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Dressed all in black save his golden mask and white gloves, Claptone is rarely an interview giver
Ministry of Sound meets the man of mystery the night of the launch of his debut album, Charmer. A decidedly pop-house affair that’s the product of two years of perfectionism, Claptone chooses to keep his mask and hat on throughout the interview, not breaking character for a second.
It becomes clear quickly that we are doing things “the Claptone way”, a self-coined term he justifies using “when you have a certain idea of what you want to represent.” In his case, it’s the need to have control over all specifics, from production techniques to photoshoots. “I need to have control and only do things that benefit my music”. Safe to say, no photos are allowed as we talk in near darkness.
His attitude could easily be attributed to arrogance, but instead it seems that Claptone is more of a loner than an egomaniac. Though he praises his record label for giving him the freedom to do things "his way", there’s not much affinity with the people who are putting out his music: “family is not really [my] sort of thing”.
With this isolated way of working in mind, it's ironic that we meet on the day of a party being held in his honour. The event is emblazoned with his golden mask, a party to celebrate the launch of an album that despite its guest stars (Jaw and Clap Your Hands Say Yeah included) seems to have been a very private affair.
It seems like a strange event for a man so concerned with keeping his privacy under control, who asks himself everyday “have I been compromised or not”. He muses on this. saying "to live you have to make compromise, it’s just about the amount of compromises you can justify before yourself."
I wonder if any of this compromise would be happening without “Liquid Spirit”, a track that leaked over summer like a burst bag of Pimms. Taking Gregory Porter's original jazz medley and quick-timing it, Claptone has since become a household name to anybody who has enjoyed even a slice of commercial clubbing this year. It’s something I imagine he’s sick of talking about, but at the mention of it he still seems (difficult to be sure) awestruck.
Describing it as "one of many tracks you make, and then suddenly it gets popular and you don’t know why.” He’s thoughtful as he enunciates the feeling of creating a musical moment. “As a musician, you make music you love, but then suddenly something is beyond what you did before… Everything came together.” He remembers watching the play count go up on Beatport around the world and realising that something was about to happen.
The track's success still hasn’t induced him to remove the mask, though some have tried to do it for him during sets where bouncers have had to pull would be revealers from the DJ booth. He still insists “it’s not about me as a personality… I don’t want to waste my private time on hearing that I’m a cool guy. It’s not about that.”
An artist who wants to give his all without finding his own integrity taken entirely, Claptone finds himself a in a difficult position, especially at a time when often producing music is not enough. Is he tired? “I am tired, at times. I try and sleep wherever I can. At the same time, as tiring as it is, it’s very exciting. I know why I’m doing it. It’s me. It’s all I’ve ever wanted.”
Charmer by Claptone is out now, you can buy it here.
Listen to "Liquid Spirit" alongside tracks by the likes of Hot Natured and Jamie xx on Sunset Soul. Check it out here.