Friday, 21 February 2014

Feature: The Cyclist (BidoLito!)

The Cyclist

When introducing his new album ‘Ghettoville’, London producer Actress said that he “wanted it to sound brittle, as if you were an addict and you feel like the world is crumbling around you”. This kind of controlled chaos, when you know that the sound coming out of your speakers extends beyond anything you could possibly understand, is what drives Derry born, Liverpool based producer THE CYCLIST. His debut album Bending Brass, which already reaches beyond the Atlantic thanks to the support of Stones Throw and LA’s Leaving Records, is an intense, challenging and immersive listen, capable of completely removing you from your surroundings. Whether your on a dancefloor gurning your tits off or on the last bus home from town with your headphones on, all those little intricacies and nuances are far too much of a distraction for you to be able to focus on anything else.

A third year pharmaceutical student at the University of Liverpool, Andrew Morrison is a producer that strives for innovation. “I’ve always been a solo artist”, he explains. “When I was fourteen my brother bought a four-track tape recorder, and around the same time I downloaded an old copy of Ableton. From there I just started fucking around which each of those, going back and fourth between them. It was a long, long process to pick it up to be honest. It really took me ages to figure it all out. I didn’t use any tutorial videos or anything, just fiddled around with it in a trial and error sort of way”. The accessibility and versatility of workstation software like Ableton or FL Studio has produced a generation of self-taught recording artists, which has arguably been central to the relentless forward momentum of electronic music over the last ten years. I mean, ‘fucking around’ is just another way of saying experimental these days anyway, and he is certainly no stranger to it.

Morrison speaks openly about how financial constrains have impacted his music career so far. And even his Bandcamp page warmly describes an old, twenty-pound keyboard he used to record the album. “Ah yes, that keyboard”, he chuckles. “To be honest, being a musician and a student - two of the poorest types of people in the country - I’m just really fucking skint”. Furthering your career and furthering your wallet don’t necessarily correlate as much as they should do for musicians. And whilst the argument of whether or not they are fairly compensated for their art is an important one, Morrison has found ways of making his lack of resources, well, resourceful; using what is essentially a toy keyboard to create sounds that even the most seasoned electronic music ears won’t be used to hearing. “Yeah, I mean by this point I’ve sort of grown to love the noises of the cheaper things. I tend to look for hardware that can produce interesting, unexpected sounds that you might not get from the normal standard equipment. Sometimes I channel something quite expensive and clean sounding, like an Ableton synth, into something shit like a twenty pound tape machine and see what comes out”. The results are arresting in their originality, and will sound like a mess for those not looking to put the work in. The rewards are generous though, providing a blistering, bewildering, yet absolutely unmissable journey into the furthest corners of electronic music.

On Can, a highlight from Bending Brass, Morrison keeps the rhythmic pattern simple, using a thumping beat and a crisp synth to produce that kind of big room techno tune that deserves to be played on the best sound systems by the best DJs. In the context of the complicated, intricate album, it almost feels decadent, as if Morrison is allowing himself a brief moment of indulgence. “Yeah, Can is definitely the most old school tune I’ve ever made”, Morrison says cautiously. “A lot of what I write is quite beat-less, so it was nice to be able to make something like that, and it’s definitely a sound I want to explore further”. The obvious peak of Can though, would have less resonance if it not for the more subtle moments on the album, like the stuttering, darkly irregular Pins and Needles on My Face, or the snidely tuneless Technicolor. These songs create an area for the blustering, confident Can to sound like a victory lap rather than a momentary lapse in concentration.

“There’s two ways I want people to listen to the album”, Morrison explains assertively. “Either dancing to it, or to be just zoning out in complete solitude, staring into space and totally detached from everything else”. When you consider the contrast in these settings, not just situationally but circumstantially as well, it’s difficult to imagine the same piece of music transcending them both. What Morrison is suggesting though, is that he wants people to get lost in his tunes. I mean, we’ve all been in our own world on a dancefloor, sometimes on a different fucking planet. Similarly, we’ve probably at some point in our shit lives all drifted off sitting on the night bus staring blankly into a crumpled up copy of The Metro (probably on the same weekend if your drugs are good enough). It does raise an interesting question; whether electronic, or more specifically this kind of lo-fi techno can straddle both high art and club culture at the same time. What’s most impressive about The Cyclist’s brief body of work, and what goes some way to achieving this kind versatility, is its interactive element, where it allows the listener to deconstruct and unload the individual components with every listen. All the little touches and convolutions that make up these songs, like that metal on metal clanging on An Abyss Part 2, or that tuneless brass sound on Contorted, feel strikingly tailored, as if he’s spent hours sourcing, molding and affecting them, allowing them to segue effortlessly into whatever state of mind you find yourself in.

In an age of constant production and consumption, it’s difficult to find an artist who completely owns their sound. And whilst this obsession with the original might not be as important now as it was – I mean, some of the best albums in recent years have come from retreading the past - that feeling that you are listening to something unlike you’ve ever heard before is a rare, but precious experience. It happens once, maybe twice a year, and it can be the sort of moment that completely changes your day, maybe even your week. These are the moments that every music listener - from rock music to techno - truly strives for, and they are the ones that stay with us for the longest. Bending Brass, the extraordinary debut album from The Cyclist, moves between Detroit Techno, jungle, dub, even first wave psycedelia, to create a collection of songs that revel in their originality and innovation but in a way that’s warm and welcoming. 

“I’ve got a release lined up under another alias”, explains Morrison as he discusses his plans for the year. “It’s coming out under All City Records in Dublin, and it’s going to be very noisey, distorted 80s house tunes. It will play with simpler rhythms and more repetitive melodies, with a bit of an old school vibe. The label is going to release it across a series of twelve inches around May this year. I’ve spent a lot of time with these tunes, so I’m really excited by them”. It speaks volumes for Morrison as an artist that he doesn’t consider himself an experimentalist. And as he considers moving into more immediate, melodic territory for his future releases, the prospect of him working on top of musical templates already laid out for him is one of endless, and exciting possibilities.

Mike Townsend