James Holden

Former electronica tyro fashions his own equipment in quest for a brave new world of sound.

James Holden

Fact Sheet

  • For fans of Boards Of Canada, Aphex Twin, Cluster, Harmonia, Tinariwen.
  • The Inheritors is named after the William Golding novel that tells of a Neanderthal tribe wiped out by homo sapiens.
  • James Holden admits to an early love for epic rock before a Physics teacher handed him some Orbital albums and the die was cast. “I didn’t have enough friends to make a band either,” he admits.

Back in 1999, when he released his trancing debut single, Horizons, James Holden was a bright, punkish 19-year-old from rural Leicestershire. Writing and producing in his bedroom using a free software programme, he was also studying mathematics at St John’s College, Oxford at the time. “I think they thought I wasn’t trying as hard as I could have been,” Holden says of his tutors. “It’s quite hard to sit down and learn theory after that.” However, he persevered and, after finishing his degree, Holden was soon the nom de jour in dance music circles, his brand of emotional progressive trance and techno securing him remixes for Madonna and Britney Spears.

Fourteen years on and Holden’s style has matured with him. His bold aim for listeners to his new album, The Inheritors – the tardy follow-up to The Idiots Are Winning, 2006’s much-admired debut long-player – is that they will experience a new kind of music. “It’s naïve and stupid,” admits Holden, “but I had the idea of taking things from the past and evolving them like a parallel evolution from what actually happened in musical history – if that makes sense.”

Much can be explained by the unique instruments Holden plays, alongside traditional synths, which are self-built and self-programmed created specifically to yield the results he wanted. On The Inheritors, tracks like the shuddering, psychedelic quiet/loud pagan techno of Renata use Holden’s very own musical chaos machines that sit between his computer and modular synths. But the music, he says, comes from ideas “…not just serendipitous experimentation”. Apart from the wailing, tumultuous sax solo by Zombie Zombie’s Etienne Jaumet on The Caterpillar’s Intervention, Holden plays everything on the record, setting him apart from those peers who rely heavily on samples. “Most of the music these days has never been performed,” he says. “It’s not actually happened – it’s drawn with a mouse.”

“Most music these days has never been performed. It’s not actually happened – it’s drawn with a mouse.”

The heavy drone that permeates the record may owe a considerable debt to Krautrock, but Holden also acknowledges the influence of Malian music and especially folk on The Inheritors. Exposure to the latter came early when Holden, as a young violinist, played ceilidh music before advancing to Bartók’s Romanian folk dances, Elgar and Vaughan Williams while playing in school orchestras.

At present he seems happy to let Border Community, the successful record label he founded 10 years ago, take a back seat. It’s become home to some of the most progressive, experimental and highly-fêted of Britain’s electronica mavens, like Nathan Fake and Luke Abbott. So it’s perhaps surprising that Holden admits to being least happy when Border Community was at its mid-’00s height. “All that expectation of delivering hits and being successful,” he reflects, pausing for dramatic effect. “It really is quite overrated.”