Clouds on Hard Target and Mass Hysteria
Clouds stand as one of Scotland's most recognised electronic forces. In an exclusive conversation with The Skinny, the duo delves into their latest offering Mass Hysteria on Steel City Dance Discs, and their future project Hard Target
Over a span of a decade, the prolific Scottish duo Clouds [Liam Robertson and Calum Macleod] has consistently woven dancefloor wonders, subtly channelling their roots and drawing from the gritty allure of hardcore and hard dance that shaped their musical upbringing. In recent years, their DJ sets have undergone a minimalist transformation, spotlighting their own productions, an artistic pivot that's led them to a deeper connection with their studio craft. This progression has propelled their techno explorations on a measured yet organic trajectory, birthing standout tracks like Sharp Like a Razor, Parkzicht, and Another Day.
These gems haven't merely resonated on dancefloors; they've surged through musical landscapes, earning Clouds the esteem of formidable artists and DJs globally. Their journey is one of understated influence – a quiet recalibration of sonic gears that has left a resounding impact. As they continue to shape and refine their signature style, Clouds' narrative is one of evolution, bound to ripple through the electronic soundscape in the years to come.
Mass Hysteria, their 2023 release via Steel City Dance Discs, serves as Clouds' latest sonic exploration. Their musical journey has taken them through various intensities and trend-driven tracks. Lately, both Liam and Calum have found themselves moving away from conforming to the confines of contemporary techno. Produced amid the post-lockdown resurgence, the EP blends sub-genres and sonic elements like piano chord stabs and melodic hooks, setting it apart from current electronic trends. For Calum and Liam, Mass Hysteria signifies a return to their artistic roots, a step towards creating music that resonates with their tastes rather than catering solely to an audience. They say: "We are going back to what we enjoy. What we want to hear. Going back to making music for us, not what we think an audience wants to hear."
Following their trademark Clouds approach, Calum and Liam persistently challenge themselves to forge a sonic tapestry that serves as an artistic voyage for fans, a journey propelled by their fast-paced tracks. Their latest endeavour, Hard Target – Echoes, abides by this creative ethos. In a captivating collaboration with their longtime friend and fellow producer Tommy Holohan, the trio embarks on a new creative expedition. The inaugural self-released EP not only represents their joint effort but also aims to offer a fresh lens through which to perceive dance music – a territory hitherto uncharted by both Clouds and Holohan.
The introductory track, Echoes, sets the tone for the EP, drawing from a shared wellspring of reminiscent experiences – those moments spent "listening to tunes emanating from someone's phone in parks." This particular inspiration resonates deeply with Calum, Liam, and Tommy, as their recollections converge on a consistent genre: trance. Calum and Liam said: "Echoes is just pure trance, like the most straightforward trance track we've ever written compared to our previous stuff. To us, it almost feels like Dave Pearce trance anthems, comparable to Ibiza trance."
Beyond their initial encounters with trance as young teenagers, Clouds have seamlessly integrated this genre into their DJ sets. When they crossed paths with Tommy Holohan, he was just 17 years old, spinning tracks at the now-defunct Hangar club in Dublin, and warming up the stage for Liam and Calum. It was during these interactions that they discovered Tommy's shared appreciation for trance within his sets.
It's crucial to distinguish the kind of trance that resonates with Clouds and Tommy, as they clarify that it's not the contemporary, trendier trance you might encounter today. Instead, it's reminiscent of the anthems featured on compilations of the era; such as ATB's 9 PM (Till I Come). The choice of the first track on this EP feels especially fitting, as it serves as a homage to their musical origins, tracing the roots of their eclectic tastes.
Across the expanse of geographical distance, Clouds' consistency in generating tracks remains an awe-inspiring feat. Clouds possess a distinct talent for extracting samples, often from vintage 90s tracks, for example on their most recent Mass Hysteria EP they used Spy vs. Spy – Dance With Me, to create the distinct vocal loop on Fate Curve (Hysteria). This unique creative ability not only pays homage to the past but also breathes new life into their compositions, resulting in tracks that resonate with both nostalgia and modern vigour. They reflect on their creative process: “As we’ve evolved, and where we are now, we look at producing things differently. While some producers hone in on individual sections of tracks in Ableton for example, we tend to look at the track as a whole. I think we just intend to create something that sounds like multiple tracks rather than just one, same loop.” Considering their knack for crafting impactful tracks, they say; "The best tracks we produce we don’t even realise at the time. I think that’s the case with most artists. As we are both self-taught, I'd say we have a certain sound, maybe that’s why we work well together."