Individual Perspective: Boxcutter

Channelling the specter of Suburban Base era jungle, classic hardcore and 2-step variations into a distinctively individual whole for almost a decade, Irish producer Barry Lynn aka Boxcutter has built up a body of work that most ’04/’05 graduates of the bass scene would envy.

Across four albums, Lynn has managed to pretty much soundtrack the past 20 years of dancefloor-focussed electronic music. Entwining the bass-led vibrancy of London with the sounds of early Detroit, late eighties references with the shadows of early nineties Rephlex classics, his music converges on a point that is part synopsis, part avant-garde innovation.

Leaning heavily towards an analogue sound that harks back to the days when Warp was an underground dance label and John Major was in power, Boxcutter’s sound has developed from dubstep affiliated darkside experimental tracks shot through with soul, through to a warmer, cosmic take on garage, disco, electroid funk and everything in between.

With current album ‘The Dissolve’ being his richest and most rewarding release to date, we discussed his roots in production, his take on genre categorization and his long-standing relationship with Mike Paradinas’ Planet Mu.

So, taking it back a bit to the mid-noughties – how did you first become involved with Paul Rose and Hotflush?
Yeah it was my first release, in 2005… I’d been listening to Jay Da Flex’s show on 1Xtra, he had a Saturday night slot where he was playing the ‘FWD>> sound’ as people called it, and I heard ‘Knowledge’ by Toasty, which I knew was on Hotflush. I was paying attention to that sound basically and was just really interested in it. So as soon I felt I had a couple of tracks produced well enough I sent them over to Paul and a few other people, and it went from there…

Since then, you’ve been with Planet Mu for all your album releases – what is it about the label that suits you so well?
I don’t know… I get on with Mike, and I’ve always listened to [µ-Ziq/Mike Paradinas’ Rephlex-released 1993 album] ‘Tango and Vectif’ alot, and I suppose the fact that he’s an artist as well means he doesn’t care so much about how commercial things are. I feel like I can bring him any sounds that I come up with – he’s just really open to alot of stuff, and his A&R work means he’s really on it, and is good at finding good people and getting great results from them. I have alot of time for them [Planet Mu] and respect for their whole attitude and approach.

I think they’ve done really well recently…
Yeah I’m really feeling alot of the recent stuff – I loved that Oriol album, and the juke stuff as well… I suppose people accuse him of being a bit bandwagon-y but it’s just paying attention to what’s fresh, he doesn’t just hang onto something because he liked it 5 years ago. He’s able to move with what’s contemporary but at the same time, always find his own niche in it.

I think he’s definitely got one direction, or a certain sound, that’s played out across different tempos and scenes….
It’s a certain roughness that he likes that sits really well with me as I have a tendency to fret about music, I never feel that happy with alot of stuff and I’ll tend to ruin tracks by working at them too much, so he can be really objective and clear about things. If it wasn’t my music, I always prefer to hear rougher versions, so he can do that for me and help me find a point in the track where it still has lots of vibes in it and isn’t too polished, which syncs with what I’m trying to do at the moment – giving things an unpolished kind of sound.

People have tended to lumber you in with the dubstep scene – have you ever considered yourself a part of that?
I’m rubbish at talking about genre’s. When you’re not in London or around a vibrant musical scene… I was always on the fringes geographically so I always saw different scenes more as based around similar sonics. If you did a half-step track at 140bpm and it had lots of bass, then fuck it that may as well be dubstep to me, but then other people have a way of seeing it where it has a whole social side to it as well. The more I’m round it the more I can see how important the social part of it is, but my original perspective was just “if the sonics are there, you may as well call it that”. But I wasn’t going to sacrifice my individuality to a scene or a sound – as soon as I want to try something I will, so that makes it awkward and contrary to sit within the confines of a sound y’know?

Sometimes people can get the social side confused with the music, where the social side or the image takes over – which I guess is a bi-product of when a scene blows up globally like dubstep has…
To be honest I did see where dubstep has ended up, I kind of saw that – that idea of making sure that the specific social and musical side is all tied together – it’s a kind of branding exercise and I’m really, really disinterested in anything to do with marketing music, hyping music and making a brand or whatever. Which is probably pretty obvious because if I had wanted to have exploited ‘Boxcutter: experimental-razor-sharp-beats-dubstep’ thing I could have and just led that name as hi-tech, granular synthesis dubstep sound, and it would have been simple, and easy, and marketable. But its not something I’m interested it – it’s probably suicidal from a career point of few but I don’t like that side of things and tend to naturally exclude myself.

So with your more recent work, you’ve further explored soul territories with vocalists, moving away from that harder sound you did have – is that a conscious decision?
Yeah it’s deliberate. I didn’t like that some of the early Boxcutter tracks… the darkness had that sort of Burial appeal, and I didn’t think it represented my peronality as well as other sounds might. And that’s not to say I don’t like heavy or dark or angry music, but I worried that it can overtake because it captures people attention quicker. If you a really aggressive, dark fucking banger that’ll be what people remember, rather than something softer. Even going back to that first Hotflush record, it had the 2 sides there already, with the B-side being guitar loops and saxophone and stuff, and that was deliberate as well, to pair off hard and stuff. And the other thing was just getting tired of electronic, and plug ins, and everything being in a box. It’s not that I don’t still love that, it’s just that it didn’t feel like that’s what I should be doing – it’s a combination of what happens when I get rid of the plug-ins, and try and express a broader spectrum of emotion.

So what can you tell us about ‘The Dissolve’?
It’s a really difficult one to describe – i took 2 years pretty much. I finished ‘Arecibo Message’ pretty much December ‘08, so I had all of ‘09 and all of last year just to experiment and see where I wanted to go. I think it’s better to listen to in order, it’s one of those sorts of things. It’s kind of more of the same I guess, I don’t think there’s anybody expecting a dubstep album from me in 2011! So it’s just a case of what can I do, what will sound interesting to me, and hopefully give people something they can live with and enjoy. So I’ve been trying out lots of different textures, still doing alot of stuff with analogue gear, but leaned back on the guitars a bit heavier, as there’s a couple of totally guitar tracks I’m quite into.

So how much of the album was recorded live?
Alot of it – there’s no midi on it at all – there’s a couple of little Detroit-y synth parts that were sequenced, but I was just trying to play stuff in and leave some of the rough edges in the playing and give it a looser sound. I spent alot of time trying to make ‘wonky’ for wont of a better term – making loose down tempo grooves – and there was a couple that came out okay, but I couldn’t really get enough bounce in there… I’m not into using loads of compression to make a track catch your ear – I think it’s a bit of a cheap and overplayed way of catching your attention, so the wonky thing never really caught on [with me].

You mentioned leaning back on the guitars for this album, and you’ve always brought a heavy musicality to your production, would you consider a full live show in the future, or are you interested in working with bands and vocalists?
Yeah I think I’m ready to produce a band at this stage – I’m as pro-band music as I’ve ever been! I came from that in my teens listening to alot of Spiritualized and post-rock, and that was almost how I got into alot of electronic stuff, as post-rock started turning into alot of IDM sonics after a certain point, so I’m really into that and think I could do a good job at this stage. I’ve always tried to get a live-ish sound to it, and I’ve always been using my own playing, so I’ve always been sourcing from that side of things. So yeah definitely – hook me up!

’The Dissolve’ is out now on Planet Mu.

Interview: Louis Cook