Rising to prominence during the later years of Bristol's dubstep explosion, David Corney, aka Hyetal, first attracted attention for a series of colourful, bass-heavy tracks that focused squarely on the dancefloor. His album-length releases, though, have seen him steadily move away from current club trends and on to explore wider possibilities within electronic music. His newly released second album, Modern Worship, finds him teaming up with former Golden Silvers frontman Gwilym Gold and The Fauns' Alison Garner to create tracks that develop around determined song structures and themes, using the layering of synthetic textures as a means of conveying imagery and emotion.
Moving away somewhat from the ambience and slowed tempos of debut album Broadcast, the music on Modern Worship tends towards higher tempos and, at times, even mechanistic aggression. With their intricate layering and solid rhythmic foundations, tracks like 'Northwest Passage' and '1000 Lights' exemplify the feel of the record, coupling machine-gun percussion with overlapped, ethereal synth work and the ghostly vocals of his collaborators. As an entire piece of work, it feels closer than ever before to solidifying his unique '80s-infused, dance crossover aesthetic.
As well as his own solo work, Corney is also known for his collaborations with several fellow Bristol-based DJs and producers, including Julio Bashmore (with whom he works under the joint moniker Velour), Peverelist and Kowton. They highlight his versatility as a producer while also drawing attention to certain particular traits that recur throughout his work: in particular an ear for glittering, synthesised melody. Indeed, he's just released his first collaborative 12" with Kowton under the name Systems of Desire, which melds together Hyetal's more melodic aspects with the former's gritty, grimey techno.
Fresh from a weekend at Glastonbury and set to embark on a number of dates in the UK over the summer as well as European festivals and a slot joining Bashmore in the US, the Quietus caught up with Corney to talk about his latest record, his views on the current state of the Bristol music scene and plans for the future.
The percussion and general feel of Modern Worship seems more mechanical and aggressive than that of your debut Broadcast. Was that a conscious decision?
Dave Corney: Yeah, I guess it was. I think, rhythmically, the stuff I've done has always been pretty mechanical and it's a feel that I'm drawn to when programming. But [Modern Worship] is more obvious in that regard because I actually used a lot of drum machines, programming sounds and then recording them into the computer, which created some pretty mechanical rhythms.
How much were you influenced by your last record when you came to make Modern Worship? Did you react against it or work towards a progression in sound?
DC: It was a bit of both I think. There were certain things that I developed writing Broadcast that I wanted to carry over, such as the sense of ambient space and atmospheric noise that give the impression that the music is not just coming from inside a computer. There were also, though, many things that I felt I'd done and I didn't want to make the same record again, so I changed a few things, such as experimenting writing songs at much faster tempos than I had done before and collaborating with Gwilym Gold. There were a few things that I wanted to continue to establish my sound but I don't ever want to make the same record again.
Much of the record feels texturally consistent - is that something you strive for when working on an LP-length release?
DC: Yeah, definitely, they're generally written as albums. With Broadcast there were a couple of tracks that were written before I thought of making the album, but after that it was written sequentially. Modern Worship didn't come about quite as straightforward as that, but I wrote the songs in blocks, and there are sets of three or four tracks that flow together in a sequential order that I couldn't imagine any other way on the album.
You started off producing pretty colourful, bass-heavy dance tracks like 'Gold Or Soul', but since then you've progressed to broaden your influence beyond the dancefloor. Did anything inspire that shift?
DC: 'Gold Or Soul' was written around the time that I'd recently moved to Bristol and I found a lot of stuff really inspiring about the dance scene there. I was trying to be a part of that, but I felt as if I never really managed it; those tracks were the kind of ones that people played at the start or end of their set as a bit of a curveball, and they never ticked all the boxes of big dancefloor songs. That would have been around 2009/2010, and when the whole dubstep scene was winding down there I realised that the music I was making wasn't fitting into it. So I worried a lot less about it and started doing whatever I found interesting. I went back to the influences that I had a while before then and tried to let them come across more, such as experimenting with writing instrumental hip hop as a teenager, sampling '70s electronic music and film soundtracks that I'd always collected.
