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When hip-hop first hit the UK in the mid 80’s, Ed Handley and Andy Turner were young teenagers studying at a school in rural Suffolk. Along with a handful of other misfits, nonplussed by the predominant heavy metal scene and uninterested in joining the queues buying into pop culture at the local Woolworths, they formed a breaking crew. Their spare time was spent practicing moves, throwing up pieces under flyovers and putting together cassette tape mixes, played off portable ghetto blasters aside well polished lino squares. The music they favoured was gathered from rough snatches of London-based pirate radio broadcasts, John Peel’s infinitely influential playlists or from dusty vinyl unearthed at car boot sales – many of them left behind by American personnel stationed in the UK during and after the War. These were happy daysmarked by positive expression, integration, bad haircuts and a confused dress sense – long before hip-hop’s fall into gangster glamour and money hungry right-wing consumerism.
Leaving school and homes a few years later they carried these early ideals with them. A move to London followed and after meeting Ken Downie, formed a group (The Black Dog) and a label (Black Dog Productions) through which they released various EPs and their first Plaid album, ‘Mbuki Mvuki’ in 1991. Keeping their company motto ‘For fun not money’ close to their hearts, they sold their music a few boxes at a time to local independent record stores before being offered a distribution deal that sent it further afield. These first musical efforts were heavily influenced by East and West coast electro and the Detroit techno sound. Both born out of the early Hip Hop scene. As well as Acid House music, a style which was present at the massive warehouse parties now happening almost every weekend around London.
Soon, ‘Mbuki Mvuki’ came to the attention of Warp Records and led to the signing of “the Black Dog’. The trio recorded ‘Bytes’ for them later that year followed by ‘Spanners’ but shortly after they split with Ken Downie. Their relationship with Warp remained strong through, as did the belief that the music would always speak louder than any name, and they forged on as Plaid.
The duo spent most of 1996 writing and performing with Björk, forming part of her band for much of her ‘Post’ tour as well as acting as support act. When back in London they returned to the studio to record ‘Not For Three’s’ (often incorrectly considered their first album). Their interest in live performance increased through this experience and now, appreciating the importance of a visual element in most live environments, they recruited the help of video artist Bob Jaroc. He joined them on the touring phases of their following three albums; Restproof Clockwork, Double Figure and Spokes. Emotive riffs sit proudly over complex syncopated rhythms, the songs have melodic narratives and only rarely is the human voice used to spell these out. Synthetic layers are heaped on, producing euphoric highs at times and uncomfortable dark spaces at others. They are not an easy band to pigeon hole but a sense of melancholy often pervades this work.
Next Plaid took time out to work on their first audio visual release, ‘Greedy Baby’, A collaboration with Jaroc they financed themselves. Here they explored surround sound using the 5.1 format available on DVD. Their long working relationship with Jaroc is apparent throughout, the audio tightly edited with the video to complement each other impressively. From here they went on to score: first ‘Tekkon Kinkreet’, (awarded a Japanese Academy Prize in 2006 for Animation of the Year), and two years later the live action feature ’Heaven’s Door’. Both of which were masterfully directed by Michael Arias, who sought them out for ‘Tekkon Kinkreet’ after seeing them play in New York many years earlier.In the years since, their time has been spent collaborating and touring new works written with the Javanese composer Dr Rahayu Supanggah and the Southbank Gamelan Players. Composing new material with and for Felix’s Machines. Performing ‘classics’ shows, featuring early work, for Warp’s 20th anniversary celebrations in 2010, whilst also developing ideas for their latest album project, ‘Scintilli’.