“New States of Feeling”: An Interview with M.E.S.H.

Loose Lips and FOLD have put together an impressive line-up of both classic and cutting-edge dystopian electronics for what promises to be a landmark event this Saturday at the 600-cap Canning Town Venue.

The gig marks The Mover’s first performance in London since 1994, when he appeared alongside Aphex Twin at The Vox, Brixton. We caught up with the ground-breaking experimental producer and DJ James Whipple aka M.E.S.H. on his challenging but unpretentious ideas about the contested future of dance music.

Hello James. How are you feeling about the performance this Saturday?

Hi, feeling great, thanks.

Your latest release is a limited 300-copy split with Tsuzing on PAN. Previous records such as Piteous Gate and Hesaitix have been underpinned by some sort of conceptual theorisation. Is there anything you’d like listeners to know about this release?

Tzusing and I had been talking about doing it for a while. We both have a weirdly parallel taste profile – for one thing we were both very big Underworld fans as teenagers. There was no concept underpinning the record (thank God). I made the track ‘Festival Circuit’ to try to get more pseudo-underground summer festival bookings so I could pay off my student loans but it didn’t work.

Your work often seems to inhabit this liminal space between high-theory experimentalism and club banger. Is this something you’ve become more comfortable with over time?

More and more I see two separate threads going on. For one thing, ‘challenging’ the dancefloor with ‘not very dancey’ music is the most tired trope in the world. I have been DJing a lot longer than I have been performing live. Having the creative outlet of being able to play concerts of my music means that as a DJ I can prioritise the intensity of the music, the atmosphere, etc. over validating myself as an artist.

Some social commentators have characterised 21st century popular culture as repetitive or backward-looking, and the sense of a ‘cancelled‘ future. Do you feel that your music seeks to challenge this inertia?

The bulk of dance music still seems to be about attaching new faces to old sounds and keeping the machine running. But there is always a lot of amazing new stuff happening on a regional level, so as a DJ I feel like I have to represent hard for the producers that I think are pushing things. With my own music – I still feel this need to go deeper into sound… to get into these imagined spaces that are totally baroque and articulated and access new states of feeling. And to reject both technical fetishism and hazy nostalgia.

It’s very curious to think about music in terms of ‘imagined space’ and ‘new states of feeling’… It seems as though pioneers of early electronic music had a distinctly utopian outlook about the possibilities of new technologies, which has since been somewhat forgotten. How connected is music for you to this desire for self-transformation? Is rave ‘the highest form of hope’?

On an individual level, sound is so spatial and so emotive at the same time. There is also a communal experience of sound but it’s almost like… if people have to define it too much, it short circuits. So I’m usually pretty skeptical when the discourse comes on too strong.

You’re closely associated with the Berlin experimental club night Janus, the home to ‘a sound that doesn’t exist’ and known for finding unexpected resonances between disassociated genres.

You’ve also described your approach as ‘raster’ over ‘vector’—working with samples and pre-existing sounds rather than beginning with a blank slate. Is this still an accurate description of your approach, combining existing materials to create something new?

The sound that didn’t exist wasn’t really a harmonious eclecticism but a certain feeling in the early days, this discordant and very urgent sound coming from us as residents and the artists we put on, the atmosphere of the party itself, the confusion in our own lives.

Regarding my own production, I actually do synthesize a lot of sound, and often end up resampling myself a lot. For example on both Piteous Gate and Hesaitix, there is a lot of processing of recorded material, but mostly of my own recorded material. So it’s more about having an album be kind of self-reinforcing because it’s sampling itself everywhere, vs. musically sampling other recordings or basing things on found sound, which isn’t really a big part of it.

You’ve spoken previously about growing up in California without a context for electronic music, learning about the history of rave and techno in ‘reverse’. I can think of a number of notable figures who have moved from from periphery to centre, from province to city, in a comparable way. Do you believe that this ‘outsider’ status allows for a valuable critical perspective?

I’m always amazed when meeting relatively normal British people who say they spent their teenage years doing balloons and going to Nu-Breaks parties in the woods or something. It’s super foreign to me. I basically learned about electronic music as a kid through British and German IDM of the late 90’s, for better or worse, mostly with forums and Soulseek.

There is a kind of historicism around techno and dance music now that can be kind of grating – like everyone feels like they have to know the whole scope of what has happened and then strategically choose how they will place what they do in that continuum. It can get a bit nerdy. If I ever refer to something I do as techno I’m probably just trying to get paid.

I guess that speaks to this backwards-looking nature of contemporary rave culture, as I’m sure a lot of young people today can relate to the discovery of electronic music through the internet.

This being the case, do you have any thoughts about what lies behind the impulse for throwing and attending these parties, beyond the obvious commercial aspect? Do you think of these transgressive communal experiences in a social or political context, or as a kind of simulation? Many clubs (including FOLD) now operate under a ‘safer spaces’ policy, for example.

To me what is actually happening around the world isn’t very backwards-looking at all, especially in places far from the main centres. There is just a lot of inertia in Western Europe where it’s a big industry.

I think it’s nice when the people at a party all have different reasons for being there. Sometimes having someone’s intentions so explicitly laid out from the top down, even if they are ‘progressive,’ can override the sense of freedom. But it’s also great that more attention is being paid to making clubs less hostile for a wider range of demographics, for example explicit safe-space policies.

Do you think it’s important to maintain your perceived outsider status in some way?

It’s not really a choice but a flight from boredom.

Buy tickets to FOLD x Loose Lips present The Mover + M.E.S.H here.

Follow James’ music and reflections via:

TwitterInstagramSoundcloud, or his official website.

Words: Alex Honey 

Featured Image: Nadine Fraczkowski

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