Truth be told, Jack Duckworth has been a long time friend of YouIndie. That said, he and his projects have also been a prolific source of music that has shaken me to the core for over a decade. Formerly of A Luna Red, Primes, and Radio Berlin, Duckworth struck out on his own in 2011 with Soft Riot, a solo project producing darkened drones, dread-dripping soundscapes and throbbing electronic rhythms. With No Longer Stranger, which he offered for free via the internet, Duckworth delivered inspired, albeit creepy, electronic music that still raises the hair on my arms.
On February 24, Soft Riot’s latest EP, Another Drone In Your Head, was released via Tundra Dubs. Not only does it deliver more of Duckworth’s striking work, but it also features remixes by electronic music heavies Funerals, Chris Flatline, ΔAIMON, Babe Rainbow and William Winslow-Hansen. We recently caught up with Duckworth to discuss his influences, the origins of Soft Riot, the status of Savage Furs and more. Here’s what he had to say…
You Indie: You have always hung your hat at the crossroads where post rock and electronic music intersect. What is it about those genres that appeal to your core as an artist?
Jack Duckworth: Both of those roads started from around the same time and place: when I was quite young. In the late 80s my family acquired a chunky Tandy home computer, on which there was a program called Music & Sound. It had four crudely sampled voices of orchestral instruments on which I wrote some bizarre “classical” compositions. I upgraded the sound card to an Ad Lib a couple of years later, which had a more comprehensive, FM synthesis-based program called Visual Composer which I wrote some attention deficit punk/trash/synth/industrial stuff on.
A bit later in my teens I tried the other road, took the music out of the basement and into halls and community centres playing in punk and hardcore bands. I was really into a lot of the music happening on labels like Dischord, Troubleman, Ebullition, Kill Rock Stars and Gravity at the time.
On the tails of that I was catching up on a lot of older post-punk and synth/wave stuff, and that pointed to newer artists doing the same thing. I was really curious to explore and that general style seemed to fill a lot of the blanks for me in what I was looking for in music.
I like the textures and writing process in both the arenas of electronic and post-punk and I seem to have it in me to work in more organic-based electronic synth music. I think also there’s a lot of elements that I relate to beyond this sort of music including philosophy, aesthetic and so on.
You Indie: Your past musical efforts have largely been collaborations with other musicians. But Soft Riot is a solo project, right? What is it about Soft Riot that challenges or allows you new freedoms?
Jack Duckworth: Soft Riot is just me for the time being, and likely will be as the music and general aesthetic work best as a one person project. It originally started as a casual project years ago to work on some more low key, almost cinematic sounds. A lot of music I listened to, and still do, is at night and sort of works with the dead silence of night rather than trying to obliterate it.
As I kicked Soft Riot the project into something more full-on around a year ago, the glove began to become a better fit and I naturally started merging the project’s original influences: general science fiction, cinema, books, soundtracks and drones with the more electronic post-punk I had done a lot in more band-based projects.
I think the main challenge for me was to fit the whole thing into a philosophy, a lyrical style and a set of ground rules how the music would be written, but still allowing a sense of freedom to try different things musically within those rules. It’s also overcoming the idea of being “solo” or whatever. I was always reluctant until recently to do a one-man thing as I’ve always been a band type of person and therefore had a high bar set for myself on how to do it live. I wanted to avoid coming across a karoake singer behind a laptop or something similar.
There are additional rewarding challenges in trying and testing techniques: going for space and dissonance rather than distortion; balancing the energy of a track of density over tempo; experimenting with less trodden chord progressions and micro-polyphony; trying to make the vocals like a haggard, drugged out alien creep – that sort of thing.
You Indie: Soft Riot did a brief tour in 2011, right? What was that like?
Jack Duckworth: There wasn’t really any touring per se so much as some shows abroad, namely in the UK and Germany. Aside from one abortive show under a very old guise of the project back in 2006, my first real live performance with what is now Soft Riot was this past June.
The shows in this past year have went off well, considering the ambitious bar I set for them. With the live show I’m playing four synthesizers, mixing and doing the vocals at intervals throughout any given track with a lot of sequenced lights and smoke, something akin to sitting in the control booth of a dark and menacing interstellar cruiser.
You Indie: Do you have plans to travel as Soft Riot in 2012?
Jack Duckworth: I certainly do, although pacing the frequency of playing abreast for interest from listeners and how far the releases I’m doing spread. Also a major factor for me is the scalability of the Soft Riot live show. Playing in the UK I have a lot of bulk with all the synthesizers and lighting kit and am piecing together a mirror set-up with smaller… bits. Currently there’s dates lined up in other parts of the UK, Germany and France. Eyes are definitely set for the US, but that window will magically open when it does.
You Indie: Are you a permanent resident of London now, or do you ever expect that you will return to Canada?
Jack Duckworth: I’m still on my ancestry VISA here in the UK which I look to extend into a leave to remain at the end of this year. From that point I’ll likely apply for a British passport. I actually recently visited Vancouver over the last few months and it was the first time I’d been back and it actually felt a bit alien. London felt more like home: I have great friends and bonds here and it’s somewhere I’d like to stay for a while, or at least within Europe in the long run.
Vancouver is a relatively new and naive city with a lot of unchecked growth and changes that might be too fast for its own good, sort of like Tetsuo in Akira when he turns into that large, throbbing fleshy bob at the end of the film.
