UK electronic musician Matt Cutler aka Lone has been relentlessly productive for the last decade. The Nottingham native is many things. A producer’s producer with a knack for percussion and arpeggiated melody, a gifted remixer, a cross-over artist, the heir of Boards of Canada and Aphex Twin and, a revivalist of jungle, rave and hardcore. How he managed to fly under the radar of many listeners for such a long time without reaching the level of acclaim of peers like Midland, Four Tet or Burial is not to be determined.

One thing is certain: six albums and 19 singles and EPs deep since his debut in 2008 – including a DJ-Kicks mix in 2017 (When will Fabriclive come knocking?) – Lone is nowhere near the end of his wits. Let’s take a look at the last ten years of Hyper Seconds and Airglow Fires!

Humble Beginnings: Kids In Tracksuits

It wouldn’t be fair or correct to say that Cutler is media-shy, he just doesn’t have an awful lot to say. Taken his slightly repetitive interviews over the years, one gets the following picture of Cutler’s artistic origins. He grew up on the outskirts of Nottingham, introduced to rave music around 94/95 at the age of nine. That sound stuck with him for the longest:
Hardcore and rave was the first music I ever really felt connected to […] It was electronic, reactive, euphoric – it made sense to me. (source)

Cutler started to produce music as a 10-year-old with a tape recorder and a keyboard. His skills received a bump when he got a computer and FL Studio at the age of 15. Adopting the elegiac moniker Lone, he and Andy Hemsley formed Kids in Tracksuits, a group that “started around ‘02 when a couple of Nottingham kids got too bored & lazy to go out on their skateboards anymore and decided to stay indoors with their Wu-tang records, making beats, dj-ing and eating toast.“ (Sic!)

KiT’s tracks paired breakbeats with voice samples and scratches to create a soundscape, not unlike Def Jux releases, bass-heavy underground beats. Every now and then, there’d be a hesitant synth line in the middle of a boom bap jam like “Safe Place to Buy”, lifting its head from its earthy surroundings or an otherwise unremarkable run-of-the-mill piano beat like “Head to the Woods” would stop, drop and introduce a flute melody that’d take a listener onto a different plane of thought. The defining (and very listenable) song from that era is Unfinished Demo:

Unfinished Demo

“Where’s the door I haven’t tried?” asks a children’s choir suggestively, as a sub-bass rises and on top of it, reverbed synth melodies, as if an old record is being spun backwards in slow motion.

KiT had a short life-span and after they “had a couple of releases with Dealmaker, […] played about a million shows, did some radio sessions and got a bit bored with the whole thing” Lone decided to go solo in 2007, “partly due to the fact that I was making more music for myself and Andy was concentrating on graphic art stuff.”. His first project on CD-R, Everything is Changing Color, (you can get an impression on YouTube: “Piano Happy” at 32:50) is a rough, unmastered listen, yet it already hints at the decade to come: nostalgic, euphoric, synth-centered.

Lemurian (2008) & Ecstasy & Friends (2009): Easy-Listening Nostalgia

As influences, Lone was always quick to name three. Besides Madlib and Aphex Twin, the Scottish Ambient duo Boards of Canada was a major inspiration. Lemurian (2008), Lone’s first widely available album, builds on BoC’s ambient nostalgia recipes, using similar synths and samples (“Olson”, “Open the Light”) – warped and reverbed as if one dragged a heavy object across a vibrant string.

Everything you Do is a Balloon

Lemurian’s beats are still clearly indebted to hip-hop programming, slowly shuffling BPMs between 88 and 96, crisp smacking snares and dry hi-hats. The kicks were rarely syncopated (“Girl”), sometimes joined by a thin layer of tribal drums (“Cali Drought”). The album’s aesthetics are low-fi, crackles and bubbles washing over bright harmonies. For the first time, Lone embraced the synth pads and harmonies that came to define his auditive aesthetics for years, creating a highly evocative sound. Think: your favorite beach holiday at the age of sixteen when days felt endless and a vague foretaste of freedom and adulthood’s possibilities lingered.

Sea Spray

As a whole Lemurian still sounds remarkably fresh after 10 years. Besides the hideous album cover of the first edition, its only weakness is a lack of a narrative arc. The tracks blend into each other – which makes it pre-destined for easy-listening and studying – and are best consumed as a whole, a “sustained mood piece, front-to-back” (Sherburne). That’s exactly how Lone intended it to be.

It’s a soundtrack to an imaginary summer somewhere beautiful and dream-like, all recorded on to a cassette that’s been left on the dashboard, in the sun too long (source).

