Another year in The Jupiter Room draws to a close and we are leaving 2017 in style, wheel-spinning down the drive and spraying pebbles into the Koi pond with a brilliant mix from Paul Davies, a musical polymath with more strings than a Venusian harp. Nobody ‘gets’ The Jupiter Room quite like Paul and he delivers a set cut from the very-same cloth we have been operating from for two and a half years now.
Currently recording under the guise of Q Quarters, Paul Davies has been making music in one form or another for several years now spanning genres and styles with equal ease and confidence. It seems impossible to pigeonhole his musical aesthetic and just when you think you have, he promptly shifts gear and and speeds up and changes lanes. Equally comfortable as a solo artist or in a collaboration, his music is rooted in the ‘now’ with enough elements of nostalgia to satiate his 1980’s obsession. Synthpop, post-punk and darkwave are explored in the several projects he has helmed, skillfully updating and upgrading the sound to reflect the digital age we now exist in.
His musical forays have been numerous and varied each having their own distinct sound:
Dark and grime-smeared industrial sounds, probably most suited to post-apocalyptic ruinscapes of burnt-out cars, strewn debris and purple-streaked skies. This is the sound of urban decay, of a cheyne-stoking civilisation juddering to a halt. Jarring guitar riffs, menacing bass, dark synths and pulsing drums weave a sci-fi landscape of whirring drones and neon rain. Their remix of Lana Del Rey’s Born to Die is something to behold. Vodsel are no more but when they burned they were pure phosphorescence.
The purest synth-pop. Paul Davies let loose his inner 80’s child and wove some pure, melody-driven pop. Tracks like Sirens and Invisible evoked the age of ambitiously constructed, back-combed hairstyles, new-wave makeup and glittery jumpsuits (I’m hinting at the 80’s here).
If Adam and the Ants had been placed in stasis for 30 years and then let loose in 21st Century Britain then they would probably be something approaching Sanchez 77. Short, explosive and pogo-ing songs that have an elasticity. Think the Ants era Friends, Car Trouble and Zerox and you get the idea; a glittering rendering fusion of rock, glam and minimalist post-punk. Insanely catchy and very British.
The classic male/female voice combo for this synthpop offering works on every level. Perhaps a more classical band from the erstwhile Mr Davies when compared to his other projects. Inspired by the minimal, electronic indie pop of acts like The XX, Lapsley and Chvrches, neutronic played close to a traditional synthpop sound.
Q Quarters, his current project, takes the best elements of Vodsel with a smattering of Scarlet Club and Sanchez 77 distilling them into darkwave; it is melodic, trippy and visceral. Paul’s voice is understated, almost soft in contrast to the broiling electronics that lurk in the background. Icy, droning keyboards, chilly robotic percussion and gloomy ethereal guitars play nicely with infectious gothic grooves. So far Rebirth is the only release and we can’t wait for more.
The mix Paul has put together for The Jupiter Room is a fine mix of synthpop, post-electro, trip-hop, chillwave and experimental electronics to give us a 60 minute journey into his fervent musical landscape.
Obligingly, ahead of his mix, Paul answered some questions for us:
The Jupiter Room: What is your earliest musical memory?
Paul Davies: It was getting the 7 inch single of “Don’t you Want Me” in my Christmas stocking in 1981. I was only 4 years old but I remember being keener on the B-side, “Seconds” which was less catchy but had these more futuristic sounds. It was similar with the other single I owned around that time, “Stand and Deliver” by Adam & the Ants which had a really catchy B-side, “Beat my Guest”. I obviously didn’t realise it was about bondage at that age. As I don’t recall being told off for singing it perhaps my parents didn’t either?
What did you grow up listening to?
There was always music on the radio or stereo. I’d always listen to the Top 40 on the radio each Sunday although it didn’t reflect household tastes. My Dad was into proggy stuff, hard rock or some of the guitar heroes of the 60s and 70s. My mom was into things like Emmylou Harris and Cliff Richard. Their tastes occasionally merged with college rock or new wave. Blondie’s Parallel Lines was one of the albums they owned that I was drawn to.
None of my parents were musical though. My Grandad was a great pianist apparently but I never got to hear him play. He’d play in the living room and all the kids and neighbours in the street would gather round outside to hear him play. This was before everyone had TVs. It was him who put me off Depeche Mode though funnily enough. I remember loving “Everything Counts” at the time and then he came in while it was on TV one day and told me it was ‘rubbish’. As he was older and wiser, I believed him and it would be another 5 years before I really got into them, or anything remotely credible.
I spent most of primary school into Iron Maiden following the rock direction of my Dad. I was fascinated with the sleeves and artwork. I tried to grow my hair long like them but ended up looking a twat. I discovered at this age how it was more interesting to stand out a bit though as everyone else liked Wham or Duran Duran. I ended up playing catch up and it was in the 90s when I eventually got heavily into the 80s I missed. The 90s was an exciting period for me as I researched music history. I was too young for the whole acid/dance thing so went backwards and got into punk and early synthpop. Electronic music became more important to me in my teens with early stuff from The Orb and some of the earlier releases on the Warp label.
