Seek­ing­nor­mal­ity:one other-planet pop­ster

Ad­mired­by­his­peers, feted by his fans, all ex­per­i­men­tal dance mu­si­cian MaxTun­dra wants now is for builders to whis­tle his songs. By Paul Lester

The Jewish Chronicle - - Arts&entertainment 35 -

MAX TUN­DRA IS about to b e c o m e a big star. Or, at least, he is in the minds of his fans, who be­lieve his fast-cut, in­tri­cately as­sem­bled elec­tronic pop has com­mer­cial po­ten­tial. One of his more high-pro­file devo­tees, Owen Pal­lett, the ex­per­i­men­tal mu­si­cian and col­lab­o­ra­tor with the Arc­tic Mon­keys’ Alex Turner, was so blown away by Tun­dra’s forth­com­ing Par­al­lax Er­ror Be­heads You that he wrote an awestruck note to go with pre-release copies of the al­bum. “I can’t com­pare this to any record I’ve ever heard be­fore,” he said. “You’d think that it was made by an ec­cen­tric mil­lion­aire, with ev­ery name-brand pop-mu­sic pro­ducer in the world con­tribut­ing their own two sec­onds of ma­te­rial. It is shock and awe. Lis­ten and be hum­bled.”

Par­al­lax Er­ror Be­heads You is in­deed an im­pres­sive piece of work, al­though it is not ex­actly the sort of main­stream fare that will make Max Tun­dra — who has remixed tracks for Franz Fer­di­nand and the Pet Shop Boys — a pro­ducer-star like Mark Ron­son. There are hummable bits and catchy rhythms on the al­bum, but they do not last long be­fore the rest­lessly in­ven­tive mu­si­cian — who seems to suf­fer, if that is the word, from a sur­feit of ideas — shifts di­rec­tion, changes tempo or pur­sues an­other melody en­tirely. It sounds like sev­eral dif­fer­ent bands play­ing at once, at warp speed, or­ches­trated by a mad pro­fes­sor with a slide rule for a ba­ton.

“I get all the clichés about be­ing a one­man-band or a crazed elec­tron­ica kid,” he says. “But I don’t mind be­ing called a stu­dio whiz.” He cer­tainly likes be­ing in the stu­dio — he has spent the past six years in one, work­ing on Par­al­lax, the fol­low-up to 2002’s Mas­tered By Guy At The Ex­change. It has taken him that long be­cause there were so many tiny seg­ments of mu­sic to ma­nip­u­late, play around with on com­put­ers, or even, in the old-fash­ioned sense, play. “There are trum­pets, vi­o­lins, cel­los, gui­tars, dul­cimers, xy­lo­phones — what­ever was ly­ing around,” he says of the in­stru­ments on the al­bum, which he played him­self. “If I thought a cello would be good, I had to spend three weeks learn­ing to play the part, and then lay­er­ing it with so much other stuff that peo­ple wouldn’t no­tice that I’m not an amaz­ing cello-player!

“My stu­dio process is ridicu­lously in­ten­sive and anal,” he ad­mits. “I’m a bit of a per­fec­tion­ist — it can take me six months to do a song. But hope­fully that means the mu­sic will be in­tri­cate and peo­ple will hear new stuff each time they lis­ten.”

He may be a cult hero on the elec­tronic-dance un­der­ground, but Tun­dra, real name Ben Ja­cobs, is also a nice Jewish boy from South Lon­don where, he laughs, he grew up as “the only Jew in the vil­lage”. His fa­ther is the lit­er­ary ed­i­tor of The JC, he makes a dy­na­mite chicken soup, and his non-J friends see him “as their con­nec­tion to Larry David, Woody Allen and that ar­ray of funny Jews that you’re meant to rep­re­sent”.

He avoided go­ing to uni­ver­sity be­cause his “short at­ten­tion-span” would have made painstak­ing study­ing im­pos­si­ble. He tried be­ing in bands, but work­ing with other mu­si­cians was a no-no be­cause he is a self-con­fessed con­trol freak. And he likes be­ing on the Domino la­bel along­side Arc­tic Mon­keys and Franz Fer­di­nand be­cause his bosses give him the space and time metic­u­lously to con­struct his mi­cromelodies and lay­ered pop sound.

And it is pop — or at least, it is pop from a par­al­lel planet where freak­ishly fre­netic tunes sung by a man with a car­toon falsetto get into the charts. He has even writ­ten a song that, if and when Par­al­lax gets some main­stream ex­po­sure, he is go­ing to give to the Su­gababes or Ri­hanna so they can take it to num­ber one. Maybe writ­ing to or­der will help fo­cus his mind and iron out the idio­syn­cra­sies. Be­sides, com­pared to his ear­lier records, which earned him a rep­u­ta­tion as an ex­po­nent of ex­treme, es­o­teric elec­tron­ica, Par­al­lax does sound like day­time ra­dio fod­der. It just needs calm­ing down a bit.

“It’s as pris­tine as my other records,” he says, “but less freeform, ab­stract and strange. I’ve made sure there are nag­ging catchy melodies. Maybe I’m be­ing de­luded, but there are sounds on my al­bumthaty­oumight­hearo­nanOutKast or Bey­oncé record. It’s pop mu­sic for singing and whistling along to. That’s what I’d like — a load of whistling builders who’ve heard my mu­sic on Ra­dio 1.” Par­al­lax Er­ror Be­heads You is re­leased by Domino this month. Max Tun­dra plays at St Luke’s, Lon­don EC1 on Oc­to­ber 5. In­for­ma­tion at www.bar­bican.org.uk

Max Tun­dra: “My stu­dio process is ridicu­lously in­ten­sive and anal… it can take me six months to do a song”

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