Ahead of his upcoming show supporting James Holden (at the Komedia) and Alessandro Cortini (at the ACCA), prolific Brighton-based electronic musician and producer MATTHS (or Matt Hodson) offloads on playing live, ‘instant’ composition, synths or computers and getting away from technology…
So Matt can you let us into what might be in store for your upcoming Alessandro Cortini gig at the ACCA?
The thing about playing live with electronic music is that it can get kind of static if you rely on the computers to generate the same old loops and things. So my live sets have become a real hybrid set up using bespoke modular synthesisers and computers but also live triggered visuals. That lets me completely interact every single element of the music, so if I was to open and close filters on my synthesizer I can change the opacity of the visuals in real time and trigger them.
Evolving the live set to this point has had me on the go for something like 10 years and I’ve got to the place where I really feel excited about playing live because for anything to happen it requires me to do it… so it feels like a real performance for me. So even though I’m gonna be playing songs that I’ve already released what I do is I take the notes from those songs and the structure and I spit them out to different oscillators and sound making devices so the result at the end is quite different and I get surprised by that.
It sounds like there’s a lot of improv going on when you’re playing live.
I do improvise, I can take it completely off-piste and it’s scary, it really is, because there’s always a fear that the machines are going to break or they lose sync with each other. You know we rely a lot on clock which essentially connects everything and makes everything speak at the same tempo so if that breaks or goes down it is scary …but I guess at the same time it’s exhilarating. And things do go wrong, the last time I played live was in Berlin, I was playing outside during midday and the heat of the sun caused some of my equipment to malfunction so I had to kind of quickly repatch things on the fly. I suppose once you get to know your equipment inside out you have that ability to kind of think quick and re-boot stuff around and have that confidence…which is handy.
Watching electronic music live sometimes things can seem passive, is that why that element of danger is important?
Yeah when I when I first started playing I used to do very nuanced ambient music and I soon realized that didn’t go down very well… you know elements where I’d spent hours on crafting a particular sound got completely lost because you played in venues and people were talking and you didn’t quite have their concentration…. so I aimed to build up my live set so that no matter where I’m playing whether it’s indoors, outdoors, small club, pub or somewhere as exquisite and grand as the Attenborough Centre it will be about immersion. Now you’ve got no choice but to listen to it because my kick drums are brutal, they cover the stereo spectrum and the low end there’s no getting away from … I like to think that the audience can’t really talk over the music because it is so kind of aggressively immersive whether they like it or not. So I guess it’s just me reacting to years of putting up with everybody else’s chatter.
So tracking back a little to 2019, what prompted you to start releasing music as MATTHS?
It was quite a simple recognition really that I had started to write music with mainly modular synthesizers and what I found was that I was actually creating compositions on the fly something I call ‘instant composition’. I would basically plug in lots of oscillators and sequencers, hit record and capture whatever came out. It was a completely wild way of working compared to using the computer where you would take weeks on a kick drum sound or something very nuanced, this was a real refreshing way for me to work. And as a result I started doing live streams on YouTube, literally just plugging stuff in and in front of the world, creating a song there and then, recording it and then putting it out. That was picked up by Fat Cat records in Brighton who saw me doing the live streams. They liked what I was producing and said ‘what are you doing with this’ and I said ‘nothing’, so they took a couple of those tracks and put out a double A-side 12 inch which was my first release as MATTHS. That kind of embodied what the MATTHS project’s been about, creating tracks very organically, using the equipment that I’ve got, working quite quickly and with the kind of mistakes that come along with experimenting. You don’t get those working with a computer which is quite a safe environment. I’ve got nothing against working with computers mind you, I still incorporate them in some ways but the end result for me now is a different style of music, what I would call ‘psychedelic techno’. It’s not just a completely different aesthetic, it’s a completely different way of composing and I think that comes out when you hear it. The music moves, it’s organic, there’s mistakes in there I’m not spending too much time over the mix, I’m just really letting the music develop, waiting for some distortion, for some noise to happen, just letting things do their thing…
From that first 12-inch you then you put out a new release every month for a year. That must have taken a lot of energy?
Yeah it was a challenge writing, producing, mixing and then releasing a track each month as well as doing the artwork, the marketing and the socials, the pre-release, the post release campaigns everything, I was doing it all and it is very fatiguing but what it meant was and I was able to connect with an audience on a regular meaningful basis. Typically you put out an album, it has a lifespan of maybe three months or so in terms of marketing and PR. then you do your live shows, then it fizzles out and then you repeat that over the next few years. With this it was a completely different approach – it was monthly interaction with my audience who were watching me make the music on YouTube, they were then subscribing to me on Bandcamp so they got releases, alternative versions and remixes first, and then it would go on streaming platforms several months later. It created deadlines for me which was great because musicians sometimes put off finishing things. it’s very easy to do that whereas I committed to a year long releasing music once a month. In fact I did more than one release a month I ended up doing a remix with some people or sometimes doing two releases …
Do you think it’s important in electronic music field to approach things differently like you did?
