People don't like different. People like the same. Even you and I, connoisseurs though we may think we are because of our wide tastes in music and large record collections, still moan like buggery when Tescos change the layout of the local supermarket. Why don't they just leave things as they are? I remember when you could walk from here to your Grandmother's house without seeing another person. I remember when the pop charts were stuffed to the gills with real, proper, songs with tunes and a beat you could dance to. I remember when children were still children instead of coat hangers for fashion-obsessed mothers. I remember when you could have a week in Blackpool, fish and chip suppers every night, a ride on the Pleasure Beach and a day-trip to Morecombe for thruppence ha'penny and the sea was warm and clean and everyone smiled at you and said Good Morning.
Yes, of course. The familiar over the new, the status quo (but not Status Quo, because they changed when they should have stayed psychedelic) over something different, the devil we know over the devil we don't. It's why kids and today's pop music go hand in hand while dads and today's pop music don't. It's an old, old story and one which, paradoxically, doesn't change over time.
Meme approaches this truism with either a healthy disregard for the prevailing sociological wisdom or a naively heart-warming faith in humankind. The former is more likely, given the cynical tone of his press releases (of which more later) but whichever it is, he doesn't do much for his blood pressure or his chances by insisting that Meme is pronounced mem when every sane person reads it meem and the loonies go for me-me. Expecting the audience to bend over backwards to accommodate his oddities is a good analogy for the approach he takes to music as well. On the surface the new album, Eudaimonia, seems straightforward enough: breakbeats, a bit moody, a bit soulful (meem) but underneath it's subversive: a bit nasty, a bit clever (mem.)
Reuterons, track 11 on the album, ends with the sample of a man ruing the fact that "everyone's the same, everyone's the same." But Meme is different. His press releases are different as well. There's a distinct art to writing press releases. Unfortunately, most of the guff that make its way to Robots.. HQ seems to have been written by the kind of artist whose work is displayed behind the knitting patterns below the bottom bookshelf in Sue Ryder shops. The single A4 sheet that accompanied Eudaimonia was a story of one man's tunnel vision and the havoc that dedicating himself to finishing an album wreaked on the rest of his life.
After spending many months writing two 12" EPs whilst growing an extremely unprofessionally unkempt beard.. I noticed that other members of the company were starting to avoid me. Working all night on music and all day trying not to sleep at my desk by drinking voluminous amounts of coffee, I created the Meme album, plus an ability to sleep with my eyes open at a computer.. I eventually found myself hauled up before the big boss, or rather a bizarre David Lynchian set-piece whereby I was told by speakerphone on the table (the manager, it was explained had "fallen off a chair and could not be there in person") that it was either the corporation or a huge cheque.. I was out of the office before they could say "part of the company restructuring programme."
Eudaimonia translates as happiness. A beautiful irony. But how much of the press release is true? "All of it. Growing a beard to irritate me into writing the White EP really helped me at work as it allowed people to identify me as somewhat mentally unhinged, I suppose. I did look like some kind of crazed psychopath for a while. I would turn up late, unkempt, unruly hair and unshaven, eyes red (I would stay up till 5am writing tracks) and quite often have real problems following conversations. This meant that managers and staff alike tended to leave a safety circle around me just in case I flipped out. This helped my ability to take off as much time as possible to get the music out no end. I do think that invoking fear in your managers is a healthy way to get through the working day."
Different, no? Previous press releases have been just as interesting. In one Meme said that no-one wouldn't know he was born in Birmingham because of the care he takes in pronunciation. What's all that about? "A bit of self-deprecation. I think it is pretty obvious that I am from Birmingham and that one of the classic things I noticed about moving south was that nobody understood a word I was talking about. For instance I used to catch the buzz but now I have to catch a buss. I am always amused by the fact that Brighton girls refer to their crotch as a crutch. This used to confuse me a great deal." But it's not where you're from it's where you're at. "You obviously haven't been to Halesowen."
