They’ve been behind some of the most idiosyncratic, and yet rewarding, music for over two decades, and Plaid don’t seem to be slowing down. Recent LP The Digging Remedy saw the duo of Andy Turner and Ed Handley looking back to some of their earlier work, while pairing up with multimedia artist Cabbibo propelled it feverishly into future territory. It’s also fair to say that the Warp Records mainstays have been a central force in delivering IDM into the realm of popular culture, albeit from an assured and essential position within the left-field. State was thrilled to be able to have a chat with the legendary electronica outfit ahead of shows at Galway’s Roisin Dubh, Belfast’s Black Box, and Whelan’s, Dublin, to talk about their iconic visual deliveries, how their writing process has evolved, and more.
After twenty-five years, what if anything has changed in the writing process?
We work a lot more in-the-box these days, I suppose. When we started we were writing mainly on analogue outboard gear, we were getting into early Amigas and stuff, some basic MIDI triggers but we didn’t start running audio and soft synths until the middle-late 90’s. From there we got gradually more interested in that and in terms of the sound products you can create, that would be the big change.
How has changes in technology helped or hindered this? I’ve heard from other electronic musicians that creativity is often helped by the limits of analogue production methods, that the unlimited choice of modern equipment can be a bit stifling. Do you find that at all?
Yeah, to a degree, I’d say that’s true. The thing with those old boxes is that you can turn them on and get a decent sound straight away and they’re much more usable, with in-the-box stuff you’ve got to set up controllers and do a little bit of work yourself, but ultimately there’s a broader palette of sounds available, so even though you’ve got to set yourself up to get that kind of flow, it’s possible still.
You’re set to play a few Irish shows. What’s the relationship between performing and the way you approach writing music?
We certainly bear it more in mind these days because we’re not particularly comfortable with just pressing play, as it were, and letting stuff run. Plus we’ve been working live with a guitarist through the Reachy Prints (2014) tour and again on this one and so in order for him to have a bit of space and for us to have a bit of space we have to think about the compositions slightly differently. When we’re writing we’re definitely considering how that might work out in a live situation.
Speaking of working with guitarists, you’ve worked with Benet Walsh a few times, and he appears again on The Digging Remedy. Can you talk a little bit about your working relationship with Benet, how you got involved and why you’ve continued to work with him?
We got to know Ben, around about ’95 or ’96 or something like that, we did our first co-write with him on Not For Threes (1997), and since then he’s been a fairly regular co-writer through the years, like a track an album or something like that. With Reachy Prints we wrote much more with him and with Digging Remedy again he’s sort-of like a third writer. He’s on five of the tracks I think. With all of our co-writers, really, it’s always come out of friendships first rather than finding somebody with musical ability. We’re just lucky with Ben in that he is very, very talented but also we get on very well with him so he’s nice to travel with and I suppose it’s a combination of his musical ability and the fact that we like hanging with him. That’s why it’s gone so long.
Are there any dream collaborations you’d like to do, or do you only consider musicians that you have a solid friendship with first?
Well, you know, there’s hundreds, thousands of super-talented musicians out there who’d be interesting to work with, but with us on the whole it’s been that we’ve got to know them first and then we move on to the writing later. There’s been a few situations where we’ve been commissioned to work with other musicians, so it’s not a hard and fast rule.
You’ve mentioned in the past being influenced by hip-hop and early electro in the first stages of your career. What modern artists, and it doesn’t necessarily have to be music, it could be film or art or wherever, influence you today?
I suppose the things that we enjoy more are people working in a similar area to us. We tend to listen to more electronic music than anything else, with a focus on interesting melodic material. I wouldn’t say we’re necessarily drawing from anyone in particular’s work but there are some great artists out there that we follow with interest.
You’ve had some memorable videos – ‘Tether’ comes to mind, as well as ‘Itsu’, I watched that one this morning with a friend, I very much enjoyed it but they weren’t impressed.
Haha, I think that one still stands up, actually, very much our method, you know.
I agree. Do you think about visuals when you’re writing?
No, not so much. Certainly with those set-piece videos they’ve come after the music’s been written. For our live performance it needs to be slightly more flexible to fit the fact that we don’t want to just play structured pieces. We develop different ways of doing that each tour, so with this tour we’ve designed a new Max patch and we have a tessellated screen, it’s basically like a visual sequencer, and it can trigger either still images or little bursts of video, that are mapped onto this new screen we built, so visuals are pretty important. For performance, for us, anyway, we’ve got our heads down, looking at gear on the table in front of us and that’s not particularly exciting for the audience, so the visual element really works.
When you’re looking to commission a video, what kind of approach are you aiming for from the visual artist?
We generally have a look at the artist’s previous work and try to get a feel for it. For ‘Do Matter’ on the current album, we were sent various storyboards, and we just liked the idea of it and we’re pretty happy with the way it turned out. In the past, with the ‘Itsu’ piece by Pleix, it came out of a competition run by Creative Review magazine and a bunch of Warp artists contributed tracks. Then some video artists submitted work and a panel from the magazine chose the winners, so we were quite lucky with that.
You’ve released three albums since a period writing music for film. Is that a world you’d be interested in returning to or are you focused on your own work for now?
It’s something we’d like to do much more of, in fact, and if you search a movie called Level Up, we scored that around late last year, and the trailer was just released. There’s a little taster of what we’ve prepared on the trailer.
Cool, thanks very much, it was a pleasure.
Cheers, see you soon.
Plaid play Galway’s Roisin Dubh on September 8th, Belfast’s Black Box on September 9th, and Whelan’s, Dublin, on September 10th.