A well-established producer, DJ and label co-owner (of Diagonal, alongside Jaime Williams) in the UK’s electronic sphere, Powell injects post-punk skronk and industrial noise into his technoid creations. After years of limiting his output to 12" releases, EPs and other abbreviated offerings on Diagonal, The Death of Rave, Liberation Technologies and XL Recordings, Powell has elected to put together a full-length album, entitled Sport, also for XL. In this excerpt from his chat with Shawn Reynaldo for RBMA Radio’s First Floor, Powell talks about his music, performance and what has gone into his album.
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You’ve been putting out music since 2011. What made you think that now was the time that you wanted to do a full-length record?
Well, circumstances change. Five years ago my sole ambition was to release one record, so I did one record. Then I thought, “I’m never going to be able to do that again,” but somehow I did it again. I’ve done lots of 12"s and I’ve always resisted the album format because of my background in dance music. My process always meant that I invested so much energy in individual tracks, so the idea of putting a whole set together was kind of freaky and it didn’t feel like the time was right. Then, if someone like XL comes along, and says they want you to do a full-length, it’s one of those things you have to think about. I’m definitely glad that I did it.
The album’s called Sport – is there anything to that title?
The concept that ties it all together is that this is Powell music. I wanted it to be the clearest expression of what goes on in my head and what I think is meaningful about the world. The job of an artist is to communicate what they find meaningful and interesting, and to find a way to present it. Sport is a physical thing, but there’s also this playfulness to it: a game, a sense of fun, something frivolous. I felt like the music was physical and fun. I actually listened to most of this record when I was making it on the tiniest, shitty little speakers – my dog ate them, so the bass woofers don’t work. This is music as much for the mind as it is for the body.
You also have your own label, Diagonal, that you co-founded in 2011. Now, after putting out your own music on XL, do you think it’s affected your approach to how you run or curate Diagonal?
I think there are pros and cons. I’ve learnt a hell of a lot about how these things work, like how to be more effective with press, but my biggest regret is that because I’m so preoccupied by my own music, I can’t always invest the amount of time and energy I would love to in the artists that I think deserve it. It’s been a difficult year in that respect for me, because I’ve been so embedded in this [album] process. I’d like to apologize to any of the artists on Diagonal. I feel like I haven’t done them justice. I love the label as much as I love my own music – it’s my baby. If anything, I’m kind of excited to just get through this year, enjoy this process and then get back to focusing on the label and trying to help those artists. We put that music out because we believe in it, just as much as I believe in my own.
Although very little of your music sounds like straightforward club music, it’s obvious listening to it that the notion of the club and dance music factors into your work. What’s your relationship like with clubs and dance music at this point?
My relationship is one of intense love. I’ve been married to the stuff for so long but… I’m trying to think of a nice way of saying that I love dance music but I don’t love going to clubs anymore. I like it when my friends are playing and I’m surrounded by people I love, but it’s so rare that I go to clubs when either I’m not playing or there’s music that I want to see. I don’t want to be the person that always seems to be complaining about the state of dance music, because I think it’s a beautiful thing and it makes millions of people happy.
A lot of what I do is born out of a frustration with a lot of club music and a lot of the things that people talk about around it. We all need to be careful because electronic music is becoming this alternative form of pop music, and it’s suffering from the same things which pop suffers from. I can’t say that I love dance music currently, but I know loads of beautiful, brilliant artists. I respond more to individuals doing something of their own than I do to going out to clubs and seeing DJs seamlessly mix for hours on end.
Your live shows have gotten a lot of attention because you have this visceral stage presence. You’ve mentioned that your music is really physical. What are you looking to accomplish in the live setting?
I think it veers into aggression when I feel like people aren’t responding as I would like them to do. Again, that comes back to my frustration. Sometimes I veer into aggression when I think the crowd is being lame and annoying. I’ve seen so many pictures of DJs and performers and it’s just the classic visual, guy on stage, tweaking some knobs. It’s not like I deliberately move around like an idiot, or do stuff on stage because I want to avoid that. I think it’s who I am. It’s passion and it’s emotion. This is what I do for my life. It’s not just a job. I love this as deeply as anything ever. When I go on stage, things happen to me that I didn’t necessarily plan for.