Portrait by Alicja Khatchikian
“To be honest, I’ve been trying to make stuff like this since I was a teenager but just never felt I was very good at it,” Tom Scholefield, AKA Konx-Om-Pax, tells me with refreshing honesty as we get down to discussing his recent shift to focusing on beat-oriented material. “I found making dance music really difficult, working with rhythm and getting beats to sound good – the general arrangements.”
Across three albums released between 2011 and 2016, the first on his own Display Copy label and the latter two with Planet Mu, Scholefield’s downtempo sound has been defined by vivid, dayglo synths, often free of rhythmic accompaniment. His latest album, Ways of Seeing, then represents something of a departure for the producer as he continues down a trail kickstarted in 2017 with the release of the Refresher EP. That EP’s lead track, ‘Cascada’, paired the vibrant synth work of previous output with a hefty dose of kick drums, firmly setting its sights on the dancefloor and becoming something of a summer anthem in certain circles in the process. He describes it to me as an experiment to roll influences such as Surgeon, Luke Vibert and Boards of Canada into one track. “I did that just to see if it would cut across because I essentially saw it as a pop track,” Scholefield explains.
There are similar moments scattered throughout Ways of Seeing. Album highlight, ‘Missing Something’, nods to big rooms and festival stages (in the least cynical way possible) with its brooding, sweeping synths and earworm melodies that have seen it become a recent favourite in the sets of DJs such as Ben UFO. ‘Optimism Over Despair’ returns to the ecstasy-fuelled synths of ‘Cascada’, this time offset against even harder kick drums and a healthy amount of early rave-indebted breakbeats. The Silvia Kastel-featuring ‘Säule Acid’ is a chuggier, more lo-fi affair, its Italo-esque synths and blunted kicks smothered by a layer of crunchy compression.
Ways of Seeing is an album heavily informed by Scholefield’s relocation from his native of Glasgow to Berlin. He describes his time in Glasgow as a “kind of techno college”, nodding to the scene that exists around much-loved record shop Rubadub. “I gained more confidence stepping out, and leaving my peer group behind,” he says of his move to Berlin. “It allowed me to dedicate more time to just experimenting and building up a bank of sounds that I felt could work in more of a dancefloor context.” Not only was that step away from Scholefield’s comfort zone hugely formative to this newfound thirst for functionality within his own productions, but there was also a drive to push against the more poe-faced, aggressive corners of techno that he’d been exposed to at some parties and clubs in Berlin, and elsewhere.
“Part of it was spending a lot of time at festivals, and everything feeling very deconstructed and angsty,” he tells me of his drive to provide an antidote to this sound. “I’d be hearing a lot of this kind of thing at various places, and I tend to go through waves of not wanting to do what everyone else is doing I suppose.” Instead, he wanted to produce music that captured the simplicity and minimalism of some of his favourite electronic music, a lot of which features amongst his Baker’s Dozen picks, which double up in part as a synopsis of reference points for Ways of Seeing. Talking through a number of the records that feature on the list, he touches heavily on his love of the 808 drum machine. “That’s the glue that sticks the album together, the use of 808s,” he explains, “so I wanted to represent some of that in the list.”
Click the image below to begin reading Konx-Om-Pax’s Baker’s Dozen picks