The Whities producer’s fast-paced mix is a companion to his debut album, Second Language
One of the first things you’ll notice about Minor Science’s debut album Second Language is its pace. It’s not just the literal tempo of the record – although there are plenty of super-fast BPMs across it – but also the way that its tracks seem to fidget and change every few bars, constantly pushing forward before pulling the rug from under your feet. Spend more time with it, though, and you’ll start to appreciate what’s going on between these restless moments – the contemplative, melodic moments, the sheen of the synths, the intricacies of the drum patterns, the playful sense of humour running through it all. It’s unpredictable in a way that a lot of dance records, even good ones, often aren’t.
Minor Science (AKA Angus Finlayson, a familiar name to a lot of electronic music fans thanks to his prior journalism for Resident Advisor, FACT, and more) first started putting out records in the early 2010s, first with The Trilogy Tapes, and later with UK dance label Whities. Second Language’s title refers to the relationship between learned languages and the mother tongue, where translation cannot capture a language’s true depth of meaning. Its album sleeve is a photograph of a tablet carved by architectural sculptor George Edwards and bearing a translated Samuel Beckett quote, “Because it’s easier to write without style,” that resonated with Finlayson while making the record.
Finlayson put together our latest Dazed Mix, a similarly fast-paced run through 27 tracks in a little over an hour, and answered a few questions over email. His answers were written on a train from Budapest to Berlin, looking out the window of an empty compartment onto the Danube, before the coronavirus pandemic suddenly became so suddenly urgent. Check out the mix and interview below.
Why did you decide to make an album, and why now?
Minor Science: It felt logical to develop things in that direction, and I was having a hard time making another club 12” after the success of (2017 single) “Volumes”. It’s really tricky to make just a couple of tracks which have the presence and personality to cut through the noise and connect with people – and I started to overthink things and got completely stuck. With an album, the load is shared across more tracks, so you have more freedom to just fiddle around and let the music go where it wants.
How did the album evolve? How does its approach differ from the 12”s you put out with Whities before?
Minor Science: As above – fiddling! I started with a bunch of unfinished sketches going back as far as 2013, some new ones, and an initial idea which I quickly threw out. Then I chipped away for ages until it started to take shape. Then there was a long finalising process of trimming down and polishing up what I had. This is all very different to the previous 12” tracks, which tended to happen in a few weeks, or not at all.
How do the music and mother tongue themes come out in the album? Was it an explicit influence or more of a guiding idea in the back of your head? Is this a Conceptronica™ record?
Minor Science: I think the way we discuss ideas or ‘concept’ in music can be a bit misleading. They’re often seen as coming at two points in the process: either before the music gets made, as a sort of vessel that the music fills (fine, though you might have a prog rock-style concept album on your hands, uh oh), or bolted on at the end to give the music an intellectual sheen (bad! Disingenuous!).
The way it works for me (and I imagine others?) is a bit more complicated. There are certain ideas, thoughts, or things going on in my life which bleed into the music I’m making in unexpected ways. Once I notice this happening I start leaning into it, using these ideas to guide decision-making later on in the process.
To be more concrete about how that worked with the album: it centres on this idea of the relationship between a second language and a mother tongue, which I got interested in through learning languages myself (German and then French). A second language and a mother tongue aren’t simply interchangeable equivalents, partly ’cos they have a different place in your life, and partly because languages can never be truly equivalent – on a profound level, they’re not the same. No two languages have an exactly equivalent toolbox of words, vocal sounds, or even ideas to express. So translation between the two is always an act of interpretation, negotiation, and compromise, which can be both destructive and creative. Translation into a second language transfers a familiar thing into an unknown zone where it will change and might take on unexpected new meanings and resonances.
That’s the process that I started to see reflected in the album. Partly in terms of genre: I’d look at drafts I’d made and see that I was trying to ‘translate’ genres I was into (like, I dunno, dubstep, or speedy Detroit techno, or TSVI-style clubby dancehall) and what was coming out was recognisably related but not quite the same. The Second Language tracks do this in a pronounced way, in that they’re (to me at least) kind of ersatz takes on certain kinds of acoustic music cobbled together out of samples and soft synths.
More generally I started to see this ‘imperfect translation’ as a way of understanding the creative process, and the search for new sounds and ideas. When learning foreign languages, I found there was a sense of mystery and intrigue to entering these unknown zones which would progressively open up as I learned. Since no two languages are ever really equivalent, speaking in new languages seemed to offer the possibility of saying new things and thinking new thoughts. And it’s a similar pull of the unknown and the new that motivates my music-making.
How did the album’s neolithic cover art come together?
Minor Science: The quote on the front, “Weil es leichter ist, ohne Stil zu schreiben” (“Because it’s easier to write without style”), is what Samuel Beckett said when asked why he switched from writing in English to writing in French. The original quote in French is on the back of the sleeve. The idea that an established writer might switch to a new language in which he had less facility, because he felt it helped him strip away some of the habits and mannerisms that restricted him when writing in his mother tongue, resonated with the stuff I mentioned above.
