Metrist: In Conversation

It’s a windy afternoon in late April. Myself, Joseph Higgins aka. Metrist and a few other mates are at the Enclosed Ground in Brighton, the home to our beloved Whitehawk FC (come on you hawks). Today is promising to be a lovely little slice of non-league action against Corinthian Casuals. We’ve been planning this interview for a little while now, a chance to talk about his new record with Timedance in Joe’s natural environment, the footy. Well, as the cocky young lead in most 12A action films will attest, plans change.

Between enthusiastically chanting along with the loyal Ultras, telling me half bits of anecdotes about his time playing as a youth and copious amounts of cheap clubhouse pints, I can feel the possibility of getting a coherent interview rapidly slipping through my fingers. Cut to a last minute penalty, victory, more pints and sadly relegation. Any chance of a comprehensible interview was hopelessly lost.

Fast forward nearly two months and it’s announcement day for Pollen Pt.1. We’re sat in a café on Brighton’s seafront for a much mellower affair. He is relaxed and forthcoming, with a sharp, self-deprecating but infectious wit. You can see his active mind at work, often jetting off on tangents that take his fancy but it’s apparent as we talk that he takes his craft very seriously.

So, it’s announcement day today! How is it going?

All good! I’m enjoying taking time away from my phone if I’m honest, refreshing my mentions for a slice of dopamine every 5 minutes is definitely no good. I can find these days to be difficult due to feeling a bit scrutinised. I find it hard going choosing my words and making sure I come across authentically. Part of the reason I don’t really use Twitter too much is I have a lot of fear of having my joke die in a lost field of the internet somewhere or being misinterpreted.

It’s like the Hamburg thing! [Before a gig in Hamburg, Metrist posted a Hamburger SV logo on Twitter with the opportunity for someone to own his discography if they arrived in a Keegan era Hamburg football shirt] Even though I’m a huge football fan, I didn’t know that Hamburger SV had some more right wing tendencies and that St. Pauli is the team to support. It was light hearted and just a piece of promo, but had I known… I think all this is just trying to be aware of my own ignorance and knowing that I could by accident give someone the wrong impression of me. I think I care what people think a bit too much. Actually I know I care too much. I’m not saying it rules me… but it’s tiring.

Would you say you take that same attitude with your music? It’s often quite unconventional and doesn’t appeal to “the masses” necessarily.

That’s a hard one. I think that if I really cared what people think, I’d probably be making super accessible big room shit. It’s so cool to say, “I don’t give a fuck I’m just going to do my own thing”, but I actually find that mantra quite difficult. I think it’s great that people can say and do that but I can’t.

I think there’s insecurity in my work, and I’m ok with saying that. You might feel like there’s a strut or a confidence in some of it, but that can be honed. It doesn’t always come off in the first take, for example on ‘Qaqq Ata’. That has this surety about it, but getting that vibe took me a fucking year! It’s not like you just get a swagger going and boom! It took me for ever! It went through so many different versions… if it sounds like this confident statement, it’s not as simple as that.

So I’m guessing there was a lot of back and forth then between you and Batu?

So much! We would sometimes speak before and after a weekend. He was gigging a lot more than me so he’d get to test out the tracks. What works for us is we normally won’t talk specifics. He might give me a signifier of where something is going or where it could go and we’ll then have a discussion around that. It’s not, you know, micro managing. He’s not like “these hats need more verb” [laughs]. It’s more about vibe. It’s a good way to work, almost to the point where I’m like, how did I ever work before this? I used to be quite brash, in that I would call something finished way before it was.

And this is the first time you’ve properly returned to a label for a second release. What’s changed since your first release with Timedance?

So with the first record, I made the B side just before I started studying Sound Art at University in 2014, then the A side later that year. I think it was before University had properly got into my head. Since then I’ve found a way to hone these experimental urges and channel them into something that’s more dance floor. But whilst I was at University I didn’t know how to incorporate all the pallets I was being introduced to.

What’s really annoying or good about my career, depending on how I’m feeling, is that you can see my work change over time as I try new things out. I half-envy people who come straight out with a massive hit, although I find it kind of terrifying. With my discography it’s almost like I’m naked, you can see my whole progression both good and bad. You can see how I’ve got to where I am, how I moved away from the dance floor only to come back to it.

