English producer Roof Light makes music too restless to settle down into any one niche, music that’s so fluid it can’t help but overwhelm the shallow barriers of categorization and classification. It’s music that will flood your senses until you can’t differentiate between them anymore, until everything is one sensuous blur of bleed-through. His meditative and introspective music feels totally singular, yet clearly influenced by both contemporaries and idols of the past; it coaxes out semblances of other musics, snatches them up and creates its own patchwork composite. His music falls somewhere in the general vicinity of bass music, with a lot of it sitting comfortably next to the more forward-thinking, experimental dubstep while carrying the distinct alienation of early-mid-90s IDM.
Releasing his debut EP In Your Hands on the German Styrax label in 2009, his first releases already demonstrated a remarkable grasp of his worn-in sound, and the release still sounds fresh and new, standing quite ably next to his monolithic recent output. Following that was a pair of much dancier tunes for the formidable nu-garage label L2S Recordings, the lovely “Street Level” single that my colleague Sam Olson reviewed back in May. But this month he has unleashed his crown jewel, debut album Kirkwood Gaps for esteemed London experimental imprint Highpoint Lowlife. Kirkwood Gaps and its accompanying EP What Makes You So Special? are some of the most haunting, intensely personal and transportive records of the year, skipping trends and fashion in favour of pure honesty. If that duo weren’t enough (though it is noting that the EP is yet to be released at the publication of this article in June 2010), June also sees the release of his first EP for MJ Cole’s Prolific label, the jaw-dropping Harlem Power EP, which spans the poles from Munday’s most beat-oriented garage stormers to his most ambient soundscapes, not to mention the transcendent “Harlem Power” which is one of the most inspiring bass music tracks you’re ever likely to hear.
Long story short, Roof Light’s music is incredible. Superlatives aside, the man himself is rather humble, and his influences and preferences perhaps surprising. While his output obviously spans (metaphorical) decades as well as genres, there are some unexpected names brought into the discussion that really illustrates Munday’s pure love for music, a love that shines in his carefully-produced music. Munday was kind enough to agree to an interview with to go along with the column, and he answered a lot of questions via e-mail:
So who are you, where are you, what do you do?
I’m Gareth, from Surrey and I work full time.
How long have you been making music and what was the catalyst that made you start?
On and off for about 25 years. I just wanted to play around and record stuff on cassette recorders.
When did you start making music that was most comparable to the kind you make today?
Really only a year and a half ago.
In more general terms, how would you describe your music? There’s obviously a huge fluctuation in styles, but would you say it’s grounded in anything?
Not really, I’m not worried about categories. I do whatever ‘feels’ right at the time.
What sort of stuff do you usually listen to, what is your ‘background’ so to speak?
I listen to such a wide range of music from all over the world, I don’t have enough space to list it all! Suffice to say all the contemporary stuff as well as a whole slew of musical history.
Why did you start making electronic music, and what sort of electronic music do you like/listen to?
All music if it’s recorded is ‘electronic.’ I wanted to start again from ground zero. Now the technology is accessible, relatively easy to use and most importantly, fast. I can use the computer like an old analogue tape recorder with similar results. I like this aspect. If I want to connect a microphone and sing, I can.
As a kid I first got into Easy Listening, lounge stuff I suppose, then Tomita, Eno and classical composers like Debussy, Ravel, Poulenc, Satie, Vaughn Williams. There’s a lot of ovelap in terms of stylistic references with those individuals, Thanks to John Peel, Rankin’ Miss P, Roddigan, Robbie Vincent, i got Soul music, Disco, Gospel, Early electronic music, wendy Carlos et al, Reggae/Dancehall/Lovers Rock, British synth stuff like Human League, Fad Gadget etc. Then Electro, Hip-hop, a lot of indie guitar bands, Psych, Rock, Rave culture/Sound Systems, Ambient/Field recordings/Environmental, Detroit Techno, House, Jungle, Drum And Bass, all the usual stuff really. I’ve only briefly touched on them here. I went very deep into these over 30 years or so.
