Konx-om-Pax on A/V, Akira, and happy hardcore
My first attempt at composing a set of questions for Tom Scholefield, aka Konx-om-Pax, resulted in a muddled two and a half pages of ideas. He’s a figure with a long history of collaboration and creation on the cutting edge of both music visuals and production, and my initial approach was all-encompassing: Broad in scope but relatively aimless in it’s attempt to draw together the many threads of his continued practice. As a graduate of the Glasgow School of Art, he’s a graphic designer and animator by training and yet currently occupies a small but growing niche of creators as talented sonically as they are visually. These languages frequently overlap, and so when artists arrive who can straddle this divide the resultant work is far more impactful than the sum of its constituent parts.
Nestled amongst Pan Daijing’s visceral live shows and Murlo’s ‘Coil Universe’, Scholefield’s work sits at the apex of this intersection, and his most recent album ‘Ways of Seeing’ is testament to his experience and prowess in both arenas. Brilliantly lush synth work reflects the immense detail and warm hues of the album announcement trailer: The music is hazily bright, like dust on a computer terminal and, in the exquisite words of Kareem Ghezawi, stands as a “pure, unpretentious offering radiating optimism in an increasingly dark landscape.” It was bathed in this neon glow that I sat down to refigure my thoughts. What follows are edited responses from an email conversation between myself and Tom, written during a flurry of activity following the launch of the new album.
I first came across you at the Blade Runner 2049 Boiler Room. It was one of the most complete and coherently enjoyable visual experiences I’ve had when clubbing – do you feel that there should be more emphasis on a more ‘total’ experience or is the old ‘dark room and a laser’ still as viable?
“Good question. It’s funny cos part of me loves going to raves that are in a dark room with no lights and just a laser but I also love going to see someone like Aphex and it’s all about the visuals and lights; its somewhere in between a rave and a rock concert. Both can exist and it’s fun to blend between the two. Some of my recent sets I’ve turned the screen to black for short sections to give people’s eyes a rest so they can zone out to the music more.”
Resident advisor also recently put out a video piece about the interplay between sonics and visuals and I’m noticing a lot of artists increasingly bring live shows to the fore alongside A/V. Are visuals becoming more important within the musical space?
“I remember when the person doing the visuals was tucked away in the corner and not given enough credit – I used to get offered £50 and a couple of pints to make “visuals” for a whole night of music and felt grossly under appreciated. Promoters focused on the music and saw visuals as a cheap after thought, not really willing to invest properly in them. However my first experience of seeing visuals done properly was at the Drum and Bass night at the Glasgow School of Art – Live Evil, Nick and Dan Roy and a few others made visuals under Yuva. They would set up in a box across from the DJ’s on the dancefloor and have loads of laptops going playing content that they’d engineered and get billed just like DJ’s. I do sometimes see artists billed as “AV” and it’s just a DVD being played in the background and it seems a bit disingenuous as they wouldn’t have been booked otherwise. But I’m a bit of a snob haha.”
What comes first when you’re creating, the visuals or the music? Do you sometimes create things independently and find that they really fit together?
“Music first then visuals, but for my next project I’d like to create both more simultaneously. For Ways of Seeing I finished the music around last Christmas, took a few weeks off from thinking about things then made a start on the art and video. I had maybe only a few months to do everything by myself, but I had strict deadlines from the label which helps. I was quite proud of myself for getting everything done on time cos I’ve fucked it up in the past – I think this time it helped having an amazing agent (Dj Carin) who helped me keep things on track. After finishing the music I was pretty emotionally drained but still had a load of work to do and Carin helped me see the light at the end of the tunnel. Even before starting the sleeve art I knew I’d have to book time on a render farm to animate the sleeve for the trailer, so this was all planned months in advance. Seeing how it was my 3rd album I’ve had a little bit more experience about planning a practical workflow.
Most important when designing art for myself is allowing time for the design to sit as long as possible, cos more often than not I’ll want to improve it. I always end of making a version I like better after it gets sent to print, but I’ll use that version for a poster or something further down the line. Knowing this for next time I’d like to make the art as soon as possible so I can have time to change it if needs be. My album art so far has always been a working prototype due to time restraints but this can be resolved with a little more thought. Every day is a school day, but I really love doing this stuff because it’s a never-ending learning curve that keeps me busy.”
In terms of using 3d rendering, your latest album cover is a far cry stylistically and technologically from the Jamie Liddell video you broke out with. Have you been experimenting similarly with audio workflow on the new album?
