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Beatrice Dillon: Space exploration

Londoner Beatrice Dillon’s electronic experiments and intriguing collaborations have resulted in one of the most eagerly anticipated albums of the year. She talks to DJ Mag about exploring dub space in music, her love of pop, and how the capital’s record shops were her greatest education

Drawing a line somewhere between soundscape artists like Plaid and the inventive techno sensibilities of Objekt, Beatrice Dillon’s sound is forward-thinking and spacious. Now, it has culminated in her debut solo album, ‘Workaround’, which has been three years in the making.

As a sound artist, researcher, producer and DJ, Dillon’s extensive accomplishments in electronic music can be traced through a wide-ranging output. From her NTS radio residency, sound studies for BBC3, and composing commissioned works for gallery installations — she is a resident at Somerset House studios — to producing mixtapes for The Trilogy Tapes, Truants and Where To Now?, she has earned admiration across the scene for her introspective and emotional approach. 

Born south of the river in Peckham, London has always been and remains a place to call home. DJ Mag speaks to Dillon over Skype about her enthrallment towards nothingness, her love for radio, and why pop music might be one of the greatest art forms of the human race. She tells us of her crate-digging days in Soho’s famous Berwick Street, home to Reckless Records, Sister Ray and Sounds Of The Universe: “It was just so important as a kind of place where there were maybe four or five different shops you’d visit that all had their specialties, and me being who I am, I’ve always been interested in different kinds of music. So I’d go in there, then go into the next one.”

 

Remembering the Rough Trade store, when it was downstairs as a dingy basement in Covent Garden, she says, “it was really good, and that’s where I discovered a lot of music really, I actually got into dance music around then”. It was in these establishments that Dillon first discovered the works of artists such as Luke Vibert, informing a love for underground electronics, as well as James Lavelle’s seminal Mo’ Wax label. “When they released a Liquid Liquid record, I remember being really excited about that. Like everybody, I knew the Grandmaster Flash sample, and I was like, ‘Ooh, okay. It’s part of something else, oh wow, I’m sure that’s a touchstone record for loads of people’. I also got into a lot of soul music there.” As a self-confessed music fanatic and audiophile, Beatrice’s four-year stint on NTS meant that she could delve into her core record knowledge, and share sounds as an ongoing project. “I’m a music collector, so to be gathering things, then sifting through them, then thinking about how to present them in an interesting way, radio is the perfect medium for that.”

Dillon’s record sees her as a master of curation, delving into her expertise to produce mixtapes for The Trilogy Tapes. “A lot of people say that there comes a point when you sort of have to switch off a bit, and say, ‘OK, no more influences, no more ideas, I’ve got to mine a bit deeper for what I’ve got to say really’, and that’s quite hard if you’re a music nut.” Recently, on a popular culture level, Dillon’s been getting into the Dissect Podcast on Kendrick Lamar. “A friend kept nagging me about it for a year, and it’s really in-depth about the lyrics and amazing production ideas.”

“That’s why I think pop music might be one of the greatest art forms of the human race, because it hits you first, then you’re like, ‘wow, that’s really clever’”

COLLAGE

Dillon’s producing has often incorporated pasting together refined textures, informed by a fascination with the complexities of rhythm and the ambience created within dance music. Her collaboration with Rupert Clervaux on the album ‘Studies 1-XVII For Samplers And Percussion’, comprised of two-minute clips of manipulated percussion, perfectly illustrates Dillon’s inclinations towards exploring the space between sounds. Her appreciation for refined classicism and research, though, may have resulted in some people’s misunderstanding of her formal musical background.

“There’s a bit of a myth about me that I have some kind of classical training, I don’t,” she says. “It’s a really flattering rumour that’s not true at all. If I know anything about music, it’s from listening to records — that’s really my education.” Dillon speaks highly of the computer as a positive tool for those frustrated with the technicalities of playing an instrument. “You start to realise you can collage things together at your own pace.” 

‘Workaround’ can be seen as an extension of Dillon’s propensity to sew the ideas she finds fascinating together, and features an extensive list of guest appearances, fromn electronic innovators Laurel Halo and Batu to cellist Lucy Railton. Dillon tells us that, “Laurel and I are good friends, I’ve really valued her friendship, and she’s an ambitious woman making electronic music, and whatever way I look at this, that is part of my story.”

UK bhangra pioneer, Kulijit Bhamra, also features heavily on the album. “I love his sound and I just really wanted to get his expertise,” she says. One of the most intriguing influences on the album are the essays of English painter Bridget Riley. “I just got excited reading about colour theory and pattern, and arrangement on a page,” Dillon tells us, “and I found it really interesting in thinking about music.” Dillon studied at Chelsea School Of Art, and finds exploring art leads to a deeper understanding in constructing her own music, particularly in the case of Riley’s essays. “There are quite obvious parallels between rhythmic ideas and suggested motion ideas in her painting, which can translate into music.”

MAKING SPACE

Each track in the complex sphere of ‘Workaround’ follows a strict 150bpm tempo, which has been the rule for most of her music of the past few years. “It’s kind of this halfway point, it’s much faster than house music, but not as frantic as jungle,” Dillon tells us, “so it’s this weird in-between zone where there’s lots of space involved, and lots of implied slowness.”

Operating along the fringes of heavy dub sensibilities and minimalistic techno, it is intricate and complex, but completely unrestrained. Dillon previously stated the album sets out to explore “dub’s pliable emptiness”. She delves into this idea for us: “the spaces I make in music are thinking about how to sort of sneak ideas in”. Dillon’s thoughtful conceptions mean you can get across these lofty ideas in dance music without even realising. It becomes an afterthought, which further accentuates its brilliance. “That’s why I think pop music might be one of the greatest art forms of the human race, because it hits you first, then you’re like, ‘wow, that’s really clever’.”

Dillon’s affinity with electronic music derives partly from its lucidity, exploring the liminal spaces in a quietly genius way. “You’re free to explore different structure or arrangements; if you take something like a Chain Reaction record, it’s a 12-minute endless track, and maybe what’s interesting is it exists in its own time continuum, and stays interesting because there are these micro-variations.”

‘Workaround’ sees Dillon make use of these microcosm complexities within dub and dance music, to create a timeless space that has an organic life of its own. This year sees her embarking on a string of exciting international commissions, as well as already producing her next piece of solo work: “It’s pretty much pure electronic stuff”.

Having got the collaborations out of her system, she’s ready to make music with “nobody else” — a highly exciting prospect for an artist so expert in her craft.

Want more? Read a conversation between electronic music pioneer, Suzanne Ciani, and dance music disruptor, Rian Treanor, about sound, space and spontaneity here