SMD first got our attention with their U.S. debut Attack Decay Sustain Release. Chock full of analog synth goodness and club-ready anthems that were way hookier than most four-on-the-floor fare, it lived up to its name. Their latest, Temporary Pleasure, evolves their tradition of collaborating with singer-lyricists that drip with underground cred, including Gruff Rhys of Super Furry Animals, Beth Ditto of the Gossip, and Alexis Taylor of Hot Chip. Chatting with Jas and James reveals the abiding love of analog and serious synthesis scholarship behind their infectiously tight grooves. Here are some highlights — click here for Steve Fortner's full audio interview with Jas and James.
Influences and heroes: Delia Derbyshire of the BBC Radiophonic Workshop. When you listen back to those recordings, they’re so intricate and detailed. Which leads to Isao Tomita, the king of fine detail, and a pioneer of things like running two or three sequencers at a time. Todd Rundgren, who we sampled on the track “Synthesize.” Raymond Scott, who designed crazy modular setups [such as the Electronium] well before the Moog Modular was invented. Joe Meek, for his use of the studio as the instrument.
Favorite gear: Our Analogue Systems modular synth. You can wire up a very simple patch — your standard VCO feeding a filter and VCA, and get a straight keyboard sound. But when it gets really interesting is when you start to cross-modulate things. In particular, when you introduce feedback, especially in terms of control voltage. As soon as something starts feeding back on itself . . . you turn a knob up but whatever aspect of the sound goes down, for example. You think to yourself, “I don’t really understand why that works, but I like it!” There’s this tipping point of complexity when you hit a certain number of modules and you’ve slightly forgotten where you started. It’s something we look for even when we’re not using modular gear — that element of the irrational.
Other live gear: The Korg MS-20, and the MS-50 expander for it, which are semimodular themselves. We also just got a new Prophet ’08, which does a lot of what Roland Junos did on the record. We’re quite used to being able to look at a synth and know what it’s going to sound like, so we’re quite happy they’ve now made a potentiometer version [as opposed to the one with endless encoders]. We’re going to get that.
On the current state of electronic music: It’s foolish to second-guess electronic music, because it moves really fast and unpredictably. That said, it feels like on one hand there’s the noisier, more electrobased stuff — which we were associated with in the early days — as well as the rockbased aesthetic we’ve seen in the wake of bands like Justice: short songs, and in terms of DJing, short mixing — playing just a minute or two of each track. On the other hand, there’s longer-form stuff, the more techno format of, oh, [Hans-Peter] Lindstrom, [record label] Border Community, and so on. We think the noisier, short-form side of things has run its course — with notable exceptions of course, like Justice. But some people that are copying that just seem to be making bit-reduced noise.
Favorite new music: Grizzly Bear is great — we saw them play recently, and were blown away by their live show. We’re also big fans of Joakim. It’s a really good time for music; there seems to be a strong, interesting scene going on, what with bands like the Dirty Projectors and Animal Collective getting the attention they’re getting.