Brain Floss: Konx-Om-Pax on Regional Surrealism and his plans for The Art School

Multi-talented Glasgow artist Tom Scholefield aka Konx-Om-Pax sheds light on his upcoming foray into more dancefloor-focused music, his hyper-real visual work and his continuing association with The Art School

Feature by Calum Sutherland | 06 Feb 2014

You could be forgiven for thinking yourself unaware of the work of Tom Scholefield, aka Konx-om-Pax. A man with one face but many facets of work, Scholefield’s output encompasses a myriad of avenues of visual activity and musical projects. As a graphic artist, sleeve designer and 3D film director he has lent his services to, amongst others, Hudson Mohawke, Mogwai, Martyn, Oneohtrix Point Never, Rustie, and King Midas Sound. He is also, in his own quiet way, one of Glasgow’s best kept secrets in terms of lo-fi electronic music production, broad-ranging and generally perplexing DJ sets, and a master of marrying these varying yields into one unified and engaging gross domestic product.

2012 saw the long awaited arrival of the Planet Mu-released debut LP from Konx-om-Pax, Regional Surrealism. With nods to the Selected Ambient Works series, early Kelpe and Boards of Canada, this is a record which also occupies a sound very much of its own. At times a meandering, understated trek through a psychoactive countryside, and at others the perfect soundtrack to a less than graceful stumble home from the city centre on a Sunday morning. It is often said that a sign of a great piece of art is its ability to not only motivate, but bend the imagination of its audience, until both parties are engaged in conversation – Regional Surrealism does just that, and leaves the listener with the conclusion that there really isn’t that much separating what’s coming out of the speakers and the pictures we see, whether internally or externally.

As The Art School reopens its doors to Glasgow’s various and limitless supply of clubbers, music aficionados and promoters, there is a distinct sense here that 2014 will be an altogether different prospect for nightlife in the city. Tom falls into all three categories, and his involvement with The Art School goes way back to his Eskrima nights, bringing artists like Autechre, Squarepusher and Luke Vibert to the venue. With this in mind, we thought it only right to organise a long overdue catch up.

The Skinny: So you’re going to be smashing up The Art School over the coming months?  

Tom Scholefield: Yeah I hope so! Got a couple of events coming up… I'm hosting a Display Copy event with Zoviet France from Newcastle. They've not played Glasgow in years and this is going to be a special return. At the end of March we're doing a show with Cut Hands and Florian Hecker (Mego Editions). Most people will be aware of Hecker from his recent sets with Aphex Twin. I can imagine his intense granular computer music set on a Saturday night at The Art School isn't going to be to everyone’s liking. We're planning a special laser based installation for it also. I recently saw an old video of him performing at All Tomorrow's Parties 2003 where there was a man rolling about the floor pretending to be a dog. His music has that effect on some people!

You’re playing with Zoviet France in Glasgow, and I know you were in Milan with Cut Hands late last year – how much of an influence has ‘noise music’ been on your work and how did you begin to get interested in the more abrasive side of things?

I wouldn't really describe it just as "noise music", it’s too limiting a term to describe some of my influences. Of course acts that would be considered "noise" like Whitehouse and Merzbow have played their part but there's way more non-traditional music out there that’s had an effect. I'm a big fan of musique concrete, artists like Bernard Parmegianis' De Natura Sonorum is one to check out. Or the work of Tod Dockstader, who describes his music as "organised sound". I also love the granular micro sound compositions of people like Curtis Roads and Florian Hecker. The link between these artists is probably the way they use sound like an abstract painter constructs a picture. It's music made from processed layers and textures, sounds evolve and develop along a liner timeline, almost like a sound narrative in contrast to the traditional verse/chorus structure of pop or dance music. I think I got into the more abstract side of things out of boredom… when you hear Stockhausen for the first time it’s like ‘what the fuck is this? This isn't music!’ It kind of threw the rule book out of the window when I'd been listening to mainly techno at the time… it was like stepping into a new sound reality. 