You can really hear the experimental influence. While I find not all of your tunes necessarily “bang”, there is a real element of satisfaction. Like with more experimental sound work, the right bit of sound design can be so satisfying, on a similar level to the satisfaction of a big drop…

Mate, there’s a gun finger equivalent in every line of work. During a game of Monopoly or Worms 3D? Sure, why not! [Laughs] I’ve written stuff that’s beatless and I’ve had the same feeling as when I’ve mucked about with jungle. That rush of energy is the same.

Could you talk a bit about the technical aspects behind the EP?

Well, to me it acts as Logic 9’s swan song. Everything else on the second and third EP’s will be Logic X. That probably doesn’t sound like a big deal but I’ve been working on Logic 9 for about ten years. I think with this EP I’m giving it its Viking funeral. I’m going to send it off solemnly… taking its awful rendering of my plug-ins with it [laughs].

A mate of mine Slaven, who’s a really talented drum and bass producer [Sinic] said that it would be the best decision I’d ever make, and he was so right! I think I romanticise a lot of the time. I thought that with Logic 9, like, “I’m so authentic! I’m making stuff with this antique software!” [laughs]. But it’s been for around for about 10 years and to be honest, it sounded it.

So you took pride from how minimal and accessible you’re setup was? It was the antithesis of spending thousands on a modular.

Don’t get me started on fucking modular… But yeah definitely. I thought it wouldn’t make a massive difference if I upgraded and therefore everyone was wasting their money. Moving onto Logic X has made a difference to me in that, I’ll still dig for that sample or that cut that is unique to me and no one else, but now I can manipulate it harder and it’s so much cleaner. I feel like I’m making the stuff that I’ve wanted to make for the past five years and I’m allowed to now because I’ve got the capability to do so. I just couldn’t before and it is so satisfying. I’ve tried to make similar stuff to what I’ve done on Pollen Pt.2 and it’s just failed time and time again. Now I feel like people are going to see a whole new side to me… This isn’t like a, “you better watch out!” or anything [laughs]. “Coming to a cinema near you soon”…

“This is Metrist, like you’ve never seen him before”!

That’s the one [laughs]. I feel like, I’m really excited to show off the next two EP’s because genuinely, this is what I feel like I’ve been trying to do the whole time. To properly voice these experimental pallets in my work but having the presence of mind to let them make sense in a dance floor track.

Those experimental musings have been long standing. I remember being with Divided when we were like seventeen or eighteen, and turning to him at a house party and saying, “for the next six months… I’m not going to use a single hi hat” [laughs] as if that were some, like, big profound revelation that everyone would go, “No! It cannot be done!”

Your Manifesto [laughs]?

My naive manifesto. Although I do still get like this every now and then where I’ll get vendettas to certain production things. I’ll be like, “fuck anyone who does that, I’m not going to that”. I’ve always had it with the 909 kick drum. It’s especially vilified in my opinion [laughs].

That’s an interesting point though. For someone who makes music that falls into the umbrella category of techno, I have never heard you use any like, classic Roland sounds. There’s never been a big 909 hat in one of your tracks…

That’s all by design. I have put 909 hats in like, early sketches, but I just found it grim and not me. I think mostly it’s because I’m a lame contrarian. For me, it’s like putting Smoke On The Water, in the middle of every techno track [laughs]. Do you know what I mean? Like “Oh, and who knows this one?!” It’s so instantly recognisable.

You touched very briefly earlier on about some of your sampling…

I used to be ultra-conceptual about where I got my samples from. Like, it had to paint this big picture to me with a concept that only I was aware of, like some in-joke, but I’ve toned that down now. I used to sample this one small YouTube account’s videos. I sampled them originally on Petrol Arses which lead to that repetitive numbers sample. At University I was introduced to Marshall McLuhan – his work anyway, and I wanted to see if he had a lecture on YouTube at like 5AM. I searched for it and found that someone had put a picture of his face into a text to speech program, which is where the sample came from. I found they had uploaded loads of videos with hardly any views.

Conceptually I thought it was fun so I would just keep going back to their videos which would be like this in-joke with myself and I got so into it I forewent any audio quality. The samples weren’t even interesting. There was this one of her in a car with the electric window going up and down, so I sampled that and it sounded just as you would imagine… It was kind of detrimental in the end.

