Whilst putting out consistently high quality music on some the UK’s most exciting labels – including Livity Sound, Hemlock and Timedance – Bruce has still retained a relatively low profile.
He is only the third artist to create an album for Hessle Audio and in a year that has already seen the release of some fantastic dance music albums, Sonder Somatic joins them as a stand out record that ranges from spatial dub techno to out and out club rollers.
I sat down for what I thought would be a quick phone call one midweek morning, and ended up engrossed in a very honest conversation for the next hour and a half, talking in depth about the album from its conception through to realisation… and everything in between.
Let’s start at the very top: when and how did the process of creating the album start?
All from Hessle suggesting it to me! I got an email through from Ben [UFO] about two years ago. They suggested the idea of doing a long play with no real guidelines and I immediately took the opportunity. I had no idea what I wanted to do at that point, I ended up writing myself a brief which I didn’t follow at all in the first few months. I’d say though the process basically started from the confidence those guys instilled in me, to embark on a longer mission.
Do you think you would have done it if the Hessle guys hadn’t suggested it?
I’m not very good with hindsight – at looking back on these things – especially in a creative sense. I find it really hard to push past the emotional and creative roadblocks I’ve overcome in the past. It just made sense there and then because Hessle suggested it.
I’ve learned a lot since then, about everything really. Not just making tunes, but why we’re doing this, what it all means… I’m not too sure I still get it but it’s been a pretty formative process. I’m just really grateful.
So seeing as your first brief went out the window, at what stage did you settle on a concept for the record?
Probably… once I was about six tracks in [laughs] and I was like, “ah these are kind of similar… these work together!” I mean it was something that I picked up on along the way. I was sure basically from the start that I wanted every track to have a kick drum in it, that being a significant trope of dance music. I was trying to pull the strings, pull apart any ideas or standards as I was doing it. But I wanted everything to be functional… to a point. Through that, it was then exploring various ways that I could express the themes I was interested in and ideas that made sense with the other tracks I’d made. ‘Æon’ was the first track I made, so that was like the blueprint essentially. It made sense to carry on with that attitude and that sonic approach.
The album is, an attempt to capture that “…rare transformative feeling that can cause you to fully lose yourself in a club space, disconnecting from your immediate environment for a short time”. What is it about this aspect of clubbing that spiked your interest?
When the album came around and I was thinking, “Right, what’s the point in doing this?” I was thinking about Techno music, why we keep going back to it every fucking weekend. And – other than the drugs and the shit chat – it’s most likely down to moments on the dance floor where you’re like “Whoa, this is the thing, this will let me get loose”. I think the stand out experience in that process is the, “Holy shit! What is this track!?” You just kind of, loose it a little bit.
Those moments are often quite brash, but I wanted to try and be more delicate with them and create a range of tracks that supplied that. It was making moments essentially, without just being like, “HAHAA you havin’ a good time, right!?” I mean, What? Is pretty shameless in that respect, but that one’s trying to achieve something else.
The record covers quite a range of style and tempos, with to my ears a very considered approach to sound design. What was influencing you while you were creating the pieces?
Well, I’m not sure if you could call it an influence, but it did mean a lot to me to have a record which I always assumed would be across two plates of vinyl. It always meant a lot to me to have it full of tracks that are all different tempos and styles. I wanted to have a record that you could take with you and it wouldn’t define the kind of set you were going to play. You could always find something on it. Record room is limited, especially when extra baggage is not an option, so every one has to count.
Regarding the actual sonic design, I’ve just carried on what I’ve been doing so far. Attacking sounds and getting the most I can out of them on a purely sonic level. More so with the album.
I realised pretty early on that I couldn’t really get away with the sort of sampling I was doing before – I’m still pretty much ninety nine percent sampling. A lot of tracks I’d done before, I let the character of the sounds carry their own integrity. So for example, ‘Before You Sleep’, I could name each sound and where it comes from. I haven’t really done much to them, it just kind of fits and works together but because of that the song has quite a grounded and collected quality. Whereas with the album I wanted to create a world that was quite anonymous. I wanted to create a series of tracks that sat in itself, its own little world.
It’s about using really rich samples that I was able to reduce into having a similar characteristic and similar style. And then it was about bringing the character out of that manipulation rather than in the sounds themselves. Rather than using the intrinsic quality and characteristic of where the sound came from, it was about making a new one.
One idea though that has become a bit of a signature of your sound and is again present in the album is your use of silence and space. What is it that draws you to this?
Do you mean like space in the arrangement or space in the structure? Or both?
I mean personally, surrounded by my peers I wouldn’t say space is a huge thing. I think that Batu and Lurka are the kings of space when it comes to the arrangement, Lurka in particular. He’ll add like… a gated reverb to his snares and stuff, so when it hits, it feels like the rooms just quivered a little bit. And Batu’s ability to separate his sounds from each other and feel miles apart… So I really wouldn’t say that space in arrangement is actually my forte. I borrow a lot from those guys.
