The Many Faces of Mark Pritchard
- Words: Zach Gunsel
With a career spanning multiple decades, genres, labels, and an almost incalculable number of collaborations, Mark Pritchard has built up an extensive list of monikers over the years. Though many producers now subscribe to the idea of having alter-egos, Pritchard has recently come full circle on the idea, and will be henceforth be producing under only one name—his own—and uniting his many styles and interests under a single umbrella. (He's already released the Ghosts EP this summer; it's the first of three EPs he's doing for Warp. The second, Lock Off, will drop in September.) Having cut his teeth in the early '90s—a time when many electronic music fans were especially purist about their genre of choice—Pritchard once chose his artist names with the idea of being faceless, or at least obfuscating the connections between projects; it was an opportunity to make the music he wanted to make without fear of explicitly jilting fans. "If you did a techno release and then a house release," he explains, "the house people wouldn't check you because they thought you were a techno guy." Given those realities, he came up with one moniker after another; now, 20 years later, Pritchard has an immense back catalog, albeit one that's almost impossible to properly navigate. In the interest of untangling the web, we asked Pritchard to run through his various projects and tell us a little bit about each one.
I'm constantly aware of what might be a good move in the industry, and one reason for sticking to a name is the way the industry's changed. Back in the early '90s, you could release a white label from an unknown artist and sell 2000 copies, whereas now it's completely different. I did actually think, "maybe I should stick to Harmonic 313 and roll with that as a name," but something still didn't feel quite right about it because I started seeing comments where people were asking "will the next album be like the last one?," and I was thinking, "not really." I always wanted to do music that was interesting to me, and while there might be a few tracks with a similar vibe, I wanted to move things forward into different areas.
I felt like I had so many names that I needed to limit myself a bit, and Harmonic 313 seemed to connect to Harmonic 33, but was more focused on electronics than samples. I've always been a big fan of Detroit music, but I was a little bit wary of the name at first because I didn't want it to seem like I was saying I was from there, just that it was an influential place for me.
Harmonic 33 (with Dave Brinkworth)
The name came from a friend of mine whose brother had a massive collection of sci-fi books. When I used to stay over, I'd stay in the spare room where they kept them all, and I saw a book called Harmonic 33; it was a guy's theory that people from other planets used the different harmonic frequencies of planets to navigate the solar system, and I liked that idea. Style-wise, it was sort of exotica, '60s/'70s library music, sci-fi, more hip-hop than trip-hop. In the late '90s I was buying a lot of hip-hop and really enjoying that sound.
The Music For Film, Television & Radio Volume One thing confused people a bit because it wasn't really hip-hop, but to me it made sense because it was the kind of music that inspired me to do the original Harmonic 33 stuff.
Africa HiTech (with Steve Spacek)
Steve featured on the Troubleman album [Time Out of Mind], which came out in 2004. A friend of a friend knew Steve and I'd met him a few times, so I asked him to come down and do some vocals on the Troubleman record, so he came to Devon and we hung out for a week. We kept in touch after that and coincidentally we ended up about 15 minutes from each other in Sydney right about the time that I'd moved there. We started working on music straight away and it slowly progressed into Africa HiTech as I was finishing the Harmonic 313 album.
Steve came up with the name Africa HiTech; we'd been talking a lot about how UK club music had been influenced by African and Jamaican people moving into the area—rhythm, feel, timing, the way bass lands—but then we kept it on an electronic, futuristic tip.
Pritch & Trim
I send Trim beats all the time—he's working on an album right now for Rinse, so I'm sure there'll be a couple things on that. He's really open and I send him all different styles now; I used to think, "maybe he won't be into this," but now I send him pretty much everything because he's really versatile and is inspired by so many different kinds of music. Hopefully, he'll be coming out to Australia soon and we can do some writing, as I want him to feature on my next album as well. I think he's got the potential to really break through, and definitely deserves to reach out to more people. Lyrically, he drops in things you wouldn't expect at all—mad references.
