There are artists who produce art as part of a zeitgeist, to add their two cents to the over-brimming pot kept on a rolling simmer by trend and hype. Then there are those whose work is a cathartic venture, who pour themselves into what they do with no preconceived notion of anything further than the music itself. Gareth Munday is one such producer, whose releases have spanned the esoteric electronics of his Kirkwood Gaps long-player, to the nebulous, atmospheric meeting point between dubstep and techno deployed on his In Your Hands EP, through to his own take on house and disco heard on his Midas / Palm release. For the producer who goes by the Roof Light handle, it became apparent very quickly he would not take a singular approach to a genre and constantly regurgitate the same ideas. To this end, Munday has created a diverse range of releases on manifold labels and shows no sign of letting up, with new collaborations and projects that will see him push his music into newer directions still. LWE contacted Munday to discuss his music and were welcomed with a thought provoking, revealing insight into the mind of the producer. He also gave us our 119th exclusive podcast, a spellbinding mix of grainy, wide-screen ambience full of his own productions and those of kindred spirits.
01. Svpreme Fiend, “Unrequited” [white]
02. The Caretaker, “Pared Back To the Minimal”
[History Always Favours The Winners]
03. Roof Light, “You Are The Toil That Blackens The Hand” [white*]
04. Black Chow, “Air” [Soul Jazz Records]
05. Downliners Sekt, “White Dawn” [Disboot]
06. King Midas Sound, “I Dub” [Hyperdub]
07. Flying Lotus + Burial, “Buried” (Mix 2) [white*]
08. Roof Light, “Nightshift” [white*]
09. Burial, “Cold Planet” [white]
10. Ghostek, “On Random” [white*]
11. Ghostek, “Some Rainy Day” [white*]
12. Roof Light, “Wasteland VIP” [white*]
13. Burial, “Gaslight” [white*]
14. Roof Light, “Distant Thunder” [white*]
15. GhostLight, “Mayan” [white*]
16. Ghostek, “Sleep Lines” [white*]
17. Bonecold, “Rekca” [Broken Bubble]
18. Ghostek, “Nomad” [Square Harmony]
19. Ghostlight, “Tomorrow’s Child” [Styrax Records*]
20. Burial, “Kindred” [Hyperdub]
21. GhostLight, “Saboteur”[Styrax Records*]
22. Ghostek And Buck UK, “Farsight” [white]
23. Lostlogic, “Will Be” [white*]
24. Burial, “Untitled” [Hyperdub]
25. Ghostek, “Bystanders” [white*]
26. VVV + Ghostek, “Flashing Light” [white*]
27. Roof Light, “5 Symbols” [white*]
28. Roof Light, “Forever” [white*]
29. Maps And Diagrams, “The Shape Of Things To Come” [Air Texture]
* denotes tracks that, as of the time of publishing, are unreleased
I understand you’re from Surrey. Can you tell us about growing up there and what the first influential connections you had with music were?
Gareth Munday: I grew up in the middle of nowhere in the countryside. It was on the borders of Sussex, very rural — all rolling hills, fields, and woods. My first school was a little village thing with about 150 kids. It was boring at times but looking back, I can appreciate that it was very beautiful. As a kid I’d help my old man cutting logs as we had a wood fire; we couldn’t afford central heating or anything like that. It was a wood fire that feeds the boiler. Every time I smell burning wood it takes me back there, as does the smell of that primary school. All floor polish and dust caught in shafts of sunlight in the assembly hall. I can remember the winters and heavy snow and walking to school. It was a bit isolated and a bit solitary, my sister was much younger than me, and there weren’t that many other kids around unless you walked three miles to the next village.
When I was really young I remember my mum playing Radio 2 in the mornings while she did the housework, it was usually Jimmy Young, easy listening, Motown, Bacharach, pop psychedelia — that kind of thing. I think subconsciously I must have absorbed some of this. Equally, though, it was the sound of trees in the wind and rain, birdsong, distant animal noises at night as well. This probably explains my love of field recordings as well. My old man had a jazz record collection, which he played on a Sunday so there was that as well. He was a bit more into his Dave Brubeck and Oscar Peterson. I used to like being scared by going deep into the woods in all weathers. It could be quite frightening as a kid to just dive into these places and keep going until you found some way out, but it was also enjoyable as well.
