Materialising from sonic dystopia and shadows into bright light, “analogue evangelist” Martin Jenkins and Ride guitarist Andy Bell join forces on ‘Let’s Emerge!’, the dazzling new Pye Corner Audio album

The UK is in the thick of an unprecedented heatwave. The last few days have been marked by 38-degree temperatures, flagging transport systems and dire – if entirely sensible – warnings to stay indoors. For those more used to England’s perma-grey skies, it’s been punishing, to say the least.

Today though, things seem to have settled down a bit. It feels like a balmy summer’s evening in London, rather than a harbinger of climate apocalypse. On Little Portland Street, people are milling around, waiting for tonight’s show at The Social, taking selfies in front of a mural of the much-missed “Guv’nor”, Andy Weatherall. And inside, in a booth at the far end of the bar, two men are cheerfully reminiscing about where they first met – at this exact venue, in fact.

On the left is the Head Technician himself, Martin Jenkins, best known to readers of this magazine for his acclaimed work as Pye Corner Audio. He’s the relentlessly prolific breakout star of the Ghost Box roster, and a firm favourite of documentarian Adam Curtis and ‘Black Mirror’ mastermind, Charlie Brooker. On the right is guitarist Andy Bell – co-founder of shoegaze heroes Ride, GLOK electronicist and a celebrated solo artist in his own right – also no stranger to these pages.

They’re here for a special one-off performance of the terrific new Pye Corner Audio album, ‘Let’s Emerge!’, on which Bell adds lush guitar melodies to Jenkins’ sumptuous soundscapes. At the time of writing, the record’s only been out for a few days, but it’s already being hailed as one of the year’s most exciting electronic releases – and rightly so. Even amid both artists’ varied and often brilliant discographies, it’s an immediate standout, a stunning collaboration that brings warmth and optimism to a year that has so far lacked many reasons to be cheerful.

“We initially met at the Sonic Cathedral 15th birthday event,” reminisces Jenkins. “Right here, in this booth. We were both doing our own sets, then got chatting afterwards and ended up getting quite drunk and setting the world to rights. I’d been a fan of Ride for a long time, and we just seemed to have a lot in common.”

“I’d done a tiny little set, two tracks in between bdrmm and Martin,” explains Bell. “I went to the bar and then I heard Martin starting downstairs – I think it was ‘Lost Ways’ [from 2016’s ‘Stasis’ LP]. I remember hearing this kick drum and the bar emptied as everyone went off to watch. I didn’t know his stuff back then, but I was like, ‘Yeah! This is my kind of thing!’. I was blown away by it.”

The performance in question is documented on 2020’s ‘Social Dissonance’, and the pair ended the night with loose plans to work together somewhere down the line. By this point, Bell was planning to release his first music as a solo artist and was keen to find ways to establish himself outside the confines of his various band projects.

“Nat [Nathaniel Cramp – Sonic Cathedral founder] had approached me and said, ‘Have you got anything you can offer me for the Singles Club?’. I was sitting on a huge amount of material I’d done over the years. I’d always thought, ‘When the time is right, when the stars align, I’ll do something that’s not part of a band’. So in the heat of the moment, I agreed to do it.”

Choosing exactly what to put out, however, was not easy.

“The heaviness of this decision – picking two tracks to put out for a seven-inch single – started to weigh down on me,” remembers Bell. “I wanted to go into an area where it had a real late night, intimate, Arthur Russell or Big Star’s ‘Sister Lovers’ feel. You know, not have any drums, keep it quite sparse, something a band wouldn’t do. So I started from there.”

The result was a series of singles and EPs, including the blissful psych-folk strum of 2020’s ‘Cherry Cola’. When Bell needed a remix for it, he knew exactly who to turn to. The Pye Corner Audio re-rub of ‘Cherry Cola’ adds Jenkins’ trademark metronomic kicks and analogue menace, while retaining the song’s conviviality, hopefulness and general good vibes. Several more PCA remixes followed, all collected on the ‘Indica Gallery’ and ‘See My Friends’ EPs. The seed was sown.

That same sense of euphoria seems to have rubbed off on ‘Let’s Emerge!’. Where Jenkins’ work is often characterised by a sense of brooding unease – see any of his releases on Ghost Box or 2015’s ‘Prowler’ on More Than Human – ‘Let’s Emerge!’ shimmers with the heat haze of high summer, particularly ‘Warmth Of The Sun’ and the slow-burn psych of ‘Sun Stroke’. The newfound joy radiating from its grooves is also reflected in the exuberant title and Marc Jones’ bold, typographic cover design.

It is, however, an album born out of difficult circumstances. Yes, we’re talking in part about the pandemic and lockdown, of course, but also a turbulent period in Jenkins’ life.

“I don’t want to go into it too much, but last year was quite tough for me,” he admits. “Making this felt like some kind of a release. It just felt right and good to be doing something a little bit brighter. I needed to look ahead and focus on the future. It’s not too sugary but I think, sonically, it’s optimistic. For me, making it was very cathartic.”

The album started out as a four-track EP with a consciously stripped-back sound.

“I had packed up my studio, so I basically used the bare minimum of equipment,” recalls Jenkins. “Just a few pieces, some favourite gear and a couple of new bits. Making it was a process of exploring, which is quite nice. I ended up with four tracks, and it was a different vibe to my usual stuff. I was really enjoying it, though, so I said to Nat, ‘I think there’s more where this came from…’.”

