Steven Rutter from B12 has had a complicated history with electronic music. What should have installed him an Mike Golding into the annals of music, never really transpired, even though their records like Electro Soma and Time Tourist are considered modern classics today. We talk to Steven Rutter about how these circumstances look set to change in the future of Steven Rutter, B12 and his new label Firescope Records, and we get a couple of exclusives from the UK producer in the process.
Steven Rutter has a Tattoo on his arm. It’s picture of a disembodied head held in a pair of hands, contemplating the universe, pictured above it. For Steven the image is analogous to his creative method. “There’s some bigger energy than a person and once you tap into that, and allow it to come to you, the music just happens automatically.” When Steven sits down to write a piece of music today he is a blank canvas, devoid of any outside influences except the abstract idea of this “bigger energy” and its intangible influence on the corporeal world. It never used to be like that for Steven and back in the early part of the 90’s when he and Mike Golding had started performing and recording as the electronic music duo B12, Steven was much more in conflict with his artistry.
In the 90’s B12 was introduced to world through Electro Soma, their debut LP on Warp records and the record for all intent and purposes launched their career. A compilation of sorts from a back- catalogue of recorded material on their eponymous B12 label, Electro Soma was a critically acclaimed masterpiece, featuring the group’s nuanced sound that resided somewhere between the alien soundscapes of science fiction and body-slamming percussive workouts of labels like Transmat and Plus 8. Back then Steven used to listen to releases from Plus 8 and think: “ I’ve got to make something like that.” As a result he “used to get really frustrated” with the writing process and the fallout of that was a lack of confidence in his own music, much to the detriment of his career in fact. When Warp offered them a 6 album deal with a sizeable advance for Electro Soma, Steven and Mike declined, thinking they’d never be able to pay all that money back through their music alone, where the reality of the situation was quite the opposite.
Warp however kept the group at the back of their mind and called on them in 1995 for a follow up to Electro Soma. Mike and Steven, somewhat desperate “jumped at the chance” and created Time Tourist as a consolidated album to follow up Electro Soma. But when it came time to do the third album, “ Warp had lost interest.” The label was keen to release a third B12 album, but “rejected all the music” Steven and Mike had sent them. Their third album, Last Days of Silence finally came out in 2008 on their own B12 imprint, but by that time, their evasive media presence, in some part due to Steven’s lack of confidence, had left B12 under-appreciated and they were written out of electronic music history to occupy the back of the shelf behind the likes of Aphex Twin, Autechre and Squarepusher. In 2008, shortly after the release of their third studio album, they hung up the B12 hat and retired the project to the their respective lives.
Almost a decade on from that moment and I’m talking to Steven Rutter over the telephone on the very eve he’s just released From me to You, the very first release as a bonafide solo artist. Sans Mike Golding, Steven has been making records as B12 (with Mike’s consent) since 2015’s Orbiting Souls on Delsin records. He “hadn’t made music for a few years” before that moments and it was only after a near-fatal “accident” in 2010 that he started writing music again. “It was touch and go whether I would even stay alive” he tells me without going into any real detail about the accident other than that he found himself in “psychiatric hospital” as a result. As part of “some kind of therapy” Steven started writing again and he immediately found the whole process “very easy and very liberating”.
A 12” on on CPU followed the Delsin release and shortly after that Steven established Firescope records with B12 releases at the nucleus of the label, but featuring John Shima, Bauri and Derek Carr. Why did he establish a new label and not continue with the B12 label, with the latter as the surely more commercially viable option? “I can’t put stuff on B12 records without consulting Mike” explains Steven, “it didn’t seem respectful and it didn’t seem right.” The B12 imprint was always going to be a collaborative effort, and although Mike’s input was instrumental in that label, Steven didn’t want that “going forward as a solo artist” as B12. “With my own label I could do what I want for whom I wanted and it could look exactly the way I wanted”, says Steven of Firescope.
For the last year and a half the label has been making a prominent mark on the contemporary electronic music landscape, with B12 constituting the bulk of releases, but it would be Electro Soma however that would install the B12 name into the popular zeitgeist again, in 2017. The original pressing of Electro Soma had by this time become a ”precious metal” on sites like discogs, fetching excessive prices by the collector community, a lost gem for those that dig deeper than the superficial. Steven had found this almost abhorrent and with the 25-year publishing contract finally running out, he sought to rectify it with a re-issue and delivered an ultimatum to Warp: “if you don’t re-issue it I will”. Warp unsurprisingly acquiesced to the request and in 2017 Electro Soma was re-issued for the first time in 24 years, prompting a lot of attention for B12‘s music again and introducing the sound of B12 to an entirely new audience. After the Delsin release and “a lot of high-profile gigs”, which saw Steven play the likes of Tresor and Fabric; “getting people interested in the music again”, the re-issue of Electro Soma and the subsequent Electro Soma II – a continued anthology of music from the same era released for the first time – cemented a new phase for B12, and more accurately Steven Rutter.
