It chugs along innocuously enough, at a leisurely 90 BPM, led by a rudimentary 707 patter, but then in comes the rhythmic downward bass spiral. Then the hypnotic mid-range pulses, the celestial noodling and the chiming bells that triple and quadruple in slow motion, liquidizing into trickling streams, and crystallising into gleaming gems. It is pastoral, cosmic, heavy-lidded hypnotism, and by the end I felt like I'd just experienced a sunrise somewhere inside my own skull.
I hunted down the website of Future Times, the label responsible for the glorious tune... and the reverie broke. It's a single page scroll-down in varying shades of piercing blue, with a migraine jumble of fonts. There's an image of a breeching whale. Then rave smileys, the cover of EPMD's Unfinished Business, and a pixel mosaic of Drexciya's lost member James Marcel Stinson. Below that, a grab bag of quotes. An esoteric knowledge bomb from Carl Sagan here, random tweets and YouTube comments there and Omar-S grouching "Yeah bitch, that's all the record do. Yep your lazy ass needs to do some other shit with it."
Within the scope of the Future Times universe, their zany website begins to make sense. The FT aesthetic—visual and aural—is created from the torn-off corners of past and present things, collected in a magpie fashion, and pasted together. Dusty analog drum rhythms will shed their skins entirely mid-bar, tip-of-the-tongue samples appear, then slip through your fingers.
When I called up Future Times label heads Mike Petillo (one half of Protect-U, with Aaron Leitko) and Andrew Field-Pickering (one half of Beautiful Swimmers, alongside Ari Goldman) in Washington DC late last year, I asked about their penchant for found images and retro motifs. "We're not really self-conscious about it," said Petillo. "Andrew's a master of finding the New Age, weird, quasi-scary, spiritual perspective to branch off from." "I dunno," continued Field-Pickering. "We have an aesthetic that's hard even for us to put our finger on, but when you see something, you're just like, 'Yep, that's it.'"
The same goes for the music. Terms like nu-disco, boogie, Chicago house, tropical, future-retro funk, and new age have all been used. And none of these are incorrect, but none are wholly accurate either. Protect-U's cosmic leanings are propelled by proto house, Beautiful Swimmers' aquatic funk glides through disco and cod reggae, leaving a trail of sea water and tanning oil. Rhythm Based Lovers turns out sentimental electro funk and robotic slow jams, and Slava is preoccupied with the jungle fever within humid tropical rhythms. The tie that binds the Future Times is the openness with which they consume, digest and retell the music of the last four decades. Listen closely enough, and there's Deep Forest, dream pop and easy listening to be found, alongside more fashionable cues to Marshall Jefferson or Giorgio Moroder.
The result has been nods from expected quarters, like Tim Sweeney and Illja Rudman, but also from house jocks like Steffi and Roman Flugel. Last year HHV.de, a largely hip hop based German online community, voted Beautiful Swimmers' "Big Coast," the #1 track of 2010. Also last year, Dominic Flannigan of Glasgwegian bass collective LuckyMe declared, "Future Times is my favourite shit," describing it as "the spirit of The Loft re-imagined."
Field-Pickering attributes the like-mindedness of Future Times artists—and hence the listeners they've found favour with—to a type of collective nostalgia. "You know when everybody who's around 25 to 30 in the '90s got a cassette to listen to when they went somewhere with their parents? Pseudo-African, pseudo-New Age stuff was the big thing. My grandmother would give me a weird tape of something that we're supposed to be exposed to, like 'make sure you check out these different cultures!' One of the best genres for me is African sounds, like a house record with a random loop of chanting, displaced from its natural element. That just hits me every time."
It explains at least some of it. It's also about location: The patchwork groove of Future Times grew out of DC's once-thriving punk and hardcore scene, and all of the label's hometown artists have been involved in numerous bands projects. "Back in high school, it was all about playing in bands," recalls Field-Pickering of the period after his family relocated to DC from Maryland. "Fugazi were from around here, it was a huge punk town. I played drums, Ari [Goldman] played guitar in a David Bowie/T Rex kind of band, and I was in a Minor Threat but-not-nearly-as-good type of band." He had small but growing interest in hip-hop and breakcore artists like Aphex Twin and Autechre, but given the transient nature of DC's population, as friends and peers in his circle of musician friends shifted out for other places, the time and effort that Field-Pickering and his remaining friends spent on electronic music slowly began to eclipse everything else.
"Me and Ari started going to all of the thrift stores around here," he says, "We had dirtbag jobs at the time. We weren't doing anything, and started taking chances on these records for like 50 cents. They were all sorts of crazy. At a certain point we were like, 'Yeah, we should learn how to DJ. Why not?'" They were one of a small number of local crews opting for eclectic dance floor sounds, within a sea of mainstream options. "There was no real culture of 12-inch stuff for 'heads'," he explains. "The aspect of DJs as artists in and of themselves wasn't happening in DC for a while."
Field-Pickering met Petillo in 2003 through mutual friends, but when the first Future Times record—a red marbled 7" by Field-Pickering's solo persona Maxmillion Dunbar—was released, the label was still a tiny one-man operation. By FT002, Rhythm Based Lovers' Boogie Vision/Snow Drift, Petillo was part of the fold. The tale is recounted in characteristic fashion. "(We were) just hanging out, shooting the shit," says Petillo, "like 'yeah we should do something!' Our friend Jason had a bunch of tracks, he was like, 'I'm just trying to make some good '80s boogie,' and we're like, 'This is awesome dude! You hit it out of the park, you nailed it dude!' And from there we were, like, 'let's just do this, why not?'"
