Melbourne's Joseph is a bedroom producer making music for solitary moments rather than for the club. His debut release under this moniker, Swimming with Blue Whales, is like contemporary classical, laced with low electronic hums that have the ability to send you thinking of your unrequited crush on that barista at your local, but it's much more than that. It's a nod to hip hop, with Metro Boomin-style 808s, and constant reminders of his classical training oozing out.
This is music for those lonely nights spent in your bedroom Googling new coffee orders to impress your crush with. This is for long rides home on the tram. This is for quiet baths and eating Kit Kats.
Today on THUMP, we premiere Swimming with Blue Whales. Listen to it, and read our interview, below.
Swimming with Blue Whales isn't necessarily music for the club, more music for the bedroom, with a distinctive sense of melancholy. How do you imagine people experiencing your music?
I certainly couldn't imagine it getting spun at the club. Maybe a very ambitious—or misguided... Probably misguided—DJ could give it a go. I think that it's probably best enjoyed in a solitary environment.Tram rides, when you're falling asleep, walking home.
Is there a story behind the EP?
The EP is actually named after a short story I wrote when I was 18, right after I graduated high school. The story has a few different narratives, but one of them involves a man who leaves his family behind at the beach one day to go for a swim. He comes across a gam of whales and decides to leave everything behind and swim with them for the rest of his life.
The record itself doesn't follow any kind of narrative like that, but I felt that the image of swimming with blue whales was an apt visual for some of the things I was feeling when I was making the tunes. Something about being a very small entity in a massive and intimidating world, and trying to find some peace in that thought.
You're releasing the EP both digitally and on cassette, and I totally get the whole 'cassette thing' but I really don't sometimes - most people don't even own a cassette player. Is it about romanticising what's retro or am I missing the point entirely?
I've had to explain this choice a few times. There's a few reasons. For sure there's an aesthetic element. Tapes are cool looking and have that fuzzy saturated sound, there's that retro romanticism element too. I think if anyone's releasing a tape and tries to deny that there are aesthetic factors in play, they'd be pretty misguided. But there's also more to it. A lot of the music that informed the creation of this record are albums that I have on cassette. Indie rock records from Orchid Tapes, or experimental tapes from Lillerne, or ambient releases on //this thing//. For whatever reason, the music that inspires me—indie rock, ambient music, left-field—tends to be released on cassette. I guess it was a personal thing, wanting to be able to put my record on the shelf next to the things that inspired me to create it.
There's also a functional element that I think people overlook. A lot of records nowadays tend to get released digitally, as well as in physical copy. But just like not many people have a cassette player - not many people have a CD player or a record player. Even if they do, it's rare that someone puts a CD into their CD player to listen to an album. Vinyl is having a resurgence, but most people who own vinyls don't actually play them on a record player. So it's like, given that most music is consumed digitally, why even bother having physical releases at all? There's a lot of reasons, but a big one for people is to feel like they're supporting the artist. You can download an album for free or a few bucks, but if you really like someone's work you're more inclined to buy a physical copy. Even though that CD or vinyl or tape may never get played, it still has function because it's a symbol of support. For me, self releasing this record, doing a tape was more advantageous than doing a CD or a vinyl because they're cheaper to press.
How long have you been making music for? What have your other musical endeavours been like?
I've been playing instruments since I was about ten years old - saxophone, guitar, a bit of piano. In high school I would try and write indie rock songs but never got particularly far. Writing music was always something that interested me but I struggled with, so I decided to try and go to uni for music composition. I wrote the bare minimum that I had to to get in, and it was around half-way through my first year that I actually started to take writing music on my computer seriously, encouraged by my friends and a Jai Paul record. It's been three years since I started making music seriously, with some sense of direction to it.
My other endeavours are kinda wide and varied. I have a bunch of Jai Paul/alt-R'n'B style demos from when I first started messing about on my laptop, an album of house tracks that I made (two of which I put out under a different name in 2014), and a silly amount of hip hop beats too.
It's one thing to listen to many genres of music, but it seems as though very few people make or play different genres, don't you think? How do you navigate performing in The Fabric to producing rap beats to making an electronic EP like this one?
