"I'm just trying to shut myself out of the mediocrity that surrounds us all. You have to when a bit of plastic's all that represents you in the world."
If it's a unifying agenda you're after, the elusive key to unlocking Squarepusher's music, then that quote's possibly the one. Or as close as you're ever going to get to music that has defiantly resisted categorisation right from the off. Its certainly a lot more revealing of the new Squarepusher album "Music is Rotted One Note" than any comparisons, name checking, or 'my influences are…' flannel.
25 year old Tom Jenkinson has been spiking inertia ever since his debut releases on the Spymania label back in '95. The tracks, re-released last year by Warp as the 'Burningn'n Tree' album, typify Tom's approach to his music. Complex, fluid, restlessly inventive, constantly striving to strike the balance between energy and innovation and fuelled by the desire to achieve nothing less than the best.
These early tracks prompted Richard James and the Rephlex camp, to release 'Feed Me Weird Things' Tom's debut LP, in June of 96. It was here that the Squarepusher really started to stretch out harnessing the energetic as fuck production normally associated with hardcore and early drum 'n' bass with Tom's more jazz focused musicality. The album sold well proving that there's a large audience out there hungry for a curious and uncompromised slant on music.
Then there's the Squarepusher live performances. Acclaimed gigs at Glastonbury, Mount Fuji Rock festival in Japan, and Belgium's Ten Days of Techno, where Tom would improvise live bass around the structures he was creating with his boxes and tapes. Chaotic affairs they may have often been but at the same time shot through with a purposiveness absent in most lacklustre electronic acts claiming to have gone 'live'. His legendary DJ sets known to include furious drum'n'bass, hardcore, tequila, even the work of the brothers Bros (I Owe You Nothing?) have shaken dancefloors to an incendiary state helped along by Tom's unique, somewhat confrontational, style of toasting. All are examples of rallying against the apathy and mediocrity.
Tom's reputation, albeit often paradoxical, was set. A frantically energetic attention to programming detail to rival jazz drumming greats (Buddy Rich, Art Blakey) merged with his often complex and beautiful melodies. The subtlest all out assault on the block. Squarepusher was second to none in his field of one. You only have to throw his Warp debut 'Port Rhombus EP' to see this. The perfect example of Tom's complex / simplistic approach to music.
After the understated dirty funk of the 'Vic Acid' single Tom followed up with his second album 'Hard Normal Daddy'. Opening with 'Cooper's World' the album showed that machines could swing and that Tom could confidently take further musical risks with his arrangements. 'Chin Hippy' on the other hand threw the listener in at the deep end as an object example of technological experimentalism. Harsh, cerebral, unique. Nevertheless 'Hard Normal Daddy' wound up in end of year charts in magazines throughout the world moving 75,000 copies in the process. Incidentally all payments made by Warp were returned by Tom's accountant as they were out of date by the time he got around to paying them in!
"Nothing is allowed time to settle and no idea outstays its welcome… it takes at least four or five listens to absorb even the basic structures of the record" was NME's comment on the follow-up 'Big Loada' release. By the time it was apparent that Squarepusher had very much mastered his art so complex, wry, and exhilarating was the mini-album. Tom describes the musical process as "…pulling the music out of nowhere, not thinking what you are doing." "you have ideas, you get in the studio, the ideas disappear and things start to flow," he explains, "the songs then exist in space somewhere between you and the machinery. When you come out you have a souvenir of your time in this psychic space, a space where you are intuiting everything and not even worrying about things like chords and notes."
All seven tracks occupy this other worldly space. Drum'n'bass taken to abstraction, hovering just the right side of collapse. Harnessing the raw energy rush of the original raves but, pushing structure to the absolute limits of comprehension tracks like 'Full Rise' and 'Come On My Selector' (the latter recently given twisted visual accompaniment by Chris Cunningham) are benchmark moments of modern electronic music to be appreciated as both strange and beautiful abstract compositions and incendiary dancefloor tracks for the more open minded. "The rushiest, fastest breakbeat music you could still relate to… That still had some relation funk, but remained right at the edge where it could become a meaningless piece of twat shit music" commented Tom on the mini-album in typically succinct manner. Right at the edge is exactly the place.
Tired of London Tom moved up to Sheffield early in 1998 to mix his newly finished 'Music Is Rotted One Note' album. If 'Big Loada' represents Tom at the peak of his programming powers then 'Music…' is perversely both the antithesis and the next logical step. The restlessness nature of both artist and music, and his need to step ahead of the ever-growing legion of copyists around, had led Tom to take genuine risks with this album. All the instruments are played live, the drums forming the foundations upon which Tom has laid down all the bass and keyboard parts. There is no sequencing on this release. Dropping his trademark infinitesimal production skills in favour of these more relaxed and entirely live structures 'Music Is Rotted One Note' is, as a consequence, Squarepusher's purest musical experience to date. On his own admission the closest thing to his heart he's yet produced and yet another indication of Tom's amazing musical vision.
Funky, precise, loose, yet unmistakably Squarepusher 'Music Is Rotted One Note' is born of Tom's need to stimulate, challenge, and rally against any idea we might hold that music is disposable. In other words music to make you realise quite why music can be the most important, beautiful thing in life.
Richard Hector-Jones - August 1998