tue 30/11/2021

theartsdesk Q&A: Electronic Musicians Hype Williams | reviews, news & interviews

theartsdesk Q&A: Electronic Musicians Hype Williams

theartsdesk Q&A: Electronic Musicians Hype Williams

The elusive duo evade definition in a cat-and-mouse interview

The music of Hype Williams is the definition of an acquired taste. It sounds ramshackle, thrown together, deliberately awkward – either deeply contrarian or the work of very, very messed-up people just playing around with archaic home recording equipment. But immersion in it reveals all kinds of layers of strangeness, and particularly a rich and emotionally resonant sense of melody that weaves through all the clashing rhythms and crackly recordings. Even the arrangements, it becomes apparent, are not random, but show real complexity – although what is deliberate and what not is hard to pick apart. It slowly becomes apparent why a label as respected and aesthetically rigorous as Hyperdub might have picked them up as they have recently.

Who and what exactly they are is hard to get to the bottom of, too. They are apparently a duo of East Londoner Dean Blunt and Russian Inga Copeland (although these may be pseudonyms), based in Berlin, and the entire thing may be an art project, with these two acting as a front for person or persons unknown. Certainly, one story which HW have propagated, goes that the project - named after a hip hop video director - has existed for 18 years, and is a kind of artistic pass-the-parcel. With all this in mind, I was not overly keen to interview them, expecting to be met by arch poseurs of the worst kind. However, on turning up to a Shoreditch café, I found Dean – if that is indeed his name – to be easygoing and enjoyable company. He apologised for Inga's absence, and his own vagueness, which apparently was down to drinking wine, smoking weed and throwing up following a recording session for Benji B's Radio 1 show the night before.

Watch Hype Williams's "Chatline" video

And actually, I didn't find him that vague. Rather, he seemed like a Bohemian of the old school – passionate, involved and very genuinely concerned with art-for-art's-sake, while at every turn doing his best to evade definition. The questions of whether Hype Williams is real or spoof, art project or band, accident or design, all dissolved away in conversation much as they do when listening to their music. In a world of careerists, literalists and dogs-in-mangers who want to label and own every movement, his protean evasions were actually highly refreshing. From the very beginning it felt like he genuinely didn't care what I, or you, thought, but was more than happy to engage nonetheless.

JOE MUGGS: OK, imagine someone who's got an interest in the arts, who's open-minded, but isn't familiar with you... they put your album on, first track, and go, “This is out of tune!” What would you say to persuade them to stick with it?

DEAN BLUNT: “Don't bother.” [laughs, but only a little] Honestly, don't bother. If you haven't got it, you won't get it... Or you might, if you want to force it then go ahead, but I would say don't bother. If you don't like it, find something that is in tune and you'll be sorted. There's plenty of other music, and if that's the response you get on first listen to this then it's probably best not to go any further. It'll only get worse.

So you aren't interested in reaching out to new people?

Not at all. I don't really care for that way of thinking. Of course you're lucky if people want to release your stuff; it's nice if people want to book you, and promoters buy you drugs or whatever, but overall I don't actually care. If you just keep doing what you do it's enough. We have enough people in the family, a couple of friends that are always going to be involved, and that's enough. As long as that's strong, it can go on forever – all the stuff outside doesn't. People liking it and DJ plays and sales are nice if you're into it, it's a bonus, but it's not a real issue. That's why we only pressed up 300 copies of the first record.

It's nice if people want to book you, and promoters buy you drugs or whatever, but overall I don't actually care

Not because you were trying to create a sense of exclusivity then?

No, not at all. We just didn't think that many people would be into it. I don't think we thought we'd even sell that many, it was just “oh, let's do 300”. I don't think we had any idea if that was a few or a lot actually.

But you hoped you'd sell them all?

Oh yeah. I've lived with musicians, and we've had fall-outs because the house was full of boxes of records they couldn't shift – I didn't want that! So we made 300, they all sold, and we just haven't re-pressed it yet, it wasn't intentional to make people want it at all.

Well, for whatever reason, there is a buzz on your music, far more than one might expect for music that's so introspective and unorthodox, and it's the sort of buzz that some artists work really hard to create – have you any reason why that is?

I really haven't got a Danny La Rue. Sorry, I don't know. Someone writes about it, someone else says, “This is relevant to so-and-so”, someone else follows them, and someone else again – I don't know what all those people's motivations are. If someone decides they have to get a record after someone has written about it, that's fine, 'cause we all rely on other people to tell us about things, I suppose, but I really haven't got a clue how that works on the bigger scale. We're just making work, same as we always have been, we still are making stuff daily with no concept of why this stuff around us is happening. No-one gave a damn, no-one gave a shit for ages...

