Tuesday, September 9, 2008
We Were Never Mnml, September 2008
Southern spring is sprung! And although those brave enough to venture forth in t-shirts will still be met with diamond tipped nips and goose flesh, there’s an undeniable feeling of something being lifted. 'Tis also the season for some exceptional EPs, adding to what’s shaping up to be a bumper year for those who like lashings of quirk and sophistication with their boom boom. You really get the feeling that groove-based electronic music is growing up and settling down to write music that’s comfortable with an understated, refined sense of its own groove and purpose.
An EP which is emblematic in this regard is Lee Jones’ Soon on Aus, which takes (another) two of the outstanding tracks from Jones’ poised, quietly confident album Digital Frank. This is minimal house in no hurry to be or say anything – so relax, and let it enfold your ears. The A2 is MDMAzing, which is full of a kind of soft rushing euphoria that sounds like Booka Shade’s Mandarine Girl – but re-done in aquarelles. Also included on this EP is the Mole’s remix of Soon, which is yet another demonstration of his deft handling of loops, taking apparently simple sounds and weaving them into a mesmerising flow.
Another equally hypnotic piece of low-fuss, low-friction excellence is Thomas Melchior’s Who Can Find Me EP on Cadenza. Melchior’s got his mojo working here, with the A Who Can’t Find Me showing off his prediliction for soft, white, female vocal loops, and layer upon layer of rhythmic intrications that sit buried in background of the mix, until you turn it up – then it’s a party full of butterflies, just like the cover art (great as always) depicts. Choir, on the flip, as got more of the roll, clump and tock you expect from Melchior, as well as those tight, dry little snares. As with the Mole’s remix of Jones, what I like here is the non-apparence of the groove – you really have to look in, but the closer you peer, the deeper (and more subtle) the reward.
So much for getting butter fluffy about drumwork – what if you want the kind of melodic minimalism that’s perfect for the breezy, cloudbursting spring mornings we’ve been having? Well then, you must check out Donnacha Costellos’ newie on his own Minimise imprint. As with his best ambient works, this EP is all about the incredible emotional mileage Donnacha can get out of the simplest possible arrangement. There’s such an abundance of space here: on It Simply Is (the A) it’s filled with dry metallic pads that carry much, much more expressive punch than they should (by rights). Ditto the B, Trust, which floats (where It Simply Is ascends), harking back to some of the later EPs in his fantastic colours series. Damned if this doesn’t get me every time.
Last but certainly not least for this my pick of the month, the new debut EP on Dial by newcomer John Robert, and… damn. You can hear it all here: Kassem Mosse meets Thomas Brinkmann (with a touch of Suguru Kusumi) performing a highly polished duet for Dial. The samples are superb (pianos, whips, thrown, spun, beaten-down and re-pitched drums), the arrangements fresh and engaging, but decisively the overall effect is extremely listenable. It’s crazy to think that this the debut EP by an artist under the age of twenty-five. Filthy old negativo curmudgeons (like me) take heed: the future looks like a spring bright sky.
And, because we SSGs are so smitten with John Robert's new EP, we've contacted him for a quick Q&A to fill in those blanks. Here 'tis:
Tell me a little about your musical development: what were you listening to at ten, fifteen, twenty, and twenty five?
When I was ten i was mostly listening to jammin 92.3, a hip-hop radio station in Cleveland, along with these Kris Kross and Vanilla Ice tapes that I had. When I was 15 I was listening to more radio rap and r'n'b and just getting into ghetto house. I found a record store in Cleveland that sold these house mixtapes from Chicago so I started collecting those and listening to them a lot. When I was 20 I was getting pretty into 80s Chicago house, deep house, and starting to listen to some overseas labels like perlon and playhouse. I'm not 25 yet but i've been pretty into 80s r'n'b lately and I imagine ill still be listening to that in a few months.
Was there any epiphanic moment with electronic music? What records and circumstances did it involve?
The first time I ever heard Cajmere / Green Velvet's "Percolator" is something I think about sometimes. I was at this sort of mainstream underage club when I was about 14 and when the vocal of that track came in everyone started going nuts. I had never heard it before so I didn't know what to expect but everyone went so wild for it. I guess I realized then that a track can be very simple but completely catchy and timeless at the same time. I still go nuts when I hear that track now; I don't care who says its played out.
Tell me a little about some inspirations and influences (of course focusing on, but not limited to, music):
I feel like one of my biggest influence will always be listening to rap and r'n'b on the radio. It's just something that i've done forever and i still love it so much. Going to second-hand record shops is pretty important to me too...i'm really picky when it comes to buying records so i love when i find one that im willing to spend money on. I also have a visual aesthetic that i try to work with alongside the music that im making, so a lot of the images that i collect for that are inspiration for me. I try to loosely work on a soundtrack for those images I guess.
How did you begin production?
I started producing after a long period of asking people how they made music. No one would really give me a clear answer and at that time I didn't understand why. Eventually my friend Adam (Atomly) showed me this program called a tracker that he was using to sequence tracks. It basically works by each sample having a number, and plotting out these numbers on a grid of more numbers. I hated it at first, but now I love it and still use it for a lot of the final sequencing that I do.
How has your process developed - tell me a little about how you work.
I just relocated to Berlin so my process is changing slightly again, but when i was living in New York I would go to the record store for a couple hours, buy some old records to sample, take them home, and record what I wanted. Then a different day I would work with some of my friend's synths and record those. The end was always me laying down with my laptop in bed or on the couch and doing the sequencing of the tracks. I think its important to be comfortable while you're working.
Where do you get your samples from?
old records, synthesizers, drum machines, and field recordings.
How did your relationship with Dial begin?
I got a message from Romy (Snow) saying how much she liked my tracks. I was visiting Berlin in February and asked her to meet me for a coffee. We got along really well and she told me how she was also a DJ and worked with Dial. She was actually moving to New York for awhile so I got a message the day before she left saying something like, "see you soon, tonight is my going away dinner, im going to give all of the dial people your tracks on CD." Later that night I got the most flattering e-mail from David (Carsten Jost) and Hendrik (Pantha du Prince) saying how much they wanted me to be a part of the label. It was the best letter i've ever received for sure.
What are you working on at the moment? What directions is it pulling you in?
Right now i'm working on finishing my next EP for Dial, and some tracks for the full length album. The track im doing now for the EP is more dancefloor oriented and the tracks for the album are quite slow so i think its giving me a nice balance instead of pulling me in a certain direction.
What's something that music has taught you about life, and vice versa?
I guess i've learned from both that it's important to have a good time and enjoy what you're doing. If you aren't enjoying it you should try something new.
What do you know now (perhaps about music) that you wish someone had told you ten years ago?
That there is no 'right' way to do anything.
Finish this: 'The world would be a better place, if only... '
intercontinental flights were free.
What's something the world needs to know about John Robert (that it doesn't already)?
I can't come up with an answer for this one that doesn't make me sound totally pompous so i'll just take this opportunity to say THANK YOU.