Name: El Hardwick
Occupation: Photographer, director, curator, musician, multidisciplinary artist
Recent release: El Hardwick's new single "Body Memory", featuring Mabe Fratti, is out via Desire Lines.
Recommendations: Recently I’ve been particularly enjoying harp player Marysia Osu’s Loop Collection EP. I’m also really looking forward to Clay AD’s new book Holy Bodies, which will be published by Pilot Press this summer.
[Read our Mabe Fratti interview]
If you enjoyed this interview with El Hardwick and would like to find out more, visit their official homepage. They're also on Instagram, Facebook, Soundcloud.
When did you start writing/producing/playing music and what or who were your early passions and influences? What was it about music and/or sound that drew you to it?
I’ve created visual art for as long as I can remember, however I started making music when I was nineteen.
The formal music curriculum never worked for me, so I figured being a musician was a skill I didn’t have, until I started playing around with a friend’s synth and a microphone run through a loop pedal. Everything made so much more sense when it was about creating loops, layering tracks and synthesizing sounds from scratch, as I could create music which didn’t rely on the speed of my fingers or reading sheet music. Electronic production also connected so much more to the music I’ve loved since childhood, as my parents brought me up listening to Björk, Underworld, Orbital and William Orbit.
[Read our Orbital interview]
I also didn’t realise I could sing until passing my driving test coincided with my friend giving me Kate Bush’s discography burned to CD. The car was the first place where I’d ever felt alone enough to sing loudly, and Kate really was the voice that I learned to sing along to. I’ve always been drawn to conceptual artists who draw from many different genres and influences.
When I listen to music, I see shapes, objects and colours. What happens in your body when you're listening and how does it influence your approach to creativity?
I absolutely associate everything I hear or compose with a colour. This is also very important to me during the process of creating artwork for a release, both for my own music, and when I’m commissioned to take photographs for other musicians.
How would you describe your development as an artist in terms of interests and challenges, searching for a personal voice, as well as breakthroughs?
I’ve always allowed my intuition to lead when making music, by choosing sounds, samples and patterns I feel naturally drawn to. As someone who has no formal training, I’m rarely overly intentional about adhering to specific genre traits – which I enjoy using to my advantage.
Beginning to DJ six years ago taught me a lot more about genre conventions, and also improved my understanding of mixing. At that time, I was leaning towards making more club-appropriate music. Learning those rules was in some ways helpful in order to understand how and when to break them.
Something I’m learning since releasing my debut album 8 is how to strip things back, allow more imperfection and work ‘off the grid’ of Ableton Live more often. Sort of the antithesis to how club music relies on a steady rhythm.
I feel like with the first album, it was tempting to throw a lot of ideas into it because of it being my first album. Whilst I do believe such maximalism made conceptual sense for 8’s cyberpunk themes, the next release I’m working on is more minimal and organic.
Tell me a bit about your sense of identity and how it influences both your preferences as a listener and your creativity as an artist, please.
Part of my identity that has influenced my practice is living with chronic illness since 2019. I was very involved in the London nightlife scene before that, but since then clubbing has felt inaccessible to me. I’ve since fallen deeply in love with the healing power of ambient music, which has been a huge inspiration for my current work.
Being trans and queer, I’m also definitely drawn to queer music approaches – in the sense of “queering” as a verb that alludes to breaking down normativity. I’ve always loved musicians who constantly reinvent themselves, break conventions and mix sound palettes in unexpected ways. My queerness and non-binary identity come into my music and art in subtle ways I think – I wouldn’t say my work is often directly about it. But I’ve always been interested in how life can be more broadly less binary.
This played a big role on my debut album, as thematically it looks outside of patriarchal concepts of linear storytelling and contemplates how binary constructs of good-versus-evil narratives are used to create polarising politics. My new single is probably the most direct I’ve been around my transness: it looks at the gender dysphoria that came up for me around a breakup I experienced in 2020, and how I healed from that.
What, would you say, are the key ideas behind your approach to music and art?
Storytelling is always at the centre of what I do. The narrative for a project always comes first, and then it’s working out how to translate that story into a medium. Sometimes the appropriate medium is music, other times it’s another art form.
When I make a release, I consider making each track like writing a chapter in a story, until the story feels complete.
How would you describe your views on topics like originality and innovation versus perfection and timelessness in music? Are you interested in a “music of the future” or “continuing a tradition”?
I am absolutely always drawn to how we can innovate new forms of music for the future. That’s the music I want to listen to the most. Especially in a time when organisations like Spotify celebrate the functionality of muzak playlists over less categorizable forms of creativity.
However, I’m not against nostalgia or referencing in the context of reimagining and reinventing – for example, taking elements of something that’s been heard before, but placing them in a new context. Or if certain perspectives have been erased from a genre in the past, returning to them to include the excluded. I’d love to see a queering of so many genres that were dominated or coopted by rich, cis, straight, white men – for example, classical music.
But there is also something historically communal about folk coming together to collectively sing a familiar song that has been passed down through generations. In this context, I’m talking about religious songs and protest songs. This communal experience can be an antidote to how capitalism rewards individualism and fame.
To me playing music together like this isn’t about the reproduction or promotion of a music tradition for the benefit of an individual’s ego - it’s about tradition as ritual, which is a very different thing to creating original art for an audience.
Over the course of your development, what have been your most important instruments and tools - and what are the most promising strategies for working with them?
Ableton Live really works for me. It instantly felt intuitive; my approach to making music is very visual and I love how working with a DAW supports that. I get very absorbed in all the fine tuning I can do in there, and something as simple as getting a new plugin or sample pack always keeps it inspiring.
I’ve otherwise always made music with whatever instruments I can access. Synths have always been at the centre of everything I make, whether mine, friends’ or samples. I do dream of more physicality – but that’s what I love about using both my voice and field recordings as instruments. They’re always available, and can be manipulated in infinite ways once in Live.
Take us through a day in your life, from a possible morning routine through to your work, please.
Working freelance, I feel very lucky to manage my own schedule. Everyday is different, especially moving between my work as a photographer, director and musician - and I currently also study a horticulture course one day a week.
Making music for me has always been shaped around whatever else I have going on, and I have to be in a very clear mind set for it. It’s important to me that music stays as a passion for me first and foremost, so I rarely push myself to create when I’m not feeling it.
When I started, I just made music in my bedroom, but recently I’ve been going to friends’ studios to work which gives me a lot more focus and clarity. The only consistent routine I have is opening the bedroom door and giving my cat cuddles in the morning, before showering and then making a cup of green tea and a cooked breakfast. I really value resting and eating regularly or I can’t function. My cat’s routine has also given me a sense of structure which I really cherish.
I also always make sure to get outside for a small walk everyday. To clear my head, get fresh air, and to remind myself that there was a time in my life where I was too unwell to walk – to be able to do it again is a gift.