So after countless DJ sets, some memorable radio appearances, one off releases and remixes, there is finally, definitively, a Floating Points album in the world. It's here, right in front of me: it's called 'Elaenia'. I can hold it and, whenever I like, play it. It's been a long road for Sam Shepherd, but it seems that making an album – in the traditional, endearingly monolithic, sense of the word – has always lingered on his horizon.
“I've always been into that,” he tells Clash. “I was making electronic music before I was DJing. I've always been making music, so it just makes sense to me.”
Even so, DJing is still something deep in his blood. “I'd been DJing at school discos... at my own school disco! I wasn't like a school disco DJ!” he laughs. “It was nothing serious. But it's only since I've been putting records out that I've been getting DJ gigs, as well.”
Over the past few years Floating Points has established himself as one of the UK's foremost selectors, a DJ who is unafraid to traipse merrily across genre lines. “The most fun I have as a DJ is to take music that doesn't belong in the club in the traditional sense and play it in a club,” he says. “To re-contextualise records that weren't designed for club use, maybe were designed for opera theatres or wherever, and play them in a club. Then to see people dancing to it like it were a techno record, like it were a disco record... that for me is really fun.”
“That's a challenge for the DJ and DJ culture as a whole, I think,” he adds. “There should be more of that. Playing outsider music that hasn't been designed for the dancefloor. But I don't like the idea of patronising a dancefloor, and being like, you should like this, I am teaching you here. You see people at a festival, or wherever, and there could be like three people at the front gurning their faces off but they might happen to know the entire Sun Ra catalogue or something. I mean, who knows!”
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DJing inevitably forms the backbone of Floating Points' reputation. The producer's most visible outlet, each set seems to provide an aggregation point for his influences, a space for the many strands of his collective curios to come together. “Obviously, I'm the sum of all my parts,” Sam explains. “I'm listening to lots of different kinds of music everyday. This morning, the postman came and he gave me three boxes of records that I'd ordered. One had come all the way from Turkey and was a piece of Turkish psychedelia. And then I also got a delivery from someone in Germany, some house music. And then I also got a delivery from a Northern Soul dealer, selling me a Northern Soul seven inch. That's how I listen to music everyday.”
“Totally different, totally weird stuff is always passing through my ears,” he adds. “The effect that has on my music is probably immeasurable, it's always present. I'm making music that could be influenced by that Turkish psych, by that soul record and that house record all at once. I feel that it kind of comes through on the record – I'd like to think so.”
Ah yes, the record. 'Elaenia' is a sumptuous delight; at times rhythmically challenging at others languishing exuberantly in layered texture, it's a record that has to be savoured, it's delights only truly revealing themselves over time. This is perhaps only apt – Sam Shepherd took some six years to complete the record, having the small matter of a PhD to complete alongside this.
“I mean, obviously throughout the time I've been making this record I've been doing a PhD as well,” he states. “It's five years of work. It's the sum of all my experiences throughout that time. It's definitely the sum of all my experiences throughout five years of time. The actual recording was only a small part of that.”
When Sam eventually squeezed himself out of academia's grasp, though, the record came together with remarkable velocity. “The actual whole thing was finalised in one go,” he reveals. “A matter of weeks. Once I'd finished me PhD I left university and went straight into the studio and finished it almost immediately.”
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That's a challenge for the DJ and DJ culture as a whole, I think...
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Laying down basic guide tracks, Floating Points then invited more adept musicians to fill out the recordings. As such, 'Eleania' is both a solo record – in conception, in outlook – and a group endeavour, with each part having its own distinct identity and flavour.
“I'd done demos of tracks with me playing the drums and the bass on it – and I can't play the drums or the bass. I'm absolutely diabolical!” he chuckles. “So I replaced those with a professional bass player, a professional drummer. Friends that I trusted to do it.”
“The mixing was quite a big part of it because I wanted to get a good, nice space in the mix,” he explains. “All the instruments have their own environment but yet are also unified somehow. A lot of it was recorded on a 24 track tape machine. The process of recording on that is quite labour intensive. It's a lot of hours that you've got to do in the studio that you wouldn't necessarily have to do if you were just using a computer.”
There is certainly a remarkable unity to 'Elaenia'. It's a record that practically demands to be listened to as a whole, that urges you to continue even at its most obtuse, or its more direct. It's a factor that was intended from the outset, that runs through the project at a micro-biotic level.
“I like the idea of listening to it as a whole, from beginning to end, as one piece,” the producr muses. “And that's quite important to me, that it's consumed as one. I think listening to just a track out of it is a bit weird. I don't really have any solid idea of how people are going to listen to it – but I just hope they do listen to it.”
Released on the producer's own Pluto imprint, Sam has overseen every single aspect of the album's production – even down to sourcing the correct pressing plant for the vinyl edition. “It's actually getting delivered today,” he reveals, with obvious relish. “I'm really interested in the finished product. If I'm making music then it's not enough for me to just finish the track, finish the record. I want to make sure that the end product that the consumer gets has exactly the right yellow tint on the paper that I want. When it comes to things like that, I care! I'm going to see it through. But I do know others don't care about that, and that's cool. They only care about the music. But I want to do all the things. Just like I made the artwork for it, as well. I want to be involved in it.”
Floating Points is the ideal triple threat: a superb DJ, an enthralling producer and an electronic artist willing to engage with the live arena. The producer's current ensemble numbers almost a dozen musicians, embarking on an improvisatory re-write of the 'Eleania' material. “I've written all the music but we're as one, I guess,” he says. “The band are all really good friends, all amazing musicians. Apart from me! They're all really good and I'm pretending. So it's good fun. It's a new thing for me.”
A hefty list of live shows on the books and no small amount of DJ dates to cater for mean that Floating Points is balancing a packed schedule. Set to fly out to Brazil in January on yet another mammoth crate-digging exposition, Sam is eagerly looking forward to getting back into the studio and shutting his door on the outside world.
“The thing is, I'm at the studio right now, about to make a load of music,” he admits. “I'm just always thinking of ideas for music, that I want to make. I might make some dance stuff – some obvious dance stuff, let's say. I'm producing some other bands, and I'd like to work on some film music stuff as well. I'm open to all these ideas of making lots of different music now, and I want to go touring with the band, as well, I want to get the band out more places in the world performing with people. That's kind of what I want to do.”
It's this kind of quiet, understated ambition that makes Floating Points so intriguing. Sitting at the centre of this self-made creative network, Sam Shepherd is able to take on the world at his own speed. Right now, he's probably unpacking his post, unearthing another piece of Turkish psychedelia or rare Northern Soul. And Clash? Well, we're going to give 'Elaenia' another spin.
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Catch Floating Points at London's Islington Assembly Hall tonight (November 17th).