John Flynn’s debut EP under his Spaces moniker ‘One’ was released in 2014 on Bleep, ten years after the label was established by parent imprint Warp.
Since then Flynn has gone on to collaborate with iconic Icelandic artist Björk on her 2015 album ‘Vulnicura’, he then became involved in a mastering studio and then released his latest body of work ‘Two’.
We caught up before he embarks on a journey to Sherkin Islan for the first edition of Openear Festival.
Firstly, thanks a lot for taking the time to answer these John.
Thanks for having me.
So you’re on the bill with the likes of Sunken Foal and more at Openear Festival. Smaller festivals like these, Another Love Story and Drop Everything are other examples, seem to be standing up to the bigger events more and more. Why do you think they work so well?
Well I think there’s always been a healthy demand for gigs with more intimacy. Bigger festivals can obviously be great too, they’ll naturally draw some international acts you wouldn’t normally get to hear and in a way you know what you’re going to get in terms of an experience.
But when you’ve been to many of them as so many people have been it’s more interesting to seek out something that’s a bit different from the standard fare.
I’m really looking forward to Openear not only to see the rest of the lineup but Sherkin island is in a beautiful part of Cork and the island itself is supposed to be stunning. Also, I’m looking forward to be playing as Ordinate (a techno act with JP Hartnett).
I’ve played a few Spaces gigs but that’ll be the first Ordinate gig in a long time so we’ve heaps of new ‘submerged’ tracks to play.
You’re based in the UK now, what drew you there?
The London music scene, and London in general, is so diverse. Take for example Cafe Oto, you can stumble in there nearly any day of the week and be served up sounds that are at least going to be interesting and at best, can rank up there with your favourite ever gigs (some of mine have definitely been there).
I’m not saying that Ireland’s not great for music, quite the contrary. In fact one thing that Ireland has that I’ve seen in few other places is atmosphere and a lack of clique-ness. The atmosphere at Irish gigs doesn’t need to be elaborated on, the crowd are always up for it.
A small criticism against London after being here for nearly a decade is that the gigs and music scenes can be a bit cliquey or over-specified, but in a city so big perhaps that’s just the way it has to be.
Yes I’m a mastering engineer there by day. It’s a company I set up to help producers and labels doing interesting music get it out to the masses sounding as good as possible. A lot of music makers in our generation are doing most of the recording, production and mixing themselves so getting stuff to sound polished and professional before releasing has never been more important.
I’ve always been interested in mastering, for me it’s the perfect blend of art and science: Science, because it’s tech-ey, there’re tools and gear to get the sound to behave or act a certain way. Art, well because not every song should be maximised to the limit or cleaned up as much as possible. You have to decide what the music is trying to communicate, and enhance and support that message through the mastering. There’s computer algorithm mastering out there now like Landr that does a basic tweak and cleanup, but I still think takes a human to understand the emotion of the music properly, to know what’s best to tweak, and what needs to be left alone.
It says on the website that you focus on leftfield/experimental music. What is it about the more abstract side of the music industry that appeals to you?
I’ve always been into things that sound different. When I first heard Warp stuff when I was younger I couldn’t believe there was this world of music off the mainstream that didn’t really conform to what I thought music was.
I remember when Autechre’s ‘Confield’ came out I listened to the whole album start to finish on a Tower Records listening post, thinking, ‘It’s music, but not like any music I know’. It’s interesting to look back at that because now ‘IDM’ can be just another flavour or genre and it isn’t at all ‘The Answer’ that I naively thought it was (for a split second). Jungle and D&B was a bit before my time but I reckon when people first heard those slices of Amen their heads must have almost exploded!
So whilst things come and go I think I still subconsciously seek out things I haven’t heard before, or something that brings something new to the plate. So it’s not necessarily that I’m drawn to abstract things, just different, and new.
To bring it back to the mastering, perhaps not a lot of people know that if you send a track to many mastering houses you’ll get quite a variety of interpretations back as the finished master. If you’re a producer or label it’s best to align yourself with a mastering studio that understands your sound because they can get the best out of it for you. So I guess I try and keep the focus in our studio on the stuff that excites me: techno, experimental, club makes up a lot of the work but acoustic and band material I love mastering too. Any music as long as it’s interesting!
