White Mask Q&A
White Mask is the moniker of Blackpool-based electronic producer, Kris Blacow. Kris is a respected and meticulous producer, who’s played Liverpool before at Upitup Record’s legendary rave nights — but appears to have been on hiatus the last few years. He was gracious enough to let me pick his brain ahead of his first live set in five years at Emotion Wave 13…
Can you give us a history of White Mask — where did it all begin?
A long time ago, when I was 4–5 years old, my Dad, who is very musical (and still a drummer to this day) would encourage me to listen to music by letting me stay up late to watch TV programmes like The Old Grey Whistle Test — amongst others, who’s names are long forgotten.
I was introduced to David Bowie’s Ashes to Ashes and Visage’s by Fade to Grey videos — which notably contained a spinning optical illusion of a plastic mask-like face in white. As a four-ish year old kid in 1980, these videos scared me half to death and are some of the first memories I have of watching TV and hearing serious music. The aforementioned white mask in the video, unsurprisingly, is the origin of the name White Mask.
The big musical eureka moment for me though was being given Tangerine Dream’s Exit and White Eagle albums on an a ridiculously old C90 cassette tape, which I still have somewhere. When I was about seven, it was immediate sci-fi escapism, and conjured images to my little seven year old brain of space civilisations, alien intelligences and the far, far future.
Similarly, my Dad’s psychedelic vinyl collection provided lots of bizarre listening fodder for a bored ten year old kid who was off school with a cold: mostly prog, jazz rock and synthesiser music — bands like Vangelis, King Crimson, Yes and Peter Gabriel.
By my mid teens I’d followed in the footsteps of Dad and was drumming in rock, metal and indie bands, but became disillusioned with generally being at the bottom of the heap and just being told what to do by those photogenic lead singers and guitarists. I’d also been listening to a lot of ambient/electronica from the early 90’s onwards: Aphex Twin, Future Sound of London, The Orb, Orbital, Autechre etc - the usual suspects of the time really — then I started buying Sound on Sound magazine and drooling over all that expensive gear they used to showcase.
By the mid 90’s I was an art student in St Helens working with good old Cubase on the Atari ST and a variety of synths, modules and drum machines mostly purchased from the old Loot magazine.
You’re part of a sort of microcosm of Blackpool-based producers (alongside VHS Head and Phono Ghosts), how much would you say, if at all, you influence each other’s creative output?
The main influence between us was really in 2004 when we all tried to make full albums’ worth of music every month for a year, it was definitely one of the most creative years for me and the monthly, deadline based approach made us all compete to make the best music we could.
These days we all have our own artistic spaces that we’ve each kind of have ring fenced, I’d definitely say there’s some influence between the three of us, but I think it’s more on a subconscious level in how we influence each other: we all share an interest in the paranormal. We also share a love of old and/or bad movies and TV and the aesthetics that surround these products: posters, packaging etc, and of course similar music tastes ranging from electronic, to prog rock to library music.
Outside of music, what influences you?
I’m a big fan of the writing of Iain M Banks, particularly his Culture novels, the paranormal writings of John Keel, and also many other books describing High Strangeness UFO/Cryptid encounters such as Jacques Vallée’s work.
I also have a fascination with cosmology and books such as The Goldilocks Enigma and Cosmic Jackpot by Paul Davies, which asks big questions about how our universe is seemingly fine tuned to allow for life. Related to that is any media that makes you question or study the nature of reality.
Another interest is nostalgic old TV programmes ranging from the mundanity of something like 80s episodes of London’s Burning to obscure old kid’s sci-fi TV shows such as Under the Mountain or Star Fleet.
I also seem to be able to remember the visual content of my dreams, so some of the stranger, more memorable stuff often filters into tracks, or at the very least, track titles. I intermittently keep a dream diary to record particularly vivid ones in detail.
In terms of the creative process how do you go About making music
I’ve got a mostly visual-based approach when it comes to writing a tune. So something I picture in my mind’s eye, say for example a strange image from a recurring dream will form the basis of the timbral feel of the music, and if I stick with the idea of trying to transcribe memories of a dream into music. I can then start applying the mood of the song to the tonal choices, or tonal feel of the piece, so I’ll be looking for timbres at the start. Quite a lot of stuff gets discarded on the way as it’s a kind of musical scaffolding.
I also have a feeling that to a degree the music controls me, and I don’t mean that in an overly dramatic sense, but there are times when it’s a toil just to make anything that sounds decent and I’ve spent days chipping at the metaphorical rock face, and then there are other times where the first time I put fingers to the keys it comes out exactly right, which usually leads me to think “What?” …and then I’ll end up being extra cynical about what I’ve written.
I also work on albums in a conceptually based way. This stemmed from the old ‘album a month’ set up, where ideas would have to be generated quickly, kind of like a creative shortcut. What usually happens though is that ideas generate more ideas or mutate into other, different ideas. An example is an old track called the Girl With The Shuriken Eyes, in which the exercise was to create an imaginary early 80s Russian or Eastern European TV sci-fi theme tune - but then went on to spawn an entire album’s worth of material, which ended up fitting a somewhat different theme.
Your music alludes to multi-layered esoteric themes, where do they come from?
One of my main esoteric influences was seeing a UFO as a small child, which really steered me into an interest into reading and learning about the field of UFOlogy and the paranormal from an early age. During the 80s there were a lot of anthology style paranormal books and magazines, with titles along the lines of ‘Mysteries of the Unknown’, that drew me into the phenomena - whilst highlighting broader odd stuff such as psychic occurrences, hauntings, incidents of high strangeness and other unusual cases.
I have much more cynical eyes these days though and due do having a more rational, sceptical approach can understand that there’s a fairly healthy portion of ufologists and paranormal investigators that are, shall we say, snake oil salesmen — or at the very least businessmen whom have made long and healthy careers out of what is essentially sustained speculative writing.
Can you tell us anything about the set you’ll be performing at Emotion Wave?
It’s a mostly new set with totally new tracks, stripped back, a bit darker than my usual live sets. It’s new stuff that all falls under one concept which will hopefully end up as a cohesive album release and will be heavily reflected in the set. I don’t really want to give too much away at this point in time — come to the gig and find out!
Are there any artists/music you’re into now you’d like to share with us?
I tend to stumble across good music these days by accident, but have been very impressed by the recent outputs of Rykard, he’s previously played Emotion Wave. I also get to hear Phono Ghosts, VHS Head and Meatbingo tracks, months and sometimes years in advance of their release, which I’d love to share, but I’m clearly not allowed to do that! However, you could check out Fonolith Records’ output ran by none other than Neil Scrivin of Phono Ghosts.
Any plans for the future?
Yes, there are definitely plans for releases in the future, I’ve just got be happy with them, which is difficult. I have a few albums that are getting close to being on the boil as it were, that hopefully will be looking for a home in the not too distant future, I’d also like to return to reasonably regular gigs if I can.
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