Sasha's imprint, Last Night On Earth, has been fixedly at the forefront of a fresh breed of innovative and ground-breaking music, pioneering new sounds from the likes of Alex Niggemann, Hunter/Game, and Kate Simko. Now, U.S. born producer Ambivalent proudly announces his forthcoming EP on Last Night On Earth, titled Portrait In Three Colors.
Ambivalent's progression through the world of techno started nine years ago. In the years since, he has gained global recognition for his unique production and DJ style, as well as garnered releases on dance music's most revered labels such as Cocoon, Mobilee, and Minus. His Portrait In Three Colors opens the door to a new distinctive, highly melodic wave of techno. It's an EP that truly captures the unparalleled sound that Ambivalent holds dearly to himself, with the chilling melodic riff of "Zafiro" helping to make this latest release on Last Night On Earth a euphoric listening experience like no other.
THUMP: How have you approached making this EP compared to others?
Ambivalent: I made this EP as much as for listening as for dancefloors and DJs. In that way, it gets a bit more expressive than some of my other recent productions. Sometimes I'm in the studio trying to achieve a color or an effect, or some sound or texture that I haven't yet found. But on this it was much more about trying to find a mood and emotion while using the same machines I always use. I love making heavy and dark stuff, it's always been my passion. In fact, it's much more typical for me to go down that route. But this group of tracks was a chance to push different limits melodically and expressively. A musician, to be honest, you have to express more than one emotion.
Is that where dance music is right now?
We're in a moment where artists are encouraged to streamline and present a singular "sound" in order to avoid confusing people. Some artists and labels have an identity that's so defined that it can't shift gears. I spent years with a label that gradually erased all of its surprises in favor of honoring a "brand." Everyone's so concerned with building brands today that they've had to dispense any thought of music; they're just moving a product. It's certainly a safe bet from a business and marketing perspective, I just prefer surprises and changes. The most successful fast-food restaurants serve the same thing every day in a million locations all over the world. This doesn't just apply to big labels—some of the most conservative, narrow-minded people in this business are the most "underground." I've rarely met anyone more brand-conscious than the people who decide whether something is good by how limited the pressing is, or how obscure the name is, sometimes before they've even heard the music. I'm expecting this record to confuse some people, and I'm proud of that.
Can you further describe what you refer to as the "empathy available in machines"?
I feel like that's always been one of the core lessons I took from techno's origins in Detroit. Of course futurism is a part of techno, but it was also bound up with this beautiful, very musical vision. Underground Resistance had a huge impact on me, not just because of the depth of the world they were creating, but the musicianship and expressiveness of it. There are of course so many other great artists from Detroit who took machines and reached powerful emotions through them. Derrick May and Carl Craig have profoundly influenced my melodic sensibilities, and I was aiming to work those muscles with these tracks.
How does that all speak to the public's awareness of the techno genre?
I think there's a really frustrating narrowness of people's sense of techno sometimes. It seems like what's in vogue lately is dark, greyscale droney stuff, and the most musical moment is sometimes just a chord stab. I love that and I still make and play it quite a lot, but I fear sometimes people get tunnel vision and view one style as the only way to make techno. A friend recently told me a Dutch saying about people who "hear the bell but know nothing about who rang it." When I think of what inspired me in techno, it wasn't just reductive, pure technology. It was also the idea that this music could connect and express in really profound ways.
What kind of gear was used in the EP's production?
It's a pretty diverse range, as the tracks were started in one studio and finished in another. "Zafiro" is made with a TR 808 and a SH-101, a Prophet VS, an Oberheim SEM Two Voice, and a Memorymoog. "Ceruleo" and "Azurito" are made with a 909, an Oberheim Matrix 1000 and Elektron Analog Four, and a Minitaur. They all got the treatment from my effects workhorses— some Eventide and Lexicon units. But of course, the computer was in the middle of all of this. I wouldn't want anyone to think that this music could only be made on expensive machines. There isn't just one way to make music. I don't advocate analog or vintage fetishism. I just enjoy finding the limits of these instruments and letting them talk back to me. I also try to avoid getting carpal tunnel syndrome in front of a computer.
What is the feeling of releasing on an esteemed label like Last Night On Earth?
I originally sent the tracks to Sasha specifically because he has a label where there are always surprises, no formulas, and an open ear. I think a lot of people have expectations about which artists follow each other and would be shocked at how broadly their favorite DJs look at music. It all comes back to what I was saying earlier. There are so many combinations and opportunities out there, and following inspiration and honesty is always a better than marketing, calculations and packaging. I don't want to imitate anyone, particularly not myself. I'm super honored that someone like Sasha would open the door to someone like me. He could easily make "safe" choices, but I really admire what he's done with Last Night On Earth and the artists he's released. I'm excited for people to hear a different side of my music and grateful for the chance.
Christopher is on Twitter.