The Irresistible Force Mixmaster Morris: Master of British ambient electronic music

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E. Little
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Photo via Spiritland

Step into the world of chillout pioneer Morris Gould aka Mixmaster Morris aka Irresistible Force.

“The sampler changed my life,” the British DJ and producer Mixmaster Morris told Mixmag in a 1992 feature alongside his friend Aphex Twin. “This was the mid-80s and at that point the only people who had samplers were Peter Gabriel and Sting because they cost £100,000. Suddenly you could get this kit for the Sinclair Spectrum or the Commodore 64. I blagged one pretending I was going to review it and became increasingly obsessed,” he said.

“I knew this technology was going to change the face of music forever. I vowed to do a record where the sampling was upfront. I vowed to become the Jimi Hendrix of sampling.”

More than three decades later, the artist born Morris Gould’s discography and DJ sets offer the exquisite evidence of that obsession. Despite the desire for Hendrix-style showmanship, he was an early proponent of gentler, ambient-inspired house, techno and early synth records as a foil to the loud, speedy tracks driving the main sound systems at early 1990s British raves. Taken as a whole, Morris’ work as Irresistible Force and with collaborators including Spacetime Continuum’s Jonah Sharp and Japanese legend Haruomi Hosono sounds as innovative and bumping as when it was released.

Take this track from 1991: Irresistible Force, Space Is The Place (Intergalactic Ambient Mix).

Morris coined a phrase, “I think, therefore I ambient,” to contrast to the big dumb proto-EDM with the electronic beat music he and his peers were making: “Back in 1992 I meant that ambient music could be the antidote to mindless rave music, and I still think it’s true. Ambient back then was everything electronic that wasn’t just house, techno, rave, whatever. Nowadays electronic music surrounds us all the time, and chillout music has swung far more towards acoustic and orchestral sounds.”

“I always wanted to make avant-garde music for young people who were psychedelically enlightened.”

Mixmaster morris, 1992

Morris got his start as a party promoter in DJ in late 1980s Brixton, where at a place called Fridge he helped set up one of England’s first house clubs, Madhouse. He drew more attention for his slot alongside kindred spirits including Coldcut on pirate radio station Network 21, and did a few gigs with Genesis P. Orridge’s Psychic TV. In 1989, Morris connected with electronic house band the Shamen.

He eventually hooked up with a club night called Telepathic Fish, considered a crucial spot in the rise of British ambient electronic music. Critic David Toop writes about Telepathic Fish in his book Ocean of Sound:

For the first party, held in the Dulwich house, six hundred people turned up through word of mouth and Mixmaster Mor­ris DJd. Then they planned a May Day teaparty. The fliers were teabags. Mixmaster Morris wanted a German ambient DJ, Dr Atmo, to play at the party, along with Richard “Aphex Twin” James, a recent addition to Morris’s wide circle of friends and fellow psychic nomads. … “It was from Sunday tea on May bank holiday and people just turned up in dribs and drabs all through the night,” [recalled one promoter]. “We got Vegetable Vision in to do the lights. We ran around and got mattresses from on the street round Brixton and we had some of my friends do­ing the tea. We made lots of jelly and there was plenty of acid about. That went on for about fourteen, fifteen hours, with people lying around. That was the first proper Telepathic Fish, May 1st, ’93”.

Morris on his approach, in another interview: “I always tried to avoid defining a formula for ambient music; that only leads to generic cookie cutter tunes like a lot of today’s dance. To me it’s an attitude rather than a genre, and part of that attitude is an eclectic open-minded approach.” 

In 1996, Morris played the influential Wisconsin rave Even Furthur, where, on a roster that also included a very young Daft Punk, he brought ambient electronic music to Middle America. 

“I always wanted to make avant-garde music for young people who were psychedelically enlightened,” Morris told Mixmag in a fascinating 1992 story. “Before house music started I thought it was an unrealistic fantasy. People are going back to their roots, the people who want to make disco music are going back to making disco music and the avant-garde people are making more and more experimental and ambient music. There are people who want to hear this music, who want to understand, it’s an irresistible force and it’s getting stronger all the time.” 

Though we’re focused on Mixmaster Morris’ rise and early influence, since his ascent at raves and in clubs in the 1990s he’s consistently produced and remixed tracks. Under the name Dreamfish, he collaborated with Pete Namlook for two 1990s albums. Irresistible Force’s most recent album, Kira Kira, came out in 2017. Produced by Killing Joke cofounder Flood, it features bassist Jah Wobble and is an unsung gem.

Now celebrating its 30th anniversary, Morris’ debut album as Irresistible Force, Flying High, is being reissued through the great label WRWTFWW. The label is also rereleasing Quiet Logic, Morris’ ace collaboration with Spacetime Continuum’s Jonah Sharp and YMO’s Haruomi Hosono. Originally only available as a Japanese import, the 1998 album deserves a spot next to other genre-busting electronic classics of the era.

Mixmaster Morris, Jonah Sharp and Haroumi Hosono, Quiet Logic:

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