SND’s music is singular and without compromise. The pair of Mark Fell and Mat Steel met while at art school in Sheffield, and from 1998 onwards they’ve amassed a wide ranging discography of some the most intriguing exercises in minimalism – their music works of immersive sound, twitching with the deconstructed ghosts of rave, and the dark and shadowy fringes of techno.
They started off by releasing on their own label (also called SND), and have continued to do so, including 2008’s starkly brilliant triple 12” ’4,5,6’. There have also been three albums on Mille Plateaux and one on Raster-Noton. This year they released a split 12” with NHK (hear clips below) on PAN, and are playing at the label’s showcase in London next week. For their Dummy mix they’ve delivered a three hour mix of non-rhythmic music, which is a brilliant showcasing of their control and ability to draw out and engage with sound, all completely on their own terms.
Can you tell us a bit about the mix?
Mark: I have been reading about the relationship between music and beliefs about time – relating mainly to Australian aboriginal music. So I was listening to a lot of non-rhythmic stuff. I suggested to Mat that we do a mix of entirely tonal music. And after complaining for a while he decided he liked the idea and thought it would be good to do an extra long mix. I think this makes total sense.
Mat: What can I say.
You began by releasing music on your own label. Can you tell us a bit about the aesthetic of that label and why you chose to release things yourselves right from the beginning?
Mat: It seemed the only option to us. We couldn’t imagine anyone being interested in anything we might do. We’ve often mentioned our influences at the time but generally we had a clear idea of the parameters we wanted to work within and the presentation of the product. And that it would be a series which had a big effect on the way we worked.
Mark: No one new about our music so we had to do it ourselves. The aesthetic is simple – two kinds of sounds, explore the combinations.
You’ve released albums on Mille Plateaux as well. How did that working relationship come about, and how come you chose to work with them?
Mat: As we said already, we didn’t expect anyone to like, buy, or take notice of our first release. So we just sent records to people we were interested in. One of them went to Peter Ford and apparently he played it somewhere in Germany and the owner of Mille Plateaux was there, heard it, and asked Peter what it was. We stamped a phone number on the sleeve – I don’t think I even had an email address at the time or a mobile – so out of the blue he called my house and asked for a track for a compilation. It was quite a surprise.
Mark: They called us up and asked us to release a record on their label so we agreed. It was a good label at the time I think.
Your music isn’t necessarily what I would classify as dance music, but it does seem to have traces of it. Is clubbing and dance music important to what you do?
Mat: Yes although we don’t go to clubs anymore. Or rarely. But we like to play in them. And I suppose I think of our stuff as club music although most tracks would probably kill a dance floor (in a bad way).
Mark: Yes we are both primarily from that tradition.
Art is something you’ve both worked in as well. How do you see what you do with art in relation to how you work with music?
Mark: There’s no real relation I think. Any more than say doing the gardening has a relation to my music.
Mat: I agree.
You’ve both made music independent of SND. How do you approach your solo work compared to your collaborative work?
Mark: Collaborative work has to be more planned so it can fit into our timetables. But other than that it’s probably more or less the same.
Mat: Working with someone else does come with positives and negatives. Like you can reassure each other that what you are doing is OK. But you have to juggle both your schedules to fit work in which can become a chore, and you both have to be motivated at the same time.
What have you got planned for the near future?
Mark: I’m working on some new solo stuff. That should come out later this year. Not sure what Mat has planned.
Mat: Got a few gigs coming up, maybe one in Sheffield which will be nice. Possibly organising another festival in 2013. Super busy on other projects at the moment but once that subsides we’ll probably get round to discussing what we want to do next.