I wonder this myself. I wish I had a good answer, really. Sometimes I wish I could just be heavy into one style of music and only make that particular genre, but it's just not the way I'm wired. The second I hear something that appeals to me I want to be able to make it. I'll be listening to a bunch of hip hop for a few weeks and just be making beats, then I'll hear a great house record and I'll spend all my time sequencing 4x4 kicks, then I'll hear a really touching indie rock song and it just goes on and on. It makes for a pretty unfocused approach. Someone that inspires me a lot is Sam Ray, who has a kind of similar approach. He makes music as Ricky Eat Acid, Julia Brown, and Teen Suicide (amongst others). Even though his projects span a wide variety of genres, there's something very stylistically him in each one. That's a quality that I strive for in my own stuff, regardless of what genre I'm making.
I don't quite know how to sum up your music into a neat genre: atmospheric electronica, body beats, spatial sounds (sorry that's awful). What is the scene in Melbourne like for artists similar to you? Do you think that more could be happening for it to grow?
Unsurprisingly, there's a really solid scene in Melbourne for left field electronic artists. Obvious shout out to my boys Nico (Nico Niquo) and Jordan (OBA) who put a sick tape out on Phinery last year. I'm not sure what Donald U'Ren has been up to recently but I'm sure when he puts something out next it'll blow minds. Some other acts that I'm a fan of include Kane Ikin, Geryon, Hyde, waterhouse, and Corin - Wondercore Island are putting out a Corin EP in October that I'm really looking forward to. I'm not sure I'd have the audacity to say that these are "artists like me" because they're all completely next-level, but they're definitely cultivating an enviable experimental scene here.
I'm not sure what could happen to make it grow, or if that's even a goal. There are a bunch of labels and radio programs for experimental music in Melbourne if people are interested, but I think the nature of it is that a comparatively small group of people are. I think when you decide to make niche music you give up any illusions of Drake-level superstardom that you might have had in your youth, and you learn to be chill with 5 or 10 people being at your show. For me it's kinda like "ok I'm gonna make this track, and if it prompts an emotional response from just one other person then it's a success".
Nico Niquo collaborated with you on the track "On A Rotating Sphere." You both attended the VCA together too, so was working together with him just the most chill thing to do? Will you two collaborate again in the future?
Nico and I went to Uni together and also happen to be best buds, so being able to work together on a piece was real special, and it came together really easily. We catch up most weeks to have a beer in his backyard, and one week I had the sheet music for a piano piece I had written. The pianist I had been planning to record had cancelled on me that day, and I wanted to hear what it sounded like. Nico doesn't have a piano at his joint, but his roommate has a Juno 60, and I asked him to play it on that. I immediately plugged it into the computer and got him to record it in, it sounded so beautiful to me. A few days later we met up and snuck into a piano room at the VCA to record him playing the same piece on a grand piano there.
From there, I kinda took the reins and arranged the whole thing on my computer. I remember playing an early version back to Nico like "oh hey check out what I did with that stuff we recorded" and he seemed pretty stunned at the result. That meant a lot to me, 'cause I have a lot of respect for Nico as an artist and musician. His approach to writing music is something I find very inspiring.
I'm not sure if we'll work together again, this tune was definitely a one-off kind of approach to making a track. We both have our own thing going on. We'll definitely collab on some beers when he gets back from Europe.
You've described your music as "Metro Boomin style 808s meets string quartets meets contemporary classical," which is quite a feat but you've managed to pull it off. Is this what we can continue to expect from you musically?
Nah, not really. I'm tryna change it up a little every record that I do. We'll see how it goes next time, I've been making a really wide variety of tunes recently, just trying to see what sticks and what doesn't. I have a tape of hip hop beats that I want to refine a little and maybe put out, I'd like to do a more straightforward ambient record, and I've also been writing some songs recently as well. Oh, and Darcy and I have a techno record coming out later this year.
You're donating the money made from Swimming with Blue Whales to the Asylum Seeker Resource Centre, why was this important to you?
Simply put, what happens in the detention centres on Manus Island and in Nauru is a disgrace. I feel very strongly about our government's awful and illegal treatment of asylum seekers. I've been very privileged to have been able to study and create music—creating art is kinda self indulgent in that way. I'd rather that any money that I make from making this music go to an organisation that does great work on an issue that I feel passionate about. I'd probably just spend it all on goon and darts anyway, y'know?
Listen to the premiere of Swimming with Blue Whales below.
Released on cassette and online, Joseph is donating all proceeds made from Swimming with Blue Whales to the Asylum Seeker Resource Centre.