Since debuting in 2010 with Stalag Zero/Distended Dub, a 12″ that still stands as one of Punch Drunk’s wildest offerings, Bristol’s Nick Edwards has been hyper-prolific, releasing a stream of records for such esteemed and varied imprints as Further Records, Mordant Music, Public Information, Editions Mego, and Perc Trax. Moreover, Edwards has managed to maintain a high quality rate, creating an inimitable sound world for himself to explore in endless proliferation. The Ekoplekz sound is a kind of crusty intersection between Radiophonics and dub. It fits into an industrial lineage, but is more homespun than aggro-confrontational. Following on this array of influences, Edwards’ LWE podcast touches on the crossover zones between experimental composition and techno, and also features an exclusive preview of a new track by eMMplekz, a collaboration between Edwards and Baron Mordant of Mordant Music. In addition, we asked him a few questions about his creative process, playing live, and some of his recent releases.
LWE Podcast 132: Ekoplekz (54:50)
01. Flourescent Grey & Thorsten Soltau w/Marina Stewart, “Final Transmission From A Dead Space” (Replekz) [m.m Label]
02. Thought Broadcast, “Breaking Test” [Editions Mego]
03. Innercity, “Bodycells Fortress” [Further Records]
04. Time Attendant, “Sanquine Campaigner” [Exotic Pylon]
05. Young Echo, “Ritual” [*]
06. Woebot, “Maplin” [Hollow Earth]
07. Libbe Matz Gang, “Toluene Blues” [Libertatia Overseas Trading]
08. Stuart Chalmers, “The Unseen Menace” [The Lows And The Highs Records]
09. Helm, “Stained Glass Electric” [Pan]
10. IX Tab, “Seconds (A Djinni Haniver)” [self-released]
11. KTL, “Phill 2” [Editions Mego]
12. Eric Lanham,”No Ordinates” [Spectrum Spools]
13. Emptyset, “Interstice” [Subtext]
14. NHK, “Stomp 1” [Pan]
15. Nick Edwards, “Plekzationz Part 1” (extract) [Editions Mego]
16. Heatsick, “Vom Anderen Ufer” [Pan]
17. Tod Dockstader, “Electronic” (reMMix) [Mordant Music*]
* denotes tracks which, as of the time of publishing, are unreleased
To me, there are some palpable sonic differences between the Nick Edwards and PLKZFX material and your work as Ekoplekz, but I wouldn’t say either is radically different. Why did you use different monikers for those records?
Nick Edwards: Well I’m sure that what might seem like negligible differences to the casual listener can be massive in the eyes of the person who created it. I hear big differences between the actual Ekoplekz records themselves. For instance, there’s a gulf between the two double cassette albums (Memowrekz and Skalectrikz) but that’s all part of a natural progression, I hope. And to me, the PLKZFX material is radically different to anything else, because of the conditions I recorded it under, and the fact that it was designed specifically as a response to the CHXFX tape Dave Henson sent me. His tape seemed to be moving into the areas I was inhabiting, so it seemed natural to me that my tape should move into the dance-orientated territory that he usually inhabits as Nochexxx. As Mark at Further Records said, it’s a sort of “‘conversation in sound” between Dave and I. Hopefully the end results complement and contrast each other. But it’s still “performed” music rather than strictly programmed, so you will always have my signature over anything I do. It’s literally in the bodily responses, the hand movements, the way I physically interact with the machines, and I would never intentionally try to change my technique. It’s part of what gives my music its own character. And electronic music desperately needs some character and individuality right now.
As for the Editions Mego album, as the title Plekzationz might suggest, it is Ekoplekz music, but with a much greater emphasis on editing and post production. It might seem to be four long pieces, but is actually constructed from a multitude of smaller sections (apart from “Part 4,” which is a totally live, one-take jam). It’s about me stepping back, taking stock, trying to get a bit of distance. I guess you could say that the music was recorded and performed by Ekoplekz in the usual splurge of visceral creativity, but then edited and produced by me in a slightly more refined way. I guess I also wanted to release something under my own name just to rebel against that urge to hide behind aliases that myself and many of my peers are guilty of.
Years ago, I was one of the first bloggers to “unmask.” Some of my friends in the blogging community still maintain that anonymity, sometimes for good reason because they have responsible jobs in the real world. But I think if you really believe in what you’re doing, sooner or later you need to step out of the shadows and stand proudly next to the work. So I thought I might as well go the whole way with this one and plaster my face all over the sleeve as well.
