From an outside perspective, Cain could be viewed as an anomaly. An accomplished scratch DJ and competition winning bagpipe player based in The Highlands, who produces electronic music that can encompass African poly-rthyms, Indian vocals, UK bass derivatives and swathes of Celtic warmth. Upon closer inspection, it’s apparent that these contrasting influences are as authentic a part of his output as the events leading to his current productions. His first release with Fine Grains, the ‘Mora EP’, received airplay on BBC Radio 1 and support from one of his musical inspirations, DJ Shadow. With several more releases lined up, including an EP in 2014 and a debut LP for artist and label in 2015, we thought it was about time to reveal more about this intriguing artist and his wide referencing yet precise approach to music.
Q1: From the bagpipes to beat making via turntablism, your musical ascent has been unique. Regarding your current productions, what elements from all of these experiences have most influenced your approach to making the music?
A1: The fundamentals of rhythm, melody, harmony and sound are present in all forms of music. I definitely think that being involved in different kinds of music from a young age has shaped the way my brain works. The more I play instruments, write tunes and listen to music in different contexts, the more I seem to want to immerse myself further in it. I suppose from my experience playing the bagpipes to a professional level, I’ve definitely found it easier to write music when playing an instrument or keyboard, as opposed to chopping up samples etc. I find the technical issues of music production quite frustrating.
Q2: In the Mora EP (FG002) you incorporated some of your own scratches in the ‘Blainn’ track. The track received a really good response from the likes of DJ Shadow, perhaps because of this. Do you foresee using those skills, and other musical instruments, in your future productions and sets?
A2: Yes, I would like to use more scratching/turntablism in future projects. I know it has gone out of fashion and seems like a faux pas to even scratch live, let alone incorporate into tunes, but I used to love hearing it on old hip hop tunes (like ‘Total Eclipse’ on Pharoahe Monch’ Internal Affairs LP). I definitely want to use bagpipes in my music but, I really want it to work well and not just include them as a novelty.
Q3: You recently debuted a new live set, firstly on The Trailer TV show then at The Alibi for a Fine Grains night. What kind of equipment were you using and what was your approach to putting together then performing both shows?
A3: I was using a Launchpad and a small Novation Keyboard (for playing keys and routing effects through the knobs). Since the music I write tends to be really varied in speed and rhythms, I have to plan different ways of transitioning between tunes. It’s a bit clunky at the moment but, it’s coming on. I think one of the key things is to take recognisable elements from one tune and make a ‘mini song’ out of them, at the speed of the next song. That way I can do a less abrupt transition. I have lots of ideas on how to improve the live set, and I’d love to work with different drummers on this too (from tabla to pipe band snare drummers). I try to write songs that are coherent in themselves but, as my live set progresses I may write music specifically for it – like one long evolving tune.
Q4: Some artists foresee location as being irrelevant to their output, others necessitate it. It could be said there is something of a parallel with the vastness of your music to fellow Scots Boards of Canada and Samoyed. Can you describe a bit about your surroundings and whether or not it influences you?
A4: I definitely think Highland landscapes have been important in my music. In fact, landscapes in general make a big difference. I’m a pathetically sensitive person, who is really moved by moonlight on the waters of a loch etc. What a cheesy bastard I am! On the one hand I want to convey feelings of epic space, on the other hand I want to communicate beauty and loneliness.
Also, I think writing music away from a scene in a city is sometimes useful because it’s easier to not be too influenced by what is going on. With the internet though, there really is no escape.
Q5: Beyond your own location, where and how do you source your world references (‘Massai’, ‘Mora’ etc.)? The mixture of ‘modern technological treatments influenced by various cultures and eras’ is reminiscent of Jon Hassell’ Fourth World approach. Are you conscious of this or is it more of a sub-conscious decision to widen the scope of influences?
A5: Growing up playing Gaelic tunes on the bagpipes, some of which are centuries old, definitely gave me a sense of how cultures can communicate through time with songs and rhythms. I’m definitely drawn to world music because of this – but I haven’t specifically set out to do this as some kind of social commentary. I write what I feel like. I love interesting rhythms and drum sounds – so they are a common part of my production. I probably listen to urban music more than anything else but, ultimately I just want to use any influences in my own way.
Q6: Finally, from being involved with Auntie Flo at the Pogo Vogue nights in Edinburgh and more recently with Fine Grains in London and Aberdeen, you must have been exposed to a lot of different acts. From those gigs who were the artists that most caught your attention? What are you currently listening to and inspired by in the wider musical world?
A6: From the Pogo Vogue nights I have to say that Caribou were one of my favourite acts. There were so many great ones though – Four Tet, Amon Tobin, Villalobos. I used to put sets together with Brian (Auntie Flo) for these nights, and we got to play with some real legends. It was an amazing time. With Fine Grains I have loved playing with Uraki Riddim, Chesslo Junior, LV, OL & ¥oin. Everyone seems to compliment each other’s styles in different ways – Uraki Riddim can easily adapt his tunes to transition between sets, OL brings a real ghetto energy etc.
I’m always listening to anything that appears from my ‘musical heroes’ such as Amon Tobin, The Bug, Four Tet, LV, Burial or Mala. At the same time I am listening to a lot of traditional Indian music, and quite a lot of classical too – particularly Arvo Part. In terms of more recent producers, I love anything Romare does, and the same goes for Blacksmif. I’m also excited about Arca’s forthcoming album, I thought the work he did with FKA Twigs was amazing. There’s an overwhelming amount to listen to all the time, so now I try to restrict myself to a selection of tunes for a weekend. It becomes hard to appreciate songs properly when your brain goes into a crazed consumption mode. I do listen to some pop tunes from time to time as well. I like Lana Del Rey. Her real name is Grant (like mine). I should ask her to join the Clan Grant Society.