How ramen, dairy farming, and pissing people off came to inspire the producer’s experimental, techno Twitter-breaking XL EP
Just before the pandemic hit, Blawan decided to become a dairy farmer. Not content with his full-time job playing techno to dark rooms, he took on a second job, before the national lockdown turned him into a full-time farmer. “I had a bit of a burnout, you could say,” he says, “playing too many shows, thinking, ‘This isn’t fun any more’. I took 340 flights in 2019. Working five days a week on a farm puts a lot of stuff into perspective, really. It shone a light on how ridiculous the whole DJing, touring, thing is, and how unhealthy it is.”
Although farm life hasn’t directly shaped latest EP Woke Up Right Handed, his first for XL Recordings, the record’s experimentalism mirrors the changes in his personal life. “It was the result of having loads of studio time, like everyone,” he explains. “An amalgamation of what was going on in my life and the world. It didn’t really feel right to be bashing out loads of techno records, and it still doesn’t now. It felt like a time to experiment a bit, try to refocus my life and career, take it to a more creative place.”
A firm step away from the eyes-down, bruising techno that Blawan had been exploring through his Ternesc label, there’s a seismic groove bumping through the tracks, with first single “Under Belly” setting techno Twitter ablaze with a what-the-fuck-is-this stream of comments when it dropped. Labelled as everything from “haunted carnivalcore” to a “Goosebumps whomper”, the impossible-to-pigeonhole track certainly divided listeners. The rest of the EP, though not quite as confusingly, subverts expectations, drawing from the canon of electronic music with hints of trance, dubstep, and hip hop – but not really sounding like any of those.
When Dazed calls him up on release day, Blawan is baking some birthday biscuits for his French bulldog (“He’s just been through a really shitty operation so he’s been really sick for the last few weeks”), while fielding calls from a newly-acquired old Nokia with painstaking multi-tap keys (but luckily, Snake). Below, he talks through each track on his head-scratchingly brilliant new record.
Blawan: A lot of the way I work, I’m just messing around until something good happens, so there’s never really a plan. I didn’t think was finished until I sent it to XL and they were like, ‘Don’t touch it, it’s done’. I was like, ‘Really?!’ You need a third set of ears sometimes to get an opinion, ‘cos you can get so wrapped up in stuff in the studio. This one’s a bit of a traditional UK dubsteppy beat, it’s nice to go back to that sound a little bit.
02. “UNDER BELLY”
Blawan: I knew when (XL) said they wanted to put that out I knew it would get a weird reaction, and that was kind of the point. This thing just arose in the studio and I was like, ‘This is really weird, but I kind of like it’. It’s a bit of an organ sound? If I can piss as many people off as I can please, then I’m happy about that. Music should be challenging in some ways.
“If I can piss as many people off as I can please, then I’m happy about that. Music should be challenging” – Blawan
If you’ve annoyed a few people then you’re doing something right. I saw someone describe it as ‘Thomas the Tank Engine on ket’, which made me laugh a lot. It’s been pretty fun reading the comments, to be honest. It shows that people come at music from different points of views, it doesn’t always have to be so serious all the time. If you enjoy something and also take the piss out of it as well… Music’s about many different emotions. To write techno for 10 years and then come out with something like that, it’s quite nice for me.
03. “CLOSE THE CYCLE”
Blawan: Most of the sound sources from this EP are from a modular source. That track came from messing around with a new delay that I had, that made that drippy percussion. All of the vocals on the EP are my vocals, and that one was where I was trying to do something more pop-centric, I guess you could say. They’re not club tracks, so (they’re shorter) – there’s no need to drag it out for six minutes. That track was one where I was leaning to writing more pop melodies in electronic music, I’ll let listeners decide whether I succeeded in that.
Blawan: That was one of a bunch of tracks I sent to Skrillex, and that one I thought, ‘Oh he could really do something with that’. Time moved on, we worked on something else. That was another of those ones that I didn’t think was really finished. I’m like that with tracks, I finish them real quick then think, ‘Oh I’ll leave it ‘til later’. But that’s why I like working with the label because they can say, ‘No that’s not right’. That one’s a bit of a festival track, that one.
05. “NO RABBIT NO LIFE”
Blawan: That song’s dedicated to my favourite ramen restaurant in Japan. It’s called Usagi Ramen, which means rabbit ramen, in Shibuya. I always stay in one hotel that’s right next door and they play a lot of hip hop and weirder stuff, I think the owner was a hip hop producer. It was a little shout to them, it’s got a bit of a hip hoppy beat. They sell t-shirts and on the back it says ‘No rabbit no life’. I have two!
Blawan’s Woke Up Right Handed is out now via XL Recordings