Loose Lips

Sean Mallion & Tokiomi (ADSR)


Sean Mallion & Tokiomi (ADSR)

1 month ago, Patrick Braun from Cologne-based Dorfjungs, introduced us to this amazing collective based in Vancouver. As motivated and diverse as any. Following their recent first physical release, we chatted to the label owner and artist, who are now swapping homes...

- What does ADSR mean to you? What is its ethos?

Toki: My home base, my roots, a grounding connection.  A place I can always come back to and reset.    

Sean: ADSR is a creative community originally founded by myself and long-time friend Liam Brownrigg. It was created with the intention of fostering a healthy artistic environment where audio/visual creatives can feel free to express themselves without the confines of more traditional artistic paradigms.  

We focus mostly on electronic music and digital art, and we aim to present our respective genres with a broader understanding of the particular subculture they represent. Through historical, sociological and cultural understanding, we can better present the music and art we are so passionate about.    

We discriminate on sound and artistic integrity alone and are an open community that believes in the power of racial, sexual and cultural diversity.       

- Why is diversity important?

Toki: I find inspiration across a number of cultures, just like I find inspiration from a variety of sounds and genres. Different perspectives are important to me, to incorporate new ideas and fresh concepts into my art. A lot of the time it’s not actually music or audio that gives me the most inspiration, but rather life experiences, camping excursions, and time spent alone in the mountains.  

Sean: Growing up in the Toronto area, diversity was always a vibrant part of my everyday life. From the multiculturalism of my elementary school classes, to the sights, smell and sounds of the city, diversity has always been a constant source of inspiration for me. There’s a whole world of knowledge out there for anyone open-minded enough to access it!           

- How did your love for music come about? A place/person/picture!?

Toki: Growing up in Tokyo, my parents never bought me any video games, which were really popular at the time. Instead they usually gave me music and cassette tapes to listen to. I remember my first walkman was a classic yellow Sony I got around 89’ and I listened to a lot of Japanese pop and folk music on that. My father has always been really into music as well, he can play guitar and bass and was in a couple bands when he was younger.   

Sean: I never had an overly musical family and no one in the household really played any instruments or sang or anything like that. I guess my first experience with dance music came from our yearly neighbourhood New Years Eve party which took place at my friend Adam’s house across the street. His family was originally from the Carribean, and man were those NYE parties bumpin'! His father would setup a dance floor in the basement of the house and music would play until the sun came up. I was only about 12 years old at the time, so I got exposed to a lot of sounds which I never would have heard otherwise. People would be dancing to island sounds like soca, calypso and reggae plus some funk, soul and pop music. It was always a real good mix of people from the neighbourhood having a good time.               

- Name 1 record that you used to hate but now love.

Toki: My father has always had a record collection at home. I would often dig through his vinyl when he wasn’t home and discover some random finds. Some of the older Japanese folk music like Haruomi Hosono (yellow magic orchestra) I wasn’t too into when I was young but have since come to appreciate a lot.  He’s in a couple bands and is a super versatile musician, from folk to contemporary and electronic to soundtracks, his flexibility is something I really look up to now.

Sean: Well it’s not exactly a specific album, but it is along the same lines. When I was younger, at first I really wasn’t too into Jungle and drum & bass. I remember my older brother would blast old jungle mix tapes in the 95’ Honda Accord we would sometimes be allowed to drive. It was always like maximum volume and the car stereo really couldn’t handle it (lol). However after going to my first Jungle rave in Toronto a couple years later, it all made sense immediately. I think that’s often the case - the context in which you are enjoying the music can sometimes be as important as the music itself.           

- When did you first meet? What were your first impressions of the other!?

Toki: We first met at a friend’s release party here in Vancouver in about 2014. I didn’t have any particular first impression of Sean as he was initially a pretty quiet guy. However our second meeting was a little bit different as he asked me to come play an outdoor renegade party.  That was my first time ever playing in Canada, and I was really impressed by the commitment of the crew. It was a real community where everyone helped out and contributed to the overall vibe of the event.     

Sean: Yeah, so as Toki mentioned we did initially meet at a friend’s release party here in Vancouver. I think our first meeting was fairly brief, so I don’t think I really had any particular first impression of him.  However I do remember the first time he played one of our events quite clearly. We were doing these outdoor renegade style parties in south Vancouver at the time so I asked Toki if he’d like to come out and play the next one. We would setup in this all cedar amphitheatre in this picturesque park beside a river. The acoustics of the space were pretty special and we did these parties once a month for about a year straight. So Tokiomi came out and played a live PA set in that little amphitheatre surround by swaying trees and the calm river. It was pretty magical, and I could immediately tell he was serious about his craft and had a very special sound.         

- How did the plan for the new ‘Secret Stash’ cassette release emerge?

Toki: I had been building up tracks and material pretty regularly for the past year or so and knew I wanted to get them out into the world soon. The idea for “Secret Stash” and the concept of having two sides of continuous music came out quite naturally as I often think about my music as more of a soundtrack or cinematic experience rather than separate tracks. It all happened quite naturally and the timing was pretty perfect as I was getting ready to play Mutek festival in Montreal.     

Sean: I remember when Toki got accepted to play Mutek festival in Montreal, he was really excited and we knew we wanted to have some sort of physical release to share with people on our trip. My friend Liam had already told me about his friend making tapes in Victoria, BC (shout out to Cherry Tapes), and everything just kinda fell into place. Toki and I worked together closely for the concept and planning stages of the project and he even did the cover art himself!  We ensured his premasters had ample headroom and got in touch with Shawn Hatfield of Audible Oddities mastering. We had worked with Shawn before and were always really impressed with the results. This project was definitely a bit of a milestone both for Toki and the label, as it’s his first full length album and ADSR’s first physical release!          

