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Hyetal – ‘Diamond Islands’

More than most, Hyetal dreams in technicolour.

It wasn’t his debut single, but the Bristol-based producer made his introduction to many in 2009 with the release of ‘Pixel Rainbow Sequence’, a blistering track that shot through the greyscale, techno-tinted aesthetic that had become so popular in his hometown, adding some welcome colour to a dubstep scene increasingly obsessed with Berlin.

In May, Hyetal will release Broadcast, his debut album. More inspired by “honest references” than the dance music of his peers, it draws on his background in soundtracking and visual art, taking influence from the VHS electronics of Games and Boards of Canada, and cushioning tracks in collages of ambient samples while distant drums reverberate across the horizon.

FACT caught up with Hyetal to talk about how last year’s breakthrough single, ‘Phoenix’, paved the way for the rest of the record, and finding his own niche in an increasingly glutted UK scene.

So we were talking about the course you took at uni…

“It was a music technology course, at Bath. It focussed on audio-visual stuff, there were parts of the course that were learning Final Cut, and programs like that, editing software… and we had stuff that was specifically focussed on creating music for media, so we had to do fake briefs, stuff like that. That’s something I may well want to pursue in the future, still.”

That explains a lot – the album’s really cinematic and visual. Were you making early Hyetal tunes at that point?

“Yeah, it was around that time. Before that time I hadn’t really made much on computers, I’d been playing in bands and doing live stuff, and at the same time I had a real interest in hip-hop and hip-hop production.”

So more gear-driven stuff.

“Yeah, that was all MPC and sampling off records, really. That seemed the most authentic way of trying to make that sound. I dunno, I think I got into doing stuff with computers when I met people from Bristol who were making films and were interested in doing collaborative projects … I only really started using computers because I had to, so I could synchronise audio to these visual projects.

“That was around the same sort of time that dubstep was happening in Bristol.”

Your first single was 2009 but I’m guessing this was all a little bit before that… so what are we talking, like 2006?

“Yeah yeah, about 2006 would’ve been when I was doing this. Maybe earlier – I think the end of 2005 was when I went to my first DMZ. I properly got interested in it when I heard the first Dizzee Rascal album [Boy in Da Corner], in 2003, and then I had this outsider approach of trying to find things that were grime, without really understanding it. Then Reflex did those Grime albums.”

Which were more what became dubstep.

“Yeah. I wasn’t taking it at all seriously then … there was no album in mind, at that point it was just learning how to make music on a computer, you know? At first it would’ve been a hybrid of using the MPC the way I was before – still being quite sample-based – and arranging it in Cool Edit [laughs]. I already had a few analogue synths that I’d bought, borrowed and stole, that sort of thing, so I was already sampling them, and the first dubstep tracks I made would’ve been done that way.”

“Writing on your own is quite lonely, by definition.”


So this is like ‘Pixel Rainbow Sequence’ [Hyetal’s first single] and stuff?

“Yeah, that was a real hybrid. The track was done as like a sketch on MPC originally, and then when I started learning Logic for my course – because I had to – I took it into that and fleshed it out.”

Was it that time when you started to take things more seriously, like ‘right, I should start sending tracks to people’ and stuff?

“Well I think it was 2005 when I went to that [aforementioned] DMZ, and met a bunch of Bristol people who’d travelled up – that was Pinch, Peverelist and a bunch of other guys. I just kind of bumped into them and vaguely recognised them, so went up and introduced myself and we had a chat.”

Like a moth to a flame.

“I’d bought Peverelist’s first release on Punch Drunk without knowing it was him, so once I’d put two and two together I started going into Rooted [Records, Peverelist’s old record store in Bristol] to hand him CDs. It was then when I thought ‘well, I really like this, and I feel like I could do something and be a part of this.’

Yeah, that seems to be how a few people started getting their tunes out in Bristol.

“He’s a really important part of that whole scene, really, he connects people together. He’s such an approachable guy, and he’s always got his ear to the ground – obviously Punch Drunk being a label that’s designed to showcase new music from Bristol, he’ll listen to everything that’s relevant to him.”

And he’s stuck with it, even as the label’s got bigger. The two most recent releases are from people I’d never heard of [Kahn and Andy Mac].

