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Mark Pritchard Under The Sun

Mark Pritchard is one of the most prolific electronic musicians of the last few decades. He has released under many aliases and in countless styles since the early 90s, perhaps most memorably as Reload, Harmonic 313, and in collaboration with Steve Spacek for the hugely influential Africa Hitech project. Now a long-time resident in Australia and only releasing music under his birth name, Mark’s sound remains as varied as it is intriguing. His new album, Under The Sun, is out this month on Warp Records, so it felt like a good time to catch up for a chat.

How did you get into making music?

I started playing guitar when I was small. I was into indie music like The Smiths, Sonic Youth and The Pixies. By the time I left school I started hearing more electronic music and going to clubs. I heard Chicago house and techno and started buying electronic gear and taught myself. I was lucky because there was a club in Bournemouth with two DJs called North and South, who played amazing Chicago house and Detroit techno, so I got to hear the real deal stuff. I started buying records and went from there.

What prompted you to drop all your aliases in 2013?

Because I’ve had so many different names and I like doing so many different styles, I felt I’d confused people enough. There were reasons for doing that and I wouldn’t change anything, but it got to the point where it made sense just to use my name. Another reason was to try and enable me to put out more of the different styles I do. I’ve been doing a lot of non-club music, but it doesn’t fit with some of my other projects. It’s nice hiding behind names. I guess the downside of my name is that it’s not particularly cool sounding.

What is your preferred medium for making music?

When I’m doing club music, I might use plugin synths, but I didn’t on this album. I’ve got a waterphone, which is this weird thing which you play with a violin bow, and I played that on quite a few tunes. I bought a musical saw and I played that on two or three tracks. The flute on the Thom Yorke track is from a mellotron. I’ve always been a fan of how it sounds and I’ve used it before for Harmonic 313. I got someone to play cello on the ‘Circles of Nine’ track and recorded some percussion for some of it.

A lot of it is old Moogs and some mad 80s circuit-bent stuff. When I use my old synths they sound really nice and they help me to not use grids and get away from everything being too ‘bang on’. It forces me just to see what happens. I like to find ways of stopping my habits and get different things every time.

How did the new record come about?

It’s an album I’ve been meaning to do for a long time. Half of it was written around 2009. Some tracks are even older than that. When I decided I wanted to do the record, about two years ago, I disappeared like a hermit and worked through the night. I knew it wasn’t going to be club music, but the brief was completely open. Initially, it was going to be a bit more avant-garde compared with what it turned out like, but it just felt right as certain tracks started to fit together.

How did Thom Yorke and Linda Perhacs come on board?

With Thom, I did a couple of remixes for his King of Limbs album and then, a few years ago, a friend of mine was drumming with them when they came to Australia. I was doing an Africa Hitech gig that night and a few of them came down. The next night I ended up going to dinner with them and I asked Thom if he was up for doing something. It took me a while to work out what I wanted to send to him. He ended up doing a couple of tracks, which was really cool. I’ve liked Radiohead since OK Computer. They’re one of the rare bands who got better after their second album. I think they’ve been really brave over the years with the different moves they’ve made.

With Linda, I put one of her tracks on a compilation a few years ago and someone from Warp suggested I tried to do something with her. At the time I thought, ‘How is that going to happen?’ I didn’t really know she was still doing stuff at the time, but I was put through to her manager and she was open to the idea. I spent about a month or two writing ideas. It’s not the easiest thing to do, making something for someone who’s made one of your favourite albums of all time. I almost can’t really believe it happened.

Who do you think has been the biggest influence on your music to date?

I’ve been thinking about this recently. Although there is plenty of music that inspires me, I get most inspiration from surreal English comedy. The early stuff inspires me as much as music. It went from The Goons, Peter Cook and Monty Python, all the way till now. It was some of the most interesting and creative stuff to come out of England. I like finding out how their imaginations formed to allow them to take things into completely bizarre perspectives. I want music to spark imagination as well. I like music that surprises or shuts off time or makes you feel a certain way. Lots of musicians are also into that kind of comedy, so there is definitely some correlation. Brian Eno has said pretty much the same thing. He said that when he worked with Bowie they talked like Pete and Dud over email and in the studio.

Do you have plans to tour the new record?

I’ve never wanted to play live that much. I could go on with a laptop and trigger stuff, but it’s not something that motivates me in any way. I can play instruments, but I’m not somebody who can go and play in a band. Doing recorded music that has a lot of character in the mix often sounds a bit wishy washy live. It makes sense to go and tour it and I’m kind of handicapping myself by not touring it, so I might have a think about it for the next one.

I am doing an AV show in New York in May. There will be several screens in a circle and a slightly deconstructed version of the album playing. I told Jonathan [Zawada, artist who designed Under The Sun artwork] to do whatever he wanted. I have been sending him stuff for a couple of years and he’s done an image for every track. It’s nice to do something that’s in the world and an experience for people.

What do you have in the pipeline?

I basically want to start another album. There’s a few EPs as well which I might put out, but I’m aware that this album took so long that if I keep finishing off EPs I’ll be ages before I get another album out. I also want to get some of my other club music into the world. I’ve been working on some Detroit techno stuff and I’ve got loads of jungle and hip hop too.

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