The most alluring dance music of the 21st century sounds a hell of a lot like the early part of the last decade of the 20th. There are many reasons for this, but maybe the biggest is Matt Cutler, the Nottingham-bred producer who calls himself Lone. He emerged in the late '00s as one of a long line of laptop-IDM producers with a J Dilla fixation. But 2008's Lemurian, his first release of note, is a feast of timbre and texture, equal parts breakbeat stumble and grade-A abstract loll-around-tronica, its doodles riper by a length than the great majority of his IDM peers' full works.
If Cutler had stayed in that particular wheelhouse, he'd have owned it in no time. Instead, Lemurian was merely a beginning. Lone's new direction was signaled by a 2009 12-inch, “Joy Reel / Sunset Teens,” which featured two honest-to-God tunes amid all that blissed-out sonic jumble. The waves kept lapping at the shore of Cutler's mind on '09's Ecstasy and Friends, one of the most self-explanatory pieces of titling since The Shape of Jazz to Come or One Nation Under a Groove. The record hit like a pill: almost too beautiful to take, but impossible to turn off once it's going.
It looked like Lone was laying low for 2010 until he announced his own label, Magic Wire, and put out “Pineapple Crush / Angel Brain,” a 10-inch that made explicit what fans had already noticed: Cutler was clearly a kid besotted with early-'90s house, rave and hardcore. “Pineapple Crush” is an audacious salvo: absolutely up front about its Spirit of '92 aims, with a keyboard riff that comes this close to sliding into the jabbering terrain of later happy hardcore; on the B-side, the kind of record meant to cool you down from all those pills. In the fall, “Once in a While” (on Werk, which had put out “Joy Reel” and Ecstasy and Friends) drilled that idea in even further.
Lone's two longer releases since then are probably the peak of his career. Emerald Fantasy Tracks, out on Magic Wire in December 2010, and the March 2011 Echolocations EP, on R&S, domesticate the early-rave feel of the earlier work. Rather than sounding stark and lunatic the way old hardcore and rave often can (R&S's back catalog is testament to this), EFT and Echolocations go heavy on Boards of Canada-style production trickery, a big part of the appeal of Lone's output at every stage. That helps the tracks seem, in a sense, remembered or overheard. The music is plainly beautiful, but that scrim does make it sing especially to people who remember that era fondly and well.
eMusic's Michaelangelo Matos caught up with Lone shortly after he made his U.S. debut at New York's Unsound Festival.
On the melodic tic — it's on “Pineapple Crush,” “Cloud 909″ (from Emerald Fantasy Tracks), and “Blossom Quarter” (Echolocations EP) — in which Cutler throws a high-pitched note substitute into an otherwise tonally normal melody line, a la early hardcore/rave:
I definitely think I've internalized those [older] tunes. They were the first pieces of music that ever excited me, so yeah, those kinds of techniques are kind of imprinted on my soul, I guess. The tic you mention isn't just used on my hardcore tracks — I think it appears on my more downtempo tunes as well. I guess hardcore and house [were] the blueprint for everything I do. In a way it's not always conscious, as I've been making music for so long, so the whole process is totally natural to me now and I can work really instinctively. Having said that, if I'm referencing hardcore, or house, or whatever, I am conscious about the fact that I am referencing something, so I like to pick out those kinds of trademarks. I find little quirks like that totally exciting.
On the memory-laden quality of Lone's music:
It's totally based on my memory of something rather than me actively trying to re-create or cover a certain style. Like, when I was doing all those hardcore tracks, I wouldn't listen to that shit for inspiration or anything. I wouldn't allow myself to, too much anyway. I always prefer to go off [of] what's buried in my head. It's hard to explain but, like, ever since I was a kid, the default noises in my head have been old breaks and chords and stuff. And they're not ones that properly exist, but my own little mutant versions of things I've grown up with. I'm just trying to get those onto tape. I'm using [fewer] samples as I go on. I spend more time making things sound like samples than anything else, actually. It's quite backwards.
On work habits:
I tend to get inspired by a certain thing, and run with that particular idea for as long as it's fun. For example, the hardcore stuff: I had a go at doing something like that for fun (I think “Once in a While” was the very first I did in that vein) and then I became obsessed — I felt unbelievably inspired and couldn't stop writing for months. I probably made around 100 house tunes or whatever, and from that batch I compiled the EPs that came out last year, and the one that just came out on R&S. They were all done between October '09 and October '10.
And then I exhausted that stuff. I became totally sick of doing those tracks. What happened after that was, for maybe a month or so, I had a total block — and this happens at the end of each of these phases, where I think, “Oh fuck, I've lost it — I'm totally fucked now!” This has literally happened to me once a year for the past like, 10 years or something.
Then in November, kind of out of nowhere, I jammed out this really strange tropical sounding thing with loads of percussion and I had that same feeling I had with “Once in a While” — completely inspired. And that's the shit I'm working on now, something quite different again.
On the through-planned logic of Lone's releases, from single to EP to album:
It's something I'm quite conscious of, something i want to get just right — even if it's all spread over loads of different labels or whatever. I like to look at my career as an outsider — like the listener. I imagine that I'm not actually Lone but, rather, a fan of it. So I think, “What would I love to see this guy come out with next? What's would be the coolest direction my favorite artists could go in?” When I was really young and making music, it was more like a game to me, quite imaginary, 'cause I wasn't signed or anything, and I'd make all these albums for myself. I kinda just treat it in the same way now — totally imaginary. The only difference now is [that] people actually hear the records.
On his early work:
I'm really proud of Lemurian. It's the one I hold most dear to me, actually, because it was my first proper release and there was no pressure or expectation surrounding it so it just flowed so nicely. I was just so blissfully naive, making those tracks in the sun in my bedroom at my mum's house. I don't listen to it much at all now, but I still like it. The signature elements are all there. I was just referencing different things.
On nicking someone else's riff without realizing it until it's (almost) too late:
Yeah, it happens. In the early days, it would actually make it to the track and I wouldn't realize [it] for a while afterwards. Then I'd laugh my arse off and realize I'd just done a slightly deformed version of some ridiculous pop melody or something. Now I'm quite aware of it, so I can identify it before it leaves my brain and makes it to the computer — although on occasion I've intentionally planted little melodies, quite well known ones in fact, into my tracks to see if anyone would notice. So far, so good — I think I might have got away with it.