Speed of Life
We caught up with Visionist, aka London producer and musician Louis Carnell, recently returned from a tour of Asia, and chatted about scoring films, writing tracks about anxiousness, and his obsession with mohair.
“At the moment I've got a bit of an obsession with mohair clothes.” says Visionist, aka London-born producer Louis Carnell, over a morning Skype call. “I've got a Comme des Garçons dark blue vintage mohair jumper which has "wanderer" hand painted in pink and yellow onto the mohair; I’ve got a Missoni shirt; when I was in Japan I got Kolor mohair top. I've got a bit of an obsession with furry things at the moment.”
For a producer who says that he “probably follows fashion more than music at the moment”, Carnell as Visionist had a sterling last year. Originally working on the fringes of grime, in 2015 he released Safe on experimental music powerhouse Pan Records, which was listed in many critic’s end of year lists. His label Lost Codes (set up to release undiscovered artists) shifted up a gear, joining up with Pan founder Bill Kouligas to reform as Codes; he debuted an immersive AV set at London Contemporary Music Festival, and collaborated with designers including Roxanne Farahmand and Long x Pussykrew, soundtracking catwalk shows including APC to boot. When we speak, he’s recently returned from a short tour of Asia, and is still deciding what to wear in London on a gloomy Wednesday. “I love clothes,” he says. “I like a lot of patchworks; different textures sewn together; crossed fabrics,” he explains. “I’m into the details, or the way it feels.”
|WORDS JL ALLAN|
PHOTOS DANIEL SANNWALD
His music too, is focused on feelings and intricate detail, with clear parallels between his fashion tastes and the way he makes tracks: the designers he works are outside of the mainstream, working with cuts, patterns, fabrics and technology to produce apparel in line with contemporary visions of an urban near-future. His productions carry the same aesthetic, often tagged future-grime, although that’s more a taxonomy that allows critics to nod to his beginnings as an MC and producer than an accurate description of his musical intentions.
Like a designer, Carnell says his starting point for a track is a concept. He then looks to pinpoint events or feelings around that concept, using music as a descriptive tool for expression: “With Safe it was anxiety and a break up,” he says, “looking at the events that have caused that. The concept itself is reflective, but the music is not meant to be.
“If you don’t know me, the feeling of the record might not hit you,” he explains, about pouring negative psychological experiences into his productions, “but for someone like my mum, she can’t listen to it – she knows me, she knows what I go through... To understand anxiety, you have to understand the details. And with my music it's the same: if you're really gonna understand it, you have to listen to it five times, to work out what's really going on.”
This mental discomfort is executed literally in the productions, with Carnell playing on the line between harmony and dissonance: notes seem to rub against one another, and melodies emerge before slipping away: “I’m always trying to push what key the track is in, without going out of key,” he explains, “working out what shouldn't be together but can be together...
A lot of the melodies get missed on a first listen.”
He builds rich computer generated textures with synthetic keys and wordless vocal samples, cinematic CGI productions wrapped around percussive grids build from buckling drum patterns. “For me it is less catchy than some of my earlier records, but that's because I focused on the composition and the concept,” he says. “You can't really write a catchy record based around anxiety. Anxiety is the challenge of my life, so the record needs to be a challenge to listen to.”
Carnell says his main sources of anxiety are his general health, and what he calls his ‘speed of life’: being in control of what’s happening to him and when. He laments the prescribed rota for producers: make a record, then DJ and tour it. His plan was always to make music as a path into scoring films. “Most of Europe I've been to but haven't experienced,” he says. “As artists, we forget that we're the ones in control, and we should decide how much and how little we wanna do, and we came into this as musicians...it's expected, that because you make music you are a DJ. My end game was never to be a touring artist. I enjoy writing music, but this is a pace of life that I’ve been thrown into.”
Coming from London’s grime scene, and now moving into more experimental forms of electronic music isn’t something Carnell sees as a big leap though: “If music is new it is experimental. People who invent new sounds are experimental.” he says. “When I first heard grime music I was like 'what is this!?’ – there is so much focus on just a handful of producers, it makes grime sound like it was only one thing, but when I was growing up, if you wanted to stand out as a producer, the way you did that was to have your own style.”
But music is just one project Carnell is working on at the moment. As well as working with more fashion designers to produce music for fashion films and catwalk shows, he says he is venturing off into new territory, working on a design project. "There will be music involved, but I will be involved in the design process,” he says cautiously. He can’t say what he’s working on right now, as it’s early days, but it’s not fashion. "I'm drawing again," he says. "I've met someone recently who I'm going to design a collection with. I want to exhibit that, I want to do it as big as possible, but as much as it’s a new thing to be excited by, I want it to be feasible."
As a youngster, Carnell says he used to draw a lot more, and had a talent for still life, and making replicas of what he liked. “I am good at copying pictures,” he says, “but I never had the imagination to go and paint a crazy thing. With music it allowed me to do that – I had this extra imagination with music that I didn’t have when I was drawing.”
Now he’s worked out some of those ideas in music, he says he is more able to put that imagination back onto paper, and into other creative projects: “I look at so much, and I have all these ideas, but I don’t have the particular skills to make things, so it's about finding people who can do that and are willing to have your input,” he says. “I feel like I've found someone now who I can do that with, and I'm really excited by it. It's nice to step away from music for a little bit and just focus on other creative areas, at the end of the day I just love being creative, and I'm finding that I’m into other areas, just as much as I’m into music.”
Born South London
Current City South London
Occupation Musician and Artist