Words/Interview by Helena Markos
How can an artist who does such a straight from the shoulder sharing, is not meant to be a good one? I have never doubted it that artists with deep knowledge and truthful engagement with the world around them are the ones who stay and make an impact, even if they do not aim to do so. Their influence is therefore a natural consequence of their art and music.
I met Karim Maas on a hot Summer day, at the Schwetfest mini Festival, in Bristol. Alongside Vega (UVB-76), they gave a first-rate performance, bewitching everyone with their machines. An amalgamation of heavily dark aesthetics and a powerful underground sound, like extracting from a blurry, analogue chaos. Let alone the bass that invaded our minds and conquered our bodies. For me personally, that live was a type of revelation, something that I had not experienced, since I moved to Bristol. Everyone loved it and you could tell there was something real and honest behind it. And now, after this interview I understand why.
Thomas Cooper, under his moniker Karim Maas, is now exploring new sounds, pushing music forward, questioning the established sound and creating intelligent dark drum & bass, with techno, breaks, noise and industrial components. Cooper’s impressively remarkable music culture and background totally reflects on his work.
Today, Thomas Cooper is doing a heartfelt sharing with Tales of Psychofonia. He talks about RUFFHOUSE and the project 4625, his collaboration with UVB-76 and his upcoming projects with Pessimist and Overlook. He fearlessly talks about Bristol’s music scene and he gives his own viewpoint about modern music and its interconnection with life and politics.
And a mini tip for the reader: Whilst reading this, PLAY the video at the end of the interview.
T.O.P: How would you describe your journey into the music?
K.M.: That’s a question. My journey into music has been going as long as I can remember. I’ve always had the desire to learn instruments and had an interest in music. My dad is heavily into Northern Soul and has a huge collection of music and a ridiculous knowledge from his days of being part of the original ‘all-nighter’ crew back in the 60’s. Hitting places like Wigan Casino, Twisted Wheel and The Chateau. My sister was part of the garage era of the mid, late 90’s early 00’s, and although her tastes have certainly wavered over the years, I think I can definitely tilt my hat to those two for immersing me in all kinds of music over the years.
I’ve always been interested in all kinds of music. Godspeed You! Black Emperor, Massive Attack, Portishead, Messhuggah, Madlib, Dilla, all kinds. I guess a big turning point came when Nick (Vega) and his brother Jamie (ION) moved to my area about ’05 ish. I got pretty tight with those boys and they introduced me to stuff such as Source Direct, Photek, Jonny L, Optical. Took me to my first nights at The End, Custard Factory anywhere that was playing our sound at the time…took ecstasy and it’s been pretty hazy since, but here we are.
T.O.P: What is your vision for your sound?
K.M.: I don’t really feel that I have a vision for my musi, it’s more of a feeling. I think the most important thing is that it always has to be as original as I can be. Take influence, but never imitate, and if I feel it’s right then to go with it.
Everything is more towards the moodier aesthetic, but this is also just how it naturally comes out. I’ve tried, and still try to write something with some flavours (Shouts to Jamie ION…‘king of the flavours’), but it’s just not in me…Maybe someday, but I’m not holding out for it anymore. I’ve accepted the possession.
T.O.P: What was the highlight of your journey within the music so far?
K.M.: Any time I receive the full artwork copy of a record I’ve been involved and hold it for the first time… that’s always special. Or the times doing the RUFFHOUSE stuff… when suddenly an idea would get thrown into the track and all 3 of us would just know we’ve caught it…those moments to me were so special…took them for granted at the time, but I’ll hold onto them forever…
The RUFFHOUSE Japan / Australia ‘tour’ was pretty special… just for the people I met and the experience…it blows my mind that people even buy my records, let alone when you travel to the other side of the world and people are buying them there…you can’t even have a proper conversation with each other, but they understand something within the music that you’ve written…unreal. Probably wouldn’t happen without the internet, but it’s madness none the less.
T.O.P: How do you see the scene in Bristol for the music you represent and produce?
K.M.:Personally, I don’t feel like any music I’ve done or been involved in has ever been represented by the Bristol ‘scene’. Maybe it’s not up to the standard, but I’ve lived there for 10 years and I don’t feel like musically I’m part of the history of Bristol music… But why should I be I guess. I think PERSONALLY, that Bristol is living off its history. Sound system culture, Full Cycle, Represent, Portishead , Massive Attack and Maybe I’m just getting older and ‘losing touch’ of what’s good and current, but I think there’s a lot of Fast food, McDonalds music trash in the city that’s not going to be remembered next month, let alone in 5, 10 years.
Don’t get me wrong, I love the place and the people there… and there are people really trying to push things forward… you guys, Noise Test, Room 237, UVB-76 and most good acts come through Bristol…but slowly it’s drowning in money and that’s never good… This is all just my opinion of course.
