. “Having toured quite a lot and played a lot of gigs I don’t so much have a plan, but just my way of doing things. So it’s just a case of adapting my set for where I am playing. I often don’t know where I performing, when I am playing on the bill or whether it’s a club or a garage or a festival. But the advantage of having a set-up and a style of music that involves improvisation means that I can shape what I am doing to suit where I am. Or not! That depends largely upon my mood.”

The inherent wonk of Luke’s boutique analogue synths and offbeat, polyrhythmic approach to percussion give his creations an overwhelmingly warm, human and positively homemade character. “Sometimes there’s a human presence in music and I’m trying to get that right,” he says with a shrug. “It’s hard to capture that with electronic music because you need to intervene so much more than you’re expected to – but you have to in order to create a performance, which is why there is something magical about good recordings of groups of people playing together.

“And there’s a level of mastery over technology where it stops being a technical exercise and becomes a human performance.  So I’m trying to land somewhere in the middle, where I can capture a moment and forget about the technology. The speaker is the instrument – you’ve got to play the speaker,” he says.

“Sounds are physical objects. What is the sound in a space and how you relate to that? That’s the approach I like to take with music and I always imagine that I am creating sound objects for possible – or often, future – air.”

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Luke Abbott plays Visions Festival on Saturday, August 8.