Oh no, yeah, as I wrote in my review, I definitely feel that Dave’s and your sides complement each other. What I meant by “not radically different” is that your signature is still clearly there. I was interested to read that most of the Editions Mego release was patched together — it sounds very fluid. I was going to ask about that move toward longform composition. Was “Dead Escalator Suite” from the split with Wanda Group done in a similar way? And did that record come about via the same call-and-response process to the Nochexxx split?
“Dead Escalator Suite” was done in the same way as the Mildew Riddims tape I released earlier in the year. Those were basically a collection of finished tracks, stitched together to form a larger themed work — essentially glorified mixtapes. But I like that process of blending individual pieces together, plus it’s a good way of making the work “iPod shuffle-proof.” If Pink Floyd object to their fans buying separate tracks, maybe that’s the solution — turn Dark Side of the Moon into a continuous mix, haha. Speaking of which, one of the first people to hear the completed Plekzationz was the artist Hollis, who painted the sleeve. One of his comments was that it reminded him of Pink Floyd’s Atom Heart Mother, which I thought was pretty funny, ‘cos when I was making it I was getting this feeling that it was turning into quite a grandiose, slow-burning conceptual thing, quite Floyd-like in some ways.
The other main difference between Plekzations and the earlier ones is that everything was recorded specifically for the album, rather than cobbled together retrospectively from earlier finished tracks. I was recording all these little sketches — loops, drones, FX — onto tape and then digitally editing and blending them them together, which definitely seems to have altered the overall pace of the music. It feels more expansive, considered and detailed. I’m not even sure if that’s a good thing, necessarily, but it was an interesting new way of presenting the work. But then of course, “Part 4” is the complete inverse of all that — a totally live, in-the-moment improvised blow-out. I felt it was important to return to something very raw and immediate to round-off the album. The split with Wanda Group was a similar “call and response” but from the opposite direction. I’d got to know Lou and liked the idea of doing a split tape with him. I’d finished the 20 minute “Dead Escalator Suite” and didn’t have any definite plans how or where to release it at that stage, but I thought it might be fun to have Lou produce a 20 minute thing to complement it. So “Slow Down Your Blood” was his response to my work.
How does your approach to playing and preparing for a show differ from jamming out ideas for a recording?
I don’t think there’s much difference really. It’s all basically just me pissing about with cheap synths and FX pedals. I guess the main difference is that, when I’m in the studio, I wait until something interesting starts happening before I press “record” on the four-track, and then press “stop” when it starts getting shit. Whereas in the live situation, the audience might have to listen to several minutes of directionless nonsense before I finally get into my stride. But some people seem to enjoy observing that process and I can sort of understand why. Having watched other improvising artists play live in the past, I know that some of the most fascinating moments are those where you’re not quite sure if things are going wrong… it can have quite a destabilizing effect. The second tape of Skalectrikz is edited highlights of me hitting my stride live, but maybe I should do another release of just the knackered in-between bits where nothing much appears to be happening. It might make for a strangely soothing ambient album. I’m joking, of course.
Speaking of your live show, you’ve also performed with Bass Clef as Ekoclef. Did those shows follow a similar trajectory? Do you plan on keeping that collaboration up?
Yes, Ekoclef is an ongoing, if occasional, thing. In fact I was meant to be playing live with Ralph at a festival in the Netherlands last week but I had to cancel for personal reasons. Gutted. I’m sure there will be further opportunities for live Ekoclef, and there are another set of tapes being swapped for a possible follow-up to the Tape Swap album, but we’ve both been busy with other stuff recently so its been slow progress. Perhaps we’ll have some new material ready next year. The live shows are generally pretty free-form, neither of us are particularly interested in just reproducing the studio material, and I think we’re getting better at improvising with each other every time. The last Ekoclef show was at the Electronica En Abril festival in Barcelona, and I think that was our best live effort so far. Ralph got a good recording of that too, so hopefully we’ll release it in some form eventually.
Switching gears a little, Ekoplekz is a reference to your Eko organ. Is it still as vital to your sound as it was when you started, and have you made any major modifications to your setup (other than the guitar FX pedals, electric guitar, electric bass, and stylophone listed on your blog) since? Do you still try to work with a limited setup, or do you have ambitions to build something on a larger scale?
