Forging a new union of man and machine – with a little help from some ghosts
“We like the open-ended meaning of it,” says Ed Cox, one half of In Fields, explaining the ambiguous name that he and Raoul Marks adopted for their band. “Raoul was interested in those videos where sound creates shapes with real-life materials, like iron shavings on top of a speaker, but the name also has connotations of being out in the wilderness. It’s a link between technology and nature, which is what we’re trying to achieve with our music. Something made with machines that also feels real, made by something alive.”
In Fields’ debut album, ‘Phantoms’, is a record that is intentionally and rigorously faceless. Inspired by nights out in sweaty clubs where you have no idea who is DJing and no idea what they are playing, there’s a sense of venturing into the unknown and no telling where the music might go next. The result is something deftly nuanced with a relentless focus on trying to evoke a mood of being surprised.
Throbbing, urgent, low-slung cuts like ‘Rise Up’ could be a refracted take on what we used to call progressive house. Sleek tracks such as ‘Feature Length’ sound like a mythical collaboration between Dave Angel and Orbital circa their brown period. There are also mysterious, brooding moments that draw heavily on 1980s horror themes. The biggest jolt comes with the closer, ‘To The Limit’, which is akin to an offcut from ‘Power, Corruption And Lies’ era New Order, more of an eclectic Haçienda rocker than anything else on the album.
Repetition is key, as with most instrumental electronic music, but Cox and Marks keep things fresh by adding little twists and turns, tiny sonic events and interstitial developments. Dance music has often been criticised as nothing more than repeated loops and while it’s true that part of ‘Phantoms’ is skewed towards basic linear arrangements of sounds, there is also that aspiration towards a supposed organic quality which Ed Cox speaks of.
It’s an elusive ingredient, as many electronic musicians have discovered, but it’s something that In Fields bestow upon ‘Phantoms’ principally through actively leaving in mistakes and imperfections. Sometimes it’s a note in the wrong place, or elements not gelling quite as they should do, or just a feeling that the duo are trying to wrestle the tracks under control. The bass wobbles, the percussion is a little out of sync, melodies start in slightly curious places. The effect is subtle enough to seem natural, rather than anything like the “forced error” approach favoured by the likes of Raster-Noton. It’s the work of ghosts in the machines, not gremlins.
There’s a lot of dystopian hyperbole around at the moment about how artificial intelligence will ultimately destroy us all, ‘Terminator’-style. With ‘Phantoms’, In Fields offer an alternative vision of the future, where mankind and technology co-exist harmoniously, and where electronic music doesn’t feel like blocks of sound being pushed around on a grid.