By the time of Cutler’s first EP Joyreel/Sunset Teens”, hip-hop traces made way for a more electronic approach. Freshly signed to Actress’ Werk Discs, Lone’s second album Ecstasy and Friends saw him changing color, literally. Granted, most tracks were still mid-tempo, yet the melodies sound cleared, focused as if one woke up from the nap of adolescence. We recognize the reverbs (“Sungrazer Cascade”), the dreamy song titles but the young producer’s signature style started gaining shape. This is not only due to Lone abandoning boom bap for 808s and claps. Check out tracks like “Endlessly” and “Apple Hi”: more layered, more rhythm-driven, arpeggiated productions that combine several glittery synths and show Cutler’s ability to make fast beats seem slow (and slow beats fast).

Ecstasy and Friends is by far no bad or boring album, though the tracks are far from complex, building on one idea most of the time. Lone was searching, reaching, one hit away from finding his musical identity.

Endlessly

Pineapple Crush (2010) To Echolocations EP (2011): Exercise In Exhilaration

And there it was. The (crossover) hit.

Pineapple Crush

If there was ever a song to instantly grab your attention, one that, even heard as a blip on a radio in a car passing you by on a busy street, will make you turn your head 180 degrees, asking “What the HELL was that?” it was Pineapple Crush. Released on the eponymous EP in 2010, the breakbeat game changer (sometimes cataloged as Acid House), was instantly embraced by music outlets such as Pitchfork or Resident Advisor and Azealia Banks who, in a feat of genius, used it as a backbone for her own break-out single Liquorice.

Reinventing rave?! Who would have thought it possible? In a DJ box in some small nightclub somewhere in Britain however, Lone is re-writing the formula, one big hook at a time. And for that, we must thank him. (Source)

Similar speed, similar vein but dreamy: Once in a While, rated a 4.5/5 at ResAdvisor, made it Cutlers “most sought-after release” so far, kicking off Kode9’s DJ-Kicks mix with optimistic steel drums, acid-y bass and cowbells, laying an avenue of pure bliss in your consciousness.

“The way I see it, I’m only just starting out, really”

Is third album Emerald Fantasy Tracks (2011) in the same universe as anything before? A fury of synth stabs and high-speed 909 beats, openers Cloud 909 and Aquamarine continue along the route of the previous two EPs, other highlights include Rissotowe 4 and Petcrane Beach Track. Lone sees the whole thing as more of a mini-album that shows what he can do with his favorite house and techno blends. No surprise that Pitchfork calls stone-cold Detroit classics to comparison:

Jupiter Jazz

Even when he slows down for the closer The Birds Don’t Fly This High, all ambient nostalgia and rave euphoria fixings are whipped to a highly emotive and original product. The artist found his voice. It didn’t take long for others to take notice, too. Legendary Belgian techno label R&S, home for Aphex Twin or CJ Bolland took the hungry beatmaker in and Echolocations (2011), Lone’s first R&S EP is an extended coda to EFT, six tracks as glowing and intensely danceable as anything on the album.

Approaching Rainbow

Galaxy Garden (2012) & Reality Testing (2104): Rainforest vs. Metropolis

By 2012 Lone had succeeded in attaining almost universal acclaim. His fifth album in total and first album for R&S, Galaxy Garden saw him refine and expand his vision to his most complete artistic statement up to this date. The first title of that record sums it up: New Colour. Cutler has commented on feelings of synaesthesia on multiple occasions, where he makes the listener feel the colors of music in a direct way.

New Colour

The way I picture this album – is that it’s set in a rainforest at night, looking up at the stars. Looking at space from the ground up and having your mind fucking blown….”
Galaxy Garden’s style is polyphonic and polyrhythmic, an overabundance of ideas. Cutler’s drum patterns grow more and more complex. He uses bongos and timpanis, shakers, hand percussion loops, snares, bells and chimes, often all within the same four to five minutes. Arrangements are even more detailed than previous work, Lone’s synths more spacious and clearer (Dream Girl/Sky Surfer).

If there’s no one singing the words, I like to paint a picture with the titles to sum up what the track means to me. I like to push it as far as I can imaginatively. I basically just steal bits from poems and magazines, any obscure bit of a sentence I see on a page that really stands out. (Source)

The album is euphoric in nature, a celebration of being alive and the conflicting feelings that induce. Example: Lying in the Reeds. Listen to its careful build-up, a camera panning on an Asian temple, geishas with painted faces, cherry blossom trees. Introducing a starry, longing synth pad on top of the main tinkling chord progression, Lone twists the mood bit by bit until he pulls the beat from underneath us and we stand in a wide cave, pre-historic, pre-civilization, winds and waves crashing.

