You know those moments where nothing's happening at work and, for a second, you start to levitate off the ground? The checkered tile of the grocery store floor and the off-pink walls of the cubicle disintegrate into a vortex of patterned hallucinations-- a momentary fire escape from the hopeless clutches of banality. You start to feel like you're flying, like you have wings, like you're staring down with bird's eyes at a mythical city, like…something else. Eventually a ringing phone or staring customer will rip you back down to the ground level, but a daydreaming mind's afterglow persists. These are the moments that Jamie Teasdale's solo work as Kuedo are best at capturing.
Since leaving cult classic dubstep duo, Vex'd, Teasdale has released a slew of Kuedo EPs. Severant, his debut record for Planet Mu, was at once one of 2011's most transportive electronic masterpieces and one of it's more misunderstood. Its electric wisps of synth drew easy comparisons to similar-sounding albums from the past, but Teasdale is quick to point out that these so-called "retro-futurist" sounds, decades later, are now officially of the present day. Lurking under the aesthetic signifiers are strains of pained family life, human relations, and, in the case of his 2012 single "Work, Live, & Sleep in Collapsing Space," escaping the harsh reality of being stuck in a dingy apartment with a fairly drained bank account. I called up Jamie in Berlin, and after a short talk about the difficulties of keeping a fresh DJ set, got to talking about his single, the tricky mechanics of musical interpretation, and what he has planned for his future.
Ad Hoc: Today, it's easier to find music than ever before, and yet we're always pressed for new tracks. Do you think that, with that increased ability to locate and acquire, there's also the effect of drying the well more quickly?
Jamie Teasdale: Yeah. There's also just a lot of stuff that, as people's consumption of music grows, and the knowledge of music from decades past grows, I might really want to play but almost sounds cliché at this point. People are so familiar with the strong points of music already.... like, the really great tracks! Now we have to find more and more rocks to turn over.
Ad Hoc: It even has this strange effect of reversing what's revered like, "Oh, the best stuff is just cliché; I don't want to listen to it." But really, you should want to listen to it because it's the best.
Jamie Teasdale: Yeah, I find myself listening to a lot of pretty obvious stuff, and I think a lot of the artists and producers that I'm in touch with do that as well. But, in a way, it's a different thing to broadcast it and play it. I think there's a slight difference in mentality between the kind of crate digger or MP3 digger-- whatever it is nowadays-- and someone who's just writing music. A lot of my friends are really obsessive about collecting music and gaining knowledge in music unless it's cliché or obvious. And some of my producer friends are more open to listening to obvious stuff because it's just good.
Ad Hoc: They seem more concerned with the sound, but a digger seems more driven by the backstory.
Jamie Teasdale: I think it's kind of stepping into a knowledge competition in a way.
Ad Hoc: How did you first start doing music? Was it through production, or playing an instrument?
Jamie Teasdale: I guess I had quite a few different roads into it. As a listener and a fan, [and] my dad put me on to a lot of stuff. When I was a kid, he had a pretty cool period in his thirties or whatever where he was actually listening to good music. I can remember him listening to Miles Davis' In A Silent Way, the cool synth stuff happening around the late '80s, Herbie Hancock…I think, to some extent, that's where the first impressions of some of the stuff I do now come from. And then later as a teenager I got into hip hop and jungle; my first experience of club music was jungle and reggae, like dub music. Dub and sort of sound system things.
Ad Hoc: That seems like the UK coming-of-age tale. Would you say that's a common experience for people in your generation?
Jamie Teasdale: Yeah, especially in the late '90s, and the years following that, for jungle. And later, it would be whatever else-- grime and dubstep. But then, as an active creator of it, I used to make a lot of stuff on an old Amiga-- real lo-fi stuff as a teenager-- and then, when jungle happened, I got turntables and just spent like… I stopped making music on my computer and just spent hours practicing DJing everyday for like 5 years. So, creating kind of stopped, and then I started up again in my early twenties. But, I actually got started as an engineer then. My first involvement with recorded music was really like, pushing buttons-- less of an artist and more of a tech guy-- and that was my full-time job for awhile. That was even my primary involvement with my first records I put out as Vex'd: I was the engineer, the "tech guy."
Ad Hoc: Yeah, I think I remember you mentioning something like that in another interview, that you were the sort of the "manager" of Vex'd, when it came to the creative process.
Jamie Teasdale: Yeah, totally. I kind of felt like the facilitator of it all, and Roly was the idea man; he formed the language. Even though I wrote several of the tracks by myself, I was writing them in a style that he had developed. I think the thing I've tried to pursue in beginning my own set of records is writing more as an artist, shedding all that tech thought and engineering stuff I had built up over the previous years. That's the difference in sound, I suppose. I'm learning that role and sinking into it more and more.
Ad Hoc: Do you feel like the technical aspects that you spent so long learning are just second nature to you now?
