Bradford’s Illustrial has had a long and varied career stretching over 10 years with highlights including several great collaborations, TV placements and sharing a stage with ex-Kraftwerk electronic superstar Wolfgang Flur last year. We caught up with Illustrial main man Darren to chat music, live dates and about his latest album Barbie Doll Riot.
Tell us a little bit about yourself. What’s the story behind Illustrial and how would you describe your sound?
Illustrial has been around in a few different guises since about 2006. It’s more of a collective than a band. At various stages it’s been my solo project, a collaborative project, a production name, a rock band, a website and an online radio show; but right now it’s an electronic music solo project.
As far as the sound goes, I’d like to think it was a mish-mash combination of goth, electroclash, darkwave, house, electro-pop and ambient – I’ve even played with dubstep on occasion (but not too often!). Jack of all trades, master of none really!
What motivates you and inspires your music, aesthetic and vibe?
I’d like to think I’ve had a pretty varied life and seen a lot of things and a lot of my stuff draws from my other interests in things like paranormal subjects, politics and people watching, I did 5 years as a talk DJ and it is amazing the kind of stuff we used to get through on each show that drops back into my head every now and then.
I’m also a child of the 80’s and something of a music historian; and I think the sound reflects that. If I had to pick major influences it’d be the ones you’d pretty much expect from the era – Mode, Duran, Numan, Sisters and of course NiN – I confess – I’ve always wanted to be Trent Reznor. But I also did a spell DJ’ing in clubs in the early 90’s and love a bit of house/techno/trance so I’d throw bands like The KLF, Massive Attack and that plethora of wonderful one hit wonders that were around at the time (Olive, Blue Pearl/Inner City etc).
In recent years I’ve found The Birthday Massacre (who are probably my fave band now) and Phantogram. Both of them have been huge inspirations.
I think I’m mostly defined by lack of sleep. I tend to get up at 3.00am wander down to the PC and spend an hour or so messing around with sounds and then go back to bed and forget all about it. I keep finding demos I’ve forgotten that I’ve made – it’s like I leave presents for myself. 5 of the tracks on the new album have started out that way.
The band set up is interesting with a series of collaborations on different releases, rather than full time members – how did you start working with these artists and does having a changing roster of collaborators affect the way you approach each album or EP?
I’m usually just cheeky and throw them an introduction email out of the blue and ask.
It’s worked out quite well so far – I did get asked once if I was mad, and another time how much I was going to pay them upfront in expenses! Mostly though people are nice with their replies and it’s always good to expand contacts and musical knowledge.
My main collab partner is Strobegirl, and that all began back on MySpace when I was browsing vocalists and found her stuff – I fell for her voice straight away and it took a while to persuade her to record something – our first track took exactly 9 months to produce – it was like giving birth!
I do find though that I write differently for different people. Illustrial solo is moody and dark usually, but when I write with Strobes in mind it changes and gets much lighter and dancier. I have no idea how it happens – it’s like a switch flicks on and whoosh… different sound. A regular Jekyl and Hyde thing.
You recently performed live at the Electro London Festival with Strobegirl (and it was a great set) – have you any more plans to perform live together?
Thank you – it was an incredible honour to be able to support Strobes opening the show and was a huge amount of fun AND… I can say I played on the same bill as Wolfgang Flur (and not many people can!)
We’d actually did another gig a few months before Electro London and the plan is to eventually do more – the problem is that she’s based in London and I’m based up here in Bradford and so things get complicated, but more will happen!
You have been active as Illustrial since 2006 – what have been the highlights for you over the last ten years? How have things changed for the project over that time?
Highlight wise, the absolute as to be getting the Illustrial/Strobegirl track Dreamscape picked up by ITV Meridian and used in a show – we also had an independent film company interested in another track – Don’t Look Back but sadly that fell flat in the end.
Electro London, or course, was huge and signified a few changes. Illustrial has been predominantly a studio-based venture until recent years, but in 2016 I played in London twice and once at my “home” gig in Bradford. On top of that, last year was my 10th year as Illustrial so I had a huge amount of fun remastering and remixing some of my older stuff for a Greatest Misses album. There are tracks on there from way back in ’06 where I was messing with my first modern DAW, so the album shows a great evolution of style and production from then until now.
What’s next for Illustrial – any upcoming releases, collaborations or live gigs you can share?
My new album Barbie Doll Riot has just been released and the lead single Sister Insomniac is available as a free download from Soundcloud.
Later in the year (hopefully) there will be a new Illustrial/Strobegirl album (the follow up to our previous collab Glitter and Twisted). I’m also hoping to get some live appearances in mid-year (hint hint!) and will probably manage at least one new three track Illustrial EP by the end of the year.