“… a touching piece of graffiti appeared on a wall during the gig – a vertical line, a horizontal line and then the two conjoined – we control the vertical, we control the horizontal, we control the Zig Zag…”
Over the years I have developed a penchant for albums. Immersing in the underlying atmosphere, I am intrigued by the influences, the samples, the lyrical motifs, the artwork, the concept, the evident or cryptic messages they convey; everything eventually culminates in a narrative with a purpose and a profound personal touch. I prefer traditional structure: an opening track foreshadowing the main theme, which is divided perhaps into multiple sections with interludes or vignettes and a closing track that concludes the musical journey. Some artists get it right effortlessly, some lose the plot midway and others end up with a collection of selected works. It doesn’t matter anyway; the merit of album writing as an art form is to evoke different emotions and interpretations, unveiling beauty and truth in due course.
So far, all the tracks presented in the ‘Tracks I Wish I’d Written’ series have been taken from singles or EPs – the only exception being issue#5. However, this time around I revisited the albums of my collection for the latest edition: throwback to 2007 for a track written and produced by a certified d&b ‘album artist’. Having released 8 studio albums and a 9th due next year, Klute has proved to be one of the most prolific, diverse and revered drum & bass producers, renowned for defying trends, formulas and genre constraints. His unique talent to instill a multitude of influences in his productions, from his punk/hardcore origins to techno, house and dub has resulted in a broad repertoire of incredibly inspirational music.
Klute is the main recording moniker of the musician and producer Tom Withers. Withers’ musical career started in the 80s as the drummer and vocalist in the skate/punk band The Stupids, based in Ipswich, UK. Defiant to the punk etiquette, The Stupids’ lyrics were rather satirical and comical than poignant and political. After two early tape recordings, four albums and three ‘John Peel Sessions’ The Stupids disbanded. Withers, fed up with hardcore and punk by that time, delved into a journey of self-reflection and musical discovery. A return from the US ca ‘92-‘93 to his hometown Ipswich, which had become a creative hub around Redeye Records with main figures Photek, Digital and Spirit, proved life-changing. Inspired by the faceless mystique of the new music championed Ibiza Records and Noise Factory making his own beats was a natural progression for Withers. In fact, Spirit’s first attempt at a track was with Tom in 94 in his parents’ basement.
Withers’ first vinyl outings have been on Ipswich’s Deep Red Records under the monikers Supertouch, Tom & Tom and Dr. Know; however it wasn’t until he signed with Certificate 18 that Klute (an exclusive recording name for the label) was born and his music attracted widespread attention. After a string of 12”s for some of the genre’s most prestigious labels and two studio albums [‘Casual Bodies’ (1998) and ‘Fear Of People’ (2000)], his contract with Certificate 18 expired in late 2000.
Rather than resign, Klute decided to establish his own label as an experiment. Pessimistically titled Commercial Suicide, a name he had been toying with before, the ethos and vision of his label has been nothing but conscious yet disarmingly rigid: “Music I like, by people I like and who don’t know any better” he playfully states.
To the time of writing, Commercial Suicide is approaching the 100th release milestone (excluding compilations, offshoots and 19 artist albums!) and has been a creative habitat for some of the genre’s most exciting and talented artists from around the globe.
Klute has also collaborated with many studio luminaries like Lamb, Mogwai, Bis, Natasha Atlas, Harold Budd, John Tejada and has contributed remixes for the likes of James Hardway, King Kooba, Photek, Tokyo Prose & Phil Tangent, Dj Dara, Lee Burridge, Concord Dawn and many more.
The Emperor’s New Clothes
‘The Emperor’s New Clothes’ (2007) is Klute’s fifth studio album and his third on Commercial Suicide; the previous two being ‘Lie, Cheat & Steel’ (2003) and ‘No One’s Listening Any More’ (2005). The track ‘Time 4 Change’ from the latter was the last tune ever played on-air by John Peel.
