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Even if you’ve been all over the world, your memories will fade into oblivion when you set foot in Gatekeeper’s hellscape. Morphing grotesque hyper visuals like 80s sci-fi weapons, malleable multi-dimensional sculptures, and granite sphere water fountains into industrial techno beats, Aaron David Ross and Matthew Arkell basically define the universe of retro-futurism by thrusting you on their phantasmagoric sounds. After a release through Kompakt imprint Fright, their second EP ‘Giza’, released via Merok (home to many other electronic-synth fetishists like Blondes , Salem , Teengirl Fantasy , and Telepathe ), has proved its captivation not only through those motorbike engine rumbles and acutely chilling rattles, but also the many layers of rich and tightly woven operatic oscillation. On listening to the 6-track night-riding EP, you may even get teleported into a time warp where you will find the true nature of Gatekeeper’s compelling, infinite soundscape.
Both born in 1984 in the great Sonoran Desert of southern Arizona, Gatekeeper’s Aaron and Matthew met in Chicago in 2008, and have been making music together in New York since. They have just started their 2011 European tour yesterday, and are debuting their live show in London this Saturday at Lanzarote, where Laurel Halo , Konx-Om-Pax , Blawan , and Casper C will also make an appearance. You can download their MP3, Serpent (remixed by Nowa Huta ) on the right, and get in the mood for their live shows. Expect lots and lots of smoke.
How’s it going? What have you guys been up to recently?
Aaron: We’ve been very busy, working on mixes, remixes, film scores, collaborating on artistic projects, also preparing for a European tour and getting ideas together for an LP… The most recent project we finished was for a video/sound installation at Saatachi gallery by our friends Radical Friend.
Matthew: Hi! Everything has been going well though, we always enjoy the process of transforming play into work…
What’s the story of Gatekeeper? Why did you start this project?
Aaron: We had always screwed around with music together and Gatekeeper came out of that kind of naturally… all of a sudden we started having the same ideas.
Matthew: This project is an extension of our natural personalities and musical inclinations…just in their most extreme and exaggerated forms.
How did you come up with the name Gatekeeper?
Matthew: We liked the trans-dimensional imagery the name invoked…
I would say your music is very night-driving and atmospheric, what’re your inspirations when coming to production?
Matthew: They’re mostly visual, we like to try and create a very specific sort of physical environment in our studio as well… dual monitor mood boards, intense lighting, plants… atmosphere is everything.
Aaron: Yeah it’s very visual, typically we’re thinking about some kind of narrative, trying to create a path between different dimensions, moods, eras, styles. Night driving is always a good one.
What’re the biggest influences (if any) on ‘Giza’?
Matthew: Advanced ice age civilisations, lots of early techno… Orbs.
Aaron: Sacred vocal music, acid, EBM, compression and reverb.
Do you make music together or separately? Do you work at night? (I can’t possibly imagine you guys working on a track on a sunny day…)
Aaron: Yeah I guess we typically work together at night…
You wrote an article for us last year, and said that there’re countless different versions of Mirage, how are those versions different to the final version?
Matthew: The other versions of Mirage differed stylistically… The track was fun to create but difficult to complete.
Aaron: Many bounces along the way where that relentless bassline was automated in countless different ways… finishing it was a magic trick I still don’t know how it happened.
What should we expect from your UK live shows?
Aaron: We are very excited to be bringing one of our Thunder Horse collaborators with us on this trip, so as long as the clubs allow fog, the UK shows will be a Las Vegas style magic show.
Matthew: Since we have our friends Thunder Horse with us it should hopefully be something pretty similar to our U.S. show… just travel-sized.
How are your live shows different from your DJ sets? What do you play when DJing?
Aaron: We don’t consider ourselves proper DJs, in general we listen to a lot of music so we can play what we like, anything from Enya to hard house, and it’s fine.
Matthew: We like to DJ but we’re not that good at it so we usually don’t pretend we’re real deejays… The live set is completely different though, we use several hundred pounds of equipment and have a professional FX crew.
If you were to re-score a movie, which movie would it be?
Matthew: Too difficult of a question, way too many movies immediately rush into my mind. I think a lot of our choices would be kinda obvious though… We’re preparing to score a real sci-fi movie, more information soon!
