Acid house, kosmische and the sounds of the city… Death In Vegas orchestrator Richard Fearless explains how all this and more have fed the creation of his latest album, ‘Future Rave Memory’
“My studio is a shipping container where the River Lea meets the Thames, opposite the O2 and in the shadow of the London Docklands. I’m in this Ballardian landscape opposite a steel factory that works 24/7 supplying metal girders for all the construction in London, and under the flight path of City Airport, but parts of Tower Hamlets are some of the poorest areas in London. I’ve never felt my finger on the pulse of the city as much as I have done here.
“The river is a powerful thing to be next to. One theory is that the word ‘Thames’ came from the Sanskrit word ‘Tamas’, which means ‘the flow of darkness’. A mate of mine’s got a boat, which we went out in the other day. I didn’t realise there’s a morgue on the Thames, because of the amount of bodies found in it. I’ve been finding out more about the sugar and slavery trades too. The river has this ominous history. These are heavy things, but I tend to focus on the darker aspects of life and draw on them as inspiration.”
“As I cycle in to the studio, I go past these colossal data storage buildings. I’ve always struggled with technology. I tend to work in a very analogue way with a lot of tape machines – the computer’s just used for recording. I mean, half the records in my box were brilliantly made by people on laptops, but as a producer and a writer I’m like Conny Plank – that whole thing of putting down a mix is a performance. I want to work my instruments.
“Anyway, I started thinking about these data storage places and what they represent, about the damage that could be done if one got taken out, and how you could shut down the city. I wanted to find out what they sound like, and I managed to get into one to do a recording. They sound amazing – thousands of servers going, this colossal drone, like the opening act at Atonal festival. It’s the sound of the future, a statement of where we are in our out-sized place in the world.”
“In the last five years, about 1,500 flats have been built around the studio. It’s been intense. They do a lot of pile-driving, and a few people down here have lost their minds. I’m the only one who’s found it inspiring, that repetition of sound. I’ve been recording it for the next Death In Vegas album. I grew up in a very remote area. I was born in Zambia, then I moved to the Kalahari Desert, where my dad was an engineer, so I don’t know what it is about being in London… I’ve tried to leave, I just keep getting drawn back.
“A few years ago, I read this book on field recording, which really opened my brain up. As a musician you spend your life listening to old Detroit records and wondering how you can sound like someone else, but I feel I’m beyond that at this stage in my career. I’ve refined my tools and my work’s getting stronger as I gain confidence in what I’m doing. Now, sources of inspiration can be radio hiss or the drone of a broken junction box. It’s incredible to walk around with a mic and headphones on – like having supersonic hearing.”
“A few years ago, I got asked to play at a festival in Germany celebrating Roedelius. The night before, I played an all-night set at the Golden Poodle Club in Hamburg – 10-and-a-half hours. I had a ton of records with me, three boxes on this reinforced builders’ trolley. I arrive, someone introduces me to Roedelius and he starts asking about my records, really intrigued. I told him I’d played for 10-and-a-half hours, all proud of my feat. He took it on board, then said, ‘Mmm, yeah… I once jammed for 24 hours’. Then he walked off. It was hysterical.
“‘Watussi’ by Harmonia has been incredibly inspiring for me. Ever since ‘The Contino Sessions’, it’s something I put on in the studio. I’m a terrible synth player, but I’ve played everything on the last few albums. I’m drawn to Roedelius’ sense of melody and I find his use of arpeggiation and delay really motivating.”
“When acid house came along, it was my punk rock. I was 16 or 17, into My Bloody Valentine, The Stooges and whatnot through my older sisters and brother. Then I was given this Detroit compilation and everything happened – ecstasy, acid house… I started going to raves in London. Andrew Weatherall was the DJ I wanted to see – I remember going to Blood Sugar, Haywire… there was just something about his sets, the way he would build them up.
“The last song on my new album is ‘Our Acid House’. It’s the pinnacle of the record for me. The day Andrew died, I was in a studio. I found out in the morning and was absolutely floored. I’d had a studio with Andrew, he was an old friend and a real inspiration. I decided to keep working, doing that song, thinking about him all day. I was trying to represent this set I remember Andrew doing at Blood Sugar, but more broadly that feeling of unity, of bliss, that would come in the moment at a rave.”
“This is something I’ve… I don’t want to say ‘battled with’ because that’s not how I’d frame it. It’s something I’ve always suffered from, but I’ve tried to turn it around and draw on it. Whether a discordant note or a song in a minor key, I don’t make music that’s spirit-lifting and hands-in-the-air, but I do feel I’m able to tap into this broken beauty. It’s a thing I can channel in a positive way, rather than trying to hide it, and it’s the same with a lot of artists I like.
“When I was studying photography, people like Diane Arbus were an inspiration, people whose subjects were outsiders, who concentrate on the underbelly of society – noir crime writers like James Lee Burke or Elmore Leonard. I’m 50 this year, and you get to a point in your life where you’re not ashamed to dig into your own psyche a bit more.”
‘Future Rave Memory’ is out now on Drone