Hey Ross, thanks for taking the time to chat with us. Tell us a bit about yourself and how you got to where you are today.
I’m a 90s raver who fell in love with electronic music, I’ve spent the last 20 years of my life pursuing a dream of creating electronic music that brings people closer to God, whatever that means. I guess I’m a dreamer, I’ve always been attracted to the psychedelic and the London rave scene in the 90s was a melting pot of cultures from dub reggae to garage to Goa trance to hard London techno. All this can be found in my music, but yeah, I can’t get away from the fact that music for me is like a religious experience, that’s just the boundary line I’ve spent my whole life on.
Tell us more about the inspirations and imagery behind ‘Ambient Girl’;.
Ambient Girl is somehow linked to me and my soul. The imagery came to me late in 2018. At first I related to the male figure, but then the more I thought about it, and the more I explored the story, the closer and closer I felt to the Ambient Girl. I guess that the thing with a good story, you can relate to different characters in different ways and they can teach us about ourselves. I think the imagery in this story will mean different things for different people at different times in their lives. For me, right now, the cogs and pistons represent my music, especially my techno music. The female figure represents the sacrifices I have made in my life in order to pursue my dreams, the male figure is a God thing. The explosion of light is something very positive. The darkness and underworld shades represents life in club world, but I personally don’t think there is anything wrong with darkness, I love the dark, its sexy, deep and exciting. Ambient Girl has taken me on such a journey, like meeting new people who have taught me more about her and about myself. If you look up the Greek myth of Kore aka Persephone, there are some really beautiful parallels between Ambient Girl and Persephone. What’s really exciting is the Ambient Girl story is actually just the first of a whole series of stories with these characters. So there is more to come.
How do you balance inspiration from artists like Jon Hopkins or Robert Miller with your own unique blend?
I’ve never heard of Robert Miller and I only heard Jon Hopkin’s music for the first time at Glastonbury in 2019. However, you guys are not the first to compare my music to these other producers and in some ways I am flattered. But I do not put myself in the same bucket as them simply because of this, they have been writing music while “in the public eye”, whereas I have been writing music “far from the madding crowd”. Maybe in 10 years time, I will be in the same position they are in, forced to write music heavily in the public gaze. That is both a blessing and a curse. But I can honestly say that about 8 years ago I completely unhooked myself from all DJing and listening to other peoples music and 100% dedicated myself to honing my own sound, and I guess if it sounds like some of these very successful artists that can only be a good thing. Another point to note, I have no formal musical training in my childhood, I have an early love of pop music, followed by a love of 70s psychedelic rock music and Indie music, think Led Zeppelin, The Doors and The Red Hot Chilli Peppers, followed by a complete dedication to the 90s London rave and club scene in all its rainbow colours. I then record shopped until about 2012, diligently buying vinyl until about 2005 and then I was an early adopter of downloads, but I never brought the stuff in the charts, I always trawled through release after release, so I have a catalogue of other people’s music that doesn’t have any Jon Hopkins in! But from 2012 onwards I made a conscious decision to stop buying other people’s music and focus solely on my own productions. That said, I do the mastering for every release on my label, so I did stay close to that, and actually, if I was to put anyone down as a possible musical “mentor” it would be a Finnish guy called Tuomas Rantanen who has released loads of techno through my label.
Tell us about your collaboration with Iva Troj and how this changed the album soundscape.
Ok – so Iva Troj is an amazing contemporary classical artist who brought the Ambient Girl and Man of Light characters to life through a custom oil painting. With regard to influence on the music, actually it was all the other way round. By the time I had found Iva Troj, the album was already written. The stories came to me over several months from November 2018 onwards. I wrote the Ambient Girl album in the summer and autumn of 2019. I met Iva Troj earlier this year, I guess around January 2020. I had been searching for an artist ever since the characters entered my life, I knew I needed an illustrator to do the story justice, I even tried drawing the pictures myself! I tried several other artists before meeting Iva, but none of them worked out, some were as far afield as Canada! But in the end I met Iva through a Facebook post by techno DJ Dave Clarke. I honestly thought Iva was far too talented and successful to be interested in working with me, but when I shared the Ambient Girl story with her, she immediately showed an interest and when I said, “if it doesn’t work, it doesn’t work” (by this time I was used to it “not working out”), she replied, ”oh, it will work”, then I knew I met the right artist.
In this time of changes throughout the industry, what have you observed as different in the past few months?
I see people softening up a bit, not so much the super successful, they’ve all just gone kind of quiet! Bless them! Honestly, bless them, I totally love many of the top DJs, I love dancing to their DJ sets, I love it when some of them talk to me and give me the time of day. But yeah, they’ve all gone quiet. But actually I’ve found the DJ and producers further down the food chain are behaving a bit more kindly. I guess before COVID-19 all the “little fish” had to be nasty to one another right, you don’t want to help someone who may end up more successful than you. But now there are no parties it doesn’t matter so much who you talk to and who you help out, cos no one is really going anywhere fast.
And what is a change you would like to see?