Regarding space in structure, that’s just my love for dynamics. I fucking love on and off. I love the power and suspense and drama that these things can create. It’s also something that I’ve noticed people tap into. People are very much engaging with what I’m trying to do. For example the second break down on ‘Meek’, when it comes back in, David [Pearson Sound] was like, “You should just let it bounce, let it do a couple more beats before it drops back in. It would create way more suspense that way”. And I was thinking, great idea… I should have thought of that! I’m supposed to be good at this sort of shit [laughs].
I get a lot of credit for that sort of thing but it’s important to remember that I definitely didn’t come up with it. Especially when I was being really bait about it, like SCRRCH… then nothing. I can trace those influences back to Queens of the Stone Age! You know A Song for the Dead? [I do and we both proceed to poorly sing a bit of it to each other…] I remember being at Reading festival and Josh Homme fucking doing that and I was just like “Oh. My. God!” He basically held out the pause for so long, and it had the crowd going fucking nuts! That’s another thing that’s a massive influence. Outside dance music, the dynamics you get from stuff… I find it so exciting. It has so much energy to it that I find totally inspiring. For this record, instilling that in the music was a way of adding humanity to it and adding a sort of human energy. To have that in a different form means that people are able to relate and connect to it, and it works on a dance floor.
What was the input of Hessle like?
They didn’t really comment on stuff stylistically, their response was more about if the idea worked. If it did, then we’d move on to whether any particular details could be changed or amended. They left me to it in an ideas sense and then they would then curate the result. This was a process I was really happy to be involved in. As I said before, the album wouldn’t have come round without them, and in all honesty I’d be a very different musician if it wasn’t for these guys. It’s still a dream come true working with them and having them support me to create such a volume of work. Everything went through them. The track arrangement was very much down to them. Which is funny, because I can be a bit of a fucking ninny about it. I can tend to be like, “Oh no, it HAS to be this way!” And they’ll go well, think about it and then you might agree with us. A day later I’ll be in total agreement, I’m just being such a fucking prima donna [laughs]. I wouldn’t have been able to do it to this degree without them.
You mentioned Batu and Lurka earlier who are both also Bristol based producers. With the record aiming to incorporate vibes from UK Soundsystem music as well as music from your home town of Bristol, how important has the city been in your career thus far?
Surroundings and environment will always have a huge influence on what I’m doing creatively. Most of my creative inspiration comes from real life. I can’t really imagine a better culture and community for me right now than Bristol, so in that respect it’s hugely influential. I think though, the Bristol way is one that doesn’t really have an agenda… apart from why the fuck is this club closing!
I think you take for granted once you’ve been here for a while the influences you get. I read something the other day, I think was an RA comment that someone said like, “is everyone in Bristol born a musician?” or something. It made me laugh, but it does make you realise how spoilt you are.
It goes hand in hand with just a really chilled attitude and a mentality that’s like, we’re not hustling here. It really has an effect on the way people are creative. It’s not too full on and there is a real lack of cliques and I think for that reason music’s getting more interesting.
I find it kind of weird talking about this sort of thing because I don’t know what it’s like living in different cities. I might be chatting like, “Yas! It’s beautiful! Come on!” but I can’t really compare. I just know that regularly I can go out on the weekend and see something that makes me go “Holy shit, that’s fucking sick!” I might not want to make it, but it gives me the energy I need to get home and be creative.
For me I find that sometimes Club music doesn’t really lend itself to the format of a long play, and albums end up feeling like an extended EP with every track sounding very similar. Was that something that you were conscious of while creating the record?
Hundred percent, the whole time! It had a massive influence on how I would write a track. Once again though, this wouldn’t tie into a concept or theory. I find large concepts and theories all very well, but in all honesty the whole Sonder Somatic thing came after I’d written the album. For me it was about just getting the little things right. When you look at a body of music, what separates it from the next in a functional sense? It could be really obvious things like tempo, or slightly more subtle things like making sure that each track starts with a different sound. So I’d make sure that tracks started in different ways or had different elements to them and where different lengths. It was all about creating variety in little ways.
Just looking at my CD rack now… yeah that’s right CD rack [laughs]. What have we got… James Blake, Actress obviously, Flying Lotus, Mount Kimbie, Pearson Sound’s album, I can’t think of any more of the top of my head. I’d look at an album and see like, they had this track that did this, that one achieved that and it was spatially successful or stylistically successful.
So you would let the sounds themselves lead the production process and dictate where the tracks will go?
Yeah I always have done. Everything comes down to sonic energy at the end of the day for me. When you trust your sounds completely, as clichéd as it sounds the music does kind of write itself. Obviously you need to be decent with the tools you use, but this is something I say to everyone who sends me music. Nine times out of ten, I’ll ask where are you getting your sounds from? Ok, you need to make them more bespoke than that. You need to be getting them from really personal places. They need to be really high quality, because then you can do more with them and they will literally carry more energy.
