The Natives Are Restless: An Interview With Electronic Music Producer James Stringer, AKA Brood Ma

text by Adam Lehrer

“A documentary of the military engagements played out amongst adults and children across worldwide server space and an attempted critique of the current obsession with survival playtime, played out through politically prosed pop references and narratives of fictional, future juvenilia.”

So reads the obscure press release to experimental electronic producer Brood Ma’s debut album for the highly influential Tri Angle Records, Daze. In a year that has already seen a slew of fascinating electronic records from artists like Surgeon, Fatima Al-Qadiri, and even Underworld, Daze still stands out as a singular statement of breathtaking artistry. In 13 tracks, just one of which jumps past the three-minute marker, Brood Ma jumps all over the stylistic map packing a multitude of conceptual ideas into briefly exhilarating dance tracks. From techno to noise, trip-hop to industrial, Brood Ma manages to deliver a cohesive album by underlining his sonic touchstones with a powerfully hypnotic, thudding rhythm. Brood Ma explores masculinity in the context of creativity, and how frustrations with contemporary British ideals of masculinity beget frustration. And how that frustration can erupt into violence.

Brood Ma is James Stringer, a London by way of Kent-based producer and graphic artist. He first gained interest in music through heavy metal, and a predilection towards extremity still seems to hold a place in his musical identity. He got serious about music after dropping out of Central Saint Martins where he was studying visual art. His first output was more in the realm of noise, but eventually took on form, beat, and rhythm to emerge as the experimental dance project that now defines Brood Ma.

When not recording, Stringer runs Quantum Natives, a collective made up of producers, graphic artists, and visual artists focused on delivering music in thought-provoking efforts. The site, for example, is set up as a map that in some sense connects you to the working processes of the producers involved, but makes you search for the records. It takes the risk to make those interested enough in the ideas work to find the music. It is branding for the sake of art, with a near anarchist refusal to be driven by commerce.

Seeing as Daze is one of my favorite records of this year, I had to speak with Stringer about his music and art, to find out more about the man behind the alter ego that is Brood Ma.

LEHRER: Have you always gravitated towards electronic music?

STRINGER: As a teenager, I got into guitar music and metal. My first music I owned was a tape of Ride the Lightning. I also had some really cheesy happy hardcore tapes that older kids had given me. I was still in primary school so I must have been about 10 years old and I was listening to that happy hardcore stuff. We had a local record shop called Scratch Mart. It was a rave store in Kent. All the locals hated it. I would go around and collect all the little fliers - this was a thing that probably most kids in my generation did. There was all this sci-fi airbrushed stuff on them, and you’d put them up on your walls because you’re too young to go to the raves, but I got a lot of influence visually from that shop.

LEHRER: Your music is all over the map stylistically; I imagine you have a number of sonic touchstones.

STRINGER: I listen to everything. Before I came to London and met my current friends, that’s when I started making guitar music. My old friends I grew up with didn’t really approve of listening to anything too weird. I had to keep my local gigs a secret, or else I’d be called a weirdo. They were kind of jocks. But, in a most cliché manner, I didn’t get serious [about music] until I left art school. (Laughs.)

LEHRER: Where’d you go to art school?

STRINGER: Even more of a cliché, I went to Central Saint Martins and studied fine art for three years. I didn’t really enjoy it.

LEHRER: That school sounds intense.

STRINGER: Some people are really proud of going there so I don’t like to talk about my experiences because people don’t always agree with my take on it. Afterwards I started making noise music at home in Kent. I couldn’t afford to live in London. I had a computer and I ended up re-wiring old mixers. It must have been around 2007.

LEHRER: Noise music kind of had a moment there for a while.

STRINGER: I first moved to London in 2004, and soon after that grime mutated into dubstep. At the same time I was going to this collective, and they were bringing down people like Ariel Pink and Animal Collective. Then after that you started getting a lot of varied stuff in that scene. I never had much confidence in the music I was making back then because it was too electronic. (Laughs).

LEHRER: It is kind of interesting. It’s almost like noise musicians realized if people could dance to the music then more women come to the show, or something. It all happened at once. Dom Fernow went from harsh noise as Prurient to techno as Vatican Shadow (note: he records as Prurient again now). When did your music start taking on its current form?

STRINGER: I made Daze a long time ago, and it was just a natural process from stuff I’d been doing before. The difference was that SoundCloud allowed me to lose inhibitions and not feel like I had to make everything myself.

LEHRER: So realizing it wasn’t a faux pas to use samples or other people’s sounds was liberating in a sense?

STRINGER: Yeah, exactly.

LEHRER: I want to talk a little bit about Daze, you released this press release along with it: “A documentary of the military engagements played out amongst adults and children across worldwide server space with an attempted critique of the current obsession with survival playtime” etc. I love that because I remember reading the review on Pitchfork and the guy was like “(or something…)”

STRINGER: It confused a lot of people. (Laughs).

LEHRER: Is Daze a conceptual record?

STRINGER: To some degree, yes. I like to get a set of images in my mind and then try and forget all those things and just enjoy making the music as it happens. When I made it, I imagined myself as a character presenting the music. It’s difficult talking about it because I don’t want to give too much of it away to people who might read into it; I want to keep some ambiguities. The text you described is an imagining how this character would describe the press release.

LEHRER: That’s what I think is so interesting about the record. It has both the insular and heady quality of industrial, and the physical elation of dance music.

