Interview: Samuel Kerridge on his Raw and Intense Experimental Club Music

Anthony Obst sits down with the English transplant to talk about his new album.


Over the last couple of years, Samuel Kerridge has emerged at the cutting edge of a raw and intense style of experimental club music. His releases on Downwards, Horizontal Ground and Blueprint have twisted the techno template into noisy, disintegrating extremes, while Contort, the event series he runs together with his wife, Hayley, has grown into a left-field Berlin flagship.

Kerridge’s new album, Always Offended Never Ashamed, marks the inaugural release of the Contort record label. It sees the native Englishman travel further to the outer edges of club music, almost completely drowning all reference to a steady pulse in torrents of drones, groans and infernal abrasion. We met up with Samuel at a Kreuzberg café to talk about gaining a foothold in the German capital, vulnerability, and steering clear of the hype machine.

Tell me about your early days in Berlin. You came here in 2011, without having visited the city before. What motivated your move?

It’s so cliché, isn’t it? Just move to Berlin, it’s the hot spot. Well, Hayley actually got a job working for Boiler Room, and it was always in the back of our minds. We got a bit put off by the English club scene. We tried events there and lost a lot of money. It didn’t quite work out the way we wanted. We tried things like Contort there, on Sundays during the daytime, but that didn’t really take off. I think we were wanting a lot more. Berlin seemed like the place where we could achieve that. We figured we’ll just enjoy ourselves a little bit more, and we wanted to try somewhere different.

But the music scene in Berlin wasn’t quite what you had expected?

There was this expectation there that made me think, “God, this is the place we really need to go!” But when we got here... I mean, there are some great parties, for sure. Some great events. But my expectation was that it would be like this everywhere, that there would be experimental nights all the time, every weekend. As soon as we got here, it was great, obviously, but we realised that the majority of the parties were house and techno. Which was disappointing, really, because I think we had built it up from stories we’d heard.

A lot of promoters I’ve seen, they’re obviously into that music, but some may be more inclined to stick with safe passages of music.

That imagined Berlin that you hear about in stories from the ‘80s and ‘90s… Was that something you had spent a lot of time researching?

We were obviously aware of what happened in Berlin in the ‘80s, and in the ‘90s once the Wall had came down. We sort of built it up to that. Just from talking to other people, there was a lot of focus on Berlin even four or five years ago. It’s massive now, the coverage it gets, but it was starting then. I’m sure you could say that about a lot of places though. Somebody could have an outside view of London and be like, “I got to move to London because the music industry there is killer.” Then the reality when you get there can be a lot different. Berlin is great, though. The city has given us a lot and Contort would have never happened if we hadn’t moved here. You meet a lot of like-minded artists, creative people that really want to support things.

That’s what’s exciting and I think that’s what sets Berlin apart from anywhere else in Europe, and why everyone wants to move here. There’s some great stuff going on, like Not Equal and some of the more underground parties, or CTM and Berlin Atonal. I think there is a real and clear appetite. People do want to be shown something different. A lot of promoters I’ve seen, they’re obviously into that music, but some may be more inclined to stick with safe passages of music. A lot of them are in influential positions to really bend the curve a little bit.

I feel like a lot of the times it’s also just a matter of really good timing. Right now the popularity of the sort of music that Contort represents seems to be growing a lot. I know the Contort parties keep getting more and more traction. But even outside of that, do you see that sort of appetite growing all around?

Yeah, definitely. I think it’s the whole aesthetic as well that it brings with it that is very popular at the moment. All those kind of Blackest Ever Black labels, all that type of stuff, brings with it that scene, and maybe it’s kind of hip at the moment for some people to be into that. But I do think, like you said, I think we hit the wave at the right time. Not knowing that we were going to hit that wave. It seems like the trajectory of both, that style of music and the Contort party doing that type of thing, has definitely coincided with each other, yeah.

How did you initially build the relationships with the artists you first booked? Because some of them are very established, well-known names in their field.

Well, at the start, Hayley was working for Boiler Room, then she was working for a PR company as well. So she had access to these artists a lot more than I did. She just approached them once we got the parties set up and got the backing from Mindpirates to host our events at their space. I think we got some of the guys from Prologue, the Cassegrain guys, down for the first party. They really liked the party and one of them was friends with Ed Davenport, so Ed came down for the second night. Then Hayley met Cristian Vogel and was like, “Cristian, do you want to do this?” All this time I was also sending my stuff out to labels, and then I met Karl [O’Connor, AKA Regis] at a party with a friend. He liked what I was doing and wanted to put something out on Downwards, so then I invited him too.

It was basically like mates and favors. It’s not that normal to get an artist to do a thing for free. But once we told them the idea and the concept - Sunday daytime, you can play whatever you want - that really seemed to strike a chord with a lot of artists. You’d explain there’s no fee and stuff like that, but it was more out of a passion on their behalf. At the start our party was really an unknown entity. They were kind of doing it just because they wanted to go and play some different style of music out. Which is really refreshing, because there’s no hierarchy, just complete love for music. That’s what we’ve tried to build it on ever since, really.

Samuel Kerridge – A Shadow Cast

As a producer, you also seem to be trying to do things a bit different every time. From a listener’s perspective, I feel like if you look at the sort of arc of your music, it seems to be becoming less and less beat-based. From your first release, where there was still very much a techno beat present, it seems like you’ve gradually come to let go of that.

Yeah, it’s just the way it’s gotten. I just get really fucking bored of kick drums and the repetitiveness of it. I think it’s too predictable. With my new album I did want to give things a little bit more space, but it also just evolved. The new stuff I’ve been recording this last month for the new live set is a lot more beat-y again. To me it felt like I needed to get this LP out. It was like a milestone in a way. It was a culmination of everything that’s been before. It’s evolved into that, and now it feels like that’s the end and I’ve got a new slate in a way. It really offered me closure and that’s why I wanted to put it out. It was so nice to put it out on Contort in a way. Which is obviously really personal.