Which bands or musical projects have you been involved in?
I was in a couple of indie/rock bands back around 1999-2004 and played quite a few gigs in Birmingham and Liverpool in particular. This was before myspace and the emergence of affordable software. As a result, we did loads of gigs but there isn’t much recorded evidence although there were a couple of proper recording studio sessions which were exciting to be a part of.
Since then, the luxury of bedroom producing and digital distribution has pretty much allowed me to do what I want in my own time. I got back into it more seriously around 2008 when I released stuff as Scarlet Club, a duo with a relative which started off as a bit tongue in cheek and culminated in a Christmas album in 2012.
I’ve done a few fileshare projects since, from retro darkwave as Vodsel and post-punk with Sanchez 77. These gave me the time to produce music without the hindrance of rehearsing for gigs.
In between all of this, in 2014 I formed neutronic, a minimal electronic duo which had an interesting blend of male/female UK/Romanian accented vocals. We released two songs, got notable airplay on BBC 6 Music but both of us moved areas since which has put that on hold.
Where do you draw your inspiration from, both musical and non-musical?
There’s so much that surrounds us that can inspire. Lyrics and music can come from anywhere, a chance phrase you hear, a flashback of a dream…I had someone round recently doing some work in the bathroom and the sound of the power saw made me consider asking him if he could rev it up near some mics. I like playing around and twisting organic sounds so they become new and unrecognisable.
Other art forms I draw from are literature. I find writing that is quite surreal and that plays on the subconscious very inspiring, I am a big fan of Murakami. I’m pleased to say I’ve read a lot more this year and could probably lump books I’ve read by Ali Smith and Jeanette Winterson into this category too.
I’ve been immersing myself in 1960s France a lot lately and almost living in the world of music and film from that time. I like discovery and unusual things and this particular world is (or was) totally alien to me. You know all the 60s clips of the UK bands, but the French artists of that time are so other-worldly yet were still cool and popular. I love all the flaws and the awkwardness of these performers. Such a contrast to today’s over-polished, studied poses which are actually quite boring.
Music influences generally are artists who can actually be called artists. Bowie, Bjork…people who adapt and change and challenge. There doesn’t seem to be much of that about now. It is always inspiring to an electronic artist to know that some of the great pioneers, Eno and Numan for example, weren’t particular musical in terms of theory and knowledge. I’d put myself in that category (without the pioneer bit) but I get more of a feel of what sounds good when placed together, a layering of sounds.
How did your latest project Q Quarters come about?
Like loads of people who make music, I have a vast archive of demos and half-finished songs. I had several that I started to put together in 2014 that I felt I could revisit and work on. I had hoped it would be a quick process as the writing music stage had already been done. I wrote about 5 songs in the autumn hoping to get a quick EP out but life took over and I’ve not had the chance to complete them yet. I got one finished and released “Rebirth” on Soundcloud as a taster. I’m pleased with how it turned out as that was one of the batch I was less confident about initially. I’m finding less time to properly promote though so things are taking longer than planned.
What are you listening to at the moment/who should we be checking out?
I’ve been constantly listening to the first three albums by Wire over the last couple of years. I love their progression through each of these albums and how there were really no rules with structure and songwriting. It’s something I’ve tried to recreate with Sanchez 77.
This year I’ve not kept up with too much though I’ve picked out tracks by Surma and Blanck Mass for the mix. I’m intrigued by the Chinese post-punk trio re-TROS who nearly made a last minute appearance.
Do you compose quickly or do you spend hours tweaking and finessing your tunes?
I have that ‘analysis paralysis’ that means I always feel I can try to add more parts to a song to develop it. I’m not one to agonise for hours over the sound of a single hi-hat ‘hit’ but I am not far off. I often find the best songs are the simplest though and the song ’13 hours’ by neutronic was named because this was the total time it took from writing it in the morning to recording and mixing in the afternoon/evening. Later on I pictured a few extra synth lines I could have added but I left it alone. I should set limits more often.
If you could make music history, how would you do it?
I’d love to have been on Top of the Pops wielding a guitar made of chocolate but The Associates beat me to it.
What are you currently reading?
A fistful of Gitanes (Serge Gainsbourg biography)
Tell us about the mix you’ve done for The Jupiter Room.
The mix was intended to be as random as a journey through my music collection but I wanted it to have some sort of structure. I like to listen to music and then during one song another one will come up in my mind that I feel I should hear next. It’s definitely not a mix of my favourite songs. Some of them I hadn’t heard for years. I’ve rediscovered a lot of old CDs this year as I’ve been commuting a lot more after moving to Manchester. There are new songs, old songs, and some of my own thrown in. There’s no real pattern, though there are several songs with that European female lead which inspired my project neutronic.
Many thanks, Paul.
This show was broadcast on Thursday 21st December 2017 on Fourculture Radio.