Yesterday we got on the phone with Toby Ridler, bka Becoming Real. The UK-based artist who blends hyper-personal quavering vocals with dense layers of busy electronics that are informed as much by the homemade K Records aesthetic as they are by the world's recent obsession with dubstep. After the jump read our Q+A with Ridler and download his remix of Banjo or Freakout's "Left it Alone" below.
Have you always been making music that connects more bass heavy stuff with intimate vocals?
The Becoming Real thing only started four months ago. I made stuff before in another band and listening to a lot of K Records kind of stuff. I think that’s where I got really interested in rhythm and poly-rhythms—a lot of odd, awkward rhythms. About four months ago when I got into dubstep and a lot of wonkier hip-hop, I felt like it wasn’t melodic enough. I was listening to a whole load of things and I wanted to condense it. I wanted to make something that I had never heard before and had all these little bits. Like short, delayed guitars that The Dirty Projectors might have or syncopated rhythms like Battles and just kind of add sub-bass.
It’s interesting that you mention K Records, the first time I heard your voice it reminded me of Phil Elverum.
I think Phil Elverum, the whole vibe of [K Records], that kind of thing made me think anyone with a voice, let alone a drum machine, can kind of make music. The whole vibe of that label—as it does for a lot of people—made me think why not? I’ll do it. If he can do it, I can do it. So I got working in my bedroom.
You’ve had some interesting ideas about separating yourself from the Becoming Real music, like it’s a separate entity. After I heard that I noticed that the one picture of yourself on your MySpace page was gone. Are you distancing yourself so this can become an anonymous project?
I think being anonymous, you’re pinned down, that is how you want to be seen, as not seen. I don’t want to go out of my way for people not to know who I am. I guess I talk about the Becoming Real in the third person so I can filter life through it. Instead of me looking directly at something, I can look at in a mirror and kind of talk about it anthropologically. I guess it allows me to look at music or the industry or the scene or whatever part of the music thing I’m looking at like an object and pick it apart as I want.
So you’re able to be more personal by divorcing yourself from it?
To me it’s not that big a deal. Once it’s made and it’s a finish thing and it just sits there staring at you, I’m no longer a part of it.
Your music sounds like it would be difficult to perform live. Have you made any attempts yet?
That’s a really good point. We have our first show on the 31st with a band called Teeth and another band called E&D who are coming over from the States. I think the 31st is Halloween? That’s the first show. It’s the only one I have booked because I’m still in uni and I have to write my dissertation and that’s going really badly. I’ve just got a lot things to juggle, and a live show right now—I really want to be able to do it on my own, so it’s not something I’m really looking into right now. I want to put stuff out and start DJing.
What are you writing your dissertation on?
9/11 and it’s representation in art.
That explains the MySpace background.
I did this interview for the NME blog and they asked what image did I want up there and there’s something so easy to subvert, so I put this image of the planes crashing into the towers, then the NME website gets absorbed into its history for however many few people see it.
It seems like you’re approaching admittedly emotional music you make from an academic standpoint. Do you disagree?
I think that’s true. One book that got me started was Jean Baudrillard’s Simulacra and Simulation, a lot of it is heavily theory based. I think there’s a lot of performance in this non-performance based thing.
So when you play that show, how will you do it?
It’s going to be pretty simple. I guess that’s where the K Records ethos comes back in. I’m going to have my friend Rob and another guy named Adam that I used to be in a band with—there’s going to be drums and I’m trying to make the electronics live. Maybe play keyboard along to some drum loops, guitars, I don’t know. Playing live is just an interpretation of that record, of that object.
I’ve noticed various remixes coming out. Are you thinking about a full-length or are you sticking to singles and remixes?
I’m still working on singles. I’ve got, hopefully, a split coming out in January with that band Teeth and hopefully another 7-inch coming out on a Spanish label. I’m working on quite a lot of stuff right now. I’m not actively looking for stuff, but if stuff comes along, I’ll do it.
Do you think that’ll lead to putting together a whole album?
I don’t really think of it as an album, it’s just a disc with your songs on it. I’m always working toward it, but if something comes up and I want to put songs on it, I’ll take two off and put them out then. I’d like to think in the future I’ll have an LP out.
What would you like to remix?
I don’t know. That’s a good question. There’s a huge list. I’d love to remix something off the Mt. Eerie record No Flashlight. That was a big deal for me when that record came out. That’s my favorite thing Phil Elverum’s ever done. I wouldn’t mind having a go at some Zomby tracks or something like that.
They are on pretty opposite ends of the musical spectrum.
There’s a difference in the aesthetic, but to me it’s just music and a person made it, so it can’t be that different. Although the sound or the audience might be different, at the end of the day, it’s just notes, it’s hits, it’s the idea essentially.
What is it about each of those artists that drew you in? You’re saying it’s all just notes, music, but is there something in their music specifically, some underlying thing that you would like to draw out of it?
With Zomby it is specifically the production. I think the way that he markets himself or whatever it is that he’s doing, the way he’s never really playing shows or being seen. It’s an intelligent way to generate attention. I guess that, for me, is a bit of a draw. With Phil Elverum, I like his romance and honesty. Talking on a musical level, the rhythms are great.
Do you see Becoming Real as always a solo project or would you like to, ultimately, expand it into a full band with a permanent line-up?
I don’t think that would work for me right now. I have way too many ideas on my own, let alone with other people. I like the immediacy of it just being me. If it’s going to be focused and real, it just has to be me right now.
Do you write and record fairly quickly?
I don’t really know how to answer that, but when I start something, it normally starts off with one hook and just kind of builds and builds. It starts being made and then starts to indicate where the song itself wants to go. It’s not really about having a coherent song going from verse to verse, I think it’s a very linear thing. It’s never trying to be any specific kind of music, in that it’s always trying to indicate every kind of genre. It’s never fully anything, but as soon is it starts to dissipate, it becomes something.
You don’t start out with, “This is going to be my acoustic song,” or, “This is going to be my dubstep song.” It just comes out the way it comes out.
I’d like to be able to do that, but it doesn’t really work like that now.
Is that because you have so many ideas and you’re just processing them as you go?
It’s coming from sitting down and listening to music, maybe going out listening to other music while I’m working. But it’s more along the lines of [figuring out] how a snare will sound. That would then indicate much more than a hook, which I’d write down, but I know that would get cut to shit. It would just turn into something else, so I don’t really try to control it in those terms.
Is music what you want to be doing?
I don’t really know how to do much else. It sounds silly, very cliché, but it’s definitely what I want to be doing.