|Breaking through: Anthony Naples
The rising New York producer only has a few releases to his name, but with support from the likes of Four Tet it seems like it's only a matter of time before more of the world takes notice.
"You know that feeling," Anthony Naples muses. "The trees are starting to get a little more fall-y, everyone's walking around in their best jackets..."
From our vantage point outside a café on the sort of lusciously shady block brownstone Brooklyn is famous for, it's not hard to imagine the scene Naples is conjuring—that quintessentially New York moment when everyone in your neighborhood simultaneously gets on board with the newly crisp air and reddening foliage. In a city with so little separation between public and private spaces, a perfect fall afternoon can feel oddly personal and deeply penetrating, which is why Naples brings this one up: it spawned "Mad Disrespect," the track that catapulted him from a Brooklyn loft party regular to a producer whose music regularly soundtracks them. But as I watch our iced coffees sweat heavily on a characteristically sticky afternoon in late August, it's not lost on me that not even a year has passed since the particular moment he's describing.
Naples is thus about as new a producer as they come: in less than 12 months, he wrote his first track, watched it blow up and started getting the sort of calls young producers dream of. To say that Naples merely "lucked out," though, cruelly downplays the fact that the Mad Disrespect EP, the inaugural release on Mister Saturday Night Records, is one of the year's most memorable and exceptional singles. Yet luck, far more than message boards chatter and Soundcloud followers, seems to play no small part in Naples' swift rise.
Growing up in Miami, Naples found club music unavoidable from a young age: with booty bass dominating drivetime radio (not to mention his mom's tape collection), Naples remembers it being "the only thing I grew up listening to." Though he embraced rock in high school, artists like Boards of Canada and Ceephax Acid Crew worked into his regular rotation. He counts Maestro, a 2003 documentary chronicling disco's germination in New York, as the high school YouTube find that got him lusting after vinyl and turntables. But it took a stint at Florida State University for Naples to encounter dance music in its natural environs. "First time I danced, actually, ever in my life, was 2009, in college at this club called Menace Beach [in Tallahassee]. It was really, really weird electro house nonsense, but I'd never been to a club in my life." That spring, he also made first contact with Mister Saturday Night, when he caught Floating Points at an event at Brooklyn's now-defunct Market Hotel.
His college career ended up being short-lived: after one semester, he basically stopped going, substituting YouTube binges for class. "I went to school for like six months or whatever, and I didn't like it—it didn't like me or something—so I had to leave. I felt like I fucked up really hard. I actually moved up [to New York] in the summer, and I was supposed to go back. Then a few things came up, like I was going to move to Berlin, but then I sold my ticket to somebody for rent. Then I found a place in Flatbush for a month, shared a room with my good friend and stayed. I was supposed to go back [at the end of the summer], and I just never showed up."
Where college never really took, Brooklyn did. "New York is everything I wanted it to be—a big city with lots to do," Naples says. "You're never bored. It's just inspiration. Even if it's negative inspiration, it always keeps you doing better. Like I never feel lazy here, which is something I always strive to do, because I felt so lazy going to school two hours a day and then sitting around." It didn't hurt to have access to a glut of underground dance parties like Turrbotax®, the Bunker and, critically, Mister Saturday Night. He attended faithfully but kept a low profile. "He'd been coming to the parties since 2010," says Justin Carter, who along with Eamon Harkin heads up MSN. "But he'd never come up and introduce himself. We've come to find that it's not really Anthony's way."
Thus, Naples didn't approach making dance music as an inroad into New York's house music scene; as he tells it, the drive came from simply getting a laptop. "That's another thing about New York, like the craziest shit happens. I got a MacBook here for 100 bucks. A perfectly fine working MacBook." As fate would have it the computer "already had a copy of Logic built on it, so I just went straight to work." After some quick experiments with "little loops or whatever" and getting his hands on a couple of key plugins, his first hit wasn't long in coming. "First time I ever sat down and made something and went to my roommate and was like, 'Check out what I made while you were at work,' it was 'Mad Disrespect.'"
He sent it to Carter and Harkin, who were soliciting tracks for a Mister Saturday Night label. The demo caught their ears, but it wasn't totally there yet: "I think he actually said as much when he sent [it] to us," Carter remembers. The track had been somewhat skeletal—it didn't even have a bassline at that point—so they made some suggestions about how he might flesh it out. An expanded version landed in Carter's inbox some months later, but he initially missed it. "One day, in doing my semi-regular inbox purge," Carter says, "I opened up the email, listened to the track, loved it, and immediately forwarded it to Eamon." Urged to send more tracks, Naples pieced together "Tusk" and "Slackness," the Mad Disrespect EP's eventual B-sides. By April—without a DJ gig or Soundcloud account to his name, or having even met Carter and Harkin in person—Anthony Naples had signed his first three tracks.
"I don't ever sit down and jam...
There's no jamming to do:
I'm on a computer with a mouse."
After "Mad Disrespect" was officially slated for release, Mister Saturday Night brought in Four Tet, AKA Kieran Hebden, to headline Clinton Hill loft space 12-turn-13. Naples had by this point become part of MSN's extended family. True to form, though, during a pre-show dinner attended by both Naples and Hebden, Naples kept mum about his precise involvement with the party. But he had a hard time hiding out after the residents played his track in their opening set. "I just remember the track coming on, and the whole vibe in the room picking up a bit," Hebden recalls. "Then Justin and Eamon told me it was something they were putting out by a new guy they'd met, and I got all intrigued."
