26.09.2019 | Words by: Hannah Pezzack
There are few artists who can flit as effortlessly between genres as Pariah. Back in the late 2000s, Arthur Cayzer made a name for himself via the heady and oscillating sound of post-dubstep. Released on the iconic R&S label, his debut EP Safehouses received shining critical praise and a follow-up album was said to be on the horizon. But it wasn’t until July last year that Here From Where We Are
surfaced. The project is hauntingly introspective and ambient, far more in line with a movie soundtrack than a club dance floor. Not that the time was spent in hiatus - far from it. Under the moniker Karenn, he cemented an analogue techno partnership with Blawan (Jamie Roberts), recently releasing the EP Kind of Green alongside a spatter of impressively co-ordinated live-sets via their label Voam. The record is a stomping psychedelic affair that seamlessly incorporates both minimal industrialism and ear-warping decadence. “It’s definitely a bit moody,” says Arthur. “Although we are usually pretty silly in the studio together, playing random noises and sounds and just being like, ‘yeah that “bonk-bleep” noise is good, put that in.”
With very British sensibilities, Pariah is full of hilariously self-deprecating anecdotes. From getting refused entry to the most notoriously uncool club in the UK (Oceana) to a pre-teen obsession with Michael Jackson and Dr. Dre, he’s a far remove from the stone-cold techno archetype. I record just over two hours of audio of our chat on my phone and the time passes breezily with lots of banter. “I met Paris Hilton backstage at Tomorrowland Festival.” He grins. “We were doing a Karenn show there and I was waiting in line for food in the backstage. She started complaining about the queue to me, and we had a good chat about it though it took me a while to clock who it was - weirdest moment of my year so far.” However, for other artists, he’s less courteous. “Morrissey. Why the fuck is anyone still going to see Morrissey? I wouldn’t mind hanging out with Skrillex, mind. he seems like a decent enough guy.” Like a lot of people, I first became acquainted with your music through Safehouses. I was really into James Blake, Burial. Here From Where We Are goes in such a different direction. Which makes sense, given that it came out nearly ten years later.
Honestly, I’m not sure what happened. I came through relatively quickly, it was so much to take in. The transition from not knowing how to make electronic music at all to suddenly having it as a viable career, was a literal turnaround of eighteen months. And that was a lot to deal with, especially as I was just out of my teens it all happened. Call it imposter syndrome, I suppose. That and a lack of self-confidence. I hope you don’t mind me asking, how old are you now?
What? No way!
I get that a lot. When I used to live in London my housemates worked out the house and I’d usually be at home during the day making music. If we had cold-callers, they’d ask me if I could go and get the adult decision-maker. I’d be like “umm…” But also secretly kind of pleased. I’m kinda terrified that it’s due to catch up with me one day. Sorry, I don’t want to overemphasize the time you took to bring the album out. There’s this big focus within music journalism to put pressure on artists to churn out material.
I do feel with a lot of publications, that’s a selling point, You know the headline “First music for X amount of years!!” They really love hammering that home. It seems a bit unfair. Especially, as writers, we can just bash out an article in an evening.
Some musicians can do that. With Jamie (Blawan), we work so productively and seamlessly. There’s something about the way he produces, it’s just relentless. On my own, I’m more laborious, tinkering away for months on end. I need Jamie to tell me to stop faffing about. How long have you been living in Amsterdam?
Eighteen months now, all in all. I’m often away on the weekends, so I don’t get a chance to go out often. I’m very aware of an incredible emergent scene here - especially upsammy, Tammo Hesselink and Oceanic - those three are really pushing the sound forward but, in general, there seems to be a lot people here challenging the predominance of house and techno. There’s a lot of old breakbeat, IDM and dubstep floating around again, and some of it has aged brilliantly. Especially with someone like upsammy, as much as I hate to use the phrase “uncompromising”, that’s truly what her sets are. To me, she’s what a “selector” embodies. Not, you know, wealthy white dudes who play “exotic” records. How would you describe the sound of your mixes lately?
I think, like most of the other UK DJs I’ve been affiliated with, I like to chop and change things up. I find playing in a more drawn out, rolling way difficult - although it’s a style that I have enormous admiration for. Someone who does all-in techno absurdly well is Dasha [Rush]. Jamie and I are on the same agency as her so we get to play together quite a lot and its always an absolute treat to catch her perform. Vinyl vs. CDJs?
I had a really big learning curve recently when I got my first set of CDJs because I’ve only ever used vinyl or Serato. Emma (her again) has had to teach me how to use hot cues. So, both I guess!On your Soundcloud, there’s this beautiful ambient set from a venue called the Belgrave in Leeds, England. Can you tell me more about that?
Credits to the Think Tank crew for that one, they set it up amazingly and it’s one of my favourite sets to date. Cushions on the floor, a very genuinely diverse and welcoming crowd. For want of a better phrase, it was an event that really thought “outside of the box.” When Here From Where We Are came out, I decided not to go and do a series of ambient shows because I don’t consider myself an ambient DJ. There are people out there who do it much better than I can and I wanted to maintain the focus that when you come and see me you’re going to see a club DJ. Having said that, I like that chillout rooms are becoming more of a thing these days at parties, especially in the UK. I’m definitely geared more towards the weirder side; the dark corners. Think MixMaster Morris and the ethos of the ’90s ("It's time to lie down and be counted"). Will you continue to make ambient music in the future?
I am tempted. But I’m worried about confusing my audience. For a long time, I was really concerned that the press response would be along the lines of, “Oh no, a techno producer has turned his hand to ambient.” Thankfully, there wasn’t so much of that. Quite the opposite. The album had really great reviews, which is hard to do with ambient because I feel its fans are very serious about who can encroach on the genre. That must have been a relief. Going back to what you said about the “weirder” parts of the club, how do you like playing in De School?
I love it. Especially in the smoke. More smoke in all clubs, please. As much smoke as possible. There’s something to be said here about losing yourself... People, myself included, seem to feel so much less self-conscious and can really let go. It’s one of the few clubs - other than Berghain - where I prefer being on my own, standing next to a speaker. And how are you finding Amsterdam as a city in general?
I’m continuously astounded by how much this city loves to party. In London, a city of nine million, Printworks just seems to swallow up the clubbing population. The fact that you can have multiple, thousand capacity warehouses selling out each weekend. It’s a bit weird. I mean, I’m not complaining. Just remember to chill out, guys.Pariah plays our basement this Saturday alongside DJ Qu and Dasha Rush, tickets are still available here.