After our visit to Madrid for this year's Red Bull Music Academy, we decided to kick around Spain for a few more days and stop in Barcelona for the annual Primavera Club. Designed as an autumn counterpart to the massive Primavera Sound festival, Primavera Club features an array of acts—most of whom are not Spanish—scattered throughout smaller, more intimate venues in both Barcelona and Madrid. While many acts were only in Barcelona for a matter of hours, we managed to pin down a couple of them for a quick chat, including mysterious UK producer Holy Other.
Earlier this year, the anonymous artist—who closely guards his identity and always wears a hood when performing live—released his debut EP, With U, via Tri Angle Records, to a great amount of acclaim. Several months removed from the initial hubub, we asked Holy Other for his take on the EP's reception, while also picking his brain about the development of his live show, the origins of the project, and where his music is headed.
XLR8R: Your EP has been out awhile now. How are you feeling about how it's been received?
Holy Other: I'm happy with the reception. I thought it would be a bit more low key, that people would not pick up on it, that it would be a bit more restrained than some of the other Tri Angle releases. I think it's been received quite well.
Are you happy with the categorizations involved? I'm sure you've seen the phrase "witch house" a number of times.
It's always a bit unnecessary to subcategorize everything, but if people need to jump to generic conclusions about things, and cram loads of genres into one to try and create some sort cohesive picture of what I am about, because you can't actually find things that sound similar, that's fine. I don't really have a problem with it.
You were supposed to come to the US a couple of times, but the tours have been postponed. Was that for any particular reason? Are you still planning to come play in the US at some point?
I'm still definitely planning to come play in the US. I'd like to have some really nice first live shows [over there]. The first tour was postponed because of illness.
You're fine now?
[laughs] I'm okay. I'm okay. People get ill sometimes, and they recover. I'm planning on going back [to the US] next year.
Did you start playing live after With U had come out?
Yeah, I played my first show at Sonar.
So, now that you have been playing for a few months, have you been making any effort to transform, expand, or change the live show?
Yeah, I have. I need more time to spend working on it. It is sort of metamorphosing. I didn't know what was expected, and I never really went to that many live shows, so I don't really know what I enjoy seeing live, you know? I don't really know what other people like. It's changing as I play more shows.
What is your setup like when you're playing live? Is it just you, a laptop, and a few devices?
It's laptop-less. No laptop. It's sequencers and samplers. It's very minimal, and it's equipment that is partially functioning as the basis of my production as well.
Do you have to disassemble your studio to play live?
Yeah, I do, which is a bit annoying. It's really annoying, actually, having to reassemble everything when you come back. But I didn't want to just take out my laptop and say, "Here it is. I'm playing out of my laptop and doing the bare minimum."
Have you been working on any new music?
I'm currently starting on an album. It's slow.
Are you still interested in the same sort of sound palette as the EP?
I think it's more like an elaboration on that theme. What I've been doing recently, there have been more house inflections than anything on the EP. Things that strike the more downtempo house of "Yr Love." [The new songs are] more like that than the more pop songs [on the EP], but they might be coming as well.
Would you ever like to make something that could be regarded as a full-on club tune?
I would like to! I don't know, I'd like to make a quite restrained club song, but with the proper bpm. I'd like to maybe do that, but I'm not sure how well that would sit on a release. It would poke out a bit, because the album is going to be downtempo as well. It's not going to suddenly be pumping house. It's going to be super downtempo, but for just a single, [making a club track] could work.
R&B gets thrown around a lot as a touchstone of your music. Was that intentional? Did you grow up listening to R&B, or is it just happenstance?
I grew up listening to pop. There was R&B in the pop charts, but I don't know. There was a little bit, but it's not like I've been delving through my 12" collection, picking out old R&B classics and trying to reappropriate them. It wasn't necessarily a conscious thing.
Would you say that the influence is simply a product of growing up when you did, a time when R&B was simply a part of the pop-culture fabric, and that you took it in passively?
It was definitely passive. I haven't made anything before [the EP], so it's not like my reference points have been changing constantly. I guess [R&B] has just sort of seeped in.
Was Holy Other your first musical project then?
Yeah, except for school bands, like, playing bass. But that doesn't really count for much.
What was the initial motivation to start the project?
Surprisingly, I was ill. [laughs] I needed something to occupy my time. I was fairly miserable, it was the winter, and I just started trying to make some tracks.
Were you living in Berlin at the time?
I was. It was quite a harsh winter, so I was spending quite a bit of time inside. I just started trying to make some music, and something clicked.
And now you're back in Manchester.
Do you see yourself as functioning within any kind of music scene there?
No. I'm definitely not an integral part of the Manchester music scene. [laughs]
Do you go out though?
I do, and I've met quite a few Manchester guys, producers. I don't know though. I don't feel like my music belongs there that much. I don't necessarily feel like that's where it is.
Where would you say that your music does belong?
I don't know. [laughs] That's a question.
It doesn't have to be geographical. Do you see yourself as part of a larger music scene, or do you even contextualize it that way?
Pfff. I haven't contextualized it that way. I mean...
That was a very music journalist sort of question. It's fine to not intellectualize your music. Would you say that you just make it because that's what you want to be making? That you're not thinking about it in some kind of greater context?
Yeah. I'm not trying to fill some kind of gap in the zeitgeist, some chasm that needs to be filled. It's just something that feels emotionally resonant to me. I don't release a track if I don't get some sort of emotion from it. It's more about me trying to understand my emotions and emote in some way. Publicly. Publicly emote, but privately, hence the anonymity. [laughs]