- What are your thoughts on the cassette format? Is there anything about ‘Secret Stash’ that especially lends itself to tape?

Toki: Cassette tapes were always a big part of my life and really influenced me throughout my childhood. I grew up listening to tapes everyday throughout the 90s, and my first exposure to hip hop was through mix tapes given to me by my older brother.  There’s something so fitting about a hip hop mixtape that I still will bust out my tape player rather than listening to them digitally or on a cd. Also having your music on a physical release feels a bit more complete and finished, a more true representation of where I am currently at as an artist.     

Sean: I think sound is a lot like wine, and I’m not just saying that because I’m drinking a glass right now ;) There are a lot of different flavours, colours, and tasting notes to consider. Some people are happy going for the cheap bottle every weekend, and that does the job and it’s just fine. However some people are not really content with the simple, one dimensional flavour profile of a cheaper bottle and are curious to explore their senses a bit more deeply. If you consider yourself to be a fan of wine (or music for that matter) I encourage you to get a bit more off the beaten path. Musically speaking; digital, tape, and vinyl all have their own unique sonic characteristics. The cassette format can lend itself greatly to certain sounds and genres; particularly the lofi, hip hop and downtempo categories. I think the saturation, compression and overall gel that tape can impart has really lent itself to final sound of “Secret Stash”.                   

- The production on Secret Stash is incredible - an amazing plethora of sounds combines with an almost filmic evolution to ensure many a goose-bump moment. Tokiomi, can you give some insight into the production process behind these 2 journeys?

Toki: Theres a hot spring I often visit about 8 hours away from Vancouver, which definitely influenced the sounds of the album greatly. I do a lot of field recording out in those natural spaces, and this often provides the conceptual backdrop needed for the larger project. Once back in the city, I’ll often take these recordings, put them in Ableton, and start sketching. I use a mix of these organic field records, and a few pieces of hardware in the studio to come up with some more formed ideas. A lot of the album was written in the session view of Ableton, favouring spontaneous sketches over long drawn out productions.  

- Avant garde vs. pre-planned composition techniques - what importance is given to structure?

Toki: I guess I mostly focus on spatial dynamics and the overall concept, far more than the technical details. It’s really important for me to have some unexpected results and spontaneous events. I would sometimes play with a bunch of different effects on sends then just do a live take, tweaking knobs and seeing what would come out. I feel like I don’t really focus on technicalities much, musicality is always the most important to me. Not being afraid to try new techniques and styles that may not be technically correct is also an important part of my productions.

- Please both tell us about 2 of your biggest, yet counterposed, musical influences…

Toki: Hip hop and nature have both always played large roles in my inspiration. Specifically Japanese hip hop throughout the 90s really laid a lot of musical foundations for me.  It might not sound like it now, but when I started producing I was mostly making hip hop beats and using some classic sampling techniques.  However the last 5 years or so, I’ve found myself attracted much more to nature and the organic soundscapes it can provide. Living on the west coast of Canada, I’m really lucky to have quick access to so much beautiful nature.     

Sean: Like Tokiomi, nature has always been a constant source of inspiration for me as well. I originally moved out to the west coast a decade ago to be closer to the mountains, rain forests and pacific ocean.  When things got too busy, I could always take a quick trip into the mountains to reset.  These days however, I find I’m stuck more and more in the city so perhaps I’m not getting the most from what living on the west coast has to offer. In contrast to the energy of nature, I also take influence and inspiration from large urban centres and the nightlife they contain. I find places like Seoul and Tokyo to be really exciting, inspirational places, where there is a never ending stream of social and human energy any night of the week. I’m not sure if natural and human energy are necessarily ‘counterposed’, perhaps they are just the same thing operating at different vibrational frequencies.    

- Vancouver - musically, what’s its biggest bonus and its biggest downside?

Toki: I would say the biggest bonus is being close to nature and being able to get away for just a day trip.  

I guess the biggest downside is that the music scene is pretty small here and doesn’t have a lot of the support from the larger music industry like you might find in New York or Montreal.  

Sean: I’ve only been living in Vancouver for a few years so by no means am I an expert on the subject. However I will say that for me, I think the biggest bonus to Vancouver is the fact that it is such a young city. There is still a lot of potential I think for Vancouver both culturally and creatively.  Also the close proximity to beautiful natural spaces is a regular source of inspiration for many people.     

Downside, I would say there are numerous factors working against the strong foundation of an artistic community in the city.  Simple factors like the high cost of living and disappearing music venues makes it difficult for a sizeable creative community to take hold. A lot of talented artists and producers regularly move away to larger cities for greater opportunities, making things like mentorship and a sustainable artistic ecosystem more difficult to find here.      

- You’re both doing an almost geographical swap soon…Sean, you’re moving to Tokyo when Tokiomi is from right...Sean, why is Tokyo calling you? Tokiomi, why did Vancouver call you?

Toki: I originally came to Vancouver about 10 years ago, just travelling and backpacking through Canada.  My plan was to continue on through to South America but I ended up just staying in Vancouver. I now happily call this city my home and have no plan of moving anytime soon.    

Sean: Reflecting upon my life the last couple years, the move to Tokyo makes a lot of sense for a number of reasons. My brother has been living there for almost a decade, his wife is Japanese and I have a little niece there now too. So being closer to family is a big one. Also I am an ESL teacher which makes finding work pretty easy overseas. Lastly, with the label and music taking up more and more of my time I’m excited for what new connections and collaborations Tokyo has in store. Ikimasho!