The latest release on Where to Now? reminds me of that scene in the Wallace and Gromit film The Wrong Trousers where Wallace finds himself laying the track ahead of the model train he’s riding one piece at a time, so as not to be derailed. ‘Spoils’ is a series of violent dislocations; dance tropes subverted by wild electroacoustic falterings and squealing percussive outbursts. Written by Cambridge native Joe Higgins, aka Metrist, the release is an exercise in dancefloor turbulence. You’re never sure what’s around the corner, but it’s a hell of a ride.
Truth be told, we’ve been writing about Joe’s music longer than I care to remember. His first release came about when he was just 17, subverting the post-Blawan diaspora of dubsteppers turning their hand to techno with a pair of violently warped acid-excursions. Since then he has meandered through the most brooding extremities of bass-heavy dance music, releasing twisted low-end abstractions on the likes of Fifth Wall and Opal Tapes. On the other hand, his contribution to the Neighbourhood series is rife with frolicking Radio Boy-style sample tomfoolery.
Knowing what to expect from each new forthcoming Metrist record can be difficult. But it’s perhaps unsurprising he has continued to explore new possibilities with each record. Joe recently completed a degree in digital music and sound arts at the University of Brighton, an experience which introduced new and unexpected influences to his production. Until last year he was also putting on nights in Brighton, under the name Zallogut.
With ‘Spoils’ due for release next week, we decided to catch up with Joe to talk about the record, concréte heads, and how he’s been influenced by Mr. Oizo…
You started producing with a bit of a D&B background right? How do you approach those records compared to the slower techno stuff you’re doing now?
I think the mixing style is so different; you’re mixing to drops. It’s quite rare you’ll have two tracks going at the same time for a while, which is pretty common in all that ‘arthouse techno’. I think I still have that in mind. That’s why UK and broken stuff feels way more fun to mix still. If I’m mixing something Livity or even Gqom, for example, it’s much more fun to work out where ‘drops’ are and so on.
The whole gunfinger thing was something I’d been ignoring for so long - it felt time for a revisit.
The other thing with that D&B scene is that they have very specific rules – your intro has to be a certain length etcetera…
I think those rules are so ingrained in me – I honestly find it really hard to escape that! I had the yips with a 4/4 kick drum, do you know what I mean? Like in golf…
I would literally do a four-to-the-floor kick drum and everything sounded awful. I think this was when I started doing all the broken beat stuff as L.SAE. I would make something with a 4/4 kick drum and then just take it apart. That track on Timedance was originally 4/4 but then it got cut up and done because I felt it didn’t have enough space. I think I’ve managed to find more space in my tunes recently.
It’s funny talking about these strict production rules because this new EP, especially ‘An Soaep’, feels designed specifically to confuse DJs…
I think honestly it’s just because I get bored. Over the years I think I’ve lost a lot of pretence, but also gained a lot of pretence. But I realise I’m not trying to make some kind of big room track for a club in Leipzig… That just isn’t me.
It’s a concept EP really, but it’s a lot more tongue in cheek. I feel like it’s more my speaking voice. It’s not me trying to do something someone else would do. We have some shout outs on the back of the sleeve… ‘An Soaep’, with that big snare was me doing a kind of play on big beat – Basement Jaxx and all that kind of stuff. Then ‘On Golden Seize’ was like El-B and Groove Chronicles… To be fair it was more Mr. Oizo!
It felt more me being like ‘what would it sound like me trying to do Mr. Oizo?’ I guess it was me being real to the fact that I do steal a lot. Not in the sense that I just rip a track and reverse it, but I take a lot from what other people are doing and I think I was being quite dishonest with that in the past and trying to hide it. This EP is me clearly doing that style.
‘Pantomimer Tongue’ was me doing the Brighton techno stuff. [Cristian] Vogel and [Neil] Landstrumm. Big clunky tuned kicks, but with that huge synth in the middle. The last one was a tribute mostly to do with Meredith Monk, neo-dada and Fluxus.
That’s quite a range from Mr. Oizo to neo-dada… It makes you sound a bit cracked to be honest mate.
[Laughs] Well if it does then I’m pulling the interview. I think that EP was fun and I’d like to get into that mindset again. In the Mr. Oizo one there’s a lot of stuff taken from the way that Luc Ferrari and [Bernard] Parmegiani, these old Concréte heads… I don’t think they’ve ever been described as ‘heads’ before! [Laughs] The old masters of pure sound meeting a fucking garage beat… That made me crack up man. Doing that kind of stuff that would make you gunfinger, versus really meticulously produced stuff.
That juxtaposition I found so hilarious. Especially with ‘On Golden Seize’ and ‘Pantomimer Tongue’ which took ages to make, there was this kind of like ‘give a fuck’ feel to it. I’d been trying way too hard previously.
That is one of the funny things with the electronic music scene today. There’s a constant meeting of these academic scenes and party music.
I was talking to Omar – Batu – the other day. I’ve just done a track for a compilation he’s doing. He has quite a big say in what goes on in what you’re making. It brings up this conversation of whether the label owner should really be telling you what to do. I think they should. I think you should come to them with a slightly unfinished project and they should know what’s good and what’s bad.
He really helped me get the best out of this track. It’s a dance track and he was like “this bit’s cool, but could you boost the levels on this bit because that’s what’s going to make the gunfingers come out and that’s why we’re all here”. I just felt like, that’s so true – that’s why I’m in this. To make stuff like when you first heard ‘The Nine’ by Bad Company and you pull a face. I would like that feeling to happen with something I’ve made. The whole gunfinger thing was something I’d been ignoring for so long, it felt time for a revisit.
It gets disguised a bit I guess. People want to make tracks considered high-art but it’s club music at the end of the day.
