THERE’S an urban myth that Coldplay’s ‘The Scientist’ played in reverse sounds exactly like ‘Silent’ by cult electronica act The Field.
I’ve actually put this to the test, courtesy of a backwards edit of the Chris Martin dirge on YouTube. But while the tracks undoubtedly share a melodic melancholy, it was hard to be definitive. That’s because it’s all a figment of the internet’s collective imagination, says Axel Willner, the Berlin-based Stockholm stoic who records and performs as The Field.
“It is so funny what the internet believes,” he says in a clipped Nordic-German accent. “People can be funny. They think I’m sampling stuff on songs where I’m not actually sampling at all.”
One artist the electronica composer definitively has borrowed from is Lionel Richie. Years before it was fashionable to name-drop Richie as the ultimate guilty pleasure — as appears to have worryingly become the case — Willner reworked a guitar part from ‘Hello’ on early single, ‘A Paw In My Face’. The effect was extraordinary, all the more as you realised that glacier of melancholy was built atop a cheesy 1980s smash.
“I was not aware that Richie had become fashionable again,” says the pithy Willner, who does genuinely seem to live in ignorance of prevailing pop trends. “I’m very happy that is the case.”
Willner, who is performing at Forbidden Fruit in Dublin over the June bank holiday, has carved a niche as purveyor of euphoric ennui for crestfallen clubbers. As The Field (he has several aliases), he builds complex pieces out of looped motifs, atop which are splashed twinkling beats. Splice Philip Glass with a depressive house DJ and you’re half way towards describing his singular sensibility.
In electronic circles, Willner started out as a bit of a boy wonder. He fairly exploded onto the DJ and producer circuit with his 2007 debut album From Here We Go To Sublime.
For a first record, it communicated an impressively-realised vision, combining the urgency of techno with the spiralling ambition of progressive rock. Yet this was also dance music for the masses. Even if you were a clubbing virgin who thought Aphex Twin was a character from Star Trek and/or baffling medical condition, there was something seductive about Willner’s happy-sad sugar-rush.
Listened to on a decent set of headphones, it served as a perfect escape capsule from the everyday. The contours of reality would shimmer and warp, literally dancing to Willner’s tune.
“It’s true, I’m a dreamer,” says Willner. “I can totally see why people might think that. I put a lot of myself in my music. I don’t suffer writer’s block as such. At the start of the process it can be exhausting . You can’t force things. You just have to get “that” feeling in your body and your mind.”
His recent fifth album, The Follower, harks back to the uptempo miserablism of From Here We Go To Sublime. It’s a relief to see Willner reconnecting with the aesthetic that defined him as, for the past several years, he has seemed keen on moving away from the template. Here, he appears more at peace — an artist not afraid to riff on his signature.
“The record is a classic a and b side,” he nods. “The first part is a little more banging, more clubby. The second more relaxed and ambient — real headphones listening.”
The looming tenth anniversary of From Here We Go To Sublime has prompted a degree of soul-searching. Mostly he is grateful to still be in the industry. “If you asked me what would I be doing in 10 years, it would have been fantastic to be still involved in music. I am quite amazed this is my job. There are days I wake up and have a hard time believing it is what I do for a living.”
The Follower is out now. The Field performs at Forbidden Fruit Festival in Kilmainham, Dublin, on Sunday June 5
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