After two decades as one of electronic music's most unpredictable shapeshifters, Mark Pritchard — formerly known as Harmonic 313, Troubleman, N.Y. Connection, and Link, and a former member of Africa HiTech, Global Communication, Harmonic 33, Jedi Knights, Reload, Use of Weapons, et al — has a practical reason for finally deciding to retire his many aliases. "The confusion had to be addressed," he tells SPIN over Skype from his studio in Australia, which the British musician has called home for the past 10 years. "In the current climate, to use a different name each time you do a project seems a bit silly. It's hard enough to get one name to cut through the noise."
Pritchard has released a handful of records under his own name over the past few years, including singles for Hyperdub and Mala's Deep Medi Musik, but a new trio of EPs for Warp marks his artistic rebirth as the man he was all along. "It just so happened that these three releases — this one, the one after, and the Ghosts EP — have a certain vibe to them," Pritchard says. "They're quite clubby. There's a bit of footwork, a bit of jungle, a bit of dancehall, a bit of old-school rave."
That kind of variety was part of the reason for his decision to consolidate his work under one name. "I do write all different styles, but it doesn't necessarily fit a project I've been working on, and they all have their own little life spans. If you do an album project and it takes you a few years, then this stuff just sits there. I was going to use Harmonic 313 and stick with that, but even that name had a style stuck to it, and it just didn't feel right. As soon as I said I'm just going to use my own name — which is a weird thing to do; names that you think up have a vibe, and using your own name is a bit weird, not as catchy — it felt positive to free up the fact that I do write this music and I want to get it out. There might be tracks I've done five years ago that could be the strongest stuff I've got. There's ambient tunes that have been sitting there for four or five years, and they're really strong pieces."
Next year, he plans to follow up with an album of that material. "The album's actually not clubby at all," he says. "It's more soundtrack pieces and ambient, experimental music. And next year I want to start varying the EPs up as well. There might be a hip-hop one, there might be something that's like a dub thing or a techno thing; maybe even make an EP that has a jungle tune and a techno tune and a hip-hop tune. People don't really do that, but I've got a feeling it's a good thing to do. People are a bit more open now; most music fans love different music. There's always people that get annoyed, but I've had that for 20 years anyway. That was part of the reason for using different names, because you really had to, in some ways. People are always going to moan, because they'll like a certain album and then they'll just moan at you: 'Why are you doing this shit?' But I just thought, I want to release these things and not have them sitting on my drive for years. When you're writing music and it goes into the world and people respond to it, it gives you a nice momentum to keep doing your thing."
Below, Pritchard breaks down the songs on his new EP.
"1234" feat. Ragga Twins
I did that instrumental last year, I think, and I felt like it needed some vocal element. I'd put some soundsystem clash talking in the breakdown, but I was thinking it'd be great to have some vocals on it. I'd been following the Ragga Twins on Twitter; I've been a fan of them since I started, really. I used to play Shut Up and Dance records and I loved "Wipe the Needle," I used to play that tune out when I started DJing in '91 or whatever. They were following me, so I could direct-message them. I did, said I've always been a fan, would love to get you on something if you're interested, and they were just really cool. I sent them a track; they went in the studio and did it. Really good guys.
There's definitely a bit of rave in there. There's that period where there was really eerie, dark jungle and rave music where it wasn't as happy and up; it had rave sounds but they were a bit more twisted. I kind of miss really dark, intense club music sometimes. I used to love Dillinja's stuff. Those tunes were almost industrial, really. It was like getting hit by a train. Devastating. I suppose I was subconsciously wanting to hear that, because I've been playing some of those tunes out again as well. Playing the footwork stuff, then jungle, then old drum'n'bass, I've been playing those tunes again and loving the vibe of them. I've been noticing they don't go down that well! To me they just sound incredible. But they're intense, and maybe new generations are not used to hearing that. But I wanted to play those kinds of things again. Have some hype and have some different flavors, but then have something that was really fucking intense — just for a couple tunes, and then play something else again.
