WORDS: Alex Caslano
In case you hadn’t noticed, there’s a new sound emerging from Glasgow’s bedroom studios. From Inkke to S-Type, DJ Milktray to Dressin Red, a fresh wave of producers are emerging with their roots planted firmly in instrumental hip hop, beat music and grime. It’s far removed from the traditional house and techno the city is more widely recognised for, and at the centre of this movement is Astral Black, who along with collectives like Handpicked are showcasing some of the city’s most promising talent.
Founded by East London producer, Jon Phonics (pictured) as a way to release his ‘Rugers’ tape in 2013, Astral Black has grown into a multi-artist label and party which has footholds in both Glasgow and London. “I came to Glasgow after visiting Jaisu in Edinburgh for a few days” says Phonics, “…evidently I've ended up sticking around for far longer than was initially planned!”
With a residency at the Art School which started last summer, the label now has a considerable presence in the city, with some of its hottest releases coming from local producers who also take centre stage at their parties. “The whole point is originality and being creative” Phonics says of the Astral Black club mantra. “We're not out to impress anyone or do whatever's hot this month; we're simply about putting on acts we know and love and we think play great music.”
And of course there’s no shortage of great music in Glasgow at the moment, with the aforementioned Dressin Red producing one of our favourite releases of the year so far on Astral Black – the mesmerising ‘Head/Body’ EP. In contrast to its textured soundscapes and immersive atmosphere, Phonics insists the parties are all about fun. “We definitely don't want to take ourselves too seriously” he says. “We might play R Kelly ten minutes before DJ Slimzee goes on and that's totally silly but it's also totally allowed. We just want people to have a sing-a-long and a dance, but also have your head blown off by some music you've never heard before.”
Check out Astral Black's new compilation 'Frass FM 2' below, as well as an interview with founder Jon Phonics in which we discuss the label’s origins, his move to Glasgow and what we can expect from their 2nd Birthday this Friday at the Art School:
SynthGlasgow: You started Astral Black in 2013 as a label and club night in London; what was the musical motivation behind the project and what were your ambitions for it at the time?
Jon Phonics: Well...in late 2012 I had some EPs lined up for release that were taking a while to come out for whatever reason. I didn't really like the feeling of waiting around and effectively having my career on hold while I waited for other folk to do their thing, so figured I would put something else out on my own in the meantime. I was working for a record store at the time, so had the opportunity to see how everything worked and thought I could probably shift a few tapes fairly easily. The tape (‘Rugers’) sold out in under an hour and got some good press so I kind of thought, “maybe I’ve finally found something I’m good at!” I was close with Jaisu, Budgie and Opal Block and we were all writing and sharing music anyway - I asked if they wanted to do some tapes too and they were into it, so it was all pretty obvious and straight forward really.
That was in January/February 2013; later on in May I started the club night at The Alibi which was just a free entry, mid-week thing and was just about getting producers who I was hearing on Soundcloud to meet and play without any pressure or anything.
SG: Over the past year or so Astral Black has become a real positive force in Glasgow; what inspired the move north and how did you meet artists like Milktray and Dressin Red?
JP: Thanks man, I came to Glasgow after visiting Jaisu in Edinburgh for a few days to do some work on 'A Short Album'...evidently I've ended up sticking around for far longer than was initially planned! I had met Milktray at Sonar a couple years prior, so knew those guys before moving up here. Dressin Red I met last summer after hearing '1Three' on his Soundcloud.
SG: There seems to be a really healthy beat scene in Glasgow at the moment which matches its reputation for house & techno. Do you think the city’s relatively small size creates a nurturing or competitive creative atmosphere?
JP: Yeah it's funny; a friend pointed this out to me the other day. When I moved up here it was literally just Handpicked, a tongue in cheek R&B night and loads of techno nights. Now there's a few nights popping up doing similar things and other more established nights are switching up and booking instrumental grime guys haha. I definitely feel there's a competitive element here that I hadn't really experienced doing nights back in London, but I guess we try not to watch it. For us, the whole point is originality and being creative. We're not out to impress anyone or do whatever's hot this month; we're simply about putting on acts we know and love and we think play great music. I'd like to think that hopefully shines through and is a big reason why the nights have worked for us.
SG: You’re hosting your second birthday at the Art School this month with Sam Gellaitry, Sivey and DJ Luk Lechuck; how do these artists represent the Astral Black sound?
JP: Sivey is someone who has been around us for a while; he played our Boiler Room takeover in November, had the opening track on our 'Frass FM 1' compilation and has done an amazing remix of 'Body Plan' by Dressin Red for 'Frass FM 2'. He actually used to live with Opal Block and we did some Louis Den beat battles with him in the pre-Astral Black days too. Big Sammy Gee (Sam Gellaitry) is an incredible young producer from Stirling and is also part of the Soulection crew alongside Sivey - his 'Short Stories' EP is one of the most creative things I’ve heard for a minute, so it's great to have him jumping on with us.
We've actually got a project on the way from JD Reid (who's also on Soulection) and UK rapper ItsNate. Soulection founder, Andres, came and played at our London party in July last year with Kutmah & Vespertown so there's a few points where we cross over – Astral Black is a grittier, more British counter part to their movement. Luk Le-Chuck is a Swiss DJ who I’ve known for a few years; he actually helped me put together the Astral Black Switzerland show we did earlier this year and switches me on to a lot of dope European producers that I’m not aware of. We thought the birthday would be the perfect opportunity to get him over as we really just wanted to celebrate with friends and fam rather than get a big headliner and play to a crowd where half the folk are wondering who the hell the warm up are.
SG: We really like the blurb on the Facebook event which is almost like a parody of the hyperbolic chat you get from some promoters. Does that reflect your attitude to parties? Do you think some people take it too seriously?
JP: Haha, cheers. It certainly wasn't a conscious comment on anything, but we definitely don't want to take ourselves too seriously. We might book “headsy” acts sometimes but I don't really think we're a headsy night. Like, we might play R Kelly 10 minutes before Slimzee goes on and that's totally silly but it's also totally allowed. We just want people to have a sing-a-long and a dance, but also have your head blown off by some music you've never heard before.
SG: We’ve really been into the last few releases on Astral Black (especially Dressin Red’s which is still on repeat). What have you got lined up for the summer and where will you be taking the party?
JP: Thanks, that's very reassuring and kind of you to say. Next up, to celebrate our 2nd Birthday, we're dropping 'Frass FM 2' a free download compilation with 14 new and exclusive tracks from the label roster and some of the esteemed guests that have graced the DJ booth at our London and Glasgow parties over the past year.
That's followed closely by '95 Mindfulness' a beat tape from the newest member of the crew - 19-year old, London-based producer, Drae Da Skimask. Also on the way is 'Me+1', a collaborative EP from rapper ItsNate and producer JD Reid. Our next vinyl release is a 12" from Glasgow's very own Bushido - that should land around the end of July/early August, followed by the long waited Budgie EP which is so very, very near to completion.
Party wise, we're doing a label showcase at the Bussey Building in Peckham for Dummy Magazine on June 5th. We're also doing showcases at Outlook Festival, Boom Bap Festival and Born & Bred, and if you're in Dublin, Leeds or Bristol keep your eyes peeled for Astral Black parties being announced in the near future too!
Astral Black celebrate their second birthday at the Art School this Friday with Sivey, Sam Gellaitry, DJ Luk Lechuck and the Astral Black all-stars. Entry is free before midnight or £4/5 after. 'Frass FM 2' is available for free download now via the Astral Black Soundcloud.