Oh wow, I would so, so love for London to become like Berlin. The party scene I was so blessed to be part of in the 90s in London was so cool. There was such an amazing sense of freedom, people could do whatever they wanted (within reason) and it was fun. Now, the party scene in London is very different, so much has been lost. London used to have the most amazing parties, huge warehouses with incredible décor, amazing “chill out” spaces, huge areas away from the dancefloor where you could hand out with friends (and strangers), listen to chill beats, get stoned, give sone another massages, tell someone your life story, get chewing gum stuck in your hair (ha ha). The parties ran from Thursday to Sunday, it was very cool and very fun. But now dancing in London is a bit like raving in a prison, there are security guards every 10 yards, everyone is recording everything on their mobiles, it’s just not conducive to creating a really special party. While in Berlin, pre-COVID- 19 there were many places where I could still find the magic of London in the 90s. So what are they doing in Berlin that we are not doing in London? Well, I’ve already touched on it, mobile phones, in Berlin there is an “understanding” that you are not to film what happens inside a club, obviously Berghain is the lead example. Also, in Berlin, there is an “understanding” among the authorities, that rules are not going to be enforced. Whereas in the UK at the moment, it is the exact opposite. The smoking ban is a great example, in London you simply cannot smoke (cigarettes / weed) inside a club. Whereas in Berlin, you can smoke whatever you want inside a club. Both countries are part of the EU (for now at least), but the UK has really “lost its way”, so I would love to see this change, people should be free to make mistakes and learn from them, the government is not in place to tell people what they should and should not do. It’s like a parent who forces there child to do what they are told, guaranteed that relationship will not work out well.
“We are the music makers and we are the dreamers of dreams” Arthur O’Shaughnessy
(1873). Can you tell us more about what this quote means to you and how it affected your career?
OK, great question. This quote is very important. People have been given the impression by modern culture that dreams (by which I mean both the ones you have when your asleep but also the day dreams, like using your imagination, I am referring to both of these), modern day culture has kind of “side-lined” dreams and made them out to be “fluffy fairy stories”. However, I view dreaming and imagination is something that is so powerful that this practice actually moulds the reality in which we exist. By which I mean, if someone has a dream, or can imagine a new future (whatever that may be), if they then believe in that vision, and work toward that vision, even if that simply means sitting, day after day and meditating on that dream. In time, that dream will manifest itself, and reality itself will become the dream. Now that is a very wonderful and powerful thing. How has it affected my career? Well, I would not be talking to you today if I had failed to follow my dreams, so I have manifested this reality we are in right now, what else will I manifest in the future? But first of all, we must learn to sit, once we have learnt to sit, then we must learn again to dance, and once we have mastered dancing? Well then we become the dance! (I cannot claim that thought as completely my own and must give some credit to OSHO).
How does City Wall records go about finding new artists? How do you innovate, as a label?
I go out dancing! Seriously, that is where I meet the coolest people, on the dancefloor having fun. But I am always open to new artists, my inbox is always open. But you know increasingly I am aware that it does not matter how good someone’s music is, if it is not promoted effectively, it is meaningless. If no one ever hears it, well, do you see what I mean? So when new artists approach me, yes, number one is I must feel their music, but I am also thinking to myself, is this artist marketable? By which I mean, am I being presented with a package that holds long term value. So, what does this mean in reality? Well, I take every artist on a case by case basis and don’t have any “rules” about A&R, but if someone sends me a demo, I will be looking for something to “feel” right. Oh, and also nag me, I am only human, don’t just send something once and expect an immediate reply, nag me, tug at my ankle, make sure you are making yourself heard. How do we innovate as a label? My vision for City Wall Records is very simple, I see the label as an “empty box”, it is a way of packaging whatever an artist has to offer. By which I mean I will work with an artist to help them grow, I will give them my time and opinion on things, I will not try to force them in a direction, City Wall is a way of giving an artist a space to grow. So I guess that is where I am innovative, I am innovative in that I am offering an artist a special space, what they do with it is up to them, I will give back as much as they put in.
What advice would you give to young people who wants to start a record label ?
Go for it. Never give up. Have a long term goal. I have just been going through our mailing list “cleaning out” the emails that are no longer working etc. THERE ARE SO MANY. Like I look back at just the last 15 years and artists that seemed super cool and were getting some great public attention, they are gone, or they are no longer popular enough to really have an influence. So, what does this mean? Well, it means when you start out, have a clear
intention about what you want to achieve, and be prepared to change along the way. Think about the really successful artists, like Madonna for example, she has never been afraid to reinvent herself, even if what she has been doing has been successful, she will still change. This is so important in the creative industry, it’s not like an office job for example where effectively you offer a service, although even office jobs have to adapt to survive. But this is ten fold in the creative industries. So have a clear vision, be prepared to change and never give up.
Because of travelling and touring restrictions, releasing an album today is different than the usual. How do you hope to share and spread your music regardless?
It’s certainly very tricky not being able to play DJ sets or do live performances. However, Ambient Girl was written with a specific intention, a desire to be a comfort to troubled minds and anxious hearts, so again, at this particular moment, her energy is a perfect offering. A space where people can switch off from the manifold pressures of this moment and enter a place where they can be held in love. Like looking through a lens into a new reality. How do I hope to share this reality? My Instagram is where I offer the most of myself and have the deepest interactions, I really love my Instagram account and put a lot of work into making it interesting. I always read all my DMs and like to connect with people, I’m open to ideas and new relationships through social media. I’m also sooo excited about my Spotify profile, simply because it offers listeners a succinct portal where they can really get close to me as an artist. I just love the thought of the Ambient Girl album being on Spotify, a simple place to always have Ambient Girl close by. If anyone who reads this is not on Spotify Premium, if you love music, seriously consider this, Spotify is a great way to enjoy and share music (no matter what all the haters say), in my opinion Spotify is great for artists. My Soundcloud is also very active, with the full album available there too and I regularly post snippets of new tracks, my radio show also gets reposted there. And I have a YouTube channel called Beth, it is only in its infancy at the moment, but it’s a fun place with videos of me and some playlists of my music, I’ve got a few ideas about how it will grow. And I also have a Twitter and Facebook presence.