Distal first came to our attention through his incredibly forward-thinking 'Attempt At Yellow' back in 2010. Four years after the release, it still sounds ahead of the curve and is akin to what a lot of current footwork and bass music producers are trying to create in 2014, though naturally Distal is doing his own thing once more.
Distal produces techno and jungle-influenced bass music with a distinct UK sound, despite his US roots. Kinda like warehouse bass music – made 200 years in the future.
'Retrograde Space Opera' is a concept album that takes his modus operandi one step further — 3000 years further, to be precise. Similar to Machinedrum's 'Vapor City' album, this collaborative effort with Argentinian illustrator and artist Freshcore is a narrative for an alternate universe. Distal has arguably chosen some more interesting subject matter than Machinedrum's lazy suburbs though... an apocalyptic Earth run by gangsters and the black-market, 3000 years in the future – has someone passed this onto Ridley Scott??
The album is sublime, in all senses of the word. There are plenty of dancefloor tracks to be heard, but at no point does that detract from the consistent narrative and journey through the album — see: 'Ancient Scripture', 'Troposphere Cocktail Hour', and the brilliantly titled 'Look Mom No Hardware'. It's just been released on Distal's new imprint, Anarchostar.
Distal has kindly given DJ Mag readers an exclusive stream of one of our favourites from the album, 'Holding Pattern' — listen below:
Do yourself a favour and allow yourself 30 minutes to absorb yourself in this album. You can check out the extraordinary artwork and illustrations on the album's website here.
How did the concept for 'Retrograde Space Opera' come about?
"The idea behind the Anarchostar came from my deep love for science fiction and comics. I get comics on a weekly basis and stories usually unfold on a monthly basis, so I thought, 'Well, why aren't more labels telling a story in the same way as a comic? Why aren't we waiting for the next part of a bigger story at the same time we're waiting for the next release? Why not use the same universe or story with different authors and artists? I felt the Anarchostar would be a great way to merge my love for story-telling and science fiction, with music.
"I had been working on this stylized musical universe throughout 2013, but I didn't know what exactly the story would be. I knew what tracks were going to work in the universe and on the album, even though I didn't have the story yet. Unlike writing music, my other creative outlets like drawing or writing don't push on me at a regular pace and I only explore those outlets when they're on my doorstep. So I wanted to just wait for the right story to present itself to me. My creative process with music is quite different. Normally I have a lot of musical ideas on a notepad in my mind, so there's always something to try out or experiment with. With music, if I'm not feeling it I'll force myself to create to get some of those ideas out.
"In October 2013, in the middle of the night, the Anarchostar story came to me. I stayed up for hours writing out the whole story on my phone in bed. I woke up and realized I was only one or two pieces short of finishing the album. I feel like I had been molding that specific story throughout 2013 and hadn't known it.
"I always envisioned the label and album to be high concept and detailed but I didn't know anyone who could pull off what I wanted done until late in 2012 when I played for my illustrator/designer Freshcore in Cordoba, Argentina. The best part about playing for him is that you get this amazing flyer that he draws himself. From the minute I saw his illustrations I knew I wanted him to work with me on my next project. I've never asked a promoter for their back catalogue of flyers before! It reminded me so much of the detailed work of Moebius. I feel like our work goes together quite well, he represents me visually and I represent him sonically! As an artist he's mad, brilliant, funny and deep all at once.
"My goal was to make sure this album had a cohesive structure, and that people would listen and walk away with a specific attached feeling about the overall album and not just the singles. I want the story to influence the music just as much as the music influences the story."
The album seems to take influences from many different places — what would you say the main influences on your style are?
"'Retrograde Space Opera' is cool for me because it's still a lot of what I'm about on the dancefloor, and at the same time you're getting a nice dose of what I feel the third album will sound like with the more experimental sound design tracks. The 'Retrograde' part of the title is a nice juxtaposition. 'Retrograde' meaning 'going back in time' and a 'Space Opera' to me represents the future (even if it happened in another galaxy, a long long time ago… ). The shape of the album feels old and warm but the design, sequencing, edits and arrangement are to me experimental and new. Like using old tools for new ideas.
"My main influences for the album were basically what I was listening to and reading that year… Hyperdub, Software, Warp, Oneohtrix Point Never, Dean Blunt, James Ferraro, Silkie, Alejandro Jodorowsky, Timothy Green 11, Moebius, Rick Remender, Dan Abnett (Guardians Of The Galaxy), Orson Scott Card, Scott Snyder & Greg Capullo (Batman). Overall though, I think there's nothing I can do to shy away from my rave background. When I was a teenager I used to DJ happy hardcore, gabber and jungle, so I think that's always gonna resonate with my work. I think it's going to be fun to toy with that as I go into the third album…"
Any plans to release other artists' music on Anarchostar?
"Yes, I've got some pretty big established artists set to release albums as well as a few newcomers, so I want to mix it up a bit. The label will focus primarily on albums and EPs, as I'd rather spend larger amounts of time on larger projects than just singles. I'm quite tired of the singles game."
What does the future hold for your other label, Embassy Recordings, any future releases you can tell us about?
"My partner in Embassy, Mite has an EP coming out soon for Embassy Recordings, but after that we're going to be putting the label on a small hiatus just so we can do our own things for a while. I feel like he's really coming into his own the past year with tracks like 'Cemetery Seance' and he needs to explore his own direction for a bit. I need to do the same as well. It's just like anything else in life, sometimes you just need some alone-time for a minute!"
You're embarking on an album tour soon, what will the live show entail? Any plans for UK shows?
"I've been strictly a DJ for 15 years, so starting to do a live show was daunting to me. I wanted to start small and build once I had a nice foundation. I've done three shows now running a live set-up on Ableton, with various midi controllers including the Launchpad and the Launch Control. I've broken each track down on the album into scenes that change anytime the structure of the song changes, so it's quite a long long window to scroll through! It might look confusing to some but there's oder in the chaos. I've also set-up a software drum-pad with an 808 and 909 to have fun with when I'm feeling it. Also rigged up is a sampler that plays a variation of 48 different computerized adjectives, verbs and nouns that describe the album and evoke a certain feeling. I'm slowly adding to the show as I go.
"My designer Freschore and I are working on a visual show that we can use live as well. He's performed a live animation-style show a few times in Argentina and his animation is just as amazing as his illustrations. Hopefully by the time I get over to the UK to do a full-on Anarchostar label tour we can be relaying a lot of the story and visuals live alongside the music. I just want to make sure it's 100% before moving forward. I do plan on being in Europe and Asia early next year and that's all coming together at the moment!"
You can purchase on digital and vinyl here.