Jamie Teasdale: I had this discussion with some friends, actually. It's easier to say the grass is greener from a more classically trained viewpoint or whatever that might be, there are also benefits to being brought up in a club-oriented culture-- DJing, more production expertise stuff. There's a background knowledge that I don't need to force; it's just there. The whole realm of music theory, of harmony, that's the new thing that I'm really interested in. And the sentiment of the whole endeavor, of why you're writing a track in the first place. That's my new focus, and for some people, yes, you start one way and have to painfully learn the other stuff, but I've already gone through that luckily.
Ad Hoc: What music theory books are you studying? Are there any particular theorists or composers you've been reading up on since delving deeper into harmonic theory?
Jamie Teasdale: It's pretty painful having to learn music theory… Especially this far into life. I'm just stumbling through scales and whatever other really basic stuff. I think I've picked up a little over the years unintentionally, but I don't know, most of it's-self taught. There's really high-flown stuff from Philip Glass and Steve Reich that kind of blows me away. That's so many layers higher than the kind of stuff that my peer group and I study in terms of classical theory. Even in pop music there are certain little devices... There's a lot to learn and ways to turn around or strike out a particular chord. There's always a level deeper you can go, no matter how far you're already in.
Ad Hoc: In stepping out of Vex'd and being able to take a further creative role, do you see Kuedo as an alternate ego of yourself or is that just you, just a name?
Jamie Teasdale: The whole ego thing [laughs]…like, it's my project, and I try and mine genuine life experience, my own personal experience. I try and find something personal when I write a track; I'm very much sinking into the moment and letting go, thinking about the meaning of things. But I don't think of the project as an embodiment of "me" or my ego, my sense of self, my backstory. It's a thing that wraps up certain themes, aesthetics. So I don't give Kuedo a character, an alter ego, an embodiment of any sort of self. It's just a way of releasing this certain type of music that I do. I think part of that is trying to avoid the whole trap of becoming your own project and wearing it as a kind of exoskeleton.
Ad Hoc: People don't even treat you as a person anymore. You're just this character.
Jamie Teasdale: Yeah, or you just subsume it, and you become this character. I find it really uncomfortable when people refer to me without my first name, because to think of myself as a walking embodiment of all my records is just way too abstract and weird. It's like being a character in Second Life or something, you know what I mean?
Ad Hoc: Do you play Second Life or any games where you have an online avatar?
Jamie Teasdale: No, I don't, but I find the whole concept fascinating; I almost wish I did because I'm so intrigued by it. The kind of social meaning of it is essential to modernity, a networked life, and so I want to participate in it just for the meaning of being connected to this thing that everyone seems to be doing. Those kinds of themes are ones I want to explore in my music, so I feel like I should research it more thoroughly by participating.
Ad Hoc: Does that play into the topics you address in your music? I recall you mentioning an attempt to capture that transition point of a daydream and reality, that journey between. Do you think that correlates with a modern, networked life?
Jamie Teasdale: Yeah: a dual being, a dual presence. It's also partially looking at life through a screen. On some level, you're part of an experience, like watching something on Youtube and becoming drawn into this whole world or some other kind of online identity. At the same time, despite being wholly engaged and present in this world, at any point you're also realizing that you're just on your couch...in front of a flat screen...for the past few hours...by yourself. That kind of dual presence is always there; you can always move between the two, fluctuate in and out. That's the interesting thing about it; there's this kind of emotional nuance in knowing that and moving between the two. And I think that's there in all kinds of imaginative escapism-- it has that duality. So whether you're watching a movie, or being caught up in a daydream, a story, it will be there. As a daydreaming kind of character type, that's a common kind of feature of me [laughs]-- just being between a virtual, imaginative place and reality, translating between the two.
Ad Hoc: Do you address that in "Work, Live, & Sleep in Collapsing Space" at all? Weren't you actually working, living, and sleeping in a shitty apartment?
Jamie Teasdale: Yep! I mean, in the sense that I kind of knew that was what I was writing about when I was writing the track. When you write something you feel this rush of emotion, but you're also trying to capture something, so you kind of have a point you're chasing after to keep you on target. Part of that was my living situation, trying to escape and improve it. At the same time, it's also kind of a sci-fi fantasy track, isn't it? It's got all the signifiers of that-- the arpeggios, the synthetic strings, et cetera. I think that's the kind of dual theme of Severant as well. It's partly about the point of escapism-- in that case, more futuristic-- but also the place that you're actually in, the contrast with reality. For me, the tracks are as much about domestic and family things as they are about anything else, and I think that was really missed out on in some of the texts I read about Severant, the way people perceived it. The kind of plain, everyday nature of the subject matter and themes is something I want to make more overt on the next record I put out, whether it's just the track titling, some way of representing it, or, perhaps, the lyrical content. I want to make those underlying themes easier to spot and engage with.
Ad Hoc: It's strange because I feel like a lot of people get fooled by the sounds you use. Certainly there are ties to sci-fi, to synthetic textures, but it's like people just immediately imagine a spaceship or Blade Runner, when really it's just trying to relate to us and living right now. In a way, these sounds really are us now. There was a time when they seemed far-off or futuristic, but now we're in that future.
