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Patrick Freyne talks to Ken McHugh of Autamata about his double life as artist and producer, his new album, Colours of Sound - and about moving to the country.
Patrick Freyne, 25 Mar 2008
Electronic music is historically the sound of the city – from Pierre Henri and Pierre Schaeffer in a laboratory in Paris, through Karleinz Stockhausen being ‘difficult’ in Cologne, to the Belleville Three rocking Detroit. The countryside on the other hand always resonated with more ‘organic’ instruments – banjos, mandolins, accordions and fiddles. However, electro-popster Ken McHugh is in raptures about his move to the countryside and it’s making me question some of my previously held notions about music and place (goddamnit, I hate questioning things!).
“It’s brilliant here,” he gushes. “You can go to the beach, go for a walk, go for a run, do a bit of writing. And the colours around Wicklow are so vibrant. It makes you want to write a certain way. And it gives you lots of space to think, and I think that came out in the record.”
Suddenly, I can picture all our ancestors gathered around the fire with Theremins, ominichords, patch-bays, effects-racks, and laptops (all of which are strewn liberally around the McHugh abode, alongside mandolins, harmoniums, guitars, drum-kits). It’s not such a jump for McHugh, from folk to the technological.
“I spent years playing trad and folk with my family,” he explains. “Every summer and every Christmas we’d be booked to play here or play there and it was amazing, because otherwise I think I’d just have been hanging around the chipper. And it was really, really good – and I suppose if it’s coming out in the music it’s a good thing. Although Irish people don’t tend to notice it in my music, Americans will sometimes mention my ‘Celtic roots’ coming through.”
McHugh is most definitely an electronic artist, but there’s something pastoral and folksy about his new collection of sunny pop, and he puts a lot of this down to location.
“I’m not turning into a hippy,” he laughs, after I point my finger at him and level the accusation. “But I am trying to get into a relaxed state of mind in general. There’s so much going on in the world that you do need to inject yourself every now and again, because you can really get caught up with meaningless things in the city. You can get caught up in rat races, and there’s so much going on all the time that there isn’t time to stop and think. And if you’ve grown up in the city maybe you’re used to it, but I grew up in a farm in County Mayo and I moved to Dublin for years, and I think it was just time to return to that for a while. And I love the city. I love the inspiration of the city, but for where I was in my life, I’d kind of broken-up a relationship, and I thought it was time to move down and really get stuck into my music.”