On paper, patten has the credentials of the archetypal frontman, the rock’n’roll myth personified; photogenic, guitar wielding, he sings and exudes energy and stage presence. Yet launching his debut album at Shoreditch’s CAMP, he successfully subverts all of these. Bathed in a disorientating collage of geometric colours, pulsing green blood cells, slow-motion high-altitude shots of clouds, the man sublimes into the canvas. Deft guitar work and a fine singing voice are almost utterly obliterated by delay and reverb; a hazy mirage remains.
“I’m very interested in music”, patten offered prior to the show, “in how the same sound can exist in someone’s headphones or experienced by thousands simultaneously.” His live show is a phantasmagoria. The bass is physical and womb-like, visuals by turn soothing and disorientating, audio and visual eliding. Whether it’s Blush Mosaic’s over-revved Boards of Canada psychedelia-tronica, or Rubylith Film’s almost perfunctory insect-like skittering. The apotheosis of hip-hop’s current trend for OxyContined beats, patten is not afraid to push the boundaries of where electronic music can go.
When we meet over a cup of tea he says hello, knows our name, but doesn’t introduce himself. Previous interviews have made it apparent that patten can be a difficult man to pin down: abstruse, evasive, confrontational even. In reality, he is none of these things; he simply wants to avoid having some sort of ‘persona’ attached to him. He doesn’t wear a mask, but he certainly is enigmatic. He isn’t aloof, but an enthusiastic and lively talker. He just prefers to talk about music rather than influences, favourite colours, or star signs.
The name is a good starting point: patten, with a lower case ‘p’. It could be a surname, an acronym, it might not be a proper noun. It isn’t showy or ostentatious, it’s almost drab. Less dowdy is the album title, GLAQJO XAACSSO. Hinting at words, it has few recognisable letter combinations, there is no starting point for interpretation. Pronunciation begins and ends inside the reader’s head. The album and live set reflects this. Everything is very considered, from the seemingly haphazard collisions of sound to the stage set up (“place your kit right, you can float between sounds.”) patten reads the crowd from show to show, adjusts the set, tweaks it. He states that “there is no Platonic Form, though certain kinds of responses are favourable.” There is no ‘finished product.’ Instead it is about building a framework, but leaving it loose enough that you can just let it run: “when someone throws a ball, you catch it. That takes serious mental calculation but it is subconscious, so you just catch it.”
For patten, “music exists when it isn’t there. I can mention it and then we’ve shared it.” He is interested in psychic geography, the way that “someone 200 metres away on the street could be listening to the music on their headphones” but also in how a venue can be flooded with visuals for a shared group experience. “We have spaces, purpose built for the playing of music, but music can be portable too, can be taken from space to space, a room can be altered from show to show. How does that affect sound, and the audience?”
Ideas and influences come and go, become prominent and then fade. His set weaves its way through My Bloody Valentine-like guitar squall, Chicago house, Berlin techno. In the period between the album being ‘finished’ months and being committed to vinyl, it went through the inevitable process of mastering, manufacturing and distribution. In the meantime he “took it out, shared it, re-interpreted it, moved it forward” added things in, heard new inspiration and, magpie-like, incorporated them. Psychedelic washes here, LA beats in the FlyLo mould there. I mention Barthes’ The Death of the Author, and patten responds: “music welcomes interaction. My audience also act as author”. This is an experiment in psychological triggers. Never afraid to settle in to a groove, or to shock the ears either, like when Peachy Swan’s broken crunk stomps all over the drunken crawl of Plurals. Everything that happens tonight – the robo-funk of Words Collide, the darkness other than projections over the man himself on stage, the jarring collisions of sound – is part of patten’s investigation into “the ‘known universe’”, which he labels “a construct of the mind.” Music transcends language, culture, geography and history. patten wants to push the buttons in your head, all of them, both ‘good’ and ‘bad.’
He won’t talk about it, so here is how it sound to our ears: flashes of Brainfeeder, Warp’s early 90s high watermark, LuckyMe’s technicolor, broken beat, techno, drill and bass and more. We think it is dazzlingly good, but that’s subjective. “The human brain is the most complicated object in the known universe. But people in the audience have the same buttons in their heads now as they did 100,000 years ago. I want to know how they react to stimuli.” Audiences “don’t get the credit they deserve. All reactions are valid” – including the woman who, cackling, asks us “are we in hell!?” halfway through the set. It can be harsh (though patten “isn’t about antagonism”), but the sound is always painstaking thought out. The sandpaper snaps of A.M./Soft Focus work best in contrast to the spacious roll of Blush Mosaic. GLAQJO truly is a record that reveals more of itself with each listen.
It’s clear what patten means when he says sound has its own “weird quality”. Photographs lose the third dimension, and while all live shows will necessarily be different to the records they’re based on, for patten it is about constant progression and change. At certain points the music played live will be almost unrecognizable next to GLAQJO. Music is “like a cocktail.” Each of the components is whole, but in combination they make something greater than the sum of their parts. “Wait, I’ve gone off the cocktail idea!” he laughs. “It’s more like chemistry; molecules, like in making a perfume. Scents are fleeting but bring memory, emotion, potential, in a split second. A powerful evocation, an ultimately ephemeral form.” He may call it chemistry but it sounds more like alchemy, chopping Chiastic Slide era Autechre up alongside hyper-kosmische and the lackadaisical wobble of Bibio with the maximalist everything goes hyperactivity of Hudson Mohawke or Rustie.
GLAQJO, or several versions of it, were performed live long before patten entered the studio. Live is the ideal environment where audience and artist interact, where patten can adjust, change and tweak, reacting to the room. It is pitched between the higher brain and the primordial triggers that move the feet, the crocodile brain, the primeval bit. The music is simultaneously what is committed to record and the versions aired live. patten has taken the best forward-thinking electronic music of the past thirty years and chucked it in a blender. The resultant paste has a definite hint of the hydroponic to it; of the hazy, twisted reinterpretation. patten wants to know how we interpret or remember things. The music on stage is not the music on record, not the same show to show. How many versions of the gig exist? Our recollection, and that of patten, is two. The version we’ll share with our girlfriend when we get home, and the versions that everyone else here will talk about. And they will be talking about it for a long time yet.
This post originally appears on CRACK on 8 February 2012.
GLAQJO XAACSSO is available now from No Pain in Pop