The music and the making of Ekoplekz

04.05.12 Words by: Ruth Saxelby

Bristol native Nick Edwards has had his hand in the electronic dance and experimental music scenes, both as a musician and an avid music writer, off and on for more than two decades now, but it’s the unvarnished, analogue-based recordings that he’s been composing for the better part of the past couple of years under the name Ekoplekz, that have really captivated attention.

Strains of radiophonic work, dub, reggae, experimental sound work, and even industrial can all be heard in Ekoplekz’s recordings – released on labels including Punch Drunk, Further Records and Perc Trax – but those genres serve merely as initial footholds in the attempt to describe what Edwards is creating, as it defies easy classification in the most enjoyable of ways. It’s tempting, and perhaps not too much of a leap, to imagine that the interests he explores with these recordings have been slowly building for years.

Strains of radiophonic work, dub, reggae, experimental sound work, and even industrial can all be heard in Ekoplekz’s recordings.

Back in 2003, when music writing from a personal platform on the internet was still a relatively new idea, Edwards started the music blog Gutterbreakz and quickly found his niche among other like-minded music bloggers. What began as a curious inquiry into online community quickly developed into a respected source as Nick detailed the formative stages of dubstep, and posted frequently about the artists and work that had informed his enthusiasm for experimental electronic music, specifically Richard H. Kirk and Cabaret Voltaire, Suicide, and the BBC Radiophonic Workshop. The site was updated continuously for nearly six years, until taking an indefinite hiatus in April 2009.

Not long after stopping his blog, Edwards began recording abstract electronic transmissions straight to tape using an all analogue set-up, and self-releasing the material in small cassette and CD-R batches online; something he still does routinely. The catalyst and inspiration for this newest endeavour had come in the form of a second-hand Eko organ found at a thrift shop in early 2010. The resulting work has been inspired, with moods that move from searing and visceral one minute to playful and lilting the next.

Even when he’s using harsh or dissonant sounds to create truly alien textures and riddims, the music maintains a strangely meditative effect, radiating warmth from within the squalls. There is a strong sense of play in much of the work; a deft give and take where Edwards uses instinct to dictate when to let the opposing pressures of his analogue elements build into a frictional and all-consuming mass, and when to just sit back and let the listener hear the equipment breathe. Often a swirling tide of feedback or a particularly stout or primal formation of bass will slowly recede and dissipate like a breaking fog, only to reveal an eerie and affecting melody tangled in the low simmer and crackle of tape hiss beneath.

Ekoplekz uses instinct to dictate when to let the opposing pressures of his analogue elements build into a frictional and all-consuming mass, and when to just sit back and let the listener hear the equipment breathe.

And that really begins to get at the heart of what makes Ekoplekz’s music so extraordinary; even when synthesizing so many rich influences, his sound remains uniquely his own. You can readily see the artist’s hand in both the nuances and broad swaths of his work. This is due in large part to the physical touch and keen responsiveness and spontaneity that he has developed with his hardware and the raw materials at his disposal.

Nowhere is this touch and ingenuity more apparent than in his improvisational live set-up, showcased at Unsound Festival in Poland last year. Edwards prefers to eschew pre-recorded samples or any linear attempts at recreating his studio material, for what he views as the far more appealing, and potentially rewarding, opportunity to create a unique arc and experience with each live set. The risk that an improvisation could fall apart at any moment, or that the man operating these circuits by force and degree could lose control of their output when he’s pushed them to a fury, doesn’t necessarily detract from the allure of such a venture either.

“The idea was just to capture these snapshots. These moments in time where sounds and ideas are just beginning to form out of nothing.” Ekoplekz

Far too few artists are willing to open themselves up to this level of risk and failure yet the rewards can be great, as Edwards continues to prove. The week sees the release of ‘Skalectrikz’, a double cassette on UK label Mordant Music. The set takes its name from a remark The Wire journalist Sam Davies made about an Ekoplekz live show in 2011: “It’s like watching someone firing their music round a sonic Scalextric set.”

I recently asked Edwards about the genesis for this release: “At that time, I was beginning to develop this very spontaneous, improvised approach to live performance, and the name just stuck as a shorthand for the techniques I was developing. By the end of the year, I had amassed quite a few hours of these ‘Skalectrikz’ improvisations on tape, and myself and Mordant Music agreed it would be interesting to compile and present a document of the work.”

In many ways, ‘Skalectrikz’ is the most authentic document to date of Edwards’s working process. The first tape collects many of his favourite studio-based improvisations, while the second tape presents live recordings from 2011 European and UK gigs. The only restriction he placed on the work was that, aside from choosing where to bring the music in and where to fade it out, neither tape would be edited, overdubbed, or post-produced in any way. “The idea was just to capture these snapshots,” explains Edwards. “These moments in time where sounds and ideas are just beginning to form out of nothing.”

Mordant Music released ‘Skalectrikz’ on 3rd May 2012 (buy it here)

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