On their prog house-inspired new album ‘Arseholes, Liars And Electronic Pioneers’, provocative electronic duo Paranoid London are as anarchic, unfiltered and gloriously engaging as ever

I’m in Paranoid London’s current studio, hidden away between rows of suburban houses near Finsbury Park, utterly surrounded by keyboards, rack-mounted effects, modular units and other cool-looking gadgets. They take up every inch of space around the edge of the room, and on one side they’re stacked from floor to ceiling on frames that look to be groaning under the burden. The irony is not lost on the Paranoid London duo Gerardo Delgado and Quinn Whalley, who have forged their reputation as one of electronic music’s most exciting prospects by stripping away all the trimmings.

Although things have developed since their first white label release in 2007, not least in terms of some spectacular vocal contributions, theirs remains a sound usually revolving around the same spartan weapons as those used by the original acid house pioneers. Namely, the fearsomely distorted and pushed-to-the-limit Roland TR-808 and TB-303. 

The exception to this rule – at least before their recently released third album, ‘Arseholes, Liars And Electronic Pioneers’ – was 2021’s more spacious and dubby ‘Annihilate The World’ EP, which was recorded during lockdown after their 303 broke and pandemic restrictions meant they couldn’t get it fixed.

“When we started, we were at The Fortress and we had loads of stuff all connected up,” says Whalley, referring to the east London complex once inhabited by Andrew Weatherall, among others. 

“The temptation was to keep adding things instead of concentrating on the bits that were working. We never released anything. So we stripped it right back and the first album was made just on an 808, a 303 and a Korg MS-20. We’re still not finished with the MS-20, either – it never fails to surprise us.”

Whalley explains that nearly all the contents of this particular Aladdin’s cave belong to the studio owner Margot (who is a dab hand at building and repairing gear) and their studio co-renters, the promoters of underground London club night Body Hammer.

“It is handy,” he adds. “Because if we do feel like it, we can always grab something off the shelf and see what it does. But you don’t need that much on a record.”

The stripped-down simplicity of Paranoid London records, I venture, is certainly something their audience lap up. 

“That’s a shame, because we were trying to be clever,” laughs Delgado.

But where’s the computer screen? There is a computer lurking somewhere, but it basically acts as a glorified tape machine rather than the heart of studio operations. Why? 

Because, as Whalley explains, any computer-based set-up relies on one person operating the technology while the other sits around doing little or nothing beyond making the odd suggestion. The real magic happens, he says, when both members are improvising together.

And that’s very much the Paranoid London modus operandi – turn on the machines, start improvising and record everything, ready to home in on, select and edit the moments of inspiration that might arise.

“I always start recording even before we’ve switched the machines on,” says Whalley. “Because usually it’s when you’re trying to find your way around something that it sounds fucking brilliant. As soon as you think you’ve got it, then it just sounds normal.”

“Sometimes, it’s not until you listen back that you realise, ‘Oh, hang on, that sounds good’,” adds Delgado.

With a prolific output including countless 12-inch records and three albums to date, the challenge has become to avoid repeating themselves. 

“We have an idea of what Paranoid London is now,” says Whalley, explaining that when they start playing they’ll often revert to type, whereas when the trademarks and standard tricks get left behind it becomes more interesting. “We have hundreds of Paranoid London tracks that we’re never going to put out because they’re too Paranoid London.”

While featuring plenty of the gnarly acid house workouts so beloved of their now-considerable audience, ‘Arseholes, Liars And Electronic Pioneers’ marks a definite branching out. The key to that lies in the pair’s adrenaline-charged live show which they’ve been developing over the past decade, from a riotous debut at the Rex Club in Paris to the truly spectacular launch of the latest incarnation in December 2023 at north London’s massive Drumsheds venue.

Conscious that fiddling with technology onstage doesn’t always make for the most entertaining of sights on a night out – “like watching two men mending a television set”, as NME writer Johnny Cigarettes once put it, when reviewing Autechre – Paranoid London engaged the services of vocalists Mutado Pintado (Warmduscher’s Clams Baker) and Josh Caffe early on, making them as much a fixture of the live show as the pair themselves. 

Although very different singers, each represents an important strand of dance culture. 

Caffe – sensual, soulful and often suggestive – is the link to house music’s ultimate origins in the gay clubs of Chicago. Pintado, meanwhile, a long-time employee of house label Strictly Rhythm in New York before moving to the UK, is less suggestive and more blatantly and hilariously X-rated (check his contribution to 2022’s 12-inch single ‘Suck A Dick’ for further evidence). 

Rarely seen without his wide-brimmed 10-gallon hat, Pintado looks like a deranged preacher in full flow once he’s on the microphone, his Revelations-style proclamations routed through successive echo chambers to give him the full apocalyptic feel. He’s there to represent the more chaotic, agitational roots of electronic music – think Throbbing Gristle or Suicide – that emerged directly from the experiments of the punk movement.

“We’re quite lucky with our vocalists,” laughs Delgado. “We tend to attract freaks.”

With Caffe or Pintado – and sometimes both – on hand, plus Delgado and Whalley’s enthusiasm and improvisational skill always bringing something new to existing material, it’s no wonder that they’ve found themselves playing to bigger and bigger audiences. The ‘Arseholes’ album was very much designed with larger live stages in mind.

