Interview / Andy Turner / Plaid / Warp Records

Andy Turner and Ed Handley are Plaid. Having first met at high school, where they bonded over a passion for hip hop, they are two people who were there, right at the start of UK Techno – self-releasing their first recordings as part of Black Dog Productions, alongside fellow pioneer Ken Downie, way back in 1989. There were then a string of ground-breaking singles on the small independent label, General Productions Recordings, and the album, The Temple Of Transparent Balls. By 1995, and the follow-up Spanners, The Black Dog had signed to Warp. However, the trio soon spilt, and, having previously employed a variety of monikers to get around contractual obligations, Andy and Ed continued together as Plaid. The on-going collaboration has resulted in 14 albums and soundtracks to date. Andy and Ed have also toured extensively, all over the globe, and live they’ve worked with symphony orchestras, gamelan players, dance companies, and Bjork. 

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Plaid are another act that I’m a little obsessed with, since their sound is so unique, and so influential. When the pair issued a fantastic new album, Feorm Falorx, toward the end of last year, I jumped at the chance to ask Andy a long list of questions. 

All the amazing artwork is care of Emma Catnip.

There are loads of basic questions that I`d like to ask, but a lot of your history is tightly summarized in your press biography. Your productions are so distinctive, and have proved so influential, I guess that I should try to stick to the music. 

Thank you!

I`m really interested in how you developed your “sound”. Right from your very first single, Virtual, you created something unique. 

When we wrote Virtual, we only owned a monophonic sampler, but we’d decided to put an E.P. out and wanted it to be fresh. So we hired an Akai S1000 for a day to add to the mainly analog synths we were using. We were playing around with the S1000 and accidentally doubled up an arpeggiated line. The way it phased seemed to push out other melodies. The best stuff often happens when playing around!

The synths are like something off a Transmat tune, but the sped up, trebly snares, the frenetic double-time rhythm just didn’t sound like anything else I`d heard at the time. What was the inspiration for doing this? Were there other records like this out there? 

Detroit techno and electro were definitely influences, along with house, acid, early break beat. We weren’t really aiming to recreate a particular style, we just got a half bar break rolling that we liked and started building over it. There were other crews from the UK using more uptempo sample breaks like Blapps Posse for example.

I`m also interested in how you got into house and techno. You were both initially hip hop heads. Where and when did you first hear a house, or techno record? Were you going to clubs and raves? 

That was quite a change. We still love that era of hip hop, there were some classic albums released in the `80s. We love electro too, it was almost designed for breaking, and blended into techno pretty easily. The raves sure helped though, due to the eclectic nature of the music at the early ones. We were exposed to so much material.

Was pirate radio important? Did you ever DJ on pirate radio? 

Before we moved into London pirate radio was one of the only ways we’d get to hear new music, not directly, but via cassettes copied and passed around. I had a show a few times a week on a station called Crush FM based near Old Street. That was fun but occasionally an MC would drop in and insist on rapping over everything I was playing, and that was kind of annoying.

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Were either of you DJing at clubs and raves? 

Never at raves, but I had some friends who put a few nights on in Soho and so I got a few spots there.

Listening to Virtual now, it seems more like jazz than house or techno. Was jazz a big influence in the beginning?

Not especially, but we got to hear some pretty interesting jazz projects as we were collecting vinyl to find breaks and other samples from early on. That must have fed in somehow.

Jazz is even more evident in something like Scoobs In Columbia, which was so far ahead of its time. Where did your interest in Latin music come from? Where were you buying your Latin records? 

Again from crate digging for breaks. When we got to London there were a few places back then. I guess Black Market and Groove Records were the two big ones. Black Market especially had a great selection of late `60s /early `70s jazz and funk and that was usually where the gold was.

What’s the story behind Scoobs? It seems so different to everything else that you did?

Having fun. I used to go by DJ Scooby, as my best mate at the time looked like Shaggy from the cartoons. It’s a really sample heavy track, so put together a bit like a jigsaw puzzle. We still enjoy break-driven tracks, but moved away from writing them pretty quickly when we had better synthesis.

Was there a community of people in London, and the UK, making this music? Were you “close knit”?

There was a club night called Thunderground that was regular in Hoxton Square. A lot of artists writing similar stuff to us would hangout there and they’d occasionally have a big name from Detroit over to play. We got to know a few people there. The record shops were also meetup spots. FatCat in particular brought the scene together.


People like yourselves, Kirk Degiorgio, Mark Broom, Luke Slater, Steve Picton, Michael Golding, Steve Rutter, Nurmad Jusat, Matthew Cogger, were you all friends? 

We know some of them well, a few from playing shows together, and a few just from their music. We did quite a bit of work with Kirk and Mark in the early days.

Were events like Scanner`s Electronic Lounge at the ICA important? 

For sure. We went to some of those. We’d be happy to travel to hear new music and hang out with friends.

This is a massive generalization, but the music you made with Ken, as Black Dog, seemed to be more closely tied to 4 / 4 house and techno, where as your productions as Plaid have developed ever more complex counter rhythms – spinning against each other, but together in a common cause – like clockwork cogs and levers. Where, initially did these counter rhythms come from? 

Well, neither of us are particularly well trained musically, but we have spent a lot of time playing around with sequencers. I think we’ve always been open to time signatures other than 4/4 and experimenting overlaying different time signatures together throws up some interesting results. Even simple 3/4, 5/4  tracks can be just. as driving as 4/4.

