Neko Neko has hidden a debut LP under his red woolly hat for some time now, but fine-tuning and perfectionism since 2014’s taster 7”, Between Two Cities (Pt.1), has delayed both the long-awaited similarly titled album’s release via Manchester hip hop label My First Moth and this interview with the artist more formally known as Graham Shortland.

Since writing and recording as Neko Neko, Shortland’s output has always shown glimmers of invention that colour between the lines of hip hop beats and melodic electronica. His 2010 Orange Side of the Moon digital reimagining of Pink Floyd was followed a year later by a conceptual beat tape which fuses the contents of a Readers Digest box set – or in his words, “utter shit, middle of the road lounge and easy listening crap” – into something infinitely more listenable.

As his musical profile grew, he began to collaborate with other artists, most notably singer-songwriter Najia Bagi after remixing two tracks from her The Electronic Exchange project, and released various singles, remixes, one-offs and compilation tracks via a pair of local imprints, My First Moth and Mind On Fire. The LP represents the culmination of the various styles of both sound and production methods acquired over this time, best described by Shortland himself, so ahead of the Between Two Cities LP dropping on 28 October, Graham told us about his most productive times, live performance plans, interest in science and the local music community.

This issue, we’re also featuring Nathan McIlroy’s full review of Between Two Cities, here, complete with an exclusive listen to the first track to be lifted from the album, ‘Waiting (feat Najia Bagi)’.

How does your music making process work?

I mainly work at night between 11pm and 3am. I like to work as quickly as possible, so an idea doesn’t get boring or old enough to give up on. There’s not really a set order in which stuff is done, but it will usually start one of three ways. I start with drums, I mess around with ideas until I find something to fire from or I’ll just be sitting around and have an idea followed by a sudden urge to spew it out musically. The last one is the most fun and the second is the most common.

Workflow-wise, I like to use analogue gear, old and new. I find the hands-on approach much more appealing and I find computers kill creativity for most tasks. Recently, I’ve been working on stuff and getting a song as finished as possible, usually in one sitting, and then record the whole thing into the computer for editing. I like this way as it forces me to make creative decisions quickly and whilst the idea is still hot. Previously, I used to layer things up until the song was complete.

For the producer heads, my favourite bits of kit are my MPC2500, Eurorack modular, Roland SH-09, Roland Alpha Juno, Memory Man delay and Rhodes. Compressors. Lots of compressors.

What are your inspirations outside of music?

I like science and space. The more mind-bending, the better. Not that I am particularly knowledgeable about it or even fully understand it sometimes. I think it’s the element of the unknown or undiscovered that I find inspiring. I guess the fact that new ways of thinking are being used to discover new information is useful in the music area too. Studying patterns can also be inspiring in the same way.

I find some inspiration in Japanese anime and computer games as well. The Japanese approach to anime and storytelling is unique and therefore helps to see musical ideas and techniques from a different angle.

Do you have any plans to play the songs live? Do you see a return to vocalist collaborations, like with Najia Bagi, or more instrumentation in your sets?

Yes, I have plans to play the album out in some way. Completely live is a difficult task though. Electronic music just translates really badly live, in my opinion. It’s a tough nut to crack, but can be done.

I ditched my old way of performing with a laptop/controller a while back and have been trying different ideas. Some work, some don’t. I am definitely open to more live instrumentation in sets, as I come from a background of playing instruments.

I really enjoyed the process of working with Najia. Working with live vocals in my style of music can be challenging, but the rewards are satisfying and it’s something I would like to explore more in the future. I think working with a male vocalist would be even more difficult. It would really stand out from other electronic/vocal tracks though.

How has working with My First Moth, Mind On Fire and other Manchester labels shaped your music?

Tough question and hard to say! I can definitely say working with My First Moth made me make more hip hop stuff. I used to make it just for fun, but when we started to release some of it, the feedback was great, so I focused on it more.

I would definitely say the overall advantage has been the community, support and opportunity. From working with different people and styles of music I wouldn’t normally work with, to the support and critical creative feedback. It’s all very valuable and a positive thing.

Now that you’ve gone into rewiring electronics as a job, has this fed into the way you make music?

Not really, haha. I’ve had access to some amazing equipment, which can be inspiring and useful when writing. Guess I’ve made some great equipment for myself that helps sculpt the sound too.

Some of the production work I’ve done for sample libraries and TV has changed things a bit. Basically, it made me work quicker and more efficiently. In some cases, creativity benefits from a well-defined set of boundaries. I’ve implemented some of these techniques when writing Neko stuff and it’s helped.

Having waited so long for this record, will the next be like waiting for a bus?

Depends on how your buses run. Late or all at once? Haha.

I’ve got loads more material finished or nearly finished, so hopefully not too long until another record is ready. Currently working on something very different to the album, but if that sees the light of day is another question. Other projects under other aliases have come and gone since starting this album too. There are beat tapes completed but not sent out, and new collaborations in the works. I would be very happy if there was a steady stream of Neko material comprising of the different styles I work in, so maybe I will try to make that happen.

The Between Two Cities album review and exclusive first track feature are available here.

Ian Pennington