Contort Yourself: An interview with Samuel Kerridge
Despite his rave roots, the Berlin-based artist’s new album and the club night he promotes draw further away from techno and deeper into the post-apocalyptic dance fringes of the revered Downwards label it’s released on. Angus Finlayson investigates.
There’s plenty of dark, challenging techno around at the moment, but the output of Samuel Kerridge stands alone. First emerging with an EP on Horizontal Ground last year, Kerridge’s sound is as romantic as it is grim, a bleak death march through some snow-blown apocalyptic landscape. In conversation, the Berlin-based Kerridge—these days he goes simply by his second name—seems hesitant to use the “techno” descriptor at all. Certainly, while his early output often retained a stodgy four-four stomp in amongst the noxious soundscaping, his forthcoming album seems less beholden to the dancefloor than ever. The seven tracks found on A Fallen Empire, appearing through the renowned Downwards imprint, retain a rhythmic backbone, but explore a form of frostbitten drone more indebted to the fringes of the Birmingham label’s revered back catalogue—or, indeed, the broader tradition of industrial music—than to the landscape of contemporary Berlin.
Along with his wife Hayley, Kerridge also runs a Sunday daytime event in the city. Contort has seen the likes of Downwards boss Regis, Bill Kouligas, Cristian Vogel, and more perform unconventional sets at Kreuzberg arts space Mindpirates, under the slogan “NOT just another techno/house party.” But while Kerridge’s creative demeanor is one of militant resistance to all things mediocre, in person he is a remarkably mild fellow, more than willing to hold forth on the failings of Berlin’s nightlife, why Regis ought to be on the public payroll, and the raving inspiration that is his father.
Your club event, Contort, seems to be going from strength to strength lately. How long has it been running for?
We started it after a few months of living in Berlin. The first two parties were just friends and a few curious people, nothing to write home about. But there was this feeling that it was something special. And I think after I released on Horizontal Ground there was a draw to it. And the place is good. It’s an arts space. It affects a lot of people when they go in there—it’s really overpowering. The main thing is—I know we’re not the first night ever to have done it—but we are offering something different in Berlin. I suppose a Sunday daytime event of this sort of caliber is quite different. Like when Karl [O’Connor, aka Regis] played, he’d played Berghain the night before, and he played a jungle set. I think it’s just offering people something that little bit different.
Did it come out of you thinking there was something lacking in Berlin’s nightlife?
Oh yeah, totally. To be honest, we’d never been here before we moved, me and Hayley. We were in Manchester, and thought, “Do you know what, let’s move to Berlin.” Before I came here I thought, “I’m sure at every party there’s going to be this weird, experimental, fucked-up music going on in one room, it’s going to be amazing.” But we moved here and it was just techno, tech-house, or house, and that was it. There were a few good nights, but it wasn’t what I expected or what I was led to believe, like it was in the nineties. So there was a gap in the market I think, and that’s why [Contort] has been so successful so far.
Regis has played a big part in your success—through the Downwards releases, obviously, but as I understand it he helped sort out the Horizontal Ground EP too. Do you guys speak regularly?
Yeah, more via email, it’s an email relationship at the moment. But he’s a little jet-setter isn’t he, he’s all over the world [laughs]. His support has been amazing. He’s definitely the modern day John Peel. I think he should be working for the BBC—although he’d probably hate that. But yeah, to meet someone that’s so enthusiastic and not self-centered—he really just cares about nurturing talent. If he’s really into it, he’ll really push you.
I’ve seen the two of you talk about techno in similar terms. He has always described it as just a vehicle for ideas, and in your Quietus interview you said that techno is, “like any artform, an expression rather than specifically a genre.” So I wondered what kind of ideas or emotions you were trying to express through techno?
When I see people refer to my music as techno—I don’t really see it as that. But if people want to pigeonhole it into that… some of it admittedly is, it’s techno-oriented, it’s got that influence. I don’t now. People listening to my music probably think I’m a dark sadistic fucker, but I’m not [laughs]. I’m actually alright! There’s a lot of emotion and soul that goes into when I’m making music—it’s a really emotional process. But I’m not trying to express any deep emotional scars I’ve got from childhood.
