Once upon a time there was an influential collective called Black Dog Productions producing colourful, if minimalistic, electronica. Following some turbulent times between the original trio, the collaborations of Ed Handley and Andy Turner eventually evolved into Plaid, an instrumentally challenging collective that fuses electro, shades of hip-hop and keyboard-soaked techno. Last year they released 'Trainer' - a compilation of older BDP works and new Plaid material - to critical acclaim. This juxtaposition of old and new was as important a project as it was interesting. "We didn't have copies of some of the older material having given them away over the years so it was nice to get it all packaged together on vinyl. It was also fun to wade through cassettes and DATs from that era and we included a few tracks on 'Trainer' that were previously unreleased," says Turner.
Their much-anticipated new album 'Double Figure' is released at the end of May and promises to be a more upbeat, less opaque collection if 'Squance' (a preview track downloadable from the Warp website) is anything to go by. Turner reckons it's more cohesive than their previous work: "It's fairly similar in form to our last two albums in that there are 19 five-minute tracks and we've tried to link it together a bit more so that it runs as more of a continuous piece. We've also mixed it a bit heavier than the last album and we've tried to achieve a variety of moods on it. Having said that, this isn't a concept album, there's no overall theme to the record. In terms of the recording process, for us it's more of a routine, we're pretty sad in that we come in every day to work and because there's always something to potter around with, the studio has a bit of a garden shed feel to it! By working this way the ideas tend to build fairly slowly and things come together organically. Sometimes you write a track in an evening, but there's usually quite a lot of tweaking goes on with it after that. We don't have to lock ourselves away to sit down and write an album."
As well as writing, composing, playing and producing all of their own music, they have worked extensively as producers with various artists. Perhaps the best known works on their production CV are Björk's 'Army of Me' and 'Isobel', but they have also worked with electro-analogue exponent Plus One and on Kushti's 'Secret Handshakes' as well as providing remix services for Grandmaster Flash, Deee-lite, label-mates Autechre and Ninja Tune's Funky Porcini. "In general we really like collaborating with other people because you get to take a different angle on something," says Turner. "It's also good not to be in the driving seat all the time and to let somebody else do it while you play the engineer. It's the same with working with vocalists, as that's an instrument we don't really have access to and we've been really lucky to work with some great singers."
Plaid have also worked under the pseudonyms of Atypic, Balil and Tura, but far from propagating the myth that electronic outfits are inaccessible, faceless knob-twiddlers it was actually done for very practical reasons according to Turner: "For us, using different monikers was for very different reasons like the fact that we were in recording contracts under one artist name. We had written lots of material and it was just a case of really wanting to release it. Creating those other personas was just another way of getting ideas out."
Whether under their most fated moniker, Plaid, or any of the above, the duo's following is quite an international one, with recent gigs in France, Spain and Norway. It has taken a while to recover after Black Dog Productions came to an end, but according to Turner, "The gigs have been going really well now that we've built back up a good set to play to a club audience." Plaid were formerly signed to Nothing Records (the label owned by Nine Inch Nail's Trent Reznor) in the US but these days Warp handle the US distribution for an enthusiastic, albeit niche, market.
Once heralded as the stalwarts of "intelligent techno", one wonders if there's anything but obscurantist electronica on the Plaid turntable. "I'm listening to quite a lot of ska stuff because Mark from Plone (other Warp electrophiles) got me into it on the tour bus, particularly The Skatilites. My girlfriend is really into R 'n' B so I tend to hear a lot of MTV stuff. I like some, not all, of it but I quite like the new Missy Elliot track ['Get Ur Freak On']." Faceless techno? No way, these boys are normal ska-lovin', hip-hop boys after all – they just happen to have a handle on squat depleted beats and mystic electronica. Miss them this Saturday at your peril.
Plaid play the Temple Bar Music Centre on Saturday, 21 April (Doors 11pm) The new album 'Double Figure' is out on Warp Records on 28 May 2001