The world of Floating Points can appear a complex web. It’s an entanglement of Sam Shepherd’s own techno behemoths, skittering house jams and ensemble arrangements; of his disc jockeying innovation, Plastic People legacy, neuroscience PhD and an appetite for music that’s seen him set up Eglo Records and hunt for wax across every corner of the globe. With the reputation that comes from such an introduction, Shepherd’s the kind of figure that can come to be mythologised. Yet, as he speaks on the eve of his ‘Elaenia’ live show going out on the road, his conversation is as inviting as the music that he hopes to create - as free from posture as you could imagine.
Despite much focus on the recently released debut full length – an engrossing composition of undulating exploration that weaves minimalism, jazz and electronica – Shepherd’s DJ duties have been as frequent as ever. His audiophile obsession comes through quickly, giving his certain approval on the new sound system at Barcelona’s Razzamatazz – he’d played the club alongside Daphni and Four Tet just a few days after the trio had hosted their much-loved all-nighter at Brixton Academy. “Let’s just imagine that it’s Plastic People”, he says referring to their South London bash. “I don’t feel like I need to do anything different. The whole thing is that it’s five pounds and done in really good faith. Everyone is there for the same reason and the vibe in the room is really really good. You don’t have to play really intense music or do anything different [in a space like that] – I played Outkast.”
His work as a DJ proves a point of reference on more than one occasion - how the fans that speak to him at DJ gigs feel about the side of Floating Points put forward on the record, and how these different worlds interlock with these audiences. There’s an acknowledgement that some people do desire a ‘Floating Points: The Bangers’ record, but those approaching Shepherd at DJ dates have shown an appreciation of what ‘Elaenia’ is about. “People realise that the record isn’t a ‘Nuit Sonores’ or an ‘ARP3’ and that’s a very pleasing response for me,” he says.
“I think if people see it on this tour and then see it again early next year it’ll be completely different with new instrumentation”
As live shows take hold and he moves away from the reactive freedom that DJing affords, the change to a more defined structure of his compositions could be seen as a more restrictive and therefore daunting prospect. As it goes, almost a third of this new live show is freely improvised, with Shepherd’s ensemble handed the reins to experiment as they see fit. “They’re all such adept musicians that they can handle it. I can be like ‘This is the harmonic implication, do what you want’. That’s been really fun because every time it’s different for us and more exciting. It keeps us on our toes.”
Within the live show lies not only music from ‘Elaenia’, but also new, evolving aspects of composition. Sam offers that these parts could yet form the basis of another Floating Points full-length somewhere down the line, but for now it’s another element that adds excitement to the whole live thing. “I see it as a project and a journey” he says. “I think if people see it on this tour and then see it again early next year it’ll be completely different with new instrumentation… It’s like an experiment I guess, but one that at no point shouldn’t be nice to listen to.”
The latter aspect of that comment is a point that he’s clearly keen to write home. With chapters of the Floating Points discography pushing towards a more esoteric space and his penchant for re-contextualising seemingly non-club-ready tracks as a DJ, there’s fuel for this idea that Shepherd is laying down some kind of gauntlet for his fans. But whilst challenging his listener is something that he’s comfortable with, the idea that these sounds and styles are in any way confrontational is one that he rebukes wholeheartedly. “I never want it to start and immediately be trying to push you away,” he says. “I feel like it’s up to the composer to bring you in to the space and then we can explore the space together. It should open its arms and say ‘come and listen’, and then by the end of the record it’s kind of got you gripped and it’s beating you up a bit but you can’t leave it.”
“If I was in my studio every day working on the same thing I’d be so bored.”
It’s those open arms that he’s looking to extend across each branch of Floating Points. But what’s most notable is that the barriers many onlookers see him as breaking down, simply don’t exist to Shepherd in the first place. When ‘King Bromeliad’ was released in the summer of last year, it was the most comprehensive of Floating Points’ dancefloor bangers – as instantly open-armed and widely accessible as anything he’s put to his name. For the following release to be a collaboration with the recently deceased Mahmoud Guinia, followed again by the compositional focus of ‘Eleania’, it would seem from an outside perspective that Shepherd’s sequence of work was consciously stunting momentum. But with his way of working, this output is simply a reflection of a creative process that sees no two days the same.
“The time that I was working on ‘King Bromeliad’ was the same time I was working on ‘Nuit Sonores’ and the same time I was working on ‘Silhouettes’,” he says. “If I was in my studio every day working on the same thing I’d be so bored… Given that I’m making all of this stuff at the same time, I never consider them to be different other than for the fact that they’re using different instruments. Even when I’m DJing, they’re the records that I listen to when I’m at home and they inform anything that I make.”
With Floating Points, Shepherd’s imagination has no rules to break or boundaries to cross. The freedom that’s exercised throughout the more exploratory chapters of ‘Elaenia’ mirror up to an attitude that define every element of his working and will continue to do so. As we finish speaking about classical music’s current popular appeal, it’s a view that he sees to be spreading wider. “With the classic world the question is how receptive they’d be to electronic music being in their world. I think it is actually. I like the idea of that world, the classical world, just taking a synthesiser and being like, you have to treat this with as much respect as you treat a violin. And I see that happening all the time and it’s great. I think we’re alright you know, we’re okay.”
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