Alex Banks wanted to clear the decks, to start afresh. His Monkeytown-released debut album ‘Illuminate’ caused a ruckus on its 2014 release, praised by the likes of MixMag and Uncut, and propelling the Brighton-based producer through a lengthy series of enormous international live shows. But that was one chapter – and he needed to start another.
“I think there comes a point where you have to take a step back and somehow reflect on where you’re at, and where you’re going to be,” he explains. “I feel like, as an artist, you’ve got to have something new to say.”
So he returned to Brighton and began overhauling his studio. A supremely technically gifted sound technician – his other work also includes recording music for film and television – he brought in new analogue kit, a variety of vintage synths and cutting edge hardware to open up fresh avenues, clearing the pathway to his new album ‘Beneath The Surface’.
“I make music all the time, I make music everyday,” he says. “If you’re going to have that much output you have to have new things to inspire you. And even at this stage in my career I still get that excitement when I plug in a new bit of kit, and it does something unexpected. It’s important to have that introduced when you’re working on a new record; if you feel like you know all the equipment inside out, and you know all the sounds you can get from it, it’s not that exciting any more.”
One thing that Alex Banks could never be accused of is lacking excitement. Whether that’s touring with Moderat, DJing in Japan, or winning Solid Steel’s Mix Of The Year, he’s been able to connect with audiences around the globe, and those achievements are channelled into his new album.
“I think those experiences really informed the way the record came out,” he says. “The freedom of playing live and having that flexibility of being very much in the moment; it’s the complete antithesis of when you’re in the studio and everything can be edited to the Nth degree. I feel like it’s that nice balance of something organic and very musical and very free-flowing.”
So he began working without a plan, this completely free process that unpicked everything he had previously learned, and left new techniques in its wake. ‘Beneath The Surface’ is a stunning 10 track collection, inherently broad in its outlook, but so refined and distinct in its execution, sonically recalling everyone from the aural poetry of Gold Panda to Bonobo (who Alex Banks has remixed) to Modeselektor’s physical crunch, it defiantly moves in its own lane.
“I think that the new album in particular is that cross between music that’s going to work on a dancefloor but you can also listen to it on your headphones,” he states. “There’s lots of differences and subtle textures in there that you can keep coming back to, and you can engage with and hear something new every time you listen to it.”
“If you’re putting your emotions and yourself into your music then after a couple of years you move on as a person and start to grow, and there’s new techniques that you want to interpret as well,” he insists. “You’ve experienced new things in your life, you’ve changed as a person and the way you make music is going to change with that.”
‘Beneath The Surface’ moves beyond the limits of his debut. Out shortly on Max Cooper’s revered Mesh imprint, it launches with the blistering electronics of ‘Immerse’, and moves through the muscular noise of ‘Nowhere Left’. ‘Revolution’ feels like a clarion call, while ‘In The Silence’ is grandiose, informed by those colossal live shows.
“It definitely felt like there was some pressure to live up to the last record,” he admits. “It’s a balance of trying to do something that feels new and feels fresh, but on the other hand you also want to do something that feels quite natural to you and you can relate to your previous work.”
Album highlights ‘New Wonder’ and ‘Chasms’ are voiced by Asgeir, an Icelandic artist who the Brighton producer linked with entirely by chance. The collaborations are perfectly balanced, those keening vocals interlocking in a completely natural way with those undulating electronics, with his digital explorations.
Each new movement is precise, with ‘Beneath The Surface’ dominated by a measured sense of control. Alex Banks took his time over the release for a reason – he wants it to match the high standards he lays out for himself.
“In a world where there’s so much electronic music out there, having that human element to it and giving something of yourself to the music is what gives you some individuality and gives your music some character,” he insists.
It’s even reflected in the album title, and in that gorgeous photograph of crashing waves that adorns the cover. Leaving Brighton behind during the final weeks of the album process, Alex Banks decamped to Thailand, to shut himself off from creative pressures and reflect on his achievements.
“I started to think about my history,” he recalls, “raves I went to in the 90s when I was growing up, then different experiences of playing live, and different emotional experiences that I’ve had. I liked this idea that our creativity is this thing you’re tapping into that is just beneath the surface; it’s always there, it’s part of you, and it’s about trying to bring that out and turn it into something tangible that other people can connect with.”
“Living on the coast I walk past the sea every day on the way to the studio, so if you’ve got a huge storm going on I’ll be battling my way through it, and I’ll see the waves crashing against the shore just outside of my window. I feel like this is something that was subconsciously influencing me, being exposed to the elements, the power of nature around you.”
Amplifying his skills on every level, Alex Banks retains the essence of emotional communication that makes his work so engaging. “People really feel like they’ve got an emotional connection to it,” he says. “I feel like every track that I write has to resonate with me on an emotional level. If I’m not connecting with it, and it’s not evoking some kind of feeling in me then why should I expect the listener to feel that too?”
“As we’re all made of the same kind of stuff as it’s resonating with me then hopefully it’s going resonate with other people who are listening to it as well.”