STRINGER: That’s a good thing. A lot of the reviews mention that the tracks are not very long and they tend to sort of move out. To me, it’s abstracted. I built these albums to try and combine the processes of making an album and the process of DJing. I like to maintain tension; it’s not always something to be enjoyed. Or maybe you will enjoy it. You learn how to understand and submit to it in some degree. I’m creating segways that don’t allow you to necessarily relax into something. Some might find that obnoxious but it does what I wanted it to do.

LEHRER: I also want to talk with you about Tri Angle. How did you and Robin [Carolan, label head Tri Angle] come into contact with one another?

STRINGER: He was following Quantum Natives and the stuff we were doing there. He liked my previous record and contacted me. I didn’t really think Daze would be released.

LEHRER: What I find so interesting about Tri Angle is that it has as equal influence on underground music as it has on pop music. You can’t really talk about the Alternative R&B movement without talking about How To Dress Well. There are albums like Yeezus and Bjork’s record from last year. Would you ever be interesting in working with more mainstream artists?

STRINGER: Totally. Obviously I don’t produce in a traditional way, I don’t know how easy it would be, but it would definitely be a challenge. I really like pop music. People that recognize the samples on Daze will realize some of them are stuff that’s really popular. My sound can be difficult for people to imagine themselves singing to. We’ll see what happens.

LEHRER: I hate when people talk about how much music sucks right now. It definitely doesn’t. It’s the first time that both the underground and the mainstream have interesting stuff going on. They both reference one another. It’s the first time I remember that you can go to a party and see Kanye West hanging out with Arca, or something like that. 

STRINGER: Yeah. On that note, I don’t think there’s ever an inactive moment in music. It’s just about how it is accessed. Basically, if someone’s bored, they’re just not looking for new stuff. Pop music is great right now, though. I love the new stuff Kanye has done, and others.

LEHRER: I might be reaching here, but I don’t think there had been a time since the early 90s with Warp Records when so many challenging electronic producers were getting this much attention – between you, Haxan Cloak, Rabit. Why do you think this music feels so right at the moment? Is it connecting more so than it has?

STRINGER: There is as scene, for sure There’s been a lot of interest in identity politics. A lot of these producers have shared histories. DJ Sprinkles wrote this amazing article about club culture and how people gravitate towards it because they need a space to articulate their politics and their identities.

I went to this parlor club in James. It was a really amazing crowd. Any other electronic night, I don’t think you would get that kind of level of scene. It’s really exciting. That night was great. Chino played some fucking bonkers, really powerful freestyle set, with sirens and trap and post-hardcore guitars. It made a really yearning sound. In the other room, Nesh Complex was playing floor pieces. It was amazing to see all that going on in the same room. My style is dance. There aren’t a lot of people in London my age doing this kind of thing.

LEHRER: The rise in this music does seem to have something to do with gay politics and trans politics. Electronic music started getting known in the mainstream through Skrillex and Diplo. There’s this association with frat guys getting hammered and sexually abusing women. It makes sense that now it’s more gone more punk, inclusive, and, let’s face it: better musically.

STRINGER: Definitely. There’s an awareness of violence against people on the continuum of queer thought. Certainly, my work deals with masculinity and masculine power. It’s a way of discussing these conflicted feelings you get growing up. There are other artists doing this in different ways – violence against the body, being gay, being black. I’m interested in how frustration can become violence.

LEHRER: I think that’s why I connected to your record so much. Even though I’m a boring straight white guy, growing up in a suburban, conservative town, being interested in art at a young age, you feel like you have to hide certain parts of yourself to be considered masculine. Like, I used to dress shittier than I wanted to so that my friends wouldn’t give me shit for wearing a “fruity” jacket.

STRINGER: Exactly. Going back to music, we used to go around in guy’s cars. I didn’t learn to drive right away because I saw it as a symbol. It really put me off doing anything that these guys wanted to do. It sounds strange, but I remember feeling repelled by these symbols of masculinity. I remember riding around in my mates’ cars with these decked-out sound systems. I’d be like, “Ay, stick this on.” They’d be like, “Fuck this, weirdo.” They were totally homophobic and racist people.

LEHRER: I watched some of your live shows on YouTube. It’s you under a green light, just playing. Are you interested in a minimal stage setup and letting the sound design do most of the communication?

STRINGER: That was an old gig that I never thought would go online. I do actually like to keep things pretty minimal. That particular set was really basic. Actually, I had just done the music that night. What I usually do in my sets is play live, to a certain degree. I do all the mixing on stage..

LEHRER: Is Quantum Natives a creative team, a studio, a record label?

STRINGER: Quantum Natives is a collective. When I set it up, we were all friends. He’s in Taiwan, and I’m in London. We set it up because we didn’t want to do a label in the same way that all labels function. You’ve seen it on the website – it’s like a geography, like a map.

LEHRER: Yeah, it’s a really cool design.

STRINGER: We wanted to set something up that didn’t feel like it was branded in a traditional way. Although, our logo is on a lot of our releases’ covers. We like the idea that there could be more interesting narratives. We do releases, but they’re buried in the map. They aren’t things that we’re trying to sell. On the site, I have a studio. We do a lot of stuff with games and game engines. There’s a new one coming out soon. We work with artists. I’ve done a lot of branding and the visuals as well. We have some things coming up which will be more collaborations with musicians and artists, built into the map and linking to various places.

Purchase Brood Ma's debut album here. Text and interview by Adam Lehrer. Photographs by Flo Kohl. Follow Autre on Instagram: @AUTREMAGAZINE