Digital Code, Electronic Soundscapes and Human Emotion: Introducing Overrider and Cyc|er

The hypothetically masked Manchester two piece Overrider are certainly a fresh and unique proposition, one that can be a source of idiosyncratic relation right now. Taking inspiration from artists such as 65daysofstatic, Three Trapped Tigers, Curve, Massive Attack, Oceansize and the more ambient work of Nine Inch Nails, Overrider are band that inter-blend voltaic electronic ambience with a tastefully subtle hacker aesthetic and a love of code in order to narrate the tribulations of turbulent mental health and the human condition. This may sound like an incredibly chaotic and somewhat niche composition of elements, but Overrider are a group that harness conscious finesse – something they showcase with their forthcoming debut record Cyc|er.

Self-released May 15th, Cyc|er is the sonic bio-digital amalgamation of dance and despondency, Unlike, well, pretty much the majority of all music, a major part of Cyc|er’s creation was in thanks to coding and algorithms, with the band using the coding libraries Tidalcycles and Overtone within their work. If that wasn’t alluring enough, the record also features the talents of members of Alpha Male Tea Party, Cleft and Giraffes? Giraffes!.

With the record set to illuminate a shimmering new shade of atmospheric electronic music, we had a chat with Overrider to discuss the record, coding, ethos, creativity and more.

Firstly, can you give us an intro on Overrider? How the project formed, the inspirations and the general ethos behind the band?

"I guess something like this has been brewing for a while. I can remember a moment - at ArcTanGent in 2018 - where personally it felt like it was time to try a radically different musical project. After that it took quite a while for the idea and sound to come together. The genesis was messing around with vocal samples in tidalcycles, making them more and more abstract until they sounded like a transmission from space. After that it was a simple case of taking that vibe and running with it!

The inspiration behind the band is - and it's a bit of a cliché - but often more non-musical than musical. Most of the track titles reference books, films et cetera in science fiction, and it's usually something we had in mind at the time. Obviously mental health is a big driver too - and that's the main theme of the release, too.

In terms of sounds it's obviously lots of bands and artists we've listened to since whenever, but the things that are identifiably the overrider 'sound' are more about sound design or approaches to sound than exact... influences. To give an example, the use of chopped up and distorted vocal samples, of wide stereo images and so on is probably more easy to point to than 'you might hear a bit of Curve in this track,' you know?"

Cyc|er is your first record, what was the general creative process like?

"The main goal was being coherent and getting the concept across - like, in the artwork, we knew each track would have a piece of artwork, and all have this circle motif. The rear cover collects them all in a grid of nine, so that meant we had nine tracks to work with - which is why there's the 're|cycler' EP, which isn't so much b-sides as tracks that didn't fit the aesthetic. We wrote probably fifteen tracks in total; between cyc|er and re|cycler I think we're releasing 12 tracks, plus 2 remixes.

We were pretty ruthless too - the track 'agitated ii' on re|cycler is great, and John's drumming on it is amazing, but it was too guitar-heavy for the vibe of the main release.

The other thing was not compromising - everything took however long was needed to flesh out the ideas. We went back and forth with a few friends - chiefly Jack and John, who are credited with production help - to make sure we were expressing our ideas in a way that others could appreciate - hopefully."

The record's releasing during a bizarre time, what's your thoughts on releasing a debut record right now?

"Our timing is terrible, but life goes on! We considered pulling it, but it's a record about defiance and the bad times, well, having a natural cycle and end to them, so I guess we see the irony.

We have a bunch of close mates who are doctors, so we're anxious for them, as well as for the viability of businesses of people like Tom, without whom the record wouldn't exist."

You had members of Giraffes Girraffes, Cleft and Alpha Male Tea Party contribute towards the record, what was the creative process like working alongside them?

"Well it's all been pretty remote, except for John, who basically lives down the road. We spent a fair bit of time in his home studio getting second ears on mixes and him working on his drum parts.

Speaking of which, John's a brilliant human, a great drummer and that was one of the most fun parts of making this record - that we only collaborated with people who are fun to work with. Tom's obviously great, and Joe is one of the most positive people we've ever met.

