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Richard Fearless

Death In Vegas man goes it alone

2019 Nov 24     
2 Bit Thugs

His first solo long-player finds the Death In Vegas frontman making metal machine music – out of a metal box…

After 25 years and six albums as the core member of Death In Vegas, Richard Fearless has finally released his first album under his solo alias (his real name's Richard Maguire). In a strange way, it can be seen as his debut album. But in many other not-so-strange ways it’s a body of work that goes much deeper than a debut solo record ever could. Tapping into his rich, diverse musical history, the album tightly weaves aspects of everything he’s done since he broke through in the early 90s at cult London rave incubator Job Club. 

The album's out this month, and called Deep Rave Memory. But don’t go expecting to experience any dewy-eyed nostalgia, beyond appreciation for the impressive chain of analogue machines he famously has in his Metal Box studio. A contemporary, not to mention intense shock to the senses, Deep Rave Memory leaps between disarming ambience and industrial-strength techno by way of blissful cosmic bleepery and a homage to Krautrock pioneer and Cluster founder Roedelius, and it does so with a visceral, physical edge. 

His second all-instrumental set (the first being Death In Vegas’s fourth album Satan’s Circus), Deep Rave Memory sees Richard pushing himself away from the studio processes he’d become very familiar with in his band and move towards the rawer sounds, forthright vibe and instrumental aesthetic that many will be familiar with from his output on his Drone label over the last years. 

And it was written in one of the most interesting studio locations we’ve heard in a while… a shipping container in London’s Docklands. You can see it here, and it’s where our conversation with him starts… 

How did you come to work out of a metal box? 

"I’ve been here for the last five years. After I made Trans-Love Energies I moved here. I was actually looking for more space. I wouldn’t choose to be in a shipping container if I wasn’t in this spot."

I can imagine your view and the scenery never stays static. That must be a nice environment to work in?

"That’s a huge benefit. From an acoustic point of view, it’s not ideal, but what I lose in the shape of the room, I gain in the location. When I came here, I’d got it into my head that I needed to move out of London. I looked at all kinds of strange locations, including an old fish farm. As I’d had the idea of commuting out to the countryside to work, I stumbled across Trinity Wharf – I didn’t know it existed. It’s a great art-based community down here run by a non-profit organisation. It’s a fantastic spot to be in. There are all kinds of creative individuals, drawing schools, musicians."

Meanwhile, the industrial end of London goes on all around this artistic enclave…

"Yeah. On one side of the river you have the steel factory, and on the other side of us is the O2. Behind us is Canary Wharf and we’re right by City Airport. It’s all going on round us. It’s also in one of the poorest boroughs of London – Tower Hamlets – so things are out of sync here, and have always been historically." 

And Deep Rave Memory took seed in this location…

"Yeah. Everything I’ve done in the last five years has. All the Drone releases and the last Death In Vegas album. Most of the work was done in this spot."

You re-launched Drone when you moved here and released your first record as Richard Fearless. Quite a pivotal moment in your life I’d imagine? 

"I guess so! I first set up Drone to release Satan’s Circus, the only instrumental Death In Vegas album, then I restarted it with Trans-Love Energies. But, yes, during the last five years Drone has come into a different thing. We’re distributed by Kompakt and I’ve really concentrated on the label since I’ve been in this spot. We’re up to our 20th release now."

Your wife runs it with you, doesn’t she? 

"Yeah, Elaine. We do it together. It’s a bit of a learning curve. Both of our backgrounds are in design and fine art so with every release we’ve had to learn a hell of a lot."

You don’t strike me as a businessman. I doubt Drone was set up for big money-making, and is more of an expressive, experimental outlet?

"Totally. Having worked with a major label most of my musical life, it’s very exciting to have something to be in complete control of. If I want to put out a Von Haze album which is seven tonal drones, then I can. You can push yourself and be a lot more creative. There are no conversations like ‘How many units are we going to sell?’ or anything like that."

Is that entirely liberating… or a little daunting at points? 

"The bit that’s daunting is when you get an offer to support Nine Inch Nails! With Death In Vegas we got that request and we didn’t have anyone to go to for tour support. We’ve had to take loans against our house to cover the label, which was quite risky and scary.

"I don’t do any commercial work at all, so while the label is an outlet, there is an element of maintaining the direction and level of quality and tick off a lot of boxes. At the end of the day the label does have to feed four people and pay the artists. There’s definitely pressure." 

