Interview by Olya Karlovich
Managing Contort, releasing on Downwards, curating Berlin Atonal — with such a track record behind, Samuel Kerridge needs no introduction for many electronic music lovers. However, despite his many years of experience and contribution to the scene, performances at the best venues worldwide, and extraordinary collaborations, the artist comes across as a rather down-to-earth guy — he happily chats with fans on Reddit and, just like at the very beginning of his career, remains creatively curious.
From his early work on the Horizontal Ground label to Kick To Kill (released in 2022), Kerridge continues to explore territories on the fringes of industrial techno, noise and post-punk, each time expanding his sonic palettes and opening up with a bit of new previously unknown to listener side. His sound, like his creative process, is playful and constantly transforming.
This relentless commitment to the process reflects the approach of a true DIY enthusiast. Kerridge is a real hands-on artist who always has some equipment at his disposal. He is not against modern software developments or technologies like AI; it is just that the hardware makes his creative process genuinely inventive. And, of course, unforeseen incidents are essential to a musician’s inspiration.
Along with solo works, co-creation plays a significant role in Kerridge’s practice. Together with Maxim “Panda” Barron, he founded the darkly anarchic act Death Disco; there was also the UF project, a duet with the German experimental musician OAKE, and work with such artists as Surgeon and others. Kerridge’s collaborations often explore new musical territories and unfold at the intersection of disciplines. Thus, within The Outer, he teamed up with Taylor Burch (DVA Damas) to create a series of slowly mesmerising industrial records overlayed with a dystopian vocal. The thoughts of French writer, artist and filmmaker Jean Cocteau inspired the album. Daisy Dickinson’s evocative visuals also augmented the synergy of music and spoken words—the AV show The Outer premiered at Berlin Atonal 2019.
Following the same desire for experimentation and constant evolvement, the artist reimagines the art of DJing and brings his unique vision to it. You can never quite predict what to expect from his sets. Kerridge* parses hundreds of tracks into a sampler and creates new music in real-time, a genuinely fascinating act. Such a hybrid approach is a logical continuation of everything the artist has done and continues to do, not following any particular ‘winning formula’ but with sincere persistence in discovering non-obvious sonic boundaries. With so many inspiring projects under his belt, he believes his best is yet to come.
*Sam Kerridge’ss upcoming show dates: Madrid, Spain • 8th Dec 2023; A Coruna, Spain • 9th Dec 2023; Glasgow, UK • 15th Dec 2023; Barcelona, Spain • 16th Dec 2023; Hong Kong, China• 19th Jan 2024; Shenzen, China • 20th Jan 2024; Hangzhou, China • 26th Jan 2024 and Shanghai, China • 27th Jan 2024
Your music has been constantly evolving. At the same time, each of your records offers an insight into the next. Do you have some overall artistic ambition/challenge behind your ongoing creative process? Or are they also changing over time?
The ambition is always to keep evolving; I can never stand still and regurgitate a winning formula; the challenge is to make every record unique in sound and identity. I still, to this day, firmly believe my best is yet to come, and it’s that mindset that drives me to keep creating music. Whether that’s achievable or just a fanciful idea is up for debate, but I’m never truly content with my output, and I always feel there’s more to give. I’m always restless and forever looking for new sounds and approaches to my workflow. This is the constant throughout my whole process; everything else is subject to change with new technology and the hopeful wisdom of age.
Experimentation is at the core of your process. You seek unusual sounds and develop new techniques, whether production work or DJing. How do you work to maintain your unique style in this never-ending exploration? What aspects of your creative approach always remain the same?
It’s an interesting point, as I go through no particular process or effects to ensure a “Samuel Kerridge” sound is achieved. My studio equipment is constantly changing, and there is no sound bank I’ve accumulated that I go to when creating. I stand against that; I try to start from zero as much as possible. That said, I know my records are distinct in their personality, and I know when something doesn’t fit my sonic palette. It reflects my personality, and it simply comes down to listening to those inner voices and trusting what lies between my ears to see what resonates within. What you hear in my work says more about myself than anything I can say.
How would you describe your relationship with your setup? Do you see your gear as a tool for bringing your ideas to life or as a more integral part of the creative process? What exceptional artistic possibilities does working with hardware give you that software can’t offer?
The hardware I own limits me in some aspects, which is what attracts me to it. There are greater possibilities with software and the integration of AI, and I’m not against using that technology in parts of the signal chain. However, I find the chaos and sheer volume of sounds within the software overwhelming and a little bit Fischer Price most of the time. Software should open up vast possibilities on paper, but it’s not always the reality.
For instance, I love the hands-on connection hardware gives me when creating music. I’ve learnt over the last decade a stripped-down, simplified workflow creates far better results. Keeping things less complicated in the first instance forces me to get inventive and spark my imagination, which is why I make music. When I know a piece of gear intimately, it can be easy to get what I desire, so it helps bring my ideas to life much quicker than other platforms. At the same time, happy accidents are integral to any creative process.
What role do custom instruments play in your setup? And what do you like about them compared to commercial gear?