I hear a lot of different things in your music, different genres and different artists and producers; Aphex Twin especially comes to mind in the beautiful edginess of a track like “Kite Tails and Redwings,” and I also hear a lot of the more oblique producers like Actress in the fogginess and hesitance of your production. What are some artists that have had a big impact you on your sound, and who are your ‘heroes’?
That’s very kind of you! I appreciate the work of Richard James, I used to see him buying records in FatCat in Seven Dials, Covent garden years ago. I used to spend a lot of time in that shop. He certainly forged his own path, I wouldn’t say that I’m influenced by his music, maybe it’s more subliminal than that.
The Actress comparison has been made before i seem to recall, I need to listen to his work. I’ve not heard the albums.
A few people I admire out of many (again I don’t have the space to list them all):
John Foxx, Bibio, My Bloody Valentine, Cocteau Twins, Dif Juz, David Sylvian, Max Richter, Felt, New Order, Dionne Warwick, Stevie Wonder, The Specials, Scott Walker, Miles Davis, Bob James, Boards Of Canada, Christ, Mountain Man, weird old cassettes, any strange and obscure classical LP’s Richard Hawley, lots of old folk stuff like Shelagh Mc Donald, electronic stuff like The Black Dog, Pausal, Eno, lots of ‘Library’ musicians (and Library LP’s) like Keith Mansfield, John Cameron, James Clarke, Duncan Lamont, Tony Hatch, Johnny Harris. Burial, Wookie, Akufen, Lee Perry. This is just a fraction of what I listen to. We’d be here all day.
What are your feelings on ‘dubstep’ and how it relates to your music?
I don’t mind [being classified as dubstep] at all, there’s so many variables anyway. Some of my tunes don’t have a bass line which amuses me. Musical fashion does not interest me.
What led up to your first release, and why Styrax?
I like the label. I like Techno, particularly the Detroit movement, Styrax has some elements of that. They liked one of my first tracks, and the EP came out of that. I would like to continue working with them and we have a good relationship.
Your partnership with Highpoint Lowlife seems to be your most fruitful and certainly your most prominent so far; how did you get in touch with Thorsten and start working with the label?
I sent him some music after I had given some praise for the Pausal stuff, I sent a load of stuff over and again, the wheel was set in motion.
Whose idea was it to release an album? Do you identify with the album format more than a single or an EP?
Thorsten’s, simply because I had lots of pieces of music, he selected what he thought was appropriate and I made one or two changes. I prefer albums anyway as it’s more of a journey for the listener. By the same token what is needed is something that will hold the interest levels. EPs are still a good format though.
Is there a theme or concept running through the album that unites it as a coherent entity?
I never saw it that way really, there’s hip hop stuff, more Grime based stuff, Ambient, Techno… But it all hangs together nicely in an organic way.
Your sound seems to be opening up more and more as time goes on, encompassing more styles and trying new things; where do you see yourself going next?
I don’t have a plan as such, I create music with rhythms and without, with no set BPM or genre in mind. I’ve always got a load of stuff on the hard drive anyway, last count there were a couple of hundred pieces on there. I’d like to see tracks like ‘Last Station’ and ‘Gathering The Apples’ released at some point.
Aside from the LP and EP on Highpoint Lowlife, you also have an EP coming out on MJ Cole’s Prolific label. How did you end up working with Matt, and did you approach those tracks any differently than your other work considering that Prolific is a much more dance-oriented label?
I’d always been a fan of Matt’s recorded work. i sent some bits to him and we met for a beer, I went to his studio which was great, he chose what he wanted. Some of the tracks were made before we met up so I didn’t make them for any purpose other than just to make them! I genuinely don’t look to get my music on to any one label. Or to fit in with whatever is ‘cool’ at the time. There is no game plan or cynical marketing exercise at play. I got on very well with Matt, he has similar ideas and he is classically trained so he knows a lot more than people realise. He knows about field recordings!
There are two tracks on that EP that are particularly stunning; “Harlem Power” which is like an inspirational jumble of vocal samples and lush chords. Was there any inspiration behind that track? It sounds so spiritual and is one of the best things you’ve done. Any words about this track in particular?