“Yeah, at that point it would’ve been a real ambition to release something on Punch Drunk. So I was handing him CDs of varying quality, and the first thing he really liked was ‘Pixel Rainbow Sequence’. And although he didn’t want to sign it, I knew he liked the tune, and when it came to getting a remix, he was the first person I thought of. I nervously approached him about it, but he was totally down to do it.”

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Hyetal – ‘Phoenix’

“I started not worrying about trying to fit in with what was going on, and wrote ‘Phoenix’ soon after.”


So when was that point where you realised you were working towards something bigger, and started to work with an album in mind? I mean a lot of people will go 10 years just releasing dancefloor singles, and stay perfectly happy with that.

“I suppose I started to get a little bit of attention at the tail-end of Bristol being popular in a media sense – I guess what I was doing kind of worked in that context, with Bristol being seen as this hot-bed of new talent, and the Berlin-Bristol crossover thing with what Appleblim, Pinch, people like that were doing. It was something that interested me, although I didn’t know a lot about techno I liked the sounds, and a track like ‘We Should Light a Fire’ was kind of my attempt to fit into that.

“When the spotlight wasn’t there anymore… well, I’m just fan at the end of the day, I’m interested in all sorts of music, and what’s new, and [at that point] the stuff coming out of London really interested me – the whole new breed of producers there, the stuff that Ben UFO was playing, I loved Funky, and I did drop my tempo to try to do a few things that fit in that mould, but my music isn’t really rhythm-focussed; intricate, natural drum-programming isn’t something I can do that naturally.

“So the stuff I tried to make in that vein just didn’t really work. That’s why I started collaborating with people who were well known for doing those drums and stuff – people like Rich [Shortstuff], and it was a bit frustrating in a way, because it was achieving things that I really struggled to with my own solo stuff.

“After that I just started not worrying about trying to fit in with what was going on, and wrote ‘Phoenix’ soon after, which was 140[bpm] and felt like back-tracking.”

I remember thinking when I first heard ‘Phoenix’ how funny it was that 140bpm suddenly sounded like a throwback.

“Yeah, a few people said to me that it was an awkward tune to play, and that they’d have to speed up towards the end to get it in. It was cool they were willing to find space for it. It was a real personal tune; in the sense that here was me trying to fit into something I’m naturally not a part of – I needed to go back to my own influences, and carve out my own niche. It was really nice that people were into it.”

Did ‘Phoenix’ come before the rest of Broadcast then? It seems to really inform it, and seep into the rest of the album.

“Yeah, it was the first thing from the album I wrote. I wasn’t sure how it would work in terms of people’s DJ sets, but people seemed to like it, and that acted as a real confidence boost to do my own thing. That was when I thought that an album project would be best, and went on to pursue that.”

How did it change your approach, having the album in mind?

“It was liberating – once I knew I was writing for an album there wasn’t the pressure of writing for a 12” format, and I didn’t have to worry about structuring stuff in a way that would work for a DJ. Like ‘hold on, I can write tunes without drums’.

It’s a really cohesive record, musically. Did you have any specific intentions as to how you were going to approach it, or how it would sound?

“To just continue what I’d started with ‘Phoenix’, really, just writing for myself and not paying too much attention to what was going on around me – or, in some cases, trying to shut that off. Just going back to things that were important to me growing up in terms of what influenced me, and trying to incorporate that, like the whole soundtrack thing… more honest references.”

Yeah, I wanted to ask how much dance music you still listen to. The album sounds like you’ve been listening to less of it than before.

“I try to – I mean I still DJ, so I still keep up on that stuff and make sure I listen to what I’m being sent. I guess it’s just taking a different attitude to it – worrying less about your sets fitting in. It’s not like I dislike dance music, I love it.”

The pressure of trying to stay up on everything can be restricting though. So how did the album come together from that point? Was it quite a natural process?

“If you count ‘Phoenix’ as the starting line, it took around a year. I did ‘Phoenix’, and wasn’t necessarily sure what was happening with that, then Will [from Orca Recordings, who released the track] started his thing, and you know, he’s in London – I had faith that he would really push it, and he was the one that seemed to really get it, to be fair. He seemed like the right person to release it.

