Climbing 68 places on the Dazed 100, could this 13-year-old electro-jazz prodigy be the next Philip Glass?
Henry Plotnick – the people's favourite experimental bedroom beatmaker – has climbed 68 places on the Dazed 100, from 94 to 26. For someone who released his first album on Holy Mountain aged 11, this insanely talented composer has not only bagged a recording contract, but has a swelling fan base to boot. Sure, it's not particularly unusual for pop artists to release music at a very young age, but normally the songs sound like “Whip My Hair” and they’ve been written and produced by about 50 middle-aged men. But Plotnick doesn't make the sort of pop music that would require avant-garde music champions Holy Mountain to radically change their release policy. He creates minimalist techno combining looping piano with keyboard drumbeats that layer and build into epic soundscapes people have compared to Brian Eno, Philip Glass and Terry Riley. He creates every element himself, alone in his bedroom.
Still just 13 years old, Plotnick is beginning to transcend his (amazing) influences, crafting a sound that’s uniquely his own. We chatted to Henry about what inspires him, where he sees his career going, and why he wears hats on stage.
What inspired you to make music in the first place?
Henry Plotnick: This is going to sound corny, but music in the first place. I’ve always been around music, my mom’s a musician, my dad’s a big music fan and we all listen to music. And from a young age, I wanted to be a part of it, I wanted to make it. That inspired me to start learning piano, and to make random songs on GarageBand. I wanted to be part of this thing I loved.
What do you admire most about Terry Riley and Philip Glass?
Henry Plotnick: When you start listening to one of their songs, it appears to be the same thing over and over again. Most people would react “I can’t listen to this, turn it off.” But if you have the patience to sit and listen for an hour and 20 minutes or whatever it might be, there’s just so much more that they subtly hid in the music that they give you time to find, as opposed to going to different places immediately. It’s a repetitive evolution of a song that only people with enough patience to listen to it could ever find. It’s a musical hide and seek.
Who else do you like?
Henry Plotnick: Electronic musicians like Brian Eno, and more mainstream stuff like Sufjan Stevens. I listen to a lot of Flaming Lips, and that more out there weird psychedelic blog stuff. And then there’s people who are more classical, like the Penguin Cafe Orchestra. And I’ve noticed that my stuff sounds a lot like Mike Oldfield, Tubular Bells stuff like that.
You mention The Flaming Lips, would you like to have a band yourself at some point?
Henry Plotnick: I think it would be great, because you can take a bunch of different people’s musical stylings and combine them into one project. The thing is, I’m 13 years-old and I’m playing strange music, so in my current position of being, it’s kind of hard to find people. If I find someone with my musical mind-set, who I could work well with, then why not? It’s just not easy to find minimalist electronic experimental musicians out there.
At the moment you make music using a keyboard and a loop pedal - would you ever like to go bigger, write for an orchestra for example?
Henry Plotnick: I think that would be really cool. I could use multiple keyboards, an orchestra, some crazy thing – I imagine myself conducting like some crazy guy. The problem would be is that all my stuff is very improvised, so I’d have to work on composing, but that would be really fun.
“It’s a repetitive evolution of a song that only people with enough patience to listen to it could ever find. It’s a musical hide and seek” – Henry Plotnick
What kind of feelings are you expressing with your music?
Henry Plotnick: All music is an expression of feelings. When I make my music I’ll start out with a musical idea, this little thought. Then I think, “Where can this thought go, where can it take me?” It can either take me into this dark ominous place, as if I was in an evil dream world, or I can make it happy, weeeeee! It can depend on how I’m feeling, what I’ve been inspired by in recent days, or it might be arbitrary, “What kind of musical ideas can go with this?” But I think instead of putting my feelings into music, I play my music and it inspires me in return. I’ll play the music and that will make me feel something.
Do you enjoy the live performance side of the business?
Henry Plotnick: It’s kind of intimidating, because when I’m recording I’m just in my room by myself and no-one is looking at me. I get nervous when a lot of people are staring at me. I just pretend they’re not there, block everything out and get into my zone. I’m probably not very interesting when I’m on stage, I have a blank expression because I’m in my zone. But then I don’t suppose Terry Riley puts on an epic show.
You wear a lot of hats on stage – how did they become a part of your style?
Henry Plotnick: I used to watch this science show called MythBusters and one of the guys always wore a beret, so I dressed as him for Halloween and realised I like wearing a beret. Then I wore it to one of my shows, and thought it was a great look for me. Then I got the top hat on vacation. Then the one day I didn't wear a hat, and I played a terrible show and realised “Okay, I need to wear the hat”.
How did you feel when you signed to Holy Mountain?
Henry Plotnick: That was so exciting, because I hadn’t done anything like I’m doing now – that was just using GarageBand and a keyboard hooked up to my computer. I told my friends I was releasing an album and everyone was “Whaaaat?” I got to go to the packaging company, to make sure the cover was right, to look at the double-vinyl, and we were mastering it… It was all so weird, and awesome.
You’ve started your career so early, what are your ambitions in music?
Henry Plotnick: To spread out a little bit. I like a lot of music that has singing. Maybe later, not now. And not necessarily lyrics, but some vocal element maybe. Vocal loops. I’m also considering more classical stuff, composing with different instruments. Also, I do a lot of jazz improvisation so I’d like to concentrate more on that. But my main goal is to keep doing what I’m doing and see where it goes.