UK techno producer Anthony Child first adopted his Surgeon pseudonym in the 1990s, when a move from the countryside to the city of Birmingham brought rhythm and discipline to his music making. Through his solo releases as well as those made alongside Regis as British Murder Boys, Child helped spur a new wave of UK industrial music, simultaneously giving Birmingham its own techno variant. His new album Luminosity Device, released via his own imprint Dynamic Tension, sees Child use his well-practiced production methods to try and harness the sounds of techno “viewed through a psychedelic lens”. Meg Woof caught up with him over Skype to talk about his motives, irritations and the inspiration obtained from the Tibetan Book Of The Dead
Meg Woof: You’ve spoken before about techno being a vehicle for your ideas. The sleeve art struck me as an unusual choice that moves away from the more commonplace graphic design of techno album covers. Is that intentional?
Anthony Child: I think the whole time I’ve been involved with the techno scene I’ve always seen myself and positioned myself as an outsider. Myself and Karl O’Connor, who does Regis, we’ve always felt our musical route into techno was almost an accidental one really, we didn’t come from what I’d say was the typical background of most people who got into techno. I’ve intentionally done covers in the past that are bright and colourful collages and things like that, when all the techno covers that were around at the time were of a very gothic, industrial aesthetic. For this one I just thought it seemed quite different and bold to have a photograph of myself and it’s making references to other kinds of music.
Is the artwork trying to point the audience in a specific direction in terms of how they might digest the music?
I think maybe it can work in a lot of different ways. On one level it can be a subtle reference that people can pick up on… and it can also kind of annoy people, which I quite like doing.
I think I can get frustrated. When I first became really excited about techno music in the early 1990s, to me it was another style of very experimental electronic music and there were some really bizarre records coming out that were almost unplayable as a DJ. But the music was so great I’d figure out a way of mixing it in.
Can you remember what some of those records were?
A lot of these records had very little information on them. I think they came from Detroit, maybe some were by Terrence Dixon, but it seemed like they’d come from a different planet. It was not at all DJ-friendly music and it seems really bizarre how techno can sometimes be the opposite of that. I’m kind of poking a bit of fun at that, really. I would hope that if someone saw a very different cover, they would think “why have they done that?” rather than “I don’t like that”.
Both the Tibetan Book Of The Dead and psychedelic experiences are cited as Luminosity Device’s main themes. Can you expand on this?
The album has functional techno elements but I tried to make a techno album viewed through a psychedelic lens, as it were. I mean, there are certain repetitive choral themes and the tremolo and shimmering effects. In a very literal way, to me, those are the psychedelic aspects. But it was also about looking back and thinking about how so often the term industrial is very closely linked with techno and particularly work that I do and have done, but when I look back I think that a much stronger influence for me in terms of what I make is more psychedelic music.
Can you give some examples?
It’s not really about a type of music, it’s about music that transports me, or is mind-altering like a drug. That’s also what I like to create. My main influences in this area would be Coil, Faust, Suicide and psychedelic pop from the 1960s.
When you’re making music are you aware of the separation between sounds that might affect the body and then the mind?
You mentioned something quite early on about using techno as a functional carrier wave, and I think I’ve always thought about it in that way, whereby you can have these repetitive and rhythmic elements, and as long as you have those you can add almost anything else to it – as long as it follows this repetitive style then almost anything can be techno. And I think that’s why I still enjoy playing with that form, because I find it still a very malleable, bendable and stretchable style of music, and a lot of other styles of dance music, if you take too many elements away, it stops being drum ’n’ bass or dubstep, or something like that. But I feel that techno is a very stretchable form of music so as long as I have that as the carrier wave, I have a lot of fun adding other elements that might be more at home in a Coil or a Faust track.
You’ve always had beatless projects running alongside your techno endeavours. Why did you decide to take this theme and make a techno-based album out of it, rather than something more ambient?
I don’t really know why it turned into a techno album. Yeah, I see your point, it could have just as easily been a beatless project but I find it fun and interesting the way I can have what begin as quite different projects – the techno side of things and then the more tonal ambient side of things, but they always end up sort of crossing over and informing each other. I remember having a conversation with a friend and we were talking about how similar techno and drone were. Drone is like techno but on a glacial timeframe, you’re just altering the timeframe of techno for it to become drone music.
The Tibetan Book Of The Dead is a guide through psychedelic experience. How much do you think about guiding people through their dance or listening experience when you’re playing or writing?
I think that’s much stronger in a live performance and I particularly find that really powerful and fun in a live improvisation because that feels the most connected to the audience, and the atmosphere, and the sound. Every element of that magic is feeding back into the performance. That’s another example of the way the ambient stuff informs the techno, because I first started these very free live improvisations with the more tonal work and then that inspired me to take that into the techno stuff.
The whole thing about techno is people like it because it’s very ordered and structured and so throwing a lot more chaos into all that was quite exciting. Performing in that way can be really fun because I can feel like I’m going on the same journey and I don’t know what’s coming next either.
How much of that is involved when you’re composing a track?
The material is generated in a very improvised way, but then I take it and arrange it. There’s a lot more premeditated thought and careful consideration and arrangement but it’s really on a very sort of emotional and intuitive level where I know that something is right or not right. I would say when I’m recording I’m really not thinking about anything that’s outside of the room I’m in. So the recording process is very different in that respect, it’s really working on my own intuition and how it’s affecting me.
I think for a while you were only using the modular stuff for the live sets and not for recordings, but have they merged together a little bit more now?
Yeah, for a while, for this project I basically used the modular gear to generate the material and then I take that material and arrange it and refine it and layer it using a computer, so it’s a combination of those two worlds, and I really enjoy making music in that way, having those two worlds working together.
I wanted to ask how your surroundings might have influenced this album. In The Wire 318 you describe your earliest experiments as very hands on: collage, cutting up tapes etc. You said how moving to the city eventually made your music a lot more regulated and rhythmic, and so I wondered what your current surroundings are like and how they might have influenced this album?
I guess in different stages of my life the music has come out differently. Where I live now is not completely cut off but it’s definitely a much more rural environment. That definitely seeps into the music. … if I open the window at night I can hear sheep, maybe an owl. Although at the weekends I’m always working in cities.
Do you need to keep in touch with clubbing culture to inform your recording projects?
Yeah, when I go to a club I’m plugging into the mains of what’s happening at these kinds of events. I still really enjoy discovering music; a huge wide range of styles from different places and different times, and I think those kind of things filter in quite strongly and again, it goes back to using techno as a carrier wave for that kind of stuff.
I wondered if you could say something about the title. I found a definition for luminosity but I didn’t know if the device was something real or something you’ve made up as a carrier for your idea...
What was the definition of luminosity that you found?
The energy emitted by a star per unit time.
Ah, I didn’t find that one! It came from the Tibetan Buddhist idea of the clear light and the psychedelic experience. But I paired it with the word device because that has a more technological and modern idea. It’s almost like a light and dark or yin and yang idea of pairing an ancient thing with a modern thing. I quite enjoy playing round with the words and language of these things. It works on many different levels and has a resonance that works for me. I wanted to have something that wasn’t a doomy, dark, goth, nihilistic techno record and had some light in it, but it was a bit of a balance of those things.