Jamie Teasdale: I even think that they can just do both. Something can have multiple layers, meanings, ways to engage. The thing is, the sounds have their own meaning in and of themselves, their own connection point. The sound of the synth, regardless of how you take it, can be a beautiful, eternal thing. That's why I somewhat doubt this obsession with putting things into a retro perspective, because you can just take the sounds themselves; you don't always have to relate to them in a esoteric context, you know?
Ad Hoc: Are you bothered at all by people bringing up Blade Runner or the '80s when talking about your or other artists' music if it uses synthesizers?
Jamie Teasdale: Well, not so much because, relating to your last question, some of the motifs are really obvious, the references are there. I was conscious of it when I was writing it and… the thing is, it kind of has a meaning to it in a sense. Say I'm watching Blade Runner, and I'm very much in that world, then I come back to my real world in a messy kitchen, stressed about money, but the movie's still playing in my head. Writing about that moment, the track to me would kind of be about Blade Runner, but it's really about how we consume these pieces of media as a way to get out of our ordinary lives. That might sound quite a bit meta or whatever, but the point, to me, is to think about these sorts of escape routes. Living through media, somehow using these films to make sense of our ordinary life.
Ad Hoc: Pop culture has become a reference point for more than other works of art. It's now a frame for our own lives, our perceptions of ourselves, our day-to-day decisions.
Jamie Teasdale: I wrote this track the day after watching Scarface and it ended up feeling a bit like Scarface, and while I was watching it I was really feeling what he was going through. In a way, I don't know how I thought I could relate to the story of an immensely successful drug baron-- this materialistic life, like the polar opposite of what I was experiencing at that moment. But I guess he had this sort of grand project that was detaching him from his friends and family and was ultimately kind of meaningless. But there's the sort of conceit of…
Ad Hoc: Of thinking you're the king of the world?
Jamie Teasdale: Any connection to this thing at all was kind of making me laugh, but the track I had made was totally rooted in it, this self-loathing track. I'm totally aware of how cliché this is, but it sort of captures the emotion itself. I was listening to a lot of rap music at the time, really consuming a lot of rap, particularly cocaine-oriented drug rap. I guess from a production point of view, I was just trying to be engaged in the fantasy and how different it was from my own. But we're all human; there are aspects that we can always relate to. We can always relate to the emotions that they're going through. I even really wanted Severant to sound halfway between a film soundtrack and a rap mixtape; that's how it started out.
Ad Hoc: What made you decide not to include "Work, Live, & Sleep in Collapsing Space" on Severant? It was recorded at the same time, right?
Jamie Teasdale: It was kind of too bangin' in a way (laughs). I think it's good, it works on a certain level, but it sort of disrupted the album, which was supposed to be this soft thing that you could listen to repeatedly and sink into without having much of immediate "WOW!" moments that are loud and explosive.
Ad Hoc: When I first heard it, it was almost like hearing the album in five minutes, like it was an overture for the whole thing.
Jamie Teasdale: Yeah, it reaches the same climax in a way that the album doesn't really try to. I think the thing that I would like to do now, moving forward with other releases, is to really move into a less-produced thing. I don't know exactly when that will be, but I'm writing stuff. I'm always kind of noodling with ideas in spare moments. I think you really know when you're writing an album; you get the sense of sinking into something, and that's not the point I'm at now. I still have some ideas to work through before I really get to the heart of what the next album's going to be, some baggage to expunge first. I'm also assembling a new studio with lots of hardware synths that I recently acquired, so there's this new tech and equipment that I need to figure out how to work with.
When I was writing Severant, I was kind of kidding myself that I wasn't going to be that dude with like, eighty synths…but then I bought a bunch of them because they just sound so good. As a point, I'd like to use new synth tech to avoid this "retro" thing, but unfortunately the old stuff just sounds better. It's kind of weird having look back 20 or 30 years in time to get synths that really sound good.
Ad Hoc: Why do you think that is?
Jamie Teasdale: I think it's the way they're manufactured. They used to make synths that would really last and that were intended for musicians, and now it's much more of a consumer-targeted thing. It'd be nice if there was some ground-breaking new technology or whatever, but I think that most of the points were hit in this really quick period of discovery from back in the day. I think that's a lot of the reason that records from that time are saturated with synths, and the records themselves are saturated with this idea of futurism through synthetic sound because they were seen and felt as these harbingers of new modernity. They got tired of it and wanted to move on after they became embarrassed with them, but they got locked up with this historical thing. I think we need to get to the point where we can appreciate them without that baggage-- to just hear them for what they are, and just play them as such. The synthetics of something can have it's own meaning, it's own unique meaning, and I feel like that sound will always have it's own meaning. If people don't die out in the next hundred years, we're going to go through so many cycles that the word '80s will be totally meaningless-- which '80s are we talking about?
The Work, Live, & Sleep in Collapsing Space single is out now on Planet Mu.