Rival Consoles approached his new album from an intriguing perspective — through the lens of the alternately confounding and invigorating art house classic Persona (1966) by Swedish filmmaker Ingmar Bergman. As the inspiration for the album’s second and title track, Persona‘s exploration of identity and loss of self spoke to the London-based electronic musician, who built the LP on a bed of warm, propulsive analog synths that give the album an organic quality sometimes missing from digitally-crafted electronic music.
Unlike a number of artists who find a groove and stick to it, Rival Consoles (real name Ryan Lee West) isn’t afraid to expand his palette into sweeter, even “cute” territory – and hell, when you have a one-two punch album opener like the reverb-laden earthquake of “Unfolding” and the racing syncopation of “Persona,” you can afford to get cute for a second.
Billboard spoke to Rival Consoles about the influence of classic film on his music, why electronic music can be self-limiting when it’s too “serious” and why he avoids digital even though he “loves” it.
Bergman’s Persona is such an interesting, confusing film, so that’s a very intriguing inspiration for an album. Or was it the other way around, and the Persona connection was applied more retroactively to the album?
Some influences always existed from the film, and just the word and the meaning of the word itself. The film is such a timeless concept that all humans struggle and deal with in various forms, and obviously the film deals with that in an amazing way. It goes deep almost without saying anything. As I’ve gotten older I’m interested in exploring the contradiction and polarity between what’s happening musically and what’s happening in your personality.
Is it difficult to explore high concept things in a medium without words?
I think it’s probably easier in a way. Obviously language is very powerful but it can alienate people because it’s so precise, but music can be so ambiguous that you can say a lot of things to different people without even knowing that you’ve said it.
Speaking of the music, this album is analog synth heavy. Why that versus digital?
I guess it’s to deal with the fact that for me, I need a lot of limitations. While the album is sonically diverse, it stems from a simple palette of sounds. I love digital but I feel overwhelmed by it, and I end up making things that are just information rather than more resonant. There’s a lot of beauty in the murky analog sounds, and there’s a lot still to be explored, and I’m drawn to that rather than crisp digital sound. But all the same, I love people like Oneohtrix [Point Never], but for me, I gravitate toward a different palette of sounds.
It’s a diverse album, with high-energy bursts but a number of quiet moments, including the final track. How did you approach sequencing?
Well a lot of the time in electronic music, people try to be taken really seriously. So I like the idea of ending the album with a sweet, almost nursery rhyme piece of music with synths [“Fragment”]. I think there’s a lot of aspects of electronic music that are neglected because people want to sound serious and dark and deep. I like the fact that there’s moments of sweetness and almost cuteness. In “Be Kind,” for example, it’s showcasing maybe an overlooked aspect of synths in recent years. These things [sweetness, cuteness] are all connected to your personality, which is made up of an array of things. It can be unhelpful to display just one aspect.
I want to go back to Persona. Was the movie more of a seed, or something you were actively thinking about throughout the making of the album?
On that actual track “Persona,” that was very specifically trying to capture some moments and scenes in the film. Especially the moment in the opening sequence where the boy is holding his hand toward the screen, which is metamorphosing between two faces. I love the fact that it’s such a simple way to demonstrate something really powerful. I was mimicking this pulsation between harmony and a tense harmony. Simple things like that inspire me to find a specific voice for the song.
What does the movie mean to you? There’s so many divergent interpretations.
I have some interpretations, I did actually study it properly at university, there’s so many plausible things. One thing I was recently reading about was it could be about abortion which never crossed my mind, but general concepts linger – identity and forcing something to be something it’s not, between various people. Because obviously when something is happening, it’s not between one person. I like how deep it goes even though things aren’t being said all the time. Bergman in general is quite deep. It needs a mature mind to acknowledge things in it. When I first saw it I was struck how stark and lonely it was, but as you get older you see more nuances the story. You experience more yourself in life.
So you were exposed to it earlier in life?
By the time I was 12 I’d watched all the 50, 60, 70 classic films or so. At the time it felt weird because you could never discuss that at school.
Watching those movies so young, there’s an element of mystery to them, you probably didn’t fully understand them.
For sure. When you’re a child you take onboard what you can, and that’s enough, because that’s exciting.
As you’ve said, there are sweeter moments on the album. How do you translate that into performance? In a live space, oftentimes people are expecting constant energy. Do you feel pressure to fulfill that, or liberty to play around?
I think most people in electronic music playing shows regularly feel pressured to deliver something toward that, if not 100 percent, then they feel the need to gravitate toward that — including myself. But I’m forcing myself not to fully confront it, because I feel there’s some magic that otherwise gets overlooked. “Be Kind,” for example, was recorded in one take, with one layer, just a mono recording; that was liberating to me. There’s a tendency to overlabor and hyper edit. And “Be Kind” seemed so innocent, and so sincere, and that’s a special quality that’s difficult to achieve in electronic music, at least for me…. Even in 2018, people have some distance with electronic music — it still alienates a lot of people, so [working against] that also excites me.
Rival Consoles Tour Dates
May 11 – Montreal – Fairmount Theatre
May 12 – Brooklyn – Elsewhere (Zone One)+
May 15 – Philadelphia – PhilaMOCA
May 16 – Chicago – Empty Bottle
May 17 – Austin – Empire Control Room
May 18 – Los Angeles – Union
May 19 – San Francisco – Gray Area