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Photo credit: Jenny Slattery

Conjuring a vibe with Anthony Naples

After nine months away from making music, Queens-based producer and DJ Anthony Naples felt a burst of creative energy. Two months later, his most recent album, ‘orbs’, was complete, as though it had been captured from the ether. Hazy, laid back and brimming with live instrumentation, it’s another gem in his mutli-faceted catalogue. Here, Bruce Tantum chats to him about its production, his place in the NYC scene, and what’s next for his and Jenny Slattery’s Incienso label

Last year, Anthony Naples and his partner Jenny Slattery, who together run the Incienso label and its ANS imprint, took a six-month ramble together. It was in part a working trip — a tour to celebrate Incienso’s fifth anniversary — but it also served as a sprawling vacation, one that took them throughout the West Coast, Europe and India. He had released his last album, the meandering, obliquely post-punky gem ‘Chameleon’, the year before; his last dancefloor-oriented release, the ‘Swerve’ EP, had just come out on Gerd Janson’s Running Back. There were no concrete plans for the next Naples release. 

“But when we got back in January of this year, I realised that I hadn’t made music in nine months,” he says, sitting in the home he shares with Slattery in Ridgewood, Queens — not far from the club Nowadays, where he holds a quarterly residence. “I often have this impulse where I don’t make anything for a long time, and then it just starts to flood out of me all at once. And that’s when ‘orbs’ happened — it was made in January and February of this year. It just all came out at once.”

Like much of his album work, ‘orbs’ sees Naples straying far from the dancefloor; his club-oriented excursions, generally of the left-field house variety, are largely reserved for his EPs. As is usual within Naples’ discography, the new record marks a turn from the preceding ‘Chameleon’. Both albums brim with live instrumentation, mainly guitar, bass, and keys — but where the former has a slightly serrated feel, the various elements on the dreamlike ‘orbs’ tend to be subsumed into the whole. Graced with unhurried melodies and sublime chord progressions, the music flows, rather than jolts.

Naples himself isn’t quite sure how to describe the album’s music: “It keeps getting called ambient. There are so many drums on it, so it’s not really an ambient record... Downtempo, maybe?”

It doesn’t matter what you call it — he’s interested in vibe, not genre. But he seems blissfully unaware of the source of that vibe. “I remember Mr. G saying something in a studio interview years ago about how when he’s making music, he makes it and then he’s like, ‘Whoa, I don’t know where that came from,’” he explains. “I kind of feel similarly. Sometimes I’ll make something, and I’ll be thinking that I’m not the kind of person that would make that, which is interesting. And that’s what makes it fun — it comes from somewhere else, but it also comes from within you.” 

Naples did have one somewhat hazy goal in mind, though — he  wanted to make an album with a fully integrated sound. “I was thinking a lot about records that are cohesive productions more than anything, more than having the focus on virtuoso players or anything like that,” he says. “I was just like, ‘Oh, it would be cool to make a record that sort of fits into that kind of category, like some of my favorite records that can take you out of wherever you’re at for 30 or 40 minutes.’”

He goes on to name some of the music he’d been listening to in the run-up to the burst of production that became ‘orbs’: MIKE’s ‘Beware Of The Monkey’, Khruangbin, Wolfgang Voigt’s ambient techno project, GAS (“For the first time,” he says, “after years and years of working with my buddy Huerco S. who’s always being compared to him”), Slauson Malone, and George Riley’s ‘Running In Waves’, among others. None of which, it must be said, sounds anything like his own work — but perhaps the syntheses of that music, in Naples’ creative mind, is what helped lead him to ‘orbs.’

Photo of Anthony Naples in front of a brick building. He's smiling slightly and wearing a grey button up shirt with a slight pattern

Naples grew up outside of Miami, and by his teenage years was involved in musical projects centered around a sound that was “experimental, kind of rock-driven, but with a touch of electronics, with woozy samples and effects,” as he put it in an interview for Record Mag. But through artists like Four Tet (who later served as a sort of mentor) and Actress, he was gradually diving deeper into the sonic world that he’s come to inhabit. 

It was after he moved to Tallahassee when he was 18, intending to study at Florida State University, that he ran into 2003’s Maestro, a documentary focused on the world revolving around NYC’s seminal Paradise Garage. “There’s this quintessential Paradise Garage scene,” Naples recalls, “when Aleem’s ‘Release Yourself’ comes on, and there’s a slow strobe, and it shows the whole dancefloor. I was like, ‘That looks way cooler than anything I’ve ever seen in Miami! I gotta find out if that’s still going on.’” School was on the back burner — he soon was living in New York City, where he’s been, minus short stints in LA and Berlin, ever since.

Naples was recently on a United flight; the in-flight entertainment, somewhat surprisingly, included Maestro. “And then a week later, I was actually at The Loft,” he says, referencing another foundational entry in the city’s clubbing history. (The Loft, founded by the late David Mancuso in the early ’70s, has been running ever since, in recent years on a quarterly basis). “I was feeling how weird it is to be part of this continuum of things that I’ve seen in movies, or read about in books as a teenager, and now to be pretty deeply immersed in the community here, to be part of this thing that I was inspired by.”

Not only is Naples a part of that thing, but by now he could be considered an elder statesman of the NYC scene – or at least that eccentric quadrant of it that includes friends like Beta Librae and DJ Python, the latter of whom Naples worked with on last year’s excellent ambient-leaning compilation ‘Air Texture VIII’. He doesn’t think of himself that way, though. “Mainly because I don’t feel elder,” he says, laughing. “And I still feel very, very naive in what I’m doing, I’m kind of fumbling around trying to figure it out myself.”

There are currently a few new Naples club tracks floating around, in the hands of friends like Four Tet, Ben UFO and Gerd Janson — but he has no plans to release them anytime soon, preferring to give the drifting sounds of ‘orbs’ the space to breathe. “I want this one to just come out and have its own air,” he says. “I don’t want to cloud it over now by putting out a big banging track just to, like, prove that I’m still doing that.”

In the meantime, there’s plenty of non-production work to be taken care of. There are gigs to be played, of course — He’s scheduled to be back at Nowadays to lay down one of his tightly coiled sets on August 18th, with Nick León as his guest. There’s a steady flow of Incienso releases to take care of, from “classic friends and family of the label,” as he puts it, as well as artists new to it, like ex wiish and Ben Ritz. There’s a mix series for Apple Music as well — and eventually, he’ll release more of his own material. What form that will take is, at least for now, anybody’s guess.

“I’m not going to start the next one anytime soon,” Naples says, “but there is the feeling of, ‘Okay, I still didn’t hit that thing that I think I could hit one day, so I just have to keep going for it’. I feel like I didn’t really hit the mark with ‘orbs’, I didn’t with ‘Chameleon’, I didn’t with ‘Fog FM’, I never do. I think if I ever did that, then I’d be done.” 

There’s little chance of that — Naples’ nature, when it comes to music, is far too exploratory for him to ever feel like he’s done everything he can do.

Want more? Read DJ Mag's interview with John Talabot, where he discusses documenting life through music, club residencies, long-anticipated LPs, his Hivern Discs label, and working at this own pace

Bruce Tantum is DJ Mag’s North America editor. Follow him on Twitter @BruceTantum