WORDS: Alex Caslano
From the crystallising intro of ‘Komorebi’ to the dying moments of album closer ‘On Tides’, it is impossible to deny the hypnotic bliss of Petrichor’s debut album. As each track melts into the next and the journey unfolds, you are absorbed into the world of ‘Mångata’, a soundscape of mesmerising beauty and ethereal texture. It’s already being hailed as one of the techno albums of the year, but to file ‘Mångata’ under one genre (albeit an increasingly diverse one) would be undermining its essence. This is a work of sonic brilliance, and it reaches far beyond the dancefloor.
“The concept for the album revolved around sequences that you find in nature” says its creator Petrichor aka Simon Stokes. “Each track typically started with some field recordings that I had made, and then I would try to find patterns and sequences that were based on things like the ‘fibonacci sequence’. Having this concept allowed the tracks to unfold quite naturally at times, and lends itself to the organic feel of a lot of the music on the album.”
Played out over ten tracks, ‘Mångata’ feels truly alive, and this connection between man and nature is perhaps what makes it so instinctive. Of course, while the album takes on a life of its own, the man behind it, Simon Stokes, is responsible for conceptualising and delivering the journey, and having been releasing music since 2008 while also running his own his production school, Shoogle Studios, you get the feeling that 'Mångata' is a defining moment.
Check out the album preview below, as well as an interview in which we talk more about the Petrichor project and the creative process behind ‘Mångata’:
SynthGlasgow: Many people will already know you from your work as Simon Stokes, but Petrichor is still a relatively new project. Can you talk us through the origins of Petrichor and how it differs from your output as Stokes?
Petrichor: The Petrichor sound is definitely a bit deeper and more melodic than my old Simon Stokes output - there were a couple of reasons why this came about. Firstly, there was the technical side of things: my origins with music production lie in utilising hardware synthesisers and effects to create live performances - that's what I've always loved doing! I was finding that I was increasingly feeling tied to the computer when making music, using more software synths for sound design than all the hardware goodness I have in the studio. I used the Petrichor project to get back to my roots of using hardware, essentially creating a live performance for each track that I was working on and trying to record it in as close to one take as possible. This led to developing a deeper, more melodic and often hypnotic sound which I love.
I was also a bit discontented with the techno scene at the time - the rise of DJs to being superstars and the massive influx of new music on endless labels sometimes made music feel a bit 'throwaway' - it's all about the tune of the moment that everyone is playing. I wanted to focus on making tracks which would have appeal in the future and not just be forgotten after they drop out the Beatport charts.
SG: You have a debut album coming out this week called ‘Mångata’ which is a truly mesmerising journey. Has a full length body of work allowed you to explore the deeper layers of your sound?
Petrichor: I really felt like my music as Petrichor is well suited to the album format as it opens up your options with regards to the style of music that you create. The key decision to make a continuous mix for the album really made me think about how to create a flow for all the tracks so that they work in context with each other but can also stand alone. Technically, this is difficult to achieve and it took a lot of work to get it flowing to the point where I was happy with it. Creatively though, it let me delve into the type of music that makes me feel good and not just make music specifically for the dancefloor.
SG: Some of our favourite moments on ‘Mångata’ are the ambient soundscapes of ‘Komorebi’ and ‘Antigen’. What attracts you to these warmer, more delicate arrangements and how do you approach them creatively?
Petrichor: The concept for the album revolved around sequences that you find in nature. Each track typically started with some field recordings that I had made, and then I would try to find patterns and sequences that were based on things like the 'fibonacci sequence' which is found all throughout nature. This could simply mean the positioning of the drums follows this pattern or maybe the spacing between notes in the main sequence of the track. Having this concept allowed the tracks to unfold quite naturally at times, and lends itself to the organic feel of a lot of the music on the album.
SG: As the album progresses we're taken on a journey which is fully appreciated with the continuous mix. Was it difficult to conceptualise the course and journey of ‘Mangata’ before you began writing it?
Petrichor: The continuous mix is a blessing and a curse! On the one hand I felt like it was an important thing to do, because as I mentioned earlier, there is this 'throwaway' culture to electronic music at the moment that takes its toll on album production. There are so many techno albums that are just a collection of club bangers - people pick up their favourite ones but no-one listens to the album as a whole. I wanted to focus on the album as one complete piece of music to try and counter this to some extent.
The flip side to that is that it can be a logistical nightmare trying to pull together a full album of material that works together, both musically and in its energy and tone. Deciding to change a track in the middle of the album is not an easy thing - it means writing a new piece of music that has to fill that space and also lead perfectly from the track before and into the track after. In these circumstances it was important to use the concept of the album - field recordings and sequences in nature - to get the ball rolling. It's great to have a concept in times of trouble…
SG: You’ve been involved with Glasgow’s house and techno scene for many years now, releasing three EPs on Soma prior to this. Has the city, its clubs and artists had any influence on this project?
Petrichor: There's no doubt that Glasgow has been involved in shaping my entire philosophy on music over the years. Labels like Soma Records, club nights like Pressure and Subculture and cutting my teeth as a DJ and live act in Glasgow have all developed my sound to where it is now. There's something about Glasgow - crowds are educated in electronic music and they want a flow from DJs, but we've only got 4 hours to party because of 3am club closing times. So this mix of musical, warm-up friendly house and full strength techno can be found close to each other on a night out. I reckon that might have helped develop my sound.
SG: You mentioned that you returned to hardware for this project including analogue and digital synthesisers. Do you think it’s possible to become creatively restricted when exclusively using software?
Petrichor: Absolutely. It's been said many times before, but having endless possibilities in software can be a creativity killer. For my Petrichor music I try to limit myself to using hardware wherever possible and recording things in a single take before editing it down afterwards. I'd never be an exclusively hardware guy or just use software - it's finding the balance that works for you that's important, and I find that getting loads of recordings from hardware is my favourite workflow.
SG: As well as the Petrichor project you also teach at your own production school called Shoogle Studios. How advantageous is it for aspiring producers to learn from someone knowledgeable as apposed to self-teaching through tutorials etc?
Petrichor: I really love teaching music production, and we've got loads of students who I've taught at Shoogle Studios who are now making their way in the music industry, releasing tracks and performing in the UK and Europe. I'm sure you can get all the information from free tutorials online, but there's absolutely no substitute for learning music production in a structured way from someone who knows their shit! I've also launched a load of Masterclass sessions this year for people who already produce music but are looking for inspiration. We've got Glasgow legends such as Silicone Soul, Harvey McKay and more doing demos on how they get inspired and make tracks.
SG: We’ve heard rumours that you’ll be touring ‘Mångata’ with a new live show and having seen you perform live as Simon Stokes we know this will be special! Have you got any dates lined up? And would performing outside a club environment appeal to you?
Petrichor: There is a live show in the works - we've got the album launch party in Glasgow on Friday 24th and some more dates in the works. I've been working with a team of video-mapping specialists and graphic designers on another project which is well suited to weird venues outside of the club world. Watch this space for more info!