Nothing sums up the work of The Cyclist quite like the name of his most recent EP. ‘Boards of Chicago’ was released via Italian label Tropical Animals in September 2018 and, as far as titles go, it’s a perfect encapsulation of the Northern Irish artist’s distinct approach to production.
Distorted, fragile and warm melodic atmospheres course through his EPs and LPs on labels like Hypercolour, All City, 100% Silk, Leaving Records and his own Tape Throb Records, invoking the unmistakable and cinematic atmospheres of Boards of Canada. Unlike the Scottish duo, however – whose sound has been characterised by its mournful, downtempo ambience – The Cyclist elevates that tape-based sound with heady house beats, analog grooves and a solid dancefloor focus. The sound has seen the DJ/producer – real name Andrew Morrison – become celebrated in discerning circles the world over, his gritty, unpredictable and absorbing club sounds standing some considerable distance away from its trendier cousin, lo-fi house.
Unlike the polarising and inherently raw formulas that saw lo-fi house become the unwieldy and prolific thing it did, Morrison’s sound is anything but simple. Born from years of mucking around with cheap analog kit and a 4-track tape deck, The Cyclist – who also produces heavier club cuts under the Buz Ludhza moniker – makes no technical concessions and, instead, offers a complex yet irresistible palette. One need only hear the engulfing bass of 2014’s ‘Flourish’ or the psychedelic and propulsive title track from his Hypercolour LP ‘Sapa Inca Delirium’ to get a sense of it.
A prolific producer, Morrison managed to release two stunning EPs last year in the form of ‘Boards of Chicago’ and 100% Silk’s ‘Beat At The Heart Of The City’, all the while studying to complete an MA in the University of Birmingham and working in cancer research.
As 2019 opens up for The Cyclist, we caught up with him to discuss his next plan of action, his love of tape, early industrial influences and more. He’s also served up a 60-minute mix of gritty disco, rusted breakbeats and house as part of our Podcast series, which you can sink your teeth into below.
Hey Andrew, how’s it going? How was 2018 for you? What were some highlights?
“The past year was pretty crazy hectic! Completed a masters degree, had three EPs out and a little cassette album, ran a few little locals nights, all while working in cancer research for the University here in Birmingham. Highlights would have to be getting that damn degree over with and feeling free to create again (and read!), but releasing on 100% Silk again was a big honour as they have a big place in my heart. And of course getting involved with Tropical Animals has been super exciting as it's my first foray into releasing in mainland Europe. I feel like an old school Italo disco artist when I mention having a 12" out with a label based in Florence!”
Are you still living in Birmingham? What brought you there? What keeps you there? How do you feel living there has impacted the way you work on music?
“I've been based in Birmingham in the last couple of years and I've had a lot of fun here. I’ve met some really interesting and kind people, but for me it was more out of necessity due to work and study. Having finished my masters I need a change and while I wanted to move out to Amsterdam, the whole Brexit thing is getting in the way, so we're moving to Liverpool in April. With the close down of the rainbow venues and a few other spots petering out, it feels like a lull period here in Brum. I love smaller cities though, and Liverpool has this buzz which draws me in. I used to live there for a few years so it has familiarity as well.”
Can you talk us through your musical background? How did you first start making music?
“Really early on I was a big punk head, all the ‘70s stuff like The Ramones, The Clash, Undertones, Stooges etc. Then that led to the late ‘70s post-punkers like Joy Division, This Heat, Gang of Four, ESG. From there it was spiraling out to what influenced the post-punk scene, like the Velvet Underground, dub and Krautrock and what it lead to in the more experimental scenes of what followed. When I first started out I had an Ableton rip, a 4-track, a guitar, an amp and a Roland TR 505 all from my brother. But while experimenting with that combination it was the 4-track cassette recorder that had the biggest impact due to the analog distortion. Making tape loops, and the wholly unpredictable nature of the medium is inspiring.”
Do you think growing up in Derry had any particular impact on the way you listen to and make music, or the sort of stuff you were listening to?
“Derry is a strangely historic town with evident issues to this day. I think of it as quite a peaceful and artistically active place these days, but it's got this historic sectarianism that is a deep-seated issue. Previously I felt that I had to separate my mind and body as far from the place as possible, but like every Irish emigrant, home starts a-calling in one way or another.
“Music wise, it's definitely had an influence due to it's rough and ready haphazard style and I've come to realise that even the pain-strewn religious aspects of the city have resulted in me sampling many spiritual and gospel sounds.”