“I started writing a few similar bits around that time, like ‘Searchlight’ was written then, and then it was like ‘right, this is the start of an album’. In terms of how easy it was to write, I go through phases I suppose. Maybe one month I’ll write two tunes, then the next I won’t be able to write any. But the more I wrote, the easier it got, I guess because I got a better understanding of what the music needed to become part of this album and make sense as an album.”

“All the albums I grew up with, it was nice to form your own narrative to. There are definite themes to this album, but I’d like people to find their own interpretation of it.”


I get the impression it’s quite a personal record – the visual side and the track titles are all very evocative. Are there any particular things that shaped that side of it, or any themes that run through the titles?

“There definitely are, but I like keeping it vague. All the albums I grew up with, it was nice to form your own narrative to. There are definite themes to this album, and constants that I’d be thinking of when writing it, but I’d like people to find their own interpretation of it.”

Yeah, when you’re growing up you just cane albums and find all sorts of meanings in the lyrics and stuff that are probably nonsense, but it’s great. It happens less and less as you get older.

“There’s a lot of [ambient] recordings on it that have a certain space that resonated with me – they’re a constant throughout the album. They help make the whole thing more cohesive; it’s like taking electronic music and putting it in a natural space. That natural space – well, quite a lot of layers of natural space, actually, it’s more like a collage – they run through the entire album.”

I love how the end of the record really brings that out, where the music finishes but you’re left with two minutes of that ambient bed. You get so caught up in the synths and drums that you don’t realise it’s there until it’s laid bare for you.

“Yeah, exactly. One of those layers that’s at the end of the album runs through the entire thing. It’s in the high-end, the top of the [frequency] block throughout the whole album, so it was nice to just let it play out.”

How did you link up with Alison [Garner, vocalist on two tracks from Broadcast]?

“It was really natural actually, it just sort of fell into place. She lived with a mutual friend, and at the time I was looking for a vocalist, asking people if they knew anyone… I just found myself at said friend’s house, I didn’t really know her, but I was talking to her and she mentioned being in a band. I was making conversation, like ‘what sort of stuff does your band do?’, and she said it was a shoegaze thing, referencing My Bloody Valentine and the Cocteau Twins, who I’d both been listening to. I went home and listened to her music, and it was just perfect.”

“I think we’ll end up with Alison being a bigger part of everything, I’d like to integrate her more [into Hyetal’s live show] in the future, at the moment she only sings on like three songs. I’d like the live show to be bigger, but at the moment it’s restricted by how many people can travel, and I’m restricted by the amount of hands I have. But we’ll see. Maybe one day we can have drum solos and stuff [laughs].”

What about the visual side, will you be incorporating your own videos into it?

“Well I’ve got this guy Megazord doing a video for a track from the album called ‘The Chase’ – he’s done stuff for Oneohtrix Point Never, I think something for Games, Rene Hell… He’s got this weird collage style, using old VHS stuff. Depending on how that works out it might be nice to work on something for the live show – I definitely want someone to do it, it’s just finding the right person.”

Do you have a wildlife thing going on in general then? You wanted something with wolves in it for your backdrop at the recent FACT party.

“Yeah, absolutely. I watched a movie called The Hitcher recently, which this guy John Isham did the soundtrack for … I wanted to check out more of his stuff, so I went on IMDB, and he’d done this old Disney films in the ‘80s, not an animation, called Never Cry Wolf, about this guy that goes out to study wolves in Canada or somewhere. And it made me think about what a lonely existence it was, the idea of him being out there. I guess that’s my nature fetish at the moment.”

Well there’s quite a lonely, longing aspect to Broadcast – titles like ‘Searchlight’.

“Well what I like about collaborating is that it’s quite a social experience. Writing on your own is quite lonely, by definition … There’s obviously a middle ground between the two obviously, but I suppose you can go to two extremes: being a real workhorse producer, banging stuff out, or get very personal with it, there by yourself just doing weird things. It would be a great skill to be able to do the former, but I can’t – I spend ages on tracks.”

Tom Lea
Page 1 photo credit: Zachary Saitoti

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