Visionist on Anxiety, Honesty and “Experimental Grime”

The Lost Codes founder and PAN signee discusses the dread that inspired “Safe”

There has been plenty of debate about what exactly constitutes the so-called “new grime” movement, but virtually everyone is in agreement that Visionist, AKA Louis Carnell, is one of the scene’s leading figures. Though the London producer came of age amidst a sea of UK garage and first-wave grime, a big part of what makes his music so compelling is that it has never been classifiable as any one thing in particular. Incorporating elements of hip hop, dubstep, and footwork amongst other styles, Visionist’s productions are also distinguishable by his preference for moody soundscapes and ample amounts of white space.

First surfacing in 2011, Carnell has released music on a myriad of labels including Leisure System, RAMP, Diskotopia and Lit City Trax, but in 2015 he connected with PAN in a major way – the abstract outpost is issuing the debut Visionist LP, Safe, and also tapped him for a new collaborative sub-label, Codes, a reset of his former imprint Lost Codes. In this excerpt from a recent interview with Lauren Martin for RBMA Radio, Visionist discusses the emotional foundation of Safe.

I think that I became the producer I wanted to be in 2012, when I made “Pain.” Looking back I feel that it’s a very influential track when it comes to a lot of what’s being talked about in this “new style” of grime music. It was before its time, in a sense: a more melancholic and stripped-back focus on wider elements of grime. There was no one else really doing it like that, I feel.

That time became frustrating: I wanted people to see that this is my own sound rather than a “new take on grime,” but then if everyone’s going to be talking about this “new take on grime” anyway… I came from grime. I went to those battles, those dances and those youth clubs. If we are really going to start calling this “experimental grime,” then I thought I should be at the top of it.

Visionist - Pain

Around the time that I was writing tracks like “Pain” and thinking about where my sound was fitting into all of this I set up my own label, Lost Codes. There were a few artists who were dabbling in certain aesthetics related to grime but were creating whole new sounds from them. The great thing about the UK scene is that we have so many individual artists with their own sounds, and we have so many homegrown genres to draw inspiration from. I found people who I felt were doing similar work to me: SD Laika, Filter Dread and Acre. I feel that we’re all related. They are people who are honest artists. When I pick someone for Lost Codes, I need to know about them. I needed to know their background. It’s not about just signing music: if you wanted to ask me why this music existed, I would have an answer for you. That’s something I’ve tried to work towards for myself, too - that my music explains me.

Daniel Sannwald

Musically, I made it so that anxiety is somehow beautiful, but not good for you.

Now I have my album, Safe. Thematically, it takes you through an anxiety attack. Anxiety is a personal thing I’ve been dealing with for a few years now. I did try CBT [Cognitive Behavioral Therapy] but it wasn’t very successful, so I decided to make music to explain it to myself. It always starts with those initial thoughts – usually one, silly thought – but then it all turns into a whirlwind and before you know it, there are one million thoughts in your head and you’re panicking.

I’ll be in a club that I’ve been to over and over. Nine times out of ten, I’m absolutely fine. But that tenth time, I tell myself that I can’t be in this club. All of a sudden, this club becomes a dangerous place, and so I leave and don’t come back until I can recreate the world as it was before that tenth time – back when I was safe. It got to a point last year where I was getting ill at my own shows and not wanting to play them. Safe takes you through my head in this way, but it’s not an album that has a solution. Anxiety is trippy. You are constantly on edge. Musically, I made it so that anxiety is somehow beautiful, but not good for you. Most of the time I tell myself, “Why have I let myself get here?” but I just haven’t found a way to control it yet.

Visionist - Acceptance

As well as dealing with anxiety, every track represents a moment or situation that I’ve found myself in over the years. And every title has a specific meaning. “1 Guarda” is about my heritage. My mother is white English and my dad is Jamaican and Dominican. I grew up with my mum and I didn’t meet my dad until I was 15 years old. He lives in London but we were never in contact, until I stayed with him for one week. Then I went back to stay with my mum.

It’s a weird situation when you don’t have someone in your life for that long. Even though you know they are family, they’re also not. Truthfully, I was fine with not having him in my life. It became part of my anxiety when I met him, because there’s so much going on emotionally when a meeting like that happens. “1 Guarda” is my Jamaican reference to both him and her: “guarda” sounds like “guardian,” and I grew up with one parent, one guardian. There’s also a dancehall element to the track so there is part of him in there, but the title is for my mum.

What I truly wanted to express on Safe overall is that with anxiety, a lot of your thoughts and fears are not real, but they don’t have to be real to make you feel this way. Safe is quite a selfish album, really. I didn’t write music that I necessarily wanted to be heard. I’ve found the most comfort in writing music that way – by not thinking about anyone else.

By Visionist on October 20, 2015

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