The next tape is a live recording of Regis doing an all-jungle set at Contort.

Was that very much a pragmatic move to start the label, in order to put out more of your own music?

It all started probably about two years ago. Me and Hayley had the idea of offering these live recordings from Contort, as limited edition cassette releases. We just never got around to it. Then I recorded the LP over the summer, and Karl was going to put it out on Downwards originally. He said he wanted to get it out before winter, but the release schedule for Downwards was so packed: the OAKE LP, Grebenstein, Marshstepper, Talker. I saw that it wasn’t going to work out but like I said, I needed to get this out because I couldn’t move on in my mind. So then I sat down with Hayley and I was like, “why don’t we kickstart Contort off that?” It’s a big statement of intent, in a way. So that’s how it started. From now on, I think it would be nice for us to support other artists as well. I do want to be that platform for mixing the big artists with lesser-known people and giving them a platform. It would be nice to support them by putting out their music too, if we’re really into it.

Is there anything specific in the works at the moment?

Yeah. The next tape is a live recording of Karl doing an all-jungle set at Contort. Then after that will be an EP, then there’s another cassette. We want to basically alternate between doing an original release, and then a live recording, and structure it like that, really. I think SØS Gunver Ryberg is going to do something for us later this year. There’s other bits as well. But I’ll have to keep that secret.

You mentioned that this new album is very personal for you. Is that also because you’re using your own voice on it?

Yeah, because I think there’s an air of vulnerability to that, too. It’s something I’ve never done before. I felt quite vulnerable with this album, using my own vocals and putting it out myself. But Karl originally wanted to put it out on Downwards, so that had me thinking it must be good. I always find it hard to step away from my music and judge it. Obviously I like it, but I’m biased. Sometimes I think I honestly don’t know why other people do [laughs]. But it’s nice. It’s great that people get it. Putting it out ourselves, I do feel the pressure of that. This is why it was a very personal record. Like I said, it really offered me closure on things. It gave me that clean slate. I don’t think I would have been able to move on with that particular sound.

Who’s always offended, never ashamed? Who does that refer to?

[Laughs] I don’t know, mate. I just saw it and thought that’s a fucking good LP title. I don’t know. Fucking everyone is, though, aren’t they? Most people. But yeah, I don’t know, mate. I talk a lot of shit.

Between the artists you’re supporting with Contort and some of the artists you’ve praised in the past, like Pink Floyd, Throbbing Gristle and Velvet Underground, you seem to be quite particular about liking, supporting and making music that pushes boundaries. We touched on that briefly earlier, but seeing that there is a sort of hype around the music you’re affiliated with right now… Do you ever fear becoming absorbed by something like that?

Definitely, yeah. I think that’s what I’m always fighting against though in a way. I’ve never felt part of a scene, to be honest. I’ve never, not even in England, wanted to be part of a scene or really felt part of something. I’ve always wanted to be on my own, doing my own thing. Whatever’s going on around me is kind of obsolete. It doesn’t matter to me. But yeah, I think Contort made it into a fucking Top Ten Berlin Nights Out or something. I just turned to Hayley and was like, “that’s the end.” [laughs] I mean, it’s obviously nice to be put into a list like that in some ways. But in other ways I just think it can attract, like you say, this hype machine and it’s cool to be at this fucking party, and yeah, I thought maybe we should stop the events if that hype machine gathers more pace. But I don’t know, mate. I think it’s really hard.

It’s a double-edged sword.

It really is. I was talking to a friend, and they’re like, “But if you stop it, what the fuck are we going to do?” It’s a strange one. I think what’s most important to me about Contort and about my music is that I’d hate to be pigeon-holed. I know Contort’s associated with this darker edge of experimental music, or techno, but we’re really trying to broaden the scope of it at the moment so that it can come from anywhere. Even the label, it doesn’t have to stick to a specific genre or aesthetic. As long as it’s got soul to it, and you can see someone’s really into what they’re doing. I think that’s the most important thing. But I’m sure every single label in the world’s got that mantra.

Samuel Kerridge Live at Contort & Blackest Ever Black – Berlin Atonal Festival 2013

I guess the visual aesthetic really plays into that as well. How much do you think about the visual representation of your music? For the Fallen Empire record for example, I felt like the cover already told me so much about the sound of the album – which doesn’t have to be a bad thing, by any means. But obviously the cover of the new album on your own label is going into a different direction.

Yeah, we were very conscious of that. We’re very conscious of the connotations, the aesthetic of a lot of labels with this type of music. We did want to stick away from that and put more effort into the design. I think it’s quite easy to just put a fucking picture on a record, to stick an image of someone being shot, or a still from a snuff movie or whatever on the front. I like that DIY-edge of it, but with Contort, we just wanted to give it more of an identity, really.

You’ve mentioned in the past that you don’t want your sound to be so much associated with darkness, but more with a powerfulness.

Yeah. I mean, I totally get the dark tag that I get. It’s obviously the easiest thing to reference. But ultimately what I aim for is more of a powerful and uplifting experience that you can feel, physically. If you’re in a club and it’s loud, and you really get that physical impact. That’s what electronic music is today. There’s different sonic frequencies going on and you can really push people like that. To me, when I’m producing, it’s a completely uplifting experience. I’m not there crying my eyes out in a heap on the floor. It’s just a release to me. Of course everyone gets different things out of music. We could view the same piece of art and I’ll get something completely different from it than you. It’s the same with music. To me ultimately it’s an uplifting experience, listening to my music.

By Anthony Obst on March 10, 2015

On a different note