“We’d been doing lots of festivals, playing to shitloads of people, not all of them necessarily into Chicago and Detroit and all that stuff,” says Whalley. “We really enjoyed it, so we thought, ‘Let’s imagine there are 5,000 people there and it’s 5am in the morning’. So it’s a bigger sound.”

“Definitely more festival-friendly,” chips in Delgado.

“Moving in here and getting to know Margot… it’s the first time anyone else has really been involved in the music side of what we do,” continues Whalley. “She helped us mix it down to give it more of a hi-fi sound. Because we’d done two albums of hard, jacking stuff, it was time to do something different. I mean, it still is that, but it just sounds a bit more expansive. She worked fucking miracles on what we had, basically.”

“We’re trying to get out of the sweaty boxes we’ve been playing,” says Delgado. “They’re amazing, but the next step is bigger stages, and so we’ve got a massive visual show together. You have to have a bigger sound to match the visuals and match the audience. Instead of 500 people, you’re looking at 10,000 or so.”

They’re not deserting the clubs by any means, though.

“We’ll still do those smaller shows,” says Delgado, reassuringly. “But they’ll be more like DJ gigs. We’ll bring the 808 and the 303 down, but we’ll be playing them over records.”

Having introduced vocals from Caffe and Pintado, plus band favourites Alan Vega of Suicide, Simon Topping of A Certain Ratio and LGBTQ activist and DJ Bubbles Bubblesynski on their second album, 2019’s ‘PL’, number three is an equally guest-heavy affair. ‘Arseholes, Liars And Electronic Pioneers’ opens with Primal Scream’s Bobby Gillespie delivering wonderfully hazy, languid words to the utterly blissed-out ‘People (Ah Yeah)’, sounding every bit like one of the more laid- back moments on ‘Screamadelica’. ‘Touch The State Of That’ sees German producer Jennifer Touch delivering her own twist on the 2021 track, ‘The State Of That’. 

Fat Dog’s Joe Love offers a highly funny ode to onanism on ‘Love One Self’, confessing “My left arm is like Popeye’s” along the way. And the steamy exclamations of American house veteran DJ Genesis on ‘Up Is Down’ are heavy on “aural porn” vibes. Caffe and Pintado lend their lung power too on ‘Start To Fade’ and ‘The Motion’, respectively.

The album’s title, say Delgado and Whalley, was suggested out of the blue by a friend of the band and simply stuck, but the visualisation that comes with it has become pretty crucial to their live show. The faces of various heroes and villains morph into each other on the screens, while the album’s artwork also features a patchwork of much-too-familiar faces such as Boris Johnson rubbing shoulders with unsung pioneers like Patrick Cowley. They’re the easy ones to guess at, but examine in more detail and you may get a few wrong.

“The concept is quite simple,” says Delgado. “There are loads of arseholes in the music industry – and some electronic pioneers. We all had lists – the electronic pioneers were the hardest. We didn’t want to be too obvious. There are DJs on there who you might think are electronic pioneers, but who we think are arseholes.”

As they emerge from the underground to become a major act, Paranoid London’s mission is to keep sight of the original, egalitarian and anarchist DIY spirit of dance music, something that the targets on the album’s artwork help reinforce. The wonderful thing is, they couldn’t give a shit about making authentic carbon copies of classic Chicago and Detroit tunes – from their name and logo to their choice of vocalists and the music itself, it all feels very, very British.

They wax lyrical about the days during the 1990s when UK clubs would host midweek nights to 300 or so punters with Andrew Weatherall and Richie Hawtin staffing the decks. They discuss the networks of friends they’ve built up from raving over the years and how the confidence to talk to anyone has arisen from the culture. 

“A mate of mine has a theory that instead of doing national service, every person in the country should do an E at some point,” says Whalley. “Because nobody has come out of that a worse person.” 

He may have a point. After all, both Gerardo Delgado and Quinn Whalley have been steeped in dance culture from a very early age, the former’s father being a trumpet player in his native Spain, often contributing to key Spanish disco records, while Whalley’s pedigree is truly out of this world. 

“My mum and dad used to live with Martin Hannett,” he says casually when the subject of New Order is raised. Wow. Does he remember him? 

“I was a baby then. They’d all go out and Tony Wilson would babysit me.”

It turns out that his dad, Steve Whalley, was the guitarist in a pre-Factory Manchester band called Greasy Bear, who Hannett produced. Bruce Mitchell, their sticksman (later of The Durutti Column), taught him to play the drums. 

“He [Mitchell] was a teddy boy but he was also Animal from ‘The Muppets’,” says Whalley. “He would kick his drum kit apart. Amazing dude.”

Whalley remembers being brought along to studio sessions and left to entertain himself in a corner with a Moog modular synth and a pair of headphones. There’s even evidence.

“My dad still has a tape of me from when, at the end of the day, they’d say, ‘Come on, let him record something’. My old man is playing the bassline, with me playing the drums, and then we dubbed these synthesiser noises on top. God, I’ve not thought about that for 40 years. When he finally pops his clogs I’m going to raid his possessions and find the tape.”

‘Arseholes, Liars And Electronic Pioneers’ is out on Paranoid London

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