Part of my production process was realising the power of sound hitting just the right spots, be that frequency wise or dynamics wise. It’s just paying attention to the detail and the bigger things sort themselves out… wait where’s the fucking idiom there? I’ve completely missed it what is it!? Pay attention to the small stuff and… ah no.
Watch the pennies and the pounds take care of themselves?
There we go! That’s it… kind of. That’ll do.
After doing so much solo work, have you thought about collaboration at all?
Collaborating doesn’t come naturally to me, I’m not very good at it. I’ve tried a little bit in the past, but I’m just a massive control freak. I’ve never been particularly good at working with people. I’m good at bossing people around, I’m really good at that, but it’s not necessarily a quality that everyone appreciates! I mean I’ve got a couple of co-collaborations coming up and it’s been quite a long road of getting stuff worked out!
I think another thing as well, whenever people refer to collaboration they’re like, “Oh yeah, but it’ll be fun!” I’m like wait, what? What do you mean fun? [Laughs] Since when was fun part of what we do here!? I’d like to be able to collaborate more in the future but I need to learn how to just chill out first!
Speaking of being in control, you have also previously controlled the visual art for your releases as well. How much input did you have for the Sonder Somatic?
Pretty much all of it. I was basically doing as I always do day to day brainstorming, casually putting in a bit of time thinking about it. I can’t remember exactly how this one came around. I was either really stoned and a vision came to me or I just woke up with an idea, probably both. The images came to me really solidly. So I called up a couple of photographers to find someone I thought would be appropriate. Steve Braiden ended up being the guy. I explained to him word to word what I wanted and he just got it. I told him about how I wanted an androgynous dancer in centre screen coming out of lots of blue smoke and having a moment, like capturing a moment on a dance floor. He and the model Eve Stainton and all the others involved amazingly made it work spot on with what I wanted, they’re all super talented. We got that shot in like, the fourth photo!
It was the first time, going off what we said earlier about collaboration, that I got to properly work with other people. When you do collaborate with people and they help you find your vision, it really is fucking special. I’m really grateful to Steve, Eve and all the rest. Also Guy Smith who worked on the graphic design.
While the album is based around the club there is still moments that… the only way I can really describe it is like there are the “WOAH SICK” moments, but then also the, “woah… damn” ones…[Laughs] Mate, I know exactly what you mean between the two! There is a distinguishable difference, I know what you mean and yes I definitely tried to achieve both of those. Like I said there are moments geared towards getting loose in the dance, but I get just as much inspiration from solo listening. The solitary nature of listening to music I find is incredibly powerful.
Just being able to have a world of music that takes you away from where you are. If tracks can’t be listened to on the move or at home in the bath, then you’re missing out on a whole dimension of experience.
You can get that same excited buzz in both situations…
Yeah yeah, that buzz can be a hyped one or a more melancholy one. All my tracks have stories to them, some deeper than others. I’d like to think that that isn’t contrived but it totally is. It means a lot to me to apply a meaning to a track, as I feel like I can own it more. Going back to all that control freak shit, it’s probably stuff I’m going to talk to a psychoanalyst about in years to come.
A track like ‘Serotonin Levels Low’, was written on a very personal level when I was basically on a come down and having a really significant moment happen. I came home from a really intense yoga class and just wept it out. Properly cried it out and then wrote that track. That sort of moment is so disconnected from the club, it very much belongs to being solitary. Because it’s important to remember, and this is the theory behind the album title, that we are very much experiencing this on our own.
I think there’s only so much energy you can commit to “uniting,” and “sharing the love”. It’s great to have unity, but nearly all of my real emotional breakthroughs come from when I’m thinking about things on my own. I’d be surprised if that didn’t go for a lot of people.
Now the album is done and released to the public, what’s next?
It’s a weird one, I have found especially in the last couple of weeks I’ve been thinking about what’s next. I’m not in any hurry to push myself to do stuff. The album is very much a testament to clubs and more specifically DJing. I want to explore that as much as possible.
You want to spend more time playing in the club?
Essentially, yeah. And also exploring other people’s music, I stopped digging a lot in the last two years or so. I haven’t really been exploring sound, but in the process I’ve really found what I want to be playing a lot more. I’ve found my style. So I think it will be great to really explore that and see how I want to perform it. I’m starting to really work out what I want to be doing with the Get loose with Bruce radio show [on Noods]. That’s a really fun thing to do every month.
Production wise, I feel like maybe a slight step away from this sound might be nice. Trying to push myself into a new area, whether that be a new sonic area, stylistically or something altogether different. I don’t know, I think we’ll see.
Sonder Somatic is out now on Hessle Audio.
Buy it here.
Words: Justin O’Brien-Manley
Featured Image: Alex Digard