Ekoplekz is the artist name of Nick Edwards, a 44-year-old property developer from Bristol, whose fantastic debut album of experimental noise, Unfidelity, is released today on UK electronic label Planet Mu. Like many underground electronic musicians, Edwards’s outsider narrative is by now a very familiar one, yet his journey into music remains unique. As a teenager in the 80s, he began writing hip-hop and electro, but fell into inactivity after getting married and having kids. When he reappeared in the early 2000s, he changed course and began promoting the new sounds of Bristol’s emerging dubstep scene through his now defunct music blog, Gutterbreakz.
Despite his popularity, Edwards retired his keyboard in 2009 to start writing music again, this time as Ekoplekz. As such, Unfidelity is very much a product of the depth of his experience. Contained within its heavily analogue sound – a nod to his roots as a musician in the 80s – are a multitude of styles. "C-90" sounds like an early Sähkö release, "Severn Beach" contains a heavy dose of dub techno a la Basic Channel and "Sleng Zen" could be a product of the imagination of Cabaret Voltaire’s Richard Kirk. And of course there are, unsurprisingly, flashes of dubstep, too.
What feels unique about this record is how these styles flow in and out of one another, rather being arranged as a retro pastiche. And while the record proudly uses old school analogue techniques, its highly stylised aesthetic and well-crafted noises create a balance – even a bridge – between lo-fi’s often fuzzy, monotone aesthetic and maximalism’s highly detailed, squeaky-clean production values. Speaking from his home in Bristol, Edwards revealed some of the the methods and influences behind this utterly original record.
Ekoplekz: It’s interesting you mention Hype Williams because we started around the same time, and I think we’ve clearly got similar tastes, although they’ve obviously been more successful than I have. What’s different is that my approach mixes lo-fi-sound with an intentionally produced one, creating this middle ground between low fidelity and high fidelity, hence the album’s title, ‘Unfidelity’. When I’m writing I’ll record everything on tape and then mix it down digitally, giving it this raw sound that’s still quite complex.
With regards to what’s going on underneath, it’s just a case of all my influences bleeding into my music. I love Throbbing Gristle, Pan Sonic, and early 90s Warp records as well as the BBC Radiophonic Workshop stuff. But I never go into the studio thinking, ‘I’ve got to write a techno tune,’ these things just seem to happen. I’m also a fan of dub, and artists like King Tubby and Lee ‘Scratch’ Perry. I tend to mix my records live, adding effects and bits of echo, just like they would have back in the 1970s.
DD: Your last release, Ekowrekz, on Mordant Music, was nearly two-hours long while Unfidelity is under an hour. Why is this release comparatively so short?
Ekoplekz: It’s down to Mike Paradinas (Planet Mu label boss). This is the first record where I’ve provided the music and someone else has decided which tracks to use and how long it’s going to be. Mike chose what he wanted – he had almost twice as much stuff as he needed in the end, as I’d been writing and providing him material from November 2012 until we finished in October last year. There are tracks that I would have liked on the record, but I respect Mike, he knows what he’s doing. And now I’ve heard it a few times it all seems natural, whereas there were times when I wasn’t so sure. I was surpised as anyone.
DD: Bristol’s music scene has a reputation for producing artists such as Pinch, Shackleton and Appleblim who straddle dance music and more avant-garde styles. Why do you think this is?
Ekoplekz: In the early day when artists like Pinch were starting to import dubstep from Croydon, I think it was because people were just really bored of the drum 'n' bass scene. It had dominated the city for years, and dubstep just sounded new. During that period I still didn’t have time to make music, but I regularly attended the gigs, and wrote the scene on my blog, reporting on different artists that were coming out of Bristol. That was around 2003. Today, we take it for granted that anyone can publish their opinions online, but back then it was revolutionary, and to an extent helped popularise what was happening in places like Bristol, because mainstream music publications couldn’t grasp it or didn’t want to. I remember when people first started publishing MP3s online – it blew my mind! But the result of that is that young people today have greater access to all sorts of different types of music, and therefore are much more open to avant-garde styles, whereas before, scenes tended to cluster around one particular sound.
DD: What else have you got planned?
Ekoplekz: Do you know West Norwood Cassette Library? The guy who runs it’s a good friend of mine from way back. We always said that if I ever came up with something that was dancy, we’d put a record together, and it’s finally happening. It’s all done, but I don’t think it’s coming out until August. I think it’ll surprise a few people.