The Mekano Set Q&A
On Saturday 24 June we have the pleasure of welcoming The Mekano Set to Emotion Wave 9 — I sent their primary creative force, Milk M Taylor, some questions to learn more.
Can you give us a potted history of The Mekano Set? When and where did it all start?
There was fear and hope, heart ache, obsession, betrayal, revenge, hidden doorways, evil twins, an ancient curse, a hilarious mix-up, a daring escape, and redemption. Finally, a cliff-hanger ending.
Meccano was this sort of safety hazard metal Lego that kids could build dysfunctional machinery out of: Zoviet gulags, existential robot detectives, cranes for desolate docklands that sort of thing. Build something grimy and dystopian but slightly different every time with the same basic, brutalist looking parts - which is like what we do with sound. I chose the name long before I realized how appropriate it would be.
It’s also motivated by wanting to go against the grain, to not conform to a genre that was new and innovative decades ago; to make music that is too serious, but not take it too seriously; to sound a bit like the future rather than the past – and to represent a lot of things that musicians that take themselves too seriously would find upsetting, and to have fun with it.
I’m not interested in entertaining people - not normal people anyway – and I don’t want to be just flying a flag for my favourite music either.
On my last count, you’ve got no less than 17 releases on Bandcamp - many of them available in physical formats too - dating back to 2011. That’s prolific. Where do you find them time to write/produce all this, and is a lot of it down to any sort of DIY production line ethos?
That is just ridiculous. But it’s probably more than that to be honest. We had an album out in 2009 but it had to be destroyed (one of the people involved refused to believe it hadn’t earned them - just them alone - a million euros). And there’s a couple of early singles that aren’t on our bandcamp but I’m going to put them up soon. Everyone involved does their own stuff too: music, writing, making things.
The only reason we have so much material is because I’m obsessed with making music and I’m massively antisocial. There’s no writing process it’s just this ongoing tinkering. I don’t do anything else. Nowadays I realize that’s massively unhelpful, I’m trying for more balance. If you only ever sit in a studio all day every day you end up with nothing to say, because that’s not living.
Your music feels very emotionally charged - what sort of themes are you interested in exploring?
Fear and hope, heart ache, obsession, betrayal, revenge, hidden doorways, evil twins, an ancient curse, a hilarious mix-up, a daring escape, and redemption. With a cliff-hanger ending.
I try to avoid having anything too obvious lyrically. But sometimes it’s cool to drop in a deadpan, mundane line here and there. I love words and I love to write but with lyrics we keep it pretty minimal. It feels important to keep things stripped back and cryptic. You’ve got to have a bit of mystery.
Essentially the motivating energy is fear, anger and determination, and maybe you’re making music to put a signal out to anyone else that’s fighting for your causes, seeing the world in the same way as you? But without preaching to the choir. Lyrically it’s not studied, there’s nothing forced.
And I realize I don’t want to just be making angry music, what is the point of that? It’s not enough to just say you’re angry. I’d love to do some chill-out / comedown tracks but I’m just not ready to chill-out or come down yet.
What’s your creative process?
Being in a near constant state of anxiety about not getting enough done.
It’s hard to talk about because it’s like this ongoing constant thing. There’s no rules but there’s a lot of trying to avoid safe options, there’s a lot of praxis, and a big chunk of not wanting to borrow too heavily from influences. And being too angry about people who do. I’ve always had a bad attitude about the laziness of listeners, musicians, DJs and journalists. People imitating bands that were innovating not imitating. And people lap it up. I can’t get my head round that. Why support something that’s looting your favourite music?
I wouldn’t call it a writing process exactly but it’s kind of organic, even if it’s mostly centred around mixing desks and DAWS: I like to record as it’s happening. Nothing’s pre-planned usually. I don’t consider it 'song writing' because of that. I don’t even write the lyrics down.
I’m also motivated by the way musicians can be really conservative and stuck up about technology. Even an acoustic guitar is a kind of technology. So I like to do things that are a bit contentious. And I like being a non-macho guy working with female musicians because it makes the indie boys uncomfortable. It’s our civic duty to make The Lads feel uncomfortable.
So I guess the overall vibe of what we do is negative, but with a bit of fire in there, a bit of hope. You’ve got to have a ray of light in there because negativity just burns you out, it doesn’t go anywhere. Dystopian is one of my favourite words.
You seem to work with a lot of collaborators. Is there a set lineup to The Mekano Set or is it a fluid, ever-changing lineup?
It depends on who can do the show. I’m really drawn to bands that don’t go for the conventional line-up. I’m much more into sound and noise than music, so you can’t really expect a conventional drummer or guitarist to get on board with this. And they tend to have pretty conservative, established, played-out influences.