Aaron: I’d like to make the music for a David Copperfield magic DVD or one of those planetarium movies that takes you through various constellations.
What’s your relationship with films score? How has it developed over years?
Aaron: I’ve always been very connected to film music… I studied film scoring in college and have dreams of writing film music later in life. The idea of writing music that explicitly tells a narrative is really compelling, and something that Gatekeeper totally rely on.
Matthew: Aaron and I have always taken inspiration from it. I think the literal film score influence was a little bit stronger in our earlier work, but certain more conventional elements of it will always be inseparable from our project due to its highly visual nature.
Who did the album artwork for ‘Giza’? Can you elaborate on the concept a little bit?
Matthew: Dan McPharlin painted it, he’s an amazing hard sci-fi illustrator/designer from Australia.
Aaron: We worked with Dan to create an ambiguous world, something that wouldn’t be too literal, expressing one possible interpretation of the music. We love the “choose your own adventure” vibe a lot, and that seems to resonate with all the different album covers ‘Giza’ could have actually had. There we many drafts, we spent a lot of time tweaking to get the image exactly right. He is really talented, we love the way it came out!
Your music videos are highly stylised, did you come up with narratives/brief ideas and give suggestions to Thunder Horse? Or did you let them do whatever they felt like?
Aaron: We worked very closely with Thunder Horse, we all brainstormed, storyboarded, and created the work together. We were PAs on the shoots and I even helped with some animation during crunch time. The concepts were developed along with the music so we were very, very involved. We’ve all been friends for a while so working together is very natural and productive! <3 U THV
Matthew: We really like collaborating with Thunder Horse. Conceptually we’re always on the same page, plus they bring an entirely different skill-set to projects… this dynamic allows for much more creative freedom.
Use three words to describe your music.
Matthew: Surreal reverb plug-ins.
Aaron: Fantasy techno.
What is your favourite album/track at the moment?
Matthew: Autechre EPs 1991-2002, Jam City – Arpjam, Voodoo & Serano – Blood is Pumpin
Aaron: Loving the new Ford & Lopatin record, I’ve also been obsessing over Mort Garson’s astrology LPs (the series… trying to track them all down, can anyone help me?)
Any guilty pleasures?
Matthew: I’m obsessed with Yahoo Chess.
Aaron: Flash paper, Phantom of the Opera.
Who is/are your all-time favourite producer(s)?
Matthew: Too tough to narrow it down, I like almost every style of electronic music… Vangelis, Aphex Twin, DJ Slugo.
Aaron: Jean Michelle Jarre, Wendy Carlos…
What are your best and worst touring experience?
Aaron: Best was undeniably Mexico City, where the promoter brought us to the Teotihuacan pyramids the day of the show to charge up on pyramid power. It was a Halloween show and the entire experience was totally surreal and amazing. We’ve been pretty lucky in that. The worst experiences are usually [at gigs where] we’re not allowed to use fog machines in clubs.
Matthew: Best: visiting the Teotihuacan pyramids. Worst: I can’t sleep in uncomfortable places.
What does 2011 hold for Gatekeeper? What are you most looking forward to?
Aaron: We’re collaborating with our good friend and amazing visual artist Tabor Robak on an in depth virtual environment; a video-game style world of interconnecting, evolving tunnels… with our music and sound design. Its a really exciting project. We are also planning on beginning the process of recording our first LP this fall, which should be coming out early 2012.
Matthew: We’re also looking forward to 2012.
11th Glasgow School Of Art, Glasgow (w. Laurel Halo DJ)
13th The Great Escape Festival, Brighton (w. Planningtorock / Laurel Halo)
14th Lanzarote @ Elektrowerkz, London (w. Laurel Halo / Konx-Om-Pax)
15th Private Party, Stonehence
17th AB Club, Brussels (w. Mount Kimbie)
18th Studio 80, Amsterdam
19th Stag And Dagger @ Hoxton Bar & Grill, London
20th The Social Club, Paris (w. Erol Alkan)
21th Fantasy On Repeat @ Charlie Wrights International Bar, London (w. Hyetal DJ and guests)
Karen Ka Ying Chan interviewed Gatekeeper on the 8th May, 2011