You’re making music for people on drugs and I think in the ’90s they knew that. I think clubbing today is less about taking a pinger and losing yourself for six hours. I think maybe it’s lost a little bit of fun along the way… I don’t want to be that guy that says we’ve lost the fun from clubbing because it’s still there but there’s more pressure on clubbing now.
With Zallogut we had to create and brand and we found it really difficult; it felt really toxic. I remember the first time I set up a meeting about Zallogut; I thought we were going to do well whoever we booked because the club’s Patterns and people go to Patterns… But it’s not Tresor or Berghain. The clubs used to be an institution; they were the brand. Now the onus is on the promoter to deliver.
I think running nights in Brighton took years off my life because I wouldn’t know how the night would go until half an hour into it. We’d spent all this money on line-ups and the worst feeling in the world is when you have someone who’s travelled miles and had a rough day on public transport to play in front of not as many people as they thought they would. Having to tell them that is difficult especially when you know that feeling yourself.
You’ve stopped doing the Zallogut nights now?
I stopped doing them last year after the Matrixxman and Batu night. I was in my third year of university and found it too much, although I don’t regret any of university.
The guy who used to fund us (I didn’t have £4,000 for bookings), he’s moved on from Patterns. He used to trust me with the Zallogut nights because he wanted something with a little bit more edge in Brighton. It didn’t work a lot of the time; we did this party with Objekt and Dasha Rush and we spent maybe five grand and only took three grand back… I just can’t afford to do that on my own.
The course was the sound art course at the University of Brighton right?
Yeah – I didn’t want to do a music production course because I felt like I’d already taught myself how to use DAWs and stuff on my own. It was something that I’d already done. The course in Brighton opened me up to a lot of sound art… I don’t really like the term because it’s very academic. It’s very highbrow and annoying but I really got into it.
I was studying under a guy called Milo Taylor who now works at LCC [London College of Communication]. He really got it because he came from a jungle background but was now doing sound art. He was this bridge to that world that previously I’d thought was just really academic dudes with beards…
Milo was really involved with the fact we were doing Zallogut and he used to listen to my music and get back to me on it. He was really important in giving me some confidence in that world that felt so far away. I think a lot of people find that term artist… I am wearing a turtleneck but… [laughs] The turtleneck wearing, paint-splattered alcoholic. I’ve always known that I come from this small village in Cambridgeshire and whenever I go back I always get rinsed for whatever I’m doing. I always felt like I needed to do an ode to that. Bands like the Kinks or Cleaners from Venus used to sing about little England and this kind of thing. I got inspired by that but didn’t know how to voice it in my own stuff.
Talking about growing up in small town England - those European football stickers on the back of the record really reminded me of that time in my own life.
I think the art for that came from the frustration I have that I’ve lost a lot of knowledge over the years; names, places, dates. Things like that. But I could tell you who scored the fastest goal in the Champions League ten years ago, or I could tell you who transferred from Atletico Madrid to Inter Milan for £32m…
The record sticker itself are these forgotten(ish) football players - Roy Makaay and Dennis Rommedahl. Me and James from Where to Now? talked about loads of these players and it was like they live on in my memory. For me there is this hilarious mystery around retired footballers. Some of them are working as taxi drivers now and so on. Ian Dowie for example is a property surveyor and he used to play for West Ham… We put these players on a pedestal where it’s almost magical when you see them in the wild. I thought I’d can that for this record. I’m glad you had that reaction to it.
On the subject of Cambridge I wanted to ask what your first clubbing experiences were like…
The first time I went to a club I had a fake ID and I was 15. I went to see Flux Pavilion at the Fez. I remember loads of the other kids my age didn’t care but I really cared. It’s not something I’m really proud of that I was into Flux Pavilion but after that we started going to these D&B nights called Warning.
It’s the oldest D&B night in the world if I’m not mistaken. It’s older than me. It happens once every two or three months. I went when I was 16 or 17 and it was sometimes really terrifying. I don’t know how the fuck they would let me in at 16, I looked about 11. Fights used to just break out, such was the vibe. Everyone was really into the music but there was lots of posturing. I remember once throwing up in a urinal and being ridiculed by all these rudeboys that were in there.
I remember finding those parties genuinely quite scary at times.
I remember going to one and seeing a 70 year old man in a grey suit and tie going off to some some gabbertech nonsense and thinking that it was just the bleakest thing I’d ever seen. That should have been enough for me looking back - I should have put down the USBs and resigned from dance music then [Laughs]. I should have started a ukelele company or something after. That was really sobering.
Talking about early clubbing experiences - I listened to your very first release the Nineteen89 thing recently - you would only have been 17 or 18. What was it like getting bookings in clubs at that kind of age?
I had never done the whole resident thing which I think was to my detriment. When I first started getting bookings I was playing at really good times. I was jumping into these student nights in Nottingham and so on. I think it kind of skewed my mentality, thinking that I could just play what I want. Some people have learnt their trade from years and years of learning what the club’s like and what the trajectory of a night is. It was a bit much starting off.
I remember just riding off that first release for ages. Then the Fifth Wall thing came out and it was much more serious and much more angry. That’s when the anger started to come out I think; I had a lot more anger in my music then. It was a bit of a muddied anger that I couldn’t vocalise. I don’t think I vocalised it very well in the music even – not that I was really in a bad place, but it was a good way of getting stuff out. I got off on making stuff harder and angrier and that was fun. I think now I’ve lost a lot of that. I’m not as angry…
I’m still really happy with that body of work but I don’t think I could make that again because I’m not that person anymore. I guess it seems like I’m bouncing around a lot but that’s just my thing, you know! It’d be cool to have this discography of perfectly planned out releases but that’s not how it worked out, so fuck it.
‘Spoils’ is available on Where To Now? from the 5th of February.