Interview: Adventures in Lo-Fi – The Cyclist

Young Derry producer, Andrew Morrison aka The Cyclist, is a rising star in a movement of lo-fi tape distorted house and techno.  Signed to Stones Throw with a new EP coming out on LA’s cult 100% Silk, Morrison’s melodic take on a genre that he’s labelled ‘tape throb’ is in increasing demand.  Jack Carolan caught up with him before his Doodle gig at the Soup Kitchen to discuss the aesthetics of lo-fi, the joy of sampling and retro-futurist tendencies.

JC: What is ‘tape throb‘? 
AM: It’s raw and lo-fi house. I’ve called it tape throb in the past as a reference to Throbbing Gristle and using cassettes. I didn’t even know there was a movement and hadn’t heard of L.I.E.S or Trilogy Tapes. I was just making some lo-fi dance beats.

What is the appeal of using tape? 
I’m a sucker for a good melody or a good chord sequence. It just works so well when you tape distort a warm chord or any major chord on a synth, it doesn’t get any warmer than that.

What are your influences? 
Throbbing Gristle and Cabaret Voltaire took the possibilities of music as far as it could go at the time, pre-dating industrial techno. The harsher elements of my sound definitely come from that, from Cabaret Voltaire particularly who used tapes to distort sound. Lone does a similar sort of thing with the rave minor chord. I’m a big jungle head and influenced by that. People dance like crazy when they hear it. I’ve sometimes thought that if you took away the beats from jungle and kept the other sounds, it would be pretty damn abstract, stretched out vocals madness. I love Rezzet and Low Jack on Trilogy Tapes, in terms of bands I like Tame Impala’s early albums.

Why are you called The Cyclist?  
It’s from a Russian futurist painting by Natalia Goncharova, a painter from the early 1900s. I saw her painting in an exhibition and there’s all this movement and heavily contrasted colour.

The Cyclist, 1913

Luigi Russolo, the writer of The Art of Noise, was a futurist who made noise generators. 
It was a pretty crazy movement.  That definitely in turn inspired things like Cabaret Voltaire. There’s a link with today’s harsher techno and power electronics.

These recurring sretro-futurist tendencies are interesting. It’s similar to grunge in the 90s when 80s rock music had become really virtuosic and bands like Yes and Genesis were going into these multi-million dollar studios making these expensive records, and then Nirvana and The Jesus Lizard came along and scuzzed it up and tried to reclaim some authenticity.
And the same thing is happening in dance music. It happened with rock’n’roll.  It started off so clean, and then got progressively fuzzier and distorted.

With techno and house there is only so far you can go with 4/4.
It’s hard to know where it will go.  We’ve already had crazy-assed IDM.

Aphex and Squarepusher have already pushed things so far with these dislocated time signatures. 
You get polyrhythms because they’re overlaid as well. But the enduring appeal of the 4/4 has got something in the brain. It makes more sense. You can have a 7/8 time give a sense of edginess, you feel like it’s going too fast and that can be used really well to create tension. But something resonates with the 4/4, even with a broken 4/4. On some of my crazier tracks, the 4/4 just holds them together.

Your tracks have got jackin’ Chicago elements, but with the tape distortion they bring to mind bands like My Bloody Valentine, it seems like there’s something underneath that the listener has to find. 
You mean the main element holding it all together? I try to make a lot of tracks as free-flowing and make them a bit disjointed, not right on the spot. I’m influenced by people like Burial who can take beats without synchronising them, and mix that with beats that are totally synchronised. That side gives it a strong structure and when you mix it with something broken like a tap loop with a weird beat, it makes things more free-flowing while holding them together at the same time.

Have you got a way of going about producing? 
I love recording found sounds, just to put the microphone down and record anything you can find.  On one track I’ve recorded a shuttlecock with a badminton racket for the bass drum, put up the EQ.  It made the track really fuzzy, it wasn’t held down by that perfect compressed kick.

The whole foundation of glitch started with Luigi Russolo and in the late 90s Akufen and Matthew Herbert made whole albums of found sounds, such as Herbert’s ‘Tesco’ album made up of things he found in Tesco.
It makes your music more personal and autobiographical and a lot more possibilities are opened up.  I love sampling, that’s the main thing I end up doing. Even when I use 808s or 909s, it will often be sampled from a cassette mix from the 80s, and then cut up with a Roland sampler, for example.

You played at Celtronic Festival in Derry this year.  When I moved away from Derry about 8 years ago, not much was going on in the clubbing scene apart from Deep Fried Funk
There’s a lot more going on there.  They’ve opened up the Bunker, it’s a car park that’s used for rave spaces as part of the Ebrington Barracks, the former British army barracks on Derry’s waterside. They’ve had some great people over. More people are interested, the nights are packing out every weekend, even at £20 a ticket.

A delegation of techno producers and other representatives of the city of Detroit were going to Berlin recently to investigate how Berlin benefits from licensing laws and being a rave city. Berlin, like Detroit, doesn’t really manufacture anything, all it has is the government and a massive cultural infrastructure.
You have to use these disused spaces, either open them up to the public or encourage entrepreneurs to do it instead of having these ridiculous restrictions.

What do you think of the recent wave of club closures, iconic places such as The Arches in Glasgow and Twisted Pepper in Dublin? 
I read some mad number that they’re closing in thousands. Twisted Pepper was an iconic club, I played there a few times, they had so many good bands and DJs.

Are people losing interest in dance music?
I think people’s interest in dance music has increased, but it’s hard to say, isn’t it?  New places are opening here and there, just not enough of them. It might have something to do with licensing laws, because you don’t see everything closing in Berlin, quite the opposite, clubs are opening there.

EP coming out on All City Records, Dublin, LA label 100% Silk and working on an EP for Hypercolour

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