Though stylistically unpredictable, Jenkinson has remained the consistent, both in output and in principle, unyielding in his quest for experimentation, vocal in his disdain for "cult of personality" stardom. Given electronic dance music's recent surge in popularity, one cannot help but wonder what the recondite bass virtuoso, whose recent efforts display flashes of contemporary influence -- a dash of French touch, a hint of dubstep wobble -- thinks of the rise of stadium house and "EDM," an updated version of '90's blanket term "electronica."
Realizing -- too late -- that I've assigned myself the role of informing Squarepusher about EDM feels a bit like explaining cyber sex to Tesla, and elicits an unnecessarily polite dodge and parry. In the conversation that follows, Jenkinson opts instead to discuss his refusal to abandon his initial premise, the principles that govern his artistic vision, and the relationship between the staggering visuals he's conjured for his live show and the accompanying music on Ufabulum.
How did you come up with the visuals for the live show?
Well, there's a couple of things which I suppose formed the basis of it, one of which was synesthesia, in the sense that quite a lot of times that I listen to music, I have a visual response to it in my imagination. I often have this in response to my own work, and I thought it would be quite interesting to try to recreate some of those images in conjunction with the music that I'm currently making.
One of the other reasons that got the project going, as well, was to try to make the link between picture and sound as coherent, apt and appropriate as possible, because quite often I find that when I watch the visuals which form a part of a musicians live show, or a DJ playing records, I find it hard to see, actually, a link between what I'm looking at and what I'm hearing. A major incentive to do this was to try to make that link as strong as possible, to make it such that, instead of the picture detracting from the sound, like I find in so many other people's performances, I actually am trying to make that link stronger, so that the picture brings something to the audio. So, one way of looking at it is that the pictures help the listener decode the audio. Anyway, that's what I'm trying to do. It's an experiment, very much an experiment.
And how has it gone so far, are you happy with the result?
I've got it to the stage where I was as happy as I could be, without spending the rest of my life on it in the studio. Taking it out live, as I have been over the last couple of months, it's been going extremely well. From the first show onwards, it's been great. It's a little bit hard to tell because the visuals have split into two parts, one of which is on a big screen behind me on a stage, and then the other screen is actually mounted on a helmet which I'm wearing on my head. Consequently, I've got reduced visibility of what's happening in the auditorium, but still, if you can't see it, you can still hear it and yeah, certainly, the reactions have been great. It's, interesting, if nothing else, because it's the first time I've actually done a project whereby the visual aspects of the live show have been developed alongside the music. I'm really, really keen hat they have a narrative which mirrors what's happening in the musical narrative. That is to say, all with an aim to try and consolidate the link between the two.
How do you like wearing the helmet? Is that something that diminishes your enjoyment of the live performance?
Pretty strange, I have to say. Y'know, in a way I like it, because one way I see it is like a way of turning myself into a visual display unit. I quite like that idea, because this gig isn't about me. I don't see my records or my live performances as about me. I'm always trying to get away from the cult of personality tendency which springs up around musicians, and the typical way that musicians are treated in the world of rock music. That they're put on a pedestal and treated like gods, I mean, I hate that. If I have to be on stage at all, then I'd rather become part of the show to an extent that my personal appearance within it is diminished. I'm still there, but I'm actually becoming a way of displaying visual information, rather than just a person standing there. It's an attempt to transform my appearance and my identity on stage, and get away from this being about "Tom," and more about the music and the pictures.
Is there any variance between shows, in terms of what you're controlling and what you're doing?
Yeah, I'm just getting going, really, so I'm feeling my way, to an extent, on these first ones. As the year goes on, and I do more, I'm looking to develop the ways in which the show is delivered so that there is a sense of progression as I go from one to the next. That's always a key thing for me, to keep learning, and to keep varying what I'm doing, so that it keeps interesting, because I'm not interested in doing this for commercial reasons. It's very much an experimental approach that I have, almost akin to working in a laboratory, really, then taking the results of those experiments out into the world and seeing what happens. I'm certainly up for modifying things and seeing what happens, but I'm fighting against two competing objectives, one of which is to keep the live show progressing and interesting, and the other is to make sure that it doesn't lose the strength of what I generated in the studio originally.
