Squarepusher: “I need to perform my old material with a new twist… I don’t want to end up like Status Quo”
With just days before his show at London’s Roundhouse, fans will be pleased to know that Tom Jenkinson’s initial apprehension to perform some of his older material as part of his Ufabulum show has given way to a new all-encompassing attitude.
When I last spoke to the man also known as Squarepusher, he was yet to reveal the highly anticipated live show that forms an extra visual layer to his latest album, Ufabulum. In the interview for Notion Magazine he revealed that he found playing his old material boring, so the show would be featuring only the songs on the LP, each one having its own self-programmed light show to go with it. The visual elements would be played on an enormous LED screen behind the stage, and also on a specially designed helmet worn by the highly revered musician.
Fast forward to one year later, and he’s happy to tell me that the Ufabulum show has not only evolved, but now also features a healthy dose of Squarepusher’s back catalogue. “Since we talked there’s been a significant development in respect of a second part to the show which incorporates older material,” he explains.
“I have to say when we did that interview last time, I had taken a rather militant standpoint against playing the old material and it is a tricky point. However much as a musician you want to defend your creative independence, when you go out to do a show you have to concede that there are people there who are interested in your music as a broad picture rather than just the latest material that you’ve done.
“It’s where, I suppose, the idea of the artist bleeds in to being the idea of being an entertainer. And actually, if you can find a way to shed new light on it, then actually it’s not something I completely rule out.”
Then in a biting quip, he adds: “I just think at one end of the scale you have the Status Quo tendency where you only play old material and basically become a tribute act of yourself, which is something which I think is coextensive with artistic suicide and is not something I actually want to do.”
Thankfully, Jenkinson has an arsenal of good ideas, meaning he has found a way to straddle the thin line between experimenting and pleasing his die-hard fanbase. “I think there are ways that you can bring it in, which is what I’ve tried to do with the second part of the set, referencing older compositions and to an extent, reinterpreting them.”
That there is a certain amount of reinvention for each performance is paramount to the Essex-born producer’s enjoyment. He has been making music under the guise of Squarepusher since 1995, and his career has spanned acid jazz, drill and bass, and ‘IDM’, a by-word for the obscurer end of the electronic music spectrum where music is not so much produced on a computer as composed on machines pieced to together like Frankenstein’s monster – but with defunct sythensizers instead of body parts. No two of his albums sound the same, and it seems that the Ufabulum set up will potentially allow him a similar free reign to explore his long-term ideas and creative whims.
Surprisingly, he admits to finding the past 12 months of performing with the large AV show rather enjoyable. Initial concerns about the repetitiveness of performing stifling his thirst to showcase the enormous system were unfounded due to some clever pre-planning. He says: “I suppose the thing that in principle scares me is ending up repeating yourself night after night. I’m not one to talk enthusiastically when it comes to touring, but on this particular show, given that there’s been built in some flexibility from the start, it’s been pretty good fun.”
The second part of the show will also feature visuals, but ones which are not as rigidly planned as those earlier on in the performance. He admits in the early days of touring the show he attempted to reinterpret the visuals live on stage, but found it compromised his initial vision, creating a result that he found ‘unsatisfying’.
As the land lies at present, it means that the visual elements, the graphics displayed on the enormous screen and helmet are a mixture of pre-programmed and live performance. “The Ufabulum part of the show is more akin to cinema, at least in the visual department, as it follows a plan fairly rigorously all the way through the set, but the latter part is coming more from the events of the night and is more spontaneous.” He adds that extra visual components will be brought in to this weekend’s show, making it a ‘version two’.
Fans who might be worried they will miss the chance to see the Warp Records signee’s most ambitious show to date can rest easy. Jenkinson is sure that the set up, like the show itself, can continue to evolve and grow to meet the needs of both its master and audience.
“Rather than consider it as a finite entity that has to be seen in its entirety and is a fixed quantity that you can’t really change, I see it as a starting point for whatever developments seem appropriate at the time,” he explains. “I don’t see it as a fixed entity, but I suppose when people are advertising something, they are referring to it as a Ufabulum show which is in the end, for me, just a weigh station, it’s not an end point, it’s not a stop, it’s not a static thing.”
He uses the newly added second part as a working example of how the live show has already begun its metamorphosis. “Initially it was five minutes at the end, now it’s incorporating improvisational material and has become half an hour to 40 minutes long.”
A fondness for touring and a newly discovered soft spot for some of his previous work isn’t the only shift some of his dedicated fan base will notice about the usually forward looking, serious minded 38-year-old. He has recently finished working on a remix for Ghostpoet, which meant working with vocals, an area he usually avoids.
“My music doesn’t typically feature vocalists, so it’s always quite interesting to work with one. I basically rewrote the entire piece around his voice, I didn’t keep any of the original backing so to speak and rewrote an entirely new piece around it. So that’s been quite good fun, he’s an interesting fella in his own right so that’s quite cool.”
The experience was enjoyable enough for him to be open to working with other vocalists or rappers in the future, but he’s keen to stress that it would have to be the right collaboration. “It’s certainly something I’d like to do but it’s getting the right people. There’s no point in doing these things just for the sake of it,” he says. “It’s something I wouldn’t do unless I felt it was going to be creatively interesting, it’s very easy to get a track and slap a vocal on it, but to me it becomes interesting when you really start integrating the two.”
Tom explains that instead of getting bogged down with lyrical content, he prefers to treating vocals as a raw sound that he can manipulate as he sees fit. “When I’ve used vocals in my early pieces, I’ve tried to treat the voice as an instrument. I’m really interested in treating it as a sound, and thereby treating it with the same mentality as the other musical elements within the piece.”
He admits that he has a ‘critical’ view of his own voice, and although he can play most instruments given a bit of time, singing is definitely not his forte. I suggest he takes some singing lessons, but he thinks that the personality clashes he had with tutors at school would come back to haunt him. “I don’t take music tuition very well,” he admits. “Music-wise, I’ve never been taught anything, and I didn’t respond very well to being taught. I always had an antagonistic relationship with my music teachers at school who were very conservative, I was always causing conflict.”
If the likeable musician ever changes his mind about singing, his Ufabulum show can shapeshift to also feature a microphone… and autotune.
Squarepusher headlines at The Roundhouse, London March 30 with support from The Bug ft. Flowdan and Daddy Freddy.
Tickets are available nowTagged in: Daddy Freddy, Flowdan, ghostpoet, Squarepusher, The Bug, Ufabulum
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