150 Black Merlin


01. Black Merlin - Untitled [Unreleased]
02. Aoud - Surd [Persephonic Sirens / 2018]
03. Kangding Ray - ????
04. Phase Fatale - Order of Severity (Extended Mix) [Hospital Productions / 2017]
05. Silent Servant and Phase Fatale - Confess [BITE / 2018]
06. Laurent Garnier - From The Crypt To The Astrofloor [Kompakt Extra / 2017]
07. Aoud - SE MKII [Persephonic Sirens / 2018]
08. Shifted - Resurface [Mote-Evolver / 2011]
09. Phase Fatale - Wound [Unterton / 2017]
10. Disk Space - Runtime Error [Everyone On Acid / 2018]
11. Desroi - Indifferent (phase fatale remix) [Manhigh / 2017]

George Thompson, AKA Black Merlin has been making music for ten years under a variety of guises, beaming in sounds from worlds you've not even dreamed of yet. With releases on labels such as Bird Scarer Records, World Unknown, Common Thread, Jealous God, Island of The Gods and Berceuse Heroique. George Thompson carries the gift of sounding out of place whilst being entirely at home at the same time. We were lucky enough to be able to share some words with Black Merlin and gain an insight into where he comes from, what he does and why.

DT: Standard question, but it always sets the scene nicely: can you tell us a little bit about yourself, where you grew up, the clubs you used to go to and how you got into producing music?

BM: I grew up in a small town in West Yorkshire called Batley which is situated about 20 mins outside the city of Leeds, I started going out to proper clubs around 1993. My first taste of real clubbing was at a place called the The Orbit. The Orbit was a night based at a club called the Afterdark in Morley, a tiny town where nothing happens at all, just ten minutes from my home. The Orbit wasn't so big, it would only hold around 300 people as I can remember but it used to get the biggest names in the techno. DJs like Jeff Mills, Joey Beltram, Richie Hawtin, John Acquaviva and Sven Vath, (who people always used to go mad for), all played regularly. I was young at the time and didn't realise the history of some of the people that were coming in to play at this little town in West Yorkshire or how important The Orbit would turn out to be. There was a saying at the time though: 'You've not received your techno wings until you played The Orbit'.

As Leeds was just on my door step we started going to Back to Basics at the Music Factory, which is now a snooker hall I think. The Music Factory was a great place with a truck installed as the DJ booth. Back to Basics [the longest running club night in the UK] eventually stopped doing nights at the Music Factory because of safety, I think it was because there was no way out of the basement if a fire broke out, but they moved on to a venue called the Pleasure Rooms, which wasn't far away and still in central Leeds. Here Basics ran on Saturday night, and Up Yer Ronson on a Friday. Every weekend we was there religiously, Friday and Saturday nights pretty much without fail.

Hard Times, another great northern club night from the early 90s started in a small town just outside Leeds called Mirfield, which is also very close to my home town. On the opening night CJ Mackintosh played to about twenty people, I remember it quite clearly because nobody was there. Hard Times was big on booking American artists and I was lucky enough to see Masters at Work, Dave Commacho, DJ Pierre, Frankie Knuckles, DJ Disciple, Dave Morales, Todd Terry etc.

Thing was though, at the core of all these nights were your resident DJs, the resident DJs were the foundation of the scene in The North then. These days residents don't seem to have the same importance unfortunately, but then people like Miles Holloway and Elliot Eastwick at Hard Times and DJs like Neil Metzner, Marshall, Andy Ward, Alistair Cooke and Ralph Lawson at Back to Basics and Up Yer Ronson were loved by their crowds and even preferred over the main guests.

We started to venture out of Yorkshire around 95/96 to places like The Hacienda, Home and The Paradise Factory in Manchester and Voodoo and Cream in Liverpool. I eventually moved to Manchester in the mid 90s to study sound engineering after dropping out of an arts degree I had been doing in a city called Derby. I struggled a lot with the sound engineering course and eventually dropped out of that too. It was the days of Akai samplers and patch bays on big forty channel desks and I didn't find the learning side of things too much fun, I basically gave up the idea of making music up for years. Around 98/99 I went to Thailand for couple of months and after coming back decided to move to London where I would met one of my closest friends Kyle Martin.

DT: Your very first records are under the moniker 'Spectral Empire' with Kyle Martin. Can you tell us a little bit about this project: how it began, what its aims were and why it ended?

BM: I'd already been DJing in places in Yorkshire and Manchester, in little bars and clubs, nothing serious. I first got my first set of Technics around 1995. Moving down to London in the late 90s I found myself DJing in a place called Bar Vinyl in Camden, owned by my good friend Will Flisk. Will gave me every Saturday afternoon to DJ there and this is where I met Kyle and we hit it off instantly. Our relationship grew stronger and I started to DJ with him and we played together for the next 10 years or so. Kyle was into making music years before me so he had a real knowledge of how to get around a studio and we decided to form 'Spectral Empire' together.

