From Arla to Bromley – Profile on Overmono

Ed Russell was 8 years old when he started eavesdropping on his older brother, Tom mixing records in the room next door. At 18 Tom had gotten his first set of decks, and although Ed can’t really infer what kind of impression it made on him today, by the time he was 11 and set out on his own path with a set of decks, he was regularly “pinching” records from Tom’s room, according to an interview with the Quietus.  

Tom had started making music and DJing as Truss while Ed was still coming of age and honing his nascent skills between DJing and production. As Truss, the older brother played sets and released music that focussed on the darker shades of Techno, infused with elements lifted from UK dance music- and sound system culture. With Perc Trax as a vehicle for his music, he made a significant impression as part of a wave of artists pursuing Techno in the UK capital after Dubstep’s descent.

Records like “Kymin Lea” and his collaborations with Perc, had brought an abstract era of Techno to the dance floor, punctuated by militant drum machine arrangements and suffused with experimental sonic designs that went beyond the functional.

Artists like Truss and Perc facilitated an era in the UK’s clubbing community that ultimately provided a platform for a whole post-Dubstep generation to come through and develop unique strains of music. Infused with a heady mixture of UK rave culture, whilst drawing on influences from Berlin, Chicago and Detroit, this next phase was fertile environment for a new burgeoning eclecticism. It’s in this scene that younger brother Ed would make his debut as Tessela with the much hyped and still magnificent, “Hackney Parrot.” 

“Hackney Parrot” would be the first time that Ed and Tom would work together (although indirectly), with their joint venture and label, Poly Kicks expediting the release of the debut record. “I’ve never been one for subtlety really,” Ed told Resident Advisor at the time of Hackney Parrot’s release, and the record honours that sentiment with a screaming, chopped vocal undulating between the raucous, bass-heavy breakbeat arrangement. With later records on the likes of R&S,  Tessela established a unique sound that flirted with Techno, while retaining those expressive UK rave influences that he had picked up from his brother’s records. 

While they had been working in close proximity to each other, it hadn’t occurred to the brothers to combine their efforts yet. Besides an isolated release as TR/ER in 2012 for the aptly-named Brothers imprint, they stuck to their own worlds. “We never actually meant for TR\ER to be a thing” explained Ed in an interview with De School. It was a lone incident for them and it didn’t establish anything that would eventually inform their sound together as Overmono.

The idea for Overmono and serious collaboration would only really come much later. “We were driving down to our Mum’s one evening,” Ed Russell told the Quietus ”and it suddenly just hit us that we should start properly making music together.” While they’ve never confirmed what encouraged this epiphany (or what music might have been playing in the car at that time) what followed was a five-day writing session in a cottage away from the distractions of city life in London.

Before the writing session, Tom had received a box of unwanted records from a brother in law, and while it was largely inconsequential records, one box had contained “loads of amazing early Detroit stuff like Underground Resistance and Transmat records,” encouraging the older sibling to “take the lot.” From this they sampled what they could, building “a big library of sounds we thought were interesting, and that was almost the start of Overmono.” 

Processing the samples beyond recognition, Ed and Tom laid the foundation for what would become the first in a series of three records for XL Recordings called “Arla.” “There was a tinge of nostalgia to the Arla series of records,” Tom told De School. “Those three records were very personal to us in trying to establish a blueprint of our references and define what Overmono is about.” Creating that blueprint from those early Detroit influences, Overmono is built on a foundation of Techno, while channeling everything from those pivotal UK influences to trance into their music in an abstract collage of the history of dance music. “I guess we don’t specifically see Overmono as a solely techno-focused project” Tom explained in the Quietus, and while Ed considers Tessela as “something that definitely folded into Overmono,” they’ve severed any ties with their solo aliases in Overmono. It merely came down to the box of records.

While they established something individual in their solo projects, “Overmono offers us the chance to be much more expansive in our productions,” Ed told De School. Pursuing melody rather than function, the duo set out to create music that although more abstract, could live beyond the dance floor and the 12” through the Arla series of records for XL. It’s only during their fourth EP, Whities 019 that they would emerge with a sound that would define their more recent records for the likes of Poly Kicks, which brought their sound further to the middle of the dance floor again. 

While Arla was based around samples, from Whities 019 forward they were creating their own unique and individual melodic pieces. “We both love a bit of trance,” Tom told the Quietus, somewhat predictively in strains of music that could be heard through their more recent records like the self-titled EP from this last November. Between buoyant melodies and percussive rhythms that ricochet between quaver notes and broken beat samples, Overmono has defined a sound over the last three records that has found some synchronicity with current dance floor trends, without pandering to them. 

Records like “Raft Living” infuse this stark melodic element with the roots of UK rave culture, where blistering beat arrangements envelope everything else in that very same lack of subtlety that defined Ed’s work as Tessela. 

What sets Overmono’s music apart is their ability to bring this sound beyond the recorded format to the live stage. With a visceral approach to their machines, their “music is defined by the kit that we use” according to Ed in a Resident Advisor feature. That translates to a live situation too with a “more cohesive set” emerging as the pair unpack their music with their machines leading them down a path to a “middleground between freedom and improvisation.” 

Between making records, their individual output, and playing live, they also managed to find time to collaborate with Joy O, in one of the biggest tracks on the dance floor during 2019, ”Bromley.” It emerged closer to those UK Rave influences, with a perfunctory percussive arrangement, where minimal is key and every element needs to count, bearing closer resemblance to a track “Daisy Chain,” than the more recent “Le Tigre.” 

As Joy O’s music is want to do, there was an incredible hype surrounding the track, and with good reason, and while Overmono had already garnered a lot of attention for their music and live show, it has only gone to cement Overmono as a tour de force on the electronic club music scene of today. From their first records to where they’ve channelled their sound and their live show, they’ve established something unique together as Overmono.