Always off-kilter: Exploring Pangaea's mind-melting techno - Features - Mixmag

Always off-kilter: Exploring Pangaea's mind-melting techno

The Hessle Audio producer's new album has a visceral energy coursing through it

  • Words: Patrick Hinton | Images: Brian Whar & James Clothier
  • 6 October 2016

Hessle Audio is arguably the definitive UK club music label of the past decade. Arriving as the dominance of dubstep entered decline, Hessle took the disorderly scene by the scruff of its neck and reshaped it in its own cutting-edge image. Co-founder Pangaea mirrors this in his own mindset. The club is placed squarely at the forefront of his output, and he consistently finds innovative ways to melt minds on the dancefloor.

He’s been the most reserved figure publicly of the Hessle three over the years, but his mark has been made loud and unclear, with the strength of his murky, bass-fuelled music speaking for itself. Back catalogue cuts such as ‘Hex’ and ‘Inna Daze’ are ferociously impactful soundsystem bangers that to this day kick off raves like little else.

Since Pangaea’s last release on Hessle Audio a full four years ago he’s founded a personal label named Hadal, which has provided a platform for experimentation and a place to hone his sound as a producer. Now he returns to the imprint he co-runs alongside Ben UFO and Pearson Sound with a debut album titled ‘In Drum Play’ that represents his most confident and cohesive effort yet.

The LP is described as a “feedback loop between the studio and the club” and a visceral energy courses through it. The opportunity to explore new methods and ideas that a full-length allows has also been taken, touching on previously uncharted tempos and genres.

Check the exclusive first play of album cut 'One By One' and a Q+A with Pangaea below.

I find your musical background story - getting deep into dance music like hard trance in a tiny village in South West England from the age of six with no peers with the same interests - fascinating. It’s so unusual. What was it about dance music that you connected so strongly with back then, and how similar are your feelings now?

I'm not quite sure what got my attention initially; I just found it quite an exciting thing. I think it's the energy and strangeness to a lot of it. It was quite obvious to my parents that I was into music, so they encouraged me with piano lessons. They ended up buying me a keyboard and I was a lot more interested in making my own stuff than I was in trying to play other peoples' music in the end. I can't quite figure out why that was the case, but something about it I found exciting and quite alien. It felt like something I could tap into as well. Even though I was super young I was still trying to make tracks.

You placed importance on the defined concept of an album in 2012 when you were quite cagey about using the term for your 8-track “double-EP” ‘Release’. How does ‘In Drum Play’ differ? What made you decide it was time to make an album?

When it came to 'Release' I wasn't really sure where to place myself and my productions. A lot of what I was making was quite disparate. I did want to present it together, but I sort of chickened out of calling it an album because it didn't really feel like an album to me. Whereas now I feel a lot more comfortable in what I'm trying to do in an area that I want to work in. Back in 2012 everything was very much coming out of the whole post-dubstep scene and people were trying to work out what they were doing, and I think you can hear that on that record. I still really am proud of it, I think it's a good record, but it's very much on its own little island. With 'In Drum Play' I think I can say that I've made something that feels a bit more connected to techno, and is a bit more what I'm about in 2016.

I think ‘In Drum Play’ gives a good 360 view of Pangaea. There’s the dubstep bassweight of ‘Bulb In Zinc’, and pumping, staccato rhythms with tracks like ‘Rotor Soap’, but also forays into ambience with ‘Scaled Wing’ and treading new ground with ‘Send It In’, the slowest track you’ve ever made. Did you see the album as an opportunity to flex the full scope of your artistry?

I definitely think so. It allowed me to do whatever I want within the space of 10 tracks. I think it's important to be able to have clubby stuff on there but also play around with ideas still, that's what I've always been about really. Not just sticking to one set formula and just doing what I do. I'm not going to shy away from any sort of bass music past and I'm not going to pretend that I'm making very straight-down-the-line techno, but it will probably always end up a bit off-kilter, and that's all good I think.

You frequently use vocal samples which is quite unusual for techno. What quality do you think this brings to your tracks?

I've always been drawn to things that make [my music] sound a bit more human. Obviously you program dance music at a computer, but with certain tracks, even if it's electronic music, you can feel a human element. They may not just contain vocal samples, but it might just be the timing of tracks or how they swing or how they're mixed.

I've always quite enjoyed using vocals; even the first track that I ever wrote and never released had a big vocal sample in it, so I just carried on with that approach really.