Kyle was and still is a big inspiration to me. He taught me a lot about making music and how to express my vision of what a track should be like. We spent many many hours working together, making these ten minute plus tracks, I mean doing the arrangements was really challenging. We've not been the most proactive in the way of releasing though, I think three E.P.s at this point, which are spread over about ten years. Both of us were working intensely in the studio though, and DJing a lot, it was natural we needed to take a break from Spectral Empire. I formed Black Merlin and later Kyle went on to start 'Land of Light' with Jonny Nash. Spectral Empire, we've never really broken up, we've not stopped. We were just too busy with other projects. Now its 2018 and me and Kyle have just finished our fourth E.P. a four tracker which will be out on Malki Tuti in the near future.

DT: Your first album was recorded with Gordon Pohl under the artist name 'Karamika', this was released on Lovefinger's ESP Institute in 2015. How did you meet Gordon and why did you decide to work together?

BM: I met Gordon under funny circumstances. I knew his Musiccargo project and was super impressed by the sound of it and how it had this real Dusseldorf feel. We started to chat briefly on Myspace and I can remember mailing him to ask him if he would speak German over the top of one of my tracks. I really loved how the language could sound layered over the top of music and Gordon at the time was the only person I knew who could speak German, even though he's from Holland.

I remember Gordon saying, "why don't you just come over to Dusseldorf and we can work in the studio?". So I travelled over to Dusseldorf to work with him, now this is someone who I'd never actually met in person, and we stayed working together in his studio for a week. As soon as I met Gordon and we started to work we hit it off very big as a friends and production partners.

Since we met for the first time I've visited Dusseldorf to stay and work with Gordon every year at least. Meeting Gordon was a real milestone and he really changed my life. We just connected in a really special way, it felt like my mind had really opened up, I learned how to create music with no boundaries. We spent the next three or four years creating our first album, that came out on ESP Institute. We followed it up with an E.P on NEUBAU, a record label from Vienna in 2016. We' re currently working on the follow up album, so this could be finished this year, next year or the next five years...

DT: Why the name Black Merlin, what does this mean to you and why did you choose it?

BM: I honestly can't remember how the name came about, it has no meaning its just a name that has stuck.

DT: Your first record as Black Merlin came out on Andrew Weatherall's Bird Scarer Records. This must have felt like quite a coup, to be able to release your first Black Merlin record with the support of such a prestigious name. How did the release come about?

Andrew and Timothy J FairPlay came to look at a synth I was selling called a Powertran Transcendent 2000. It was a very funny situation, Andrew and Tim coming to my shoe box bedroom with a studio packed in one corner, I remember them both having to walk on top of my bed to get to get to the synth. I was showing Andrew how the synth works and for some reason it wasn't working, which for me having Andrew in my studio was quite nerve racking anyway, and now my synth isn't working. It was a strange experience.

Anyway Andrew never bought the synth in the end, but a few months later I sent Timothy a track I'd done to see what he thought of it and he then sent this track to Andrew. About a month later I was having a pint in Peckham after work and I got a phone call and Andrew was on the other end asking if I'd like to release 'Brunswick Drive' on his Bird Scarer label. I was quite happy to say the least, and it was a great start for my Black Merlin project. To have someone like Andrew releasing my music gave me a lot of confidence at the time.

DT: Your first album as Black Merlin, 'Hipnotik Tradisi' was released on the label 'Island of the Gods' in 2016. It consists of beautiful pieces of ambient music constructed from field recordings made in Bali in 2014. I understand Dan Mitchell, owner of Island of the Gods approached you to create this album. What were Dan's reasons behind wanting to make such a project and how did he sell the project to you?

BM: So Dan Mitchell approached me about this idea he had for a label and wanted to bring me out to Bali to record the gamelan sound and the feel of island culture. This came at a very big time in my life as my father had just passed away and I was dealing with it by throwing my head really deep into writing music. To deal with stuff I'd be working day and night continuously, keeping my mind occupied and busy. Dan's timing was perfect, it was a very big turning point for me and came when I most needed it.

Dan gave me total freedom to express myself, in any way, using the recordings I'd made from the trip. This turned out to be 'Hipnotik Tradisi'. I never expected the album to do so well, [Hipnotik Tradisi's first print run sold out in 48 hours] and it was a very big surprise to me.

Since Hipnotik Tradisi I've been continuing to write my follow up album which will be all about Papua New Guinea, a place I've been visiting for the last three years to record and film. There will be two albums coming out on Island of The Gods because of the amount of recordings I've made in Papua New Guinea.

The first in this Papua New Guinea series will be an album written for the listener, the idea is to make them feel like they're actually there. I want the listener to make their own mental images, creating scenes in their heads about what might be happening. Each track is made up of and built around different recordings taken from different areas in New Guinea.

