It’s 1:30 PM on a Tuesday. I’ve been asked to interview Slow Magic prior to his headlining gig at the 9:30 Club later on in the week with Giraffage. I’m given a number to call and a time to call it. Slow Magic is a shroud: a mysterious figure whom not much is known about other than his music which is described as something made by an “imaginary friend.” He treasures anonymity for the sake of artistry much like SBTRKT or Daft Punk, but not for kitsch; he treasures anonymity so the focus is less on him and more on the music.
I feel unprepared. I have listened to Triangle, his first album release on Bandcamp, a thousand times since its initial release, but what questions do you ask a shadow? The phone rings. A voice answers.
After brief introductions, we begin discussing his current tour. As it turns out, I’ve caught him on a day off. “My deal, at the moment, is some coffee which is keeping me alive right now,” he says after I ask him what he’s up to. “Just kind of chillin.’” He’s earned the right to chill: between releasing two full length projects, including last year’s How to Run Away, the young producer has also been on an extensive tour schedule in addition to constantly working on new material. During this rare opportunity to talk with him, I started asking the hard hitting questions.
zacheser: If you had to describe Slow Magic as a pasta dish, what would it be?
Slow Magic: Well, lately I’ve been trying to stay away from pasta for the most part because if I eat it before a show, I get full. Weighed down. So, I’d say zucchini pasta. Veggies with chicken on there.
z: That’s a good combination.
SM: Try to stay healthy.
z: Your sound has shifted a lot between your earlier work, like “Corvette Cassette” which has more of a Washed Out kind of vibe, and your new work which has more of a future bass attitude. What sparked this evolution?
SM: I’ve tried to stay true to the original sound, but I think also I’m just kind of excited about different things. Different music here and there. Especially like my track with Giraffage [“So Cute”]. We just wanted to make the most fun – and loud – song we could. I think it has a lot to do with getting to play more in front of people. And the energy there might influence me to play more upbeat music.
z: You are touring with artists like Giraffage and Odesza, and they have a very specific kind of crowd, so is playing in front of that crowd and seeing what vibes with them influencing the way you think about your new music as you’re making it?
SM: I wouldn’t say that so much, but more so since I’ve started and I’ve gotten to play more around the world, I think maybe it’s the interaction with the crowd instead of just being in the bedroom is making the music a little more upbeat. I think it might all come back to the same place in the end. We’ll see.
z: Artists like yourself, your current tour mate Giraffage, Jamie XX, Kaytranada, etc. All of you guys seem to be breaking into the mainstream consciousness, at the very least on the level of sites like Pitchfork, and all of you guys seem to have this common thread of deconstructing the tropes of electronic music to try and re-tool it and think of it in new, fresh ways. Do you think this might be a glimpse into the future of dance music?
SM: First of all, that’s a very flattering question. Thank you. I like all of those producers. But yeah, I think that is my hopes because there’s a lot of stuff that’s really trendy or really exciting, but I always try my best not to just make a carbon copy of anything. Like you’re saying, I try to deconstruct it and rebuild it in my own kind of weird, messed up way. I think all those guys that you mentioned are pushing that kind of pop music and electronic music in a real interesting area. Especially Jamie XX. He kind of broke out with that kind of stuff. It’s cool to see. It’s pop music, you know?
z: One of the things that pops up in interviews with you is “your imaginary friend.” Describe to me the process of working with him. Is he a nice guy? Does he sleep too late on the weekends? What is he like?
SM: When I started, I liked the idea of the music I was hearing through the speakers, that I was making, that it was from somewhere else. I liked the idea that we all have this imaginary friend that is making music with no time or place or identity. That was kind of the concept for starting up the project the way I did. I think Slow Magic has taken on a character of its own. I think he, or it, is a nice dude. Pretty positive. Kind of crazy. Unexpected. Chaotic sometimes.
z: And this idea of being disjointed from the music, letting the music be its own character, I’m assuming that’s where the mask you wear comes into play?
SM: Yeah. It all kind of simply started when I first made a few songs. I wanted them to be separate from an identity. I think the first few photos were pictures with my face cut out. The mask kind of came into play when I was about to play my first show and I just asked one of my friends, a really cool artist named Jonas, if he could make me a mask. And it all kind of went from there. It’s all evolved and continued.
z: There’s this thread in music, in popular music specifically, that ties into this with artists like David Bowie as Ziggy Stardust or Thomas Bangalter and Guy-Manuel de Homem-Christo as Daft Punk. Do you think this theatricality in music is a lost art?
