Where have the brilliant and pioneering electronic outfit Plaid been? In the late ’90s and early 2000s they produced a string of exceptional albums. From 1997’s Not For Threes, to 1999’s Rest Proof Clockwork, 2001’s Double Figure and 2003’s Spokes, they produced cutting edge IDM that was inventive, warm and lush, while collaborating with artists like Bjork. One half of Plaid in Ed Handley explains to Brian Hayes Curtin that they have been up to other things.
While Plaid used to maintain a fairly consistent work rate, they haven’t released an album proper in five years. Ed reveals why the new album Scintilli hasn’t arrived yet. He said that the reasons are “pretty mundane really, working on other things like two film soundtracks and collaborating on some (Indonesian) gamelan music. We were also building a new studio in a log cabin.”
In 2006 Plaid composed and performed the original score to Michael Arias’s acclaimed anime film Tekkon Kinkreet. They also produced a beautiful soundtrack for his second film Heaven’s Door, as well as two of his subsequent short films.
How did they come to make soundtracks for an American that lives in Japan making Japanese manga and live-action films? Director Michael Arias has a long memory. “He heard us play in Tokyo and then contacted us six years later when he got his first big director’s job.”
Plaid make music that is varied, hard to define or describe but usually contains some melody, even if it’s sometimes hidden away. The polite Englishman describes Plaid’s music as “harmonic electronic”. “It’s hard because we have always had a pretty eclectic sound. There is generally an emphasis on melody,” Handley adds.
Two years ago Warp Records turned 20 years old, a veritable aeon for an electronic label, who are often short-lived. The English have long been championed by the likes of Radiohead and have been one of the most innovative records labels of the last two decades. Are they still as innovative as ever or have they naturally changed as the label matures?
“It’s not really possible for a label to be groundbreaking and ‘cool’ for that long but (I’m) very happy that they have survived this long,” said he of his long term home. “They have signed some great stuff in the last few years and Warp Films have been involved in some good projects.”
Plaid’s music is often more playful and warmer than that of many other electronic artists. Why is this the case? “The process for us seems to be about making a better place to exist in for a while, which is probably why it’s often an ‘up’ mood. Effectively it’s escapism,” Handley explains.
Is Handley excited at the way modern electronic music has developed over the twenty odd years he has been involved? “There are always plenty of exciting things going on as it fuses and mutates, just as there are always derivative tracks. Dubstep and minimal production has had a major influence and has injected some freshness,” he says.
The new album, as befits sonic innovators like Plaid, is widely anticipated. The band announced a few months ago that the album will be out this year on their long time home, Warp Records. Ed says that they have been working on the album for “about three years on and off.”
Unfortunately he remains tight-lipped about further details about the album, saying that all he knows is that it will be out “sometime this year is all we know, so far”. As for what we can expect from the album, “it’s got a few new things for us, quite a lot of pseudo-acoustic sounds and some new synthesis techniques but still a development of what we love.”
I asked Handley if new music technologies change his approach to making music or are they relative Luddites? “Part of the attraction of electronic music is the technology, we like to keep up to date and use what we can to improve. Software has come a long way, we use very little outboard gear now. We still generally use a keyboard to play everything in,” he says.