The experimental UK producer goes deep on his new album Value and shares a mix covering Chicago rap, Enya and Miles Davis
The opening track of Visionist’s latest album Value is called “Self-.” A quick glance and the hyphen could go unnoticed; a half-hearted listen and you’d only hear the song’s immediacy. But that hyphen suggests a sense of open-ended possibility, and by the third or fourth play, the amalgamation of glacial tones and crackling percussion carves out a multilayered sonic expanse.
“That’s why you have to give it time,” the London artist – real name Louis Carnell – explains. “I know that it’s always going to be a challenge to people, but I feel like they get it more and more over the years.”
Carnell is patient – he’s been making music for over a decade already, and his sound has already gone through several distinct iterations. He initially established himself with the rise of the so-called ‘new wave’ of grime, emerging as a producer at the same time the likes of Logos, Rabit, and Mssingno. His debut full-length Safe, however, took the icy melodies of the genre, warped its rhythms, and twisted in ghostly vocal samples. Meant to comprehensively explore the mental and physical processes of an anxiety attack, Safe was critically acclaimed and released just before the music industry began to more vocally discuss mental health.
Two years later, Value is meant to be a complete and total exploration of the self, about feeling and understanding one’s limits and then pushing past them, an exercise in balancing strength and fragility. There’s a sharpness of intention to the music that demands our active effort as listeners, to think about what exactly the abrasive textures and gentle melodies are doing, and how they are doing it. It’s not all introspection, though – Carnell is also known for his interdisciplinary partnerships, previously working with innovators like avant-garde musician and artist Fatima Al Qadiri and scoring a runway show for menswear designer Liam Hodges. Value’s striking artwork was shot by Raf Simons collaborator and The Life of Pablo sleeve designer Peter De Potter, and artists Pedro Maia and Frederik Heyman are both involved with the visuals for the album campaign.
Carnell has put together our latest Dazed Mix, and it’s one that deftly eschews genre in favour of eliciting as many visceral emotions as possible – at its peak, there’s a three-track trajectory of Chicago rap, eerie new-age, and lo-fi acoustic crooning from Fredo Santana, Enya, and Mal Devisa respectively. Listen below, check out the exclusive interview, and catch Visionist at London’s Ormside Projects on December 7, with a live A/V set from Pedro Maia.
In a statement regarding the album, you say, ‘aesthetic can be achieved by everyone, but approach separates the individual.’ What’s your creative process like?
Visionist: The way I see it, in music, there are restrictions. There are only so many sounds and rhythms you can create. There’s this rigid environment that you can be put into, because everything needs to be sold and put into a category – if there are a few musicians suddenly using the same sounds, it’s almost presumed that you all are friends, or you all made this music because of the same reason. For me, I’ve found that’s really not the case; everything that is created by me is a story that I’m giving, so that makes it different from the next person’s story. But then it also can relate to an audience because there are similarities in what people go through, and that’s what makes it a greater topic, and not so insular.
I choose my topics early, in terms of albums, and I stick with them and it’s not so much about what’s going on in the world, just what’s going on with me. I don’t really think about genre, I mainly think about it what it is I need to know in order to create a certain feeling, and then I think about sound, and what sounds I think help emphasise the emotion or the story that I’m trying to create within a track. I also control that with a theoretical musical sense, in terms of classical music. That’s always the starting point, in terms of melody.
What was the thinking behind using your own vocals on a Visionist project for the first time?
Visionist: It made sense to be literally using my voice; it seemed like the next move for me. I used to sing, not trying to become a singer at any point, but it just made sense for me to see what I can do with my own voice. Listening back, it feels that much more special and personal. It’s an extra feeling for myself. The way I came into music was via singing, so it’s time to open those doors a little bit again.
You’ve also mentioned that Value takes up the tension between strength and vulnerability – how so?
Visionist: It’s more based around mind (rather than body), and strength of mind and self-discovery, but also dealing with everything that’s thrown at you, whether that be something that you caused yourself, or from others. In terms of sonic display, it’s a contrast of the two – what is considered strength is usually quite big and powerful, or euphoric. Fragile is more like delicate. But at the same time, I’m working between the hierarchy of genre and sound and trying to show that these sounds can fit together and create one story. We don’t have to deal with all these things as separates, they all intertwine. I’m in this no man’s land, with where I come from musically and the stereotypes of dealing with music that is so vulnerable. If I come across confident, it’s considered arrogant, and when I’m giving a vulnerable side to me, people can’t deal with that either. I think in terms of soft (sounds), there’s definitely strength in it, because when you work with these sounds and the sense of space, it leaves you, as a listener, a chance to think within that. Sometimes the scariest thing is to be caught in silence.
“I’m in this no man’s land, with where I come from musically and the stereotypes of dealing with music that is so vulnerable. If I come across confident, it’s considered arrogant, and when I’m giving a vulnerable side to me, people can’t deal with that either” – Visionist
That being said, you’ve had a lot of collaborators. Does the creative process ever feel communal in any way?
