15th January 2013

CONVERSATIONS: MOON WIRING CLUB.

By believing passionately in something that still does not exist, we create it. The nonexistent is whatever we have not sufficiently desired. - Kafka.

We are here to crush a lingering assumption that electronica is more a science than art, an aesthetic form for cyborg souls who don’t crave fantasy, escape, fever dreams of their own. It’s a stale way to experience music of any kind, and a boring way to live. Thank God for Moon Wiring Club: progenitors of ‘Confusing English Electronic Music’ and magpies who have straddled ambient, musique concrète and hip-hop universes to coax to life a ghostly swagger all their own. Often roped into what is conveniently bundled as a ‘hauntology movement’ - essentially half-century old library music reanimated by contemporary producers into murky melodic vapors - MWC is actually more of a kind of glamour-conscious pop theatre act.

To understand this, you need to let your mind drift to Clinksell - the fictional timeless, unplottable town created by Moon Wiring Club founder Ian Hodgson (and despite what many think, from penmanship to production, he is the sole creator of all things MWC) - and the slightly sinister, illustrated characters who inhabit it. Foxes, owls, cats, and woodland creatures of all varieties - along with an unsavory Clue-worthy human cast who possess unknowable but seemingly psychic powers -predominate the surreal storylines that reify all six Moon Wiring Club albums. There’s surely enough narrative content by now for Hodgson to produce a wickedly inventive and twisted children’s movie - and we don’t put it past him - but as of now, he can safely be considered England’s most imaginatively visualized electronic act. If Lewis Carroll or Arthur Rackham art directed a deconstructed Drake record, which was then mashed up with old British film dialogue and put on a Luella runway - that’s an approximation of what the Moon Wiring Club experience looks, sounds, and feels like. If you don’t find that fascinating, we don’t understand.

Nightvision conducted an overseas ‘aye-dialogue’ with Hodgson to discuss the decidedly more introspective ‘Today Bread, Tomorrow Secrets’ record, the gist of the MWC paradox, and the importance of keeping a secret. Also, be sure to check out the brilliant 90s electronic mix Hodgon crafted for us (eloquently put into context here), streamable below.

About a year ago, you were very interested in field recordings and electroacoustic music, and artists like Maggi Payne and Charles Amirkhanian - and mentioned taking the next Moon Wiring Club record in that direction. What drew you to that aesthetic?

I liked the idea of an immersive, environmental experience. I really enjoyed Chris Watson’s El Tren Fantasma record a lot. It stands apart from a lot of things released in that vein recently. I can’t pretend I can achieve the sound quality created by the high specification recording equipment he uses, but there was something there in that record that felt relevant to MWC. I learned a lot from my field recording adventure; it improved my compositions. The new album is a lot clearer in places; there’s still a knackered quality, but it’s more defined if you listen carefully. Who knows what other people will hear, though! They may think it sounds like ‘album #6’.

‘Today Bread, Tomorrow Secrets’ is blatantly less of a party record than Clutch It Like A Gonk was. It’s focused, pensive, meditative.

Yes! This is true. On the last record, there were certain tracks that maybe stood out more indvidually. With this one, it’s more like an hour-long soundscape. When you listen to it more, though, certain nuances emerge from the ether. The sequencing on this one was really important, in terms of building a real environment and mood.

Do you think it’s a deliberate rebuttal to Gonk’s poppier elements? Gonk definitely reflected what I was listening to last year, which was mainly cheesy pop that I loved — along with some very, unapologetically dark material. Nothing wrong with that. I wanted something high-energy and catchy but also unnerving. I think it did meet that goal, and I’m really proud of Gonk, but it was also a mad rush to get it done. With Today, I definitely wanted to slow things down and let it develop on its own accord. Plus, it’s all different time signatures; a lot less 130pm, ‘let’s do a crazy uptempo number here’. It ended up being more somber, but hopefully there’s something to commend in that.

Could it also be a reaction to the fact that pop itself is in an unmistakable rut now? On ‘Always a Party’, you were envisioning the nightmare of being trapped in a club, forced to party. It’s happened!

That definitely was on my mind about eighteen months ago. It does seems like it’s reached a saturation point. Last year, there were certainly cheesy, over-the-top party tunes I enjoyed; this year, the aesthetic was still rampant but far less clever, and I enjoyed it a lot less. It seems everyone’s kind of bored with it, too. There’s a mass malaise.

