Mark Pritchard is one of dance music’s most enduringly changeable chameleons. He has spent the past 20 years experimenting with practically an A-Z of styles, under no less than 26 different names. As Link and Reload, in collaboration with Tom Middleton, he helped give an identity to early UK techno by creating home-grown classics such as 1992’s “Amenity”. His next major success came as Global Communication, their album “76:14” (Dedicated, 1994) being a much-loved document of the post-rave ambient phenomenon.
Throughout the 90s Pritchard carried on working and adapting, recording both drum ‘n’ bass and house. Again with Middleton, his Jedi Knights project was also instrumental in rebooting the idea of “Street Sounds”-style electro for a new-school audience. Post-millennium, his most significant outlet for a while was the downtempo Troubleman alias, coinciding to an extent with the broken beat movement of the time in its use of off-kilter rhythms and soul samples. Instead of fading away since, in the past few years Pritchard has hit a new stride.
Along with Africa Hitech (his recent partnership with Steve White of Spacek) Harmonic 313 has become one of his most celebrated ventures to date. Later this month, those at the Laboratorio de Electrónica Visual (LEV) festival, near Gijón in Spain, will be able to sample its characteristic fusion: stumbling, dope-clouded hip-hop beats stacked high with bulbous-sounding analogue electronics. In anticipation, we talked with him about how his compulsive work ethic and suspicion of homogeneity are still shaping his career.
How are you?
I’ve just woken up. I’ve been working through the night recently. I’ve got two weeks before I start a tour and there are so many deadlines and things, remixes to finish, that I’ve just got into this late night working thing. I prefer it in some ways. I get more done because there’s no distractions. But I do feel like a zombie.
Would you describe yourself as a workaholic?
I am definitely a workaholic. In the last three or four months it’s gone a bit too far, even by my standards. It’s kind of crept up on me. I only started realising it late last year: all I’m doing is working. I think it’s partly a reaction to the way the industry went. It was like, OK, it’s getting harder and harder to make money out of this industry, so I just need to work hard. The instant reaction is, I need to keep momentum, keeping pushing, keep writing music, and that’s the way of getting through this period.
Then from working hard and getting a lot of things out, things have been going well and there’s been a lot of good responses to the music. And the thing is, you get more requests for work that way. It’s something I’ve never actually been that good at, organising myself, saying no to things and scheduling. I’m rubbish at that, I just like going to the studio and making music. When I get back from this tour, the idea is that I’m just going to disappear off the face of the planet, take it easy and have a sensible life. I haven’t really had many days off for the last three or four months.
So is it fair to say you see this very much as a job?
No, I’ve never really seen it as a job. I’ve always seen it as something that I really want to do, and have to do. The hardest thing is obviously structuring it into something where you’re making money out of it. That’s always been the battle, but it’s got pretty difficult in the last six or seven years. My reaction to the fact I found myself working seven days a week and working crazy hours every day was, this is not how I want it to be. I’ve tried to be over the last 20 years as free as possible, so it’s all about the music, it’s not a business thing. But of course you have to be realistic at the same time, and obviously I need money to live off.
At the moment you work under a number of different aliases, including Harmonic 313, Mark Pritchard, Africa Hitech with Steve Spacek. Is it hard to discipline yourself into reserving different ideas for each project?
I’m not too worried about it. It seems to naturally work itself out. I mean, sometimes there’s a bit of confusion: there was a track on the Africa Hitech album that I was thinking about putting on the Harmonic 313 album at the time. The weird thing is, I started working on the Harmonic album about six or seven years ago. By the time I was finishing, probably a couple of years before that album came out, I was actually working on stuff more with the vibe of what me and Steve are doing. I found it hard to finish the Harmonic album because I was not writing anything that was at a hip-hop kind of tempo.
Normally I like to go to the studio and try out what I feel like writing at that point. Obviously when you’re trying to get things together to release, those are the times when you need to work out what it’s going to be. I’ll just put stuff in folders and make lists to try and help myself, because otherwise I forget what the hell I’ve started. At some point there’ll be a time when I’ll try to focus on an album and see what I’ve got.
As someone who’s worked in so many styles, your taste in music must be very catholic.