How did you first become interested in working with tape? What do you make of the current resurgence in cassette releases as a format?
“It was the 4-track I had that had the most impact on the sounds I was making. You could create something sterile and digital in ableton and blast it through the 4-track and all of a sudden you've got this warm exciting sound. Start cutting up the tape, looping or heating it or even damaging it with magnets and you get all these odd effects that can't be recreated with any software.
“I love the resurgence of any older medium as I love anything tangible derived from music so i think it's fantastic. We recently got a red '90s Alfa Romeo 156 – incidentally the same car in is MIA's bad girls video! – fixed up. It has a tape deck so I have been blasting my tape collection through that whilst cruising lately!”
You’ve released on some very enviable labels, 100% Silk, Hypercolour, All City… How did you come into contact with them? What drew you to them? I guess 100% Silk’s commitment to tape may have been a factor...
“I was initially inspired by 100% Silk – and that old amalgamated blog, altered zones – to start sending tunes to labels with the style that I did so I was over the moon when they got in touch. But yeah, it's mainly been a ‘power of the Internet’ kind of thing. I got in touch or they got in touch, usually via email, out of a mutual passion for a grubbier, forward thinking style of dance music. Though with All City that came when I met one of the guys there, Sonel Ali, at a tiny rooftop gig on a sunny day in Dublin city centre.”
'Boards of Chicago’ seems like the perfect way to reference both sides of your sound, with the house-focussed club business always propping up the tape distortions and ambient melodies. Tell us how you linked up with the new label Tropical Animals and what your process was behind the EP!
“Again this was a ‘power of the Internet’ thing. The label hit me up and it all just seemed to work seamlessly. I'd heard a lot of good things about their regular nights and the guys involved are just clearly passionate about putting out a range of new sounds so I tried to cook up something different than I had in the past.”
Do you try and incorporate thematic threads into your releases? If so, what was the thinking or feeling behind ‘Sapa Inca Delirium’ and ‘Beat At The Heart Of The City’?
“Definitely, both of those releases, as with most of mine, are thematically primarily inspired by literature I was reading at the time. With ‘Sapa Inca Delirium’ I had been reading Conrad's Heart Of Darkness and Herzog's Conquest of the Useless and had this idea of the delirious manifestation of a power crazed leader and a society's actions contorted by this.
“With ‘Beat At The Heart Of The City', and it's accompanying 12" ‘Alabaster Thrones’, it was Joyce and the modernist stream of consciousness approach that inspired the method of creating the tracks and tied them together.”
You were doing lo-fi club music before it became a “thing”, so to speak. Where do you stand on the whole lo-fi house trend that swept the Internet in the past while, or does it even cross your mind?
“It's not much of a thing in my world, but I do think it's the natural progression, in the same way the punks distorted the old cleaner ‘50s rock sounds to create something that sounded more exciting to them. You've got that wave of producers a couple of years ago doing the same thing with the ‘90s sounds. I think we're entering a more exciting phase now though in the same way the post-punk progression happened, where you have this odd mashing of as many worldly influences as possible, and I hope it gets just as weird!”
Do you think the distinction between The Cyclist and your Buz Ludzha alias has become blurred? If so, how can you see yourself evolving each moniker?
“I think you're right in that assessment, but I am trying to make a clearer distinction between the two. I want The Cyclist to be a more of a open ended mind trip and Buz Ludzha to be more visceral, but that can be quite hard to express as both are quite saturated sounds.”
What is next for The Cyclist? What’s next for Buz Ludzha?
“On both ends of the stick I'm focusing on 12" EPs and and fun cassettes as I've run out of the serious album energy! With The Cyclist there will be more broken open ended breakbeats and with the Buz Ludzha stuff there’ll be the Roland TR style of swing-less blasted 4/4 beats. I'll be as busy as possible in 2019 with The Cyclist, but my plans with Buz Ludzha will be strictly one 12" and a follow-up to ‘Jungle Tapes’ on my Tape Throb label.”
Tell us about this mix! What was the thinking behind it? What should we do while listening to it?
“Made of tunes I've been digging a lot whilst walking to and from work lately to bring my mood up. Just rejoicing sounds. It's mostly about that Friday feeling, you know that feeling like there's all these endless exciting possibilities of what to do with your free time. If you're not cooking, dancing or creating something to it, you better stop whatever else your doing and start! Also that's a reminder to stay off social media and actually create something tangible, because feck that noise!”