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Every musician needs to take action to keep themselves fresh from time to time, but James Ford and Jas Shaw of Simian Mobile Disco have really gone to extremes this time: they’ve completely abandoned every tool they previously used to make music. The duo have never been ones to follow anyone else’s methods in any case – the title of their last album Unpatterns says it all about their penchant for disruption and reinvention – but for the recording of their new record, Whorl, they’ve started from the ground up and created an entirely new electronic system, and recorded everything entirely live, from scratch.
Over the years – as members of the criminally underrated “prog-psychedelic band” Simian, as one of the UK’s finest electronic duos, and individually as esteemed producers for other acts – James and Jas have accumulated mountains of incredible vintage synthesisers and other general sound-making boxes. The sounds of these devices made Unpatterns what it was, but this time around they’re putting them all away, denying themselves the almost unlimited freedom they afforded, and limiting themselves to two suitcase-sized boxes each. No laptops; no racks of hardware; just one synth and one sequencer each, which they took into the Joshua Tree national park in California and recorded the album in front of an audience.
“This forces us to commit,” says Jas; “when we record with it, this is the system, and there can be no turning back. When both of us have worked with bands, we’ve always banged on to them about preparing songs before you come into the studio so you can get them done fast and don’t get bogged down in the process once you’re there…” “…and now we’re giving ourselves a taste of our own medicine!” laughs James. The entire process has been completely open-ended and exploratory as they work their way around this new system – until the very moment of recording, at which point they commited 100% to the sounds they are making.
When SMD advise you on studio processes, you’d do well to listen as their wisdom is hard-won. Simian, the band they formed with Simon Lord and Alex McNaughten at Manchester University, was signed to a subsidiary of a major label in 2000. It was an unlikely start, given that they were in James’s words “a kind of prog-psychedelic thing partially named after the Silver Apples’ drum synth”, or as Jas puts it “trying to show you could make band music with songs and harmonies but be into Autechre too, just at the moment the world was into the Strokes and White Stripes and straight-ahead rock music.”
In fact Simian’s music was gorgeous, with a rich pop streak – but as the descriptions suggest, its overtly baroque structures were way out of tune with the time. With the arrogance of youth, the four of them convinced themselves that big things were theirs for the taking, but though their two albums were exceedingly well received in many quarters, global domination evaded them; the combination of thwarted ambition and four very different creative personas led to friction and the band split before completing their third album.
Meanwhile, though, the Simian Mobile Disco project had started to take a vague kind of shape. Originally simply a name under which band members would DJ – in order to, says Jas, “satisfy our urges to do something more freeform, as touring locked us into playing the same songs again and again in the same way.” The name, increasingly just referring to James and Jas, was then used for the band’s own remix of themselves, then for remixes of others, and as Simian came to an end became the duo’s main creative outlet as they made more and more electronic tracks for their own DJ sets.
Matthew Dear is a shapeshifter, oscillating seamlessly between DJ, dance-music producer, and experimental pop auteur. He is a founding artist on both Ghostly International and its dancefloor offshoot, Spectral Sound. He writes, produces, and mixes all of his work. He straddles multiple musical worlds and belongs to none, now nearly 20 years into his kaleidoscopic career, with five albums and two dozen EPs plus millions of miles in the rearview of his biography.
Dear kicked off 2017 as a selector, DJing regularly and contributing a deeply considered and personal mix to !K7 Records' long established DJ-Kicks series. This was bookended by a number of releases through his techno guise, Audion. Dear hadn't shared material under his own name since his 2012 LP, the multi-colored Beams, which was preceded by the critically acclaimed avant-pop albums Black City, Asa Breed, and Leave Luck To Heaven. This return to his artistic id, apart from his other projects' egos, makes "Modafinil Blues" momentous, a prodigal shift inward to a dark and playful psyche.
The name Baikal comes from the words ‘Bai Kyul’, which translates as ‘rich lake’. Lake Baikal is the most voluminous freshwater lake in the world, containing roughly 20% of the world’s unfrozen surface fresh water, and at 1,642m, the deepest. It is also among the clearest of all lakes, and thought to be the world’s oldest at 25 million years. Baikal resides in Berlin and makes multi-layered electronic music for the heart, mind and feet. Preferably all at the same time. He has done so already on the first release for Maeve (a joint venture with Mano Le Tough and The Drifter), as well as remixes of Ian Pooley for Innervisions and Isolee for Tamed Musiq.
The success of these first releases led to high demand for tracks and remixes, filling up his release schedule for the coming year and beyond. Since the end of April 2013, Baikal has been touring, and so far with great results. His style has a preference for the driving deeper shades of house and techno. It’s foremost about the groove and being able to lose yourself in that vibe. Baikal’s existence lies in the idea that the music itself, the abstract experience and the emotions it provokes should tell enough of a story to entertain you as the listener, and that the persona behind the artist is of lesser importance.
R. Fentz is the new musical project by Zack Yakovlev. Originally from Russia and living in the United States for most of his life, it is the last 10 years in San Francisco that has truly shaped his musical views, artistic spirit, and his quest in life. Alone, and as part of his alias Bells & Whistles, Zack has been a top choice for promoters and clubs around the world, and been trusted to provide direct warmup support for artists like DJ Koze, Maya Jane Coles, Solomun, Andhim, Paul Kalkbrenner, Detroit Swindle, Anja Schneider, Bos Moses and many more. He has gained residences with Southern California based festival “Desert Hearts”, Bay Area’s production powerhouse “As You Like It”, and become a regular choice at local clubs including
Public Works, Monarch and the what once was, 222 Hyde. While he explored his sound, he also explored the world, and was truly thankful to have been able to perform at festivals including; Fusion Festival, Burning Man, Desert Hearts, Sunset Campout and Snow Globe. Constantly trying to learn something from every new crowd and environment, he broadened his range, tightened his execution, and gained a reputation for being able to always play the right music, at the right time. Whether outside on a sunny day, or a barely lit room underground, Zack has learned to read and respect the situation, adapt to it, change to it, yet always bring a level of playfulness and joy that can be heard on across every mix and original production.
Having started playing around with making music way before ever touching his first pair of turntables, production has always been a key part of his life, and as Bells & Whistles he was lucky enough to release music on labels like OM, Thoughtless, Desert Heart Records, Kabutamoshi and Mioli Music. While Djing will always be an integral part of who Zack is, and a major focus for the R. Fentz project, original music and live performances will also be a major tool to help better express himself, and his musical tastes. With his debut EP, “Coming Home”, set for release in December 2016 on Atish and Mark Slee’s label Manjumasi, and a follow-up on the new but already impressive SF imprint Das Wind Sir in February 2017, Zack is ready to invite the world to join him on his quest through life, time, and music.