Mark Stewart, better known as Claro Intelecto, has been making electronic music such as techno and IDM for over twenty years. Currently based in Bolton, Stewart spent his formative years in Chadderton, a suburb of Oldham, about five or six miles from the centre of Manchester, UK. Growing up in the 80’s and 90’s in Manchester had an impact on him which lead to him becoming a producer.
His most revered record, Peace of Mind(Electrosoul), was released on Ai Records in 2003. Since then, Claro Intelecto has released some fantastic records, worked with Delsin Records & Andy Stott‘s Modern Love, and recently released a two part re-release on Delsin, In Vitro Volumes One & Two, which showcases the highlights of his career so far. We were given the pleasure to speak with him. Check it out below.
Hi Claro Intelecto, thank you very much for taking the time to speak with Monument. We’re huge fans of yours.
Your latest record is being released on Delsin on December 2nd and showcases the great body of work you have dating all the way back to 2003. What was the selection process like for the record? Did you do it side by side with the people at Delsin?
Yes, Marsel who runs Delsin came up with a novel, albeit nerdy scoring system spreadsheet as a way of whittling down the number of tracks; as there were too many tracks to go on there without making it a 6 vinyl job and probably bankrupting the label. A 1-5 rating on all my tracks, no holding back – if you think it’s a bit shite, just say it. That was my view on proceedings from the outset. Ultimately this meant a lot didn’t make the cut including a couple of my personal fave’s like Rise and Dependant, plus there was no tracks from the Warehouse Sessions either, not that they disliked all of those releases, they just preferred others, & we live in a democracy (so I’ve heard) but I wouldn’t want to force someone to release something if they had any doubts about it. Though there was the plan to use Dependant on a limited 7” but that idea seemed to go away due to focusing on the main release. But I’m happy with the tracks selected overall & respect Delsin’s opinion on my music. I could look at reissuing the Warehouse Sessions independently some time as I know fans of my music consider it an important release and a lot of people are asking me why its not included.
The record opens with Peace of Mind(Electrosoul), undoubtedly your biggest release as a producer. Did you find many of your fans were asking for you to get this one repressed?
I think everyone’s already got it haven’t they? this has sold more than my entire catalogue put together and that’s not including the original release in 2003 when I got rinsed, I do get a bit bored of it now I have to admit, though I acknowledge its the most important thing I’ve ever made, certainly the most popular – Plus I did after all make it when I was 24 or 25 years old, I’m hitting 47 in a few weeks so its understandable I get fed up hearing it! If people want me to repress it again maybe I will, Marsel could do with a few more cocktails in Dubai I think. With this track I also remember once feeling the wrath of God when I played a show in a beautiful Church in Seville, a girl came to front of that stage & shouted “Mark, play Peace of Mind, Play Peace of Mind”, at that point I was more likely to get a one way ticket to Dignitas than play it for the billionth time in a row, so I politely told her I didn’t have it with me or prepare it in my set…she wasn’t too pleased with me, then unbelievably my riser collapsed and all my kit slid onto the stage whilst the tech guys ran on picking up the table, my laptop was still playing so I managed to play one or two more tracks using my mouse (talk about live performance!), extremely embarrassed and realised you don’t mess with the big boss, and to take Peace of Mind with me next time! So naturally I play it at the end of my sets religiously, lets face it I could just play Peace of Mind for an hour & everyone would go home happy.
Exhilarator was one of the best records of 2017. When you made that record, did you have a particular narrative in mind when you were in the recording process, or was it a collection of tracks made around the same time?
Thanks! I listened back to it for the first time in ages last week, & I think its one of my best, but I suppose older artists always say that, maybe I’m delusional just like some of the other old farts still doing the rounds. In terms of narrative, it varied – it was dependent on what was happening around me at the time. Usually what’s going on affects my mood & this comes across in the music I suppose – personal stuff, family life & life in general both good & not so good, I spoke extensively about this in previous interviews. Some of the tracks were written together, & a few I’d been sitting on for a while, I always like to do this. I’ve got a bunch at the moment that I’m sitting on, a few I’m testing live to good reactions, but when the time’s right I’ll present to the right people – just like I’ve done in the past. I don’t like the idea of making everything second hand by showing everyone, everything… every time you come up with something. I like to build a rough release & do it this way. The last ep was an example of how not to do it…track by track forwarding, opinions vary drastically from individuals, just a messy affair & affected the release as a whole.
Do you have a different process of recording music when you are writing an album versus writing singles or EPs?
I probably answered that in the last one? But an ep tends to be more track by track submissions then after a while it pieces together like a jigsaw, in fact most of my releases have been like this bar Exhilarator where I just used my instincts to put it together rather than relying on other opinions every step of the way. I think it reflects me better, though all of the music is ‘me’ at the end of the day.
Are there any pieces of gear or software that you couldn’t do without?
I wish I’d never sold my Juno 60, I miss my Korg DSS1 even though it was technically bobbins (I sold that to Andy Stott along with other bits and pieces over the years). I can’t do without my Elektron Digitakt as its reinvented my live shows, & I’m also using it for some of my productions too, the way it cuts through the sound systems in a live / club environment compared to software from a laptop is huge. & also my old Akai S3000, sat in the corner gathering dust, I don’t really use much anymore but its probably the most important bit of kit I ever bought (& the Juno), all the tracks on the Peace of Mind EP were originally made using this, I actually used the whole of my student loan in 1994 whilst doing my art degree to buy it, & I’m happy I did, now I just stick a blanket over it & put it in front of the wood burner.
