Manchester/Lancaster duo Demdike Stare's deep brood is split between a backdrop of distinctly British otherwordly myth and the subterranean club rooms where Miles Whittaker, aka MLZ, got his start as a DJ and one-half of the dubby minimal techno duo Pendle Coven. They lifted their name from one of the more famed witches of their region, but anyone who has happened upon the industrial landscapes and fog-blanketed hamlets of North West England will note the dense, imagistic lean of their electronica.
Built almost entirely from samples, the music of Miles and bandmate Sean Canty-- who spends his days spelunking for bizarre musical arcana for Andy Votel's Finders Keepers label-- is about as a rich a celebration of digger's culture as you can get. Their archivalist interests lead them at once to grey drone mists and crystal-clear beats, to claustrophobia and gritty drama. We caught up with Miles on the release of Demdike's new Tryptych 3-CD, which compiles their latest three LPs on Manchester's Modern Love imprint (Symbiosis, Liberation Through Hearing, and Voices of Dust) along with over 40 minutes of bonus material.
AZ: How do you manipulate your source material? It's nearly impossible to tell what's sampled and what's not.
Miles: We manipulate samples as much as we need to in order to get the sound we want. It's a difficult question to answer. Some samples are used as a basis for what we want, but then get overshadowed by effects; some are dry loops or stabs. We don't intentionally obscure our samples, if that was the meaning, as we don't sample anything that could be used against us. We're generally sampling an atmosphere from a piece of music-- not just, say, a string for a string sample. A lot of it is about great records, and killer music which inspires us to create specific moods or atmospheres.
AZ: Do you draw inspiration from your surroundings? From rural towns like Saddleworth, for instance? I've never been to the Lancaster region, but I just moved back from living in Newcastle upon Tyne, which had a dark and very British drama to it.
Miles: Some of the colder tracks are definitely like living around here; Saddleworth Moor is just up the road from here. It has a grisly recent history, and is one of the bleakest places in Yorkshire, which is pretty close to where we're from. Once you realise how your environment influences you, it's very easy for that to become inspiration. This doesn't really make it into the sampling in that way, though. Sampling is all about us hearing a moment in a piece of music, a moment which just jumps out of the track and wants to be heard again. It's all an extension of the hip-hop ethic of sampling, which started with drum-breaks and hooks from killer soul, funk, and jazz records; we just expand our scope further into other realms.
AZ: Dark, ominous, industrial-sounding music seems to be making a comeback these days. Any specific reason tapping into such dark spaces?
Miles: Not really, though we like to think we're being more honest about life having both the dark and the light, and that we have to embrace both.
AZ: I wouldn't want to harp to much on the movie/soundtrack connection, but I was wondering if you ever found direct inspiration from specific film images?
Miles: It has a lot to do with soundtracks; in their atmosphere and minimal construction, they are a lot more honest than music for general consumption. Some of the masters of the art, like Ennio Morricone, conjure emotions and craft atmospheres so well that [their music] just carries more weight. When we're writing, we concentrate on the aural sense; being able to incite suspense, or hope, or any emotional experience just with music means it has an intrinsic atmosphere. So when we are using films to enhance that feeling in the live shows, it amplifies the effect. We work alongside Johnny Redman for the footage we use on the live shows. You can find him here, which should give you some insight into our film influences, and also how deep Johnny gets into film.
AZ: There's been a lot written, too, about various new genres (for instance, "drag") representing resurgences in gothic music; have you felt close to these movements at all?
Miles: Not in any way, as we're a little too focused on old records to read much about new music, though we obviously listen. We both buy a lot of new records, and the last 12 months have been very exciting in terms of movement within electronic music. Things are spreading out and changing again. It almost feels like music's been slowly gearing up for a change, and now it's happening pretty fast.