This interview originally featured in The Skinny.
Aidan Moffat bids farewell to L. Pierre with a carefully constructed final offering that picks apart our changing consumer habits and professes the death of vinyl
We meet up with Aidan Moffat at Glasgow’s Glad Cafe just hours after Theresa May’s surprise appearance as the corpse of Thatcher dug up from Stephen King’s Pet Cemetery. He’s remarkably upbeat; she didn’t announce a world war at least. Perhaps optimism is a symptom of the setting-in of middle age that he refers to a lot lately – he’s attempting a new regime of early nights and less booze; we drink tea so he doesn’t stink of beer for the school run. Despite being a self-anointed grump, his chat is woven with hearty belly-laughs and impish chuckles. The old mischief remains and he can’t resist stirring, putting the proverbial two fingers up when he can, something he does beautifully on the fifth and final offering, 1948 –, from solo project L. Pierre.
1948 – is a carefully crafted comment on the state of the music industry and the changing habits of music consumption. Sampled from the very first 33 1/3rpm 12″ LP pressed (recorded in 1948) – a Nathan Milstein version of a popular Mendelssohn violin concerto that Moffat ripped from YouTube in its entirety – it jolts and unsettles in more than just its musical delivery. It’s presented entirely sleeveless, pushes the sounds to the end of the record’s locked groove and is available in a limited run (although he admits it’s already on a second pressing). The private SoundCloud stream being used for review purposes will completely disappear upon the record’s release (28 Apr).
“I was reading about the history of vinyl and about how LPs began and it struck me that the LP is kind of in the same position now as it was in the 50s,” he begins. “In 1948 the Mendelssohn concerto was the very first thing to be released as a 12″ LP but it was always marketed at adults, it was a grown-up format. Then as rock and pop music came in, when the first 7″ happened it was two different generations listening to these formats.
“The kids were buying seven inches because they were cheaper and they had music that appealed to young people, whereas albums were pretty much classical pieces or soundtracks to shows or Frank Sinatra or jazz. The 7″ was the pop format and albums were the adult format. I think that’s where we’re at now, except instead of [the] 7” we’ve got streaming. It struck me that it’s pretty much come full circle, the LP, and I don’t think it’s got anywhere to go.”
Moffat has been openly critical of the rising popularity of streaming services and their impact on artists’ ability to make a living. “I don’t want it to sound like a tirade against streaming because the battle is lost, the war is lost,” he states. “There’s no point fighting streaming because me, and people like me, were roundly defeated. But we’ve mainly been defeated because streaming, like any big business, is a sweatshop. It’s great for consumers, it’s great for the platform, the business, but the workers are getting fucking shagged.
“It’s pretty much the age-old story with music contracts,” he continues. “There were so many pop stars who made, wrote and performed amazing records that never saw a fucking penny. It’s kind of going back to that attitude I think – even politically, everything seems to be returning back to this place where things are getting harder and harder, to be heard certainly. Voices are getting silenced and music is a part of that too.”
He doesn’t buy as many records as he once did, but still cherishes his old vinyl. Now it’s about paying for digital albums and listening to MP3s on his phone; he doesn’t really need LPs in his life and is dismissive of people that buy and never play them. “Part of the reason physical formats aren’t as popular as they used to be is because the process of listening to music for most people now is an intimate act,” he suggests. “You’re almost plugging it in to your body, literally. That need for physical contact isn’t there as much and people of my generation, us middle-aged weirdos that like to touch music, are on the way out. In 40 years we’ll all be gone so I can’t imagine vinyl’s survival beyond that.”
The survival of 1948 – in its physical sense is as pivotal to its concept as the way the music on it sounds. Presented ‘naked’, without artwork and with just a copy of the letter Moffat sent to Melodic Records introducing the idea, it’s designed to scuff and scar. “As much as I love vinyl I’ve never been one of these fucking snobs. I hate that ‘warm sound’ argument, who gives a fuck! What’s important is the music in a song, the sense of a song, the words, that’s what people connect with,” he says. “I could hear it through the shittiest fucking system… like all these brilliant old blues records you hear, they still sound amazing. Terrible recording but they sound brilliant, because of the bad recording a lot of the time as well.
“It’s the same with the samples I’ve used… it has the idea that it’s survived. I really like the idea there is a mobility to that sound, something has been through a lot and managed to survive,” he explains. “It’s the same reason for doing it with no sleeve – it will survive through this process of you taking it home, it might have a few scars and scratches but it will still be there. We did talk about that too, that people who would normally buy LPs will be fucking furious! It isn’t really intended [to irritate them] but it is an amusing side effect of it certainly. I wanted it to get damaged. All the LP records started with that sort of dusty, scratched, surface noise sound and I thought ‘why don’t we make that part of the actual record itself?’
“I initially thought about doing a glass paper sleeve with the paper inside so every time you took it out it would get worse and worse. The problem with that is I’d have had to do it all by hand, it would have been an enormous job,” he says. “Secondly there was that old Durutti Column album (The Return of the Durutti Column) in the 80s that was made of a sandpaper sleeve, which was a different thing as [it] was on the outside and the idea was it destroyed everything it came in to contact with, which was brilliant and funny, but I felt [my idea] was a bit too close to that as well. Then I thought ‘fuck the sleeve, let’s just leave it to the elements, let it live and breathe in the world’.”
It feels like a neat end to the project, and Moffat likes neat endings. L. Pierre has always been his most leftfield stream of work, and his swansong is no exception. Moving, unsettling, and at times a little harrowing, 1948 – might spark differing opinions, but it again marks Moffat out as utterly unique among his peers. “It’s interesting what people say. I’ve seen a couple of people say that I haven’t really done anything, that I’ve just lifted this stuff and put it on a record, which I quite like, I quite like the mystery behind it because it kind of shows that people don’t really know the original piece. Which I don’t expect them to, I didn’t know it until I heard it, but I think it’s curious that they think this [new LP] is what Mendelssohn’s concerto sounded like. It wasn’t like that at all!”