So how long have you been working together?

Well, on this project I'd say two years it's been going on for Hype Williams. We've been making stuff for Denna, putting out [home-burned] CDRs and that, and it came to a point where we realised we didn't even have any copies for ourselves because they started selling, things started popping up where someone would say, “Oh, this track is mentioned in this magazine,” and we realised people were listening to it, so it went from there in terms of actually putting it out. But what we make is just the same, we're still going along exactly as we were before. I don't think you should let yourself be influenced... [pulls self up] well, no, it depends why you're in it, it depends what you're doing it for.

Did you know each other for some time before the project began?

Ohhhhhhh... [this is a rather unreadable exclamation] It's a really long story, but basically she ended up living in my house, which was down to someone else who lived there at the time, then I took on this project, and she just became involved because she was there...

And this project, you say, had been passed on to you by someone else?

Yeah. Denna.

And was this someone you knew?

I didn't really know her very well, she was someone I'd seen around and I got talking to at a – well, I wouldn't say a party, more a slightly inebriated gathering. And this was... passed on.

If I was stuck with a bunch of word processors – do they even exist any more? – we'd have been writers

What exactly was passed on? A concept? A set of rules? A name?

No... It's all decided by the person that passes it on. They choose the person that is going to take it and that's it. It can take any form it wants, the name was there but it can be anything, it can be expressed however – it just so happens that I, or we, happened to live with a bunch of musicians and had access to a bunch of stuff, to the tools. And it happened I had a Blackberry with a camera that you could make videos on. It's all about what's around at the time, and it manifests itself through that. We had those tools so it manifested itself this way. If I was stuck with a bunch of, I dunno, word processors – do they even exist any more? – we'd have been writers, maybe it'd even have been a book. It would have taken a form, maybe sculptures if there'd been bags of plaster sitting around the house.

And all this was passed on in a late-night conversation – so in this conversation this woman was, maybe, sounding you out, deciding that you were the right person?

Yeah. But then there was no - what's the word? - brief. There was no brief. Obviously she'd been thinking for a while about what she was passing on, but it was just, “This is the project, this is how long you have it for, this is when you pass it on,” and we've just hung on to it for a while, it might go on a bit longer, it might not.

It sounds like something out of [Robert Anton Wilson's comedy conspiracy novel trilogy] Illuminatus! frankly, all unspoken knowledge and initiations.

Yeah, it does sound a bit ridiculous actually. It is a bit ridiculous.

Or, to put it more prosaically, you were given a mentality to take into whatever creative project you were going to start.

Yeah.

So following this inebriated conversation you picked up the instruments in the house, and...?

Yeah, there was stuff around. I don't know how to use computer programmes, so I've always recorded on tape, I prefer to do it because it's what I know, I haven't be arsed to learn anything else. I've just downloaded [free software] Audacity, and it seems pretty easy actually, for a free programme the amount of stuff you can do is impressive, at least as far as mixing tunes together – but to actually make music on it I don't know. But yeah, there was just tape machines, a bass with two strings in the house, random things lying around – and I guess I have some inclination towards music anyway, it wasn't completely oh-yeah-whatever, reach for the nearest thing, I did gravitate to picking those things up – and that was it.

I've always recorded on tape, I prefer to do it because it's what I know, I haven't be arsed to learn anything else.

But rather than try and hide the rough-and-ready technology, you've made a feature of it – the tape hiss is part of your music, it's a feature...

Oh, I just can't get rid of it, it just hangs around, maybe I need to get it cleaned or something.

You can use software like Audacity to remove noise!

hype_williams_one_nation_artworkReally? Really - I didn't know. You can get rid of hiss? OK, maybe the next record won't have any then. But then now you mention it, we gave [current album] One World (pictured right, if you look closely) to a studio to master, and the first version sent back sounded really robotic, they'd used some process like that to try and clean it up, it sounded odd, really weird, so I prefer to keep the recordings how we make them. Maybe we need a cleaner tape, because when we record a track then put it on to a computer, I tape over it straight away, and the more you record over a tape, it just gets worse.

And you end up with ghosts of the previous recording still on there.

Yeah. Sometimes there's something where you can hear tracks from years ago in the background, or one channel finishes before another and a little something just pops in. It can be really annoying, but I think that's why it's so hissy, we just need a new tape or something.

But come on, there's obviously an element of you that likes the irregularity and dirt of the sound you're creating, or you would have gone out of your way to learn the computer stuff more.