Visionist: There’s definitely a bit of an isolation when I’m writing the music. I’ve worked with a lot of people, but it’s more that I’ve selected these people for a reason, not just based on what they do aesthetically, but their approach to their work. Even though (it’s personal), everything I work on is something that people can relate to, because they go through similar things. I’ve been in situations like that with my anxiety, I’ve been in group meetings and I became quickly aware of how this affects many people – it was actually beneficial for me to hear other people’s stories.
What did the story of this album look like?
Visionist: It was (borne of) a culmination of experiences from the release of my last album (Safe), the moment of those two years. I felt like there were a few things that happened within (the release process) that were quite shocking for me. Because with that record, talking about anxiety… (there was an) initial narrative that was put around me and then whether I even had anxiety or not, which was kind of crazy to me. But then a month later, a bigger artist comes out and everyone’s like ‘We need to support (mental health).’ I felt like no one was saying that when my album came out really, at the beginning. But then when it became this bigger thing with more people jumping in, it was like, ‘Now we want to speak to you about it.’ I didn’t write the record for help, it was what I was going through and had been going through from around the age of 19 – it just made sense. I have to allow these experiences to be let out in a kind of cathartic manner and go through them and reflect on them.
So this new record is a response to that.
Visionist: Yeah, a response to many challenges… I don’t feel like I got anything from the music industry from (Safe), but again I don’t know if I was looking for that, I don’t know if I was expecting that.
“I want to write music for the rest of my life... it’s something that I don’t want to lose at any point. But I have to gain some control within it all, otherwise I’m just not going to be healthy” – Visionist
Anxiety tends to lend itself to a sense of restlessness, both in the macro and the micro sense. How do you deal with that, musically or otherwise?
Visionist: You have to acknowledge what’s going on, but not let it become your everything. For me, the new experience of being super busy and travelling all the time, I didn’t cope with it as well as I thought I would, straightaway. So I had to reassess that and carry on and still be able to perform to people and travel and see all these countries that I got the privilege to see. Being able to step away and finding other routines was kind of nice, because we are in this (mindset of) ‘What’s next, what’s next?’
Over the last few years, I’ve found myself really enjoying being outside and leaving London and being in the countryside; finding that place of rest, being confident enough that when I get back into writing music, it’s not something I’m just going to lose because I haven’t done it for a couple months. It allows me to feel fresh when I get back into it. It’s so easy to be like ‘This is my whole life.’ It’s definitely one of the most important things, music, I feel like I want to write music for the rest of my life. I don’t know in what capacity or in what time frame, but I definitely feel like it’s something that I don’t want to lose at any point. But I have to gain some control within it all, otherwise I’m just not going to be healthy.
It’s definitely important to be cognisant of that, especially within this industry.
Visionist: There’s this preconception that when you step away, it’s like, ‘Oh, you’re done.’ But that doesn’t mean anything. It just means you don’t know what I’m up to right now, and that’s fine, you don’t need to and you will do at some point. That’s kind of how this record has happened. I think people probably are surprised by what I’ve achieved with it and who I’m working with, and that’s because I focus on my craft and my approach to my craft. It’s this battle of control. Control can seem like such a harsh word, but for me control is actually solitude.
How do you stay relaxed and maintain that control on a day-to-day basis?
Visionist: I tend to listen to music that’s a little bit more upbeat in feeling, but not in terms of happiness, more as in energy. I’m also exercising a lot at the moment, that’s great routine for me. I live near a park and my gym is in a park, so every day I walk through a park. Little things like that. I’m an only child, so for me being by myself is fine, I’m used to it. But to be amongst people is really important too, for grounding as well. And (having) patience. I do get frustrated, (thinking) ‘This should happen now,’ but then I have to be like, no, just keep working hard.
01. Sinead O’Connor – “Feel So Different”
02. Visionist – “No Idols”
03. Steve Reich – “Electric Counterpoint”
04. Visionist – “High Life”
05. DJ Rome – “Unknown”
06. JK Flesh – “Kontorted”
07. Steve Reich – “It's Gonna Rain”
08. Visionist – “Your Approval”
09. KK Null & Deison – “Alone”
10. Fredo Santana – “Turnt They Back”
11. Enya – “Boadicea”
12. Mal Devisa – “Fire”
13. Visionist – “The Rain Will Fall”
14. Miles Davis – “It’s About The That Time”
15. Laraaji – “I Am Sky”
16. Visionist – “Homme”
17. Terry Jennings – “Winter Sun”
18. Akira Rabelais – “Gorgeous curves lovely fragments”
19. Trippie Redd – “Deeply Scared”
20. Alice Smith – “I Put A Spell On You”
Visionist plays London’s Ormside Projects on December 7, with a live A/V set from Pedro Maia