#PHANTASYMIX 18: Timothy Clerkin

Timothy Clerkin
has long been part of a bubbling, burgeoning acid house underground in the UK. In his previous partnership, Eskimo Twins, he became known as one of the best resident DJs in the UK, skilfully warming up for some of the biggest DJs in the world with charismatic house and tempo of the sort that never felt the need to burst the BPM barrier. Then, under the name Heretic, he specialised in perfectly measured druggy ‘chug’ that stood out from the pack.

More recently, Clerkin has been operating under his given name. And although his trademarks are still much the same - sharp dress sense, even sharper electronics - his music has increased in depth and dexterity. On 2018’s ‘Knife Edge Heart’ EP, Clerkin nailed a blend of shoegaze, pop, techno and yes, acid, that recalled a history of melancholy-tinged electronics from Cocteau Twins and Slowdive, to Tin Man, or perhaps our very own Daniel Avery. On his recently-released follow-up for Ransom Note Records, ‘Unborn’, Clerkin tightens his sound and vision to even tougher, tighter form. Tellingly, the likes of Andrew Weatherall and Lena Willikens have been providing set-defining moments with ‘Primary Function’.

Having recently made the move to Amsterdam, Clerkin is focused on developing his powerful live set, as well as running The Insult To Injury label, a carefully curated overspill from the desk of Ransom Note Records. He’s the latest contributor to #PHANTASYMIX, delving into his own productions and a wealth of new material from like-minded artists, adapting from a hissing acid boiler to full-pelt rave techno madness. Read our brief interview with Clerkin below, then buckle up.

You've recently moved from expensive London, to marginally less expensive Amsterdam. How have you found that, and how does the culture seem in your end of dance music?

Yeah I moved about two months ago and I’m thoroughly enjoying it thus far. I’d been in London for just over 9 years, and broadly speaking loved every minute of it, but it was definitely time for a change. Amsterdam has a slower feel to it, pace-wise, but the club scene is incredibly good, considering its relative size to London. It has almost exactly one tenth of the population of London (820,000 compared to 8.13 million), but there are more interesting gigs and DJs on every week than I would ever have the time and energy to attend. I think my little corner of indie-acid-house is pretty well represented too - it’s easy to see Amsterdam as a sort of techno paradise with it being home of Dekmantel and the like, but just look a little deeper and there’s all sorts of other really interesting scenes happening too.

Although you've been DJing for nearly a decade, your live show is also a fixture. Your music is very 'modular' in it's texture, so I can imagine a live Clerkin set is very absorbing. Is it largely aimed at the dancefloor, or a broader range of modular synthesis and atmospheres? Who are some of the live acts you admire?

Yeah my live show is very much aimed at the dance floor - I made a decision early on to create something I could (hopefully) fit in a DJ booth so I could carry on playing the same sort of circuit as I had been doing as a DJ, but still translate that to a bigger festival stage. Having said that, my approach to sound and structure is definitely informed by my history of playing in guitar bands; I have a set list that I only deviate from occasionally really, and I perform the songs, which are linked by little bridging jams, rather than a kid of sprawling, evolving techno soundscape, where it’s sometimes tough to hear where one track ends and another begins - it’s pretty defined in my set. I play around with structure and form within each song, so still feeding of the audiences energy as a DJ would; if a section is going particularly well (or badly) I can extend or shorten bits, but the overall setlist usually remains the same. If I’m getting bottled by the crowd, I’d probably move on haha. Live acts I admire; Simian Mobile Disco & Kink are always interesting to watch and I love keeping up with whatever current approach they have to playing live. On a Phantasy note, Gabe Gurnsey’s live show is bloody amazing too, though those acts all have a very similar approach to playing live as I do. I’m quite interested in what Surgeon and Karenn do with their live shows, as they come at it from a different angle to me.

Broadly, I think it's fair to say your music might well be categorised as 'acid'. Your recent music has undoubtedly advanced beyond that which you produced as Heretic, or toured as part of Eskimo Twins. As someone at the contemporary vanguard of acid house, how do you feel about the legacy of that sound in British dance? What draws you personally towards it?

Hmm, good question; to be honest I’m not sure I can give you a totally accurate answer on what draws me towards acid, it’s hard to put a finger on. I mean, obviously I love the original punk approach, in that kids could be making tracks in their bedrooms then playing them to big crowds at the weekend, completely bypassing the ‘mainstream’ recording industry. But that’s only something that drew me to it in hindsight, by the time I started making music it had already been almost completely democratised and anyone with a laptop could make electronic music. I also love that it used to be about inclusivity and acceptance, the crowd as one in a big field somewhere, but that’s falling by the wayside now with the door policies of some clubs around the world. I mean, when it comes down to it, I guess I just love it’s versatility. I think it’s very much like indie or rock in that if you hear something that definitely is in the Acid genre, it could be anything from a 80bpm etherial track up to a 145bpm pounding monster. I’m happy to remain in the Acid sphere for now because it can mean almost anything you want it to.

How was your sound received on your recent trip out to Jakarta?

Really well actually! I was a bit taken aback when people in the crowd were singing lyrics back at me while I was playing, but it was amazing! They were so enthusiastic and knowledgeable about everything. I can’t wait to go back there.

Your label, Insult to Injury, is a part of the Ransom Note empire, who have just released your new EP, 'Unborn'. Are you enjoying life as a label manager? What do you hope to achieve with the label?

Yep I love it, it’s great to be able to bring music to people who otherwise may not have heard it. It’s kind of one aspect of what being a DJ is all about, giving airtime to tracks you love and believe should have a wider audience. In terms of what we hope to achieve, there’s no overarching game-plan or goal we’re trying to reach, we just want to put out music we love. Maybe we should have more of a plan haha, but I mean, we’re clearly not in it for the money or anything like that, so I’m happy just to carry on releasing great music and see where that takes us. We’ll keep doing it as long as people are still listening.

According to the calculations of Resident Advisor, a decade or so of Eskimo Twins had you appearing more often than almost any other DJ with our own Erol Alkan? Any outstanding memories from the Wax:On period and so on?

Yeah that doesn’t surprise me actually, it seemed like we were DJing with Erol on an almost weekly basis a few years back! Good times in the halcyon days of Wax:On… there were so many outstanding memories its pretty hard to distil them really, but it was always fun to see Erol climbing up on the table, I think holding a CDJ above his head? It was that sort of rock & roll element that was important in my switch from making rock music to electronic, so I’m forever indebted to mr Alkan, SMD and Soulwax et al for those kind of shenanigans.

Finally, looking towards the future, where can we expect the next Timothy Clerkin music to emerge?

I’m finally going to do a full EP of my own on my Insult To Injury label, that should be out in September time. Then I’ve got a record on one of my all time favourite labels, Throne Of Blood, which I’m super excited about. That’ll probably be it for this year, but there’s lots of new music coming on really exciting labels in 2020 that I shouldn’t really talk about yet.

Double finally; recommend us a record that nearly ended up in this mix but just missed the cut?

There were so many! From Daz Special, Cora Novoa, Man 2.0 and Type-303, but one that sticks out is probably Frottage “One Way” by Normal Brain. Their Lady Maid album was just reissued, I highly recommend giving it a listen.

John Thorp, May 2019.

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