Upstepping – the new mini-album by the cellist, composer and producer Oliver Coates – is, like its creator, defined by its contrasts. On first listen, Coates’ description of it as “pumped-up body music” feels perfectly apt – it’s a bedroom recording fuelled by caffeine, nervous energy and early Orbital and Photek – but deconstructed, destabilising and even sinister elements soon emerge. Coates himself, a globally lauded soloist, juggles appearances in Europe’s grandest concert halls with long-running, wide-ranging collaborations with like-minded artists, from the experimental composers Jonny Greenwood and Mica Levi to the electronic musician and producer Actress.

Upstepping continues Coates’ deep exploration of the synthesis between the sounds he can tease from his cello and the sonic and rhythmic palette of electronic music. The instrument is a bridge between two worlds: the rigour and restraint of classical performance and the catharsis of dance music. Upstepping is fuelled by a childhood spent practising and performing during daylight hours, and glued to the pirate radio of 1980s London at night.  

When he came to make Upstepping, “limiting myself was the only rule” Coates says. “About 95 per cent of the sounds are derived from recording the cello and processing it digitally. A hi-hat equivalent is often a distorted, compressed and heavily EQ’d horsehair-on-steel stroke. All the melodic pitched sounds, even the ones that feel like keys, are samples of the tail of a cello harmonic. For example, ‘Perfect Love’ is a study in grey, concealing the source – it’s 100 per cent made from different types of cello attack. All of this is my way to try to widen the vocabulary of percussion, sampling and drum machine sounds, which have a rich history of their own.

The record grew out of a time in Coates’ life that was simultaneously joyful and unsettled. “It’s a response to being in love and getting married, feeling sort of drunk on that” he says. “The titles ‘Innocent Love’ and ‘Perfect Love’ came from seeing Agnes Martin paintings of the same name at the Dia Beacon in upstate New York while on a road trip with Stephen [Bass].” (Bass founded the legendary indie label Moshi Moshi and its experimental offshoot Prah; Coates’ first full-length record, Towards the blessed islands, was Prah’s first release.) 

But after Coates’ return to London, he and his wife’s new home was flooded, forcing them into limbo as the flat was torn out and rebuilt. Upstepping was recorded between tours and a never-ending parade of temporary accommodation: Hong Kong during the students’ universal suffrage protests; Cairo under the shadow of Egypt’s bombing campaign against Islamic State targets; soulless London hotels and B&Bs. 

The name of the record is a subtle nod to some of Coates’ most closely held creative inspirations. “I heard an interview in which Genesis P-Orridge of Psychic TV used the word ‘upstepping’ in reference to the human race, and its capacity to elevate and evolve at a heightened rate. I’m interested in transitioning. When I made this record, I was extending my love for producing dance music from a young age in parallel with playing the cello in according to a convention – usually, interpreting notated music while seated. 

Recently I did a tour with [the trombonist and Arthur Russell collaborator] Peter Zummo where I played the cello through a distortion pedal and stood throughout, and it felt like the different parts of my heart coming together. At its simplest, Upstepping refers to standing up and engaging and moving with my whole body. But musically, it’s fuelling an impulse to make pumped-up body music – the opposite of cerebral – and to see where that takes the musical form.”  



"a compendium of sonic love letters" – Wire  
"Upstepping makes a strong and lasting impact" – 4/5 Music OMH
"an extraordinary cellist" – Max Reinhardt, Late Night Junction BBC3  
"Oliver Coates has just dropped one of the best albums of the year" – Fact
"One of my favourite radical cello players" – Mary Anne Hobbs, BBC6 Music  
"Coates has made a fascinating and genuinely exciting record that is removed from everything else going on around it" –8/10 Clash  
"Upstepping’ blends stark electronica and experimental classicism into a magnificent album, which sees Coates skirt the edge of perfection" – 9/10 Loud & Quiet  

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