Nah, I just haven't got the patience. I have this very apocalyptic rush to get as much shit done as possible, so I just don't have time to learn anything. I don't have the patience whatsoever, I can't even watch films because I just don't like to sit there, we just want to keep creating. Inga knows how to use computers, but I don't have the patience to sit there while she's doing stuff on the computer, running this or clicking that, I don't have the patience. I'm really, really bad like that. I don't have the patience.

And this is why you leave beats out of time with each other, and things that sound out of tune, then?

Yes, that's because we record everything live. There's no sequencing, no programming, we just play it, record it in, play over the top, that's it. It's gonna go out of beat, and I don't think it's necessary to go back and fix it or redo it. I mean, really I don't believe in that standard of making things that everything has to be lined up and sequenced, I don't believe in a standard way of doing anything, I don't see why it has to be like that. If someone said, you can go in this studio, record in a proper studio, if someone wants us to record at [record label] 4AD so they can have things panned and arranged, that's cool because the things you can do sonically in a studio are really interesting, it's an interesting thing to do – but I wouldn't be interested in that because it's the standard, just because of the possibilities. You see the difference?

If there's anything that's influenced by the outside, directly, then it's not the truth of that moment

Sure. Now, in these tracks, is there any sense of trying to communicate something? I know you said you don't make it for outside listeners, but do you ever go, “No, I don't like the mood of this one, we're scrapping this track, I don't want people to hear it”?

We'll scrap tracks if they sound influenced by the outside. I don't even know if I love everything we've made, but everything we've made is about the truth, it's about the truth at the time of making it and that's it. If there's anything that's influenced by the outside, directly, then it's not the truth of that moment, it's influenced by the outside and I don't want it to be heard. It doesn't feel right. It's like wearing something that isn't your style, you know when you see someone wearing something and you're not very convinced about it, you're just pffff, they're not carrying that off.

That's funny because you reference the outside world and other cultural stuff constantly in your titles – house music, clubs, rap artists, all sorts.

Oh yeah – well that's influenced by the past, by growing up in London, going to One Nation, I've been around jungle and all those sort of things. It is referencing that, but it's not really thought about, it's just thrown in, “first guess best guess”, “cool, call it that”. It's not really thinking about any of the things it refers to, and in any case it's when the music's all done – then you just throw titles into things.

Watch Hype Williams's "Rescue Dawn" video

Some things mean stuff to people that might not make any sense to me

So you're fine to allow unconscious influences? Those titles might be snatched from the air, but there's every chance they refer to something that was in your mind as you made the track.

Yeah, absolutely.

So if listeners are looking and listening closely, they might find interesting connections between what you've done sonically and the references in the titles.

Yeah, you would, you would. But some things mean stuff to people that might not make any sense to me, down to a million different things about the ways that people are different and their experiences are different. But yeah if I get something from a track at the moment it's being named, and that inspires the name, and that means something to someone then cool – I just do it, “that's its name”, and don't think about it afterwards. You could be watching [sales channel] Step Up TV at the time and that would give the track its name, it could be anything.

Now you mention being a Londoner, going out clubbing and being into the various musical sounds that have grown up over the years – and now you talk about the “family” of creative people around you. Did your clubbing experiences make you want to be part of something, of a subculture?

No, not really. When I say “family” it really is that, it's that few people. And I think that it's still quite solitary. It's a small group of people who don't even really share that many common interests, we just happened to find each other and we're all around each other, like families are. No, I don't really feel like I want to be a part of something, because when I was younger I didn't really feel like I belonged to anything. Growing up in Hackney I was hanging with bad boys but I didn't feel like I was in with that, or quite in with anything really. What we have now is like people that may not even really exist... no, like it may not even be real, if that makes any sense. It's just this feeling of unity for likeminded people that may not even really exist but you act as if it does... [tails off]

Well, this sounds like a similar idea to your project – that it's something that hangs in the air for as long as you keep it up, it exists for as long as you keep it existing.

Yeah, yeah, just that.

Or you allow someone else to keep it existing by “passing it on”. When will that be, by the way?

Ummm... that should be next... year? [counts on fingers] 2008, 2009, 2010 - oh shit, this year! Mid, late this year. But we could keep it. Or not. I think we'll keep it because [looks bashful] we've got a lot of shows. That would be a bit annoying, to have a load of bookings and go, “Sorry, we don't exist any more”. So yeah, I think we'll keep it, but if we keep it we have to do it for another three years. Have to have a think about it, but yeah we'll probably hold onto it, for now. We've got a lot of stuff ready.

