Nathan Fake is a fascinating figure in electronic music, both an insider and outsider at the same time. He grew up in Norfolk, a rural county in the east of England, isolated from hip cultural centres – and his love of electronic music initially came purely from hearing the likes of Orbital and Aphex Twin on the radio. He started making music purely for himself, unconnected to any kind of scene.
But in 2003, he met James Holden. Holden had made a name as a teenage prodigy in relatively commercial trance music, but was in the process of dramatically broadening his own sound, founding the Border Community label to do so. Fake's genre-dissolving sounds were a perfect fit with Holden's vision, and he quickly signed him to Border Community, starting a long and fruitful relationship.
In the years since, Fake's style has roamed from the most abstract of electronica through dream ambience to thoroughly banging dancefloor material, never once allying himself with any scene. Some might find this lack of categorisability to be an obstacle to success, but not in this case: he's remixed everyone from Radiohead to big club names like Tiefschwarz, and remains in demand for clubs and festivals worldwide.
Or he did until the Covid-19 lockdown anyway. It's perhaps ironic that he can't gig his new album Blizzards, as even though it's still delightfully strange, it's one of his most direct and danceable record – aimed, as he puts it, at “an ideal rave”. It might, in fact be his most consistently great album to date. We spoke to him at home back in Norfolk to find out more about what led him to this new focus, and what he hopes listeners will get from it.
How's lockdown going for you? Is it affecting the way you interact with music?
It's going ok I guess... boredom mixed with unease, haha. I've been listening to a bunch of quite old stuff actually, some of it a bit embarrassing too, but I have been taking the time to check out some new bits on Bandcamp. I've been really enjoying just having music on in the other room quietly while I'm at home, something weirdly fascinating about how your brain processes music when it's just within earshot.
How about your own new music? Has the radically new context altered how you feel about it?
I think this album will certainly stick in my mind forever as the one that came out during coronavirus! But no, the music is what it is and I still feel very attached to it completely separately from the physical world.
This album feels more sonically focused compared to Providence which was more diverse and exploratory – did it feel that way when you were making it?
To me they both feel very focused... in fact Providence was probably made in a more compressed timeframe and ended up quite playful in terms of what it set out to be, whereas Blizzards is a lot more focused in its premise, though musically it sounds a lot more fun and playful, ha! I think I agonised a lot more over Blizzards too, as Providence was probably quite carte blanche in comparison and just sort of happened quite chaotically. Blizzards is definitely the album I've agonised the most over in general, trying to get it sounding perfect.
You've talked about "soundtracking the ideal rave" – do you actually have a picture of that rave in your mind?
Yes, that was basically the idea behind Blizzards when I initially set out to make the album – it's quite undulating really, though, so it probably wouldn't work at an actual rave very well in its entirety, haha... But to me it is exactly what I look for and enjoy in club, rave, festival: electronic music, euphoric and melodic but not trite, sounding a bit raw or broken, also sounding very fuzzy or warped round the edges as if your brain isn't quite tuning into it properly, or you're perceiving it a bit differently to how it was intended. I'm really fascinated by that idea of different people hearing the same music in different ways from each other.
Do you also think in terms of genres and eras? Providence feels like a very modernist record, while Blizzards certainly has some of the 21st century club sound, but also more 90s sounds and rhythms. Is any of that conscious?
It's definitely conscious in some part, also the thing i find fascinating is that in terms of electronic music, drums change everything. Providence is basically totally free of steady 4/4 kick drums, where Blizzards is largely techno and house influenced drum patterns. I'd say Providence in hindsight probably owes quite a lot to early Autechre albums, even though that's not my favourite of Autechre's stuff… though parts of Blizzards are very obviously referencing 90s electronic music in an homage really – like, I kind of want people to notice that, haha. I've always enjoyed taking various elements that probably shouldnt work together and try and smash them together, like North Brink has almost kind of garage beats mixed with a quite un-garagey twinkly melody... I just find that sort of thing really fun.
You often reference landscape, weather and the elements in track titles and art: do you still feel rooted in particular places, despite presumably spending a lot of your life traveling?
Well I've always been obsessed with geography, since I was a little kid – though weirdly I never did any real travelling until I started touring with music. I've always loved looking at maps, reading about geographical features and so on, and I'm not really sure where that comes from. But yeah, despite that I am very attached to the place I live, just I really like that familiarity if I am travelling a lot, something familiar to come home to. Never been a nomadic kind of person... I could probably get used to living anywhere really, though, I don't have the desire to live in the same place my whole life.
Is your music political? Referencing Tblisi – where the Bassiani club has been the centre of resistance of authoritarianism – in a track title might suggest you think dance music and culture can have a political, or maybe countercultural, edge...?
Essentially I would say no, my music is absolutely not political. I guess the thing about instrumental music is that people can choose to perceive or project anything onto it, which is 100% fine with me, though maybe the title or general feel of the music might steer them towards thinking a certain thing... I dunno really. Tbilisi is just inspired by a weekend I spent there gigging – though I am very aware of the turbulence Georgia has gone through, I feel like it's none of my business making a bouncy techno record about it. I would love my music to be escapism from social and political problems for people, as that's definitely how I see it. Tbilisi the track was definitely inspired by the techno scene there being a very abstract bubble in quite an unexpected corner of the world, and I feel like my music is also probably quite a pleasant bubble to be in, haha!
What are your immediate plans now?
What with current lockdown/quarantine in place, not a great deal... still tweaking my live show for when everyone can finally go on tour again... keeping an eye on the news… there will be another single from Blizzards at some point, so preparing that too.
How about the music scene and community more generally – do you have any sense where things are going next?
It might take a while for venues to recover from this whole thing as there could be a hangover of virus paranoia for some time after it blows over? Of course people might want to party harder than ever after all this, though, so who knows. I think it's definitely feeding people’s creativity at the moment though! There will definitely be some interesting art coming out of all this.
Cover Image: Laura Lewis
Writer | Joe Muggs
Joe Muggs is a writer, DJ and curator of many years standing, covering both mainstream and underground. His book 'Bass, Mids, Tops', covering decades of UK bass music, is out now via Strange Attractor / MIT Press, and you can subscribe to his newsletter at tinyletter.com/joemuggs