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3 apr. 2020

Interview met Dark Smoke Signal

De Engelse stad Bristol wordt ook wel beschouwd als de bakermat van het genre triphop. Bekende namen als Massive Attack en Portishead zetten het genre en de stad op de muzikale kaart. Iemand die ook zeker tussen alle namen hoort te staan is Alex Pope aka Dark Smoke Signal. Met al meer dan 25 jaar ervaring in de muziek, maakt Alex de laatste tijd synth muziek met als resultaat het spannende album ¨The Antipope Resurrection¨. Tijd voor een interview!

The English city of Bristol is also considered to be the birthplace of the trip hop genre. Well-known names such as Massive Attack and Portishead put the genre and the city on the musical map. Someone who should definitely be among all names is Alex Pope aka Dark Smoke Signal. With over 25 years of experience in music, Alex has been making synth music lately, resulting in the exciting album "The Antipope Resurrection". Time for an interview!

Dark Smoke Signal

Alex, can you please introduce yourself?
Certainly, my real name is Alex Pope - my surname gave me the inspiration for 'Dark Smoke Signal' (the signal from the Vatican when a Pope remains unelected) and eventually the concept for my album. I am based in Bristol in the UK (home of pirates, cider, Massive Attack and Banksy) and have been making synth based music for a relatively short time but been involved in music creation for about 25 years now.

Congratulations on your new album ¨The Antipope Resurrection¨. Can you share your concept for this album with us?
Thank you. It's a concept that's been forming in my head gradually for the last year or so as I created the tracks. My heart lies with music that packs a punch at the heavy end of the spectrum generally. The first tapes I ever bought were those ´80s metal concept albums from the likes of Iron Maiden (initially due to the detailed artwork rather than the music!) so I wanted to try and recreate that kind of vibe but with the modern synth production of course. I've tried to tell a chapter of the over-arching story with each track - I like to think that there's a lot of variation of styles in the sound design from Slayer-esque synth riffs to Space Synthwave. Here’s the bumpf from the electronic press kit;

The album is the soundtrack to a horror film that has not been made; the Sci-fi tale of the apocalyptic return of the time-travelling Antipope in cyberpunk form, hell bent on revenge against the Catholic Church. Inspired by the real life figure from the 15th Century; Pirate Baldassarre Cossa who was Antipope John XXIII during the Western Schism. Aiming for a similar tone to the film Kung Fury, tracks have some outlandish themes including Nazi tank battles, nuclear warfare and cyborg blade runners hunting Priests!

Incorporating elements of metal, dubstep, 90’s trance, nu-metal, gothpop and even classical music all flambĂ©ed with a splash of 80's cock-rock guitar into a melting pot of ingredients so uncool it’s delicious. DSS paints a dark cinematic world with splashes of colour to ease the tension.

Dark Smoke Signal - The Antipope Resurrection - Cassette
(Outrageous plug alert; still available on cassette at Bandcamp)

How would you reflect your album to the situation in the world nowadays with COVID-19?
A dystopian themed darksynth album with an apocolyptic religious concept is certainly not the most comfortable thing to try and get across in the current climate that's for sure! I just hope the kind of tongue in cheek horror movie vibe to it comes across to people and they take it as a bit of escapism. The release timing couldn't be worse/better depending which way you look at it! It had been planned to that date for months and we didn't really want to back out due to other planned releases on the label so just ran with it. I was due to travel to promo the album on radio and literally the second we put out a tweet to let people know, the station (temporarily I hope!) closed due to COVID. Of course, people have much more important things on there mind but music for so many takes you on a journey some place else... even if that is Dystopia!


Does what´s happening now inspire you for creating new music and in what style?
No in all honesty. I just stick my headphones on, start doodling away and build up tracks from tiny seeds usually. My songs are usually either two ends of the spectrum; really personal to me and a way of getting my thoughts out there or a glimps inside my weird mind with some off-the-wall escapism. I do think the world is going to be markedly different when we come out the other side - hopefully people will appreciate, support and nurture what really matters in life a bit more. Check me out with the armchair philosophy!

What is your favorite song on ¨The Antipope Resurrection¨ and why?
Now that is a great but difficult question to answer! The tracks mean different things to me for example, Tearing the Wings off an Angel was definitely my most ambitious song to date with over 40 separate tracks to mix, I love Fallen Idol's contrasting halves which help tell the story and the simple melody of the lead synth behind the vocoder, which just fell into place. End Credits (A New Hope) was one of those tracks that just pours out of you and i finished most of it in a day which is extremely rare for me! There are also some hidden Easter Eggs in this track that are a throwback to my first single, Thunder Road - prize for anyone who spots them. But, I think it has to be Priest Runner - I spent many months going back to it, stumbling through various writer's blocks! The track actually started out life in it's very early incarnation as the dark b-side for my single First Date at Starcourt Mall. It's a world away from where it started though and I'm proud of how it turned out. I wanted a sense of a hunt which I do think it achieves. There is a real sense of drama and epicness though the sections and I love the guitar tone I got at the end being an old ´90s metalhead :).

Your album is released via Retro Reverb Records. How did you end up working together with this label?
It was actually Joe Ward from Forever Synth who put us in touch with each other. He actually gave me the belief back in the early days that my music was any good and someone out there was actually listening. RRR have been very supportive and flexible, especially with the time it takes me to get music out there, forever pushing back finish dates with them. Sorry Cole! And the general vibe within RRR is we all muck in a bit and help each other out which helps the scene in general grow together hopefully.

What equipment do you use in your studio?
Software mainly. I'm an Ableton guy and I use a fair range of VSTs. I think U-he synths have an incredible analog sound for soft synths. I also use Arturia and some of the Korg/Roland Legacy stuff. Hardware wise, I use a Roland JDXI (even though my fat fingers struggle with the little keys) and my trust old Ibanez RG550 guitar.

What other musicians do inspire you?
Artists who can get jaw-dropping sounds from pretty basic equipment. Anyone who makes you think 'how the $%^& did they do that?' Artists that progress and change it up as well. But as you can probably tell from my music I love a well crafted melody and hook, or the epic. Anyway, I'll rattle off a few names; Four Tet, Johnny Greenwood, Carpenter Brut, Starcadian, Poisonous Birds (a local Bristol nerdy synth group I once played a show with), Mastadon, Deftones, Battles.


What are you further plans for this year?
I have a couple of collab tracks on the go and one I need to re-connect with. I was looking to start ramping up the live shows a bit and was in talks to get a drummer involved but that's been paused now for obvious reasons.

What do you like most about the ´80s?
The films. The memories of childhood. The early gaming (Game and Watch, remember them?!) Not the porn, that's a bit ropey...ha. I do think we look back with rose-tinted glasses on a bit because of course there was the flip side to the rampant capitalist consumerism but who wants to dwell on that?

And finally, any last words to the synthwave community?
Synthwave is Dead, Long live Synthwave!

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