Edwin Organ on exploring modern masculinity
Pop? Experimental? Reclusive? An oddball? Electronic producer and performer Edwin Organ is cool with being all these things and more on his three EPs exploring men and masculinity
“People are constantly trying to justify their lifestyle to others, to be told they’re doing it wrong. As long as you’re not being a wanker, you’re fine.”
Edwin Organ is talking about men, and men do indeed suck. What it is to be a man, and traditional versus modern notions of masculinity, is a rabbit hole that has seen the Glasgow-based electronic pop producer and performer spawn not one, not two, but three releases on the subject this year.
This Beta Band-esque trilogy of EPs, all entitled Men, populated by worried loners and real-life reply guys, doesn’t so much contain Earth-shattering revelations – that people should be accepted for who they are, assuming their behaviour isn’t problematic, deviant, or criminal – as it does absurdist musings on toxic male behaviour. It questions the ecosystem of dudes online telling other male-identifying individuals that their approach to masculinity is incorrect, and in turn, as he puts it, “examining myself and figuring out where I fit into this mess.”
It was sprung from a pool of songs he'd written over the course of a couple of years but hadn’t yet corralled into a meaningful project. It took some ambiguous personal tumult to focus his creativity and figure their place. “I was processing a lot of things that were going on in my life at the time,” he explains. “Like everything that you could imagine happening, good and bad, in a year, happened around the space of when I was lyrically putting these songs together.”
It made him take stock of his friendships, his behaviour and that of the men around him – in social circles, in work environments, on the internet. “I enjoy the absurdity of things; it helps me process the strangeness of life. That’s what this [criticism of manliness] is. Putting emphasis on being a breadwinner, rather than on sharing feelings… it’s like what the fuck is going on? There is no exact role a man should play in society.”
Interrogating that is the bare minimum we can ask of ourselves, as a cross-section of a society where we hold an extremely privileged position. Organ’s music doesn’t necessarily pick it all apart and provide answers; he teases out the humour in interactions that simultaneously make you laugh and feel weary, like the umpteenth screenshot of a man – always a man – telling someone, usually a woman, on Twitter that they’re wrong, always in increasingly incredulous ways. The rainbow scattered unpredictability of the music – at one point crunchy hip-hop (Truths & Beliefs), then psychedelic pop, and later loungey muzak (Virtue of Grace), and beyond – only emphasises this.
Topical as it is, it jars at first – there's an air of mystery around Organ, not least because he prefers to be addressed by his pseudonym, a tribute to Scotland’s first national poet, a moniker chosen in the same vein as other electronic acts like Joy Orbison. When he speaks genially on the phone, banal references ground him. He’s in his mid-20s. He studied music, and came of age living in Ayr with a kind of dreary coastal nonchalance. “I spent a lot of time there hanging out with a good bunch of people who were also stuck in this place doing a degree, which at times required a lot of effort, but also a lot of the time didn’t,” he says. “It left a lot of time free for other endeavours. I got heavily into techno. It was really a hermit period.”
But paired with his idiosyncratic, eccentric, constantly morphing productions, Organ exists in a kind of musical magical realism, imbued, unusually for our modern era, with a sense of the unknown, which alternately is familiar within electronic music. “I’m not trying to give [using a stage name] extra meaning, but I do feel like it adds to the persona I’m trying to put across. It helps people focus on the music and what the music is saying, rather than trying to delve too far into personal details, which to me just isn’t that important or interesting. It adds a bit of pizzazz.”
Since transitioning to this style of off-kilter, not quite definable pop as Edwin Organ, from more rigid house and techno inspired club bangers earlier in his life, Organ has stretched what it is to be an electronic producer. There’s the melting pot of sounds. It’s a bit of a pointless exercise, though fun, to try and pick out all the potential reference points – a bit of Mount Kimbie here, a dash of Dirty Projectors there, a love of “brostep and bastardised dubstep” which morphed into favouring jazz, soul and other styles that don’t sound anything like these hard to place pop tunes. In fact, it’s studio wizardry he feels most inspired by. “I admire production techniques, artists like Kevin Parker and Ruban Nielson – essentially one-man bands who are process heavy and dive into sounds,” he says.
Then there's the use of his voice: at times commanding and present, at others deliberately dead-eyed, always sweetly melancholy. Across the three Men EPs, and especially on Panning and 0.8 Me Rate Me from the yet to be released third instalment, it's been the emotional anchor among all his playful melodic and production ideas.
Organ doesn’t quite fit in anywhere musically. He's been described as “reclusive” and an “oddball” – not exactly tired, typical tropes of masculinity. We put it to him that, in the context of a poisonous Reddit thread about being a man, those types of words wouldn’t necessarily be used complimentarily. “I don’t really take being called weird and a recluse as derogatory. It doesn’t bother me; it sums me up well,” he beams. “Ex-girlfriends will agree, I spend a lot of time pissing about indoors. I place all of my attention on my music. As I’ve gotten older, and learned that men often make no new friends after the age of 25 [the subject of his song Gabriel], I have started to think, ‘I haven’t been out in a week, maybe I should let people know I’m not dead’. I don’t dislike people, I just like spending time on my own.”
A preference to be alone translates to his working methods. “I’ve had a lot of bad experiences in bands not being able to convey what I want to make. All of my ideas are in my head. Physical musicianship is something I do in the moment. Some take a lot of time in honing their craft, but for me it’s about getting ideas down when I feel like my physical hands are what’s letting me down. That’s a lot easier when you’re on your own.”
Further glittering the picture, Organ is a skilled dancer. Well, was, he says. “I quietly call myself the best dancer in the Scottish music industry,” he jokes. “I used to dance a lot (as part of Scottish Youth Dance), but I am terribly inflexible these days. I’m a big fan of it, and still appreciate the form, because it's fucking hard, and when people are good at it, they make it look easy.”
After standalone singles and EP Missing the T, Men seems like a fully-formed artistic statement. Crucially, though, Organ chose for these songs not to be part of his official first album. It will surely come, but with a seemingly tireless work ethic, he's constantly looking for something new. “I write obsessively – coming up with ideas is what I find most rewarding. Logically, you’d think an album would be next, but I’m open to whatever ideas present themselves to me. I’m into dabbling in VR. Right now, I need to finish the mixes for this third EP. It’s the eleventh hour and we’re still here tweaking shit!”
That about sums Edwin Organ up – a kind of madcap scientist dabbling in whatever flight of fancy swims along. Fortunately, he's able to turn that experimentation into genuinely affecting pop music.
Men III is self-released on 22 Nov
Edwin Organ plays The Poetry Club, Glasgow, 8 Dec