Clouds mine the ‘90s for inspiration

Scottish production/DJ duo Clouds talk about how two dudes into their 20s made a record that sounds very, very ’90s.


While mainstream electronic dance music has seemingly reached its molly-addled, dayglo-coloured crescendo, a certain class of U.K.-based producers have been busy creating music that serves as an almost shadowy counterpoint to the world of private jets, mega-festivals and million-dollar endorsement deals.

Beginning in the ‘90s with Warp Records artists such as Aphex Twin and Autechre, and following through with recent material from Untold, Actress and Zomby, you can chart a course through a “post-rave” approach to electronic music. You may recognize the DNA strands that sonically connect it to early rave and hardcore music of decades past, but it tends to be more introspective, ambitious and experimental.

Scottish production/DJ duo Clouds (aka Calum Macleod and Liam Robertson) follow in this tradition, and as they’ve proved with their debut album (this summer’s excellent Ghost Systems Rave, released on Montreal’s Turbo Recordings), you can move things forward by looking backwards.

Their recent album is the product of a close study of ‘90s sounds. Recorded primarily over a two-week period last winter while holed up in a rented farmhouse in the Scottish countryside, it is heavily atmospheric and richly textured. If you listen carefully, you can hear field recordings and film dialogue samples alongside the heavy beats and rave sirens.

Although barely into their 20s, Clouds have spent the past few years creating music and releasing records at a steady clip. In addition to preparing a fall tour that will see them play live sets rather than simply DJ, they’ve produced remixes for a number of other artists, including Montreal’s own Blue Hawaii and Suuns.

Earlier this week, I had the chance to speak with the duo over the phone from Turbo HQ.

Michael Sallot: Is this your first time in Montreal? What have you been up to?
Liam Robertson: We’ve been working on a lot of music. There is a studio here at the Turbo office, so we’ve been working on some stuff and we played a game of football.

MS: Your music is influenced by stuff that you were too young to have experienced when it first came around. Did you discover it via an older brother’s record collection or something?
LR: Neither of us had older brothers with good record collections. Well, I have an older brother, but he didn’t have a good record collection. So when we started listening to all that ’90s stuff, I think we started with Thomas P. Heckmann. He made some brilliant stuff during the ’90s — anything from IDM type stuff to insane 135 [BPM] acid. We both started getting quite heavily into that and then to other artists that were doing the same thing at the same time. It was online — nothing physical, no CDs, no vinyls were swapped or whatever. It was just searching through the Internet for releases and whatnot.

MS: What drew you to that sound?
LR: At that time, it was quite hardcore and raw. Recently, there’s been a resurgence in that, like really distorted drums and a lot of analog stuff. It’s always been around, but at the moment it’s pretty huge in the U.K. Three years ago, there was definitely a minimal thing happening in techno. It was well produced but quite boring. We just prefer the sounds from when it was a bit more loose and raw.

MS: Do you think there’s a bit of a revival going on?
Calum Macleod: In the U.K., at least, it definitely seems like it. Untold is known for doing clever bass music, but he has just started another label which is just purely dedicated to rough techno. The music is getting fast as well — it’s almost up, to like, 140 [BPM].

MS: What was it like recording your album out in the countryside?
CM: We wanted to do an album, but we didn’t want it to be a “techno” album that was just like 12, straight 4/4 dancefloor techno tracks. We wanted it to be stretched out, like a body of work, and we felt like if we gave ourselves a fixed amount of time in one place and do it in the same place, it would make sense, so we felt like we should go away to a farm instead of working in our bedrooms on headphones.
LR: It was super fun as well. We don’t make a lot of music together, but we wanted the album to be something that we did where we are completely sat next to each other for every track and then it was finished before we left. ■

Clouds perform at the PHI Centre (407 St-Pierre) with Thomas Von Party and Paul Trafford on Saturday, Sept. 21, 10 p.m. 

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