Plant43 on his affair with electronic music and latest LP: “Sublunar Tides”

Emile Facey aka Plant43 talks us through his longstanding affair with electronic music and latest album “Sublunar Tides”

Co-founder of London’s forward thinking Bleep43 crew, a beacon of sonic salvation for many during the 00s whose insight and ears shone a light on a wealth of up and coming underground talent at the time – long before wider recognition hit in the following decade (or so).

Emile has been promoting underground electro and techno since the 90s. A passionate advocate and maker of electro since his first studio jams, for 20+ years he has enjoyed incorporating a wide range of influences into his own music. From minimal and drone, ambient, soundtracks, heavy metal, drum & bass and hip-hop, there’s not much that hasn’t informed his trademark take on intergalatic electronic exploration: delivering an all encompassing sound that is steeped in emotive melodics, tweaked to perfection, yet that never fails to take flight.

As a producer, he’s released a plethora of compositions on vinyl since 2005, having made waves on label such as Central Processing Unit, Frustrated Funk, AI Recordings, Semantica, Shipwrec and Cultivated Electronics. An equally consummate live performer, he’s no stranger to playing alongside heroes such as Stingray, ERP, Surgeon, The Advent, Sync 24, Legowelt, Urban Tribe, Svreca, Datassette and more.

Celebrating the release of his sixth album under his Plant43 moniker, “Sublunar Tides” may well be his most expressive excursion to date. Captured in just over 52 minutes over nine tracks, he takes us on a journey through the dancefloor – fuelled by deep, meditative synth improvisations that collide into rays of cosmically tinged techno, culminating in the all powerful emotional album closer ‘Tides Align’. Existing between the English countryside he now lives in and the live club and gig culture he has been separated from, due to ongoing covid-19 pandemic. His latest work draws on the feelings of missing the city and the vibrant energy of its club’s spaces, whilst also radiating the peace and meditative nature of his new home.

As he puts it:  “Having moved to the countryside in 2019, “Sublunar Tides” has been equally inspired by the natural surroundings I’m lucky enough to live in but also a longing to return to the city and live gig/club culture. Whilst the last year and a half has been extremely challenging in many ways, I am incredibly grateful for the support people have shown me and the success of my new label is truly heartwarming. Growing up I was inspired to create music, art and film … so building a space that can act as an output for all these things is a dream come true.”

Has it really been 15 years since you first started releasing!?!? Take us back to when you first started getting records out:

“When I think back to 2005 I remember there being a lot of internet forums, mailing lists and MySpace. Social media as we know it today was just beginning. Forums and mailing lists had been around for quite a few years and played a huge part in forming a global electronic music community. It was amazing to have a direct connection with a network of like minded people who were also making and releasing electronic music. Being part of those online communities – and the encouragement I got from my partner and friends – really helped me pluck up the courage to send out my solo work to labels. The first positive reaction I got was when the London based Outlet Collective asked if they could put one of my tracks on a CD compilation they were putting together to give away at a rave they were putting on (shout out to the OC crew).

Around the turn of the century, Toby Frith and I had put together his writing skills and my graphic design and HTML programming to create the Bleep43 website, which reviewed techno and electro events and releases. The groups that initially formed online through forums started to evolve into real-life groups, who eventually put on parties and that’s how the Bleep43 events came about.

Plant43 in the booth
Photo by Max Duley

Some smaller groups of friends came together, starting with a core group of four – myself, Toby, Jo Johnson and Ken Odeluga. Followed by another 313 lister, Anya Stang, Dan Bean who had experience running events with his Iality Hi-Fi crew, and later on producer Bea Brennan. Some of the group had been to a party at Public Life in London put together by members of the 313 Hyperreal mailing list and saw potential in the venue. I’d already helped out, done flyer artwork for some electro parties in the late 90’s and we were all really inspired by Lost, which was a really important techno party in London which ran from about 1991 through to the early 00’s. We put on our first event in 2002 and I played my first Plant43 live set at that. By the time my first release came out in 2006, we’d built up a regular crowd made up mostly of people who were using internet forums we all posted on. Before long we moved our events to Corsica Studios where our first party included the UK debut of Convextion/ERP.”

What sort of set up were you using at the time?

“I started building a studio at home around 1997-8. I’d been DJing for a while and my friend Simon offered to sell me his Roland MC505 which I’d had a go on and enjoyed. It was a great bit of kit to learn production on because it was effectively a full studio in a box. An eight track sequencer, really amazing arpeggiator and a built in mini-keyboard. I made some tracks using it and then over the next few years bought some other bits of kit which I sequenced/triggered using the MC505 over MIDI.

