Chris Frain’s ‘Pattern Language’, A Retro-Futurist Journey

Colorado-based synth-electronic crafter, Chris Frain, takes listeners on a retro-futuristic journey under the moniker ‘Pattern Language’, with his six-track mini-album debut ‘Total Squaresville’ via Happy Robot Records. Pattern Language shares the same krautrock spirit of electronic music as innovators, Kraftwerk, Cluster, Harmonia, and La Dusseldorf. Frain also draws heavily on his childhood influences including The Art of Noise, Thomas Dolby, Eurythmics, and King Crimson. The lead off single ‘By Time We Get There’ is accompanied by a captivating retro video by Cheyene Grow at 75 Ohms which was created using 20th century obsolete video equipment. ‘Le Choc des Etoiles’, the next track, is coincided with a video that takes you on a piece-by-piece ride through the futuristic past.

TM had the opportunity to chat with Chris Frain about how his newest project ‘Pattern Language’ started, his creative process and the making of his retro futuristic videos.

TM – I understand you’ve been making electronic music for a few years now? What was your inspiration for starting your first solo project under the moniker ‘Pattern Language’?

CF – The reason for the moniker was pretty simple – the label (Happy Robots Records) wanted something with a little more pizazz than just “Chris Frain,” especially since the tracks on the EP were a lot more direct and focused than my previous work. The name itself refers to a widely-used college-level textbook about architecture and urban planning, but also seemed to describe modern music-making as well, where patterns are assembled and communicated to the listener.

TM – Please describe your creative process when making new music.

CF – It’s not very glamorous, unfortunately. I try to come up with melodic phrases first and then create bass synth, chords, and drum machine parts that all serve the melodic statements after that. I put that all together in software so I can at least hear how it sounds altogether as a musical composition before moving it all over to actual physical synthesizers so I can have more control over the sound and performance of each part.

TM – Who or what inspires you the most when it comes to music?

CF – Kraftwerk inspires me greatly, there’s something instantly identifiable about their music that resonates with me. After that I really enjoy polyrhythmic music like Steve Reich or the 1980s version of King Crimson. Overall I tend to gravitate towards things that sound complex overall but are actually made up of very simple parts.

TM – Can you tell us about your ‘Total Squaresville’ mini-album? How did a London label like Happy Robots Records discover you?

CF – I really enjoyed the Hologram Teen EP by (ex-Stereolab) Morgane L’hote that Happy Robots released last year. I started checking out their back catalog online to try and figure out if this might be a label that would have an interest in my music as well. In my experience it’s sort of difficult to find a label if you don’t specialize in one pre-established genre or subgenre of electronic music, but Happy Robots has a diversity in their acts that I admire. I emailed them, pretty much not expecting to get an answer, and within a day we were already talking about working on remixes for other artists and tentatively planning an EP.


TMPattern Language (Chris Frain) 1 - photo credit Chris Sessions.jpg


TM – Your new video for ‘Le Choc des Etoiles’ has a retro-futurist flare to it. How did this idea come to you?

CF – The sounds on it (in particular the string section that uses the sound of an instrument called the “Mellotron”) are pretty retro, so I knew I wanted to go for a 1970s vibe for the video. I found this one film online that was an industrial short about the “wonders of plexiglass” or something like that, and there was one shot in particular where the camera just pans over all these luxury items and furniture all made of plexiglass. It’s kind of surreal but the speed of the camera panning over the items seemed to match the tempo of the track, so it just sort of fit the music with very minimal editing. There’s also some shots of a 1970s shopping mall that looks exactly like one where I grew up, so there was some heavy nostalgia going on there.

TM – What was it like working with Cheyene Grow at 75 Ohms for your video of ‘By Time We Get There’?

CF – It was great! I basically just gave him the track and a tentative deadline and a few weeks later got the whole video from him. I didn’t provide any input at all or watch any rough edits. I had seen 75 Ohms’ visuals at several live shows and it’s just stunning and very unique. I knew several years ago that I would definitely want a video done by them if the opportunity arrived. I love the video – that little rectangle is like the unofficial mascot of Pattern Language.

TM – When did you first learn to play music and what instruments did you play?

CF – Believe it or not, I was writing music before I even knew how to play an instrument or how to read musical notation.. When I was 8 or so I was selected for a music composition mini-class, which got me out of spelling tests for one day a week. They would sit us down at glockenspiels and have us write music, and I had no idea what I was doing in terms of actually writing the notes down in music notation. Eventually I would learn to play guitar (terribly) and gravitated to bass by my teen years, which I still enjoy playing. The synthesizers and drum machines came pretty late to me, but I always had an interest in doing it. I think I finally settled on that once I ran out of motivation for being in bands.

TM – Are there any future plans of taking ‘Pattern Language’ on the road?

CF – No plans yet, but definitely intentions. I have to figure out the logistics of doing a tour in the very near future. I live in Colorado so any commitment to touring, even in the US, would involve really long stretches of driving for most of the tour with no one else to share the driving duty.

Happy Robot Records


Article originally written by Judy Lyon for Stereo Embers Magazine

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