Eerie ambience from a master of the form.
Brian Leeds didn't mean to become an ambient artist; he's not even sure he is one now. The Kansas-born, New York-based DJ and producer debuted with scuffed and atmospheric house on labels like Opal Tapes and Future Times. But his breakthroughs came on Proibito, the label run by his friend and like-minded artist Anthony Naples. First was Railroad Blues, an EP that became a DJ favorite despite its barely there drums. Then For Those Of You Who Have Never (And Also Those Who Have), an album that made Huerco S an essential name in ambient music virtually overnight (it even snuck into Pitchfork's 50 Best Ambient Albums Of All Time, just a few pegs below Biosphere's Substrata).
Leeds made For Those Of You... partly as a way to cope with the anxiety of air travel—"rather than popping a Xanax or drinking tons of red wine," he told The Fader, "I basically made the album for myself to listen to and fall asleep to." But now he's done with the idea of ambient music as therapy, having set his sights on something "darker, more unpleasant, less forgiving, less holistic." Make Me Know You Sweet, his album from last year as Pendant, lived up to that promise with an hour of ominous, ocean floor murk. RA.658 moves farther in the same direction, creeping through one cold landscape after another, always arriving somewhere unexpected.
What have you been up to recently?
I've just been spending time with my girlfriend, friends and family in Kansas for the holidays. I haven't been back in over a year so it's always important to reground/reconnect with the place that made me. It's been too long since I have seen the stars and enjoyed the silence of the countryside. White-tail deer in the garden in the morning, playing with my labrador retriever and enjoying sitting by the hearth with a book.
Before trekking off to the Midwest I was in the studio for a couple days with Lucy Railton and Britton Powell in NYC and that's definitely something I'd like to continue. The collaborative process can be so amazing and unexpected. I've spent about half of 2018 in Europe playing shows, enjoying the life of a lush but toeing the line between amusement, apathy, homesickness and restlessness.
Oh and I also started a label in January 2018 called West Mineral Ltd., shout outs to Naemi, Rory, Shy and Ulla for their rich Audio-Mineral contributions and to everyone who has supported us in this endeavor!
When and where did you record the mix?
The mix was done just before departing for Kansas; I remember I was anxious about all the distance I was about to travel. It was the 13th of December, a mild and overcast Thursday afternoon. Myrrh, tobacco and cannabis lingering around my Ridgewood row-house. Two XDJ's through a Lineartech LX-44 mixer into my Zoom H5.
Can you tell us about the idea behind the mix?
I always try to showcase the music of my friends & my label... this just continues that tradition. It took me about a week or two to gather the music and start piecing it together, running through some quick mixes on my computer via Traktor to get an idea of how certain songs would mesh. I ripped some older records, so in my eyes it's a balance of new and old. I've been trying more and more to let the songs play out almost in their entirety before mixing into a new one. It's mostly reflective of the season: an icy pulse, the dripping percussion from the thaw, the days finally growing longer minute by minute, crawling into a new cycle around the sun.
Tell us about your relationship with ambient music. What is it about this sound that suits you so well? And do you still have a clubby side lurking in there somewhere?
It's a difficult one, I don't particularly listen to it in my spare time with exception to the music of my friends and even then I'd hesitate to call it "ambient." I think especially with renewed interest into a genre it is easy as a listener to become fatigued, overwhelmed, even underwhelmed with new music. I'm not so sure it suits me or it just happens to be a vessel in which there are few rules. Then again maybe that's a bad thing for the genre, perhaps it'd be easier to shift, to evolve the genre if there were more codified notions of what is ambient and what isn't. More and more I see people talk about ambient music as some sort of "cure-all," yet all I want is to push back and make it darker, more unpleasant, less forgiving, less holistic. I find myself in the last year or two listening to more rap and metal than anything else... Thugger is more sonically interesting than Eno (but hey that's just me).
The clubby side isn't lurking, it never left, I just never thought I was very good at programming percussion so I just took it out of the equation (at least when producing). I'd like to dive back into that realm this year.
You took your live act as Pendant on the road last year. What was it like bringing something so subtle to clubs and festivals? Did you find there were good spaces and situations for that kind of performance?
It was definitely a challenge at first and maybe it still is for me. Performing one's own music can be taxing yet all the more rewarding. In some ways it's easier, I felt less pressure compared to that of a DJ set. The songs didn't have to be beat-matched, I wasn't scared of fumbling someone else's material, the audience didn't need to be rewarded for being patient listeners, there's less give and take... more GIVE.
Certain spaces, parties, events, etc., are obviously more hospitable for this kind of Malleable-Music and some CERTAINLY are NOT. It's easy to get frustrated when you hear the crowd chatting away, that's when I consciously try to take the project into a darker, more confrontational headspace.
What are you up to next?
I'd like to spend a good portion of my time on the label, to diversify our sonic palette and continue to release music from those near and dear to me. The next record will come from my homie Iggy, he's the one who really got me into DJing and producing. It means a lot to have everything come full circle. I've always considered taking a step back from music production to focus on continuing my education. I'd like to reexamine my love affair with music, collaborate with more people and share the stage with more friends. I feel time slipping by faster and faster as each year passes, and maybe it's naive, but just simply enjoy the company of those I love. Thanks for listening!
MUSIC IS SICK!