I noticed that you're playing a U.S. date in L.A., HARD Summer. It's a big "EDM" electro/house American dance music festival, and I was wondering what you thought of the popularity of EDM, and that phrase in general.
The phrase IDM?
EDM? I'm embarrassed to say I don't know what it means. I've never heard of it [laughs].
That's amazing. It's like Swedish House Mafia, Skrillex...
OK, yeah. Do you mean the term or the music?
The music. As someone who's been making electronic music for so long...
I have to say, without wanting to sound like I'm deliberately batting this question away, I think that might be a better question for you to be answering yourself, because I'm really primarily concerned with trying to work through the backlog of ideas that I've got in my head. Some of the ideas I've been working with for the past two years are things I was thinking about when I was a teenager, y'know? Unfortunately I haven't really had much time in the last 10 or 15 years to be be really going out of my way to check out new stuff. I was doing that all the time when I was a teenager, but since I really got going on my own stuff, I'm just intent on making the most of that opportunity. To that end, I'll search out inspiration when I need it, but there's no shortage of it for me right now. So, as much as I'd say yeah, absolutely, good luck to all those characters that you're talking about, I mean, I'd probably refrain from saying anything about it, just because I just don't know enough to say, really, so...
Right. It seems like there was a dubstep influence on "Unreal Square," for instance.
Yeah, I'm not saying that I've erected a kind of impenetrable wall around myself, because I still go out and see my friends and will hear music, obviously, on the radio here and there, and so on. I'm like other people: Influences come in, but that's exactly the point. I actually do my best to try and limit that, so that I've got the best chance of making something original, and I don't really care about trying to fit in or generate a complimentary gesture to what other people are doing. I'm not really concerned with that. I'm just concerned with trying to eliminate redundancy in what I'm doing, so that I don't either repeat myself or what other people are doing. That's really important to me. I really don't see the point, otherwise.
That's my strength, to come up with ideas, come up with new approaches, and put them out there. Other people can make of them what they will, but that is my strength, or one of them, anyway, because I don't have any fear about what people think about me. I don't give a shit if it's deemed to be right or wrong. That is the mission I'm on. There are lots of aspects to music, but one of them is the tribal aspect, where you do things, and you get ascent from your peers and approval from other people and that's cool, and it's a way of consolidating a social group, but that's just not ... for better or for worse, it's never really been a strong factor for me. The strongest it's ever been, I suppose, is knowing Aphex [Twin]. Him and I have certainly shared some ideas over the years, but for me it's just about sticking your neck out, doing as wild an experiment as you can.
So, is that why you're solely performing the new material live, in terms of not wanting to give people what they want to hear over and over again, repeating yourself?
Yeah. Look, I mean, I'm not trying to punish the audience, but I do make a point of trying to bring new things to the table every time I go out live, and on record too. In order to keep going, it's actually a prerequisite to be learning, for me, and to keep interested in what I'm doing, I have to keep learning. I don't care what that means in terms of the audience. The audience has to, sort of, bear that in mind, and I think I'm lucky in the respect that a lot of people do approach my shows with a pretty open mind, at least that's what I've tried to cultivate. I'm trying to cultivate critical listening and strong analytical skills in myself, and I hope that is also the case for the audience. Once you start going along to live performances and hoping that you'll hear your favorites, or this that and the other, you're just going into a kind of sleepwalk, and I can't be bothered with that, either for myself or for my fans. I just think I'd be doing them a disservice if I did. And the other thing is, I've got known on the basis of doing exactly what I want, why the fuck should I change it now? I mean what would be the point?
I think that's the principle for me, I see a lot of people fuck themselves up when they abandon their initial premise, which is basically doing what they want and having fun. That's how a lot of people get into music, but then a lot of people abandon that once they get a reputation, because they're scared to lose the reputation. A lot of people are stuck in a permanent rehearsal of their glory moment. If I was doing that I'd still be making replicas of fucking Feed Me Weird Things or Big Loada, or whatever. Maybe I could have made a bigger career and a bigger amount of money, but none of those things mean anything to me. In any case, I don't know if I've got a choice. I would have lost my enthusiasm for it, which meant I wouldn't be doing it anyway. So I'm simply, in some ways, just doing what I have to do, to keep going.