Yeah, Gospel. That was the inspiration behind it. Just as Disco and Soul was with ‘Street Level’ thanks for the comparison, spiritual is a great word. Harlem took two days to do. It’s all tiny vocal snippets and piano samples. The drums were all samples.
The other one, and probably the most intriguing, is “Gunfighter in Negative,” which is mostly just guitar and vocals. Is that a sample of a recording or is that you playing guitar, and/or singing?
A bit of both! it’s me singing buried down in there and some of me playing theguitar. I tend to sample myself a lot.
How do you make your tracks; what do you use, hardware, software, etc. How much is sample based and how much are ‘original’ sounds?
I use the same tools everyone else does, (Logic, an old version which I don’t want to upgrade) I just try to make it sound more like an old tape machine. And I use it that way — hit record, grab a microphone and record it in, then I can manipulate it. I love old gear like Studer Reel to Reels, i just don’t have that much. I use old analogue tape recorders and Amps to roughen up the sound a bit. I like tape hiss, wow and flutter, it adds something intangible to the music! Most of the work is sample based with some live improvisation on top.
Relating to the question about “Gunfighter,” do you play any musical instruments and if so do you incorporate those sounds into your work?
Guitar, vocals, drums, Violin, keyboards a bit of clarinet. I get by. I would like to be a better guitar player though.
According to press materials and, er, hearsay, you’re evidently a very prolific artist. What drives this high work rate and do you have any other releases planned in the near future?
Thanks. I have a burning desire to get what’s in my mind out and into musical form, this process never stops. It’s not easy, I have a full time job as well as other commitments to fit it all around. I’m not complaining, as I am lucky not to be so reliant on trying to hawk my music around. I will still be doing this in 15 years time, it’s something I love doing, I don’t make music with any financial goal in mind. I’m patient as well. Sometimes people come to me and they ask for tracks or something, I usually oblige. I like to try to help out where I can. Life is not all one-way traffic, I cannot abide ignorance, if someone gets in contact then I will try my best to reply to that request, even if it’s a little while after the event.
There’s a few things. Millions Of Moments are putting out a two-track twelve, “Midas” b/w “Palm” very soon, there’s a final Highpoint Lowlife EP ‘What Makes You So Special’ with four tracks on it. There’s a few remixes, one for DFRNT and another for Muteqx over at Echodub, a remix for C.R.S.T on Car Crash Set, another for Yes Yes records from Australia. Another remix for Bigger Than Barry records in the UK, and a possible EP on Well Rounded. I’m also still with the Echodub crew, no doubt there’ll be some bits on there as well. I’d really like to put out my acoustic/ambient stuff. I’d like to find a suitable label. Warp had some tracks off me but never got back, it was nice to be asked though.
Do you do a live show or a DJ set, and if not, any plans to start something like this up?
I’d like to do some live stuff, maybe spin some records as well. Who knows.
Are there any other labels you’re dying to work with? A pressing question especially considering that Highpoint Lowlife is winding down…
Yes, I think the time was right for Thor to wind the label down, he has the control and wants to do other things. Respect to him for doing it. I’d love to work with FatCat, Warp and Modern Love — they’re the three main ones, [but] there’s a hell of a lot of smaller labels that I like. We’ll see!
What contemporary producer(s) or artist(s) are really exciting you these days? And what’s your favourite release of 2010 so far?
Oh there’s loads, best LP of this year has to be Tame Impala’s Innerspeaker it’s very good. Milyoo is one to watch out for, as is VVV — both make fresh music. I like the new Mono/Poly LP and the new Deepchord stuff. Sleepover are a girl group from the US I really like.
Anything else you’d like to throw in?
Thank you for giving me the opportunity to talk. I need to give up smoking!!!
Kirkwood Gaps is out now on Highpoint Lowlife, with the What Makes You So Special EP coming soon, as well as the Harlem Power EP out on Prolific Recordings very soon. Keep your eyes peeled to this space for a guest mix from Munday featuring unreleased material.