You’ve been involved in music for some time now, but as Roof Light you’ve been around and releasing for just a few years. What were you doing before this? Were you in bands, and how long have you been producing or making electronic music?
I think “electronic” music is wrong, I make acoustic and electronic. I make music because it’s what I want to listen to; I don’t want to be someone like Skream. No offense to him because he does what he does well and has worked hard to get there. I primarily create for myself and my own enjoyment. I never have any concepts in mind, or sit down and think, “I’ve got an LP or a single to do.” Ultimately the question I ask myself is, “Is it enjoyable and satisfying, and is it fun?” However I still work hard at it; it’s a hard work “ethic.” I had been messing around for years with things. I was into drums. I used to beat on plastic covered chairs with my cousin’s “band”; he was a bit of a hard-rock fan. All Deep Purple, Led Zep, UFO, Rush, that kind of thing. Long hair and denim. He had a couple of mates who played bass and guitar and he fancied himself as a bit of an Ian Gillan type. Looking back it’s well funny now. “Smoke On The Water” and various other songs would be musically strangled, quite often with me using the chairs as some makeshift drum kit. I was the PVC-chair Keith Moon, or at least, I thought I was!
As I got older and went to the nearest town comp [comprehensive school or high school], I met up with other kinds and started getting more into music. When I was about 11 or so, I started buying the odd single, trying to listen to stuff on a crappy radio cassette and taping the radio. It’d often be at night when I’d be in my room searching the AM band listening for unusual stuff, like John Peel, who I adored. He would play stuff that would amaze, frighten and fascinate me in equal measures. He had no hangups about what was “cool” or “uncool.” If he liked it, he’d play it, from punk to electronic pop to world music — just anything really. I miss John Peel and his dry sense of humor.
Anything was possible and it was all weird to me at that age. I liked anything strange or something that generated a response. A couple of mates at school had a Roland SH-101 synth and we used to piss about making cod Human League noises, record them onto cheap cassette machines and play around. I loved it. It was immediate and raw. That synth had a gritty sound to it. There was also one of those ABC music shops in the school town, I used to go in there after school and muck about in the basement where they had all these cool synths. The only problem was they had this wanker who worked there who used to be a real prick. He’d “demonstrate” these cool things by playing some lame old shite. He was a tosser. But on the plus side I learnt a lot about synthesis by pissing away hours playing on these things. They had a Korg PolySix, which I still love today. That was an awesome synth. I always vowed to get one of those. I’m still waiting…
I suppose that was my intro into electronic music, really. Years later, I bought a second-hand Akai sampler and an old analog mixing desk, plus a couple of other bits and bobs. That’s how I got started. I had some mates from my “rave” days when I spent more money on records than equipment; they had primitive set ups. One mate had Cakewalk (the sequencing software) on a PC and a couple of bits of hardware. We used to get together and make some tunes, listen to lots of hip-hop, Detroit techno, and Warp stuff like the Black Dog and Aphex Twin LPs — then I met Richard James years later in a record shop — drum and bass, ambient, all sorts of music. It was just a laugh really — never anything serious. I enrolled on a music production course up in London when I was unemployed for a few years. This was when they had Jobseekers Allowance, so instead of sitting on my arse doing nothing, I took an audio engineering course. It was actually bloody hard and not what I’d expected. We had to learn to use a proper 24-track Studer machine and a bloody great SSL 4000 mixing desk. It was like nothing I’d ever seen before. It was the flight deck of the bloody starship Enterprise!
