Soundtracking the emergency: Is there space for climate change in dance music?
Andrew Cook, aka Dundee-based producer Samoyed, is drinking peppermint tea. He’s had too much of the normal stuff – “the colour of housebricks” – today already he explains, not that it requires explanation. It’s early in a shapeless midweek evening when we chat, as by day Cook is a university lecturer in product design and by night he makes music that has been known to make grown human beings weep. His largely wordless yet emotionally articulate songs are like those pebbles you stumble across on a beach, the ones that might not look like much at first glance, but something makes you scoop them up and before you know it they’re sitting in a glass of water in your kitchen window, shining with a quiet yet intense beauty. While he’s only had a handful of releases to date – including an album of experimental ambient sounds in 2008 while he was still doing his PHD and an EP titled ‘Spit’ on Astro:Dynamics in 2011 – his stirring way with sound has entranced the ears of some of dance music’s finest: Lukid signed a 12” to his Glum label last year (Her Honey Dripping Behind Her) and now Jacques Greene has put out Samoyed’s Sloe Eyes 12” on Vase. It features a pair of tracks that gently riff on the rhythms of mid-90s house (Sloe Eyes) and UK funky (Guts), subtly channelling visceral echoes of the dancefloor into something warm and round.
“I’m the kind of person who can only enjoy films if they make me want to cry. I’m the same when I’m making music. Unless I feel like something is really making a connection then I just can’t engage with it anymore,” Cook explains over Skype. What is it that creates that connection – a texture, a tone, a melodic line? “It’s always chord changes. That’s where it always comes from and everything else builds around that.”
Sloe Eyes, from Samoyed’s Sloe Eyes 12” [Vase, 2013]
“I’m the kind of person who can only enjoy films if they make me want to cry. I’m the same when I’m making music.” Samoyed
While today Cook’s musical touchpoints are Arab Strap’s Aiden Moffat and Steve Reich, he grew up on on blues and “adult contemporary stuff like Billy Joel” via his parents’ record collection. He has an older cousin who was “quite big on the improv scene” as a drummer playing with Chris Sharkey, Matthew Bourne and Seb Rochford to thank for his route into electronic music: “I stole a copy of ‘Timeless’ [from him] when I was 12 because I liked the cover.” While the hook was visual, musically it proved a revelation and soon after Cook started going to drum ‘n’ bass nights with his cousin (“I looked ancient; I had a beard by the time I was 13,” he grins) and to see artists like Aphex Twin.
That early exposure prompted his first experiments with music production as a young teenager, using a free copy of the music software programme Cakewalk: “I didn’t have a fucking clue what I was doing so I was just making terrible music for a good ten years.” The incremental progress he made, however, set in motion a healthy relationship with and respect for process: “Making electronic music is about working out what your process is but any disruption to that process is a really good thing. I’m not a music gear nerd at all, I can’t be bothered with it, but that’s the role of gear for me: getting a new piece of equipment and disrupting process, forcing you to do something different.”
You went down a design path academically, was music always in the background?
“Making electronic music is about working out what your process is but any disruption to that process is a really good thing.” Samoyed
Samoyed: “I was fiddling around with it for a while and then as part of my undergraduate degree I started learning Max/MSP. You use it for interaction design stuff – or you used to then, you don’t really anymore – but it was a really good way of getting senses into a computer and doing stuff in response to that. So then I started getting into the audio side of it, and started recording the stuff that became [his debut album] ‘Always From This Point’ using the software that I created myself in Max/MSP. It’s like little boxes and you’re connecting them up so it’s almost like the flow of audio – but it’s audio and information. It’s a total nightmare, I didn’t know what I was doing most of the time. I’d set something up – and because I’d built it myself but didn’t really know what I was doing, it would go off on one by itself and I’d record hours and hours of audio and pick out the best 5-10 minute bits. So all the stuff on that album is completely improvised, recorded live.”
Making Snow, from Samoyed’s ‘Always From This Point’ album 
With the material you’ve released over the last couple of years is that working in a similar sort of way?
Samoyed: “Less and less really. The Astro:Dynamics stuff, the ‘Spit’ EP, had quite a lot of stuff I’d done in Max but then taken into Logic and edited together. The Glum stuff is pretty much all Logic and 4-track tape stuff.”
So it’s almost like interaction design was your way into making music, and then you’ve gone on a tech journey?
Samoyed: “Yeah. I’ve been learning on the hoof. Because that’s such a strange way of making music, it hasn’t got all the things you associate with normal software, so it didn’t have normal EQs – well, everything was recorded live so it was just changing things as it went along. So it was like totally learning how to do all that stuff from scratch.”
Malamute, from Samoyed’s ‘Spit’ EP [Astro:Dynamics, 2011]
I like the way you use repetition, and then breaking through that and building on it.
“I’m a massive fan of Steve Reich and that idea of repetition helping to find new things.” Samoyed
Samoyed: “In the least intellectual way possible, I think that side of my music comes from…it’s two things: I’m a massive fan of Steve Reich and that idea of repetition helping to find new things. But then it goes back to the Max software I was using, when repetition was a really necessary part of that. It was all about pulling different things out of the repetition live. So having layers and mixing between the layers and changing things really subtly. I think that’s where that comes from.”
The more recent tracks you’ve posted on YouTube – Minnow and Angel St Nunez – really grab me by the scruff of the neck.
Samoyed: “With Angel St Nunez I was trying to do this John Hughes soundtrack kind of thing. That’s definitely something that I’m trying to carry on with. Then there’s…it’s maybe getting a bit tired now…but there’s that whole Memphis Junts thing, which was what my inspiration for Minnow was. All that really gothy, early 90s, badly recorded tape-y, Memphis hip hop stuff. Really, really dark, evil sounding stuff. Minnow was all about trying to take the aesthetic of that but make it less dark.”
It’s like a pool of sadness.
Samoyed: “You just described me in one sentence.” [Laughs]
Where’s that come from?
Samoyed: “I’m not really that sad at all.”
Everybody’s sad, it’s part of being a human being.
Samoyed: “I think what it comes from is that I’m far too open.”
It’s better than being closed.
Samoyed: “That’s what I think but then all my friends take the piss out of me and call me rainy-face.”
That’s what good friends do.
Samoyed: “It definitely keeps me in check.”
Humour is the glue between Cook and the reputable bunch of fellow producer friends keeping him in check: Lukid, Mr Beatnick and BNJMN. The sometime collaborators (they run an occasional night together called Pride Of Gombe) share a knack for tender tones yet have the sharpest of comic streaks. “We are very close. We spend so much time speaking to each other and sending each other music, it almost feels like we’re all turning into the same person.”
While Cook is quick to crack jokes – it’s practically impossible not to slide into dad joke mode in conversation with him – a heartfelt note always follows the self-effacing snort.
When I mention that I like the way he uses the human voice as a presence and ask what drives that, he laughs: “Because I’m trying to copy Lukid most of the time.” But then: “All joking aside, I think that’s where experimenting with voice comes from, because the way he treats it is just incredible. It’s always very abstracted but it still sounds really human and gives a real human presence to his tracks.”
Having moved back to Dundee from the relatively isolated Scottish Highlands to take up his teaching post – another new process – he’s now considering his next musical move: “I’m starting to think about recording an album but I want to work out what I’m doing first. I’m doing lots of experiments without anything really developing into tracks. I’m just trying to find the new sound.” Cook might not realise it yet but he’s already half-way there.