The second album in the series will be solely about The Kosua Tribe. I've visited this tribe twice over the last couple years, for four weeks each time. I didn't really want to put my production style on these field recordings like I did with the album from Bali. The recordings I've managed to find are very very special for me, nobody has ever recorded The Kosua people before and this makes the recordings very unique. It doesn't feel right for me to start messing around with the raw strength of culture I feel is contained in these recordings. So yeah, the second album in the series will be pure field recordings of these amazing people I'm now lucky enough to call my friends.

DT: The Black Merlin catalogue spans six years. I would consider your work much more diverse than your standard electronic dance music producer and yet there is still a sound or feeling throughout the catalogue which I think denotes 'Black Merlin'. Despite being quite different, it's still quite clearly the work of one person. How would you describe the Black Merlin sound?

BM: I think that the influences and paths that have happened for me and been available to me have made me work in quite an open way. I never wanted to limit myself at all in what I do for Black Merlin and I want to be constantly moving forward, taking my own path to make what feels right in the studio at the time, and keeping me interested as well.

DT: Are there any producers working right now that you particularly admire and enjoy?

BM: Yes for sure for there are many artists like:
- Donato Dozzy. The king of reverb, so much clarity in his productions, he's such a well oiled producer
- Abul Mogard. Abul makes music with such power and emotion if you're not moved by his music then you're already dead inside.
- Phase Fatale. I played before Phase Fatale at Shelter in Amsterdam recently and have to say it was by far the best DJ set I'd heard in years, he's such a talent and his productions are always on point.
- AN-I. Chaotic punk techno, put any AN-I track on and it will destroy any dance floor at any time. Really interested to hear his new album and see what Doug has in store for us all.
- Ancient Methods. Whenever you hear this sound you instantly know it's an Ancient Methods record, it's a sound that has been fine tuned. It takes years to find your own style and Ancient Methods have their own.
- Toulouse Low Trax. Detlef has been an inspiration to me, another artist who stands out for their unique productions. He's one of those producers who you think "fuck I wished I'd have come up with that idea"! When I first met Detlef about seven years ago his music was way ahead of its time then, over the years since his music has begun to get the recognition it deserves.

DT: Do you have an opinion on the resurgence of EBM and post punk aesthetics and tropes in contemporary dance music?

BM: I remember when everyone was into making disco edits and the whole scene just crashed after a while. For me that wasn't really a great loss, there were a lot of producers making massive careers from making crappy edits of other peoples' music. At the time it was a very dominant scene, especially in London. The change really needed to happen. Now there's this so called EBM scene and personally I think now more than any other time in years there's a massive surge of new producers making insane music, and that's really healthy. Producers really stepping out of their comfort zones and pushing a more chaotic and extreme sound. It's not punk but for me it has that spirit inside it.

DT: Your most recent release is on Berceuse Heroique, a double EP called 'Archives'. Is this archival material, can you tell us a little bit about the release?

BM: So this release was made up of tracks I'd been sitting on for years and never got released because I wasn't too into them, as I'd written them years ago. I was talking with Gizmo [BH label boss] about these tracks and I started to send them over to him.

The track 'Alpacha Pet Boys', I was really into Trevor Horn's productions at the time and I was hearing Andy Blake play a lot of Frankie Goes to Hollywood at his night 'World Unknown' in London. So one Sunday morning I was in and out of sleep trying to work out how the arrangement of Frankie Goes to Hollywood's track 'Relax' was put together. I already had a lot of analogue gear by then and loads of 80s and 90s digital synths so that day I started to program my LinnDrum similar to how I thought Frankie Goes to Hollywood did it, listening to the bass, pads etc. and move forward with the track from there. Anyway, it turned out to be a very loooong process and I got too caught up in it and went on and off for few years. Eventually I put it to sleep and left it as I was sick of hearing it.

This is one of the tracks I sent to Gizmo, letting him know "you can listen to this but I don't want to release it", and he was like "I'm having this", I was like "no you're not", but anyway he got the track in the end and it's on this double E.P.

The track 'Laz' has always been one of the favourite tracks that I've written. I'm not a huge fan of my own productions, so this was rare moment for me, a track that I thought really stood out. The process of making it was relatively quick, like a day or something, written with a Roland JD800, Korg Wavestation, an 808 and the LinnDrum.

DT: This is your second release on Berceuse Heroique. What is it you like about releasing on this label?

BM: Yeah well 'Archives' is my second e.p for Gizmo, working with Gizmo is very easy. He would probably say something different but we work well together. Berceuse Heroique has been very supportive to me. My third E.P. will be coming soon for BH, this time all new productions and again on double vinyl.

DT: Perhaps you could let us know of any future releases you'd like to bring our attention to?

BM: Releases wise I have quite a few E.P.s coming this year, so yeah they'll be out when they're out ;)

Interview: Sam Mee, Published: 31 May 2018
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