Continuing without Mike Golding, B12’s sound has evolved into a kind of soundscape sci-fi soundtrack driven by Steven’s creative impulses. “Between the two of us I’m very down tempo and very soundscape/theatrical while Mike is happy to make stuff a bit more uptempo, a bit more danceable”, says Steven who later says he would “love to create a soundtrack for a film” in the future. As B12 and now Steven Rutter, the music has developed into cinematic arrangements with a severe focus on melodic and harmonic progression through searching musical forms.
Steven doesn’t allow any outside influences to corrupt his creativity like it might have done in the 90s and since 1995 he has only been listening to his own music, when he has been listening to electronic music. “I stopped listening to electronic music when Aphex Twin and Squarepusher were very big”, recalls Steven. “Everything started getting very glitchy and not melodic, and I wasn’t interested in it anymore, because I like melodies. I don’t like music that’s very harsh.“ Steven opted going back to his roots, listening to “punk, jazz and bands like Radiohead”; Radiohead’s melancholic and sombre moods playing a significant role in his music today. “I’m really driven by moods and especially sadness” and in his music you can hear that visceral something “tainted by sadness and loneliness” coming through.
That loneliness and sadness is imperceptible in Steven’s upbeat demeanour over the phone, where he relishes telling me more about the future releases on Firescope; future releases like an upcoming “beautiful” Morphology album and his debut solo album; a Steven Rutter solo album that was initially primed as a B12 release but renamed because of extenuating circumstances. Those extenuating circumstances? The return of Mike Golding to the B12 project. “Mike has decided he wants to make music again” says Steven and that’s meant Steven has had to split his creative output between two projects, with his solo album pinned for release on 2018 on Firescope, while he and Mike start rehearsing again. And just how might B12 evolve in this next phase I wonder. “This is it, we don’t know, because we haven’t done anything yet”, replies Steven. “We’ll just go back to the way we worked before and put the clock back to 2007, to when Mike left.”
“If we put out a record that was really chilled out, nobody would be interested at all”
These are still future concerns and Steven is both looking forward to working with Mike again, and developing his own sound on the side. With a re-issue of Time Tourist on the cards for 2018 on Warp and more live shows planned for the future, it seems that B12 looks set to become a common household name on the electronic music circuit again, while Steven Rutter’s career as a solo artist is also burgeoning.
“There was no real challenge” ever in writing alone for Steven and when Mike was not there, he enjoyed being “able to divert the B12 sound” in any way he wanted which he thinks is more “down tempo” and “morbid” compared their earlier work together and this is certainly the direction it seems Steven Rutter’s solo efforts will take in the future too.
At the height of B12’s popularity they would have to feature “at least one track that would work for a DJ” and a “chilled out” record was completely out of the question. “If we put out a record that was really chilled out, nobody would be interested at all”, says Steven. At a time when label backing was essential for getting your music out there, Steven feels that they “always had to think about making a bit of money” while composing and producing their music, and today Steven can completely negate those concessions. Back then one record would pay for the next and the extensive delays in getting compensated as an independent artist, meant that making a living from music was quite intangible even for a successful artist like B12, but that is certainly not the case anymore.
With distribution channels like Bandcamp and the opportunities afforded by small pressing runs, the situation has changed drastically and for Steven this has meant that for the first time in his career it’s “easier to focus more on the music” and that’s the attitude that has invariably infiltrated Firescope records too.
all I care about is that I think is beautiful.
“I don’t care about money!” he exclaims, his voice rising to a youthful exuberant level. “I don’t think about what needs to go on there in order to make money – I would rather lose a few hundred pounds and have an amazing record, than make a hundred pounds and not be happy.”
With every Firescope release a lot of effort goes into the presentation of the music, and a big part of Steven’s budget goes into commissioning artwork for each release and the packaging. Gatefold sleeves, distressed to give it a vintage feel and multi-coloured vinyl, hint at the quality of the music contained within before you even hear a bar of the music. It all “comes from a loving place” for Steven, who as a result is very fussy about what he will release on the label. ”I don’t care about DJs, club play or reviews” driving his point home, “…all I care about is that I think is beautiful.”
Perhaps it was that uncompromising attitude and something of the subversive way they refrained from participating in the music business model that have made B12 and Steven Rutter one of electronic music’s under-appreciated artists in modern times. Even with their choices they should have garnered the same notoriety as the likes of Aphex Twin and Authecre, but for whatever reason they never did. It could be Arsène Houssaye “the forty-first chair” at play here – the anomaly of talented individuals, deserving of rewards or recognition, which are nevertheless bypassed as these rewards are garnered by a select few. Whatever it is, it looks set to change in the future as Steven Rutter and B12 are in a new productive phase of their career together.
History is always revising itself to write out talented individuals like Steven Rutter to bend it to the will of a narrow popular rhetoric, but now that all looks set to change. As B12 set out to make a comprehensive return with both the original members; a re-issue of Time Tourist; and Electro Soma and Electro Soma II introducing the group to entirely new audience, history is about to be revised again with Steven Rutter and B12 occupying their rightful place in the saga of electronic music for future generations.