Post-rave soundscaping for paranoid humans
Handing over the mic to artists/musicians who break down their new albums track by track/share the thought process behind the creation. Today we’ll hear from Sunbane, British electronic musician signed to Disintegration State label.
More track-by-track breakdowns in our archives.
The demo for this came together with almost all the elements you hear the final track in around 3 hours, which is probably a record for a Sunbane track. Saccharyn’s vocals came much later – having a vocalist as talented as her on it feels like using a cheat code. I had some rearrangement to do once the vocals were recorded, but apart from that and a bit of tidying up EQs the only thing I added was the skittery drum pattern near the end.
The pads are Ableton Wavetable, with a lot of automation to create the pulsing and the baseline. The e-bow sounds are fed through granulator II to add an otherworldly texture to them and… I think that’s about it. Sometimes simple works pretty well.
…and then in contrast we have a track that took 12 years to finish. The original demo probably sounded almost nothing like this apart from the chord sequence, which I liked enough to take a swing at every few years. The big organ sound is a Korg minilogue, there is ebow on there, sampled and distorted again, and then the arpeggios are built out of a load of bell samples. The intro to this version started as an attempt to replicate the sound Aphex Twin’s jwenthyk, which is probably my favourite of his.
The vocals took Colin less than 24 hours – the fact that he could turn something so good around based on the absolutely tone-deaf guide vocal I sent him is a testament to his talent.
I saw two live performances that hugely influenced this track. The first was David Byrne’s American Utopia tour. I hadn’t really heard much beyond the big Talking Heads singles, but my mate is a huge fan and needed someone to go with. On the back of that, Remain in Light is now one of my favourite albums by anyone. The unhinged preacher vocal stylings are half-way between David Byrne (particularly on Born Under Punches) and Karl Hyde from Underworld.
The second performance was by label-mate Jacob Nico. They performed what can only be described as a 45-minute-long exorcism at Cardiff Hub festival last summer. I think it might be the single bravest thing I’ve ever seen someone do onstage. I’d been self-conscious about doing my own vocals, mostly due to the aforementioned tone-deafness. After seeing Jacob expose themselves like that, I felt embarrassed to ever have been so timid.
This is the first piece that was written for the album and almost got left off, but I thought it worked nicely as a segue between the euphorics of the opening run and the refrigerated soul sound of the following tracks. The microtron ableton live-pack gives everything it touches a psych-sci-fi feel, like War of the Worlds – it pops up a couple of other places too.
An amalgam of four different ideas I’ve had knocking about for ages. The chord sequence had been waiting for an idea to connect to for an age and I stole a synth patch from one of my hardwareghost tracks and it just clicked into place. The lyrics are from two older tracks too, but they seemed to take on a new meaning when combined – the deep intake of breath that comes with abandoning shortcuts to happiness and choosing to pursue more complicated goals (goals like recording a 70 minute long concept album with six separate vocalists that only a handful of people will ever hear).
There was an asexual robot choir singing the vocals that I got quite attached to – they’re still there in the background fattening up the reverb line, but it only seemed sensible to let MOGAN’s vocals take center stage. Again, given the atonic nature of the guide I sent them I was astounded that they managed to turn in something so perfect.
The first time I worked with Agiris on Instinct from his Anima album, he told me that it was like I had reached into his mind and read exactly what he wanted it to sound like. I am pleased to be able to return the compliment here. The second verse still blows me away every time I hear it.
The big synth line that runs through the whole thing started as a riff on something from an old Amiga soundtrack and ended up edging close to a more driving version of Like Spinning Plates, by Radiohead. That sort of suggested the otherworldly tapestry of other effects and sounds I wrung out of the minibrute 2S to complement it. Might have to trim the length a bit for the single version…
The turning point on the album from the personal to the political. From light to dark. Where the protagonist loses everything despite choosing to play by the rules of the system and starts questing around for something to blame. As the opening line puts it, “This is how the floor falls out”.
I’m quite proud that I managed to fit references to Q-Annon, Daft Punk, Blue, Spiritualised, 2Pac, Avril Lavigne, Paul McCartney, antivaxers and Kurt Vonnegut into the same 5 minutes. The vocals however… I cannot rap. My flow is, to say the very least, whack. I had to record each line four times, pick the best one then fix up the timing so it actually sounded anywhere close. I am in awe of anyone who can do this without cheating. It’s a weird weird piece of music and the hyper-distorted pseudo-rap actually fits in quite nicely. expect that this one will prove resistant to live interpretation, but I’m glad it exists in its warped indulgent glory.
Crushing despair segues into frantic mania as the world burns around us. This is what life has felt like for anyone who is a) minimally conscious and b) not actively evil since around June 2016. . It’s hard not to become nihilistic really. Somehow not the bleakest thing on the album.
I probably owe Massive Attack a cut of whatever meagre profits I make from this one for the general Mezzanine aping of the first half. The second part comes from Saccharyn’s direction to listen to Artangels by Grimes and my desire to turn everything I touch into an Andy Stott record.
The evil counterpart of Vondel Park – both tracks came together in the same week, and again this one has changed very little from the first demo, except for the spoken (/hissed) word vocal sections. When I had those two tracks together it felt like I had good opposite emotional poles to build the album around.
Aims to be a campier version of something between Suicide and Xtrmntr-era Primal Scream. Vamping electropunk vocal felt like the best way to mock the po-faced straight-pride men’s rights activist neo-fascist brigade that want us to polish the boots of the oligarch class whilst they steal our entire world and burn it for profit.
Simultaneously the bleakest and most hopeful thing on the album. From a narrative point of view it’s the point at which the misguided protagonist realises the human devastation that their actions have legitimized. It seems rare that this actually happens – people just deny that the atrocities even exist, or find a way to blame someone else for it. Hate is Love and Slavery is Freedom. Cognitive dissonance is a terrifying thing, I guess. Sonically, it features the sampled sounds of storm Imogen blowing through a tower block and some of the worst human beings currently alive.
Not sure if it’s possible to hear it, but this actually started off life as a remix of Vondel Park. I’m not even sure if any elements from that remain or if I replaced them all in the end. An empty howl of rage sometimes seems like the most rational response, doesn’t it? I wrote the lyrics a couple of years ago, a long time before people started burning buildings down, but it was always going to end this way wasn’t it?
I was quite pleased when I worked out the distorted / saturated autotune trick. I had to try hard not to put it elsewhere on the album, as I’m sure it would get old after a few tracks. The drunken shoegaze singalong at the end was an attempt to imagine what the joy might feel like immediately after a revolution, before reality sets in.
Another older track – I performed an embryonic version of this at my first ever gig back in 2014. Again, it has developed quite a lot since then. I spent a long time trying to work out who I could get to do the reading at the beginning, and an embarrassing amount of time thinking “if only I could get someone whose voice sounded like Mark from the Monday Graveyard”, before realizing that I should ask him to do it. Still not sure what I’d have done if he hadn’t said ‘yes’.
I wanted to finish the album somewhat hopeful and it almost gets there. Leonard Cohen had “we’re ugly but we have the music”, I guess that “none of these motherfuckers can dance” is a way of saying that we may be powerless but at least we’re on the right side of history. It isn’t enough, but it’s something.
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