Music

'It's been cathartic': how Blanck Mass made a travelogue album in lockdown


Unless you happened to be one of the thousands who, on March 15, 2020, attended a Stereophonics concert, then chances are the memories of your last pre-lockdown gig will be special. For me, it was being in a dark basement as Blanck Mass’s pulverising electronics rattled the walls, drowning out a ukulele duo playing the open-mic night in the neighbouring bar.

It has been an odd transition for Benjamin John Power, who as Blanck Mass – and one half of electronic outfit Fuck Buttons (currently on hiatus) – had been touring a riotous mix of industrial electro, dark ambient and synth-laced post-rock for the last 15 years. “It’s weird just to go cold turkey,” he says. However, despite the limitations of the current situation, Power has made a healing record rooted in travelling the world.

The two 20-minute tracks on In Ferneaux combine eerie drones, swirling soundscapes, electronic pulses and manipulated field recordings that take in everything from the crackle of an open fire in Orkney to the words of a San Francisco street preacher. The latter even helped shape the album. “They talk about not being able to handle the misery on the way to the blessing,” Power says. “I came away and really thought about that. It helped me turn a corner with what I was experiencing, grief-wise.”

The album marries a personal journey of grief – after the death of a loved one whom he’d rather not disclose more about – with a 10-year-long plunge into Power’s sound library. “Going through the recordings was sad, nostalgic and melancholic,” he says. “It created an influx of emotions, bringing back all kinds of memories. Some might not have seemed that poignant at the time but presented in this new context and space, they have a whole new potency. It’s been very cathartic.”

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At times the album rages like the proverbial fire, a hissing and cacophonous eruption of static electronic noise that captures the anger and pain one can feel experiencing loss. Yet it also ends sweetly, slowly floating towards a piano-led coda. This narrative is as much a depiction of Power’s own life as it is the wider world. “This is the most personal thing I’ve ever shared,” he says. “But it’s impossible to make something so personal without being affected by what is going on politically. You can’t disassociate the two – I’m very hypersensitive of what’s going on, even though I can’t leave this room.”

While previous albums have explored themes such as toxic consumerism, and taken aim at Trump, here Power has come away feeling a little differently than unusual. “This album is less nihilistic,” he says. “There’s an element of hope. And what else have you got, if you don’t have that?”

In Ferneaux is out now



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