For 22 year old Essex-based producer Stuart Howard, otherwise known as Lapalux, sound is an issue. From his debut release, 2008’s ‘Forest’ EP, Howard explored the decayed edges of experimental beat music, constructing typically haunting atmospherics around swinging hip-hop rhythms and glitched, broken electronic noise. Tracks like ‘Deforestation’ refracted his exploration of textures and melody into both dark, concrete-like percussion and light, looped soul ambience, aligning the young producer nicely with US counterparts like Samiyam, Flying Lotus, Lorn and any number of West Coast/Brainfeeder-affiliated beat makers.
Having taken time out for music college, Lapalux returned this spring with a blazing set of tracks in the form of the ‘Many Faces Out of Focus’ EP on the newly minted Pictures Music label, home to fellow producers Koreless, Chairman Kato, Dark Sky and Dauwd. Over the course of 6 tracks, Howard demonstrated his painstaking exploration of sound through a refined, cleaner lens. Lightning bolt synths mixed with a blanket of field recordings, samples and stabs of heavy bass, spilling the likes of Aphex Twin, Boards of Canada, classic Warp and old school boom-bap hip-hop into the mix, and coming through with a cleaner, more precise, and deeply visual sound. Your average dancefloor fodder this is not, as real song structures reach out of the dense fabric of sound, before dissipating, or being swallowed whole by the rhythmic backbone.
With remixes for Soosh, Totally Enourmous Extinct Dinosaurs, Abel and more, plus plans for an album later this year, we met up to talk through his production process, synasthesia (he doesn’t suffer from it), inspiration and future plans.
So for anyone who doesn’t know – how did you first get into production?
I always hark on about this software I used to use on the Playstation 1 called Music, the bare minimum thing that allowed you to loop and make little tracks, so I used to get home from school and use that to play around with beats and shit. Back in the day going into school, recording people speaking and going back and manipulating it, putting it into bits and pieces and cutting it all up. This is when I was about 12, 13 maybe…
And since then you’ve continued to build your own sound, with your debut ‘Forest’ EP released in 2008, and the more recent ‘Many Faces Out of Focus’ EP on Pictures – ow has your sound developed since then?
It’s a lot clearer I think nowadays I think. Back in the ‘Forest’ EP days it was all cassettes and just fucking about with that, and there’s a certain quality and aesthetic to that whole EP, it’s like lo-fi, mishy-moshy collages of sound, where as nowadays it’s a bit more focussed I’d say, and a bit more ‘song writing’ instead of just smashing ideas together.
It seems to not only have a cleaner sound, but that ‘cleanliness’ adds a colder sound, despite your music being quite emotionally warm…
Yeah well even when you come down to mixing, now I’m pushing all the EQ’s around all over the place just to create space in the mix, and also using stereo spreading and tweaking bits here and there, where as before I probably wouldn’t have done that. Plus I’ve just come from a degree of music techonology as well so its part and parcel of what I’ve learnt over the years – it’s a mixture of digital and analogue, but I want to blur the boundaries so you can’t tell where its come from.
So is that a particular sound you’re going for in blending those two mediums?
Yeah it really is – I do get bored of listening to dance music as it is. Some of the stuff coming out recently is just 4/4 and there’s no real life in it I don’t think. So personally I just wanna do what I do, I don’t want to go by any rules. I want to experiment with sound a bit more and not just be shoved in a box like “oh this is witchhouse” or “oh this is IDM”, I wanna be able to make my own patented sound really.
You music has a very visual quality to it, in that it seems to have some really deep audio imagery – is that something you think about when you’re producing?
Definitely yeah. Inspiration for myself is usually drawn from something I’ve been watching or some image I have in mind. I mean I don’t sit there every time with a picture in my hand thinking how I can translate it into sound, but it’s got a sort of synasthesia sort of thing, which is how I like to think of it. In the collage aspect of my sound it’s like a busy photograph, or some sort of busy painting – I’m trying to paint an image of sound [laughs]!
So have you actually sat there with an image to get a feel, or a vibe for a track?