I was pointed towards Ben UFO describing ‘Skips Desk’ as a “techno ‘Wearing My Rolex’” on Twitter which I love. And I’ve seen multiple people describe its headfuck impact in a club; it’s a really jarring track, in a good way. What inspired it?

When I made it I thought, it's the feeling that I've got being in a disorientated state on a dancefloor. I didn't set out to make that, it just sort of came about, then you play around with ideas and you think, that's quite cool. It's definitely quite a disorientating track.

As a contributor to the FABRICLIVE mix series and former holder of a club residency at fabric, you’re well placed to comment on its recent forced closure. How much of a loss to UK nightlife does it represent and do you think it sets a dangerous precedent to the UK scene?

It's a huge decision [to close the club], and an incredibly backward one as well. It signifies where a lot of this country seems to be headed. I feel completely gutted for everyone at fabric, and the people who have lost their jobs. You look at Berlin and places like Berghain being awarded culturally important status, as art basically, and then at London where 50 per cent of the clubs have been lost in ten years, it's not a good thing at all. I remember being in Berghain once and coming away thinking: that is actually art, this is actual living artwork. Then you've got clubs in the UK being shut down for the purposes of money; councils having to bring in money and scrubbing away anything that might be potentially undesirable to somebody who is going to shell out a million pounds or more for a flat. It's fucking awful really.

Yeah the idea of banning of fast BPMs really hammered home how clueless these institutions of power are really.

Completely clueless. It's comically bad, and a really good example of people who know the price of something and the value of nothing.

On the note of fabric, your nights there were usually hosted by Chunky and to this day I still can’t get his “Hessle Audi-oh, Audi-oh, Audi-oh” refrain out of my head, but the idea of seeing you DJ with an MC now seems quite alien. Is this indicative a pronounced change in style would you say?

I think so for sure. We just ended up becoming house and techno DJs that roll things out over a longer period of time, and there’s a slightly different energy to the music. It's indicative of where the music's gone over the last few years. But big up Chunky all the time! He's a wicked guy and he brought so much to those nights.

Two young producers, Bruce and Ploy, have been the only non founding members to release on Hessle Audio since 2013. It kind of seems like the label is aiming to cultivate a new generation. Is there any truth in that?

I think that it just happens that they're making the music that we're into. There's always been quite a narrow spectrum of what would work on the label. There's so much great music that we all play, but there isn't an awful lot that we feel suits the label. We haven't been trying to actively nurture them, they're doing their own thing, and they can do that by themselves. But it is quite interesting how they're both also living together and in the same kind of mindset, but just a few years younger. It's really good to see actually, they're great guys and we're excited to work with them going forward.

You’ve kept a lower profile than Ben [UFO] and David [Kennedy aka Pearson Sound] over the years. You don’t do much press, rarely play on the Rinse FM residency, and I also think I noticed you’ve almost entirely wiped your social media history save for the past few months. Does having a public image sit uneasily with you?

It does a bit. I think it's probably just reflective of me as a person. I do want people to hear what I do, but a lot of the time, whatever comes with it in terms of self promotion has never been that easy for me. I always find that if I've got something to say about a release or a mix or anything like that then I've got no problem putting that out online. But more and more I think you feel the need to have quite an active social media presence, and to push it would feel quite fake, in a way. It's a difficult one. I probably should say more things and be a bit more active and out there, but if I haven't really got anything to say then what's the point? There's plenty of content out there for people to get their teeth stuck into without hearing me talk shit about something that is related to something I don't care about.

I’d have thought as a DJ you’d want to play on Rinse FM, it seems like a good outlet to take advantage of.

Radio hasn't been my thing. Perhaps I should do more radio shows as well, but if I'm a club DJ and a producer, I feel like sometimes that should be enough, without having to be a radio DJ as well. When I do mixes, I'll do a mix, but certainly at the moment I don't feel the need to have a radio presence. I'm also not a natural presenter; I never really spoke on the mic very much even when we were doing stuff on Sub FM. I've never really cultivated a radio presenting style, so therefore it might be easier for me to just sort of not do it. It could be the lazy option, but again, I DJ in clubs, make music, I feel like I'm covering quite a lot of bases already.

'In Drum Play' is released on October 14 via Hessle Audio. Pre-order here

Catch Pangaea playing alongside Ben Klock and DJ Deep at Mixmag Live at Underground in Liverpool on October 14

Patrick Hinton is Mixmag's Digital Staff Writer. Follow him on Twitter

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