Ah, yes…the Eko organ. I don’t think it’s completely broken, but there is a problem with its headphone socket (which is the only line-out). It’s always been a bit crackly since I found it in that charity shop, and I would often have to fiddle around for a while to get a good signal out of it (one of the reasons, along with its ridiculous weight and size, why I’ve never gigged it), but the problem got progressively worse to the point where it is now unusable, until such time as I get around to fixing the damned thing. The last thing I recorded with it was that buzzing drone section midway through “Part 2” of Plekzationz, which is basically the noise it makes now whenever I try to use it. But it has been a vital component to most of the more melodic material in the past. I love that old, cheap, nasty transistor organ sound. You can hear it all over the “Dead Escalator Suite,” but it was out of commission by the time I recorded the PLKZFX material. However, you will hear it again on some material coming out later this year, which was actually recorded late last year, when it still worked OK.
I still continue to work with a very basic set-up. There is no high-end gear in my studio at all. My monitors are Celestian Ditton 15-XR hi-fi speakers from the 1970s, which were given to me after an elderly relative passed away a while ago. They would’ve been considered budget speakers back in the ’70s, but they sound beautiful to my ears today. I do try new things sometimes, which will often lead to a slew of new material in a very short space of time. For instance, I got about three albums worth of material out of a tiny, boutique 4-step analogue sequencer I bought on eBay for about £65, and the simple act of feeding a Korg Monotribe through a fuzz pedal can lead to hours of possibilities. But I have no desire to work with banks of high-end expensive kit. I prefer the limitations imposed by keeping it lo-fi and basic. It means I have to dig deep creatively, always scraping around in the dirt, trying to conjure something from this mess of wires and boxes, rather than lazily dialing through endless banks of pre-sets for inspiration, or relying on samples of other people’s creativity to drive my own. Even when editing and arranging in the digital domain, I’m just using the Audacity freeware. I leave all that professional mastering to the professionals. Although some of my cassette releases, such as Memowrekz and Skalectrikz, were never professionally mastered. That’s the raw Ekoplekz studio sound right there.
Speaking of “relying on someone else’s creativity,” you did your first remix last year, for Chairman Kato. How did you approach that remix, and what are your thoughts on remixes in general? Will you do more? The remix process seems out of line with your usual mode of operation.
Chairman Kato wasn’t the very first, but it was the first paid, officially released remix I did. The very first was actually something I did for my friend Bob Bhamra of West Norwood Cassette Library fame, just as an experiment. It ended up as a free download over at Sonic Router. And although it looks like a split release, the 7″ single I did for the Snuglife label was actually a remix of material provided by Drvg Cvltvre. I will very shortly have my remix of the legendary electronic composer Tod Dockstader released on the flipside of a 10″ (the A side is a superb reMMix by Baron Mordant, as featured in my LWE podcast), and there are a couple of others waiting in the wings.
So I’m not adverse to remixing at all. In fact it can make a refreshing change. Sometimes I’ll just play the digital stem samples straight from the laptop into my analogue set-up and record the results as the FX pedals chew it up and spit it out the other end. And I’m more than happy to accept a small offering of cash for my efforts. But it is something I consider to be extra-curricular to my main work. My approach to the Kato remix was actually to write a whole new track and then drop some samples of his sounds into it afterwards. I really worked my ass off on that one.
Ahh, OK. Well, on the topic of the mix, you provided a description when you sent it, but do you have anything to add about its theme?
I couldn’t say there was a firm theme to the mix, other than it’s all material by artists or labels who I am in personal contact with. That might sound like I’m being a bit cliquey, but I’m just being honest. When it comes to new music, I tend to listen mainly to stuff that friends send me, and this podcast reflects what’s been on my turntable, tape deck or media player recently. Most of it is already released, but there are a handful of exclusive bits that are due for release in the very near future.
And what’s coming up for you?
As for my forthcoming activities, my live work has had to take a back seat for while, mainly for personal reasons, so I don’t have much on the horizon. But there’s plenty of action on the release front. Probably too much, to be honest. I think next year I definitely need to calm it down dramatically because I’m in danger of flooding the rather limited market I inhabit. I tend to generate a lot of material, and I’ve just been incredibly lucky to have so many labels into releasing it all. But I suspect the saturation point is rapidly approaching. In the next few months, I will have a double album on Editions Mego, quickly followed by the follow-up to Intrusive Incidentalz on Punch Drunk, and also an album by eMMplekz, a new collaborative effort between myself and Baron Mordant which I think will really surprise those who follow both our work. There are also numerous split tapes and remixes in various stages of preparation, so it’s all busy busy busy.