Nathan Fake Makes 'Providence' Magic from Gear That's "a Bit Shit"

Nathan Fake Makes 'Providence' Magic from Gear That's 'a Bit Shit'
Photo: Tim Saccenti
British producer Nathan Fake, after an early burst of inspiration and productivity, has had a lengthy gap since his last full-length release, 2012's Steam Days. That album was also his last for Border Community, the label that had launched and unofficially guided his career.
"I had a dry spell, writing wise, after Steam Days came out," Fake tells Exclaim! now. "I toured that album for two years, and then I put out an EP, and carried on touring. I was writing some stuff, but I wasn't super happy with it. It wasn't until I had a spurt of inspiration, when I decided to buy a bunch of random bits of gear. I unexpectedly got into a flow making a lot of tunes I really liked."
In fact, one specific piece of gear that had fallen out of favour in the community unlocked the secrets to Fake's new album Providence, out now on Ninja Tune. "I had this one synth, Korg Prophecy, which is this dimly remembered '90s digital synth that isn't very cool," he explains. "I remember, when they came out, thinking they must be cool 'cause this was used by the Prodigy and Underworld and all these big names. I thought that must be the synth, but now it's faded into obscurity. It is sort of shit, but I ended up making loads of tunes on it. That's my whole thing, really, using gear that's a bit shit and trying to make stuff that sounds credible. It was inspiring. Within six months, I'd made an album, which is a short space of time for me."
Further expanding his aural aesthetic, Providence also marks the first time Fake has worked with vocalists, incorporating contributions from Dominick Fernow (Prurient) and Raphaelle Standell-Preston (Braids). Both collaborations came about in similar ways: Fake met Fernow at a festival in Geneva, where they expressed mutual interest in their music, then hooked up in New York where Fernow offered him some Prurient vocals; he met Standell-Preston through Jon Hopkins while on tour in Japan, then hung out with her in Los Angeles, after which she gave him a whole song's worth of vocals.
Along with voices, there's a great deal of stylistic variety on the album. Fake had been listening to old Detroit techno like Optic Nerve ("sounds like the stuff Actress was inspired by") and '80s synth music like Steve Roach ("film soundtracky, almost sounds like Oneohtrix Point Never, but 30 years ago"), but he doesn't consciously channel anything on Providence. If anything does, it just happened to come through on his Korg explorations.
"The album does sound a lot more all over the place, but it holds together with the instrumentation, similar hyper-real synth sounds across the album. I mined that little synth for everything it's got. It does sound quite different from the old stuff, because on the old stuff, I did use analog stuff, which has a narrower pallet, the sounds you can get out of it using sawtooth waves and square waves, which I still love using. Digital synths are less fun to play around with, just buttons and LED displays or whatever, but you do get some weird sounds out of these failed '90s attempts at novel synthesis techniques."