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Hessle Audio have been at the forefront of UK dance music for years now, shapeshifting and morphing in accordance to their tastes. Through their regular DJ gigs and their now-weekly Rinse FM broadcasts, they've been commentators on the scenes that have come and gone, while they've also contributed to these scenes through the much-loved 12"s that they've put out.
One of Hessle's founders, David Kennedy, previously known as Ramadanman but nowadays known as Pearson Sound, is the second artist on the label to put forward a full-length record. The dance LP has and always will be a notoriously difficult medium to crack, but Kennedy feels that now is the right time to present all the work that he wouldn’t want to just put on single 12”s.
Pearson Sound’s self-titled record takes on a very different form to the singles that he’s been dropping for the past couple of years, showcasing music that he describes as “disorientating” and “apocalyptic” when we meet for tea to talk about the record. Opener Asphalt Sparkle’s obliterating stomps and oscillating, cranking sonics sound like you’re being lifted up by a dizzying rollercoaster cart, only to be descended into the darkness in the unexpected musical journey that follows.
You guys all met at FWD>>, didn't you? With Plastic People shutting down, and the potential new regulations at Fabric, how do you feel about London nightlife at the moment?
Pearson Sound: "It’s certainly in a difficult place. It’s reflecting more generally on what’s happening in the city, with people not wanting to live next to live venues, and people being priced out of living in areas that were once affordable.
"I think clubbing and nightlife is really low down on the list of priorities from councils and the government. It’s always had this low rung. They don’t seem to appreciate how many people it benefits; how the music scene is one of the most notable things about the UK. I wish some people would appreciate the impact it has on people meeting new friends and forging new musical partnerships. The amount of legends that will have spent their formative years in clubs… But I don’t really see it changing, to be honest.
"Then again, there’s that space in Wapping [Studio Spaces] that's got a 50-days-a-year contract for 24 hours, which is pretty impressive. You can’t build a club like that in somewhere like Peckham because it’s a very residential area. It’s a trade-off between somewhere that’s easy to get to, and having the Shoreditch walk-up crowd. That was part of the reason Plastic People started having licensing troubles – when they first opened in Shoreditch, it was a very different area, and then in '08, '09, '10 you’d get crowds who’d just walk up and have no idea what was going on. That led to a few issues with the council. I don’t want to say they were the wrong crowd, but they weren’t there for the music. At Dance Tunnel, they’ve started asking people on the door who’s playing – which is one way of doing it."
Do you think a door policy at clubs in London would be beneficial at this point?
Pearson Sound: "I think it’s good that there are some clubs people can go to just because they know there’s going to be something interesting going on that night, because not everyone is a super music nerd. Some people are just curious. I wouldn’t really want to go to a club with 100 fan boys and girls who know exactly who the DJ is.
"What makes a club interesting is having a real mix of people. You go to somewhere like Berghain and you’ll see people complaining: 'This person in a tracksuit got in!' and 'This rich-looking guy in a shirt got in!' That’s the way it works: it’s a big mixture of people, not just a whole room full of techno nerds."
"I think clubbing and nightlife is really low down on the list of priorities from councils and the government. It’s always had this low rung. They don’t seem to appreciate how many people it benefits." – Pearson Sound
When did you start working on your album?
Pearson Sound: "Probably about 2013, or late 2012. Some of the earliest tracks I’ve been playing for a couple of years in sets, but the real concept of the whole thing came together early in 2014, when I had a strong idea of what I wanted to make. When you have a clear sense of what you want to do, it makes the whole process easier.
"It’s snapshots of what I’ve been up to, based around a particular way of making tracks. I’d become a bit uninspired in 2011 and wanted to switch up the way I worked. This record is the summation of the past few years of experimentation, just wanting to present what I’ve been up to. That’s why it’s self-titled, and the cover is a picture of me."
Why were you were feeling uninspired?