Is it fair to say that the things you’re trying to express through your music take you quite far away from the dancefloor? Does the idea of making functional dance music just not interest you at all?
I’d have to disagree. When I’m creating music I’m envisaging the impact it would have on the dance floor, that is my expression. If anything, the dancefloor is where it is supposed to be. People can be naive and dismiss it because it isn’t conventional club fodder, but home listening doesn’t do it justice. Crowds really lose themselves to my live sets, it’s a very intense affair. In my eyes, my whole output is centred around dancefloors. A lot of it falls down to what your stance on “functional” is.
I wonder if you dislike the disposable aspect of dance music, too. In the Quietus interview you said, “Iʼd like to leave a legacy, not a five-minute Beatport chart.” But I guess leaving a legacy doesn’t necessarily mean moving away from the dancefloor?
Definitely not, there is some great music past and present made for the dance which has and will stand the test of time. I’m not some Croc-wearing anti-dancefloor fascist. My gripe, and I’m not alone, is with the sheer amount of shit music out there. And I don’t blame this on the internet, with it being easier to release music, because years ago there was a huge amount of vinyl out and we still had the same problem. The shameful fact of it all is there is a lot of throwaway music. People are conned by shepherds, and generally the flock follows. But you know when you’re watching a great DJ, when every record stands on its own, their crate is filled with pieces of music, not tools. When you buy a record, you have to think, “Will I still be playing this in two, five, ten years’ time?” Most of the time, it’s a no.
Let’s talk about the LP. Is there a particular concept behind it that sets it apart from the EPs?
It definitely captures a moment in time. All of those tracks were recorded in three or four months over winter. You were saying about expression earlier—I’m sure I was a little bit depressed last year. Last winter in Berlin was really dark, and went on for a long time. By the end of it, it was just horrible. And those tracks were made in that time, so they probably do reflect where I was mentally at the time.
I wanted to talk about your childhood—your parents were involved with the rave scene in ‘88, right?
You’ve said that they got you into a lot of sixties and seventies music as well. So were they a bit older than the average raver in ’88?
Yeah they were. But my dad still likes it now—he’s 63 now I think, he still goes out clubbing and loves it. When we got married in Ibiza a few years ago, he was like a little kid in a sweet shop, it was mental! So I think it’s never been age—it’s where your mental stage is. In ‘88 I was about three or four, so through the nineties I was growing up around this. My mum would go up to Manchester for the weekend, and my Dad would take me and my sister in our VW Camper Van on convoys through the woods to parties. We went on a camping holiday once and a Fantazia [rave] was happening round the corner. And he actually went one night—his mates dug a hole underneath the fence and he got in. The next day my mum was like, “He’s still not back—right, we’re going down there.” She marched us down to Fantazia. All the doormen had guns on them and stuff, I was shitting myself. They took us in, and we found my Dad in this tent, at seven in the morning, going mental. So I was just surrounded by it. I think a lot of kids growing up in the late eighties, early nineties were influenced, because it was all over the charts as well.
Having experienced those exciting, unifying moments of acid house and early rave as a child, is that something you yearn for? Do you miss it in contemporary dance music?
Absolutely, the hedonism has been lost. But attitudes in society have changed along the way too, willingly or unwillingly. It’s something I yearn for yes, and I don’t know if we will ever get that back, but I don’t cry about it. Thatcher was at the helm in England [then], so it wasn’t all shits and giggles! Its all about the here and now. Music is in a good place, there are some great things happening, boundaries being pushed, and I think it’s really exciting to see where the old guard and new are going. ~
Contort #7 takes place at Urban Spree in Berlin on this Sunday, November 3rd. Kerridge’s A Fallen Empire is out on Friday, November 15th via Downwards.
Published October 31, 2013. Words by Angus Finlayson.