An Interview with Pharos, the curator of Rave
Image Credit: Pharos

Rave is my most memorable Fringe experience so far. It’s an unexpected introspective music experience that fills the senses and takes you on a journey within yourself.

For me, making music is a weird, almost spiritual, process

In wanting to learn a little more about Pharos (AKA Fraser Lawson), the artist behind the production, I reached out to organise his first Fringe interview.

Below is a snippet of our conversation, as we discuss Lawson’s artistic motivations, psychedelic influences and future plans.

If anyone comes to your show expecting a dance rave, they might be disappointed. Was there a reason you named your show Rave?

I was in two minds about the title because it could be misleading. Some people just read that word and think, ‘Whoa, party. Let’s go!’ which is probably not the best or most appreciative audience for intricate and melodic music.

There are elements of rave culture within my music because it is dance music. It often has that four-to-the-four beat and, although not all the time, people do like to dance to it. Originally, I wanted the audience to be standing but I also think seated has its merits, letting people just soak it in and making it suitable for a wider variety of audiences as well.

You’ve had mixed reactions so far, ranging from outrage to tears, did you imagine the response would be this varied?

It's very subjective, everyone has a different taste of music. Initially, I was a bit like, ‘Oh, God, I want everybody to love me’ but now I expect at least a small portion of the audience to leave if it’s not for them.

If people come with the intention of having a big night, they might end up having a more artistic sort of evening, even if that's not necessarily what they were expecting. They may appreciate that, or they may not. And they're welcome to leave if they don't!

It’s hard to define your work. How would you explain what you do in your own words?

I always start with the music. That's where my real passion lies and everything else comes after that. I try to write music that evokes an emotional, atmospheric feeling.

The visual element came a lot later as an attempt to make a show that would stand out. The visuals are striking because they're novel. As far as I’m aware, there aren’t any other shows or festivals showing anything like this.

What’s special about the visuals?

The visuals are made through AI technology, as well as my own curation. Rather than animating everything by hand which would take a lifetime to do, I use generative AI. I choose a starting image that sets the mood for the track and then I write prompts and choose different camera movements, creating motion and evolution, before manually editing them together and syncing them to the music.

The AI does remarkable things, especially with the movement. The AI will generate completely unique images as it moves. The technology is based on data from the entire human history of art, but it can create totally novel things. I'm always amazed by what it generates.

When did you first realise how powerful the visuals were?

The visuals evolve in a natural but also unnatural way. In my set, I use ocean waves that curve around as if they're about to crash, but they never do. Instead, they evolve in a static space and no animator would ever animate that because everybody wants the wave to crash!

Traditionally, animation is done by hand, so it takes a very long time. Usually, only one character in a cartoon will move and the rest of the scene will be static because it takes so much time to move one element of it. With AI technology, however, every single pixel on your screen can change in every frame and evolve in a way that's different to anything seen before in traditional animation.

The whole process of curating and stitching together the different clips for one track takes about two to three days to complete. Often it doesn't work and something's not right, so you change, go back, write a new prompt, or maybe start with a different image. If you ask a traditional animator to make an exact replica of that, it would take years! It's remarkable technology.

How did you get into music production?

I've been making music since I was a teenager, working with various different genres and DJing drum ’n’ bass back in university. It was always a side thing. I didn't think it was a viable thing to do as my full-time job.

I was an electronic engineer for ten years before this and that’s why I'm so interested in the technology side of music and visual art. I also grew up listening to late-night Radio One which used to be really, really good. It had John Peel, Zane Lowe and Annie Mack and all these incredible shows. I got addicted and, ever since then, I’ve had the drive to write my own stuff. I thought it would be the best thing ever.

What’s your motivation for making music?

It's my number one way of expressing myself, I suppose. For me, making music is a weird, almost spiritual, process. I know that view may not be very popular these days, but when I make music there’s this feeling that something magical is happening. That's the feeling I'm looking for when I write music.

I also use semi-religious elements in my music. I have choral chanting sounds with tonnes of reverb as you might get in a religious building. Even though I'm super technical – I'm an engineer and I've been an atheist almost all my life – I have no technical explanation for why making music like this feels so good.

How would you say your show has been received so far?

I've only done nine shows so far and audience reactions have been very mixed. Some nights have been more subdued and quieter but last Saturday was wild!

There was a group of people who all knew each other, chanting and applauding loudly after every track. Everybody got out of their seats and crowded around the screen, like a gathering around a campfire. It was quite incredible for me.

Sometimes it’s been quiet but appreciative and other times I'm very unsure about how it's gone down. When the screen goes black, some crowds applaud, and others stay completely silent. I don't know if that's because they're captivated or uninterested!

How does the psychedelic experience inspire your work if at all?

Though I don’t really view my work that way, I’m inspired by people like John Hopkins who has an album called ‘Music for Psychedelic Therapy’. Multiple people have commented on using psychedelics to view and listen to my work and, apparently, it's been incredible for them.

What artists or musicians would you compare yourself to?

I guess you could say I’m a VJ, similar to people like DJ Yoda and DJ Shadow who have been doing this kind of thing for a long time.

They're brilliant as well but my music is very different to theirs. They're more influenced by hip-hop originally, whereas I’m more aligned with traditional electronic dance music. My music has orchestral influences, choral sounds and human voices with lots of reverb, which I don't think they do as much of.

It's your debut at Edinburgh Fringe. What has your experience been, like so far?

I've lived in Edinburgh and surrounding areas for a long time. I've been here as a punter myself, so I knew what to expect. The major difference, obviously, is that now I have my own show. It’s crazy to me. I've been wanting to do this my entire life, but to be here doing it is quite surreal. At first, it was completely terrifying, but it's getting easier.

What’s next after the Fringe?

I'm going to be taking this show on the road I've started talking to a booking manager about doing a tour this autumn, around November.

I've been writing new songs and videos all throughout the Fringe, and I've been adding them to the set as I go and changing bits that I don't think work so well. By November, it will essentially be the same show, but there'll be new music and new visuals as well.

I'm attempting to make it my day job. I’ve been saving up money for about 10 years with the idea to eventually take the risk to do this professionally. That would be a dream come true.

And finally, what would you say to anyone considering coming to your show?

It's a unique experience. I don’t think there's any other show in the Fringe or anything anywhere quite like it. So, if you're into cool music and novel experiences, then Rave may be the show for you!

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Absolutely not what you are expecting. 

Articles by Laura Tucker

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