Every Moon Wiring Club album seems to materialize from nowhere. One autumn evening, there’s a pre-order link, then a teaser video, then the record goes straight into the mailbox of fans, just like magic.

My most hardcore fans will buy MWC records on pre-order without even hearing it. And that’s an experience you don’t see so much these days. I’d remember reading when Autechre’s ‘Amber’ came out; maybe there’d be one track played on a late night show, and you’d rush to record it. And you’d play it over and over and over. Then there’d be a review of the record that revealed certain information, but you still had no idea what it sounded like. Then you’d finally buy it and play it, and in that album’s case, you’d go, ‘Wow, it’s even better than I hoped; it’s amazing.’ You don’t really get that now. The only way to get something close to that is to release the album without telling everyone. I mean, my press releases are literally nonsense, which isn’t very helpful to the press, I suppose!

What is the most popular MWC release format?

It’s impossible to gauge because before I did vinyl, I had a reasonable amount of people going, ‘Oh, do you not do vinyl? Should do vinyl. Vinyl, vinyl, vinyl.’ So then, I did release on vinyl, and the emails started coming in, ‘Is this not available on CD?’ My idea for the ultimate format would be to do a laser disc. Remember those? I have about 22 hours of unreleased music, and I’d release it all on laser disc so that no one could play it. Or, I’d release it all as one track!

It’s actually a great spoof on those who collect vinyl specifically as aesthetic trophies, never to be played or enjoyed.

Well, I collect vinyl and find it attractive, of course. But it does seem a bit odd for that to come first - I mean, it’s meant to be played; there’s a real warmth to it that you don’t necessarily get any other way. Such is the conundrum for the modern listener!

Moon Wiring Club is often thrown in the ‘hauntology’ or, rather, ‘h-word’ spectrum. Do you remember how that started?

Well, the first time anyone heard about what I did was through Myspace; I connected with [Belbury Poly’s] Jim Jupp and [The Advisory Circle’s] Jon Brooks on there. I put some of my early stuff up on my page, and they really supported it. It was really encouraging for me to take it further; then when I made my first record, An Audience of Art Deco Eyes, they kindly put it on the Ghost Box mailout. So, of course, the context people first learnt about me in was in the vein of hauntology. And my identity was revealed; my cover was blown!

How did you feel about the hauntological connotation at the time?

When I read the first hauntology piece Simon Reynolds wrote for The Wire in 2006- people making music sampled from old charity shop records - I was going, ‘hmm’. When ‘h-pop’ (hypnagogic pop) was heralded by David Keenan the next thing, suddenly 40 or 50 acts popped up operating within that so-called genre. But with hauntology, there were, well,…the Ghostbox artists, me, and retroactively, The Caretaker, who had been doing it way before anyone. And years later, it’s still basically that core group of artists. But to make a ‘hauntology’ record, you probably need to have a long-standing - 20 to 30 year - obsession with British telly and the desire to make music. I’m not sure a lot of people possess both those traits.

It’s pretty specific.

In my case, it’s slightly knackered beats and British vocal samples. You would need to be a weird obsessive collector of British TV and also have grown up on hip-hop and jungle records that sample film dialogue; I don’t know if that’s really something everyone would do. I’m not saying I’m a unique special flower! I’m saying, why would you bother?

Well, it also means you can’t really fake it.

Witch House - whatever it was or whatever it still is - has done some interesting things in a similar regard. The difference is you could go on Youtube and go, ‘Right, some Pat Benatar, slow it down, reverse it, there you go.’

The signature MWC sound is even more specific, probably because it’s so closely tied to its process and origins: the Playstation. How did that even happen?

I always wanted to do music. But at the time, around 2001, with something like Cubase, I found it too difficult to figure out what I wanted to use it for. However, I’d also played a lot of computer games; I still do. There’s a game you can get for Playstation 2 called MTV Music Generator; the memory capacity is extremely short, so I gave up with it very quickly - at first. I wanted 6 minute tracks. But I played around with it over time and learnt how to take its shortcomings and manipulate them into beat tracks. Because it was a game - because it was not software - it was alluring, and I kept at it. If you’re obsessive with a computer game, you can train yourself to do things very fast, it’s ridiculous! I eventually became adept at it and loaded my own samples into it and started to use it my own way to create really awful, naff music that no one will ever hear. But that was the beginning.

At what point did you realize you were making a form of strange mongrel pop?

