The last time we heard from The Astral Plane—a club music outfit that dabbles in music journalism, podcasting, and also runs a label—they were gearing up to release their second compilation. They're now about to take the big step of putting out their inaugural solo release.
They've tapped Switzerland-based producer SHALT for the special occasion, and the result is a terrific EP entitled Acheron. Inspired by sci-fi author Kim Stanley Robsinon's Mars trilogy, per the press release, and taking on the issue of "artificial life extension and the issues (class, physiology, ecology, etc.) that crop up with it," the record does an impressive job of balancing conceptual heavy lifting and very real dancefloor functionality.
Ahead of the EP's release later this week, the artist was kind enough to share the closing cut, "The Treatment", with us. Featuring some of the swampy, cascading forms you might hear in a M.E.S.H. track, the track peters along in a heavily dubby imbalance until it hits full swing in its latter half. Then the ricocheting, club-ready beat drops, and what felt like a scene-setting mood piece transforms into something a whole lot more urgent.
Stream the track below, and after the jump, check out a short interview we conducted with the producer via email.
Can you explain how the theme of artificial life extension figures in the EP? The track title "Hypermalthusian" seems relevant. Also, how do your ideas about that theme materialize in the instrumental format? On this EP, each track relates to a separate issue brought about by the prolongation of life through technological/scientific means, whether this would be about how this extension affects the "value" of life; or at what point there is a dependence on technology to retain life; or even the physical realities of this rise in longevity.
For instance, "Hypermalthusian" looks at the effects of the increase of many individual lives as a whole. How do you resolve the heightened life expectancies, size of population and changing habits (e.g. the westernisation of diets) etc., with decreasing space, food, and clean water to support all these things? And who will the intensification of these issues impact the most? Inevitably those who are already the most disadvantaged.
These stresses, strains and inequalities were something I was trying to convey through the harsh sound palette and erratic structures I used, as well as these feelings of instability, tension and decay.
The press release states that this collection is inspired by Kim Stanley Robinson's Mars trilogy. How so? The EP and track titles come from events or places within those books, and the trilogy deals with a lot of the topics that inspired the content of the EP. I read them at the time that I was creating music around these issues, so I found them useful in visualizing the concepts as well as being another source of information.
In the trilogy, a treatment is made in a place called Acheron that extends the length of peoples' lives to two/three centuries. This extension of life isn't exactly the focus of the trilogy, but it plays a huge role in the problems caused within. Although the basis of the EP comes from fiction, I do believe there can be a genuine comparison made to the current global situation.
How do you balance the work being both concept-driven and club-driven as a producer? I tend to make sure the concept comes first. For this EP I started by working on a certain type of sound palette to help evoke the concept (e.g. very overdriven, lots of digital noise)—not a very subtle one, but I'm not great at subtlety. I also had a general plan in dealing with how the individual track ideas needed to be treated in terms of structure and feel, and at the end of creating these structures, I went back and overly edited the details until I found the sense of instability and decay that I felt best described the concept.
I'd much rather that the track makes sense on a conceptual level than purely a club level, but what I'm interested in making and in hearing falls into the broader "club" category anyway, so it just sort of happens that the two tend to combine. With definitions around club music getting looser, I guess there's definitely a greater amount of freedom afforded in terms of what can be considered club-driven, which makes it easier for me to balance the two.
What made Astral Plane a good fit for the release? The Astral Plane has been pushing the conversation around club music for a long time now, and Gabe [Meier, The Astral Plane's director] has always shown support for music that tested the definitions around it. We were already in touch prior to anything being agreed, and it just sort of seemed like a natural fit. At the end of the day, it's just nice to release music with people who are passionate about it as well.
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