Eight years since their debut album, Group Modular returns with a new LP – “Time Masters”! Dedicated to and centered on some of their favourite local drummers, the new record is another synth-driven excursion into space-age sound.
Ahead of the release of Time Masters, on November 13th on Polytechnic Youth, we reached out for an interview with the masterminds behind Group Modular, Markey Funk, and Mule Driver.
But let’s see the press release first.
Established in 2010, Group Modular is a meeting point between psych+funk enthusiast Markey Funk and machine music specialist Mule Driver. Both key figures on their respectful scenes, the two found common ground in their fascination with early electronic and library music of the 1960s and ’70s. Over the years of regular travels between Jerusalem and Tel Aviv, the two produced the highly acclaimed album “The Mystery of Mordy Laye” (2012, Audio Montage Entertainment) and an exclusive International Synthesizer Day single “Black Ray/Acid Wheels” (Delights, 2018) – as well as played a few special live shows in their home country.
For their new project, the duo invited six different drummers to provide the rhythmical (and at times – structural) backbone for future compositions. Taken from Rene Laloux’ cult animation feature, the album’s title “Time Masters” hints that the key figure of each tune is actually the one keeping the beat or, as they call it in classical music, – “the time”. Besides their regular collaborator, Sagi Sachs, on two tracks, they are joined by Yonadav Halevy (The Apples), Matan Assayag (Hoodna Orchestra/Shalosh), Hezus (3421/Trillion/Left), Ori Lavi, and Elia Yakin. While letting every stickman shine his distinctive style, Markey Funk and Mule Driver managed to bring these six different personalities closer under the multi-layered umbrella of space-age electronics and cinematic psychedelia. Crafted over the course of 3 years and wrapped in artwork by Nick Taylor (Spectral Studio), “Time Masters” is the duo’s love letter to the golden age of sci-fi animation.
And now it’s time for the interview
1) Hello dear friends. Introduce yourselves and tell us about your musical background, please.
Mule Driver: Hi, My birth name is Harel, but I work under many different names and projects. the main alias is indeed Mule Driver focuses on acid, electro, and more beat-oriented electronic music. Besides, there’s Max Schreiber who’s more experimental and ambient.
Markey Funk: Hey, I’m Markey. Born in Minsk, Belarus. Moved to Jerusalem with my family when I was 16. I produce, collect records, and DJ. Studied classical piano until the end of middle school, and started making my own music shortly after. Have been releasing stuff since 2006. I also research and occasionally write about obscure music. Since 2016, I’m running my own small label Delights, dedicated to releasing way-out groovy 45’s by contemporary artists.
2) What were the reasons to start a career in music?
M.D.: There are no reasons or logic in a music career. I tried to quit numerous times but each time I quit, it pulls me back in.
M.F.: I think most people will tell you that they didn’t choose to start a career in music – it chose them. To be fair, I don’t even think that “career” is the right word in this case – it’s rather a way of life.
3) How did you two meet since Markey is more into psychedelic, funk, etc. music and Harel is an electro head?
M.D.: It is true I’m into electro, but my journey through electronic music began with funk. From funk, I slowly drifted into electronic music. Around the early 2000’s I discovered ‘early electronic music’ artists like Delia Derbyshire, and Eliane Radigue as well as Library music.
I was amazed by the way they used synths and studio gear to create new sonic scapes.
In Jerusalem of that time (early 2000’s ) not many people were into that kind of music and Markey was the only one who truly got what fascinated me in this music.
M.F.: Jerusalem of the early 2000s had a very small and vibrant music community. There were very few places for non-mainstream culture, so there’s always been a dialogue between people coming from different musical backgrounds. As Harel mentioned, our meeting point, taste-wise, was early electronics and library music. I think that Barry 7’s Connectors compilation was probably the ice-breaker – and then we realized that we’re both fans of The Poets of Rhythm and their “Discern/Define” album. Then Stereolab and Broadcast came in, and it kind of developed into a shared fascination with space-age sound in general.
Later, when Harel had moved to Tel Aviv, I found myself coming there once a week (a routine that was only interrupted by this year’s lockdowns, actually) – so we’ve decided to meet up in his studio and try to make something together. The first session was so much fun, that we kept meeting every week, with occasional breaks. After a year of sessions, our first album started taking shape. The rest is history.
4) Are you collecting music? Is it an artifact for you or probably the best way to listen to music?
M.D.: In my early teenage years I used to buy 1 tape every Sunday. I didn’t have a CD player and tapes were cheaper, so I could even buy more than 1. Later I got a CD player and started collecting CDs. At some point when online shopping started and I found out that buying vinyl is also cheaper than CDs (that was the early 2000s) and I could get more music for the same price – so I started buying vinyl. That‘s what hooked me on vinyl (of course I immediately got my dad’s collection).
M.F.: When I started DJ’ing, vinyl was a weapon of choice (even though mixing with CDJ’s was already very common and CD’s were much easier to find). As a hip-hop-influenced producer, I, of course, explored my dad’s record collection first, so looking for samples on vinyl was kind of a default for me. Like I said earlier – it’s not something you intentionally choose. You just find yourself in it as a thing that you enjoy.
5) Are you interested in new or old stuff or a mix of both?
M.D.: I guess you mean in our music collection… I think that at the time we are living in, there is not much difference between the old and new anymore. It’s all mixed up.
Saying this, there are certain sounds that more appeal to me: I don’t like shiny sounds or overproduced music, and usually, old music is treated as less shiny and less produced (because of the technological limitations), so you can say I favor old music, sounds, and techniques – but not only. In general – if something is good, I like it 😀
M.F.: Like Harel said above, today, the concept of “new” and “old” has very blurred lines. Thanks to the broad access to information these days, you can endlessly discover music from 40, 50 and even 60 years ago, that you’d never thought existed – and it will be absolutely “new” to you. And on the other hand, plenty of music released these days (ours included, haha) explores genres or concepts from decades ago in completely new ways. I embrace the best of both worlds.