Untrue, in fact. I didn't know where Meme was from Halesowen before the interview started (although if I had done, I'd have interviewed him much earlier on a misguided but understandable working class solidarity tip) but by coincidence, I grew up two miles from Halesowen, I worked in a cash and carry there for three years and did my A-levels at Halesowen College. I like the fact that I've got a Black Country accent if only because virtually everybody I come across in Cambridge speaks like an extra from To The Manor Born. This makes me some kind of inverted snob, I guess. Meme too. "I think I maybe have a touch of reverse snobbery as I find the middle-classes very annoying. My flatmate, Giles, was bought up with a grand piano in the west wing and a girlfriend who quoted Neitzsche. It's a different outlook when you're born with a silver-spoon in your mouth." He's an inverted snob and arrogant too according to yet another press sheet. "Well my last girlfriend, Marion, told me I was the most arrogant man she had ever met. But then again she was French."
Hee! Meme is currently studying for a PhD in Social and Political Thought. ("After finishing my last job I was not convinced I would get a good reference.") Does this make for a better, or more healthy, work/music division? "I think that the only division is Music. I only do other things when I don't feel like writing music. I'm dictatorial and aggressive to ensure that tracks are finished (for me the most important consideration). I hate nothing more than noodling for 18 hours and then having nothing to show for it."
Ah yes, the music. The Eudaimonia album is out on Meme's own Loca label and Invisible, a split release with Tome is out on Mirrordisc. Both are journeys to nearby-but-elsewhere on the back of breakbeats. Tome's contributions are on the lighter, more ambient side, Meme tends towards the dark side - the insular sound of internal turmoil manifesting as snarling, filtered melodies - but will occasionally whip out a gen-u-wine, crystal clear, beautiful and moving 24-carat song. "I have always written both tracks and songs, I merely used to divide them up between two different bands, namely Meme and Near Earth. After Near Earth fell apart due to arguments I merely re-appropriated my song-writing into Meme. But to be honest I would like to fuse both together."
Most of the solo electronicists I speak to were previously in guitar bands. "Yeah I was in lots of no-name bands during my teens and twenties but my radical democratic outlook toward the organisation of the band meant that too often it would either not happen or else arguments would cause it all to fall apart. Now I'm a benevolent dictator when writing music and find it works a lot better." Does using a computer avoid the bullshit that goes along with collaboration? "Not really. I was just fascinated with what you could do in sound with the technology. Although obviously it did help to speed up song-writing when you can multi-track and edit."
Obviously he still collaborates with other people, Tome shows up on the album as well as the split release. "Tome is a long-time collaborator. I like to work with him as he has a very chilled style which complements and contrasts with my more aggressive beats and sounds." I had this weird idea that Tome might be Meme with a different head on because the tracks credited individually are so complementary and the tracks credited to both are so complete. I suppose that sleeve credits don't rule out schizophrenia? "I don't think we can ever rule out schizophrenia."
His record label is called loca - crazy in Spanish - but that's just a happy accident, it actually stands for Logic of Collective Action. Why have the hassle of running a label on top of everything else? "I think usual reasons. I got some offers but was worried about the amount of control I was ceding in the contracts. Particularly with regard to production. So I thought I would go it alone and see what happened." And is it worth it? " There is nothing better. You can produce and release whatever you want and have complete control over how will look. Although I think it is important to use others (for instance the graphic designers Marcus and Raquel at firstname.lastname@example.org) who are also free to experiment." Wouldn't he rather be signed to a label like Warp? "Obviously the money that would come with the signing would be very useful. But it would depend on the freedom the label gave, some are more controlling than others. At the end of the day I want to release good interesting sounds and have the freedom to experiment. If another label offered that then who knows?"
Probably the only bedroom beatcake who wouldn't bite your hand off to sign to the Sheffield (wheels of) steelers. I said he was different, but will he ever get far enough that people know how to pronounce his name? It is he fighting a losing battle? "I may lose battles but I think I will win the war."
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