“Yeah, this time around I limited my palette a lot to make the production process a bit quicker. I spent a bit of time making some cool effects chains and patches I liked and rinsed them lots on different tracks. There’s a cool FM bell sound which I really love that gets used on a few tracks but in different ways. As I mentioned before its always just about having a drive to learn about the creative process and develop your own personal way of doing things. Streamlining the way that you can get from a basic demo to finished piece is something I think about a lot. For example I’ll engineer a mix down of a long live take of a track with the main elements by first not worrying about the arrangement too much, so that things are roughly in the right place. Then I’ll bounce that down and chop that up to sequence it like big blocks of Lego into a tighter piece. I can then add details over the top or change individual parts a lot more easily that way once I’ve got the bulk of the track sorted. I have to thank Chris Clark for showing me this way a few years ago, it makes life a lot easier. Bounce to audio!”
Your colour palette has also evolved into increasingly bold, saturated hues. How do you feel about this aesthetic shift?
“It’s down to having more confidence and I think it reflects my personality more. I’m making the kind of music I really want to make now; it’s taken half a lifetime to get here.”
This bright, shiny aesthetic permeates a lot of contemporary ‘avant-garde’ musical culture, and Scholefield’s discussion of self-reflection and self-confidence fits well within a scene increasingly able to positively support minority and emerging artists of all backgrounds. Yet when discussing influence it’s not the glossy sheen of contemporary digital culture that comprises the Konx-om-Pax pantheon. Instead it’s the bleak, dystopian, and distinctly stylised worlds of cyberpunk and sci-fi which dominate. Noted examples are Giger’s Necronomicon and Otomo’s Akira, to which Scholefield adds
‘Jake and Dinos Chapman, and especially Drexciya because of their unique world building abilities. I love the narrative they created and the characters designed by Abdul Haqq. You can get lost in the mythos of it all. Also Zdzisław Beksiński, who was a Polish surrealist painter; I was looking at his stuff a lot when designing my album art. I’ve been involved with a project with Kode 9 and Japanese animator Koji Morimoto and his work has definitely rubbed off on me, especially his film “Robot Carnival”’
That project, Hyperdub’s ‘Diggin’ in the Carts’, examines rare yet beautiful video-game soundtracks emerging from Japan at the zenith of the ‘chip’ era. Long before live A/V shows, rudimentary generative audio-visual engagement came in the form of video game soundtracks, necessarily designed to shift as players progressed through stages and levels. The idea of reinjecting vigour into dismissed art forms is not lost on a man who has talked before about the dichotomy between some of his favourite art not being considered ‘art’ at all. A specific mention in an older interview of a desire to play happy hardcore in an art gallery piques my interest. What might once have seemed like a humorous pipe dream has been rendered reality in a society now coming to terms with and accepting the impact of rave and digital counterculture. From the Saatchi Gallery’s ‘Sweet Harmony’ to Safe Crackers’ ‘The Art of Warez’, an increasingly accepting contemporary climate does not stifle such ideas, and allows for reclamation of these lost art forms. Indeed Gabber Eleganza’s ‘Hardcore Soul’ blends such drastically disparate musical scenes that the connections drawn can seem initially nonexistent.
As artists regularly look to retreive older, less ‘fashionable’ tunes from the wayside of the zeitgeist (see: Donk, Makina, techy DnB, and Gabber amongst other sounds currently having a resurgence), producers like Scholefield revive lost sensibilities in the very fabric of their work. ‘Ways of Seeing’ as an album represents the dispersion of sounds across the electronic music spectrum since the ‘death’ of rave, and Konx-om-Pax weaves these threads into a tapestry, joining dots and picking up the pieces to form his own mythos. Scholefield demonstrates that visual influences. in allowing artists to draw from beyond their own medium, result in a body of work which is far more substantial and pertinent than otherwise possible.
All said, I can’t wait for 2022 to be the new 1992.
As someone with a penchant for ‘golden era’ happy hardcore I have to ask, what track would you play and in what gallery?
“I’d play the Scottish national anthem: Scott Brown – ‘Now is the Time’, anywhere and at any time.”
Finally, what’s next for Konx-Om-Pax or indeed all of your other projects?!
“I’m working on a remix EP of Ways of Seeing and building a new AV show. I have a few big festival dates in the coming months which I’m super excited about!”