Troubleman was born around the late '90s when I was getting remix requests for 120-bpm, four-to-the-floor-type tracks, but I'd been really focusing on hip-hop more than anything else. I was a big fan of what Kenny Dope and Lil Louis were doing—putting more broken up drums at a house tempo without sounding like breaks. I did a couple Azymuth remixes for Far Out Recordings in that style, and Joe Davis (the owner of Far Out Recordings) said, "Why don't you do an album of that?" Kenny Dope mentioned that I had some of the most banging drums around the time of "Strike Hard," which was obviously a nice thing to hear since he'd inspired the project, production-wise. People were a bit sniffy about the project at the beginning and after he bigged it up, I noticed more people being on it. So cheers, Kenny.
I had to use another name for the writing credits (M. Meecham) for contractual reasons.
I was a big fan of Shake Shakir, Sherard Ingram's Urban Tribe, and Carl Craig, and was drawn to techno that wasn't using the classic 808/909 drum sounds, but had bits of drum breaks alongside drum machines—[stuff that was] slightly less club driven and more melodic. Out of the few tracks I did under that name, "Amenity" was the track that resonated; Richie Hawtin later re-issued it and included it on a compilation called Last Song. As a lad from the west country who was inspired by Detroit techno, it was nice to hear that some of these records made it to that part of the world and were played at parties there.
Reload has always been more avant-garde and industrial. I've got 40-50 tracks on my hard drive in that style, but then I'll start writing a new project and it takes on its own kind of life. In my head, I think I can just do all of these projects at once, but it's impossible, and the music sits there for too long. I've been wanting to reissue the old Reload album, but I've also been saying I'm going to release another Reload record for like 10 years, so I've been trying to figure out exactly how I'm going to attack that.
Reload & E621/Link & E621 (with Tom Middleton)
I'd done a few records before I met Tom through friends from school; there was a crew of us that would go clubbing once or twice a week. I met Tom at a club—he'd been playing in Cornwall with the Rephlex crew—and he played me cassettes of Aphex Twin music way before he'd had a release out. We just started working together from there. I'd already been using the name Reload; some of the tracks were just me, some were me and Tom, but by the third release, the Reload & E621 name was used for the ones we collaborated on. The sound was inspired by Detroit techno, but also industrial music and more European experimental music—film soundtracks and that kind of thing. The seeds of what became jungle music were also definitely influencing the sound.
Global Communication (with Tom Middleton)
Initially, the concept behind the name was something Tom came up with. The Global Communication and Jedi Knights projects, and the Universal Language releases we did were all sort of a 50/50 split; we'd been working together a lot by that time. Global Communication was a bit more ambient-focused at first, but at some point we thought we'd consolidate and do all sorts of styles under the name. Of course, we only did a couple more singles after that. "The Way" b/w "The Deep" was one of the bigger club singles we'd had in the '90s and was more of a New York-house-inspired vibe.
Chameleon (with Tom Middleton)
From the early '90s, I was playing techno, house, and the seeds of jungle. Around '92-'93, I was probably more focused on house and jungle. We did an Evolution compilation that came out on Warp, and one of the tracks was an early version of a Chameleon track that LTJ Bukem really liked. We did another version of it to release on Good Looking with a b-side, and it ended up doing really well.
Jedi Knights (with Tom Middleton)
Jedi Knights was us reacting to something we were feeling in the club world—a lack of funk, and to some extent a lack of fun or a sense of humor. Obvious influences were P-Funk and electro music like Zapp Band, etc. The first appearance was a remix of "Antacid" (a Link & E621 track), and the first release was on Clear Records—"May The Funk Be with You." It made sense at the time it came out, which sometimes I'm lucky with; Carl Craig and LTJ Bukem both had great reactions, and we found out later that Daft Punk were fans as well.
Secret Ingredients (with Tom Middleton)
There were two 12"s as Secret Ingredients, "Chicago, Chicago" and "New York, New York," so they're kind of self-explanatory. [laughs] Really it came about because of our love of New York house, and specifically Strictly Rhythm records. The main track was a remix of "The Way" (by Global Communication)—us remixing ourselves—but it was the Secret Ingredients version that got popular.