As the music came together, however, Jenkins realised something was missing.

“Most of the time, I will fill every space on a record,” he admits. “But I felt with this that I was subconsciously leaving a lot of space for something else.”

A good point, then, for Andy Bell to step in and return the favour following those remixes. Although ‘Let’s Emerge!’ isn’t billed as a full Pye Corner Audio/Andy Bell collaboration, Bell is absolutely integral to the sound, lending his textural guitar chops to half of the album.

“I really wasn’t quite sure what I was going to be getting,” admits Bell when asked how he had approached the partnership. “But then when I played the [work-in-progress] tracks from Martin, I was like, ‘OK, I get where he’s at with this. I know what kind of thing to go with’.”

Bell took a fairly loose approach, generating a lot of material, but ultimately leaving Jenkins to figure out how everything fitted together.

“I gave him a lot to play with,” says Bell. “I didn’t try to tie him down too much to specific parts – I let him create them out of what I’d done. I did maybe two or three takes per song with different sounds and different textures, then I left him to construct it.”

“I was almost dreading getting 16 parts for every track,” laughs Jenkins. “But you could feel that it was a real performance. So for me, it was a case of placing pieces here and there, putting things in the right place, while trying to keep the general structure of what Andy had done.”

“The next thing we’ve got to do is get in a room and do one live,” says Bell with a grin.

Perhaps part of what makes ‘Let’s Emerge!’ feel so coherent is the shared reference points between its two creators. Spacemen 3 were a formative influence on the young members of Ride and remain a guiding star for Bell today. Jenkins is also a huge fan. Another shared love is Stereolab, whose debut LP offered both aural and visual inspiration.

“One of the things I said to Marc Jones about the cover was, ‘Do you know ‘Peng!’ by Stereolab? That’s what I’m looking for’,” says Jenkins. “I was a full-on metaller when I first heard Stereolab. I bought ‘Peng!’ on cassette. It had this weird half-sleeve that only covered part of the tape, and when I saw it, I thought, ‘That looks interesting – I’m gonna get it’.

“I remember a lot of my mates taking the piss out of me, saying, ‘That’s definitely not heavy metal!’. But I was completely blown away by it. I think the repetition is what interested me. And that was my entry into other sorts of music, because I was only really into house and heavy metal at that point.”

“What kind of metal were you into?” asks Bell.

“A lot of classic rock and thrash – Black Sabbath, Suicidal Tendencies…” replies Jenkins.

“Oh yeah, I got into them for a while because of that film, ‘Repo Man’,” nods Bell. “It’s got Suicidal Tendencies on the soundtrack. That was a good film! Our drum tech recently played me an album by Gojira called ‘From Mars To Sirius’, and it blew me away. It’s super-intense. He put it on extremely loud on our tour bus and I was like, ‘Oh yeah!’. Certain heavy metal just resonates.”

There’s even, I suggest, a tiny bit of The Beatles’ radiant psychedelia in the DNA of ‘Let’s Emerge!’.

“Yeah, they were great at bringing things like minimalism into the mainstream,” agrees Bell. “All these modern classical ideas that were knocking around in the 60s – they brought them in. ‘Tomorrow Never Knows’ is a Trojan horse for those ideas.”

“I’m a massive fan of The Beatles,” says Jenkins, nodding. “I always thought ‘Yellow Submarine’ was a nursery rhyme because we used to listen to it all the time at school. But it’s a pop record. It’s not music that’s been there forever – it’s relatively recent.”

Martin Jenkins has been releasing records as Pye Corner Audio for 12 years now, starting with the cult classic ‘Black Mill Tapes’ series in 2010. As those albums found an audience, he drew the attention of Ghost Box, with whom he’s released four LPs and several singles. A steady stream of releases on labels as diverse as More Than Human, Lapsus and Ecstatic have filled out his sound, as have several aliases – The Head Technician, for instance, is more straightforward house and acid techno aimed squarely at the dancefloor, while The House In The Woods project is all about doom drones and ominous tones. So how does he feel his sound has changed over the last decade or so?

“I’m not sure if the music has evolved,” says Jenkins. “I work with a lot of labels and, without being cynical, I do try to get a bit of a handle on what each label is about and steer the music to fit. It’s an opportunity to explore these different aspects, because it’s all in me, you know?”

“I get that,” agrees Bell. “This is a really great Sonic Cathedral record as much as it’s a great Pye Corner Audio LP. It’s good that it’s like that. It’s a bit like Miles Davis working with Gil Evans on stuff that’s orchestral, and then going off and doing something that’s more for the jazz club.”

“And it keeps it interesting,” adds Jenkins. “Whenever I’m doing a new album – any album – I want to try to break it up a bit, and this was a very good opportunity to do that.”

Is there a through-line to all of this music, though, I wonder? An element that he thinks unites the many facets of his sound?

“I always want to have some kind of undercurrent of oddness in whatever I make, even if you can hardly hear it,” he says. “It’s probably more easily apparent in the earlier Pye Corner Audio tracks. I spend a lot of time making things people probably won’t hear but are just bubbling away. I like the idea of having stuff in there. If you’ve got those layers in your music, then you can listen to something for years and years and make out things you’ve never picked up on before.”

‘Let’s Emerge!’ is out on Sonic Cathedral

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