I don’t know, I began to realize I was good at giving atmosphere to things. A default creepy, decrepit vibe became apparent in my compositions. The idea behind the aesthetic, I think, is really strong. The mechanics and production of it is what it is; it has limitations but I enjoy the challenge of working around them. Over time, I have figured out arrangement a lot better and how to construct better beat tracks. On an earlier track, I might have done a kick-snare-kick-snare, but now I might say, ‘Right, let’s mix this kick sample with a heavier, pitched down, less organic sound - a drum machine sound.’ So you have a mixed kick drum, which has more weight to it. I like the Brian Eno notion of learning one instrument extremely well and making it work for you rather than trying to master everything and failing to master any. Over time, I’ve evolved my methods.

Yet the urge to experiment beyond them is clearly there.

If you listen to a contemporary hip-hop track, a MWC beat track will still sound brittle in comparison. That’s not going to change and it can be frustrating. This is one of the reasons I want to shake things up in the future. This is why I’d like to work with a vocalist.

What would happen if a female arrived and crashed the party of the male-centric ‘hauntology’ universe?

Put it this way: I am waiting for a female to corrupt me!

When did your illustrations of women - and Clinkskell - become a key component of the MWC universe?

After university, I started writing and illustrating a graphic novel. It was sort of a children’s book, but one that adults would find entertaining. I started to have a vision of vaguely aristocratic women dominating the stories; nothing kinky or salacious, more regal, impressive, and full of secrets - and to present that as a normality. I liked the idea of children’s entertainment, because you are forced to handle difficult things in a more considered way. You’d sometimes get these very strange, very clever moments within children’s books and TV programmes, where they’d have to figure out how to delicately address sensitive topics. It can lead to moments of true peculiarity. I will always find that more interesting than things being directly dark. I ended up abandoning the novel but keeping the idea of the women alive. They all became characters that are now part of the story of the music. I wanted people to wonder who the women were. I just wanted to present electronic music in a different context than people were used to; for there to be a glamour and mystery to it.

I always think it’s a shame there’s not more of that sense of wonder and enigma in otherwise excellent electronic music. And I don’t mean men hiding behind humanoid masks.

Well, I watch a lot of visual-heavy cinema, a lot of costume drama. In novels, in film, there’s a yearning to the characters. You want to know more about them. In electronic music, you get a lot of things, but not that, really; it’s often set along one line. I wanted to create a world for the music. At the end of the day, I tend to always wind up thinking: ‘This would be better if a woman was in charge of it.’

Part of what I found interesting about Moon Wiring Club was the strong female energy I detected within its presentation. I immediately felt that all the women on the album covers had magical powers.

Exactly. Another reason I wanted to portray a positive female image in control is that when you’re tied in with the darker side of things, you have horror film connotations, and as you’re well aware, horror films generally have a pretty dodgy view as ‘women=victim’. Without making a big statement or anything, I wanted to just have a strong female character type presented. The women on each of the covers represent characters that you’d meet if you’d like to ‘play’ the story, i.e. buy the CD. But they know what’s going on, and you don’t.

Do you think it’s important for the listener to understand or at least appreciate the artwork’s intentions as they listen to the music?

I’m not going to spell it out for people, but I hope people who pay a little more attention notice how there’s a continuity to the characters and the stories of the records. It is leading somewhere. I think it’s best when left to the subconsciousness to absorb; when you’re reading a book and listening to music, for example, all kinds of connections start to take place and it makes the material more accessible on a deeper level. I remember in 2001, I was reading an H.P. Lovecraft biography and listening to Coil (again). Certain tracks and certain details became so much stronger because they were linked together. I’m interested in conjuring a similar parallel potency and resonance between music and narrative.

To me, it’s a suggestion you’re telling a story that can in fact exist outside of Moon Wiring Club, or outside of music, even.

I am working towards doing something different; it’s all early stages, though!

On that note, if Moon Wiring Club could be commissioned to do a dream external project right now, what would it be?

An immersive, interactive Edwardian MWC computer game would be interesting, where you had to find the right ingredients for sweet recipes and the hidden floor of a fancy department store. You could have a character creation mode with ridiculous levels of styling, because everything is dependent on selecting the right hat or hair colour. And of course you’d end up falling in love with a ghost. Obviously, murky rhythms and echoing voices would be incorporated, too. It’ll probably turn out that there was a 1992 Japanese-only Neo Geo game called ‘Lunar Teashop Society’ that already featured all of these elements, but I won’t let that put me off.

Stream Moon Wiring Club’s ‘Midnight In Europe’ Mix:

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