Mogwai's Stuart Braithwaite In Conversation With Clark

Mogwai's Stuart Braithwaite In Conversation With Clark

In praise of the drum machine and other stories...

Electronic producer Clark is constantly looking to explore fresh realms.

Listening back to his catalogue, he never attempts the same idea twice, a continual process of evolution that has taken him into some truly daring climes.

This weekend - on October 16th, in fact - Clark works with his broadest palette to date, a collaborative concert with the London Contemporary Orchestra at the Barbican.

A one off event, tickets are on sale now with Clark also sharing a brand new remix to get fans excited.

His piece 'Shut You Down' is typical Clark - lawless, operating in its own distinct lane - but in the hands of Mogwai's Stuart Braithwaite it becomes something else entirely.

Says the Scottish musician: "I really enjoyed remixing this Clark song. His music is always inspiring and it was great to get to have a fiddle with it."

Indeed, the two got along so famously that they agreed to have a Zoom chat, with Clash able to publish the highlights of the conversation.

Discussing everything from differing creative processes to drum machines, soundtracks, and electro-swing, it's a fascinating back and forth between two incredible musicians.

Check out the remix below, then soak up the Q&A afterwards.

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Stuart: So, we finally made it happen!

Clark: I’m in my Zoom chair.

Stuart: I’m lying in bed!

At this point, Stuart and Clark discuss the different sensibilities and etiquette associated with Zoom calls, as well as revealing their current geographic locations. Stuart is back home in Glasgow. Clark is currently staying in the Australian capital of Canberra for an extended period with his wifeand herfamily. But normally, he and his wife, an Australian choreographer, live in Brighton on the south coast of England.

Stuart: Brighton’s a lovely place.

Clark:

It’s good, but there’s not much music there apart from 90s punk. If I think of the music of Brighton. I always think of punk mixed with drum & bass.

Stuart: I used to spend a lot of time in Brighton as my wife went to uni there. They’ve got this thing – I’m probably gonna say the wrong name for it – but it’s like big band music, right? But electronic. Acid swing or something?

Clark: Oh, I know what you mean. My wife did a piece with a female bodybuilder, right, whowas really into it... electro swing!

Stuart: That’s it! I feel bad now. My name is going to be dirt in the electro swing community. Each to their own, but just because you can do something, doesn’t mean you should do something. And they’ve taken that to the extreme. Haha!

Chris: Sometimes, with a lot of music, there’s a reason that certain things haven’t been tried. And that because they just don’t work. Like, drum & bass and opera don’t really go together.

Stuart: That would be better though than electro swing though.

Chris: It’s the sounds that I remember from it as particularly nasty – presets from really nasty EDM synths. In a different context, I quite like a really plasticky nasty preset. It can be quite good. But not with big band swing.

Stuart: No – it’s not what Glenn Miller would have wanted.

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Chris: I really enjoyed 'Zero Zero Zero' and for loads of reasons. Did you do most of that, personally?

Stuart: To be totally honest, Barry [Burns, Stuart’s Mogwai bandmate] did a lot of that because it was a one-synth thing.Even though I played on a lot of it. Most of the things I played on were only in a couple of scenes. Whereas they used that synthy thing of Barry’s loads, which was cool. You’ve done loads of scores, so you know this. They [film producers] will be like, ‘Yeah, we’re just gonna use that ten times.’ And you’re like, really? That’s gonna be so boring! But then you forget that people aren’t really listening to it. They’re watching people get shot or being chased up a fucking street.

Clark: Yeah, I might go ‘Ooh, those guitar textures are nice!’. But then realise that’s just for nerds like me. I always hear the music first. If it’s a good show with shit music, I just can’t watch it. And I’ll watch a shit show if it’s got good music. The car chases will just be the backdrop to me enjoying the track.

Stuart: There is a lot of clearly competent but incredibly unimaginative music in TV shows. I guess a lot of people just get a lot of gigs because they are reliable.

Clark: Completely. And you’re fighting that battle with how people perceive it as well. And that’s been quite hard for me becauseI put a lot into my solo albums, the scores and OST albums. It can be a losing battle because they’ll go ‘It’s just for a TV show’. And they’ve got this idea ofit being Hans Zimmer drums. You are a bit hemmed in by what’s going on on the screen. There are things that you can’tdo, for sure.

Stuart: Some of the best music I’ve heard in the past few years has been on TV. The Chernobyl soundtrack [by Icelandic composer Hildur Guðnadóttir] is one of the best things. It’s amazing.

Clark: It’s brilliant.Stuart And that show is too. That’s a pretty high bar, though.We’ve got a friend who’s a voice artist and they will use her when they dub a show into English. And she was part of a bunch of people doing the voices of the people screaming while they died in Chernobyl. I can’t even imagine. ‘Like, what are you doing today?’ ‘Well...’

Stuart: Maybe I’m just confessing what a damaged brain I have, but when we heard the 'Zero Zero Zero' album, some of myfavourite stuff Ijust couldn’t remember making – even though it was definitely all of us because it was drums, bass and guitar. It’s a lot of fun.

Clark: Did you approach it asa band thing or is it mainly you and Barry?

Stuart: A lot of it was Barry. Much of it depends on the references they give. If they want stuff that’s referencing keys there’s no point giving them a bunch of guitars because they want keyboards, even though people might use different words to describe it. So for 'Zero Zero Zero' a lot of it was Barry but there will be real bass on it and Martin [Bulloch, Mogwai’s drummer] will play if it’s kind of a big dramatic thing or whatever and make some kind of weird noises in the background.

