Paul Harding of drum ’n’ bass heroes Pendulum talks about musical trials and tribulations
There’s a certain suspicion that hangs around band members who do DJ sets. And to be fair that suspicion is sometimes justified: we’ve all had that horrible moment listening to amateur DJs fumble over the turntables like confused geriatrics while records collide inexpertly. But in the case of Paul ‘El Hornet’ Harding, it’s all different. Not only is he a member of Pendulum, the UK/Aussie band that started out as club-friendly purveyors of drum ’n’ bass and went on to incorporate rock and live instrumentation into their act, he’s also the band’s turntablist. So is he a DJ or a band member? A bit of both,’ he shrugs. ‘That was always the point, really.’
Indeed. From the beginning, the band have seen DJ sets not as an easy way to make a bit of cash, but as an integral part of their continued development. Their time on the turntables allows them to test their songs where they matter – on the dancefloor – and tweak them accordingly. ‘We’ve done this right back to the first song we made as a group,’ says Paul. ‘It’s something we felt was missing from [second album] In Silico – there was such a rush to finish the record that tracks were being mastered a day after they were turned in.’
It’s ironic, really, because In Silico – the album that showcased the band’s drum ’n’ bass/rock ’n’ roll-fusing sound – was also the one that garnered them critical acclaim and top-10 singles. It also marked a change after the straight-up d’n’b debut of Hold Your Colour, and cemented them as dance music’s most credible crossover act.
Unsurprisingly, the hardcore drum ’n’ bass community received this badly, branding them sell-outs and mainstream-chasers, and booing them at the 2009 Drum ’n’ Bass Awards. But Paul remains stoic. ‘You do get a few people who feel you owe them something. We’re not in the habit of writing music for anyone other than ourselves. If other people want to get on the ride, that’s great, but if you don’t like it there are plenty of other things to pay attention to instead.’
At Alpha this Friday, all attention will be on Paul as he steps forward to play a full-on drum ’n’ bass set, including – true to form – some new tracks from Pendulum’s forthcoming album, Immersion. From what little we’ve heard so far, it seems to be a partial return to the band’s pre-rock-driven days, possibly a result of the band once again incorporating DJ sets into the writing process. And it seems that Paul is relishing this return to a more measured, introspective method of creation. ‘So far, writing this album has been more of a relaxing process,’ he enthuses. ‘We haven’t felt as much pressure as there was with the last record and the music has really just come about on its own. We have a better studio to write in and we’re happier than we’ve ever been – 2009 was a great year for us and we’re really happy with where we are now.’
As Paul’s Twitter account reveals, his only complaints these days are relatively trivial ones. Aside from wryly amusing stories about DJ Roger Sanchez ‘trying to look inconspicuous while covered in diamante’, the closest thing we get to celeb angst is this: ‘Dear parents of six-month-old crying child: I am at the front of the plane to escape your kind. Please muzzle that thing,’ he wrote recently. So what other kind of people bug him, we wonder? ‘Close talkers, arm-rest stealers, limp hand-shakers and jive-talkin’ turkeys,’ he grins. What, no adoring fans mobbing him every day? ‘I was standing at the counter in HMV in [London’s] Oxford Street yesterday and the guy next to me was buying our remix of ‘Voodoo People’. He looked at me, I looked at him… nothing. I think I need more diamante.’
Paul Harding plays Alpha, February 12. Immersion is scheduled for release in May.