Yeah I went out on a little Hipster session out in Clacton on Sea and took a load of photos of derelict old buildings and rubble and all this shit lying around – it was a closed down building site right next to the seaside – and I had a load of pictures scattered about my desk recently, and a couple of recent tracks have definitely been inspired by them. I tend to have a noteboard above my computer, and I look at it and fill it with images I find, and stuff I have scattered around my desk.
‘Deforestation’ by Lapalux (from ‘Forests’ EP)
You have alot of ‘found sounds’ in your music. How much field recording do you do, and are there any particular places where you go to record?
I’ve got a little portable recorder with 2 stereo condenser microphones on it, so I just go around basically. Some of it’s just in my room, going around tapping pots or I have a glass on the desk and tap it with whatever I’ve got lying about, or I”ll have it going through a little mini mixing desk so I’ve got and record clicks or fingers, or claps of hands. But even going outside and just recording the birds in the trees, just to add that backing texture – it won’t be prominent, but it’s very fine detail that I try and put in the background of most of my stuff to try and make it less digital. It’s all about textures and subtle background I think, so I bung a load of stuff in.
It sounds like it must take a while to produce each track…
The majority of the time its just hours and hours of putting little bits in and making it sound how I wanna do it really. Some things come out really quickly, and you get a massive surge of inspiration and all the drums fit, and it all sounds nice with textures, so it works really well really quickly. Other times I’ll be sitting there and I’ll be working literally 4 or 5 hours on a 4 bar loop and it just goes on like that. I’d say starting off I usually hear something, like a sample on television, or Youtube or something like that, so I’ll nick that, put it into Ableton or on the sample pad, and then just work around it, then get rid of it afterwards due to copyright and all that. Or recently I’ve picked up my bass guitar and started playing that again – I’ve DI’d it straight into the computer, and just work around jamming with that.
The field recording is obviously pretty important for you, and in effect you’re sampling organic life – do you think it’s important for music to contain that organic sound?
It depends what you’re doing, but I think if it suits the mood and the tone I think why not? I’d like to hear more of it in music as I think as there’s something lacking at the moment with really digital-sounding releases. There’s good stuff within it but it seems like “it’s music, and that’s all it is”. But things like soundscapes, there’s so much more that can be done with it, especially panning in headphones or in a 3D space, or the sound of wind in the background, can create such a contrast between sections then you can with others.
Is that something you’re interested in – sound installations?
Yeah – well I’ve done a bit of sonic art in the past, recording all sorts of things and just mashing it over 20 speakers all around your head, but yeah I would like to to work on something like that, but there’s not much of a calling for it. I think getting a good song out is more appealing to me.
There seems to be a real vibrancy in the UK beat music scene, it seems to have reinvigorated itself – is that something you’ve noticed?
I think alot of labels are getting onto the idea that “this is the new thing that we need to do”, especially in this country, we need something else instead of say, James Blake, we need some other sounds. We’ve got all the post-dubstep sounds and all of that, but I think the next step is to get some really decent UK artists with the whole beats thing. I think labels are just more into this side of things, more into collage-y, hip-hop stuff – I don’t know why, but maybe just on the hype hunt.
‘Time Spike Jamz’ by Lapalux (from ‘Many Faces Out of Focus’)
So musically, who’s really stuck out for you influence-wise over the years?
Prefuse73 definitely, through all the beat collage and all the samples and just the manipulation of it all is just phenomenal. And Aphex Twin, all the old school hip-hop like Souls of Mischief, more recently The Books, they’re pretty cool… I’m into The Field major style – absolutely sick, I love their stuff, even though i didn’t think I would as it’s so long and drawn out and nothing really happens!
Finally, what have you got coming up release-wise?
At the moment I’m still in talks about an album, but I can’t really disclose who with, probably within the next few months maybe… And antother EP is on the horizon, and then smashing an album I think.
‘Many Faces Out of Focus’ is out now on Pictures Music.
Interview: Louis Cook
Photography: William Biggs