Clark: I’vestarted working with a guitarist friend of mine on a thing I’m pitching for, but it feels like we’re in a band, because he’s just sort of adding guitar to things. I can’t play guitar at all.

Stuart: How did you arrange all the strings on the new record?

Clark: The strings on that, I just wrote it all in MIDIand then it got put into [notation software] Sibelius and then I made phrasing notes on that. It’s notation software, so if you write MIDI, it will put it into a score but it’s quite hard to use and there’s a real process of learning. Now, I don’t want to be too much of an embarrassing of a fanboy, but your music has been with me for like 20 years. So thank you for writing it. I’ve never got to hear it live unfortunately, which is bloody annoying. I’m trying to these full-scale shows with strings, which is really, really nerve wracking. But the idea is to still do club shows alongside that. I didn’t want to do this thing where it was ‘DJ discovers classical music and hates on techno’. I still want to have the two things going alongside each other. I like the idea of doing a live show with orchestra and then just doing like a really mental small club show just after it.

Stuart: You’ll find that you’ll play places that you’ve never played before. We found that when we did that Atomic soundtrack. We did that as a showand played along with the film. Wegot asked to play in places that wouldn’t get us for a normal show. Once you’re collaborating with something that’s deemed high brow you suddenly – and I’m cool with this, it’s just an observation, not a complaint – but you end up with your music existing in different physical spaces but also cultural spaces. People come along who tuck their shirts in will come and see you play with play with an orchestra and be too scared to go in a night club.

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Clark: I don’t want people to think that I’m shitting on my influences. It’s very tempting for some people to, if they’re into electronic music, to discover instruments and be like, ‘Oh, yeah, this is real music now’. One thing I really admire about Mogwai is that as far asI can tell you have been into electronic music and be very egalitarian about music. I really, really respect that, because some bands still do that thing of ‘If it’s not played by acoustic instruments, then it’s not real.’

Stuart: That’s insane. I’m trying to think when that would have been last relevant. Probably the early 1980s. That’s some kind of ‘Disco sucks!’ kinda mindset, isn’t it?

Clark: Like the Campaign For Real Ale or something. Or a mediaeval re-enactment. It’s not a murder unless it’s a real axe.

Stuart: Have you ever played in this town – Asheville, North Carolina? I remember walking around and there was this shop,and it just had an entire rack of T-shirts that said, ‘Drum machines have no soul’ in every different colour.

Clark: Did you buy one? I would have bought two bags.

Stuart: They only had XXL. So, obviously small people don’t have that mindset!

Clark: Whereas small people wear T-shirts with pictures of 909s on them.

Stuart: Haha! Drum machines dohave souls. But I try to get my head round that mentality. Some of the most soulful music of all time has drum machines on them. I mean, even just going back to 'I Feel Love' – it doesn’t get much more soulful than that. I love drummers, but you can like both you know.

Clark: Also, drum machines feel more ‘live’ than other instruments sometimes. You can improvise on them in a way that you can’t with any other instrument. You capture a take on a drum machine and then it’s gone forever.

Stuart: I don’t think most of those people know what a drum machine is. They just know that they don’t like the sound. That it’s ‘ruining music’.

Clark: But playing devil’s advocate, I’m really sick of hearing 808s in trap!I feel like hip-hop – and Idon’t know if this is just old man shouting at the clouds – but I feel there was so much more variety in drum sounds in the Noughties. However, Travis Scott does have a sound. He’s manages to make it sound amazing–orwhoever produced it. There’s about 50 people on each track.

Stuart: I’m kinda out of the loop with hip-hop. I still like it. I really like theKendrick Lamar records, but I couldn’t name ten contemporary hip-pop stars. And this is where you feel like an old person – when you go a festival and someone will be playing really late on the main stage and you say ‘Oh, I wonder who they are?’ That didn’t used to happen to me when I was in my twenties! Haha! When I was in the twenties I may not like someone, but I knew who they were.

Clark: I need to make more conscious time to check music out, I think. I don’t do it enough.

Stuart: But there’s so much! It’s kinda terrifying.

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Clark: Did you did you make 'Zero Zero Zero' over Zoom?

Stuart: No, we did that here. We’ve got a studio in Glasgow. Tony [Doogan], who we go in the studio with – he’s done all our soundtrack stuff with us – had done a bunch of soundtracks. He is good at interpreting what people want. Which is always the hardest part.

Clark: It’s so weird, isn’t it? When I did a few scenes and shows from the past, I really had that feeling that I’d nailed it. I thought I had. But that feedback thing where you are really excited about something and you send it off, and it’s just not what the director wants? That’s quite hard. I would imagine that if you are in a band, it’s way easier to deal with because you can pass around the feelings of annoyance and get over it together. But if you’re on your own, it’s like, ‘What do you want from me?’But you learn how to pick your battles and not get too angry about the feedback. I think I’ve got a bit better at that.

Stuart: It’s really hard, though. Because almost the entire reason that people start making music is so they can do whatever they want. And then you put yourself in a position where someone not only tells you that what you’ve done, that you think is really good, is – to all intents and purposes – shit... and you have to put up with it! Haha!

Clark: I’m telling you it’s shit and you have to deal with it. And what’s more, you have to do something that I don’t think is shit. It’s hard. I think that what you were saying about doing loads in a really short space of time and just being able to send it off...There is an aspect to it that you’re just like churning stuff out. And I’ve done that in the past with my own music, because I just write loads all the time. And not a problem for me to write loads. Generally the best stuff just rises to the top and you just carry on working on that.

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Photo Credit: Eva Vermandel

Clark will play London's Barbican on October 16th, buy your ticket HERE.

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