Use of Weapons (with Dave Brinkworth)
Someone who was writing a piece on drum & bass crossing over asked me for some recommendations, and I mentioned Droppin' Science because it'd been one of my favorite labels. I got in touch with Danny Breaks after that, and did a few releases with Dave Brinkworth for the label.
Vertigo (with Danny Breaks)
Vertigo happened a bit after Use of Weapons. I'd always wanted to work with Danny, but he didn't collaborate too much. When we eventually did work together, he was really into it and we ended up with a really intense 12"—"The Drained" b/w "Migraine." We both got migraines working on that, it mashed us up a little bit.
NY Connection (partly with Kevin Hann)
I was really inspired by the Strictly Rhythm stuff through the early '90s. I was a massive DJ Pierre fan when he went through the Wild Pitch stage and also a massive fan of Kenny Dope. The first NY Connection release was a one-sided 10" and it did quite well at the time—I think something like 10,000 units. A couple of the NY Connection things were with Kevin Hann of 28 East Boyz.
28 East Boyz (with Kevin Hann)
Kevin Hann was a friend of mine I used to walk to school with. We started going clubbing together and he was also really into jungle and house, so we started work on some tracks together. My manager at the time said I had to come up with another name due to contractual issues, so he asked me what my dog's name was, and I said "William." He asked if I had any other pets growing up and my parents had parrots, so I was credited as William Parrot.
Chaos & Julia Set (with Dom Fripp)
Dom Fripp was another friend of mine from school. He wrote the short stories for the Reload album. He'd come to the studio and hang out; he didn't have any gear but we'd work on tracks together, and he had great ideas but never put much music out. Lately, he's been sending me tracks all the time and he's been working under the name Harry Wellbelove. I played a track of his out in the club and people went crazy and it's like, "finally, you've found your time."
Mystic Institute (with Paul Kent)
Paul was doing some small-scale distribution of techno stuff in west England—early Detroit stuff and Basic Channel. One day he said he really wanted to come up and try to make a record, but hadn't really written before. Tom [Middleton] dropped by while we were working and came up with a melody, which ultimately became "Ob-Selon Mi-Nos" (a Star Trek reference—Paul was a big fan). We started a bunch of stuff together, but at some point it was clear he was more enjoying being in the studio and learning, and I ended up finishing a lot of the tracks on my own, so I called them "Reload remixes."
Pulusha was before I produced Kirsty Hawkshaw's first album with Dave, and was some of the strongest ambient work I did in the '90s. Kirsty was a great keyboard player as well as having an amazing voice. Her dad made a lot of amazing library music for TV, and was also on The Champ by The Mohawks, so she'd always been around music and learned from him.
Series 7 (with Stephen Horne)
Stephen Horne was someone from the west country—there's not much going on out there, so if there are people working on something, you're likely going to bump into them at some point. He'd already been doing releases as The Horn, and he had a really keen sense of melody and really kept a raw edge on techno stuff he did.
Shaft (with Adrian Hughes, Kevin Hann)
The first Shaft project was me, Adrian Hughes, and Kevin Hann. Adrian was a hip-hop turntablist and had been in some DMC championships when he was 15. The first release came out on Bassic Records out of Leeds, but then we had a really bizarre situation where we suddenly had a top 10 hit. It was actually Kevin's dad who loaned us the money to press 500 white labels. We'd been talking about sampling cartoons, and somebody mentioned Roobarb and Custard, which I sampled just for fun; we weren't even going to put it on the release, but then I think I said we should stick it on there because we were worried about selling 500 records to pay back Kevin's dad. When we first got the records, we were going around to the shops trying to sell them and people would take like five copies; we were like "Jesus, we've got 500 of these things". Then, we went to a shop in Southampton, and the guy working there had a distribution company in London. He said "I'll take all of 'em, and I wanna press another thousand on Monday." Then we went top 10 UK. We were all working at the time—I was a chef—then suddenly we were on Top of the Pops. It ran its course for about a year, and although it was like a baptism by fire into the music industry at that age, it allowed me to get a desk and some gear and work on music full time from that point. At some point, people figured out the connection and I'd get asked about "Roobarb & Custard" in every interview.
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