SM: I think that even a producer with a t-shirt on and a laptop is still theatrical. If you really boil it down, it’s still a performance on stage. To me, I just wanted to do something more exciting for myself and, in that same sense, throwing a weird and energetic show is more exciting for everyone else.
z: Do you think that gives you more freedom? Do you become less aware of you as “The Person”?
SM: Yeah. It definitely gives me more freedom and it goes beyond just not having to show my face. It helps me break out and be weirder. I think there’s a lot of types of music, like punk or hardcore, different kind of electronic bands I grew up seeing that kind of made me want the kind of show where the crowd is involved and they’re all together. That’s what excites me.
z: In your shows, you have a lot of live instrumentation which, in today’s day and age of electronic music, is kind of uncommon because it’s so easy to show up with a flash drive, plug it in, and play to a crowd. So back to the idea of lost art: do you think live instrumentation is a lost art on people?
SM: Maybe. The drumming in my sets is the probably the main live aspect and I think it’s a really primitive and simple way of playing music. One of the most obvious ways to see something on stage, and know what’s going on, is the drum. But I think that just kind of happened by accident, as well. My first few shows, I just had a MIDI controller and I was about to play my second or third show and my computer’s sound card just stopped working. I just borrowed a tom from the opening band and I gave my iPod with my songs to the sound guy and I just played through that. It was the first time I had drums on the set, and it was fun for me, so that’s what started the drumming. It was kind an accident, but I think it’s such a simple and primitive visual element.
z: Do you think that’s why artists like yourself or Disclosure or Autograf with their mallets are picking up speed with people? Because it taps into something primal?
SM: You did mention it’s kind of rare, but I think it’s becoming more normal to see electronic and organic, acoustic instruments together on stage which is exciting to me. Tycho’s a good example of someone who I’ve looked up to for a real long time doing that and he’s progressed in that, too. But I’ve seen people with just a laptop and no controller that play a really, really cool set. I do think that it connect people to the music, though.
z: As far as influences go, you just named Tycho. We talked about Jamie XX. Anyone specific that triggered you into making music?
SM: I think in the early years of my life, I remember listening to the Beach Boys on a cassette tape that my parents game me. And my dad was in a rock band. That may have helped me to start messing around with instruments that we had lying around and I kind of admire that. But I would say as far as electronic music, I could say so much. Tycho. Gold Panda was someone who challenged my views on electronic music when I first heard him. Aphex Twin. There’s so many. I think my favorite bands are like Sigur Ros and Sufjan Stevens. Just kind of beautiful music.
z: Are you the next Brian Wilson?
SM: I would never say that because that’s very high praise, but you can say whatever you want.
z: We’re both from the Internet age. Do you feel like the internet has made the act of discovering music more accessible not just to people who are actively searching, but also to people who are just clicking through website after website after website?
SM: The internet is pretty much the most important part in the creation of Slow Magic. I think if it weren’t for blogs or people sharing when I first started this, I wouldn’t be here at all. Some of it’s changed, but it’s still really exciting to discover new stuff on SoundCloud or YouTube. Accessibility and ease of making music is only in the end going to create true talent that stands out. Even though there will be more to sift through, we’re discovering 14 year olds who can make the best beats I’ve ever heard.
z: Do you think it will ever somehow ruin our abilities as musicians to be creative?
SM: It’s what we make of it as humans. It’s easy to see the negatives of over-saturation and sites that change based on money, but even if that were to happen, there’d be a better alternative quickly and we’d all be there.
z: If you could choose people right off the top of your head, who’d you want to work with in the studio?
SM: That’s awesome. Ever since their record came out, I’ve wanted to do a song with the singer of Rhye, Milosh. So he would be there for vocals. And then let’s say Brian Wilson because he’s still here. That’d be cool.
z: When was the “holy crap” moment for you? When you realized you made it as a musician.
