Clearlight: Magic Service

Three years ago, Lucas D’Haeyaert debuted as Clearlight on the ever-reliable Subaltern Records. The Belgian producer unveiled a highly personal sound that draws from the deeper, more atmospheric branch of dubstep, while freeing itself from any stylistic constraint. Following two EPs alongside Piezo and his friend Owl, as well as a two-year hiatus, Clearlight brilliantly returns to Subaltern Records with a new record, Magic Service, that furthers his sonic explorations at the edges of dubstep: we seized the opportunity to ask him a few questions on the EP, as well as his musical vision and his productions.

First off, I’d like to talk about the EP you are about to release on Subaltern Records, Magic Service. I feel like the EP is really cohesive, with each track being put in its right place, and with the different tracks melting into a whole when listened together in that order. Was that something deliberate, that you thought about when writing the tracks?

The track order really came together through intuition, some tracks were written in totally different moments. For instance, “Carousel” was the oldest track on the EP, I think it was already done at the time of my first release on Subaltern. Gabriele Mentha, the label’s big boss, fell in love with this track at the time and suggested we’d put it out when we were working on the new EP. He never got bored of the track through time, he felt like the track hadn’t aged and even found a bit of a nostalgic feeling in it. So that’s how the track got on the EP. “Illness Point”, “Magic Service” and “Black Liquid” were the three tracks that were really written for that release. As for the two ambient tracks, they were written more or less at the same time, but that was well before I started working on the EP. I then picked them out of my own collection to perfect the EP, and in the end it all shaped the way I wanted. I’m happy to know you think the EP is cohesive, as it’s not always an easy task when the tracks are quite different.

This EP is your first solo EP of that length, showing you are at ease with longer formats. You already released an album in 2011 with your duo, Glÿph: would you consider releasing an album as Clearlight, to go further in this direction?

(Laughs) It’s funny you mention that Glÿph album, I’m actually surprised you know it. I suppose you found that on Google? But yeah, I worked on that a while ago, we were still kids who’d been fiddling on Logic Pro for less than two years. That said, yeah, we did an album and shared it as a free download, and it contains tracks that I still really enjoy today, though mainly because I feel really nostalgic listening to them. With Clearlight, doing an album is definitely one of my main missions. The problem is that I’m much more demanding with myself now, which makes things harder. Who knows though, the future may include a whole lot of divine inspiration and a perfect mindset? However, I feature on three tracks off the next album from my great friend and eternal brother, Owl, who’s also known as Pete Saturn. I mention it as we talked about Glÿph, which he was a member of, so I’d like to say that the album that is being put together at the moment is a true gem in my opinion.

I owe this success to Gabriele and the faith he put in me. It is thanks to these people who don’t give a fuck about being conventional that music is able to evolve and get richer in the most beautiful way.

You are releasing the new EP on Subaltern Records, who released your first EP as Clearlight in 2014. How did you choose to release the EP on this label? Did the label have an influence on the EP, for instance in the selection of tracks or through favouring a specific type of tracks?

I wanted to do another release with them as I think you need to be loyal with the people who put faith in you, and who would be ready to trust you again with even more confidence. You know, when you do music that’s a bit weird, most times you realise that a lot of people don’t really understand your thing. You’re perceived as the village idiot. I remember at the beginning, when I launched the Clearlight project, that was the time when drum&bass and dubstep, that you loved in the underground scene, were being soiled by artists who wanted to be played on the radio that your little sister listens to. I remember it as a depressing time, when you saw these artists you loved starting to make music for champagne clubs. So I wanted to make music that was the opposite of that. So yeah, at the time, I wrote an EP that was really different from what was being done back then, and apparently that made a lot of people happy, which was a relief! And I owe this success to Gabriele and the faith he put in me at the time. It is thanks to these people who don’t give a fuck about being conventional that music is able to evolve and get richer in the most beautiful way.

This EP makes it clear that your sound goes further than dubstep in the strict sense. Besides the ambient intro, Magic Service’s ending for instance is nearly IDM, with shoegaze guitars as well. How does your writing process go? Do you start with a precise idea of the things you want to include in the track, or do things come more naturally?

Honestly, with this EP, there was a bit of both. There were tracks were I started with nothing, feeling like shit in the morning, smoking a joint in front of a senseless project with which you need to fight mentally to try and make something interesting that triggers a few shivers. With other tracks I woke up with my mind full of ideas and a desire to instantly start making music. To be honest, I really prefer such moments: when you succeed in transforming your ideas into music, you’re on to a winner. Well, except if you only have shit ideas of course (laughs). Now, I haven’t reached the level where I can transform anything that goes through my head into music. It’s sometimes frustrating but that’s the way it goes, we were not all born geniuses with inhuman talent as some people are. On top of that, electronic music is infinitely complex; sometimes, I don’t even remember how I produce my own sounds. I don’t think that was the case for the bands in the 60s! But I’m stimulated by the fact that I haven’t stopped evolving since I started producing sounds. This gives me confidence for the future, as stagnating is one of my greatest musical fears.