"We talked for a while after that," Naples recalls, "and eventually he asked if I wanted to do a remix for him." Hebden sent over a few tracks for Naples to choose from, and he settled on "128 Harps," a manic but tenderly melodic cut that would eventually wind up on Four Tet's latest LP, Pink. I asked Hebden if he was at all concerned about tapping such a new artist for a remix. "I think new artists are really great choices for remixers," he countered, "because they usually go at it with a lot of enthusiasm. I knew Anthony would probably be excited to do it, and I could tell from the tracks of his I'd heard that he would probably do something I liked."
By Naples's account, Hebden had the right idea. "I spent a long while [on the remix] because I figured it was probably the biggest project I'd ever get asked to do," Naples says. "I didn't want to do something safe. It would have been easy to use the harps to create a real deep, melancholy house track or something, but the vocal samples had this anxious feeling I really wanted to expand upon. I knew if I could figure out how to take the vibe of the song in a different direction, it would be a record with a huge contrast on it—this beautiful harp driven song and this dark and cloudy thing on the B-side."
When Naples says "vibe," he's talking less about overtly musical associations than context—the time, place or inspirational nugget he had in mind when the music started to take shape. With "Mad Disrespect," for example, Naples set out to make a "very classic-sounding" dance cut, but mostly because dusty, sample-derived house seemed to best match the vibe of Clinton Hill, his home base. (A YouTube clip of a local cruising through the neighborhood in his car, poorly labeled and thus lost, provided him with specific inspiration: he thought the track might make a good soundtrack.)
Rather than look at how other producers hit that vibe, he let the neighborhood into the guiding force for his music, using a day last fall when its energy really crystallized in his mind. "I went to Dope Jams really early on in the afternoon, picked up some records, went and got a haircut at this place called Miracles, sat on my stoop for a long time at Gates and Franklin—like, it was a very New York day, a Brooklyn sort of day: you're busy enough so that you're doing things for yourself, doing errands, this and that, but you're just relaxing, you know? That's the middle ground that I think Brooklyn represents."
"I'd like to make something
that's just, like, out of time."
As such, Naples isn't constantly making new tunes; he told me he hasn't made anything in a month and is perfectly fine with that, and he counts less-than-prolific producers like Levon Vincent as inspirations for his approach. "I don't ever sit down and jam or something," he says. "There's no jamming to do: I'm on a computer with a mouse." But he's always on the clock in terms of collecting inspirations, compulsively making lists of concepts and buzzwords and getting out in the city as often as time will allow.
When labels approach him these days—a common occurrence post-"Mad Disrespect"—he says he asks as many questions of them as they do of him. "I want to know what I'm doing at all times. Like, I emailed this label back that was like, 'Let's do a 12,' and I'm really psyched to do it. I wrote them back and was like, 'I work much better with a goal in mind. What kind of idea do you have in mind? How many songs? What do you like about the music that I make now that you want? What kind of direction do I go in?' I don't really feel good doing things like, 'Here's ten songs that I made,' because I don't ever do that. I very much picture it as a goal."
With the tide of emails rising, Naples is as much playing catch-up as making sure he's comfortable with how things are ramping up. I ask him if he's planning to upgrade his studio. "Nah," he answers, "because then I'll have to start all over. A mousepad, that's the next thing. I don't have any windows in my room, so that would be a good thing to have." Working more or less backwards from the normal course, he's only now cultivating a web presence, as he knows online is where the heads hang out these days. "Like it's great that [the dance music press] is in touch with me—that's all great, you know, but like, no one is writing about me on the forums." (Rather than work all angles, he's set up a single website as a more personalized one-stop shop for those interested in keeping up.) And with promoters inquiring about far-flung DJ gigs, he's struggling to get his DJ skills up to speed.
But it's that latter concern—making sure things are happening on his own terms and at his own pace—that's at the forefront for Naples right now. His last day job, handling distribution for a small but influential Brooklyn indie label, gave him pause about the indie hype cycle, with artists pressured "to finish these albums and to exceed their [last] Pitchfork score." He's happy to stay out of that world, even if he's not sure the comparatively kinder world of underground house is the endgame for him. The next project he has planned is an album he imagines will be as informed by Actress and the Trilogy Tapes catalog as it is by scruffy Danish punk labels like Escho. "I'd like to make something that's just, like, out of time, like Madteo's stuff doesn't ever stay in time, and you can't DJ it. But it's like, you can listen to it and try to figure it out from all these different angles. I think that's a really cool way to look at music."
Yet as much as he's trying to push his music off the grid and embrace the opportunities galloping toward him, Naples is making sure his newfound popularity doesn't upset the careful balance that's thus far driven him creatively. "I want to be at work with my friends, and then I want to go do [dance music] and have it be separate. It's just a part of my life, but I don't do it every day." He could probably still write tunes if he went that route, but they wouldn't mean the same thing. "Somewhere along the line," he muses, "recordings became about making money and not about being a recording—like a document." Checking the date, I'm reminded of what he's documented so far. In just a handful of weeks, the deep green leaves above us will be raked into russet piles lining the sidewalk, and those freshly dry-cleaned jackets will be out in full force again. For most, fall signals that things are starting to wind down once again; for Naples, it means everything's just getting started.