Why is it chiselled in stone? Because it looks sick. Whities’ in house designer, Alex McCullough, always has the wildest ideas. He knew the stonemason, George Edwards, and made it all happen.
What was your route into electronic music as a fan and as a musician?
Minor Science: As a teenager I was mostly into bands (Radiohead, the Mars Volta) and jazz (including crossover stuff that was happening at the time like Polar Bear, Acoustic Ladyland, EST). This was only a step away from something like Venetian Snares (Seb Rochford, the drummer from Polar bear/Acoustic Ladyland, was said to slow down V-Snares tracks and learn the drum parts), and my older brother passed that stuff down to me. Then there was dubstep, which was just exploding at the time (my brother and I both went to uni in London – he makes music too!). Planet Mu was huge for us because it covered both wig-out breakcore-y stuff and some of the brainier dubstep. As soon as I liked electronic music I was trying to make it.
“When learning foreign languages, I found there was a sense of mystery and intrigue to entering these unknown zones which would progressively open up as I learned... it’s a similar pull of the unknown and the new that motivates my music-making” – Minor Science
No one likes describing their own music, but what would you say are certain ideas or sonic obsessions you find yourself returning to over everything you produce?
Minor Science: Doing a longer release, for which I was working on a larger number of tracks simultaneously than I had before, really brought home to me my own musical habits or idioms. It’s a bit scary noticing these things as they can quickly tip over from ‘recognisable signature’ into ‘annoying compulsion’. Near the end of the process I had to go through and tone some of that stuff down. I won’t mention specific things for fear of testing people’s patience.
Who gave you your first break as an artist?
Minor Science: I never really had a ‘break’, it was more like a bunch of hairline fractures, which I’m grateful for. Sudden success can be hard to navigate. My very first leg up was probably from one of the encouraging music teachers at the various schools with well-resourced music departments I was privileged to attend. Later on, Ben UFO deserves a mention – he played my track “Hapless” on his radio show, which led to my first release.
What’s the last great book you read?
Minor Science: I have a topical answer here! The album sleeve has some quotes from Gene Wolfe’s Book of the New Sun on it. I just finished another one of his, Book of the Short Sun. He was part of the earlier generation of American sci-fi writers who did some sophisticated and powerful things with the genre – same age as Ursula Le Guin, a bit older than Octavia Butler – though as a devoutly Catholic white man his worldview resonates less today than theirs, which might explain the lack of a Gene Wolfe revival. If you can look past the very straight-male perspective (I respect that not everyone would be able to nor necessarily want to) his books are rich and dense and fascinating. And they have a few things to say about language too, hence the quote inclusion.
Are there any of your peers you consider underrated?
Minor Science: I think TSVI is the most-played artist in my Rekordbox. I rarely get through a set without playing at least one of his tracks, which balance function and flair amazingly well. I’d love to see his profile match up to the influence of his productions. And AYA is a national treasure and should be celebrated as such.
What’s going on in this Dazed Mix?
Minor Science: It’s in that 160-170bpm range, which I’ve tended to avoid because it’s the jungle/d&b zone, and while I love that music and play it sometimes I don’t feel like it’s really ‘me’ as a DJ somehow. But a couple of the tracks on the album run at that speed, and so this mix was an attempt to present them in a compelling context. In the first half that means moody abstract stuff, in the second half speedy techno/house shading into hardcore/donk/whatever. Obligatory shout out to the Bang Face Hard Crew.
01. Samuli Kemppi, “Watching”
02. Audrey Chen, “Heavy”
03. Tomaga, “The Whitest Light”
04. The Golden Filter, “Darkness Falls”
05. Loud Neighbour, “Kosmonauten”
06. Martsman, “Klickoff”
07. SNKLS, “Isandula VIP”
08. Throwing Snow, “Vulpine”
09. Slikback, “Acid”
10. Stereotyp, “One Name Hittas” (feat. Daddy Freddy) (Meesha Remix)
11. Simo Cell, “Feel Di Kouala Vybz”
12. Minor Science, “Balconies”
13. INVT, “Acid Twerk”
14. Sam Binga x ONHELL, “A Mighty Quest”
15. Ducky, “Rave Tool 13”
16. Poirier, “Wha-La-La-Leng”
17. Fracture, “Northbound Spiral” (feat. Face T)
18. Spyro, “Panik Dub”
19. Special Request, “A Gargantuan Melting Face Floating Effortlessly Through the Stratosphere”
20. Sully, “Vacancy”
21. Es.tereo, “Ultimas Breath”
22. Minor Science, “For Want of Gelt”
23. Yao Bobby & Simon Grab, “Ahouadjo”
24. John Wright, “Pure Data”
25. Lastminuteman, “Iamb Reprising”
26. Janet Jackson, “Empty”
27. Samuli Kemppi, “Watching”