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Composer and Producer Summits Death Peak

As a student, Chris Clark’s music teacher said that he would give up all faith in his musical ability if he bought a drum machine. Demonstrating that it was possible to do both, Clark, at the tender age of 21, signed with legendary electronic music label Warp Records, an outlet of creativity for renowned artists like Boards of Canada and Aphex Twin.

Here he created his impressive debut album, Clarence Park, a work which has become a signifier of his trademark merging of disparate, chaotic sounds into brilliantly composed dance music. True to form, his latest album, Death Peak, summons accessible moments of grandiose, dancefloor euphoria to a backdrop of apocalyptic, deconstructed synth tones and clattering percussion.

One of the most versatile musicians in the game, Clark has contributed his vocals and music to Saatchi & Saatchi’s 2011 New Director Showcase in Cannes, as well as scores for contemporary dance and the Sky Atlantic series, The Last Panthers. Now, to further broaden his creative scope, his current touring schedule has been accompanied by a troupe of live dancers, choreographed to the sounds of Death Peak.

Chris and I talked about his creative process, the influence of Aldous Huxley and the twisted hilarity of open casket funerals.

Where are you at the moment? It seems like you’ve been everywhere.

I’m in my kitchen, cooking and listening to a podcast.


It’s fucking amazing. I did a really long US tour and I was apart from my wife for ages. Now I’m back home with her and it’s fucking glorious. I’m loving it. Home life is sacred.

How did the tour with Com Truise come about? You have varying styles, but it seems that your music is similar in the way it’s electronic.

That’s as far as the similarity goes, but that’s a good thing. I really enjoyed touring with him. We got on really well. I think the thing we share is that we’re both really into synths, but we use them in very different ways. We’ve actually got quite a lot of the same gear, but our music’s just completely different. It’s just a testament to that thing that your gear doesn’t have to define you.

Your music strikes me as being very raw.

I think it’s about embracing imperfections. I’m scoring something at the moment. I’d love to make my own sample libraries one day. I’ve got loads of them, just because I’m really interested in how they’re put together. They’re interesting things to engage with, but it’s just too easy, because you get instant Hollywood drums and instant perfection. It’s so manicured and sterile in a way, so I refuse to use them. I’ve been recording my own instrumentation with viola and it sounds a bit homespun, a bit amateur in a way, but it has got something that I’m really into. It just seems really obvious.

I read a quote that you believe the human voice to be the most perfect synth. By that, do you mean it’s quite malleable and slightly imperfect?

I’ve just been really annoying my girlfriend by transcribing stuff that I find really funny into note form. It’s really interesting.

There’s a guy called Chassol who does that.

It’s a really good practice for your brain. I’ve noticed that when she’s complaining about something, she speaks in minor thirds, so it’s a bit sad. Or when someone speaks in dry tones they sound aggressive. I just love it. I find that side of music really interesting: when music bleeds into everyday, mundane chat.

Can you say what you’re scoring at the minute?

No, not really. I’ll probably get into trouble. I think it’s a working title. It’s not the third episode of Star Wars. Maybe it is. Maybe it is. Yeah…

What inspired the concept of dancers for your live shows?

Mainly wanting to work with my partner, Mel. I’ve made about ten scores for her that have slipped under the radar and I wanted her to make something for me, so got her involved. We’ve been talking about it for about eight years, so it wasn’t a sort of flash in the pan idea.

How do the crowd react to the dancers?

They react really well, always. It’s mad. I feel like just having them there is enough to send people crazy. I mean, I really love that side of it and I’m baffled why people don’t do it more. Dance music dancers. Surely it’s a no brainer? Why isn’t everybody doing it?

It seems like there’s a contrast between the title of Death Peak, which is quite dark, and the music, which is quite euphoric and hopeful.

I don’t find the title dark at all. It just depends how you look at it. It kind of comes more from an Eastern way of looking at existence. I mean, if it was called ‘Life Peak’, in a way that would be worse. It’s like that Aldous Huxley quote, where he said the true moment of enlightenment, when everything comes together, is the moment just before you die. That’s everything and everything’s leading up to that point. It’s quite a beautiful idea.

The title and the artwork with your face crumpled up – is this a way of saying, ‘I’m moving on to different things beyond the Clark name’?

[laughs] I’ve bloody made it. I’ve got gallows humour. It just cracks me up. I like the idea of having an open coffin and because it’s your last wish you just get to decide what you look like and you can really camp up your open casket. I just find stuff like that hilarious. There’s a good deal of that happening in the artwork.

You’re playing Manchester International Festival curated by Mary Ann Hobbs. Do you have any particularly fond memories of playing Manchester?

I played the Warehouse Project two years ago. That was good. It was the day of the Paris attack, so it was a bit depressing, but I’m really looking forward to it and we’re doing the full show with dancers. It’s mad having these nice one-off gigs after touring for 30 days in a row. You feel like you can do anything. It’s really good.

You talked about your use of the viola and looking back on your whole discography you’ve experimented with a massive range of mediums and instruments. What are you itching to do next?

There are loads of things I want to do. I don’t feel like I’ve started really. It’s a weird thing of being more and more in competition with myself. I’m never really satisfied with the things that have come out. I mean, I am to a point. It’s just that idea that, ‘I’ve sorted out that music stuff.’ It’s never gonna happen. It’s just a continual obsession and that’s what makes me happy, so I’m gonna carry on till the wheels fall off.

Clark plays on Saturday 8 July at the Ritz as part of the MIF Dark Matter series.

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