Collaboration is so important because working with different people means you are always going to make something new, something unpredictable and fresh. You’re going to go to places sonically, lyrically and conceptually that you’d never even thought of or might never happen had you not all conjured it up together.
When it’s just me I tend to leave a lot of space. My ideas tend to be really simple, my lyrics just a few lines, there’s no real vocal melodies (I’m not really interested in melody at all unless it’s a bass riff). I like the idea of having songs that aren’t really songs. Playing around with the formulae, pulling it apart to see what’s inside.
You know, I’m really a worse musician than I was five years ago. But I’m better at realising the sounds I want to hear, and how to frame people in a way that suits their performance. And I’ve learned to not play too much, I’ve learned to leave space, I’ve learned to leave in the mistakes sometimes, the background noise and happy accidents, to just listen, to enjoy what’s going on even when I’m not physically playing a riff or anything. It’s like that thing when a chord sounds more interesting when it’s fading away than when you struck the notes. Objectivity and silence are the secret weapons of good musicianship.
Everything I do now I am always aware that it sounds the way it does because of collaborators - even when they’re not on the track. It would be really unhealthy I think to deny your influences, your past work.
What sort of setup do you have for live performance and how does this differ to your production setup?
It’s essentially two very similar balancing acts: random bits of cheap, second hand equipment all precariously gaffa taped into submission. Nothing vintage, nothing bespoke, boutique or like a pure overpriced analog clone of something that was originally dirt cheap.
I used to be precious about bits of kit but nothing lasts forever and over time you realize you can get over yourself and make music with whatever you have around - and the cliché is true: limitations are a good thing.
The only bit of kit I’m precious about is our Ensoniq SQ-80. It’s one of those machines that is way much more than the sum of its parts. It’s only 8 bit samples, but it’s got true analog filters. It does things I’ve never been able to recreate on anything else. These deep sort of Fairlighty drum sounds, great industrial noise fx. I ran one into the ground. Trying to use it sparingly now. I’m not sure if we’ll bring it out for gigs.
We’re really minimal when recording and gigging. We don’t have stuff just for show and we’re not afraid to use things that aren’t fashionable. I don’t want to be dependent on too much technology or volume so there’s no big amps or piles full of over-priced bespoke boutique analog box that essentially make everything sound like a broken cable. I don’t even have a favourite instrument anymore, I just like to have plenty of reverse reverb, a drone, some element of chaos, at least a couple of people doing different vocal things, not just my "gothic foghorn" voice putting people off their food.
We’ve never been the kind of thing that could go on tour and do the same set night after night. There has to be some kind of feedback between the space you’re playing, the people you’re playing to, the overall vibe of the show etc.
What’s next for The Mekano Set?
I’m at a point now where I realize it’s unhealthy to be constantly just churning out new ideas. I feel like it’s important to try and clarify what we’ve been doing, or at least more confusing, try and say yes to things like this more. Take stock a little bit.
We want to start doing more live stuff again. Putting on events - doing anything that doesn’t fit the mould of ‘album’, ‘mix tape’ or ‘gig’. It doesn’t have to be that limiting.
Ade does Mutate live a lot and runs a label, Lee is at Uni and still doing visual things. Similarly, Arthur is currently in Germany researching the mythology of The Mekan.
Justine’s writing a book about the ongoing coincidences we’ve been living through for the past year and Chucky and Arthur have been working on another radio documentary about the curse of the Mekan as a follow up to Behind The Sins.
Jez has just released her first e.p. as Aurum on Tesitwa Records - a brilliant mix of Post-Punk rhythms with some really slick drone / soundscapes.
Jewelly does the spoken word things and visuals as Me Presents. She makes hard backed books completely by hand.
I’ve been working on a couple of tunes with London based Scotts rapper / story teller / inner-zones reporter Leon Milk which I should have finished by now but can’t stop messing about with. He’s one of very few people doing stuff that really speaks our language politically and emotionally. His rhymes are so raw but really heartfelt and hopeful at the same time.
I’ve been working on a big compilation / re-mastering / mastering thing for the past year so hopefully that will be finished soon. I’ve spent the last two years learning everything I can about the mysterious alchemical art of mastering and properly mixing music - which has been a worth wile but also massively uncreative process. So now I just want to get back to having fun and pursuing massively uncommercial adventurous projects.
And what can we expect at Emotion Wave?
Dark / Swirling / Noise / Sound / Music. Every time we do anything live it’s always a little bit different and the vibe of the night and the people there is a big deciding factor.
We used to have a rehearsed set-list where everything was always the same tempo, same song length and structure but we realized it was more fun to keep things more spontaneous and mess with the structure of the song on the night. Sometimes we’ll only do one song. Sometimes we’ll do a long sound check of really fast tunes just for us and whoever in the room but then the gig will be down-tempo and ambienty. It’s nice to keep things unpredictable.