Sonic Router 026: Lotide’s Moonless Nights

Sonic Router's Quietus column returns this month, with Oli Marlow celebrating the release of US producer Lotide's debut album of dreamlike beat collages - plus listen to a mix from Lotide below

Quite early on during Devon Hansen, aka Lotide’s debut album, Moonless, there’s a sampled female voice that informs the listener that she has a particular way of recalling her subconscious, saying: "I remember my dreams by what colour they are." And while it might seem like an incredibly pretentious quote to use to introduce or lead you into an album, it actually works as a catch all term when you hear the thing – a work that dips into gravelly musique concrete, heavy instrumental hip-hop and greyscale sheet noise all at once.

Often, people who profess to have some kind of synaesthesia when writing music just sound like the most mystical of druids, whose dreams will surely find eternal life through peyote soaked mushrooms and their sweat soaked consciousness – but it’s not like Hansen’s saying that at all. It’s not as if his tracks are particularly bold strokes or different colours – far from it, they’re actually all built from a similar pool of sampled source material. But there’s something about latching onto such a little, unintentional and throwaway soundbite, and making it a wider statement about the hypnagogic nature of the American producer’s first outing on London’s Astro:Dynamics label, that just feels right.

A vocal fan of that Low End Theory piloted, sun soaked, Californian ‘beats’ movement, Hansen’s music has always been strongly concerned with textural experimentation. I remember hearing some of his early work and being impressed that he managed to deftly combine static swathes with the kind of ballpark bumps I was looking to people like Samiyam and co. for – but with his new music he seems to have grown into himself and created a real, unperfected and airy sound palette to draw from. Moonless, as an album, is an exploration of that Oval type of gritty, grainy grey, shabby, beat-driven soundset – something the New York based musician notes that he set out to create.

"It was very deliberate from the beginning," Hansen tells me over a crystal clear, early evening Skype connection. "I decided on a name for the album and then started from that point. I don’t think it was as specific as doing one track at a time chronologically but… it was kind of like making a film actually. Having this project that moves from point A to point B to point C and you’re forced to scheme everything out in a structured way. So yeah…" he continues. "It was basically from point A to point B, always an album. I was even as specific as knowing how many tracks there were going to be, even though I hadn’t actually written anything yet. But that’s kind of how I function, I’ll decide at the start of a specific project and it’ll exist in my mind as its own bundle."

Honestly, that conformity to such a set idea really shines across both sides of the cassette release. Like I touched on before, none of the tracks are startlingly different; they all seem to breathe with a uniform repose and actively seem to shade themselves from any notion of an outlandish lead, more making a feature out of an effected drone or a peculiar reverberation. But in all of that choral wash and the regulated pump of the blown out kick drums Hansen uses, he forces you to sink deeper and listen harder, to find pleasure in amongst the crackle of its folds.

"I think when you make almost entirely computer based music it’s a lot more automatic, synthetic and electronic sounding," Hansen offers when pressed on his overriding desire to work with samples over synthesisers, "but I don’t know what it is that pushes me away from that, specifically. Maybe it’s because when I was in high school I was listening to a lot more electronic music and after getting into it for a long time I got a bit paranoid about making what I was hearing. That’s when I started to get into more organic, dirtier, noise stuff. Since all I’m doing is sampling and collaging, it’s all pretty much 100% sample based so I’ve been avoiding trying to make it sound electronic.

"Also, from a production standpoint," he continues, "I also think it is really important conceptually for everything to come together consistently. The whole idea I had for all this material existed in a very specific place in my mind. It’s kinda like your head automatically decides what works and what doesn’t, and it sorts things into different bins or different files in your head so you just know that putting a synth noise over this track would sound ridiculous…"

In talking things through with Hansen he reveals a deep affinity to the work of Dabrye (something you’d perhaps be able to recognise in his output) as well as a love of the music of Jar Moff and Brighton’s WANDA GROUP/DEM HUNGER and an apparent respect of the way that Broadcast worked, tackling a single project at a time. But what we both get a little stuck on – aside from the self-propelled hype cycle that the internet has incubated and those people, like WANDA GROUP, who are actively operating as the antithesis of that idea – is his position within the bigger picture. As a beat musician he’s not making club shaking, "popped a molly, now I’m sweatin’" tracks; and as an experimental musician he’s not making those stark, arresting, overtly conceptual drone pieces either. He’s somewhere in the middle of both circles, pulling the things he likes from each of those disparate scenes and using them to inspire his own music, like a bastardised Venn diagram.

"I started to get used to this idea of doing whatever I wanted, like having your life and existing in the real world, and then doing whatever you wanted on the side. That’s probably why the Lotide stuff has changed so much," he offers, almost justifying the change and tangents his output has taken over the years. "I’ve slowly but surely realised that there are so many people who have a clear intent to make a career out of their music and their music is… I don’t want to generalise, but it seems not nearly as interesting or adventurous as stuff made by people who know for a fact they’re not gonna make a living out of it!"

Our conversation weaves in and out of the interview mode and we both agree that his leaning towards doing music for his own sake is a heavy and presiding factor in the Lotide project being picked up by the blossoming Astro:Dynamics label – an imprint run by Luke Owen, a dude who seems as adept at housing 7"s from avant-garde beatmakers as he does giving voice to wilfully experimental singer songwriters.

"I was really impressed, even at the really early stages when I first found out about the label," he enthuses, genuinely excited by his own inclusion on the roster. "It was at a time when this wave of beat stuff that I wasn’t really interested in was getting a lot stronger and then, on the side, in these completely different realms of music, you had these small tape labels all over the place that were putting out really strange, straight up noise music and collage stuff. So music, from my point, was very dichotomous at that time, because I was listening to a lot of that high octane avant-garde stuff, and on the other hand getting exposed to these semi-experimental beats. So I started to wonder if there was a middle ground – so far as a label’s ability to establish an identity with some kind of a gradient, instead of just sticking rigidly to one point on that map between hard experimental and more marketable, semi-experimental stuff."

"That’s what was so fortunate about getting in contact with [Owen]," Hansen continues, talking himself (and our exchange) in a little bit of circle. "When I was trying to put my beats orientated stuff out there, I was becoming more exposed to all that Jar Moff and Dem Hunger type stuff that still existed in that sort of rhythmic scene, but somehow managed to be completely experimental. I didn’t really want to pin myself down to doing stuff for the sake of selling a record, so I knew it might get more difficult to find somewhere to put it out. Especially when I started to work on Moonless, and later on when I was finishing it, I felt a little nervous about how borderline it was. How in between it was. That might just be my perception of it, but whether it’s a coincidence or not, whether Luke actually sets out to pinpoint that area, or whether his taste just happens to fall into place like that, I don’t know. But I was very fortunate to find a label like that."

Lotide’s Moonless is out now on Astro:Dynamics. He made this mix of his influences to celebrate the album’s release.

Download: Lotide – Sonic Router Mix #156

Rogelio Sosa – ‘Vinylika’

Hispot – ‘Barren Illusion’

EMV – ‘Blue Pop’

Bronksa x The Invisibles – ‘Metamorphya’

Asonic Garcia – ‘Endless Realm’

Glia – ‘En Vez De Cerebro . Hielo’

Trnktdw – ‘Grief’

Lotide – ‘Diamond Plum’

Jedo – ‘Yewr’

Roj – ‘What I Saw’

James Cargill – ‘Trish Reads Jabberwocky’

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