Powell Talks Being an Electronic Punk, 'Sport' and Erecting That Albini Billboard

Photo: Dan Benson

BY Daryl KeatingPublished Oct 21, 2016

"I like the idea of counter, I've always liked things that exist against other things," Powell tells Exclaim! This further solidifies the idea that his newly released album, Sport, really is a punk record. It might be crafted on digital gear, released on XL Recordings and ready to be slipped into some offbeat DJ set, but it reeks of punk. Powell agrees, despite admitting "I didn't grow up going to basement shows, I haven't got tattoos all over my body and I don't just wear black."
He continues: "There's no doubt that I'm quite a cynical person. I think I'm quite angry about the state of a lot of music. I don't feel like there's that much fight or spirit or identity or willingness for people to put themselves out there. If [this music] comes across as being against lots of stuff, that's just the spirit, that's just the attitude, that's what I believe. I've always been attracted to anything that's deliberately against something else — it's more interesting. It makes me think, it makes me discover new things, it sort of provokes me and hopefully that does come across in this record."
After signing to XL last year, Sport marks Powell's first major release on the label. Some purists might expect a more commercial side of him to emerge, but he's gone even further left-field. According to Powell, were XL not in the picture, then Sport would still sound exactly the same. The only difference would be that it would be released on his own label Diagonal, an imprint that seems more built around personality than sound.
"We don't release records with people we don't know, first and foremost," says Powell of Diagonal's approach. "I like to make sure that we're — what's the phrase? — singing from the same hymn sheet. Does this person have their own sense of artistic identity? Do they enjoy the same things about music? Do they wanna be part of the community? They can come from all walks of life, of course, but I would say that it's more about the character of the people on the label that binds it together necessarily rather than anything sonic."
The sense of identity that Powell brings to his label is a key factor in his own recordings too. "Music is an artistic practice, it's not a form of entertainment.  I'm not making music to make people happy, not to make them dance, not to entertain people, I want my identity to be part and parcel of what people experience with the record."
For many, Powell's identity is tied up in an email exchange he had with Steve Albini of Shellac and Big Black. Last year, Powell contacted Albini asking permission to use a sample of his voice for the track "Insomniac," and after receiving a surly reply, he posted it on a billboard. Even though the story was picked up by news outlets as a beef between Powell and Albini, everyone was way off the mark.
"This was never about me against Steve, and I never put his response on a billboard because I thought he was attacking me," Powell explains. "I [did it] because he was saying exactly the kind of things that I felt about electronic music — that's where the irony is. It was a little bit lost on people who didn't know the kind of music I made, which made it even funnier, because everyone thought it was this big beef, but it was actually two people agreeing on something.
"Steve didn't realize, because he openly said he didn't have time to listen to the music, and the rest of the music industry didn't know because they don't have a fuckin' clue who I am. They called me an EDM producer, so it just took on this life of its own. But me and Steve occasionally email and he's all cool, and he doesn't give a shit, man. It was a great thing he said, that's why I used it."
Check out the video for "Frankie" below.

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