Yeah, I’ve always liked all styles of music. When I was at school I was into 2-tone stuff, and then I was into indie music. Around the time I left school, I started hearing more electronic music as well, and started going to clubs. I found myself in this club in Bournemouth where the resident DJs were playing early Detroit techno and Chicago house. I heard that and I was like, “Wow, this music’s amazing,” and I got into that stuff. But I’ve always liked soundtrack music and I’ve always liked jazz. I suppose you go on your journey: I got into jazz, then jazz fusion and then funk... I like folk music, I like rock music, I like basically most dance music. I suppose I’ve always found inspiration listening to different things.
I think most producers, like me, are into all kinds of music. But I think some get a bit frightened to try different things, because they don’t want to be seen to be jumping into styles. But I’ve never really had that kind of feeling. I don’t really see it in that way: “Oh yeah, I’m jumping on this thing now.” I just like all these different things and like to try different things out. From doing that, that’s how new things are going to happen.
Do you think doing that is easier or harder now as opposed to when you started out?
It’s most certainly more open that it used to be. When I started DJing people were playing all sorts of different styles, but then it closed off a little bit. I think as genres progress people start doing that. When drum ‘n’ bass started, people were playing all different styles of in a set, then it started closing off: you’d go to nights and it would just be a mellow, LTJ Bukem kind of sound, or just a harder sound.
I think in the last six or seven years I’ve seen it getting a little bit easier to make different styles and put it all out. It’s not quite so weird for people, I think people are a bit more open to it now. People still do moan about it. I get people moaning all the time: “Why don’t you make stuff like that, I liked what you did there but I don’t like this.” The thing that always used to annoy me is that they would almost write you off. And from my perspective, I’m writing all these different things at one time but obviously the public don’t hear it, they only hear the releases. Usually by the time an album comes out I’m probably doing some other project. The reason for all the names was to try and stop that happening, let the music speak for itself, otherwise people will judge you. If you have a different name that means they find out afterwards who did it. That means you either like or you don’t.
At the end of the month, you’re playing as Harmonic 313 at the Laboratorio de Electrónica Visual festival. What’s the set going to consist of?
It’s going to be a straight-up DJ set. I’ve never really done any live shows, although the Africa Hitech show is something we’re going to work on. But I think they’ve requested that I play mainly my own music.
What else goes into a Harmonic 313 DJ set?
I usually use Harmonic 313 when I’m playing to try and differentiate it from Africa Hitech. But a lot of it is still about playing all different styles. I usually start with hip-hop stuff, but unfortunately I’ve been finding recently that there’s not been a lot from the ‘beats’ scene that I’ve liked. I’ve been finding it pretty hard to find stuff at that tempo that I like, so I’ve been looking back and playing some older things.
I usually start with some of my things or play some stuff from Danny Breaks. I’ve got a few exclusive things of his that are not coming out for a while. And Hudson Mohawke always sends me stuff, I like his stuff a lot, and Rustie and Flying Lotus. But I am finding it hard to find a lot of that sort of music over the past year. When I’m DJing I want to play stuff that’s exciting for me at that point. So a Harmonic set will be in a way similar to what we do as Africa Hitech, in that I’ll play different tempos and styles.
Is there another Harmonic 313 album in the works?
Yeah, there are plans for it – not like a real plan as in a time-frame, but I’d like to do another one. There’ll definitely be an EP this year. There’s a track called “Lion” that I’ve had lying around that I want to try and get out early this year. It’ll probably be a four-track EP, or maybe six tracks. Slightly on more of a dancehall vibe actually, a bit more on the vibe of that “Dirtbox” track. It’s a slightly different kind of sound to the album. Once that comes out, maybe next year I’ll start thinking about what that next Harmonic album will be. It could be completely different, you never really know, it could be a different tempo.
In the future, do you see yourself narrowing your musical focus, or is your diversity of taste only going to flourish more?
From a business point of view it would make sense to lock into one project and just do that for five years. I think I had a meeting with a label once and they said to me, “Look, forget all these other styles you’re doing, just do this one style and you’re going to kill it.” And I could see where they were coming from but it just made me want to run away! I remember leaving and just feeling depressed. There’s no way I’d ever do that. It’s against everything I believe in. Harmonic 313 will be performing at L.E.V. on April 30. Harmonic 313 - Dirtbox
Harmonic 313 - Cyclotron Mark Pritchard, a confessed workaholic, has a tight schedule these days: gigs at LEV (Gijón) next week and Sónar (Barcelona) in June, the forthcoming Afrika Hitech debut album, a Global Communication reunion and mix-CD and more beats, textures and weird noises. He used to be a legend of all kinds of electronica. And he still is.
Review: " Hitecherous"
When Machines Exceed Human Intelligence