INTERVIEW: Competition | NARC. | Reliably Informed | Music and Creative Arts News for Newcastle and the North East

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Seemingly straightforward yet with something astray in clear sight: the deliberately misspelled title for Competition’s latest album Repetititive Music is an apt microcosm of how Craig Pollard’s work mixes straightforward, quasi-confessional songwriting with an arch wit and a subtle but unmistakeable taste for abstraction.

Encompassing strains of modern R&B on Oh Know (“It strips away a number of songwriting conventions but is still recognisable as a song – I think”) and beatific drone on 30% before moving to the engaging, questioning monologue of Misery Space (“basically me trying to articulate some of the weird power dynamics that exist in left-leaning spaces, institutions and communities that are really important but that often make people feel uncomfortable, intimidated or not welcome”), there’s an impressive diversity within such a unified and minimalist collection.

Outlining some of his artistic motivation, Pollard explains: “I’m interested in efficiency and resourcefulness, and a certain politics of resistance that might be framed within that. That feels quite dry in a lot of ways, but it begins to feel more interesting or exciting (to me) when explored alongside feelings of intimacy and/or immediacy. There’s a certain point at which a sense of compositional sparseness begins to blur with the ‘drama’ of the song (for lack of a better word), creating a carefully exposed environment for the vulnerability of a vocal performance.”

Asked to what extent his simple microphone and sampler set-up comes out of deliberate choice or necessity, Pollard replies: “It’s both I guess. It’s unremittingly practical to be able to tour and play shows with just a backpack of gear. But I’m also interested in (a politics of) efficiency and smallness, and do think a lot about weaving that into the work. In recording, I don’t spend much time working on the sampler itself, I work in the DAW (mainly Logic) using that as instrument, and then only really get the sampler out when it comes to prepping the songs for performance.”

I’m interested in efficiency and resourcefulness, and a certain politics of resistance that might be framed within that

Pollard’s background in multimedia promotions as part of Wild Pop and academic writings on popular music also inform his approach to his own music. “I did a PhD at Newcastle University in the music department so I do have an academic perspective on things, for better or worse. I see all of those activities – be it making music, doing research, organising events – as the same thing, they all overlap. They’re all ways of engaging with the world as it exists, figuring out your own place within it, making connections and relationships with other people. And that’s what I’m ultimately interested in, I guess.”

As his second release for imprint Slip, Competition sits alongside a roster of other boundary pushing talent such as Ashley Paul, Chaines and Yeah You, and the label is run by Newcastle-based friends Laurie, Suze and Tom. “At a certain point they asked if I’d like to put something out on Slip and I was flattered. I’d sort of assumed they might not be interested in the things I was doing, as a lot of their releases felt committed to a certain type of ‘new music’, in a very tasteful way, emerging from particular sections of contemporary composition. I think I expressed that to Laurie and I remember him saying ‘it’s a lot weirder than you think it is’, which was actually reassuring! But I’m really glad to be part of that little family with lots of music I really love, I like the way the work all seems to sit together too. It’s been a nice experience working with friends to put these last two tapes out.”

Competition releases Repetititive Music via Slip on 1st May


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