That was done probably last year as well. I suppose I was trying to do some kind of grime thing that had that 808 vibe but using some rave stabs. It just so happened that I did it, and then one of the guys at Warp really liked it. It's quite a hype, banging, straight-up club tune, really, but it's getting a good reaction. I thought it would be a good idea to put it on there, because it is more of a straight-up club banger, and it is quite hype and ravey. But then with the other tunes, I thought it balanced it out well.
I still do play some 140 [beats-per-minute tracks]. I play some old grime and some new bits of grime, and I like what Hudson Mohawke does, I do play TNGHT stuff, bits of that. Especially when I'm playing bigger gigs, I like dropping one or two of those tunes in. I love the energy of it, and you can play a couple of those and then play a couple of deeper ones. You can move it into a different tempo. It's kind of 140, whereas "1234" is 130. "1234" is very old-school sounding. I was worried it was too old-school. There's a few people doing that sound. Paul Woolford's done that Special Request project, and there's a few people bringing that — it's like slower jungle, really, without being breakbeat, in a way.
That was done in 2010. Then I loaded it up to finalize it, thinking it would be quite easy, but it was a nightmare. That was one of the hardest tunes I ever had to mix down. I almost gave up on it a couple of times, even a few weeks before the cut. I almost thought, everything about this tune is wrong; I can't get it to work. And I just kept persisting with it.
When I first moved to Australia, we were in this shared house, and somebody left an old home organ, and it had these preset rhythms. One day I just miked it up and recorded it for a few hours. So the rhythm's from that. It is my favorite tune on the EP. I felt like it sounded really different to anything I'd done. It's 150 [BPM], 153 or something, so it's a different tempo. For some reason I decided to put the drum break in there as well, just to pick it up at some point, because it felt like it needed a change in energy. Then an old ARP Odyssey is the synth riff. But it's one of those ones where the bass was clashing with the kick, the kick on the organ drum machine was quite boomy, and the whole sound was quite thin. I'd laid some EQ filter over it to give it some weight, and that was out of phase, and I didn't realize it. Three days before I had to master it I realized that it was out of phase, and I shifted it by a slight amount, and it was done. It was like, there it is. I was almost running around the studio with my hands in the air when I worked out why this fucking thing was not sounding right. And then my mastering guy did some absolute genius magic on it. When he sent it to me, I was like, I can't believe it. This tune should not sound like this. It was a real struggle, that one, but I knew it was an interesting kind of tune. The rhythm's almost comedy, really. I don't expect as many people to play that tune, but a few people I've sent it to have come back and said, "That's the tune." People like Danny Breaks who I've known for years, I always send him stuff, and he was like, "Yeah, that's the tune, that's the one on there. That's mad." It's nice people are into that one as well, because it's not an easy one to play out, I'd imagine. I put a bit of the intro at the beginning so you could just drop it in, if you were going to play it. I have played it out once, and yeah, it did sound really good. But it's so weird. You could tell people were a bit unsure.
"Soundboy Fuck Off"
I'd done a few gigs in a row where I was playing after people who were playing just hype. Just hype trap or dubstep tunes for two hours. A buildup and then a drop. When you go on after people like that, it is quite hard to play more subtle, deeper music, and I always want to do that. If you come on after somebody that's been doing that for two or three hours, then the only thing you can do is drop it down and bring it back up. I wanted to do something where the intro is just a trick to create some hype energy. Have a hype rave intro, then get rid of it completely and hit people with really hard beats and bass — hard, aggressive energy. Then I found the sample and it was fitting. It's like a battle tune, really. It's also saying something about the way DJs just don't know about dynamics, and they just drop hype tune after hype tune. If you drop a few tunes like that in a row, they lose their impact. It gets to the point where it's not interesting any more, because it's just the same thing. So it was the idea of just saying, "Fuck off!" to those people, really. When I found the sample, it was perfect.