As beat and bass return, we’re in the middle of an Ayahuasca ceremony around a campfire, feeling cleansed and drained and purified. It’s a testament to the psychedelic strength of Lone’s music that it takes the listener to places of primal, raw emotion:

Lying in the Reeds

Was this real? If not, who’s to deny? After such a dose of maximalism, 2014’s Reality Testing takes it back to where it all started, to Madlib, to Dilla, to crisp snares, voice samples and mid-tempos, to a block in New York. Lone sees his sixth record as a “hazy, skate-video type of vibe”.

Dozens of layers stripped down reveal the organic core of dayglo hip-hop that was Lone’s original mainstay. Reality Testing offers a coherent narrative from the hyper-percussive Restless City, last trace of Galaxy Garden, to the warm saw synths and cuts of Meeker Warm Energy and 2 is 8 and culminates in the wonky breakbeat hymn Airglow Fires that sounds like a dozen of windows simultaneously blasted open to irradiating sunshine:

Airglow Fires

Following are the pronounced and clear-eyed melancholia of Begin to Begin and Jaded, which may well have been the album closer in a previous version. That’s not to say that Lone abandoned his Detroit sensibility: see piano peak-time bomb Aurora Northern Quarter and jazzy house-cut Vengeance Video. Taking their time building and developing distinct movements, these tracks show an artist operating at the top of his game, confident that he can pull off whatever mood he is looking for.

By the way: don’t you agree that Scottish video mapping artist Konx-om-Pax sees the perfect colors for Lone’s reality?

Boiler Room Moscow

Levitate (2016) and Ambivert Tools Vol. 1-4 (2017-2018): Beyond The Jungle

For every high, there is a down. After a relentless US tour with Reality Testing, Cutler suffered a fever that lasted four days, melting together reality and dream in hallucinations.
I was hearing all these jungle beats, with sort of ice cream van tones over the top.
Conceiving Levitate as his own 21st-century version of the 90s jungle and hardcore classics, Cutler envisioned the record as something to play during a car ride through L.A. At the same time, Levitate liberated him from a creative drought, months where he couldn’t express himself musically, ideas that went nowhere.

There is always an element of recognition, which is why a late-phase jungle-revival like Alpha Wheel, one of the fastest tracks in Lone’s catalogue uses similar wispy synths as Ecstasy and Friends’ Go Greenhills Racer. Not everything is nostalgia-heavy as we are used to. Backtail Was Heavy comes equipped with a thick bassline and horn stabs at 145bpm to fade out into an ambient outro, much like the raver’s cycle of Sunday ups and Monday downs.

If Levitate is a distillation of everything that has made British producer Lone’s work great so far (Pitchfork), you can hear a fantastic example of multiple work phases amalgamated into one ambient-jungle anthem Vapour Trail

Vapour Trail

Equally revisionist as futuristic, Levitate combines Lemurian era voice samples and crackles, Galaxy Garden era synth cords, calm 808State-like synth strings from Reality Testing with jungle drum breaks. Rightfully noted by Pitchfork’s Philip Sherburne, this approach is more akin to an EP with only 33 minutes, which is why Lone’s current EP releases, the Ambivert Tools Vol. 1-4 feel like a natural continuation.

An ambivert is someone who is neither fully extrovert nor introvert which is an apt description of the 11 songs collected in the series. Here, Lone firmly lands in the terrain of house or DJ tools. Long tracks of six to eight minutes build slowly and serve for deep listening at home as well as being suitable for mixing in DJ sets. At times closer to ambient house, (Looking Glass) at other times both eyes on the dancefloor (Hyper Seconds), there is no reason these productions should not go in the crates of your favorite Panorama Bar resident, especially Vol. 4, a marriage of detail and patience.

Mind’s Eye Melody (Vol. 1)

Conclusion
A French proverb claims that the more things change, the more they stay the same. The earliest works foreshadow the artist Lone is today and his latest offerings reprise ideas he has worked on ten years ago in different shapes. It’s exciting to see a stand-out musician tirelessly evolving, fine-tuning his voice and a lesson for everyone that is ever going through a dry spell to persevere and to believe in your vision.

While we hope that this introduction has sparked your interest to look deeper into Lone’s body of work, we equally hope it has opened your mind for electronic music styles such as rave, (happy) hardcore, jungle and ambient which rightfully live on even after their 90s heyday.

Anton Dechand

Anton Dechand

Contributor

Anton Dechand is a writer, poet, and freelance journalist from Berlin. Equally obsessed by rap and R&B as by piano house and ambient, his first passion was to hear and to tell a good story. Catch his writing at medium.com/@antondechand

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