So I tried to concentrate, a lot of it was theory about sound and signal flow, how a mixing console works, how to mix sounds together. Some of it was mind numbingly boring but a lot of it was also really useful. I learned a lot. Then a few years ago, I bought Logic Pro off eBay for cheap, and by then I had a cheap iMac. That opened up possibilities because of the audio, meaning with an interface you could record stuff into the computer. This was what I’d been waiting for; it was like having a huge tape machine with loads of tracks. I’m not an analog purist, everything has a place. Software can be just as expressive as a piece of hardware. It’s down to what you do with it and how you manipulate ideas. Obviously sampling is hugely important. I’ve got a cheap old MiniDisc, and if you couple that with a decent mic, you can go out and record your own sounds for nothing. Sampling and disguising those samples is also important for obvious reasons. It’s how you warp and change something beyond recognition into something new. The source material is irrelevant. It has never been easier to make music — get some sample packs and bung a few loops down and you can have a house track in half an hour. That to me, isn’t making your own music; it’s buying a TV meal instead of making your own from fresh ingredients. You can taste the difference. It’s not a new phenomenon though, this has been steadily happening for the best part of 15-20 years. When I was working with that SSL desk it was a whole different process to working with a simple DAW.
The advent of digital music technology has opened the floodgates for a huge amount of people trying to express themselves musically. It’s a simple equation that there isn’t enough capacity and room for everyone. Longevity is a precious commodity. I see people who were releasing lots of records a few years ago having problems now. Electronic music designed for a purpose — i.e. club music — has been blurred by the more traditional “pop” and R&B. It’s that dilution when a dubstep record gets in the pop charts that has the audience seeking out a populist sound; so the underground producers find themselves struggling to be heard above the clamor. It’s more difficult and risky for labels to press quality records because the price of oil which is a key ingredient has gone sky high. So I can see vinyl quality suffering with bad pressings because of labels using cheaper materials to try and cut costs.
I want to move away from this area and fixation with “releasing” material to working on other projects that don’t necessarily have anything to do with music in the traditional sense. Excuse me if I don’t mention what they are specifically because people should work out other alternatives themselves. One thing I would always advise is if you are a musician and song writer, please set yourself up with the Performing Right Society and Mechanical-Copyright Protection Society. This can be a bit complicated, but registering your work so that you can at least be paid something is better than getting nothing. Even if the label profit on a release of 500 12″s is minute.
What was the impetus for you to become a producer and what are the pros and cons for you of making music on your own, as opposed to being in a band environment?
Honestly, the tipping point was when I bought the first Burial album when it came out. I thought “Sod it, this is the kind of stuff I’d been waiting to hear.” I was always into stuff like the 2-step garage thing — amongst a huge array of other music — MJ Cole, Mike Millrain, TJ Cases, et al., when it was first around in the mid-to-late 90’s. I’d worked in and around South London, and driving around, you’d have the pirate radio on with all this music, it was certainly a “street” sound. It just reminds me of cars, roads, Brixton, Clapham, South Norwood, Crystal Palace, Hackney, noise, and tower blocks. The summers were amazing. The way the light changed things and those places, and with the music it was special. I had some ideas I wanted to try. And probably to add to that the Boards Of Canada first LP as well — that was hugely influential to me. I’m not averse to working with other musicians, I’d like that. I can play guitar, bass, and drums so if I want to sound like The Jesus And Mary Chain, I can get fairly close if I needed to.
How did you come to release as Roof Light and where did you choose the name from?
I don’t know. I’d had the phrase “Roof Light World” knocking around for a while, but it didn’t feel right. It sounded like some MFI furniture thing so I shortened it.
People who have heard your music on one release may have to check again to see that they’re listening to the same producer if they listen to something else of yours. Did you consider releasing under different names depending on what type of track you were making or was there more appeal in having a wider range of music associated with the one name?
I never thought of changing or adopting a different alter ego in that way. I’ve seen that done before, and for me it just lessens the power of things. I never understood why electronic musicians had to do that. It just seems a bit pompous. Plus people get bored quickly. I hope that people will come to expect something different with each release.