The affable, laidback attitude of its label owners extends to the Future Times family tree, which is ingrown with incestuous bonds and circular connections. Petillo records with Aaron Leitko as Protect-U, and DJs solo as Mondo. Field-Pickering, goes stag as Maxmillion Dunbar, and pairs up with Ari Goldman as Beautiful Swimmers. Goldman is part of another duo, the Italo-inspired house project Manhunter with Jason Letkiewicz; Letkiewicz appears as both Rhythm Based Lovers and Sensual Beings for Future Times. Manhunter's sole record was released by kindred spirit label Muckamuck Produce. Muckamuck Produce also release Field-Pickering's experimental hip-hop project Food For Animals... and so on.
Slava, a Brooklyn-based artist, is the first Future Times signee from outside the DC community, but even he was brought into label's orbit through a trusted friend, Brian Shimkovitz of cult blog Awesome Tapes from Africa. "It's a small world thing," admits Field-Pickering, "especially with East Coast USA right now. We're all friends with the guys who do the W.T. label, the L.I.E.S. label is our friend Ron. Two Dogs and a House Records is Ron and Jason from Rhythm Based Lovers—everybody is getting into the mix right now and it's great."
Interestingly, in the three years of the label's existence, its petri dish culture has had a converse effect, with each of its artists beginning to section off their own corner of sound library. Petillo recalls the making of "Double Rainbow," and its distinctive psychedelic bell sample, which was pieced together on Leitko's MPC. "I was like, 'OK, that sounds like it'll be really simple and obvious,' but it worked out really well. Now we're way more calculated about what we're trying to do, we actually sit down and try to sketch out things much more definitively."
The forthcoming Protect-U EP World Music/U-Uno tracks that evolution: the trilling, cosmic spaciness and otherworldly glow is still there, but within a trimmer package that meanders less, and focuses more on the freakout possibilities within defined house and techno frameworks. Field-Pickering also speaks of Beautiful Swimmers becoming "way more serious collagists," relying less on samples, writing more of their own synth sounds and instrumentation, and holding fast to the tight drum intros and outros that marks Beautiful Swimmers' discography. "We're trying to make straight-up bombs," he states.
The main hometown vessel for the Future Times collective outside of the studio is the monthly club night, The Whale. Initially, The Whale roved around the city, setting up after hours in sympathetic Ethiopian clubs or pizza joints. Now, U Street Music Hall—DC's only non-mainstream club with a dedicated sound system—has been their home for the past nine months. While Field-Pickering admits that the underground heat around the label has "taken it up a notch" at The Whale, both he and Petillo feel the night's ongoing success is due to its core crowd: adventurous, open-minded dancers. "You can slow it down, speed it back up, put any sort of ambient noises in," he says, "we used to do a lot of things with ocean sounds and weird dolphin things—absolutely anything that is worthy will get played... (but) it's not as heady as it sounds. Even for the slower, weirder jams, people will still dance. The entire purpose of the party is for dancing, not for scratching-your-beard records."
As they come off a landmark year, buoyed by well-received summer European dates for Max D and Beautiful Swimmers, Field-Pickering and Petillo look towards—and beyond—the next 12-inch releases from Protect-U and Max D, the planned compilation to mark the label's tenth record and increasing DJ and remix requests. Their label motto is simply "things will be better in Future Times," and for this ragtag collective, and their seemingly indefinable everything, it's a neat sentiment that rings true.
Download: RA Label of the Month 1102 Mix: Future Times
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Filesize: 164.7 MB
01. Confused House - Concrete Dub (2011, Future Times)
02. Protect-U - World Music (2011, Future Times)
03. Beautiful Swimmers - Horizon (2009, Future Times)
04. Protect-U - World Music (2011, Future Times)
05. Max D - Can U? (2009, Future Times)
06. Rhythm Based Lovers - Snow Drift (2008, Future Times)
07. LIES - Comeback Dust (Max D Big Top Dustheads Remix) (2011, Future Times)
08. Protect-U - U-Uno (2011, Future Times)
09. Beautiful Swimmers - Big Coast (2010, Future Times)
10. Beautiful Swimmers - Swimmers Groove (2009, Future Times)
11. Maxmillion Dunbar - Ballroom (upcoming, 2011, Future Times)
12. Protect-U - Protection (2009, Future Times)
13. Slava - Dreaming Tiger (2010, Future Times)
14. Slava - World Of Spirits (2010, Future Times)
15. Protect-U - World Music (2011, Future Times)
16. Sensual Beings - Detached Feelings (2009, Future Times)
17. Simoncino - A Mystery To Me (Unreleased)
18. Kinoeye - Mean Old World (2009, WT)
19. Paradise's Deep Groove - Innermind (1992, E Legal)
20. Gala Drop - Izod (2010, Golf Channel)
21. Drexciya - Danger Bay (1993, Underground Resistance)
22. S.B.B.L. - Purple Pitch (1985, ZYX)
23. Mark-E - Escape (2010, Vibrations)
24. Mood II Swing - Function (1995, Music For Your Ears)
25. The Other People Place - Sunrays (2001, Warp)