6) You’re both running your own labels, what led you to start a label in the first place, and how hard is it to keep it running? Do you have a big team behind you?
M.D.: I started Confused Machines as a platform for my label partner and myself to release our music. Since then, the people behind the label changed – my original partner left and a new one joined. The work is not hard but time-consuming – which can sometimes come at the cost of my own music production time. That’s why I try to focus on a small number of artists and keep planning my own projects within the label.
M.F.: Since re-launching Delights as my own label, it’s been pretty much a place to put out music by the artists that I like and apparently happen to collaborate with as producer or mixing engineer. I also do all the design and promotion. As you see, it’s pretty much a one-man operation, so I’m trying to put more accent on the quality of each release rather than a rapidly-growing catalogue.
7) Group Modular is the meeting point of your qualities individually, but what’s the deal between you two? Who does what?
M.F.: Besides the drums recording, we record most of the parts at Harel’s studio, so technically, his gear is the real co-star of our recordings. We both play keys, Harel does all the patching of the modular and plays most of the bass and guitar parts. Sometimes I add extra parts at home, but our sound is really a Los Jubilee sound.
8) Could you please inform us about your influences and the places (in general) you draw inspiration from?
M.D.: Influences are everywhere. From books and films to everyday life. I can draw inspiration from walking in the street, listening to people talk, or dreaming on my way on the bus.
A notable inspiration (to Group Modular and in general) is sci-fi. I believe that from a very young age, besides being fascinated about space and aliens, the feel of growing up in Jerusalem as a kind of outsider made me (i believe – both of us) identify with sci-fi stories and characters who later found their way to my music
M.F.: If you’re familiar with my work, you can tell that “psychedelia”, “space age” and “rhythm” are really keywords for me. I think that this is also another point of connection between Harel and myself – the fascination with visual language, certain visual aesthetics. This perhaps also explains the reason why I gravitate towards music with a strong visual aspect.
9) Is there a certain recipe you follow when you compose a new track?
M.D.: On “Time Masters”, the foundation for each track were the drums – on which we jammed and layered more parts. so, in this case, we had a recipe to kick start but sometimes we can start working from a certain sound and build the track around it.
10) Collaborating with various Israeli artists is a great move. Did they also contributed to the sound shaping or did they just played their part?
M.F.: Basically, the idea was to record drummers that we like and let them set the backbone for future tracks. We didn’t know what we’ll end up with, in the first place, so it was really a special challenge: creating a track from scratch based on a structure provided by a drum-kit alone. Did drummers have any influence on shaping the sound? I think sometimes the drum parts led us to certain choices of instruments or patches. Can’t put a finger on a particular example now, but I’m sure there’s a bunch of them.
11) Are you planning further collaborations in the future? I’d love to listen to something between you and Drumetrics or GLK for example.
M.F.: Haha, thanks, Gio! If we ever make it to California together – we won’t miss a chance to record with Mike (MRR of Drumetrics) or Will (The Gaslamp Killer).
Actually, we’ve still got plenty of unused material from our drum sessions, so who knows – we might end up doing a Time Masters sequel at some point. 😉
M. D.: I’m going to quote Markey on this 😀 and spare time for Time Masters 2 😮
12) Who is Mordy Laye anyway? Did he ever existed or was it a marketing trick / urban legend?
M.F.: Haha, I was expecting that! Every person who read the liner notes had asked me this question at least once. I think that after all these years, my answer will not come as a surprise to anyone.
As you see, Harel and I are coming from very different backgrounds and are kind of identified with different scenes. Back in 2010, when we started working together, this gap was even larger, because there wasn’t much awareness of the early electronic or library music, that would bring these worlds together. Just think about it for a moment: besides a lot of obscure references that we already had, the only contemporary artists that gave us the motivation to persist with such an odd project were The Simonsound and Mr. Chop. It took quite a journey and a whole series of mixes to introduce people to the context in which our album existed – and even then, it was too far-out for most of them to relate to. So instead of going extremely nerdy with our explanations, we’ve created an anonymous character – Mordy Laye – and his obscure, otherworldly music, as the main thing that brought us together.
13) Many things have changed since the release of your debut album with most of these changes taking place in the social-political sector. How does that affect you?
M.F.: Oh well… that’s a gateway to a whole deep conversation of its own. Let’s say that right now, just like any other artist in the world today, each of us is truly missing playing in front of a crowd, traveling the world, meeting new people, digging in new shops… In fact, we couldn’t even see each other since the first lockdown – and that’s quite depressing. But we’re happy that after a long journey, the new album is finally coming out!
Personally, I’m trying to use this time to make progress with some projects that have been in the drawer for quite a while and just keep releasing music. And I think that now – more than ever – people need new music to help them get through the rough times.
14) Will there be any kind of promotion for Time Masters?
M.F.: If you mean some live tour of sorts – we honestly didn’t plan anything particular, and since the COVID-19 arrived, we don’t even think it will be much of an option anytime soon. However, we don’t deny the possibility of some live online transmission in the near future.
M.D.: Group Modular show is always a challenge. Since it’s basically a studio project, it includes studio gear that is not always easy to tour with. Also since the players never work together in one room, working on a show is like forming a band.
Add the Covid on top of – and it probably won’t happen…
In the past, we did play live re-score shows – just the 2 of us – so maybe this will happen again.. who knows
15) Thank you guys, it’s always a pleasure talking to you!
M.D.: Thank you and take care, it was a pleasure 🙂
M.F.: Thank you, Gio! Cheers! 🙂
All band photos taken by Eldad Menuchin