There is a lot of focus on contemporary producers to be equally as good at DJing as they are at production. Do you think that DJing has had an impact on your production style, and vice versa?
I honestly wouldn’t know as I’ve never DJ’d unless you’re including a ‘live set’ as ‘DJ’ing’? I’ve only ever known writing & producing, then taking my music on the road, a bit like a band. It would be much simpler for me to play other peoples music than have to write enough music to constantly update my set, but I’ll leave that to the experts like DVS1 & Richie Hawtin, I don’t want to con anyone into blagging an Ableton DJ set or anything just to get more shows, if I DJ’d I’d need one of those old record decks where you stack up the 7″ vinyls on top of each other & they drop down one by one, playing at 78 with a deafening silence between tracks! not cut out for DJ’ing me, I have to say!
Do you think that the expansion of affordable consumer electronics which have the capabilities to record studio quality music through DAWs has had a positive impact on the global electronic music scene?
I certainly think it gives opportunities for everyone to have a level playing field, perhaps the talent will shine through in the end regardless of whether you have racks of expensive modular kit or using software synths and apps. If you look at, for example, pro golf or tennis, you’re less likely to get players coming through from the estates of Manchester, London , Birmingham whereas with music nowadays, accessibility means class and money barriers are less of an issue … the software is becoming so good that I think it does make it easier certainly more accessible to produce the music, but getting it out there also comes down to luck & who you know as much as talent alone.
One thing that owning an OB6 had taught me is that all the good motifs in music don’t necessarily come from the most expensive equipment its whatever you can get your hands on. As good as the synth is I find myself gravitating towards other cheaper things such as my Digitakt, Nord Rack or my knackered S3000, on the rare occasion, and sticking the sound through a cheap effects pedal and re-sampling it, thus making the expensive one redundant. There are no rules in music unless you self impose them, I like to use both hardware and software be it cheap or expensive, and I’m not a snob to deny anyone who only uses software if they’re making killer music.
As a musician who grew up Manchester, do you think that the rich history of the city (Hacienda et. all) has had an impact on you and on your career?
You couldn’t help but be affected by it, I was 15 or 16 at the height of the acid house scene so couldn’t get into clubs, but a lot of these places & some that went under the radar or were written out of history (like the Thunderdome) were very influential. I used to go to a Youth Club that introduced me to Detroit techno and acid house having never heard this stuff before. I remember working as a car cleaner on weekends at a fruit and veg wholesaler whilst I was still at school, the lorry drivers were playing things like Unique 3, Stakker and later 808 state, I was like ‘what’s this?’… subconsciously that period and all that was around me was being stored away somewhere.
Are you currently based in Manchester, and if so, what is the scene currently like there for electronic music, in your opinion?
I grew up in a town called Chadderton a suburb of Oldham, about 5 or 6 miles from the centre of Manchester, now I’m about 15 miles away in Bolton, with my missus & 10 year old son – its close to the west pennines which is more rural yet easy enough to get to Manchester by car or train. I’m not really up to speed with what’s going on in Manchester, I don’t go out clubbing anymore apart from when I play live. but I know that clubs like Hidden, The White Hotel & Soup kitchen seem to be the ones doing the proper parties at the moment. I recently played hidden with Omar S which was a great night! You also have the larger scale Warehouse Project, who do book some great ‘bigger’ artists (recently Aphex Twin / Nina Kravis for example) but this has a more commercial feel about it. if I turn up at these places these days as a punter they’d think I’m there to measure up and price a job, as I look a lot older than the kids there partying.
Delsin have released some of the best techno records ever since their inception. How did you begin working with them?
I sent them an anonymous demo I think it was 2010, not long after my last ep on Modern Love – & without repeating ancient history, I knew for a while that chapter was coming to an end so I figured I wanted to take stock & work with a label who would be into my next wave of tracks as I’d been building a few up, & this resulted in Second Blood EP & shortly after the Reform Club LP. They got back to me straight away which was cool, so then I came clean as to who I was, sent them some more material & we took it from there.
Are there any producers that are currently active that you would like to work with?
Yes, a couple but I’m not going to embarrass myself mentioning names, so I’ll keep that one quiet. I will say that I would love to work with a band or singer songwriter, or take a bunch of songs from an artist and rework them – model the music around the song, I’ve remixed a few bands in the past like Lau, Delphic and Depeche Mode & I just got the feel for working with songs & found it natural coming up with instrumentation based around their music, it also took me out of my techno comfort zone & I had to think more musically for a change than say remixing a techno track. I hear stuff on the radio like on BBC 6 music, & I often think ‘I can do something with that’…there’s only so many times you can do the same thing over & over again, so why not?
Where do you think the electronic music scene is headed next?
Into oblivion! or ‘Bolivian’ as Mike Tyson once famously said! Artificial Intelligence acts perhaps? Seriously though, I’ve no idea – things seem a little contrived in the mainstream despite the mention of accessibility to making music on the cheap, you have to go to the likes of NTS radio or even 6 music to hear good electronic music these days, whereas there were always shows on BBC Radio 1 in the past covering the electronic scene like Mary Anne Hobbs or more recently B Traits. It would be nice to think that like in the 80s/90s some underground tracks can crossover into the mainstream again. Apart from grime, that doesn’t seem to happen any more. The scene is massive – when you see packed clubs and festivals in all corners of the globe, what you see in the mainstream doesn’t really reflect that.
And lastly, if there were one record that you would recommend currently, what would it be?
One More Day Won’t Hurt by Slaves.
Thank you very much for taking the time to speak with Monument, on behalf of everyone we greatly appreciate your time.