As always, the album and track titles deliberately channel subliminal messages; a straight forward narrative injected into a musical story riddled with imaginary allegories, inviting the listener to discover and decipher them. In Klute‘s own words:
“… what I’ve noticed about a lot of my words is that it often appears to be rather meaningless to me at the time, but the haze burns off after some years and I can begin to see what I was going on about…”
The album title is inspired from Hans Christian Andersen’s short tale, which has become the standard metaphor for pretentiousness, pomposity, social hypocrisy, collective denial or hollow flamboyancy. Sight becomes insight, which, in turn, prompts action. In fact, the album title couldn’t be more apt, as Klute recollects:
“I think at that time I felt some contempt towards the emerging popularity of German techno and the discovery of its utter pretentiousness, as well as almost the complete ambivalence from a lot of people within the D&B scene for making techno (in particular some people who went on to make techno themselves), so in short it’s a snip at people blindly following others without question”
Similarly to Klute’s two previous albums on Commercial Suicide, the music material was released on double CD format (Disc 1: drum & bass/Disc 2: techno/downtempo). The US version has a different track-listing. The vinyl version (4×12”, 8 tracks – one per side) envelops the finest moments of the album. The artistic sleeve has been designed by Insight @ CARBON Data. The album was recorded @ PBJ Studio, North London and Park Slope, NYC.
Mixing was performed, with an audience. Thank you! Real computers were used extensively in the making of this record. Only 3 guitars were used and live people became involved at certain times.
The original inside booklet photo “Stacked Life” (CD version only) courtesy of Selerox.
The runout etch one side A (We Control the Vertical) reads: <WE’RE MIDDLE CLASS AND ANGRY>
Klute – We Control The Vertical (Side A, The Emperor’s New Clothes LP, Commercial Suicide, SUICIDELP007, 2007)
‘We Control The Vertical’ is the opening track of the album’s vinyl edition. The track title is taken from a section of the book ‘The Story of Crass’ by George Berger, which in turn must have been inspired by the opening narration of the 1963 US TV anthology series ‘Outer Limits’:
“… a touching piece of graffiti appeared on a wall during the gig – a vertical line, a horizontal line and then the two conjoined – we control the vertical, we control the horizontal, we control the Zig Zag”.
Klute comments on the background story of the track that traces back to his hardcore/punk youth:
“Basically, the track is somewhat inspired by the band ‘Crass’ and contains a few samples from them. The reference to ‘Zig Zag’ is from a gig of theirs at the eponymous famous club in London. ‘Crass’ have been an interesting band and their presence somewhat pestered my youth as punk, if you could call me that. Their ideology became a format and rule book for a lot of people – most of which I didn’t adhere to. The great disappointment with them is what went on to happen to them as people and collective, so essentially in hindsight they were just a brand like everyone else. Aside from that influence, the track came together as this quite intense brooding melancholic fire storm with these kind of sepia-like snippets of Crass flashing up every so often…”
‘We Control The Vertical’ is definitely one of the highlights and my favourite track of the album. Intricate drum arrangements, mesmerizing yet eerie textures and ambient pads – courtesy of Klute’s Oberheim Matrix 1000 vintage synth – and looming basslines create a sense of atmospheric distress. The evocative vocal snippet “Brother, brother, brother …” sampled from the closing lyric of Crass’ song Bloody Revolution still echoes long after the track is over, but it’s that trademark harsh acid effect introduced around the 3-minute mark that makes the track violently sinister, almost intoxicating.
The last time Klute played in Athens was a rainy March night in 2013, when I had the opportunity to meet him in person and have a quick chat. The gig took place at a sweaty basement with a great sound-system. Klute mainly drifted towards the darker side of the spectrum, presenting forthcoming Commercial Suicide bits (Take A Breath VIP anyone?) and smoke-screening ‘The Draft’ released later that year; probably the most enchanting and ambiguous of his albums. Towards the end of his exceptional set though, he caught everyone by surprise dropping ‘We Control The Vertical’ to rapturous reception.
Keep up-to-date with the latest news and all things Klute and Commercial Suicide following the social media links below:
All tracks of the series have been hand-picked from my personal record collection and have had a profound impact on my musical views and aesthetics. Featuring a variety of tracks across the electronic music spectrum, emphasizing mainly on drum and bass, from undisputed classics to underrated gems, all are tracks I wish I’d written, as the title of the series suggests.
Visit the blog’s archive for the previous installments of the “Tracks I Wish I’d Written” series here.