Magic Service studio sessions

I can hear very different musical styles melting within the sound of the EP. When listening to it, I was wondering where you took such inspiration from: besides dubstep or electronic music, do you have any other favourite musical styles or scenes?

My first crush in electronic music was Amon Tobin, who I discovered in a skateboard video soundtrack. I think I was probably about 13 or 14. I haven’t stopped listening to trippy music since! With time, my musical knowledge only grew larger, I’m really an eclectic listener with a huge music collection. I’ve been influenced by many artists through time, I’m really a passionate person by nature. For instance, it was Pink Floyd that got me listening to ambient music.

The EP begins with an ambient collaboration with Japanese producer enuui. How did you get in touch, and how did the collaboration go, in terms of writing the tune and sharing ideas?

Enuui was one of the first artists I loved in ambient music. I discovered him through a Voodoo Podcast from Morphy a while ago. I lived magical moments thanks to this guy, he only did one album but I will never forget it, it was one of those intense moments that you only live once, when you discover something new and know it will change your life. I still feel the same thing when I listen to this album. I sent him a few tracks and he told me he really loved my stuff, and offered me to remix one of his tracks. That’s when I remixed “Nagini“, and I did a track that still gives me shivers, as it really comes out of a trip. Unfortunately, Enuui doesn’t do music anymore. For “Fractal Clouds”, he sent me a homemade sample pack that he recorded in Japan, and I wrote the track in his honour.

More generally, there are more collaborations to be found in your discography: besides Glÿph, you for instance released a track with Piezo on a split EP back in 2015. Do these kinds of collaborations change the way you work?

I have to admit that long-distance collaborations are really annoying. Either you’re not working on the same software as your friend, or you share a lot of random stuff but get lost as we don’t have the same ears and the same way to work sounds… It’s often complicated. I actually nearly never did it. With Piezo, on our split EP, we only did “Pripyat Dub” together, that’s actually one of the few collaborations that actually ended up with something concrete, and that probably comes from the fact that we both had a lot of respect for each other and for our productions. If you listen closely though, you can hear that the track wasn’t easy to made. The best tracks are often done with simplicity, even if their actual content remains complex. What I prefer is working with my buddy Owl, sharing beers and rolling one. These are always great moments when we share things and have fun together. That is really important.

You come from Belgium, where the dubstep scene has been around for a while, through people like BunZer0 for instance, but which is at the same time out of the British epicentre of the style. Do you think this helps you producing a sound that is more open on other things? More generally, do you perceive an influence of the place where you live on your sound?

Well, see, I live in Charleroi where it’s dark and cold. It reeks of misery here! When you have a walk in town and then come back home, you don’t want to write an acoustic guitar love song for your wife, you only want to take drugs, listen to hardcore and start fighting people.

I feel like the dubstep scene is full with fresh ideas right now, with artists trying new stuff, breaking usual templates – I’m thinking of people like Sleeper or Gantz for instance. Do you feel linked to this scene? Are there artists with which you feel like you share aesthetics, or with whom you feel close musically?

Not really – I prefer being a white wolf amongst a flock of black sheep.

Can you tell us a bit on what else is to come from you in 2017?

2017 will be full with surprises! I won’t unveil anything for now, but we’re working on a huge project with Owl!

I’d like to big up Mentha, Matt, Piezo, D-Operation Drop, Taiko, Le Lion, Otz and the whole Subaltern family. Chad Dubz at Foundation Audio, Simon Viehoff at Nord Label. Huge thanks to BunZer0 who never fails to support, Jenner Clark at Aquatic Collective, Luke at Reconstrvt NYC, Zenitas of Tundra Festival, Master Margherita and Zen Baboon for Boom Festival, Kryptonight Belgium, Rotation Belgium, FOB Show, Radio Kick Back, FatKidOnFire, TRUSIK, SeekSickSound. Massive big up to Enuui, DMVU, ILL_K, Ziplokk, Causa, Shanti, Sectra, Feonix, Mob Killa, Dillard, Iant, Dave Tipper, Oxossi, Halfred, High Dude, Moprhy, Dark Harmonics, Teffa, Perverse, Zygos, Ceiva, Koma, Amon Tobin, Locax <3, Fill Spectre, Shu, Whitebear, Chef Etchebest, Spacedrome, Bukez Finezt, Dalek One, Oldgold, Noisia, Mr Jo, Half Normal, Tosti, Toadface, Bwoy De Bhajan, Ishq and finally a special thank you to Owl for all those years <3

Magic Service EP is released February 24th and available from Redeye, White Peach, Juno, Intense Records and the Subaltern Records Store. This interview is available in French via SeekSickSound.

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