Did they take hours and hours, days, weeks, of trial and error, to build? 

It’s a real mixture. Some tracks just flow out and you’re in the state to capture them right there. Others take hours and hours of editing, in some cases on elements that are barely audible in the mix.

Your tracks more often than not are also topped by beautiful melodies. Have either of you had any formal musical training?

No. I played the flugelhorn in my school band for a few years, but that’s never been particularly helpful. We tend to search for the right notes rather than knowing where they are.

Your press biography says that the spilt with Ken was due to your desire to play live. When was the first time you performed live, as Black Dog? Were you playing at raves and warehouse parties? 

We played quite a few shows together before the split. Love Parade in Berlin, a few MegaDog events in London, Oscillate in Birmingham, Club69 in Paisley to name a few.

Why was / is playing live so important? 

If you enjoy going out and socialising then, playing live, you’re living the dream. There’s a lot of waiting around and work involved in setting everything up as well, but it’s the best opportunity we have to get direct feedback from our audience and they are a lovely bunch. It’s always been the case, and most likely always will be although there will be more virtual events relatively soon.

How did you meet and end up on tour with Bjork? Your remixes of Come To Me and Anchor Song are beautiful. 

I met Bjork in a club in London. I don’t actually remember which one. She’d mentioned us in an NME interview, so introducing myself didn’t feel too clumsy. I guess she’d be the judge of that though. Bjork, Thank you! We really loved working with her. Sweet Intuition is also awesome if you’ve never heard it. It’s one of my favourite things we’ve helped produce.

Did you record a lot of music with Bjork, because very little of it seems to have been released? 

No, very little. I think everything is out, somewhere, at this point. We hung out a lot together when we were touring, but there wasn’t a lot of energy left to write on our few days off.

By the mid-90s your early work was being cited as influences by folks like Photek and LTJ Bukem, and your more down-tempo stuff was being championed by James Lavelle. You did some remixes for Mo Wax, but did you ever get to meet or work with Rupert or Daniel? Did you check out the clubs, Speed and Metalheads? Did their music, in turn, impact your own? 

Sure, their music rocks. We know both of them, but Rupert a little better. For a brief period we were in the first iteration of UNKLE with Tim Goldsworthy, but that never came to much. We also got to know Goldie a little, and have been to a few great Drum n Bass, nights especially in the early `90s. No doubt Drum n Bass and Jungle has been an influence. We’ve always loved cutting up breaks.

How did the project with Nicolette, and the hook up with Talkin` Loud, come about? Had Gilles always been a fan / supporter? Did you set out to do something different with the music, as it was aimed more at the mainstream?

We were fans of Nicolette’s work with Shut Up and Dance and got to meet her via a friend. We’re not sure how she got picked up by Gilles. We know him now, but weren’t in touch back then. Nicolette had a vision for her project and we tried to achieve it. It’s not really possible to gauge what the audience wants and we don’t try to. Better to be led by our own taste  – and Nicolette’s in this case – and hope for the best!

You soundtracked the amine, Tekkonkinkreet, and your new album is accompanied by a comic book. I was wondering if you’ve always been interested in anime and manga, and if so how that interest began? 

We’re no Otaku, but some anime found it’s way to the UK in our childhoods. Battle Of The Planets comes to mind. We were incredibly lucky to have been able to work on Tekkon. The director is a fan and championed us – quite a risk given the importance of the movie and our lack of experience. With the new album we just began world building, and with the huge help of Emma Catnip, and various new tools that were coming online during the process, we were able to take things further than we would normally have been able.

You’ve always been involved in producing your own artwork – usually with the use of cutting edge technology, such as Ai on the new album – to my mind in a way that parallels Coldcut and Ninja Tune. Do you have backgrounds in graphics, or technology?

We’ve always taken an interest or contributed to the design. Ed and I learned 3D studio to make the cover for Spanners, I designed our logo, but we’ve mainly worked alongside professional graphic designers and artists. Richie Burridge helped us with most of the early releases. Emma has been our artistic director this time round.

Andy, some of your archival work, as Atypic, has appeared via the brilliant De:tuned. Are there plans for any more releases? Is there any of Ed’s unreleased Balil material that might see the light of day? 

We’re always being asked about this material, but it’s unlikely right now. In some ways it’s a distraction from our output as Plaid, and Warp like to keep us close.

Atypic Detuned

Are you working, together, on new music all the time? Do you have a shared studio? 

We’re working on a new E.P. at the moment. We haven’t shared a studio for a few years, but we have pretty good systems to work remotely.

Are you currently working on any interesting collaborations?

Yes, we’re continuing our work with Emma Catnip, and we’re also collaborating with Will Dutta on a new project of his.

What live shows do you have lined-up? 

I`ll send you a link to our current dates. There are several more to be announced in Europe and farther afield, but this link will always be up to date.

Do you ever stop to think what an incredible journey, career, you’ve had so far, going from making music in your bedrooms to working with The London Sinfonietta and The BBC Concert Orchestra? 

Yes, we’re very aware of our good fortunes. We’ve played some incredible venues, and worked with so many talented people. If there’s any tip we could offer it’d be, “Have fun and be nice.”

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Plaid’s Feorm Falorx is out now on Warp Records.

For up to date information on Plaid’s live schedule, follow this link.  

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