The main things that really helped me shape my sound were two Korg Electribes, the sampler and the rhythm synth, a Korg MS2000, a Roland JV1080, a Really Nice compressor, a couple of rack-mounted multi effects units, a Boss MC202 and finally, a Mackie mixing desk which everything was fed into. Eventually the MC505 was mostly acting as a sequencer but I knew it inside out and I really enjoyed the workflow so I carried on using it until I learned Ableton Live around 2005/6. All of my tracks were built in the various hardware sequencers in eight or sixteen bar patterns. Once I had a track with all the parts ready, I’d perform it live over many takes recording to CDR until I had a version I was happy with. For that first show at Public Life, I used the MC505 and the Electribe ER1 hooked up to an old Gemini three channel mixer.”

How did your first EP and link up AI Recordings come about?

“I can’t remember exactly how the connection was made but probably through Dez Williams or Doug Adamson (Jacen Solo), who’d both released on Ai Records previously and I’d got to know because Bleep43 had booked them to play around 2004. I sent them a demo on a CDR with about 7 or 8 tracks and I can still remember the moment I got an email response from Jason Smith at the label saying they loved my track ‘Twilight,’ and wanted to put it on a compilation. I jumped at the chance of course and it surfaced a few months later with some incredible artwork and amazing orange patterned vinyl. Having trained as an illustrator and graphic designer I loved the fact that their releases looked and sounded amazing and I’d been blown away by the series of EPs they’d done with the Dan Holdsworth photographic colours (Ai011 and Ai012 in particular). I was really impressed by the way they were bringing together cutting edge design and art with electronic music. I also remember having a long phone call with Daz Quayle who ran SCSI-AV about the possibility of a Plant43 release. SCSI-AV was another label I admired and had been avidly collecting. The SCSI-AV release never came together but the Ai Records connection was the start of a relationship that lasted until the label closed in 2011.”

Listening back to your first couple of EPs, is there anything you would have done differently on those first few releases?

“My production and songwriting has changed a lot but I still like the spirit and atmosphere of those early tracks. I remember spending a long time honing things and listening to them repeatedly to make sure I was happy with them. I have a huge pile of mini-discs and CDRs from those days with hours of ideas, experiments and takes that I wasn’t happy with. Even now, there’s probably two or three discarded tracks for each one that reaches completion. Having had an art training probably informed this way of doing things. It’s like having a big pile of sketchbooks full of ideas but only presenting the final, full colour artwork at your exhibition.”

In what way would you say your music has evolved then over time?

“I listen to a lot of different types of music and I try to incorporate those influences into my own productions and although I’m mainly known for electro – I have made all kinds of tracks in different styles. In 2018 I released ‘From Deep Streams’, my first album of more freeform tracks without beats. It’s a very emotional album which started out as a personal project. After recording about 10 tracks in the same vein, I was happy enough with the results to send them to Shipwrec who wanted to release it. Ferdi at Shipwrec has always been amazing to work with, he’s very open minded and I owe him a big thank you for taking a chance on that album.

Starting the Plant43 Recordings label has allowed me to be more diverse in the music I’ve released too. I really enjoyed putting together ‘The Countless Stones’ in 2020, which has a lot of experiments on it. Some drone pieces that were largely improvised in the studio. I used a lot of field recordings on that album too, which is something I’d like to do more of. Being more open with my style on those records has influenced my most recent album too and I really enjoy the freedom of being more diverse.

Image courtesy of Fold London

Something I’ve worked on a lot over the last 10 years or so is my live sets. I always wanted to make sets that were a long journey, where the tracks blended together seamlessly into one long piece. That probably comes from being a DJ before I started making music. It was Coldcut’s ‘Journeys by DJ’ that taught me that you can mix two (or more) tracks and that a certain magic comes from the combination of them playing together. I’ve tried to do this with my own live sets over the years. When I first learned Ableton Live, it only worked with audio loops but as the MIDI implementation got more sophisticated I started to use it to trigger my hardware synths. That in turn has led to me getting to know those synths a lot better. Rather than capturing the audio as soon as I hear something I like and moving on, I know how to recreate the sounds I want during the live set. And getting to know the synths better has allowed me to express myself using them.”

What do you see as your biggest strength these days?

“My main aim has always been to try and make music that would be good to dance to but also take the listener on a journey. Hopefully I’m getting better at it!”

Vice versa, your biggest weakness?

“Perfectionism. Being in the flow helps me avoid it but it can be hard to get out of that over analytical side of myself sometimes. I wish I could express even more by using lyrics and my voice but I get too self-conscious.”

When did you actually decide to get your own ‘Plant43’ label off the ground?

“It’s been an idea I’ve had for a long time but it wasn’t until mid 2019 that I decided to take the plunge. I’d released with a lot of other labels and wanted to give it a go. When the pandemic hit, I wasn’t sure what would happen but the support people have shown has been amazing and I’m so grateful to everyone who’s supported the label, Bandcamp and Juno who have made it all possible.”

You’ve been on quite a roll with your releases, is that deliberate or just how things have evolved?