Thurston Moore once said: “Any music that proclaims itself as having no interest in being music, is kind of the most interesting music.” What do you think?

William Bennett (Cut Hands) was telling me some really funny stories about the early days of Whitehouse gigs in the 1980s. They would have to record fake demo tapes to send to venues to play shows, perform fake sound checks pretending to sound like the fucking Human League. Then when it came to play they'd do their power noise set and some of the times the sound guy would just pull the plug saying "this isn't music". I'm sure William would describe Whitehouse as "music" but at the time a lot of people would says its just noise. I would describe it as anti-music possibly, it seems like they flipped tradition on its head but for me it still has a similar effect as music. I've been to loads of extreme shows, even Mogwai at their loudest have more of a physical effect, you enter a different, Zen-like calm headspace sometimes, listening to incredibly loud, extremely harsh sounds. Its like brain floss. 

What about the more visual aspects of your work? 

I'm into very bright surreal or hyper-real images. Its like colour porn to me, the more vivid the better. Shiny reflective surfaces, organic curves… it’s all subconsciously quite sexual when I think about it. Everything always ends up looking like an abstract penis or vagina. I never intentionally set out to create things this way it just sort of happens, these forms and shapes are quite pleasing to draw and satisfying to look at. I've got female friends that are artists that seem to be fascinated by breasts too. Very much like HR Giger, but less horrific. I suppose artists have been celebrating sexual parts of the human body since the birth of man, we wouldn't be here without them!

I know you’re quite into Francis Bacon as well… What is it about his work that has so much appeal for you, and do you have any other significant visual/cinematic influences? 

After watching his interview with Melvin Bragg from the 1980s I totally fell in love with his personality, not just his work. He seemed to have such a joy for life, very aware of his own mortality and was just making the best of it all. He came across very modest and passionate. He liked a drink and was pretty pissed by the end of the interview. For someone so joyful his art focused on the more morbid side of life and death. I think it's silly to deny the fact that we're only going to be around for a finite time, so not to think about death is short-sighted. I would also say that Kubrick’s films have been a major influence in terms of composition and his attention to detail. I love creating vividly detailed pieces myself.

You have a new record coming out this year hopefully. How does it differ from Regional Surrealism? Do you view it as a progression? 

It’s a progression to the dance floor definitely. I was getting bored of performing ambient live shows as I've been DJing more and more in clubs playing rave and party sets. I wanted to create a record I could drop some tracks at our 48k parties and make people dance. I’ve been road testing some of my new tracks at parties and its a thrill seeing a crowd dance to something I’ve made. Lots of hardcore influences thanks to my mate Rob Data who is like a walking encyclopaedia of 90s breakbeat music, he's up at 5am most weekends hitting the car boot sales digging for records. The amount of rare and weird tunes he's let me hear is crucial. Another important influence was when I DJ'd back to back with DJ Traxman at a Planet Mu party in London last year. I hadn't really heard that much footwork in a club before, and the more acid side of his style blew my head off. The simplicity of the tracks was great. Another key factor has been listening to lots of different mix tapes… from Legowelt’s Memphis Rap tapes to all the 48k mixes we do. 

What is your past relationship with the Art School and how important do you think it is for it to have finally made its return? 

Well, I figured out last week I must have played my first record there just over 10 years ago on a Tuesday night after the quiz. I think it’s going to fill a certain hole in a lot of people’s lives… mine for sure. It’s a creative hub for a lot of my friends and I’m so happy for it to return. To quote Arthur Russell, I've been "a little lost" without it!

What impact do you think staying in Glasgow has had on your work? You recently went to LA…

It’s the people that I surround myself with that keep me going… the humour of Glasgow folk is second to none. I enjoyed LA but found the sense of humour out there to be so much different and less inspiring. I noticed I had to slow down a lot and there was little back and forth dialogues there when we'd be joking about things. I dunno if I could stay there for a long time, I'd miss the chat too much!

Zoviet-France, Konx-Om-Pax, JD Twitch, Mark Maxwell, Glasgow School of Art. 15 Feb, 11pm-3am