Sometimes tension and stress can help people create great art, but we've not found that it works for us, haha.

We're relatively hands off with collaborations - we want people to bring their ideas to the table without too much prejudice."

There's a hacker and outrun aesthetic to the record and your overall sound, how do you incorporate such an aesthetic into your work? Is it a conscious decision?

It's a very conscious decision, and incorporating it kind of goes back to the genesis of the project, that we wanted to present everything in a certain way, and create a mini-world. We've always been fans of bands that can pull off that sort of stuff.

There's a level of dark palpable emotion to the record, can you detail that?

A lot of the subject matter of the record is depression, dealt with via one metaphor or another, and I think that's probably what you're hearing. There's a kind of flow across the tracks that's intended to be somewhat cyclical, with the peak, the levity, occuring quite early on, on 'the left hand', though some of that energy carries on through the next couple of tracks.

If everything was minor key and totally bleak, that'd be exhausting - although, I suppose, accurate for what depression feels like - and ultimately our experience of it has been that for every low there's a high, and hopefully across the whole release we capture that, even if there is a kind of latent darkness to even the more upbeat sections.

Harmonically we try to add snatches of dissonance or ambiguity here and there, whether it's in a melody line or more of a textural thing. Even if you don't consciously clock it, I think as a listener you're very attentive to small changes in atmosphere or harmony that can get across an idea quite subtly.

Originally the main cycle was going to end with 'chaotic neutral', which is now the closing track on 're|cycler' - but it's way too sad, way too reliant on guitar, and broke the circle/cycle concept, so it got moved. That's another example of where the concept was paramount - that song was too one-dimensional in terms of negative energy, even though we felt it was important to still release it. That said, even though that track represents rock bottom, there's even there a tiny bit of hopefulness in there.

Talk to us about Code and Algorithms. How do you approach such things in a creative and musical manner? How did you incorporate such techniques into your work and write music in code?

"All creativity is just creativity using different tools, you know? A lot of composers talk about how switching to an unfamiliar instrument can help their creativity - I guess we take an even broader view and also include switching disciplines - in this case between music and code.

Code is an imaginary thing that you create in an abstract space, that ends up affecting stuff in the real world. Is it that different to music?"

What can coding teach someone about musical creativity?

"Jack of all trades, master of none, is better than master of one." Every time you learn a new creative skill, it gives you a new perspective on the other things that you create. As a guitar player I've tended to find that the more I obsess over the instrument, the more mediocre my creative ideas become.

To assemble the song arrangements for this release, we found that adopting a new DAW worked better, and for example that switch was probably more responsible for inspiring the guitar ideas than any other single factor. Coding is the same, you never know how your subconscious is going to rearrange all of your different creative inspirations.

Thinking about it, I suspect the 'cycler' concept is at least partly inspired by the lisp parentheses - '()' which are both fundamental to the language and also a somewhat tongue-in-cheek taoist side to them. You do wonder sometimes about the so-called weak Sapir–Whorf hypothesis; y'know, that on some level the structure of languages affect what you think, or even what you can think. Computer langugages are more abstract and more rule-based than human languages, but it's all just communication, at the end of the day. Like 'Arrival', if you've seen that film, or 'Embassytown' by China Mièville.

It's also worth mentioning that although he wears many hats, the one-man drum factory that is John 'the simmulation' Simm also worked as a programmer for many years."

One of your members was involved in a car accident during the writing sessions. How did such an incident change your outlook on the record?

In the way you'd expect, really. It did result in the bluntest tracks on the album though, which was cool - 'agitated i' and 'agitated ii' were written and mostly recorded in an afternoon, and 'the left hand' in maybe, a day or two? 'black hatch' took 6 weeks - not full time, of course, but still - so it really was surprising how strongly we emotionally and creatively reacted to the situation.

Finally, anything else to add?

"To borrow a couple of And So I Watch You From Afar song titles, 'Don't Waste Time Doing Things You Hate' and 'Start A Band'!"

Cyc|er is self-released May 15th, pre-order the record here.