I’m not going to be pidgeon-holed. I’ve said this before but I’d like to make at least some music that lasts and can be listened to in later years and still sound interesting. I don’t want to sound like anyone else. There are too many producers out there who sound the same. The problem is it’s easy to knock out a piece of music in a few hours, it’s less easy to make it sound more individual and personal. It’s this flood of music that’s diluted things, and there is a knock on effect. For example, people say that playing out live and DJing is the way to make “real” money to exist as a musician. I don’t subscribe to that; I’ve been to see a DJ/producer of the moment play out, and most of the time it’s been an underwhelming experience. The clubs and bars usually have very poor sound facilities, and thus the DJ/producer stands there looking bored and playing music that sounds poor because of those facilities to a dozen people having a few drinks who look bored out of their minds. Plus, there are thousands of people who will play out for nothing so again, the sheer choice dilutes the form.
What can you tell us about the writing and recording of the Kirkwood Gaps album?
I loved Pausal, who were on Highpoint Lowlife, so I got in contact, and it went from there. I sent a bunch of music over and Thorsten [Sideboard] picked a bunch that hung together as a kind of flow. I enjoyed working with Highpoint, I just wish the LP had come out on vinyl. Most of those tracks were written early on when I’d got the tools to make them. So it was mostly me learning how to use the equipment. It’s a mix of music that hangs together fairly well. Thorsten chose the running order. It was a range of different feels and moods, one of my best tunes “Prayin’ To TE” is on there, although I don’t like the title now as it’s an obvious homage to Todd Edwards, whose music I love.
Is being Roof Light your full-time job? If not, what do you supplement the music with?
No. I work full time as well. I wouldn’t like to be reliant on music. I like working, it gives me a discipline and sense of purpose, but there’s no pressure on me to do anything. I do what I want to do when I want to do it, not when someone else says I should do something. I don’t take orders or instruction very well. I split my time between work, family and music. It gives me a balance and an appreciation of life. I enjoy my job, and it pays well. I’m self sufficient with my own home.
Things seemed to have happened pretty quickly for you with having a number releases in fairly soon after making your debut. Were the following releases from a surplus of material you already had finished, or is your work output extremely high?
I think it’s a bit of both. I have a huge number of tracks stored, and I make at least four or five every couple of weeks. The releases are a combination of the two, really. I have to make music; it’s just something that’s inside my head like a tap that won’t turn off, and it’s a release from my work.
There’s no mystery or theoretical bollocks, it is what it is. Making music and having your work put before people to listen to is a strange process. There are so many labels vying for oxygen in an already crowded market space. It must be hugely difficult. Sadly, many labels don’t promote their artists that well. A lot of it is to do with hype as well. Today’s bright young thing is tomorrow’s memory. And a lot of people fall into that trap it’s, “Ooh, look at me I’ve got 10,000 SoundCloud followers.” So what? Does that make your music any better? Probably not as it’s over-produced, emotionless, and soulless commercial crap, and you probably picked up your listeners because you were on the front page of SoundCloud’s “People” search page alongside The Beatles and Skrillex, not because your music was any good, individual, or unique! I do a lot of my own networking — making connections, that kind of thing. It’s a symbiotic process, sharing ideas and conversations with like-minded individuals is far more powerful and appealing than spamming some record label who don’t have the time to listen to your work and probably receive thousands of tracks every week. “Promotion” is what a good label will do. I prefer to make those connections on a more personal level. Just write to people and communicate, it’s not rocket science.
To get back to the subject of record labels, and being an avid record collector for a long time, I love the vinyl format and tape or CD. Just having a physical item that you can hold, smell and listen to is such a pleasurable experience. Nice packaging and good artwork is also important. There is nothing like the process of going to a record shop and buying that piece of plastic in its cardboard sleeve, whether it’s an LP or a single. Then again, I don’t want to get too hung up on the mechanics of the current state of the music industry. I’ll always follow my instincts and dreams, and be passionate about music, art, literature, and life in general. Don’t be afraid to take whatever path you want. And certainly don’t let others tell you that you shouldn’t do something. It’s a philosophy I took from Underground Resistance “Transition,” which is —
There will come a time in your life when you will ask yourself a series of questions.
