Tom Jenkinson‘s new album Ufabulum is being billed as a return to pure electronic music. “I said it on the phone to someone at Warp,” he explains ruefully in an interview following his headlining appearance at this spring’s SonarSound Tokyo festival. “I was unwittingly supplying this horrible catchphrase for which I’m now receiving the punishment. I think they liked it as a way of getting some sort of interest going in the people who buy records. But the idea of a pure form of music is actually distasteful to me. If you were to aim at purifying music you’d have ruled out the way music evolves, which is cross-pollination.”
What Jenkinson was getting at, he insists, is a return to purely electronic forms of composition after several albums that featured his work on the bass and other such, erm, archaic instruments. “The motivation was to get away from this tendency in my recent work to move further toward live instruments,” he says. “It was starting to feel like a bit of a prison.”
Out on seminal electronica imprint Warp, Ufabulum bursts with the restless energy fans have come to expect from Squarepusher’s 15-year career. Lingering rhythmic elements of the experimental breakbeats scene from which Squarepusher emerged provide the framework for a cavalcade of dystopic bloops and bleeps set against ecstatic synth washes and glistening chords.
I ask if the return to electronic music signals a return to “future music.”
“My kneejerk answer is that it’s more your concern than mine,” he responds. “I don’t see any necessary link between electronics and the future. I suppose yes at the dawn of electronic music, people saw it as a break from the past. But now it’s so integrated into the musical vocabulary that it’s hard to see it as futuristic in itself. I choose to use electronic means of expression, but not exclusively. I’m as concerned with older instruments—and am still interested in what can be done with them.”
But don’t certain passages seem to mock the current commercial dubstep scene, noting the contempt in which it is held by many longtime electronica artists? “Why shouldn’t humor enter into music?” he asks. “But I’m not aware specifically of the current electronica boom. There’s a longstanding prejudice among people who follow more cult forms of music,” he continues, “that popularity is inherently bad. It happened in the ’90s when drum and bass entered popular music, and stopped being underground. But I don’t involve myself. I’d quite happily sell millions of records.”
Japan is one place where Squarepusher’s electronic music seems to go down a charm. His trippy new setup featuring an LED helmet that he describes as “a quantized window into my mind’s eye” will no doubt be prominently featured at this fall’s resuscitated Electraglide festival. The on-off event was launched a decade ago by promoter Beatink, the sister to Beat Records, which distributes Warp in Japan.
“It’s odd,” he says recalling his first visit to the old Liquidroom in 1997. “I’ve only been here five or six times, but my music seems to make sense in Japan, which is quite rewarding. As I’ve said I don’t pride myself on my music being difficult, so to reach a wide level of recognition here is new and quite interesting.”
Electraglide. Makuhari Messe, Nov 21 (listing).