It's a conversation between Inga and I when we're playing. I don't know what's happening out there in the club

When you do shows, have you been surprised by how people react? From what you thought was just your internal world, these captured moments, now you're seeing people right there and then demonstrating their reactions to it...

hype_williams_press_shotYeah, you know what, I don't even pay any attention, so I don't know. We play a lot with a sheet in front of us (pictured left), so I just can't see. It would be really pretentious to say flat out, “I don't care, it doesn't matter about anyone else”, when you're playing shows in the first place, but really I don't care beyond the fact that when we're playing you're hearing it, you're seeing enough. I don't really need to care about whether you're impressed or what's the deal is out there in the audience. Because at the end of the day, it's a conversation between Inga and I when we're playing. I don't know what's happening out there in the club.

I know that we played a show in London recently and loads of people came up to me afterwards and were really into it - that was strange because usually you play, you finish and it's done, that's all. Everyone has another drink, the moment's gone. I play, I go outside and get blazed [stoned], done. But this time there was a noticeable difference, people coming up and it seemed like they were quite enthusiastic and sort of joining the conversation, it was really weird. But it's not. Weird, I mean. Because that's just how things go, everything has its time.

Well, it certainly seems that within the club or electronic world, music that's a bit off the grid, irregular for whatever reason, is finding more enthusiastic audiences right now. Do you find any kindred spirits in other acts around at the moment?

Hmm... I don't really like anyone that recent. Not that I dislike anyone, there's a lot of tracks that I like, not necessarily people. There's a lot of good stuff out there, but as soon as you build a genre, it instantly involves a lot of stuff that's very disposable, some tracks are amazing, but you have to dig for them. But there's nobody that really sticks out in my mind, but then I spend too much time making my own shit, I don't pay that much attention, I suppose.

But if you play a show, you'll see how people react to the other acts and DJs, you see people getting into similarly strange music?

Yeah, yeah, I do. You do see it more, it's true. But I don't really know because we've built such a force field around ourselves, it's really difficult to see anything beyond it or beyond the people we're around and our close-knit group. Which is not necessarily good, because it's like a kid whose parents don't let them socialise with other people, and they become really retarded socially. I don't really see any awareness outside our family so it's quite bizarre...

Do you relish that sometimes, though? People are over-connected now, with a thousand Facebook friends or whatever, so there's a sense you're deliberately limiting that?

Yes, yes, yes. It's infecting your brain way too much, you don't need to, it's too much, the end of the world is pretty close and one of the problems is too much information – I think that was written in the Bible even – and taking on way too much connection with other people, you don't need that much. I just think the kind of person I think I am, I would go pretty insane if I had that much connection with other people, I would rather just not. I know enough people, and I've known enough people through life, and I've drawn a line now: it's enough.

I just think the kind of person I think I am, I would go pretty insane if I had that much connection with other people, I would rather just not

Well, why not, if you've got enough? It reminds me of when I interviewed, of all people, Graham Coxon from Blur. I asked him if he was listening to anything new, and he said, “I don't need anything new.” He had got a box set of Davy Graham, the folk guitarist, and he said, “That box set, I could spend 10 years understanding that – or my Beatles albums, I could listen to those for years, and still get more out of them."

Yeah, there's this whole culture of lists of this and that, of what's your favourite this from that year, and I'm just, like, “I don't really know!” At a stretch, the best thing I heard last year was [Sun Ra's] Arkestra at [East London venue] Café OTO, and that was it, that was a really amazing thing, and that was enough for me to be vibing off for the whole year. I'm not searching anything else out. I've already absorbed so much shit from when I was younger that I'm still remembering all that, getting stuff from my memories, and I'm content with that, I don't need anything more. Maybe there comes a point when I just run out and I will need more, but it'll be a while, I'm all right with what I have now.

So it seems to me that the music or art that you're making might be more like a meditation, rather than a product or something you're trying to communicate.

Yeah, you could say that. Yeah, you could very well say that.

Just turning over the ideas and waiting for the end of the world?

Yeah, just wait 'til it happens. That's pretty soon, I'm sure.

And you're enjoying it? You seem to enjoy the shows even if you find the interaction bizarre.

Yeah, it is good. We used to fuck up shows, we used to just never show up, which pisses a lot of people off and isn't a good thing to do. But we'll see, we might not tour again, we've got a set of shows over the next months, I don't know if we'll tour after that, we'll see what happens. I might move to New Orleans. Or Darfur. I've got some family and friends out there. Or Lisbon. I'm not sure. But I don't think we'll do a long tour after this, I doubt it, but we'll see what happens, living every day as it comes. That's all you can do.

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