WHP FEATURE 014
It’s difficult to pinpoint where in the musical world an artist like Elderbrook fits into. A classically trained multi-instrumentalist whose equally as inspired by Bon Iver as he is Biggie Smalls, someone who leans as much towards folk as he does house and techno. Armed with a guitar, a microphone and a production process which relied heavily on ‘realising what different buttons do’ he describes his ascent as a reasonably straightforward task, one where everything just seemed to fall into place.
“The first thing I uploaded under the name Elderbrook was shared round a bit until I got notice of the music industry. I had all these people approaching me saying they wanted to work with me, but then I just decided Black Butter was the one to do it with really.”
There’s so much electronic music coming out of Bristol that at the time I just wanted to be like them. I just wanted to make cool shit, really.”
That’s not to say it’s been an easy ride of course. Alex’s way of speaking about his career thus far reflects his music in a way, he doesn’t want to concentrate on where he’s been but focus on what’s coming next. Several times through our conversation he speaks of the new musical experimentations he’s working on, his aims in creating something new from the old and, on a couple of occasions, has to stop himself from giving away too much information on upcoming releases. He didn’t, so I can’t help you there I’m afraid.
As such his output since the first material from Elderbrook surfaced has been tremendous. “I started in an indie-garage band and then at some point I just thought it was easiest to do it by myself, I can get more stuff done that way” he says. True to form since 2013 he has released 4 EPs, a number of collaborative efforts with Gorgon City and German techno duo ANDHIM, has remixed the likes of Bipolar Sunshine, added a couple of Justin Bieber and Mac Miller re-imaginings to his repertoire and probably achieved a few more personal highlights along the way that I’m failing to mention.
Elderbrook was born and raised in High Wycombe, a quaint town once known as ‘The Furniture Capital of England’ which sits amidst the rolling scenery of the Chiltern Hills just outside London. Despite its accolades in craftsmanship, picturesque location and the Eden Shopping Centre High Wycombe is not exactly known for its musical richness, yet as we speak about his University years in Bath I realise that isn’t either to be honest. So how did it all come together?
They’re just a nice group of people who basically won’t make me do anything I don’t want to do, which a lot of other labels tried to.
“In the beginning when I was just an instrumental musician I literally knew nothing about synthesisers or how to build cool sounds, I just had to use my microphone to create things that way. I went to University in Bath which is obviously right next to Bristol, there I began to use electronics which morphed over time really. There’s so much electronic music coming out of Bristol that at the time I just wanted to be like them. I just wanted to make cool shit, really.”
That makes sense. Alex is first and foremost a composer, someone who has morphed the elements of Bristol’s vibrant music scene past and present into something of his own. This began with ’Rewinding’, a minimal R&B tinged ballad born out from the hangover of Elderbrook’s first incarnation as a hip-hop project. While Elderbrook has moved away from hip-hop the foundations of it remains in his music, a style of working which reimagines his inspirations from the world around him and fuses that with a lyricism inspired in some ways by 90s east coast stalwarts like Wu Tang Clan and Big L. I tell him that his music makes me nostalgic for a reason I don’t really know because of this.
“It’s funny you say that, the first song I properly released as Elderbrook was called ‘Rewind’” says Alex. “If you listen to the lyrics every single line references a hip-hop tune from the 90s, it sort of demonstrates the transition [he made] from hip-hop into electronica. For example the first line is “You looked before you put it on” and that’s ‘Put It On’ by Big L. ‘You left it playing, as the radio is dead wrong’, that’s ‘Dead Wrong’ by Biggie and then it just goes on from there. Hardly anyone has noticed that which is surprising…”
“I try to take things from different genres and put them all together. Closer is more inspired by a Bon Iver way of recording but musically I have a lot of different ideas of where I want to go. I want to do everything.”
Welcomed by the Black Butter family in 2014 alongside the likes of Rudimental and Jess Glynne to Wiley and Eats Everything, Elderbrook seemed like an unlikely candidate to join the collective synonymous with summertime hype anthems and stadium filling starlets. As a more experimental and at times left-field artist Elderbrook has carved for himself a unique space within Black Butter, one that may be hinting towards a move into new territory for the label?
“I think they’re branching out into lots of different stuff” he tells me, speaking of his role within the family. “They really helped me out in the beginning because I’m now working with a lot of people from Black Butter. They’re just a nice group of people who basically won’t make me do anything I don’t want to do, which a lot of other labels tried to.
That independence, perhaps total control of himself as an artist is what has lead Alex this far. As a multi-instrumentalist he has no need to depend on others to realise his musical experiments, not simply true from his early departure as a garage band guitarist but in all his work as a musician. The result is something which displays his versatility as an artist, someone who shuns lavish studio setups for the comfort of his own bedroom and the results are all the more personal because of it.
“Obviously because it’s a lot of work I can’t really do everything but I like being in control of as many aspects as possible, with my single Closer for example I did the artwork and I’ve also set up my own little label called Mine Recordings. I don’t want to stop working with labels, they’re a good thing to have, but it’s something I’ve always wanted to do.
Thanks to his mainstay status as a member of Black Butter Elderbrook has found himself adopted by the underground, taking inspiration from his increasing exposure to the dancefloor with a flurry of releases which have only grown tougher over time. While recent remixes from Eats Everything, Siege and KANT have helped him reach the after hours basement dwellers his collaborative efforts with Gorgon City will see him embark with the duo on his biggest tour of the UK yet.
This has delivered something rare in Elderbrook, an artist equally at home in the club as he is on the live circuit. ”‘Closer’ is definitely the most upbeat house track I’ve done so far which is definitely a result of me wanting to play it live” he enthuses, with a slight eagerness in his voice. It’s actually changed a lot of the stuff I’ve been working on.I’ve only been playing live as Elderbrook for about a year, before that it was a lot more chilled out but I’ve realised on-stage I do much more enjoy having something livelier. It just makes for a better show.”
Put it down to his adoption by Black Butter, a DIY attitude towards his music or simply a work ethic that puts many to shame Elderbrook is still keen to point out he’s far from fully formed an artist just yet. “The prospects of playing bigger venues and having more people hear me makes me want to write more, it makes me want to write better songs. I don’t know what’s really going to come next.” he says. Neither do we, but as casually as it all seemed to begin I’m sure things will pan out just fine.