Blanck Mass on new album World Eater
Benjamin John Power aims to "confuse and baffle" with his solo electronic project, Blanck Mass. As he prepares to release an anger-tinged third album, the producer tells The Skinny why he'll try anything once when it comes to making music
When the lights dim at Edinburgh’s Pleasance Theatre and a solitary male in black approaches a table filled with electronic equipment, there’s little to suggest the hour of musical intensity that follows. Numerous bands rely on theatricality to make up for their rehashed guitar songs, while countless DJs would die on stage if it wasn’t for the lavish lightshows that carry their piss-weak beats. But then there’s Blanck Mass. The solo project of Benjamin John Power requires no fripperies when he can drop a rhythm as devastating as Dead Format. This six minute assault on the senses makes other songs – whole genres, even – suddenly seem tame in comparison.
Before that show in October 2015 some had questioned whether the Pleasance, an all-seated Victorian theatre, was an appropriate venue for someone best known as one-half of sonic experimentalists Fuck Buttons. Yet anyone who saw Power that night, or on his wider tour, can attest his music carries such power it swats aside minor complaints in an instant. Back then, the producer was promoting Dumb Flesh, an incendiary record that won huge plaudits around the world. “I think I’d need some kind of psychoanalysis to try and figure out exactly why (Dumb Flesh) became what it did,” he told The Skinny two years ago, describing the sudden charge of energy that set his second solo LP apart from the ambient calm of his early material.
Two years on, and we’re back on the phone to talk Blanck Mass album number three. Has Power carried on the intensity of Dumb Flesh? A big clue lies in the new LP’s name: World Eater. “The title is a reference to both the inner beast inside human beings, that when grouped en masse, stops us from moving forward towards good,” he explains. “We do have these beasts within us. It’s a case of understanding the beast as opposed to letting it run amok.”
It would be easy to pigeonhole World Eater as a product of 2016’s political upheavals, given the controlled rage that simmers throughout and its aggressive changes of direction. But anyone who has followed Power’s career will know this is not a new approach to songwriting. World Eater began life shortly before Brexit and was in the can before Biff Trump snatched power. “When all this stuff was going on, I was in the thick of making this album – so it certainly had some impact on the process itself, or the way I was feeling when I was writing these tracks. Even though I try to keep myself away from too many cultural reference points when I’m writing, obviously the things that affect it are what’s going on with me personally and a more global scale. They shine through,” he says.
Power grew up in Worcester, where he met his future Fuck Buttons collaborator Andrew Hung. Together, the duo produced some of the most original and striking music of the mid-2000s, a sound far removed from the indie revival that dominated much of the music press at the time. While they earned plenty of stellar reviews and won festival bookings around the world, it was Danny Boyle’s inclusion of two Fuck Buttons tracks – and one by Blanck Mass – at the 2012 Olympic Games opening ceremony that introduced them to a wider audience. You’re still unlikely to hear any of Power’s work on BBC Radio 2, but the exposure came at exactly the right time for an artist looking to build his solo brand.
World Eater is the first full-length album to be produced at Power's home studio in East Lothian. He made the move north, initially to Edinburgh, a couple of years ago and is now happily based in the countryside near Tranent. His enthusiasm for the peaceful coastal county may seem at odds with the propulsive anti-anthems he writes there, but the move has obviously paid off. “This LP is the first one I’ve done in one solid space in isolation. Dumb Flesh was written all over the place," Power continues.
"It started out in a windowless attic space just outside of London and ended up in Edinburgh. There was a lot of moving around going on at that time, which might have resulted in more of a mixtape approach. The new album, to me at least, feels more direct, I think. There’s a lot to be said for both practices – one’s not necessarily better than the other. You do want a level of cohesion – I do enjoy a listen that’s very jarring, but this is something more focused.”
So how do you go about writing a nine-minute epic like Rhesus Negative, one of the stand-out tracks on World Eater? Power insists his approach is largely the same now as when he first started writing tunes as a teenager. “It’s emotionally charged, this music,” he says, with characteristic understatement. “When you reach that stage, you begin to think about structure. But before that my process is very explorative, which is how I approach either Fuck Buttons or Blanck Mass. Experimentation to begin with, and then you feel your way in. It really is quite a naïve approach in the first instance. I guess my filtration device is more my subconscious.”
Another key aspect to the Power approach is to learn all musical equipment – whether guitars, samplers or modular synths – without the use of a manual or YouTube tutorial. “If you read the book on these things you adopt someone else’s practices, rather than making them an extension of you,” he continues. “That’s why I try not to use too many softsynths (a plugin that generates audio) or things like that. I like machines to act like an extra appendage or at least operate with some symbiosis. You get more out of it that way. I’ve always been self-taught in everything I’ve done. It’s an extension of that. It’s how you put a stamp on things.”
Power’s try-anything-once approach to music is summed up when The Skinny asks, half-jokingly, if a Blanck Mass acoustic album is beyond the realms of fantasy. “Never say never,” he enthuses. “I’d hate to say no to anything, creatively. I want to open up more means to confuse and baffle.” Is there any piece of musical equipment that has defeated him, or even caused too much irritation to be worth pursuing?
“The modular synth stuff is one of the most eye-opening pieces of equipment – and one of the most ridiculous as well," Power explains. "It was good getting into that – it opened up a realm of understanding, but it takes away some of the childlike nature of writing I talked about before. I used it a lot on Dumb Flesh but I was learning at the same time. On the flipside, you can just start throwing in patch cables and you end up with something that sounds fucking cool anyway. It depends if you want to take the scientific approach, or take the fun approach.” For Power, the latter always wins.
Looking beyond Blanck Mass, fans of Fuck Buttons can rest assured that a fourth album is on the horizon. Just don’t hold your breathe for a release date. “We’re writing new material at the moment,” Power confirms. “But when you’ll get to hear it is another matter.” For now, he’s content to enjoy some domestic comforts before hitting the road to promote World Eater. “I’m kind of enjoying not touring and having time at home. Don’t get me wrong, I love what I do, and I feel very humbled to be in a position to share with people what I do, but it is also nice to be at home.”
World Eater is released on 3 Mar via Sacred Bones Records; Blanck Mass plays CCA, Glasgow, 21 Apr