Plaid might be most well-known for their many remixes, especially those for Bjork and their own earlier trio, Black Dog. But it's the current duo's unique approach to the "techno" genre that sets them apart from the burgeoning digital-based dance scene. Plaid makes dense, syncopated, beat-happy music. Beyond techno, outside of drum and bass and bordering on artpop, they synchronize rhythm and melody in the digital domain into complex but coherent songs. Parts fit together and the whole winds up greater than the sum of its parts. Songs are built of disparate musical timbres and tones, swirling around the ears like a gentle cyclone. As a fan (who also loves Can, The Ramones and Muddy Waters) at a recent show in San Franciso put it: "How can something so bizarre be so wonderful?" Ed Handley and Andy Turner were tracked down in Southern California the morning after a show Ed described (with typical understatement) as: "... a polo club, quite nice actually." Actually it was a polo field, and contained over 50,000 people (The Coachella Music and Arts Festival, in Indio, CA). Their new album is Double Figure, out on Warp Records.
Tell us about your studio environment.
We've had a proper external studio space for about 3 years. It's really cheap and it's in north London. We bought a big old analog desk fairly recently because they've come down in price so much...
It's a Soundtracs Quartz. It's a late '80s/early '90s desk but it's got very good EQ and a very nice patch bay on it. We run so much stuff through the computer now that it's good to have an analog in to it all. We've been recording for so long we've got a fairly decent collection of analog synths, too. A few of them are getting a bit dusty now because we're using a lot more software these days.
What kind of software are you using?
We've used Logic Audio for a few years and we use all the kinds of plug-in stuff you can get for it... the various kinds of softsynths. We use Reaktor a little bit, and any little interesting bits of software we can get our hands on, really. We're not that radical with our sound design... if we like an electric keyboard sound we'll just use an electric keyboard sound. But I like the fact that you can build a synth from the bottom up. You can actually design your own synth, say in Reaktor, which would obviously not be possible with hardware, well, it would take years to design and build it so... that's the ease of it, the customization of it, really.
Are most of the sounds you use built from the ground up or are they samples?
We don't design all our sounds, we'll use acoustic sounds and found sounds, we may even use presets sometimes if they fit... it's about how it sounds.
Do you play instruments yourselves?
We can both play keyboards very badly... Andy plays flugelhorn, he learned that when he was young... he plays brass a little bit. But no, we're not technically very good players — it's all kind of computer-aided.
So where do you get the lovely clean guitar melodies in songs like "Ralome" [from Rest Proof Clockwork] and "Kortisen" [from Not For Threes] or is that a trade secret?
That's a friend we've known for a few years. We write with him sometimes. He's really into this baroque, medieval thing and we've got a real fondness for that kind of "oldey" "Greensleeves" vibe.
Speaking of "oldey" sounds I noticed the opening keyboard figure on "Shackbu" sounds like something from Gentle Giant...
Okay, yeah, that's ahh... well, most of our stuff is played, we don't really work with melodic loops. We might work with rythmical loops but all the melodic stuff is played.
I didn't mean to imply you'd stolen the melody...
No, no, I'm just saying that would have been probably a FS1-R [Yamaha sound module], like a DX piano sound through a pedal or something...
But the actual melodic structure is reminiscent of that particular era of prog rock...
Oh, I know what you mean, yeah...
Do you have any influences from that sometimes dense and ponderous music?
Yeah, sort of. I like Stevie Wonder and stuff like that so I like that kind of production... but we tend to listen to a lot of modern music. We're not really collectors of old music or anything... somehow we've been influenced by lots of stuff...
What are some of your favorites?
Well, it's sort of the obvious ones, really. It's definitely the Detroit masters — Derrick May, Juan Atkins. We grew up listening to electro and early hip-hop. We get influenced by everything we hear. We do try and listen to quite a wide range of music so... loads of different things.
Do you create music in the studio together or work separately and add parts later?
We start our ideas separately and at some point we meet up and mix together. Basically working on the computer is a solo operation, really. So we tend to see through quite a lot of the ideas by ourselves and get together at a later point.
Do you find that one of you tends to handle the beat and rhythm and the other the...
The rest of this article is only available to our subscribers!