Floating Points

Port talks to the acclaimed musician about his latest album and finest work to date

In June a ship captained by Carola Rackete picked up 53 migrants off the Libyan coast and docked in Lampedusa, infuriating Italian interior minister Matteo Salvini. Rackete was released from house arrest following international criticism, but could now potentially face 15 years in prison for aiding undocumented migrants. Sea-Watch, the humanitarian NGO named after the contentious ship that rescued the rubber dinghy, is directly referenced towards the end of Sam Shepherd AKA Floating Points’ latest album, Crush. The troubled, layered, lilting track with a haunting Buchla synthesiser refrain was inspired by “a modern-day hero”, explains Shepherd, “who’s actually out there doing good, physically helping people. This story gave me some degree of hope and if I can raise awareness of the organisation through my music, then I will.”

Shepherd’s first album Elaenia took him five years to make – Crush was made in five weeks. Nodding to the intense, crucible-like period it was fashioned in while he was improvising during support shows for The xx, the long awaited album is also responding to the “pressure-cooker of the current environment”. Operatic, dystopian, dark and brooding, it switches from waltzing synth requiems that serenely chirrup to bristling bass drum kicks, all with a frenetic energy and melody that is unmistakably his own. Where has this darker, heavier sound come from, I ask? “The very nature of debate and discourse now, leaves me with the feeling that the currency of truth seems to hold no value anymore. Literally anything goes. Boris Johnson can just lie, Donald Trump can just lie – there are no consequences anymore. That’s what makes me most acutely nervous, that the nature of truth holds no value, therefore democracy has no value ­– because it’s built on promises and being accountable for them. A lot of the record was born out of this feeling.”

“It upsets me when Michael Gove says ‘we’ve had enough of experts’. I spent a good 10 years at university becoming an expert in something. Neuroscience may not have much relevance in people’s day to day, but there are people who are experts in economic policy and how Brexit is going to affect fishing, farming, how disabled people are going to access health care, for example. For people to ignore this expertise, it makes everything completely fucking pointless. I was turning to the news on a minute by minute basis – I thought I was doing this to stay informed, but actually, I was looking for some sort of hope. ‘Tell me something good, show me some breakthrough news’, and it was never good.”

Last Bloom still

Having toured extensively over the past couple of years Shepherd was keen to get back to his London studio and immerse himself in a purely electronic world: “Not too long ago I accidentally wiped the entire memory of my Rhodes Chroma synthesiser, so I rebuilt its entire 200 pre-sets myself. It took a long time to create a bed of sounds that I felt really inspired to play, so when I suddenly had this gap of five weeks to nail some music down, it happened quite quickly. I could access the sounds I wanted to use so swiftly. I knew them.”

Listening to the album, you can hear a number of subconscious sonic influences – the bleeding rush of Vangelis, stabs of Phillip Glass and the tangled pulse of Aphex Twin. “Aphex – I could never pin down,” reflects Shepherd, “I love his music, but I don’t feel like I know it that well because there’s so much of it. It’s too difficult to use as a reference point because nothing will ever sound like it. I can’t do that! When I was younger all my friends at university were into him, but I used to go to a lot of Bang Face and Electrowerkz raves in Angel, see people like Ceephax Acid Crew. That sound, artists like Autechre, the world of IDM, were definitely in my head for Crush.”


The first single initially dropped by record label Ninja Tune – LesAlpx – was a bouncing return to the dancefloor, a space Shepherd feels equally at home at, regularly spinning house, disco, techno and soul in institutions like Berghain and Fabric. Mention the club Plastic People in most music circles and the response will be rose-tinted glasses covering misty eyes. The tiny yet incredibly influential basement in Shoreditch regularly played host to residencies from Theo Parrish and Four Tet – a close friend of Shepherds – but abruptly closed down in 2015. It was also where the classically trained musician learned his trade as a DJ: “I started off quite humbly, doing a couple of parties, but it quickly moved to basically whenever no one else was playing. It got to the point where we could announce a party on a Thursday or Friday and we’d get 200 people, no problem. It’d be a party too, it’d be a jam.”

I put it to Shepherd that London lost more than just the physical space when it shut down. He pauses briefly. “Last night I listened to this Pedro Santos record and one song came on that is 100% a Plastic People tune. I had totally forgotten about it. It took me by surprise and I was grinning ear to ear. But then I thought, ‘where could I play this in London now?’. The answer is nowhere, there’s nowhere good enough where the system and crowd would be that forgiving. It had a lot to answer for culturally. It’s sad to have lost it because it was more than just the sound system, it was the whole community around it. But I don’t get hung up about this stuff because I’m sure somewhere else in London is really good now. Something will rise out of the ashes over time. I hope it happens before I get into my forties though, so that I can enjoy it rather than need to go to bed. I’m 33 going on 85.”

The spontaneous energy of the album demands to be listened to loudly with the lights down low. Shepherd notes that the records rapid shift in tempo and mood is meant to mirror “what happens when you’re at home playing music with your friends and it’s going all over the place…I wanted to make some dance music, I felt I had missed it for a while. I released LesAplx as a ‘hi everyone, I’m back’, but when the album comes out, I feel it will pull the rug from under people’s feet. Because the rest of it isn’t that at all.”

Floating Points plays Crush live at Printworks 21st November