This Saturday, VOID brings Ceephax Acid to Shanghai for a live set. The London-based musician has been making some of the strangest, most unlikely electronic music for the past 15 years, releasing two albums on Aphex Twin’s Rephlex Records, as well as numerous EPs on Breakin’ Records, Firstcask and 030303. Last year he released United Acid Emirates, a 14-track album on one of the most celebrated labels of recent times, Planet Mu.
But his music is unlike almost any other stuff you hear. He makes psychedelic, queasy acid house that’s equal parts Aphex Twin and Nintendo NES. He never DJs, he only plays live, always exclusively using banks of 30-year-old drum machines and synthesizers. He doesn’t even use a computer to sync them up.
His music is silly, lush, old-school and the perfect antidote to dry, po-faced minimalism. Check this one out. This one's a belter, too. Then some get really hard and acidic, like this. It’s music to go wild to. It’s music to lose your mind to.
Ceephax: Yep, pretty much finished that, just tinkering a bit with the sound. That will be on Waltzer. I think it's a bit more introspective than United Acid Emirates. Finishing that has taken up a lot of my time this year, but I've been playing live quite a bit, seeing a lot of France, and getting over to Holland and Belgium, too.
Ceephax: They seem to love it. It’s always interesting to see who gets into my stuff. Sometimes it's not the country but where you play. I played in a tiny village in Brittany recently and everyone was going insane, although that may have had something to do with the adjacent organic wine festival. City folk can be become a bit more complacent if they have a never-ending choice of good music to hear.
Ceephax: Crowds tend to be more hostile if you're billed with the wrong acts. But no, the most hostility I get is the odd drunk student girl requesting dubstep in my face.
Ceephax: No, to be honest. I don't listen to much new stuff. I have the musicians I like and will listen to a lot, but I've never blanket-listened to genres, I'm too picky. I've heard dubstep tunes that make me feel ill, but then I've heard other tunes that I think are really good, although not exactly my sort of thing, so I'm not going to go down the "I hate this or that" route, because there are always good musicians within every type of music.
Ceephax: I hear that about every four or five years. It's funny, because I often get booked with other acid DJs or musicians, it feels like it never went away. But on a wider scale I don't think it would be a bad thing if people could inject something new into it. If a return to the roughness and randomness, the freakishness of acid house could be brought in, it would be a nice antidote to the over-controlled, tiny sounds that are popular.
Ceephax: Yeah, I must say that clinical behavior is slightly absurd. OK, be clinical when you're conducting a symphony but not when your EQing the click from a high-end coffee blender.
Ceephax: I'd like to make serious videos, but I've no idea how. So instead I just make them as fun and daft as possible. They take a long time because they often contain hundreds of images made on my old Commodore Amiga, each of which has to be mouse-drawn. Also, collecting the footage for something like the Sidney's Sizzler video (or here if you haven't got a VPN) can't just be done in a few weeks, you have to go places, have different haircuts and so on. The actual editing process probably takes a few weeks.
Ceephax: Of course.
Ceephax: No, I drew them myself.
Ceephax: I did! Over a period of years. I still do some now and again. Drawing is something that has taken a backseat due to music, but I love to do it when I have time.
Ceephax: Yeah, it's amusing to see how it goes wrong in a way. Four-color Bic biros. I grew up right through the 80s a lot of that stuff is kind of stamped into my brain. Hard-wired in. So computer game graphics from the Commodore 64 and Vic 20, 80s jumpers, which often share the look of computer graphics from that time.
The general atmosphere of the 80s, often the more forgotten bleaker sides, too, like the pollution and stuff. For instance, many of my favorite films -- Repo Man, Return of the Living Dead, Robocop -- have these nuclear, toxic waste themes going on that reflect the more serious concerns of the time, Chernobyl, the Cold War etc. I think my next album kind of feeds off these darker themes, instead of the brash lazery type 80s that is quite fashionable at the moment.
Ceephax: “The more you drive, the less intelligent you are…”
Ceephax: I'm bringing my flotilla of Roland hardware TR-707, TR-909, SH-101, TB-303, and my Ensoniq SQ-80. Yes it's a massive pain in the arse. But another part of me asks, would I be asked to play in Shanghai if I didn't bother to make this effort? OK I could play off a memory stick if I wanted, but why be lazy? In the end, job satisfaction is key. The other point is that at least a few members of the crowd very much enjoy the fact that they're hearing sounds generated straight from hardware synths, I think it sounds better too. I have to tell myself all of this in order to motivate myself.
Ceephax: Yeah that's it! It helps get the crowd going.
Ceephax: My computer isn't that good. Once I got a Yamaha CS80 patch, which is a lot of synth-enthusiasts dream machine, and it used up 98 percent of my processor, had a latency of about a second and sounded pretty thin. I think things are much better now and maybe one day I'll get into the software side of things, but I must admit the inspiration I get from working on a computer is pretty small compared to just switching on a synth and playing on the machine directly.
Ceephax: I don't mind being a living fossil.
VOID Presents Ceephax Acid Crew, playing live on Saturday at the Shelter. Support from Shanghai Ultra, Tsu Sing, MHP and Steve Zammo, 10pm, 50rmb. Images grabbed from Sidney's Sizzler video.