To achieve anything creative that is perfect by definition is impossible. Yes it is important to have certain standards and try to live up to those to the best of your abilities, but a piece of work will never be perfect.
Travis Steward, better known as Machinedrum, is an artist who’s hard to place: his music follows no fixed formulas, rhythms or conventions.
Having released music on top ranking electronic labels Planet Mu, LuckyMe and his latest Human Energy out now on Ninja Tune, we were excited to pick his brain ahead of his show at London’s Field Day Festival.
Q) Congrats on Human Energy, do you care about what people think about an album or do you create it for your own self expressionism?
Thank you! I of course care what people think about my work, but it doesn’t affect the process or intent. At the end of the day I’m trying to make something that puts a smile on my face. Hopefully it does the same for others.
Q) Do you consider timelessness with your music?
I think it would be rather bold to intentionally write “timeless” music. You really have no control over that. Sometimes music that is timeless also borrows heavily from current trends. Music that you can break down into its simplest elements and still have something that sounds amazing is what I consider timeless.
Q) Can you tell us about your relationship with Ninja Tune, and with other artists on the label?
I definitely feel a great balance of comfort and pressure working with Ninja. Comfort because they tend to give me a great amount of freedom to do whatever kind of music I want without stepping in, and pressure to do my best work due to the staggering amount of influential releases that Ninja Tune has put out in the past–in addition to the incredible other artists they are currently releasing!
I’ve noticed most of the other artists on Ninja Tune tend to have this sort of friendly glow to them. There’s never a feel of elitism or egoism, which goes on with a lot of other electronic label artists. Bonobo is my homie! He lives up the street from me here in Echo Park. He’s the friendliest guy and has a very warm nature to him.
Q) Can you tell us your connection with Jesse Boykins III and the creative process behind the track ‘B4 The Night Is Thru’? How did that track come together?
We instantly bonded when we met in Brooklyn via Theophilus London. He would easily take notes from me and I would do the same with him. Together we learned a lot about collaboration, song writing and music in general. He’s one of my best friends; in fact, he was a groomsman in my wedding last year!
I honestly couldn’t tell you much about the writing of ‘B4 The Night Is Thru’. It was one of my earliest Ableton Live written tracks. I had been using Impulse Tracker for about 10 years up until then. I just know it was one of those songs that we wrote very quickly and naturally.
Q) What advice have you been given that has resonated with you? And knowing what you know now, what insight would you share with developing artists?
My good friend IE Merg, a former DMC World Champion, told me once to ‘Make yourself uncomfortable’. Never get too comfortable in what you’re doing, otherwise you will never grow. The easiest way to do this as a musician is to change your process. If you only write music in one tempo range or key, challenge yourself to write in a completely different tempo or key than you are used to. If you only write music using software, try to write it on hardware. Even if the new process doesn’t stick, I’m certain you will learn something that will affect the way you write music going forward.
Q) Perfectionism in creativity–a limiting force or necessary evil?
To achieve anything creative that is perfect by definition is impossible. Yes it is important to have certain standards and try to live up to those to the best of your abilities, but a piece of work will never be perfect. It is our responsibility as artists to abandon our work at some point in the process. Chances are that there will always be something you wish you had done differently to the work, so it is with this inevitability that you should also understand that perfection is unachievable and an unreasonable expectation to set for yourself.
Q) How much are you influenced creatively by external factors and wider issues such as culture and politics?
It’s hard to literally reflect external factors in non-lyrical music. Instrumental music, for me, is about capturing an emotion sonically. In the past few years since getting signed to Ninja Tune, and essentially becoming more ‘successful’, I find myself being way less self-loathing, depressed and wistful.
My emotions have instead turned to gratitude, love and joy. My music currently reflects this shift in mood and emotion, in the same way my previous records may have reflected the melancholy I had felt at the time. It is true that the current state of the world politically is quite terrifying and hopeless. I hope that my music can give people a sense of hope, as for me writing Human Energy was part of a coping mechanism.
Our phones and laptops are essentially cybernetic extensions of ourselves and thus play a heavier and heavier role in our creative endeavours, whether we like it or not.
Q) Technology has become a vital part of the creative industry. How will technology continue to influence creative practice in the future?
Technology has become a vital part in our lives as a whole, so to pinpoint exactly how it will influence the creative process is quite challenging. I think everyone’s relationship with technology is different. Some, if not most, people wholly rely on technology to create. Others may have to limit their interactions with technology in order to find their creative zone. Some people go back and forth between technological reliance and independence.
Technology is becoming less recognized as some other thing and more like something that’s part of you. I think that we have come to a point where technology has become integrated with human life. Our phones and laptops are essentially cybernetic extensions of ourselves and thus play a heavier and heavier role in our creative endeavours, whether we like it or not.
Q) What are your thoughts on Field Day Festival,? The line-up this year is incredibly good, whom do you most enjoy on the bill?
Honestly I’m not really sure what to expect. After you have been to as many festivals as I have, they all start to blend together–with a few exceptions here and there. From the looks of it, Field Day is pretty well curated so here’s to Field Day being one of those exceptions!
I’m really looking forward to seeing Aphex Twin, Moodyman, Arab Strap, Death Grips and Flying Lotus. I hope I’m not playing at the same time as any of them, one of the pitfalls of playing at crazy line-up festivals!