SM: The first thing that comes to mind is the first time I went to Iceland. It was to play an after party for Iceland Airwaves, but I’d always wanted to go to Iceland. It was a dream to just visit. I remember playing my show and I got to meet the band múm who’s one of my all-time favorite bands and influences. I ended up playing their drum for the show and I just really remember that being a cool moment. It’s not so much about monetary success or anything beyond just being able to see the world because of music. There’s a lot of moments like that for me. It’s always good to remember this isn’t normal: I get to make music and it’s my job.
Berliners Max Graef and Glenn Astro have a forthcoming release on Ninja Tune titled “Magic Johnson” that is being called a “bustling mutant jazz workout.” In “Magic Johnson,” Max Graef and Glenn Astro fuse electronic elements with jazz. The result: a groovy and eccentric concoction that will make an impact on any dance floor at which it’s played. Take a listen:
This is ‘The Spotlight.’ Many artists pass through D.C. on a weekly basis, but this column highlights one specific artist/group who happens to be playing in the district during the week. That way, you may join their journey in influencing the electronic music landscape.
This week, we got the chance to interview Boulder based artist Space Jesus before his show tomorrow evening (November 12) at U St. Music Hall. Read what he had to say before watching him open for Minnesota:
PB: How would you describe your sound/genre to those who haven’t heard your music before?
SJ: Have you ever felt like you were completely different from everyone else but that’s what made you the same? I try to embody this state of mind with my sound.
PB: What’s the story behind your stage name, “Space Jesus?”
SJ: Depends on what day you ask me :) Growing up in an agnostic / atheist home has always made me cynical towards religion…This is my way of making people think about religion in a different way.
PB: What inspires you artistically?
SJ: Science and robotics, the unknown, weed :). I recently moved to Boulder, CO so being here has definitely inspired me in a completely new kind of way. Legal weed makes the world of a difference…
PB: Which of your tracks or mixes is best representative of you as an artist?
SJ: I think Infinite Extravagance encapsulates my sound pretty well because it carries the mysterious middle eastern vibe, along with a classic hip-hop feel…and it’s just got a fun vibe. I also love the music video to this song, which has a good story behind it. My friend Pipus is an awesome visual artist and cinematographer and actually filmed this footage before we even knew each other. After I saw the video I wanted to score it, and ended up writing this song to the footage he already had.
I had the video going on one screen, while making the music directly along to it on another screen.
PB: What can we expect from your set at Uhall this week?
SJ: I don’t want to spoil the surprise but perhaps the Space Jesus Prometheus Theory will be revealed.
PB: Thank you – we’re looking forward to your set!
French Horn Rebellion, Brookyln-based purveyors of ‘Next Jack Swing,’ has been making the rounds supporting their first EP of original material since 2010, Foolin’ Around. The EP, an eclectic array of 80′s and modern funk inspired trips through indie pop, showcases influences that range from Genesis and David Bowie to Daft Punk without skipping a single funkadelic beat.
The title track off the EP, “Foolin’ Around,” sees the duo at their most outlandish extreme blending bright flashes of cheery guitar with heavy synth bass and rich horn sections. It’s a track that yearns for big hair and even bigger padding in the shoulders of your favorite sportcoat. In many ways, French Horn Rebellion does a great job of condensing the cityscape of New York into an auditory medium; “Foolin’ Around” sounds like the type of subconscious soundtrack playing in the background every time you visit the big city with wide-eyed wonder. It’s like Peter Gabriel by way of Prince or Huey Lewis having a jam session with Chic: a discotheque aesthetic chopped up with big, 80′s pop-rock. That said, their latest EP will bring comparisons to similar artists on DFA and Stones Throw, particularly Mayer Hawthorne’s side project Tuxedo, but tracks like “Foolin’ Around” show a dynamic balance between personal voice and the inspiration behind it which will give French Horn Rebellion longevity in the road ahead.
The French-born, Geneva-based artist Lee Van Dowski released his Quasar 27.3 EP on October 22 with the English label Crosstown Rebels’ sub-label, Rebellion. The four tracks on the EP are well-produced and eclectic, offering the listener that perfect balance between house and techno. The tracks on the EP have both a groove and a drive, a happy medium that can be hard to strike. My top pick from the EP, “Bango Bango,” has drive in the form of an unforgiving kick drum and groove with the vocal sample:
Listen to the rest of the EP here: