Premiere: ‘Jesse James’ is a jazz-inflected UKG stepper from Bristol MC Mushkilla and South London producer Dampé
“A friend I had at school, his dad kept this enormous box in a cupboard, which was just stuffed full of hardcore rave tapes. I nicked them all and took them home to listen to. I had no idea about clubs, or ecstasy, or anything like that. I just thought the music sounded insane.” Lone is reminiscing over Skype about how he discovered rave music, a subject that popped up quite a lot when discussing his brilliant new album ‘Galaxy Garden’. “When I first started getting in music it would have been around 1994/95, so the high point of rave had kind of been and gone by that point. I mean, jungle was huge after that and I got really into that as time when on, but in terms of rave and hardcore, I was getting all these tapes from 91 and 92, so I’d just missed it. Pretty gutting really. It wasn’t the be all and end all though – I was well into computer games when I was little and I loved the music on them because it was so like rave. Hardcore and rave was the first music I ever really felt connected to because it wasn’t too far removed from the music from those games. It was electronic, reactive, euphoric – it made sense to me.”
It’s not hard to see why it made so much sense. Rave has cultivated a quasi-mythical status for our generation. We’re well versed in the day-glo aesthetic, the hedonistic DIY ethic and politically charged atmosphere that were its catalysts, but when an era can no longer be experienced first hand, what it leaves us with is open to interpretation. There are the physical reminders like records, archived and sold on. It’s often our emotional attachment to the time itself that create much deeper impressions on us. A big box of tapes in an old raver’s cupboard, and the wide-eyed reaction of a schoolboy who’s just heard them for the first time.
“I was well into computer games when I was little and I loved the music on them because it was so like rave.” – Lone
Lone’s ‘Galaxy Garden’ is a testament to the fact that twenty years on, rave remains a powerful source of inspiration. It’s not an album about the smiley face and ecstasy, the questionable fashion choices and raves in fields. It’s removed from all of that. ‘Galaxy Garden’ feels like a personal interpretation of these familiar sounds, colours and symbols in a more modern and allusive way. The bursts of energy have been subtly teased out, and the visual impressions that we’re left with are more like sketches than stamps, leaving a lasting mark without wringing these tropes dry. Lead single Crystal Caverns 1991 charges forward with a stabbing piano line that is totally indebted to the rave sound, but the bubbling melody and snap percussion balance it all out and keep it very much in the present. With each burst of sound and colour on the album there’s a soft afterglow that leaves us lingering for the next piano line, the next punch of percussion, the next fragment of vocal. It feels like a love letter to Lone’s own childlike sense of discovery, and the energy that it gives off is remarkable – a tingling rush of happiness that can’t help but flash a smile raves way.
‘Galaxy Garden’ takes the signature elements we’re well versed in and updates them with an energy that sees Lone really come into his own on his fifth album. He laughs and agrees with me on this, saying that “it feels like I made dozens of albums before I even got signed, and now it feels like I’m just hitting my stride… like I’ve got that energy I’ve been looking for.” Lone tells me that this new energy partly came from a change in his working methods after a short period of writer’s block. Typically, he says, “I make far more music than I suppose I should. I am usually more of the type to make ten tracks then pick two for a record, but ‘Galaxy Garden’ was totally different. I was making lots of house-y, kind of 4/4 tunes, and I just got really bored of doing that, but at the same time I didn’t have a clue what I was going to do next. I was a few months into this weird spell, and I started to worry, to be honest. I thought I’d hit a wall. But then I was lazily messing around one day and I came up with New Colour, and at that moment I thought ‘This is it, this is the sound I need’. It didn’t sound like anything I’d ever made before.”
Looking through his back catalogue, I would have to agree. It marks a total departure from the soft dreaminess of 2009’s ‘Ecstasy and Friends’ and 2010’s more animated ‘Emerald Fantasy Tracks’. This revelatory moment of making New Colour brought him to a physicality that defines ‘Galaxy Garden’. “All the synth sounds on that one track became my palette, as it were. I immediately had a strong image in my head of what it needed to become, so I spent a year trying to make the whole album from the jumping off point of that one track. Everything I was writing was just for the album. The tracks that didn’t make the final cut aren’t going to get put out as separate releases. They’re too similar to what’s already been heard, so putting them out now would just undermine what I’ve managed to pull together. Its all very intentional. It needs to be concentrated. Nothing to water it down. I mean, a lot of my favourite albums have a kind of tactile thing to them. Like Rustie’s ‘Glass Swords’. It’s such a strong, simple album. It’s not that it ‘all sounds the same’, but it has a really intentional palette of sounds, a really strong theme. It’s the same with Hudson Mohawke’s ‘Butter’ as well. I love that album because I imagine that album as colours. I’m always into records that have a kind of colour scheme.”
“I love that album because I imagine that album as colours. I’m always into records that have a kind of colour scheme.” – Lone
This palette mixes the aural and visual to create a very particular aesthetic in which every possible aspect is accounted for. The imaginative track names definitely help tie the visual aspects together, and it was a conscious decision of Lone’s to make them as vivid and fun as possible. He insists that he “spent a lot of time on the track names, nearly as much as I put into the tracks. When a track doesn’t have vocals, it’s not always easy to set up what the tracks about. If there’s no one singing the words, I like to paint a picture with the titles to sum up what the track means to me. I like to push it as far as I can imaginatively. I basically just steal bits from poems and magazines, any obscure bit of a sentence I see on a page that really stands out. It’s got to make a lasting impression and write a narrative for the whole album. I steal what I like and mix it up with weird stuff I find on NASA websites! All that crazy stuff about the cosmos and the unknown. A decent track name can paint all sorts of pictures in your mind.”
This desire to have a strong visual representation of the production is what gives the album its quality of feeling, and it’s an accomplished one at that. To call the overall aesthetic ‘playful’ is almost to under-represent it. The palette paints massive streaks of colour, light and sound that overlap and bleed into one another until there’s no definable centre to focus on. We just have to sit back and let it wash over us. With this in mind, it’s easy to see why he teamed up with Glaswegian animator Konx-om-Pax for the art direction. Known for his extremely colourful and dynamic work, Konx-om-Pax has lent his talents to the likes of Martyn and Oneohtrix Point Never, and he’s come up trumps with his work on ‘Galaxy Garden’. Watching the album promo video feels like swimming through a galactic coral reef, with neon jellyfish floating and pulsing in time to the soundtrack.
“All of my favourite albums are not that different from a really good film; they have narratives, themes, colour schemes.” – Lone
When I ask Lone about the artwork, it’s clear there was a marriage of minds. “All I said to Konx-om-Pax was “listen to the record, and make a visual representation of it. And it’s so strange because what I imagined the cover to be like – if I had been able to do it myself – that’s what he came up with. I can’t explain it without doing it an injustice, but I honestly didn’t have to tell him anything. The way he visualised my music was so true to what I had in my head. I got really lucky with him. The cover is pure synaesthesia; the colours and movements are quite literally representing the notes, the chords, the melodies, everything. It’s just a total visual representation of what’s going on musically.”
I tell him that this feeling makes it hard for me to separate the music and visuals – giving the album a presence that can be difficult to pull off – and Lone takes it as a real compliment. He wanted his album to have a narrative that leaves a lasting impression. “All of my favourite albums are not that different from a really good film; they have narratives, themes, colour schemes. They have a sensibility about them that feels like they are designed to be experienced in one go – just like how you’d sit and watch a film and become immersed in it. That’s the vibe I’m going for with ‘Galaxy Garden’. It’s not something you can dip in and out of. I mean, if people want to, that’s cool with me, but the idea is that it is an album to listen to from start to finish, in the house, on headphones. Well, it is for me anyway.” This personal touch really stands out with his use of vocals. It’s clear that the human element to his production is something that he’s been toying with for some time – how to best interpret emotions and the human presence without intruding on this rich palette, and taking away from the quality of feeling it builds.
The tracks As A Child and Spirals feature vocals from Machinedrum and Aneeka, and they are lovely examples of how the voice can be woven into sound in unexpected ways. Working with singers has been a first for him too, and the end results prove how he’s felt about vocalists for a while now. “This is the first time I’ve used raw human vocals. I’ve used samples before, sure, for spoken words and things like that, but this is the first time I’ve recorded vocals for a track. For electronic music, more than other genres, I think the human voice is basically just another instrument to be played around with. I couldn’t give two shits about what people are actually saying on the track, and I don’t like too many vocal things in any kind of music really. One of my favourite bands is Radiohead, and the thing with Thom Yorke for me is that it really doesn’t matter what he’s saying at all. His voice works in the same way that a lead synth melody would work, and it’s one of the best sounds in the world, really. I kinda wanted that extra element. You can’t get any instrument to sound like the human voice.”
“There’s so much electronic music that isn’t melodic at all, and I really don’t understand that. The thing with ‘bass music’ is that bass never really moves me in the way that it moves a lot of people.”
When you put all this together, it feels like Lone’s sense of narrative isn’t about having one overall focal point for us to hone in on. When the human voice is just an instrument, and the only lyrical elements are those trippy track names, then the narrative is more about teasing out our emotions rather than telling us how to react. Maybe why ‘Galaxy Garden’ sounds the way it does. All the allusions to past styles, the other-worldly visuals, the slicing of the human in amongst the machine – it’s all a very conscious effort to build something that doesn’t force an impression on us. It’s more about capturing that euphoric rush, that sense of wonder he first felt when he heard those hidden tapes. If anything, of all the elements in play here, the only one which can be easily picked up on is his use of melody. Melody has been the mainstay of his work for years yet as he explains, it’s not about consciously working towards a kind of pop sensibility. It’s just what most simply defines that quality of feeling for him.
“Melodies are the thing that I find the easiest to do. I remember when I first started making music on a Playstation when I was thirteen, and I was instantly attracted to melodies. That’s the thing I found easiest to do. Everything else – to this day – I still struggle with. I remember writing tunes and thinking, ‘Damn, am I doing this right? I’ve no one to tell me what’s right and what’s wrong’, but the melody always made sense, even though I was never sure where it came from. There’s so much electronic music that isn’t melodic at all, and I really don’t understand that. The thing with ‘bass music’ is that bass never really moves me in the way that it moves a lot of people. I’m most sensitive to chords and melodies, they’re what give me that shivery feeling, not bass. All I’m trying to do it make the hair on the back of my neck stand on end. When you get that, it’s the best feeling ever.”