Did you write Deep Rave Memory before or after the Nine Inch Nails tour? 

"I focused on the album straight after the tour ended last November. I’d made the decision to make an album as Richard Fearless, and I didn’t want to think too much about how it would sound. I wanted to do something visceral and impulsive. As it began to fall into place with the artwork and more conceptual side, I wanted to bring all my experiences that have shaped the sound. It was quite reflective a sense."

It’s also your debut album, in a sense… 

"The 47-year old debut! It’s a relief to put out a record like this. I find a Death In Vegas album is quite a weirdly easy hat to put on. The minute I decide to a Death In Vegas album I go into a particular mindset or framework so I’m more familiar with the process but I found it a lot harder on this one.

What’s hard with Death In Vegas is that I know what’s going to have to come with it – putting on a show and developing that and taking it further than it’s been before. But as far as the delivery of the record goes, in terms of using vocalists and songwriting, I know what I need to do. When it comes to an instrumental album it’s trickier. There’s a lot more space to fill up."

Yeah, you have a framework or canvas – and the canvas is vast on Deep Rave Memory. Perhaps that’s where the geography of where you are is influential?

"Yeah, being in this space I can see across the working river. The O2 and what that represents – Blair’s celebration of British culture which is both a piece of crap and also really quite beautiful in a way. That’s a big part of my work: looking for broken beauty, and light in the dark. Looking for the light in the dark makes it a very personal and reflective album."

I was trying to imagine the views you may have had for different tracks but it’s much more complex than that… 

"It is more complex but you do get to see some very impressive weather. Some of the storms especially. It’s such a wide part of the river so you get some very thick and deep fog. It becomes very Turner-esque in its views. But everything has an influence: the steel factory is 24/7 and you get this incredible industrial sound, that grinding of metal on metal. 

"Also the history of the river, all the trade that goes down it and that has been down it. The East India Trading Company was effectively the start of capitalism, the sugar and slave trade. It’s nuts this area. You’ve got two rivers converging so there’s some heavy energy and history. There’s a lot going on."

Let’s talk about another influence: Roedelius. Was Driving With Roedelius a homage to him?

"Only afterwards! I never set out to do a homage or sat down and said ‘Okay, I’m going to do a Cluster line’… it was after I listened to it I realised the similarities in how it felt. A few years ago I did the Roedelius Festival, which celebrated his work. I played a set comprising the dancier side of what he’s created, then spent an evening with him and his family. We were in a car, some of his friends who were part of a travelling gypsy community were singing, and it was an incredible, very special moment. Hence the name.

"With the song itself I wanted to the use the sequencer with my Echoplex with old tape in it to get that additional warble, which I use quite often. Before a session I usually do some preparation: restoring the rubber wheels, demagnetising the heads, flipping the tape. They need constant maintenance. But I didn’t do that on this one. I want to keep the warbliness and strange textures. I wanted it to have that older sound. Musically though, the progression did feel like something he’d have done. It was definitely a homage, but an accidental one."

It must be nice to sit back and hear something and realise these things?

"Very much. There’s this white noise sound I decided to keep in. It flies in and out which I’m happy with. It doesn’t let you settle in, it wakes you up with a bit of a jolt." 

I think the whole album does that in terms of its arrangement. It keeps you guessing…

"It was a very tough album to get the running order right. It took me a few weeks to get comfortable with it. The opening track, for example, was a different one with drums, but I wanted to start with the ambient one. I left one or two tracks out. I’m happy with the story or journey of the tracks now." 

Arranging an album is a craft, for sure. But having done it so many times with Death In Vegas albums, I thought you’d be a dab hand?

"It’s the way you tell the story. You can tell it in so many different ways and that’s something I’ve been fascinated by as a DJ. I do try and go about it in as much of a DJ-like way as much as possible."

So is it a relief to get the album out there now? And what happens next?

"I’m so busy with other stuff – my radio show, various other bits – that I’m a bit, like, ‘Oh yeah, I have an album out this month!’ But perhaps that’s because it’s not the finished project. There’s a second part that you’ll find out more about next year… that’s what’s going to happen next. 

Words: Dave Jenkins

Deep Rave Memory is out now on Drone

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Tags: Richard Fearless, Death In Vegas, Drone, Roedelius, Nine Inch Nails, techno, ambient, Krautrock