I think its really important for artists who are at my level, even though I’ve got the backing of Fat Cat who I license songs through. I don’t have a big PR machine behind me so I have to do all of that myself so you have to be creative about the way that you use social media, marketing, getting the word out. That kind my approach worked for me and I’ve thought of putting together something about how I did it, putting it out there for everybody look at …there might be different ways of doing it but it definitely worked for me…
You share quite a lot of tips and stuff like that on YouTube – is that an important part of how you see yourself as a musician?
I don’t mind sharing what I do and how I do it because you know I kind of I like to give back in whatever way that I can… and you know even if somebody copied exactly what I do whether it’s the way that I put music together, how I compose, how I produce, how I mix, they’re not going to be able to produce the same stuff as me. Perhaps I do over share and there is a risk that you become more kind of a YouTuber where you’re more discussing and talking about production rather than being the musician.
Some people say to get the most out of electronic music you need to be into the tech side – do you think that’s true?
I think it’s totally fine that some people don’t want to know or understand really how you’re doing things but then there’s a whole other group of people who come to my shows really just to kind of take photos of the equipment I’m using. They want to know what oscillator you’re using, how you’re sequencing, how you’re mixing your kick drums. I often get those kind of conversations after shows as opposed to ‘I just really enjoyed the set, it took me somewhere on a trip you know’ …yeah I get a lot of the techy people but maybe that’s because I’m attracting them through over sharing on the internet but I really don’t mind that either….I mean I’m actually am one of those people, I go to a show and I am kind of trying to look at what foot pedals has that band got and how they use delay that kind of thing …
So is it mainly electronic music that you’ve always been into?
No I just wanted to be Kurt Cobain I was into guitar, I was into distortion, I was in bands, it was all about that …having said that, thinking about it now you know, I grew up in the 80s and a lot of 80s music which was on the radio in the house was like the Human League all that kind of stuff and I guess I must have consumed that in a way…cos I still like listening to classic 80s synth pop stuff I love it… I don’t actually listen to much hard techno or anything like that in a weird way …Anyway after playing in bands when I was 18, I went to university and I got much more into experimenting with the guitar in terms of you know effects pedals and of course once you can record a guitar into the computer then you can do even more processing. So I actually found that I was more interested in the processing of sounds. Then of course Radiohead’s Kid A came out and there was quite a bit of electronics in that, drum machines and things and I was like ‘oh actually you know maybe it’s okay to start liking electronic music a bit more’. But I was very particular about what I started listening to, I would get into stuff like Leftfield and Massive Attack – I was studying music production at the same time so I had a real interest in like quality produced music ….Aphex Twin and Squarepusher as well, they were like ‘okay you know, what’s happening here in terms of processing’. Then I first got my first synthesizer that was when I put the guitar down- still wanted to be Kurt Cobain but certainly haven’t got the haircut for that anymore…
You’ve been Brighton-based for a while now – what does it offer you as a musician?
I mean in terms of music Brighton doesn’t have one scene it has all the music scenes here so you’ll always get inspired plus you get big bands coming here at the Dome etc so you can jump into that too. But I grew up by the coast in northeast Lincolnshire in Grimsby and I was kind of by the sea there and so after being in London for a long time, Brighton just seemed a little bit like home from home. Now I think one of the important things for me, because I spend so long in the studio and windowless rooms, is to be able to get out and sit on the beach and stare at nothing basically. It’s good for the eyes and good for the mind. My other big love is balancing studio time and working with technology by getting out into the fields and stomping around on the South Downs. I will often walk from you know Brighton to Lewis, two or three hour long walks just without the phone or anything to get away from technology.
And looking ahead what are your plans for the future of MATTHS?
Definitely going back to doing a release a month would be ideal and I think trying to get signed up to an agency or booker to help me do more live gigs and just take care of that side of things …I’ve done so many great openings for so many great acts you know like I’ve opened for Rival Consoles, Lonelady from WARP plus I’m supporting James Holden at the Komedia before the Cortini show … so it’s about time I think that I’ve looked at maybe doing a small tour around the UK and take my new live AV show out and do that ….I’d definitely also like to explore some other side of music as well in terms of a lot of what I’m making is visceral heavy techno brutal beats and that kind of thing. I don’t want to move into away from that entirely, I just wanna explore more and more. The thing about making electronic music I find is there’s so much to experiment with, every time you turn on the studio equipment you’ve just got so many toys to play with, you know ‘what happens if I plug this to this and to this and to this’ …. so yeah there’s always a lot more room to experiment. I’d definitely like to grow my YouTube channel more as well and keep doing live streams but other than that a tour of the UK would be brilliant …so if there’s any promoters out there listening yeah yeah do get in touch…
And any final thoughts for the punters out there?
Well I’ve been in Brighton for 15 years now, so you know I’d like to say thank you to everyone for coming along to the all the shows and following me … That’s been a long time for sure , so yeah ,thanks for putting up with me.
MATTHS will be supporting James Holden at the Komedia on 3rd October – Tickets available HERE
MATTHS will be supporting Alessandro Cortini at the Attenborough Centre For Creative Arts on 27th October – Tickets available HERE
Get all the MATTHS releases from his Bandcamp HERE
Check the MATTHS YouTube Channel HERE