I also take a lot from musique concrète. I build these systems of channel strip settings that make things sound completely detached from their original source – thank god. As much as I’d like to just layer a piece of Morton Subotnick over a kick drum (because that does sound amazing), my conscience gets in the way and I have to mutilate and mutate it.

I suppose it’s about putting your stamp on it. If you don’t, what part of it is you? It makes you more of a facilitator…

Yeah exactly, you’re re-appropriating it for a new audience, kind of like giving it a new life. It’s plunderphonics. It’s changing something’s standing in the art community, taking this high art piece and turning it into the relatively speaking low art of dance music. It’s moved across the spectrum to make sense to a different crowd. It also gives you that, “what the fuck!?” moment in the club.

How did the idea of doing a trilogy of E.P’s come about?

Really naturally. It’s such a cliché to say but yeah really naturally. I made this record and then had the prospect of firing up Gmail and pitching out again, going through all the emails…

Sounds like you were dreading it?

Yeah man. I’ve been there so many times! So I sent them to Omar [Batu] first…

Sent them to him as a friend for an opinion or as a demo for Timedance?

For an opinion. We’re good mates off the pitch and he knows my music better than most. He knows what kind of ideas I try to get across. We spoke on the phone for a while about life and probably Vincent Janssen and he said he was feeling the new work and it made sense to do a second. Then once you’ve done a second you might as well do a third! I’m terrified the third will be my godfather three moment though [laughs].

And regarding your track names… what’s going on there? I mean they come so close to being something coherent…

So something like, ‘OL face you got;. This is really pretentious, but I keep a book my dad gave me on the history of British poetry. I’ve always drawn on poetry for inspiration with track names. There’s this one poem called ‘Phizzog’ by Carl Sandberg, which is about how you can’t choose your face. The lines are something like, “this face you got, this old phizzog that you have, no one chose it for you, it’s yours…” I put that through a text to speech, as I’m wont to do when out of ideas, and that’s where the tune came from. Then with ‘Qaqq Ata’, I just really liked how q’s sounded so a bit less cerebral…

Well in your sound art based work you have gone into exploring the voice and words, in relation to the sound of words as opposed to their meaning in language. Has this has spilled into your track naming?

Totally. Again, super pretentious to say, but what TS Elliot did was he’d go on buses and overhear someone say something where they’d used the English language wrong. But in doing that it would create something really special that someone who knew the language really well wouldn’t have thought of. So sometimes if I hear something said, spelt or meant wrong then I normally rob it. I do think that sometimes naming my tracks so colourfully can be to its detriment and it might put people off, but naming my tracks weirdly is a big deal for me and I think it will only get worse [laughs].

I’m pretty sure if you took someone who was aware of your work and showed them ten random track names including one of yours, they could easily highlight the Metrist one.

Well weirdly enough, the track ‘OL Face You Got’, I meant the OL to be both a reference to the line in the poem Phizzog and Olympique Lyonnais which is this French football team who dominated in the noughties. But the second comment on the track on Soundcloud called it!

Were you proud or annoyed?

I don’t know! I’m not sure whether to reply to it or not being like, “you got it”. I guess if they read this then…

This is far from the first time that you’ve referenced football in your work. I mean, it’s fair to say you have an obsession!

I think it’s such a big section of my life, I refuse not to use it as part of my identity. I was a huge football fan growing up. My dad and my uncle both played for Cambridge United – with differing degrees of success. When I got into guitar music I kind of abandoned football for a short while and I lost the 2006 world cup because of it. It’s a big shame because I love world cups, they’re probably my favourite thing ever. It’s a real genuine regret in my life! Last year’s world cup I watched like three games a day. I had split screens up with two games on at once. For me it’s like, ultimate, unabashed escapism. It’s just nirvana. Arrigo Sacchi described football as, “The most important of the least important things in life”, and I couldn’t agree more.

And finally, as no interview would be complete without it, what have you got coming up over the next few months?

Mainly I’ll be focussing on trimming up the next two E.P’s in the Pollen series. But other than that, I’m in Leeds at Wire on the 13th of July with rRoxymore. I haven’t played there as someone that isn’t 18 anymore so I’m looking forward to it. I’ve got my monthly radio show on Noods which I’m going take a bit off-road for the coming months as I want to do more beatless/sparser mixes. There’s also a collaborative project in the pipeline which I’m really excited about… but more on that another time.

Pollen Pt. I is out now. Buy it here.

Words: Justin O’BrienManley

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