Low Blood Sugar & Hypercolor: An Interview With Eskmo

Keith Pishnery talks to Brendan Angelides, aka Eskmo, about his debut album on Ninja Tune

In over ten years of writing and producing forward-thinking and emotionally complex music, 2010 was probably Brendan Angelides’ busiest and most prolific year, culminating with a self-titled Eskmo album for Ninja Tune last October.

After hearing mid-90s post-funk experimentation from Primus and breakbeat kings The Prodigy, Angelides quickly starting learning how to write and produce music. Starting out with a simple Miracle keyboard, four-track recorder, and bass guitar, he graduated to a Roland keyboard to record his first CD, Machines On Task, while still in high school.

After backpacking through the UK, he heard the new and burgeoning music coming out of Fabric and began composing all new breakbeat songs for labels such as Vertical Sound, Downbeat, and Cyberfunk. It was during this time that he first journeyed to the city that would become his home, San Francisco. Previously from Connecticut, he found the culture of art and music combined with a gorgeous landscape too inspiring to pass up.

His remix of Bibio and 2009 self-release Hypercolor presented a bright and unique take on the experimental electronic beats circulating the globe and landed him releases on Planet Mu, Warp, as well as gigs on Mary Anne Hobbs BBC Radio 1 show and for Flying Lotus’ Brainfeeder sessions.

After shopping his latest work around to various labels, Ninja Tune will release his new album just as he embarks on an international tour. We caught up with him just as he was finishing preparing for the first dates with Bassnectar.

From following your Twitter, San Francisco appears to be a big part of your work. What is it about the city that inspires you so much?

Brendan Angelides: There is a certain kind of buzzing compressed energy in San Francisco that I haven’t felt in other places. But aside from the city itself, the landscapes, culture, music, food, quirkiness and open ended creative vibe here is what really creates a spark for me.

You hail from Connecticut, and I wonder if the more nostalgic and wistful elements in your music recall your time on that other coast?

BA: Yeah, absolutely. All of my family also lives out on the east coast still so any nostalgic bits definitely point east. Even something as simple as fall time out there has a huge emotional resonance for me.

Speaking of another location, last year you did the Colorbrain Mix for Flying Lotus’ Brainfeeder label and your music fits in with the Los Angeles beat scene centered around that label. What do you think about the music being produced among that community and how you relate to it?

BA: It’s great to see such a bubbling, creative community thriving down there. Sonic boundary pushing is always something I’ve been excited to see happening no matter the form. To see such support for each other from the individuals making it happen is awesome, and really shows you how community helps nurture growth. I don’t really consider myself apart of any particular scene but to have the helping hand there is a great feeling.

Your music seems so based in nature and your video ‘Cloudlight’ has a very organic feel to it. Could you talk about your music’s relationship to nature?

BA: I just draw my music from the parts of my life that are inspiring me the most at the time – nature being a huge one of those that’s always a part of my focus. I’ve noticed my sound has shifted since I started playing these festivals in the woods or having been surrounded by redwoods. I don’t really think about it much, it just feels right.

What is your writing and producing process like?

BA: I have a dedicated studio in downtown San Francisco where I’ve been doing all my work for the past two years or so. I’ve gone through various phases in terms of the logistics, but creatively I just take direct life experience and try to plop it into the sound. Sometimes it works, sometimes I keep it to myself. 10 years ago it was all hardware and synths, and it’s moved to mostly software based now. I write everything in Logic. For my live shows I use Ableton, mics, a Novation keyboard, Trigger Finger and some percussive stuff.

Ninja Tune released your self-titled debut album. How did that relationship come about?

BA: I had been a fan of Ninja from being introduced to Amon Tobin’s work years ago. Then Bonobo, Coldcut, Funki Porcini, then later Daedelus, The Bug, Jaga Jazzist and some others. Amon introduced me to Jeff from Ninja one night when King Cannibal was playing in town. I happened to be shopping the album to a couple of labels at the time, so I sent it to him. Going with Ninja seemed to be the best option for me for a number of reasons so I decided to move forward with them. So far they have been great.

Many of your previous productions have vocal elements in them, but the new album seems to feature your voice a lot more, which gives the music a very personal atmosphere. How did you approach the lyrics and vocals on the album?

BA: I had been slowly moving towards incorporating more vocals into my music and taking this next big step just felt right. I was working on writing more poetry because it was a part of me that I loved that got left behind because of diving into the electronic world since high school. That combined with a serious yearning to have people hear my singing and it just all fit together. Any lyric topic is game for me just like the music, so it’s been liberating just combining it all.

Aside from releasing music on Planet Mu and Warp in the past year, you’ve also released music on your own Ancestor label with Amon Tobin as Eskamon. How did you team up with him?

BA: Amon and I connected in 2008 when I opened for him at an event called Yuris Night which was held at a NASA space centre with shuttles and everything. I started sending him material and we gradually started chatting more. He had moved to the Bay and we started hanging more and started to see lots of similar approaches to writing music. We took a low stress, no boundaries approach to writing the first song ‘Fine Objects’ and basically just let whatever flow out. The tune was based around chunks of field recordings and so the name, graphic art and method of releasing the sounds to the public all fit into the idea. He was a huge inspiration of mine back in the day, just as much as Aphex Twin, Primus or Tom Waits so it’s been an honor to work with him.

How did your collaboration with him work? Are there more releases with Tobin to come?

BA: We just met at his studio. I brought my laptop, a hard drive, field recorder and some gear and went to town. We plan on working on more after I finish this chunk of touring and he finishes up his next album.

Eskmo and Eskamon aren’t your only projects, though. Are you still producing music under the name Welder? Are there any releases on the horizon?

BA: Welder is definitely still there, just has been mostly on hiatus aside from a few key shows this past year. I needed to focus on one persona at a time as it wasn’t helping either of them to focus on both at the same time. I’m starting to work on a new Welder album now. Welder is another end of the musical spectrum for me and is super therapeutic. There is no way I could leave him behind.

What can people expect from your live shows?

BA: For the live show I use the gear I mentioned above and always play my own material or remixes I’ve done. I like to hit various tempos and moods and I’m always doing something up there with sounds I’ve made to keep pushing myself. For this tour I’ve incorporated more vocal and looping percussive bits which really opens it up and creates an interesting energy. I haven’t been inspired by djing my own tracks in forever so pushing the live element of my show is what keeps it fresh for me.

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