Pearson Sound: "'Uninspired' is maybe the wrong word, but I was so busy. I’d just moved to London and had a million things going on in my life. I was DJing 15 times a month and had no time for anything, so in 2011 I took two months off completely and took the chance to do all the things I’d been meaning to, including switching up my studio set-up. It helped. I got healthy again; I had weekends at home for a change."
Did you feel unsettled again when you moved back here, then?
Pearson Sound: "Well, I’m from London, but I was living in Leeds for five years and decided I wanted to go back. It was just a busy time. When you’re in and out like that, it’s not very healthy. And when you have two months off of gigs, you start to look forward to them again. Before, I’d just be really tired and get to a show and not feel very sociable with the people who’d made the effort to bring you out."
What's the Leeds scene like at the moment?
Pearson Sound: "I’m not really sure. The club I do [Acetate] seems to be really healthy. They can book really underground lineups and be really busy. It’s a student city, so there’s always people up for going out."
Would you ever think about bringing Acetate to London?
Pearson Sound: "No. I’ve always been asked that, but I just want to keep it in Leeds. If people want to go to a night, then they just have to travel. I did that when I was 18 – there’d be parties in Leeds, and I’d just get the coach up, stay all night, and get the coach back. You have to make an effort.
"People in London have it too easy sometimes. I’ve had people come up from London and from other places to come to Acetate. A mate of mine, Blawan, who’s from Yorkshire, he was saying, 'Keep it in Leeds, keep it special. Why does London always have to get everything?'"
"I want to keep [Acetate] in Leeds. If people want to go to a night, then they just have to travel. I did that when I was 18 – there’d be parties in Leeds, and I’d just get the coach up, stay all night, and get the coach back. You have to make an effort." – Pearson Sound
How did you commission the album's artwork?
Pearson Sound: "We got in touch with someone who’s a set designer. He’d heard of my stuff and we linked up, listened to music, and shared some ideas. We eventually narrowed it down to some sort of distorted portrait. It was shot in real life – the image is actually just a photograph. It hasn’t been manipulated at all. We wanted to do something based around a portrait, but sinister and weird, so we’ve come up with this really stretched face."
I think the relationship between the artwork and the music that’s inside is really interesting.
Pearson Sound: "A lot of the time the artwork can be overly instructive of how you should feel about a record: if it’s a moody dubstep record, there might be a photo of a graveyard. I didn’t want to do that with this record. I wanted it to be really bright, crisp, and not at all moody or wishy-washy – something that looked really high definition. Something memorable, that’s not a blank background with centred text."
"A lot of the time the artwork can be overly instructive of how you should feel about a record: if it’s a moody dubstep record, there might be a photo of a graveyard. I didn’t want to do that with this record. I wanted it to be really bright, crisp, and not at all moody or wishy-washy – something that looked really high definition." – Pearson Sound
The cover feels indicative of the record – all these different styles and tempos. The first half feels more club-orientated, and then the second half is comprised of the more out there stuff.
Pearson Sound: "With the ending, we didn’t want it to have a traditional, sloping-off ending – we end with this horrific noise for a minute. So sequencing it, you want to bear that in mind and not follow a rigid, potentially traditional structure.
"It’s hard to say how much of a club record it is. The first track [Asphalt Sparkle] was quite meditative for me, inspired by playing some absolutely loud sound systems where the bass notes make this really cavernous sound. I played it on The Moat stage at Dimensions, where the sound system is way too big for the space, and it sounds how it was designed to sound, basically. That track sounds slightly apocalyptic to me."
I was thinking that it sounded apocalyptic. I’ve been noticing that a lot of club music being released right now has had that end-of-the-world atmosphere. I wonder if there’s a general feeling in the air.
Pearson Sound: "I was having this discussion with a friend recently, where I was maybe sharing quite a negative worldview. He said, 'Look, humans have always thought that their generation would be the generation where it’s all going to end.' There’s always been people thinking, 'This is it', but what he was arguing was that our generation isn’t special. Humans have always found a way of overcoming difficulties – whatever menace to humanity there is. After speaking to him, I’ve come out with a more positive worldview."