The threat of pigeonholing was after patten from the start – an idiosyncratic approach to club-primed sounds, cultivated by the same iconic label that gave the world Aphex Twin, Autechre and Boards of Canada, a fascination with arcane symbols, a refusal to never reveal too much of their personal lives beyond what’s absolutely necessary – it’s tempting to walk into a patten project overly burdened with preconceived ideas. In practice, however, the duo continue to surprise – and have made some pretty momentous breakthroughs in the past year.
2016’s Ψ melded iconic bass sculptures of the past and present into something new, like a satellite transmission from another world making its way out of a formidable subwoofer. Their latest EP, Requiem, suggests what happens when the soundsystem shuts down and the transmission fully takes over the frequencies. While still written with the club in mind – though after corresponding with the band, it’s clear it’s but one of many of the various applications of sound they are interested in – the songs are tighter, sinister and laced with the complex anxiety and grief that the title implies (the EP was recorded shortly after the death of founding member D’s father, amid the stark realities forced upon us by the current political environment).
That sounds heavy, but listening to patten is as fun and satisfying as any electronic act out there, especially when they diversify their skills through the worlds of fine art, label management and graphic design (through their imprints 555-5555 and Kaleidoscope) and even more music released quietly under other monikers. As our interview with them shows, patten is a project that does not stop when the keys lock the doors out of the studio or live venue (“It’s full 360. It’s everything we do.”) – whether it’s a live show, a song or even a gif, they’re ready to put a distinctive spin on it with rare wit and depth. The best part is, Requiem appears to be just the beginning of the duo’s most productive and captivating stage yet.
The tracks on Requiem are more club-ready than the music on Psi. Does the nightclub atmosphere come into mind when you’re writing?
Totally, totally – we’re always pushing for a sort of intensity in everything we make, if it’s tracks or graphics for other people through the 555-5555 agency we set up, or with our live show, anything. And there’s something about the night isn’t there where the dial goes up further on everything than in the day. It’s like the potency goes up as the light goes out. It’s just that intensity thing. There’s endless ways of getting there, so we’re kind of exploring that through a bunch of paths over time. ESTOILE NAIANT was like off-grid dense textural clouds, a kind of blissed-out afterglow record, full on in a sorta psychedelic way. Psi took that hyper-real feeling and filtered it through to a darkly romantic, strobing emotional thing with this kinda teched-out holographic post-punk industrial aspect.
Then Requiem pared things down even further into this minimal super-distilled and intense headspace. Really stark songs, dry sonics, very alien. There’s a bunch of tracks that we wrote around that time in that same vein that we’ve played live a few times. We’re thinking maybe we should release them. Requiem could’ve easily been an album. Then there’s the release we put out as Actual Magic on our Kaleidoscope imprint that’s the total opposite to that. It’s a full-length of these deep, longform tracks where we’ve melted down a Motown Xmas record into a trippy sort of heavy refracted ambient. It’s ultra bittersweet. A lot of what we make feels really full of opposites – ‘Welcome to Today’ is so blurred out fast and microdrift slow at the same time. There were minidiscs full of this kind of thing we had made from summers way back in the day and we wanted to bring some of that feel into the present. I guess we’re drawn to extremes in that way. But for sure, clubs & live music is all about that potency, so yeah we’re definitely really drawn to the night.
You’ve performed in museums in the past, i.e. the Tate. Is this crossover between fine art and pummelling, challenging music something you’d like to continue?
It’s funny because through the mists of time, everything in a museum looks like the establishment or something. And that’s crazy because the reason it’s in there is because it didn’t fit into its time. It didn’t blend into the background. It made people feel something different. Or it made them angry. It felt out of place. Sometimes that means it got burned and ripped apart and slated by critics. Splattered with ink, exiled and banned. That’s how change and history works, it’s so extreme. Like when you read about fights breaking out at Stravinsky’s ‘Rites of Spring’ debut in 1914, or that Satie was a kind of Chris Morris type figure, basically trolling things back in like 1890. So those worlds actually feel like one place but different times. It’s weird how stuff like that gets lost in translation through time. Museums are full of the most out-there stuff, but we all got used to it. Picasso, Basquiat, Koons, Hiller, Warhol, Kahlo, Pollock, Holzer, Dali. We all came round to their really messed up inventive way of seeing things. Music’s the same. Yeah, it’s really mad and strange when you think about it.
It’s a cool thing to us to be appreciated in clubs as much as galleries and to mix things up between those worlds. We appreciate it. We come from both so it feels like home either way, and they definitely both influence what we do. Our live shows are something like temporary visual installations we set up and take away again after we’ve played. So we try to fuse all of those influences when we play live and with our videos and socials as well. It’s like it’s all there to be used. We love when you get deep into the tech, the creative and the ideas, and just pushing some kind of border through that all coming together.
patten was a purely anonymous project until fairly recently. What was behind the decision to begin using photos and more traditional forms of promotion? What, if any, connection does it have to the relationship in your music between the sound and the striking visuals on your cover art?