The fact that you did work Björk went somewhat for most Irish music fans. How did that come about?
Well she got in touch with me a few years ago after hearing my stuff and thought it would work well with material she was working on at the time. It was quite a bizarre moment when she first contacted, I think I was out somewhere and I checked email on my phone and there was one that began something like, ‘hi my name is bjork, i’m writing music at home…’ … ?! Then also to hear her voice singing over my production was so strange, interesting, weird but above all I was taken aback by the melody she chose. It was in an entirely different harmony to my original production but worked so well and I instantly loved the way it made the beats new for me again.
So it was strange at first but it became normal quite quick, she’s really down to earth and made the whole process really easy. We just took it from there. To be honest she’s just like the rest of us in that she is very serious about, and genuinely loves, music.
Do you have any further plans to collaborate with her? Any other collaborations in the pipeline?
We’re still in touch, I can’t really talk about further plans. I don’t like speaking about things before they’re ready to be released, in fact when from when she first got in touch with me up to the day she announced me as part of the album I didn’t tell any of my family and friends. It’s funny because I was speaking to Manu Delago her percussionist and he mentioned the same thing. He kept silent until their first tracks came out too.
Your Boiler Room set featured a behemoth visual. Do you find with electronic music the visual aspect is important?
Honestly, with gig visuals, I normally hate them. The Raster Noton guys do amazing super-synchronised visuals, LFO’s LED wall was unbelievable too.
But for the most part I feel that visuals are too often tacked on, and usually distracting. With the Boiler Room thing I wanted to do something really different and unique, and not just for the sake of it.
It wasn’t until I had the idea, ‘Okay let’s make it the size of a building, and make it super slow’, that I got attached to the idea and wanted to do it. People can dance and be with their friends just checking in on the image every now and again, or if people want to zone out to the microscopically moving shapes and examine the sounds as they do, well they can do that too.
In terms of a visual component in general for example in album art well I’ve always found that important. I’ve been lucky enough to make music with a designer who’s really talented: JP Hartnett. He’s the other half of Ordinate and he makes the artwork for Spaces. A bit like how I prefer to master songs, JP gets right into the message of the design and what it should communicate to support and strengthen the music. I really like the pattern work that he came up with for the Spaces EPs, it represents the music well and looks stunning in print. (As a cheeky aside I will add that Caribou’s ‘Our Love’ was a total rip off!)
I’ve really enjoyed listening to ‘Two’ again since preparing for this interview. How have you felt it has been received in general?
Yes I’ve been really happy with how it’s been received. I’ve had people who’s opinion I really respect say good things about it. Specific things not just bland compliments! I’m in a lucky position because I get to release what, although to me is normal, I know is essentially niche music.
I have friends who say they don’t ‘get’ my some of the songs on record but on hearing the tracks played out live they hear how it all fits together and makes sense in within that context.
‘Noon to’ is always a fun one to play out as its one of only a handful of tracks I’ve written that has a solid 4/4 beat, but then the track breaks up and goes a bit wild, it’s always interesting to drag that out and see which people stay with you and which look a little bewildered. But I think the lightness that comes in at the end of the track is worth the drag through the heaviness beforehand. It’s still one of my favourite tracks.
Also it was great to get Mark Fell on board for the remix, he was an early supporter of my tracks when the first EP came out and I’ve been a follower of his work for years so was really humbled. And happy with the way he reworked the track into a rolling, tumbling ball of percussion.
Release wise, is there another EP or even an album in the works?
Right now I’m working on ‘Three’ which will be with Bleep and I’m starting to put shape into perhaps a larger project that doesn’t really fit into the One, Two, Three series, it might be an album or a long EP I’m not sure yet but quite excited about the new sounds. It’s probably less club deconstructions, more pop?! Well, it’s pop to me, whatever that means!
As Ordinate we’re releasing a 4 track 12″ vinyl and a cassette EP with 7 different tracks at the same time, on new label Abscissa, that’ll be out soon. We hope to have the first few copies ready to sell at Openear which will be a good few weeks before they hit the shops proper, so if you’re down, be the first.
Purchase Spaces EP ‘Two’ here, or to buy tickets to Openear Festival on June 3-5 click here.