“A mixture of the two. It’s partly because I’ve been concentrating more on music for the last couple of years and not having any gigs or events to promote has meant a lot more time in the studio. Some of the releases are things I’ve been sitting on for a while which I decided to put out, like Vaulted Arches, the recording of my set at Bleep43 a few years ago. Some of the releases with other labels are things we’ve been working on for years and finally came to fruition.

Brexit has been really challenging, as I’m sure you know. I still find it utterly baffling. After about 9 months of being in the wilderness it does seem that I finally have a system in place which will enable me to continue to sell to EU customers without them being charged to receive the goods. I have ended up becoming very familiar with how VAT and shipping works, which I suppose is part of running a label. It’s just a lot more complex than it was before. Before Brexit, about half of my Bandcamp sales were to EU customers and I’ve been fighting to maintain a good customer experience for them. I’m just really grateful to them for sticking with me through all of this.”

What sort of set up are you using at the moment?

“I’ve been using Ableton Live since about 2005. My laptop running Live serves as the sequencer and I use it to trigger a lot of external hardware including my Roland SH101, various Korg synths and drum machines and some outboard effects. Everything runs though my MOTU soundcard and midi interface. What I’ve always liked about this set up is that you can be very flexible. I like that I can sample any instrument that I have lying about and I’ve used things like the Korg DS10 in the past. Sometimes I make tracks completely ‘in the box’ using VSTs but other times I’ll have a lots of hardware synths and effects.”

Photo by Jo Johnson

Coming to your new album ‘Sublunar Tides’, how do you feel it’s turned out?

“I know a lot of the music industry and DJs are focussed on individual tracks nowadays but I really like how albums, live sets and long form recordings allow artists to take the listener on a long journey. I’m also a strong believer in tracks from albums being something that can be used in DJ mixes as well as being part of an overall narrative. I hope I’ve done that with this album, too. It’s good to be able to put the electro in the mix with completely different tracks like ‘Tides Align’ and ‘Perfect Ruin’ which I hope will encourage listeners to explore the other sides of my music too.”

And with that in mind, talk us through each track on the LP:

Sublunar Tides

“This was actually the last track I wrote and it was completed quite quickly just before the deadline for submitting the album. Looking back I guess it was a bit of risk making it the lead track but sometimes when I make something new I just have a feeling about it.”

Links Forever Forged

“When the UK voted to leave the EU in 2016, I was shocked and saddened. I expressed these feelings in a live set I wrote for a gig at Rye Wax in London shortly after the referendum. Three tracks formed a section of the set which was all based on the idea of being interlinked with Europe. The first two were on the Interlinked EP and this one is the final part. Sad but hopeful would be the best way I could describe it. The title refers to the links I have made with fellow music lovers, promoters and musicians all over the world and in Europe.”

Arc Furnace

“I originally wrote this for the last gig I did before lockdown in February 2019. Data Mine are a crew out of Birmingham who put on an amazing party in an art gallery space in the center of the city. I was playing before my friend Phil Bolland (Sync 24) and I wanted to get the crowd warmed up for one of his punishing electro workouts. The main lead line here is a sort of hypnotic synth which I made on the SH101.”

Concrete Breakers

“I started working on this album during the winter of 2020/1. We were in lockdown in the UK and I was really missing playing out and going to the city. I started thinking about what had originally inspired me to make music and I had an image in my mind of when I first fell in love with electro in the early 80’s. Breakdancing and electro were a huge thing when they first hit the UK and I have a very specific memory of going to Covent Garden in London with my older cousin. There were a crew of dancers breaking and body-popping to electro on the concrete steps outdoors and a big crowd had gathered to watch. Time went into slow motion. This is my soundtrack to that moment.”

Neon Sentinel

“To me this feels like drifting through space while coming out of a long hyperspace sleep. It’s another one from the Data Mine sessions and I wanted some bass pressure for the PA we were going to be playing through. After the gig I added some more parts from the Korg Minilogue to make it feel even more destabilised and a bit woozy.”

Transient Cities

“Moving away from London just before the pandemic was a blessing in some ways. I got to know the local countryside and paths very well and felt very lucky. However it was also very isolating being separated from the city and my friends, the clubs, live venues and record shops. I started to imagine what it would feel like if London changed completely while I was away, that I might go back and find everything had changed. Offices become homes, people are indoors on video calls instead of commuting, the paths overgrow as nature takes over the cities again.”

Perfect Ruin

“I think this might be my favourite on the album. I wanted to do something really free without using a sequencer or click track and I created a set up where I was playing an analogue synth through lots of delays and reverbs and just jammed for hours. It was really good fun but also quite a deep and meditative experience.”

Still Sparks

“This one is the soundtrack to cosmic journey. Being stuck indoors for so long I have found escape in drifting in imaginary spaces when making music or meditating. I often picture objects travelling through space and try to write a soundtrack to that journey. Doing this somehow seems to help me process things, too. It’s like I need to take a journey with a thought or feeling and I take it through music.”

Sublinar Tides is out on 15th November 2021

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