We’ve always used photos as part of what we do and haven’t really ever been about that kind of heavily theatrical capital A anonymity. Like we never wore masks or something to play shows or do Boiler Room. It’s more about something like – just using everything we do to see what’s possible. And not just doing things a certain way purely because ‘that’s how they’re done’. We like choice. We get excited by things that are different. Why put stuff out there that’s the same as everything else? In our minds putting something out – like a photo, a track, a gif, whatever – is as much about asking questions as anything else. And we’re not putting borders on our output like it ends with the sound or something. It’s full 360. It’s everything we do. From releasing other artists with our Kaleidoscope imprint, to making design and videos for other people through our 555-5555 creative group, even doing interviews like this one. So for us, like if a face isn’t visible in one of our photos it’s not to hide anything. It’s more to shine a light on what it’s not, just by showing another option. It’s just another way. Hiding or concealing is really the total opposite thing to what we’re doing. We’re trying to make things visible. Like the question should be more, ‘why are all these artist photos and approaches so similar? Why are they all mainly from the same demographic and photographed in the same way? How did that happen? Why is that?’
If you scroll through booking agency photos or festival line ups you’ll see what we’re talking about straight away. Are there other ways to approach things? So we’re always testing this stuff and almost using ourselves as an IRL proposition. There’s no fixed rules. We don’t do this for that. We didn’t start this to follow rules. We’re doing this to push ourselves and the forms we work with. We’re testing who and what we can be in every part of our lives. There isn’t a part where we clock off and just forget about it – this is really everything. We’re doing this to push what could be, not to slot into what’s already there. For the last couple of years we’ve been collaborating with different photographers on making images to go out there. Some are more journalistic, and some are more art world, others coming at it from a fashion angle. So far we worked with some amazing people like Erez Avissar, Tonje Thilesen, Alex DeMora, Lucie Rox, all really distinctive photographers. So you could look at our press photos as a kind of slowly unfolding exhibition or something. Like a mixtape or a collage. It’s another platform for us to create through. Like another canvas.
Tracks on Requiem remind me of hip-hop and grime, ‘Rails’ especially. Are there any rappers and/or producers from that sphere that you find particularly inspiring?
We’re inspired by all kinds of art. Writing, clothes, design… We watch a lot of films. Psi and Requiem feel pretty sci-fi to us. Rap music, hip hop, graf, always had that in it, right from the start. It’s fully sci-fi. It’s like building a new world from the ashes of another one. Literally the wreckage of the past, like those first kids looping up breaks from their parents’ vinyl and basically inventing a whole new art form. And that vinyl recorded the same process a generation earlier – jazz, soul music. New forms rising from the ashes. It’s fucking survival too. Like there’s no option. What are you going to do? How are you going to survive? Who even are you? If the world isn’t right, if it isn’t made for you, what are you gonna build to just somehow survive? Where are you gonna call home? It’s really that deep a thing to feel that way. Recently we’ve been listening a lot to Chynna. Her flow is really different. All her tracks are so heavy. And that Yen-Tech album Mobis was killer, more people need to hear that.
You’ve mentioned in another interview that the title is a reference not just to personal loss, but to the fractured state of modern political life. The imagery – smoke, apparent blue flames – make me imagine a utopian world built from the dregs of the past. Is the creation of sustainable life from chaos something you consider when writing a song?
Writing music or making creative work is like bringing things to life. It’s like some kind of Frankenstein thing. One minute there were these ideas, patches, notes, chords, lyrics, then you work with it, try things out, you push and pull then suddenly it’s standing right there looking back at you. For us, maybe the more it is that the things we get obsessed by shouldn’t be able to live properly together, the more it is that we’re drawn to them. We’re drawn to things on the edges. And how those edges are always shifting. We’re deep in the zone again right now writing new music. It’s like we’re in the middle of the ocean leaning into the storm. Like that Lieutenant Dan bit in Forrest Gump. We’re on deck and we’re leaning into it. That’s how it always starts.
What’s next for the project? Is another album on the horizon, or are there other forms of media you’re thinking of putting your own stamp on?
We’ve got heavy plans for the rest of this year and the start of next. We’re gonna be bringing a few things IRL in a maybe pretty unexpected way. Excited to see how it’ll all go down. Been working on loads of stuff for other people as well through the 555-5555 thing we set up. We just did all the design and creative direction for the new Daphni album, then there’s a bunch of things we can’t chat about yet. It’s like our own creative agency now. There’s our imprint Kaleidoscope as well that’s kicking into overdrive right now. Just in the middle of spreading the word about Sapphire Slows – an amazing Japanese producer we’re releasing. She’s so good. New stock on our 555-5555 store. Apparel, tees, records, bags – you can even get an OmYang:) gold chain we made. Some remixes and collaborations we can’t talk about yet. Been working on software and audio plugins on an R+D tip. We made a bunch of presets released with a new audio fx software recently for Plugin Alliance & Unfiltered Audio. More 555-5555 radio and yeah of course, new recordings for sure. People might be quite surprised for what’s coming next in our music. So far even we are.