We like Dementio13. Paul Foster makes some inventive electronica which draws you in and lately he's been getting better and better. The latest album, The Dark Science, is, we think, among his best work. And so it was surprise to read on his blog a post that said he was giving it up. Maybe not permanently, but definitely give it a rest for a while. Intrigued and perplexed, we got in touch and put the question to him; why?
IBWM: It was something of a surprise to see your blog post about taking a break from music. You have been at this for a while, but what's prompted this decision?
D13: Yeah, well it’s been coming for a while I think… There are several reasons. I’ve been making music since I was about 15 years old, in one form or another; so a majority of my life really. As Dementio13, it’s been around 16 years. And as the years have progressed I’ve found it harder to make good use of my time. My day-job, teaching, takes nearly all of my time: evenings and weekends included. And still, for many years I was managing to bang out music during holiday times, etc, quite prolifically. Now, I can’t even seem to do that without becoming a bit of a hermit. So to do my job properly and still have a bit of downtime, I’m making room by stopping recording for the time being at least. Also, the ‘downtime’ thing is quite important: I used to see making music as downtime, albeit a particularly immersive and satisfying form of relaxation. Now, it seems more like a compulsion, but a bit of a chore. That’s not good. I’ve found it increasingly difficult to come up with new ideas and I’m normally driven by a concept or a ’new sound’ but my last couple of releases have lacked that drive, I feel, looking back.
Also, the musical landscape has changed so much. There is so much of it everywhere, easily accessible, often for free. People don’t listen to radio or buy music as much as they once did. We’re getting to the point where there’s the first generation of grown adults, in their 20s, who have grown up with streamable music and the internet - like I grew up with vinyl and the music press - so it’s the norm. For me, streaming isn’t my first point of reference if I want to hear music; but for many, it is. Anyway, my point is that there is so much music out there, in every genre, that I’m not sure I am able to, or need to, keep populating it. I have older releases, which people have liked, but which don’t get many listens or downloads because people go straight for my newest release and ignore the old stuff. I’m just ‘making room’ for my older music to get some listens I guess. I’d started charging for my music, albeit a tiny amount, because I was eventually hoping to release stuff on physical media and hoping the downloads paid for it, but that’s not looking too likely now.
IBWM: You mention painting and collage as potential creative outlets. Is this something you've done a lot of in the past?
D13: Yes, for fun and as academic study. I do need to be creative in some way and I have a degree and MA in art and aesthetics, so I thought I’d return to painting, just to change my ways of thinking and addressing creative problems differently. It’s an entirely different process if you look beyond the basic analogies between music and painting that people make.
IBWM: I prefer to shy away from obvious questions about influences, but I'm intrigued how musical and visual art influences mesh - or perhaps remain completely apart - for you.
D13: Well, despite the processes being entirely different, I’d say that the intentions are the same: evocation of a time and a place; a creation of a mood; a critique of the act of making (whether that’s music or art, whatever); references to culture; and good old entertainment. There are parallels: a lot of my music was intended to soundtrack visual ideas I had but which stayed in my head. The two activities are influenced by memories of films, landscapes, events and characters that I have.
IBWM: Personally, I reckon The Dark Science is probably the most complete and well-rounded thing you've done. I played We All Fall Down on my radio show and our electronica guru thought it was Boards Of Canada at first - praise indeed. Do you put yourself under pressure to top the previous release every time?
D13: Thanks, that’s really appreciated. I actually thought TDS seemed a bit ‘rudderless’; whereas older releases, such as Imperial Decimal, for me have more of a direction. Though The Dark Science does sound more unified, I think (i.e. is possibly a bit more ‘generic’. My older stuff was often all over the place style-wise… intentionally, of course!). Yes, a couple of the tracks are a bit BoC-ish. I really like Boards of Canada, but this is at the heart of what’s been difficult for me I think: coming up with new ideas. So the new stuff does sound like other music, specifically, instead of sounding like lots of other music mixed-up that you can’t quite put your finger on.
IBWM: We're all aware of the difficulty of making music pay in the modern era. Is that another factor on your decision? It's a bit harder to illegally download a collage, after all.
D13: Haha! Sort of, yeah. I probably answered this question earlier; but you can’t necessarily progress if you don’t sell your music, unless you’ve got endless funds elsewhere. It’s not about the money, but stepping up into merchandise, vinyl, CD pressing, etc costs money and is a bit of a gamble. People do it, mind you, they take that gamble. But I can’t afford to just chuck money away. Until recently, it’s been hard to ‘illegally’ download my music anyway, as it was free if you didn’t want to pay. I could never quite understand why people would torrent my albums (which they still do), when they were available for free in much higher quality formats anyway. The whole present/future of music is a bloody mystery to me anyway. It’s a debate which has been raging for years, but now streaming has finally taken off in the mainstream, after spending a good few years as a fairly niche way of listening to music; the debate is even more pertinent and the game is changing again. Just getting noticed and the music heard is harder than it was a few years ago. I know several artists who have been making great music, right on the cutting edge, for years who can’t even give their music away.
IBWM: Enough about quitting. Tell us about The Dark Science. You reference Lancashire mills and Welsh valleys, your heritage and your home. Is this the driving idea?
D13: Yes. Without wanting to get all Monty Python, I grew up in the shadow of a huge cotton mill and there was a shallow pit coal mine at the bottom of my parents garden when I was a little kid. In the middle of the night the air pumps would come on and make this droning sound which I’d fall asleep to. We used to play on the mine after it closed down - quite dangerous in retrospect and sinister. We used to walk into a tunnel with little railway lines in it; not exactly great Health & Safety! The landscape around a lot of Lancashire was like this. As well as some areas of real beauty too. But for me, and a lot of my generation, that post-industrial landscape became beautiful too. When the dereliction was removed, the landscape became all the same; the towns all started to look like one another; no character, and no sense of an identity. Where I ended up (South Wales) went through a similar transformation too, even since I moved here in 1989. Cardiff Bay was a real community, albeit a bit run-down. But over the years it became a pleasant, but generic, bay-side ‘development’. The original community was shipped out, the yuppy/hipster-types, as they were, were shipped in.
Horror films influenced the album too, British horror of the 60s and 70s mainly. That kind of sensibilty, darkness, ambiguity and not knowing what was around the next corner. These are the things that are kind of formative for me; though you couldn’t really call the album auto-biographical, it’s about the stuff around me.
IBWM: You also take poetry from Janice Soderling. Tell us about that.
D13: There’s not much I can say about that really. Marie Craven, a long-time collaborator friend, has been making these great little short videos of poetry readings with visuals and music. She’d used quite a bit of my music to soundtrack poems which she’d found on Poetrystorehouse.com (it’s a shop-window for poets and encourages collaboration with other art forms like video, music and performance.). She sent me some readings of two poems, one which hasn’t been released yet as it’s appearing on a compilation album (tba), and ‘Fissures’. The poem is by Janice D. Soderling whose page can be found at http://poetrystorehouse.com/2014/07/27/janice-soderling-poems/
IBWM: Finally, you say that you may change your mind. On a scale of 1-10, how likely is that to happen?
D13: Ideally 9, realistically 5. We’ll see.