here comes the piece i did for dj mag‘s may issue
no one really wants to get older. that’s especially true in dance music circles where scenes emerge, evolve and grow extinct in a matter of months; where the yoof rule ok. of course, after generations of plying your trade you might be lucky enough to graduate to veteran status, but even then it’s the overground crowd who hail you as their own, with underground heads perennially focussed on the next big thing. with his newly released reform club, however, manchester’s mark stewart aka claro intelecto rather bucks that trend. pairing the same dubbed out sonic invention of all previous full lengths with a musical maturity that comes only with age, it’s his most accomplished work to date.
and that’s no mean feat given the credibility of the man’s back catalogue: there has been everything from electro to dub to house explored over a high number of eps and lps, with a much lauded series of techno leaning releases, warehouse sessions, also buried within all that, most often on boomkat’s boutique imprint modern love (alongside inventive peers like andy stott and demdike stare) or on the equally erudite ai label. now, though, and marking something of a comeback after a four year hiatus, reform club arrives on ever-excellent dutch imprint delsin and channels all those previous aesthetics into one cohesive and comprehensive statement of sumptuously designed sound.
across nine slowly unfolding tracks, the album deals in gummy, elastic beats, deepest house structures and plenty of underwater atmospheres. at points you feel suspended in a shaft of light in some dark oceanic abyss, at others you roll on top of undulating techno grooves and occasionally you feel trapped in a huge steel structure that’s gently resonating in a warm summer breeze. strings and melodies add colour and charm to the well defined forms, with crisp percussion and freeform keys sounding as if played by an orchestra rather than programmed in a computer: it’s the perfect coming together and man and machine.
that our interview opens with mark stating that “life’s been good since my last projects” then, is no surprise, especially when you learn that the most significant development in that time has been becoming a father.
“this has no doubt had a big bearing on my musical output” says mark. “i pretty much ground to a halt from around 2009, so i just committed all my time to family life. i noticed a change in my attitude – i was starting to get home sick, particularly being away gigging whilst the missus was pregnant a few years back. plus i was also beginning to doubt the music i was making, and playing, and just generally just got fed up with the whole thing. i knew it was time for a break, it had become a bit of a chore, and that just isn’t right, is it?”
as well as spending time learning how to be, and being, a father, the last four years have also seen mark continue with freelance work for a manchester based motion graphics agency. it’s time away from writing, performing and producing music that has been of most value to him though, allowing for some perspective and a re-appreciation of the things that get him going.
“maybe it’s having a child” he says “but this record seems to have more warmth than my last few efforts. i definitely wanted to purposefully add lots of lush layered strings and melodies – basically the music i’ve always written over the years but music which has not always seen the light of day as much as i would have liked.“ then there’s a pause for thought, before he comes back to add “i’m definitely a calmer person right now than i was a couple of years ago. i just turned 39 though, so it’s expected i suppose.”
that said, reform club is far from a dour and downbeat dub excursion – no doubt periods of child-induced sleeplessness interspersed with frenzied periods of kiddie hyperactivity have ensured that. “my lad harry is a mentalist” says mark “so even when you’re in the mood, finding time to write is pretty hard when you’ve got a young kid. things are slightly better now he’s heading towards 3 years old, but it can still be hard… maybe i’ll take him with me and he can be my ‘bez’ on stage.”
if he did, it would be as a front man for mark’s famed live performances rather than as typical dj’s dancer, for claro intelecto does not mix records.
“it’s still a bit of trial and error at the moment” he says candidly having gone a few years without performing. “it’s currently a combination of hardware and software. i’m seeing if i can re-create a lot of my basslines on a custom built 303 by programming patterns into it, and i’m currently having a 909 built. i have both drum machines (808 and 909) so i can do the hats and drums live, therefore getting a bit more consistency with the bottom end all the way through a set.
“i’m also reworking a lot of [album] material that people wouldn’t ordinarily say is ‘floor friendly, just so i can also play it out during those later night hours. i was toying with the idea of doing some live keyboards again, too, given the nature of some of the new tracks on which i played the melodies rather than programmed them. but i’ve discovered that, through lack of practice, i’ve somehow developed a hand of thumbs… there will be more bum notes than it would be worth unless i can get some practice in!”
whilst the organic, living and breathing nature of the album could be attributed to the fact mark now lives “about 300 yards from the countryside and, as a father, appreciate my environment in a different way than a few years ago” you also get the impression from speaking to him that delsin boss marsel van der wielen has played a key role in bringing the best out of this already considered craftsmen.
“metanarrative was like piecing together a jigsaw” mark remembers of his last full length outing from 2008. “shlom at modern love had a very specific idea of what he wanted to put out and i was trying to deliver tracks to fill those holes. by comparison this album came a lot quicker. i felt like i had a bit more freedom to follow my instincts and there was far less communication. the only real brief was ‘to put my soul into it’.”
and boy, did he do that…
box out: what’s in the title?
whatever you, me or anyone else wants – it’s pretty ambiguous. it could be about me as i’m certainly reformed now, both musically and on a personal level. my life’s changed a lot, i’ve had to stop being a selfish bastard, particularly being a father now, and have had to put my family before music.
or the title could be something that was staring me in the face for a couple of years whilst drinking at a coffee shop in horwich near where i live – the old reform club across the street. maybe, in truth, the title came about before the concept on this one.
box out: a touring tale….
i’d been waiting for around 3.5 years for a serious knee operation you’re supposed to have within a couple of weeks (thanks nhs!). whilst i was waiting i played at deadbeat festival in 2004. andy stott, a couple of mates and me were having a kick-about between our chalets and i went to strike the ball… my knee gave in, i fell down awkwardly and broke my elbow. i should have got it checked out as i had this huge lump sticking out of my arm, but i was really looking forward to seeing theo parrish play an acid house set so i just went out nonetheless. next day came the problem: i had to drive my passengers home – great yarmouth to manchester, one armed, took me 5 hours with this creaking broken elbow. as you can imagine, not a pleasant experience…