It’s also a city that’s incredibly expensive and can often be musically conservative. It’s a place where arts and music are in a constant battle over usable venues, sound bylaws and oppressive venue licensing from a draconian city council. Despite this things tend to flourish in the underground and for that I’m greatful there’s still people there continuing with the right ideals.
You Indie: While you are living in London, a U.S. based label, and many U.S. artists are involved in this collaboration. How did all of these collaborations come about?
Jack Duckworth: Most of the collaborators are people I’ve known for quite a while. Mollie from Funerals I’ve known for the better part of 10 years having toured together in different bands in the States years ago. William Winslow-Hansen is an old friend of mine and former bandmate from an old synth-punk project we were in together called A Luna Red and Cam (Babe Rainbow) is an old friend from Vancouver who is doing quite well for himself being on the Warp Records roster, and creating great music to boot. There’s also Chris Flatline of Mild Peril, who I have played with in another band and is a good friend of mine.
As far as the label connection goes, I didn’t contact a lot of labels as it all wrapped pretty quickly after I started sending out demos with Tundra Dubs being one of the first I contacted with the quickest reply. I connected with Ben at Tundra right away as we had similar interests and similar backgrounds, both coming from punk/hardcore backgrounds as well as both knowing the folks from Funerals. So far it’s working out well and hopefully there will be more Soft Riot stuff on Tundra Dubs down the road.
You Indie: Is Savage Furs still active?
Jack Duckworth: It’s currently on hold for the time being. We played a string of shows last summer and it wasn’t feeling the momentum we were all awaiting the kickback on. Savage Furs is a large beast of a band to haul around, whether to a show or to a rehearsal space with all of those synths, custom pieces of gear and other components so the resources and energy quickly drain having to do that all of the time. We’re also all incredibly busy with opposing schedules at times with jobs, commuting distance (Delaney lives far in the west of London), DJing, other music and social engagements.
Having said all of that we’re all still great friends and Del and I think something will come to action down the pipeline, whether it be Savage Furs or a continuation from that. But as mentioned we’re all busy at the moment so we’ll so how that goes later this year.
You Indie: You’ve long had attachments to Dayton, Ohio where we are from – including DJing the Bettawreckonize kick of party, playing here with Radio Berlin, and doing some remix work for the now defunct Human Reunion. Do you have plans to return to the Gem City?
Jack Duckworth: Now that you’ve brought it up it seems I have more connections than I would have expected to in Dayton! I’d love to come back and play Dayton and other cities in Ohio as I’ve had some great times there. This is in the works, but as Dale Cooper (Twin Peaks) has said, “the path must be laid out one stone at a time”, or something similar to that.
You Indie: You are also quite a cook correct? What recent meals have you made that you are most proud of?
Jack Duckworth: The world of social networking sure does get those little details passed around! Yes, I do a lot of cooking and have been since I was in my teens, namely as I’m vegetarian and try to eat healthy and therefore had an interest in food because of that from an early age. I also find that cooking is a nice antidote to working with computers and technology, and is an essential skill in my opinion in a time where we see a lot of prepared foods, a lack of knowledge as to the places of origin of food, and busier lifestyles that make time to prepare food increasingly difficult.
I’m proud of everything I make and the dishes are kind of numerous to mention. I’ve got breakfast, lunch, dinner and everything else in between covered. I’ve recently signed up with a great organic veggie box delivery service here in London so I’ve been experimenting with what’s been coming in my weekly box.
You Indie: Are you still doing design work? How does that career allow you the freedom to pursue music? Does “work” ever get in the way of your art?
Jack Duckworth: I’m still in the design game although things have obviously changed over the years. I started out as The Wax Museum Designs back in the late 1990s, mainly doing design for the local music community in Vancouver which over the years progressed into businesses and clients abroad. When I moved to the UK I had to collapse that business as it was and now I do a mix of employed work and freelance work for clients.
I do enjoy aspects of the design field and there are some projects I really get into, especially the more “collage”-based stuff I do. But like a lot of employed work in that field you’re sort of dictated by the direction of the client and some of the work can get stuffy and dull. Often repeating the same motions every day in front of a screen sometimes feels like a technology-themed version of the film Groundhog Day and commuting to and from a place of business in London during rush hour is the equivalent of institutionalized violence.
Having said that, I do get more independence to do what I want than some jobs and it integrates quite well into music. I’ve always had a need to “do” things so I can easily work a full day on design and then as the day slips into night switch to working on music. And as Europe tends to dole out the amount of holidays far more than the US or Canada, I have more than enough days for the time being to put towards any shows or touring.
You Indie: Who are the artists from across the pond that we should be keeping an eye out for?
Jack Duckworth: Since being in Europe there have been a lot of great musical acts that I’ve come across that I would have never come across if I were still situated back in Vancouver. There’s too many to name offhand but it should be noted that there is a new undercurrent of synth/wave groups happening here in London. A number of us involved in that scene are getting proactive and are looking to document these acts in the form of a compilation to be available in LP and digital format. That will hopefully come out by late summer. It’s a great idea and sort reminds me of those old punk/hardcore comps that would be a document of what’s going on at the time. Some of the acts selected for this include Mild Peril, Nurvuss, A Terrible Splendour, Linea Aspera, Gertrud Stein as well as a number of others – all worth checking out.
Check it out Soft Riot’s latest here: http://soundcloud.com/softriot/sets/another-drone-in-your-head/.