Lanark Artefax on inspirations, Unsound and Björk

Glasgow-born experimentalist Lanark Artefax cuts a singular path through the world of electronic music. He explains why he’s making the most of his creative freedoms

Feature by Michael Lawson | 01 Aug 2018

“She just phoned me up, it was as simple as that. I got a text from someone I work with saying ‘if you’re in tomorrow night you might be getting a call from her,t’ and that was that.” Calum MacRae, aka Lanark Artefax, is describing the moment he discovered Björk was keen to have him support her at this summer’s Eden Project, and is enthusing over the absurdity of the whole experience. “It was completely surreal but also incredibly fun. She has a way of carrying this energy that made the whole thing a total privilege to be involved with.”

It’s the culmination of an exponential rise to prominence for MacRae, who remarkably only performed live for the first time last October at Krakow’s Unsound festival. The meticulously-planned AV spectacle, featuring an immersive light show, towering LED monolith and a wealth of his own unreleased music, received wholly positive reviews triggering a wealth of future offers and further adding to the cult of Lanark Artefax.

The Glasgow-based artist is happy to admit that live performance will never be something that comes naturally to him, but the current set-up, where the domineering monolith takes centre stage and allows him to do his thing from the shadows, is one that he has grown to enjoy.

“The live thing was a total alien world to me when I started out,” he explains. “Before then I’d never been on stage or even DJed to 100 people in a basement or anything like that. I’m not someone who’s born to do that kind of thing, and I’m not a performer as such, so I quite like being able to withdraw a bit and let the music be central.”

The invitation to play Unsound, arguably Europe’s foremost experimental music festival, was an opportune one. Having released an EP on Lee Gamble’s UIQ imprint a few months previous, MacRae was asked by festival curator Mat Schulz to support Gamble at the week-long event.

“I felt like I was being a bit cheeky at the time by accepting the gig,” he laughs. “But I didn’t want to start small, playing low down on the bill to 50 people and then working my way up. I wanted to come out with a big show that’s as close to the representation of how I feel like my music should be presented.”

Releasing music as Lanark Artefax since 2015 (the name deriving from a strange captivation with hearing the word ‘Lanark’ on the Glasgow Central Station PA system as a child), MacRae’s sound has evolved with each release, and more recently found a home on the much-lauded Whities label. In a scene that often reverts to lo-fi, minimalist beats, his meticulous attention to detail and desire for sonic innovation cut a singular path.

“I guess it’s hard not to mention big names – the likes of Aphex, Autechre, Mike Paradinas, [The] Black Dog, B12 – all that stuff was the core of what I was listening to between the ages of 15 and 20,” he begins, trying his best to trace the roots of his highly distinctive sound. “Then from 2014 to 2015 it was all deconstructed club music; Lee Gamble, Halcyon Veil, PAN, even Objekt’s album [Flatland] was quite significant – just hearing how you can take really fast music and make it sound very sound design-y.”

In reality, Lanark Artefax sits somewhere in between these two worlds, transcending genre boundaries and forcing music journalists to work even harder in their attempts to pigeonhole his sound. It’s a position in which he feels comfortable in, and admits that the idea of being aligned to any one scene or movement is something that he takes exception to. “I desperately try to avoid contributing to any stockpiling of a sound, basically because I just don’t find it very exciting,” he confesses.

“Generally I try and stick to my own stuff to see if it fits into the pocket of previous work or whether it needs to merge on its own. I think that’s a good way to make sure that you’re not just falling along the same path of people who are coming up at the same time as you. I find that I don’t tend to get massively inspired by other people’s music until I hear something that’s completely new, and that makes me think ‘okay what directions are there left to go in?’”

One artist that does meet MacRae’s stringent criteria is SOPHIE, who he shares a bill with at the forthcoming Numbers x Edinburgh International Festival event at Leith Theatre. While sonically the comparisons between the two may be limited, both possess an intrinsic urge to produce something original.

“That album that came out recently (Oil of Every Pearl’s Un-Insides) is just stunning,” he enthuses. “In terms of being really new, musically and technically next-level, but also artistically representing something that no one else is doing. It’s a visionary record.”

This deep-seated desire for innovation and individuality, both in his own work and that of contemporaries who he looks to for inspiration, is ultimately informed by MacRae’s own introversion. And while this approach may be uncommon in the world of electronic music, it’s undoubtedly one that has served him well so far.

Content with his current living situation in the southside of Glasgow (“I’m comfortable here, and whenever I’m away I’m quite happy to get back”), removed from the cultural pressures that come with residing in one of Europe’s main electronic music hubs or being affiliated with a major label, he conveys a determination not to infringe on the creative process in any way.

“Fortunately I don’t have to worry too much about people pushing me to put something out,” he explains. “I’ve been holding off on signing anything or rushing into stuff with bigger labels just for the sake of it. I’d rather wait until it feels right and I know it’s the right time to do it.

“I’ve learned that the worst thing to do is even bother about when your next thing’s going to land or who wants to speak to you on the phone or any of that stuff. It becomes a bit tiring and takes your focus away from the important stuff.”

Lanark Artefax is playing Numbers at Edinburgh International Festival 2018 as part of their Light on the Shore’s programme at Leith Theatre, Edinburgh, 11 Aug