Am I happy with who I am?
Am I happy with the people around me?
Am I happy with what I’m doing?
Am I happy with the way my life is going?
Do I have a life or am I just living?
Do not let these questions strain or trouble you just point yourself in the direction of your dreams find your strength in the sound and make your transition.
Do not spend too much time thinking and not enough doing.
Did I try the hardest at any of my dreams?
Did I purposely let others discourage me when I knew I could?
Will I die never knowing what I could have been or could have done?
Do not let these doubts restrain or trouble you just point yourself in the direction of your dreams.
Find your strength in the sound and make your transition.
There will be people who say you can’t — you will.
There will be people who say you don’t mix this with that and you will say “watch me.”
There will be people who will say play it safe. That’s too risky — you will take that chance and have no fear.
You won’t let these questions restrain or trouble you.
You will point yourself in the direction of your dreams.
You will find the strength in the sound and make your transition.
For those who know it’s time to leave the house and go back to the field.
Find your strength in the sound and make your transition.
That says it all for me really.
Apart from listening to other music, are there certain activities that you find conducive to inspiring you creatively?
I try not to listen exclusively to electronic music because I find it slightly colors my approach. Although I am acutely aware of the fluctuations and facets of electronic music, I listen to lots of things across a huge spectrum. I really like independent music or bands, just as much as I like modern classical or reggae. Any good music that elicits some emotion. Perhaps my biggest influence is quietness and environmental sounds. Snatches of conversations in the street. I get quite angry and grumpy sometimes. But remaining positive and and optimistic is essential.
Having been in bands before, I assume that you can play an instrument or instruments. To what extent do you sample yourself in your productions?
Yes, and yes. I can play guitar, bass, piano, violin — all sorts of things. I want to start using my vocals more now, trying out traditional song structures and then warping them. And working with other singers.
How did the collaboration with Ghostek come about, and are we likely to hear any more from Ghostlight?
Yes. I hope so. I heard his music a few years ago, and he had that same vibe that I heard in Burial’s stuff. To me he was different, and I loved the feel of his tracks, the approach was similar to mine. There were a lot of other producers trying to make that kind of sound but most of it was too “coffee table” for me — all huge strings and female vocal samples with 2-step beats, which I got bored of very quickly. A lot of it was [and] is very conservative and safe. I didn’t get that with his work, it was much darker, on edge, and more powerful — therefore more appealing to me. So I got in contact, and we made some tunes, probably enough for a mini-LP. It was highly productive. I’m sure we’ll work together again. It was very easy and enjoyable. We have very similar ideas, and I think the tracks reflect that potential as the best of both of us in that medium. [laughs] Even though he’s in Russia!
It’s strange because we never set out to copy anyone, and we got compared to other producers. From that, depending on the producer, there is a kind of overt hostility bordering on a kind of musical apartheid [or] racism about encroaching on certain musical territory, which of course is bullshit. No one should be afraid to take inspiration and make something new out of it so long as it’s not an outright steal [or] copy. That is how music has evolved over the decades, anyone with a modicum of intelligence knows this. There are too many forums and blogs right now, infested with randoms who sit in ivory towers and don’t know what they’re talking about — who set themselves up as experts on a given subject, when in reality they have no experience of the subject matter because generally they haven’t had “life” experience, or are more often than not just out of school or university. Their opinions count for nothing.
What can you tell us about the mix you’ve put together for us?
Have you ever taken a train late at night and you’re the only one in the compartment, and you are tired and half asleep, an uneasy feeling of paranoia fills you for no reason; you can hear distant sounds and feel the mechanics and motion of the train? You look out of the window and see the city going by in burning orange and yellow lights? That’s kind of the sound of this mix.
What can we expect from Roof Light in the next year?
It’s the old cliche really. Interesting collaborations, my Brother Sun Sister Moon album project with Alicia Merz is about to be released by Denovali on lovely colored vinyl, hopefully some music with Christa Palazzolo of Boy Friend, few other EPs here and there. Look out for ’em!