Compared to when you first started making music in Bristol at the beginning of the whole dubstep phenomenon to now, do you still feel that Bristol is as relevant, in terms of music, as it was then?
DC: I don't think it's quite as relevant at the moment, to be honest. [Dubstep] was a weird thing that no one could put their finger on really, and so there were a whole bunch of producers making music that could be sonically tied together with their use of bass and similar tempos. In reality, though, people were bringing together all sorts of strange influences and they were playing it in clubs, so it felt like a really unique scene. That's what drew me to Bristol, because I didn't have much of a background in dance music, so it was really exciting to me. We don't quite have that at the moment.
So, would you consider moving anywhere else? Are there other places in the country whose music scene might fit what you're doing at the moment?
DC: No, I think I've kind of gone off into my own weird direction now [laughs]. I mean, I was just living really close to Rooted Records, which was a hub for that music in Bristol. A lot of producers were hanging out there so it didn't really feel like a scene, it was just exciting music that people I knew were making. I think consciously trying to fit into a scene is probably not a very good idea.
I've heard you describe your music in terms of a visual landscape, and both the album art and track titles like 'Four Walls', 'Cloud Bridge' and 'Northwest Passage' on Modern Worship seem architectural. Were you influenced in the making of this record by your own urban surroundings in Bristol?
DC: Not directly, they're all fantasised visuals I think. Music has always been a very visual thing for me and I've always had an overactive imagination. When I first started buying records and I was into hip hop, I was also collecting film soundtracks, so I've consistently had a strong interest in how music can portray an aspect of visual perception.
You've collaborated with a number of fellow Bristolians, including your outfit as Velour with Julio Bashmore and an EP with Peverelist. What appeals to you about collaborating with other producers?
DC: Well I think that is something that's down to Bristol - because it's so small a lot of people collaborate together. Collaborating with producers is a different experience, things like Velour are their own ongoing project, and it's distinct from what I do as Hyetal, which is a bit more personal and introspective. Also, with the collaborative stuff you can play off each other's strengths and it's good fun.
How do collaborations with vocalists like Gwilym Gold compare to collaborating with electronic producers?
DC: With Gwilym it's quite similar actually because he's very hands-on. He wasn't interested in doing a collaboration where I would send him a finished track and he'd write a top line, he wanted to be involved from start to finish. He asked for the stems of the tracks and then actually restructured them and added melodic parts, so in that sense it was similar to working with a producer because he got fully involved in the writing.
You've got a new collaboration with Kowton coming out soon on the Happy Skull label. Is there anything you can tell us about the direction you'll be moving in on that EP?
DC: The thing with Kowton came about because friends of ours, the Kelly Twins, had an idea to set up a label, and approached us to see if we'd be up for doing a collaboration to launch it. Kowton and I are really good friends because he lives about five minutes down the road from me, and on paper a collaboration sounded like a really interesting prospect because Kowton's stuff is not typically melodic and I tend to lean quite heavily on that side of things. We thought it would be interesting if we could find the sweet spot in the middle with his distorted percussion and my melodies. We worked on a track together and were about three quarters of the way through and then decided it would be interesting if we both finished it separately and had a different take on it, so that's what will be released on the EP.
In addition to your DJing, will you be working on more solo material from now, or do you have other plans for the future such as any live shows?
DC: There are a few live shows booked in for the summer, and we've done a few already, it's a set that involves Gwilym and Alison [Garner] with the three of us on stage for the whole thing. We worked it out in that format, so we'll all be triggering a lot of stuff live and playing some of the synths from the record. We've also written harmony parts for each other's songs. The timing of the record isn't ideal to get in on festivals, but we're hoping to have a run of gigs and maybe tour. I've also kept a foot in the DJ side of things because it's something that I really love doing and it's an important part of what I do musically. I mean, all I do is music, so there has to be a bunch of things going on [laughs] so there will be more from Velour, and maybe more stuff with Kowton as well.
[This piece was originally published on The Quietus on 09/07/13]