MAO Assembly – Isolation Music Diaries, Part One

n the first of his two-part series for MAO Assembly, Oxford-based musician, Martin Andrews aka Octavia Freud reports on music in the face of the COVID-19 pandemic. Part one sees Martin speak to DJ and electronic artist Timothy J Fairplay about his experience of social isolation, exploring the question, ‘how do you stay creative as a musician whilst under lockdown?’

Timothy J Fairplay is no stranger to Modern Art Oxford. As the music promoter for the Yard and Basement sessions at the gallery I have been able to invite Tim to play on several occasions. I recently went to his new night Dungeon Module in London just before the lockdown in order to see him DJ and invite him to play again at the gallery’s upcoming summer Yard sessions. But, like all the other venues across the UK, Modern Art Oxford is currently closed to the public and the Yard sessions will have to be postponed for now. This made me quickly realise the huge impact the lockdown was going to have on musicians and DJs who could no longer play their music at venues or perform in front of live audiences.

Image courtesy Timothy J Fairplay

I was asked by the gallery to contribute to their online MAO Assembly project, which enables conversations with audiences and creative artists following the closure of our physical gallery space. I decided to get in touch with Tim to find out how he had been affected by the lockdown and get his views on how musicians can still be creative during these uncertain times.

“I’m someone who quickly struggles if I am unable to make music, this is partly just because despite it also being my work it is still the main thing I do that I find totally absorbing.”

The first time I met Timothy Fairplay was in the mid 2000’s when we were both working in a record store in London and we were spending most of our time making our own music, DJ’ing and performing live. Tim has since run a number of music studios over the last 15 years and for the past decade he has written and recorded his own music as well as produced for other musicians. He uses classic analogue synths and drum machines, shaping electronic sounds and beats that respect the history of electronic music yet sound strangely futuristic. Tim’s music is mainly released on vinyl.  An accomplished DJ also, Tim has played at underground clubs and festivals across Europe. He has collaborated with different artists such as the renowned late lamented dance producer Andrew Weatherall (as The Asphodells). Tim performs live with a half analogue half digital set up and promotes his own club nights including Crimes Of The Future in Glasgow & London.

I started off by asking Tim how he had been affected by the current closure of venues and clubs.

 “Well, basically at this moment pretty much everything I was planning on doing this year is on hold. A lot of my earnings come from live performance, either DJ’ing or playing live, all the European festivals I was expecting to play are not happening or I am expecting to not happen. I was about to start planning another Dungeon Module party just as this really dropped in the UK, with the fact that if lockdown relaxes in say September there will be months of venues being booked out with rescheduled events, I feel its quite possible I won’t get to do another party until the end of the year or even next.”

Image courtesy Silvija Valeisaite

As someone who specifically releases new music on vinyl, he is unsure about the effect the lockdown is having on this side of the business.

“I’m still waiting to see the effect, I have actually already had two releases out since the start of this effecting the UK, there are still a few to come. Many mail order places are still shipping. But all that really depends on how long lockdown goes on for.”

Like many other musicians there has also been the issue of Tim trying to get to his studio space during the lockdown and thinking about ways to be musically creative at home instead.

“I have chosen to set up a little studio at home for the time being
 rather than travel to my studio which is about two miles away. I
 could argue that I cannot work from home as I am unable to really complete the production of music for release at home, but making electronic music is obviously not essential work either! I’m someone who quickly struggles if I am unable to make music, this is partly just because despite it also being my work it is still the main thing I do that I find totally absorbing. But also just because I still have ideas and get annoyed if I cannot act on them. So I quickly had to make sure I could continue to work in some way.”

Restrictions on the way an artist works can often lead to surprises and Tim has been open to adapting his creative environment at home.

“I am having to work with a considerably smaller set up than I have at the studio, partly because I could only bring home what can sit on my dining room table. But this is kind of cool as it is forcing me to work in different ways, I am having to use instruments in ways I generally don’t use them for instance. Or there are things I am having to do without. It’s a good thing really, when you have a big studio or a studio of any size actually it is very easy to slip into always using it the same way, anything that forces you out of this can actually end up being very inspiring. In fact the change of setting can be inspiring too, sitting staring at the same wall can stifle ideas alone.”

Tim’s home studio. Image courtesy Timothy J Fairplay

It feels odd to be talking about home studios after all these years when this was the sort of equipment we started out using. It made me think about how it isn’t necessarily the quality of the machines musicians use but the care they take to bring their own sound and feel out of them that really matters. As a musician myself I have been trying to use my time away from the workplace to work on tracks at home. Tim has his own take on the need to be more creative during the current lockdown.

“There has been a lot made during this lockdown that you ‘must use it creatively’ but I don’t
 think people should feel there is a way that they
 should react to this situation, to be honest, it’s
 pretty scary and there will be people out there 
totally suffering from inertia… the last thing
 they are thinking about is making music or 
painting or whatever. Also it’s us lucky few who are just worrying if the pandemic is gonna stop people listening to our DJ mixes, but there are loads of people who have to drive buses, work in hospitals who are on the frontline. But then again it’s the modern world so probably they all DJ too!”

He also feels that current events may be changing the way musicians and DJ’s promote their work, particularly electronic artists who are more used to using digital platforms as opposed to a musicians that rely more on a physical stage.

“Its quite normal for me to have something to promote pretty much weekly on my social media, I have a regular radio show, I do podcasts for others, there’s links to new records I have out or coming soon etc so I guess I don’t feel I need to do more digitally in this time, just carry on the same the best I can. I care if what I put up is good, more than that I get attention. With all the endless live streaming and ‘how I’m feeling today’ videos quite a few artists are posing on their social media. I do feel DJ’s are (maybe inevitably) at risk of finally just becoming Influencers.”

Record cover. Image courtesy Timothy J Fairplay

Tim appears slightly wary of the proliferation of online content by musicians who, through their need to gain exposure for their music, are using as many ways to reach out to new audiences as they can find. Yet when I ask him about the way arts organisations could respond to the lockdown by helping to support artists it feels natural the conversation turns back to the possibilities of online content and live performances. Tim believes art galleries could fulfill this role by hosting events themselves:

“I think streamed live events are an interesting idea, there is already a lot of streamed DJ stuff out there, but less live”.

Tim is currently working on a project designed for when the lockdown is eased.

“I have recently finished a project where I have re-soundtracked a horror/sci-fi film from the 1970’s which I guess now seems quite topical. My plan is to perform my new soundtrack live in time with the film at some point in the future. The live streaming of films with newly composed and performed live soundtracks could be a very interesting and different angle to the live streamed music model.”

Tim and Andrew Weatherall. Image courtesy Timothy J Fairplay

As we wrap up the conversation and reflect on how much the virus will impact on all our lives we realise it is oddly ironic that shortly after Tim’s music collaborator and close friend Andrew Weatherall died, the man known as the Guv’nor to the dance community, the whole of the world’s club scene was closed down, even if just temporarily to keep us all safe. Strange times.

I finish by asking Tim if he would be up for doing an exclusive DJ podcast mix for Modern Art Oxford’s website?

“Sure thing, in the meantime you can check out my mix on my Threads Radio show”.

Watch this space.

In part two of his series for MAO Assembly, Martin Andrews talks to artists from the local Oxford music scene to see how they are being creative during lockdown.

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