We’re guessing that most of the people who follow Alpha-ville’s podcast series will know Roly Porter predominantly through his previous dub step project Vex’d. As Vex’d, Porter and his creative partner, Jamie Teasdale forged brutalist, edificial bass music that, for a period, seemed to contain the essence of what dubstep would become. If it ultimately didn’t, the impression left by its sheer weight and rude power was still felt within the genre long after the project dissolved from the landscape. While Teasdale continued to make music as Kuedo post-Vex’d, Porter distanced himself from music altogether. However, at the end of 2011 Porter returned from his self-imposed extradition with outstanding album After time.
We’re not exaggerating when we say that when Pinch deployed ‘Hessra’ on his recent Fabric Live cd, we sat bolt upright. These new tracks, beatless, sometimes beautiful but often uncomfortable and harsh clearly represented a new direction for Porter, yet one not entirely broken from his past. We’re very happy to say that the mix he’s made for Alpha-ville is arguably one of the finest in the series; an abstract and sombre affair, which, like his album, eschews beats altogether. We won’t spoil it here but rather leave you to discover it for yourself. First though, we caught up with the man himself for a debriefing on the tracks he’s chosen, where he’s at now and what it’s like swapping rewinds for people, well, standing and listening.
Firstly, Can you tell us a little about the mix you’ve put together. All the tracks featured are released on the recently relaunched Bristol label Subtext, right?
Yes, it is all either current or upcoming Subtext releases. I’m really happy at the label. I genuinely like all of the music and I feel it works well when presented together as one idea. I hope we do another Subtext event soon….
Listening to the mix it becomes quite apparent that you’ve steered clear of traditional structures – something which you also did on your album After time. Is it liberating to be freed of impetus to make people dance?
Yeah definitely, when I was younger I loved to be in a rave. I was even seen dancing on some rare occasions but the highlights of it for me were when everything, bass, the noise would be overwhelming and I could just stand in another world on my own in front of the system. I wasn’t a very social raver. It’s that experience that I want to recreate. Dub has it, dance music can have it and I’m not ruling out ever writing beats again but I will definitely not release an album of 11 tracks all the same tempo or stand for the whole night listening to the same beat. I feel free from that now and although Vex’d was designed to be outside a genre we still got sucked in.
Coming from a dance/club background is it strange to make the leap into the more abstract. It seems playing to a club and playing to a room of people standing and listening would be drastically different experiences.
The only problem is one of self confidence. When you play dub step to a club full of people dancing you can look up and hopefully see hands in the air or people shouting or you can see an empty dance floor. You can gauge pretty quickly whether you have blown it or not. When you play an hour of music with no beats, ranging from ambient to quite brutal noise, you look up and people are either standing or sitting but it is impossible to get a clear idea of how they are feeling. I feel completely confident in the music I am making now and in a sense I am happy to look up and see people leaving the room. It isn’t easy listening. People are forced to listen to this music, dancing is a distraction which can make dreadful music seem passable. I know that my music is uncomfortable and requires patience but if I look up at the end of a set and someone has stood still for a whole hour and is clapping, for me that’s as good as a club full of people shouting for a rewind.
The overriding mood is quite – and I hope I’m not oversimplifying – sombre and uncompromising; there’s a brute force in many of the tracks you’ve chosen. What is it that appeals about these kinds of textures?
It’s not oversimplifying, but I think it will be a different experience for each person. Or to explain better I think different people group emotions differently. If something is designed to be happy or uplifting I am likely to fight it and be grumpy. If something is haunting or melancholy or completely bleak I am likely to be much happier. It is difficult to explain but I don’t generally listen well with others. It is certainly sombre, but not depressing, only serious in its intentions.
Likewise, your old project Vex’d could be incredibly visceral. Do you see your work made under your own name as a continuation, in some ways at least, of what you began with Vex’d?
Yes, totally. I am still trying to achieve a similar goal that we set out to achieve with Vex’d. I feel a bit closer, but not there yet. The style of the music is not the whole point. I think we could have written a jungle Degenerate 10 years before and in a sense I feel I wrote a beat-less one many years after with Aftertime.
Besides the aggressive, industrial timbres there’s some really beautiful passages of modern classical music, which is something you’ve been experimenting with. Where did this interest in modern composition come from?
I feel that if I play an hour of just noise and bass the power of those elements will quickly be used up and become tiring. It doesn’t take a huge amount of variation to maintain a bit of tension. Also, for me, bass can be very beautiful so it is not a case so much of classical or string movements being a separate event to ease people along. I really want to incorporate sub and noise in that world.
What inspires you to get up in the morning a write a track? Do you have to be a particular zone to be able to create your music? I mean, the music you’re making now, particularly on your album, seems to come from quite a specific place.
I really don’t know why. When I wrote Aftertime I did not expect it to be released and I definitely didn’t expect anyone to like it. I also don’t really remember the actual process of writing it which happened quite quickly. I was listening to a new piece in the studio with a friend last week and when it finished my first thought was I wonder what I did that for? It is something that I feel is missing from the music that I hear.
Some time lapsed between Vex’d coming to an end and you beginning to make music again. What were you doing?
I stopped listening to modern music, stopped going to clubs and I stopped writing music. I worked as a carpenter and I learnt the banjo. And I had children. This meant that the time I could spend listening to music was massively reduced but my emotional response to it was definitely increased.
Are there any musicians who you feel are currently pushing musical boundaries right now? Who?
Sorry, I can’t really answer that. There is a lot of quite strange music around and I feel that often it can’t really be judged. I like to make instant decisions and I take ages to change my mind, so I tend to hear three seconds of something and say “nope, shit” or totally fall in love. But there is so much music that can’t really be judged at the moment. Emptyset is a good example. Do I like it? It pushes musical boundaries but is that a good thing, is that impressive in itself? The answer for me is, in this case, yes I do like it but it can’t be judged and it certainly can’t be analysed the way you might with other music, like is it beautiful, does it make me want to dance etc.