"We created this record in a hopeful frame of mind. Perhaps we even used it as a way to daydream a little, to imagine a more positive vision of the future, and I think some of that did permeate the music."
London instrumentalists Portico Quartet draw on the inspiration of electronica, ambient, classical and dance music to craft their own brand of minimalist sounds. At the lead edge of the capital's electronic scene, the band's exponential creativity and development in style has captured our interest over the course of their six studio albums, keeping us excited to see what the band will do next.
Following the brilliant ambient-minimalist suite Terrain in spring of 2021, Portico Quartet now present Monument, released 12th November on Gondwana Records.
Where the former addressed the more depressing side of the pandemic, Monument is intended as an ode to better times ahead, combining human touch with electronic efficiency to deliver a streamlined, rhythmic sound that finds the widescreen minimalists at their very best. We caught up with the band to recount key influences, sound evolution and autonomy as well as the challenges faced in the design of their 'most direct' album to date.
Portico Quartet - Live + Signing at Rough Trade East
Monument is a more electronic driven album, was there an aim to incorporate a more club influenced sound or part of a natural expansion of sound and new exploration?
We were quite clear from the beginning of the process of writing Monument of what we were trying to achieve – although you can never really control or predict exactly what will emerge during the writing process. Over the years we’ve learnt to try and establish frameworks and parameters around a record before we begin writing. They are there to help focus and galvanise our collective efforts, to coalesce our ideas into something cogent and meaningful. Monument followed on from ideas we had been exploring since 2017’s Art in the Age of Automation. We were trying to stretch those ideas and impulses even further. Jack summed it up well:
"It’s possibly our most direct album to date. It’s melodic, structured and there’s an economy to it that is very efficient. There’s not much searching or wastage within the music itself, it is all finalised ideas, precisely sculpted and presented as a polished artefact"
Over the course of your six studio albums, you have defied being categorised as one sound, drawing from jazz, electronica, ambient music and minimalism. Are there any other unusual influences you would cite as shaping your music or Monument in particular (in music or outside of music?)
We have always been inquisitive and pretty resistant to categorisation. It’s true that we draw widely in a musical sense for inspiration, and I suppose aside from the usual references, at least for myself I find a great deal of inspiration in art, film, literature. Those aren’t particularly unusual influences, however - the history of art is one of dialogue and communication across time and mediums.
Terrain and Monument were briefly two parts of the same record, what influenced the decision to go with separate albums and a new direction of vision and sound?
We went into the writing process during the pandemic aiming to write Monument but there was a sense early on, that we both felt an urge, a need even, to write something that articulated how we were feeling in this incredibly disorientating, overwhelming moment. For a time, we thought we might be able to fuse the two ideas, these shorter, economical tracks, with their inverse, a long open piece. In the end it proved impossible – each work insisted upon their own autonomy and it was an easy decision to make. Both works were saying something different and needed their own space and context to fully make sense.
Did you face any challenges in turning this around after the acclaimed Terrain LP this year and do you expect the projects to be received in the same way?
Well in fact, these records were written and recorded in tandem at the same time, which feels quite unique, and odd in a way. During the lockdowns of 2020, like many other musicians and artists, the studio was the only place we could really safely visit, so it provided an opportunity to continue working. We had the choice and opportunity to release these two records whichever way round we liked and in the end we decided to release Terrain in the earlier part of 2021 before Monument, as we felt it had more of a connection to this intense period everyone had been living through. We hoped that with Monument set for release later in the year things might be a little more back to ‘normal’ which suited the tone of that record. Even though there are common threads between them, they are vastly different records with unique characteristics.
Monument is releasing as audiences have become fully acquainted with live music once again. Did the absence of live music have an impact on the creation of the album? Will there be anything different about the way you perform your new material?
We created this record in a hopeful frame of mind. Perhaps we even used it as a way to daydream a little, to imagine a more positive vision of the future, and I think some of that did permeate the music. Regarding the performance of the new music, I think it’ll follow similar lines to the setup we’ve been using for several years now.
The band are playing at Rough Trade East this November. Does preparing for an intimate show like this differ from the regular live circuit?
It does in a way, mainly because it’s the first time we’ve ever performed any of this music live, so there is always so much to do. There is a fair deal of preparation and rehearsing that goes into pulling everything together and translating the recorded music to a live show, and strangely, I always find the more intimate shows such as Rough Trade far more nerve wracking than bigger shows. It has something to do with how exposed you feel on stage.
What’s next for the band after this release. Should we expect to see Portico Quartet continue in progression into more electronic textures?
What’s next is a hard question to answer. We’ve been pretty productive for the last few years and it might be time for a chance to take stock and consider things a little. It’s been hugely rewarding releasing two significant albums in the same year and a real privilege as well. We really enjoyed playing Terrain recently in both Hamburg as well as in London, with a larger ensemble, but we’ll have to see what happens.