There was a phase about six years ago when I went mad for custom instruments. I believed I’d stumble across something that only a handful of people had, and it would offer me a new sound to explore. In hindsight, I think it stemmed from reading some interviews by Pansonic, where they had all these custom-built machines. Unfortunately, it didn’t quite work out like that. On the flip side, I’ve had a few pieces of Folktek gear appear on albums.
The one that has stuck around the longest is the Therasynth. It fits into my hands-on approach, and no manuals are required. I’ve also bought a lot of pedals from older men in the USA, manufacturing filthy boxes in their garages, and to be fair to them, most are still being used extensively in my setup. Whether I’m using something custom or commercially produced doesn’t seem to make a difference; it’s whether the instrument is intuitive and resonates with my approach.
How you transform your DJ sets is an extension and reflection of your music-making process. How has your approach to DJing been changing over the years? How did you come to the current modification of your DJ performance?
After Covid, I took a step back to re-evaluate many aspects of my artistic approach. I concluded that as much as I loved DJing at the time, I wasn’t being truly honest and respectful to myself and others within that art form. I had stopped crate digging for new records and had no real desire for it. My passion for that style of mixing had faded. So, I did the sensible thing and had a break from it. I’m not going to kid myself or anyone else; it didn’t sit right with me, and it can be a lonely place on stage when you’re just doing a job.
One spring morning in 2023, I woke up with the concept of working on a Hybrid DJ set. A performance where I could deconstruct hundreds of old and new tracks, take them apart and reassemble all these pieces together into new forms of music. The goal was to piece this vast jigsaw together live, and the advancements in sampler memory made this achievable. My sole aim was to make DJing as personal as possible; that’s what was missing for me. Of course, I’m still using other musicians’ art, but this concept allows me to build music from a personal place within the DJ context. It’s a truly unique experience for the listener and has reinvigorated my passion for DJing.
Multidisciplinary projects are also a part of your practice. One of the examples here is your The Other record in collaboration with Taylor Burch, which combined sound and spoken words. Daisy Dickinson also visualised the piece for a Berlin Atonal premiere. How would you describe your creative approach to such complex cross-media projects?
Surprisingly, these things always come together naturally for me. From it’s inception to approaching other artists to collaborate, it all falls into place quickly. Of course, it helps if you have a good idea at its core; it doesn’t require much selling. But it’s also aligning myself with fellow artists who share a certain kinship. There are varying degrees of collaboration, and I think it’s important to let the other artists make their mark and have their stamp on the project.
Even though I had very specific ideas about this project, I never dismissed another artist’s input. To work any other way would only hinder and limit the project; in reality, all you’re doing is massaging your ego. It’s a real shame ‘The Other’ never got to tour as extensively as we’d hoped; Covid hit just as things were taking off. We’ve managed to do a few performances with it since, to huge acclaim, but things have moved on in our scene, and it’s hard to tour an album that’s nearly five years old.
One of the advantages of multidisciplinary projects is the possibility of creating an immersive experience. What role do you think the immersion factor plays today in musical performance? And how do you personally work (for example, on an AV show) to find a balance between the expressiveness of the music itself and additional elements that affect the audience’s perception?
We aimed for that whole immersive experience with ‘The Other’, for people to embrace the music, the message behind the spoken word, and the visuals. A huge factor at play is the willingness of the audience to engage, and there is a fine line to keep everything balanced, as it can be easy to push one aspect more than the others. It comes back to allow your collaborators to have their space. I’m fully conscious of the reality of distraction, so I was inclined to take a back seat in the live performance, so more focus was tuned into Taylor and Daisy. When it’s all done well, I believe all those elements elevate the entire body of work. If audiences truly want real-life experiences, these immersive performances can give them everything and more. It’s key to pushing boundaries and exploring the crossover between music and art.
Your creative approach is deeply rooted in DIY culture. How do you assess the impact that digitalisation and Internet culture have had on it? Do the blurred barriers between DIY and mainstream culture due to digitalisation influence your practice?
Creatively speaking, I think it’s far more accessible for people to access tools to create, which is a huge positive, but the flip side to that is over-saturation. It’s certainly more challenging to be heard these days, however loudly you’re screaming. Everything feels like it holds so much less value: music, art, anything creative, all seem pretty throwaway. I’ve seen a definite comeback of underground culture and fanzines, which is a fantastic thing to see. You can play the game to a certain degree, but who knows where we all head?! I just keep my head down and do my own thing; I’ve got some loyal foot soldiers following my art and showing up for my gigs, which I’m forever grateful for. I can’t ask for more; anything else is a bonus.
What’s next for you? What is in the making?
Early 2024 will bring a double EP from my collaboration as UF. Eric and I premiered our live show in 2014, 2016, and 2019 at Berlin Atonal. There’ll also be a release from a new project with Maxim ‘Panda’ Barron titled Death Disco. And there’s some new solo Samuel Kerridge material in the making. You’ll all be sick of me by next Christmas, but I wouldn’t have it any other way.
What’s your chief enemy of creativity?
You couldn’t live without…
My son, who, over the last year, has shown me a whole new level of life I never knew existed.