T.O.P: Do you see darker kind of sounds somehow reflecting society and politics or is it the need to break out of comfort zones?
K.M.: I don’t think people can be as calculated when making something honest to be intentionally breaking out of comfort zones…
I think whether intentionally or not everyone is influenced by everyday life. Including politics…
You only have to look back at history and see how reflective society and culture is of the politics at the time. There seems to be a shift in the underground, as well as popular culture towards the darker, more left field aesthetics at the moment, which can only be a reflection of where we’re at and where we’re heading…you had the 60’s, then the 90’s and now we’re 30 years on again and knock knock here comes us leaving the EU.
I think, the next 5–10 years could be an interesting time for the UK, as the political landscape spirals towards the event horizon and fuck knows what’s waiting on the other side…but I’m hoping something pretty special, musically talking anyway…Our generation deserves it.
T.O.P : What is the ideal mindset or situation/environment for you to make music?
K.M.: I wouldn’t say there is an ideal mind-set really. I think different mind sets or moods can influence me in different ways. Sometimes I need to clear my head, sometimes I’m pissed off. Sometimes I’m on drugs, sometimes not…they can all produce the best work from me…
I think the main thing is just to be in a comfortable environment with machines that I know and the rest is irrelevant really…
T.O.P: Could you tell us few things about your collaboration with UVB-76 and your work with VEGA ?
K.M.: Haha, me and VEGA man…There’s so much. We go back. We’ve had some of the best times of my life together. We’ve partied…hard. Listen to and discovered so much music together. Written some really good music together, along with Kris (Pessimist). We’ve travelled the world. Basically just had it for 10 years+…
Now we’re a little older. Both got more responsibility than we’d probably like, but we’re still doing it man. I love that guy. He’s had 100% faith in me from the very beginning and I owe a lot of what I’m now doing musically, to him. We spent so many nights, mornings, days, talking about what we did with RUFFHOUSE and are now doing with UVB-76. It’s all taking fruition and UVB-76 is becoming a proper place for us all to really push things forward. You don’t meet people like Nick very often. 100% true to what he believes in… Knows where he’s going, what he’s doing and who’s coming with him. If you’ve got it you’re in, if not, you’re out.
We’re still working together when we can, both as Karim Maas & Vega, as well as part of the 4625 project. We’ve done and will do music together as RUFFHOUSE in the future… Like I said our lives have changed and we’re adjusting and we’re getting back at it again.
T.O.P : What are your influences?
K.M.: Ahh man, I couldn’t possibly list all of the things that influence me. I think my biggest influence is always the people I surround myself with. It doesn’t take much influence me. If I’m surrounded by people who are focused and hardworking, then that rubs off on me. At the same time, if someone shows up with some gear or beer I rarely turn that down either…
I think film has a pretty big impact on everything I do, and over the years has definitely sculpted what I like to hear. Lynch, Von Trier, Refn those kinds of guys never fail me.
Obviously music as well, but there’s so much of that I wouldn’t know where to start. I think, apart from ska, Gypsy Swing all that silly shit, I could tell you something from most genres that has influenced me over the years…And I’m still discovering, but that’s the beauty of music…No?
T.O.P: Any upcoming collaborations or gigs you want to share with us?
K.M.: So…UVB-76 has just been taken on by Dissonant Bookings as a Label night, so hopefully a few things in the pipe line with them and a few other bookings for UVB-76. It’s still early days for me as Karim Maas. I’m only doing live stuff with this alias for the foreseeable future. It’s challenging me nicely and constantly evolving and improving, but I think I’m ready for what the next few years throw at me…
I’ve got a few releases coming up in the beginning of 2019. A track on the new VA Ep and a Solo EP for a new label, but I don’t think I can say who yet…I’ve got the A side to a 12’ for UVB-76 and have just started the B side so hopefully that’ll be early next year.
A project with Kris (Pessimist) which we’ve just finished, but I don’t think I can say any more on that either, but should be out early next year…Just started on some stuff with Jason Overlook and we’re starting to get the hang of working together which I think will throw up some good stuff.
There’s always the 4625 project on the go, which we’re just wrapping up something for. That project always takes time because everyone’s everywhere, but we make it work. So just need to keep the pressure on over the next 12 months and then it’s 2020…The future…
T.O.P: Finally, Psychofonia is a rare method of treating migraine through soundwaves. Which album or piece of music would you suggest as a mind/soul healer?
K.M.: I’ve got a couple, but I think the go to for me is an old Warp Recordings project called ‘Westworld’. It’s a film they put out around ’95, with Stakker and Aphex Twin. Rare as fuck and can’t be bought anywhere, but there’s some low-grade copies on youtube. It’s quality though. Anything by Godspeed You! Black Emperor, Rainforest Spiritual Enslavement, Burial, Black Mountain Transmitter, Lull, Lustmord…There’s so many serious healers out there…but again depends what I’m healing…