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ZUZU'S LABEL OF THE MONTH: Astral Plane Recordings


ZUZU'S LABEL OF THE MONTH: Astral Plane Recordings

Astral Plane Recordings was founded only a year ago, but the story of the whole platform reaches back to the university years of its founder, Gabe, and its impact extends throughout genres, cultures and virtual and physical spaces. They strongly contribute to the creation of a new, global scene of so called deconstructed club music, pushing further the idea of what music for a club can be and represent.

Astral Plane started out as a blog in 2012, where a couple of friends from school wrote about independent music. But as often happens, the focus and motivation of the team members started to vary and a few years 1,5 years later Astral Plane was ran solely by Gabe, who started to focus the blog's output towards his own taste. In 2013, he started the mix series, which became the kick starter for engaging, in-the-community artists and got mixes from artists like Dro Carey, Neana, Bobby Browser and other artists making “amorphous” club music. Next year, Gabe started writing a column for FACT Magazine and released the first Heterotopia compilation. And even though founding a label was something he always intended, it wasn’t until late 2015, when Gabe started talking to SHALT and he realized he finally had the right vision and music he can’t resist but to put out: “From the start, I wanted to release music from artists that sound like no one else. I have a real aversion to music that sounds derivative and I wanted to find artists that were 100% in their own lane. And SHALT was definitely the first artist who I felt fit that description perfectly.”

After SHALT, other musicians joined the label with releases, first Jordan (Chants) and then Loris (Nunu), Exit Sense and his mixtape Amor 107.5 and finally Joel (LOFT). And apart from that, Astral Plane has thrown events like Unknown Number in LA, a collaboration with Patrick Brian and Passion of the Weiss. How do they manage all the activities and how is the decision making process like? “It’s still a pretty bare bones operation – it’s myself and my brother Sam, who is the art director, so it’s kind of a family thing. We work with friends like Will Mitchell who does mastering and makes music as Liquid City Motors, so it’s all pretty low-key and DIY at this point. Regarding the decision process, that’s almost entirely me. I talk to Sam and Will constantly as well as other music people here from LA. I never want to get stuck in my own bubble, so I like to interact with others as much as possible.”

And interaction is also currently a part of Gabe’s search for new artists for the mix series. Reaching the number of 135 and often accompanied by an article or an interview with the creator, the mix series became a visibility tool for locally or little-known artists and gems like Nargiz as well as a space of experimentation and expression for the more established names like Celestial Trax and Dark0. How does Gabe find the right people? “At the beginning, it was a lot of solitary time on the internet, browsing for hours on SoundCloud or Youtube.” But after the move to LA after graduation, meeting the locals through event organization and visiting shows, it’s become much more varied process when Gabe talks to people about DJs and artists they really enjoy or experiences a mind blowing DJ set himself. “That happened with 8ULENTINA at a Fade to Mind night. She brought such a wild energy that I reached out almost immediately,” he adds contentedly.

Over the past few years, the mix series has become more focused to feature more artists from different backgrounds and to offer a bit more diversity. But it hasn’t been always like that and Gabe himself admits that for the first two years of the mix series, it failed to represent the built in diversity of the electronic music world. It wasn’t intentional, he explains, pointing to existing structures within electronic music which are much more accessible to white men than anyone else in his opinion. “Diversity for diversity’s sake isn’t necessarily a worthy approach. But taking into account the many ways that the music industry ignores female, LGBTQ and non-western voices is incredibly important. And trying to work through the facade of acceptable representation has certainly been a major focus of late,” points out Gabe. Regarding the label, he adds that Astral Plane is working on releasing music from different people, including a single coming from E.M.M.A., who has previously released on the Keysound label.

Bringing any artist on board starts with a conversation. And sometimes, that conversation takes years, and rather than focusing on the production or sound direction, it focuses on encouragement and furthering the artists’ careers while giving them as much autonomy as possible. “Despite being a digital web-based label, I never want to be fleeting one stop for the artists. I want the process to evolve, to build relationships. I want the final product to show more than just an email thread and a couple wav files shared back and forth,” Gabe explains. 

The choice of the artists for Astral Plane Recordings isn’t only exceptional from the process and sound point of view – dark sonic experiments follow assembled samples of contemporary pop hits and dramatic cyclones of metal sounds or high pitch squeaks – but also for the concepts these sonic environments express: one of SHALT’s concepts is the inevitable ecological disaster, Nunu examines artificial intelligence and cyborgs, Ziúr (who made a mix for Astral Plane) fights against the rise of fascist tendencies in Germany. How important is the concept, the message behind a record or an artist? “I never search out an artist because they have the ability to write a great press release. It’s more about the critically minded attitude I’d say. I love when people grapple with high-minded concepts in their music. Trying to ascribe a greater meaning or a critical framework for the music beyond functionality is vital, regardless of whether it comes from an academic background. There are people who approach their music from an intensive, intellectual position and are doing a great job in that it gives the music a discursive dimension. But there are others who are just making emotionally honest music that reflects their day-to-day lives and imaginations. And I think that both are have a place as long as they’re coming from a well-meaning, loving place” clarifies Gabe.

Speaking about artists bringing serious or new concepts to their electronic experiments, there is undoubtedly a whole new scene of deconstructed club music forming, which is focused on respect, community and carrying powerful messages. How would Gabe capture what’s going on? “It would be almost impossible to describe the music or club nights with specific sonic details. It’s a scene that is defined by the people talking involved -- sharing ideas -- musically, politically, socially. So it’s a scene that is more classed by interactions on SoundCloud and Twitter than genre or geography. It’s defined more by its openness.”  When it comes to the most exciting things in the scene happening right now, Gabe names the open spirit of people willing to make bizarre, physical, strange music that doesn’t sound like anything that was previously intended to be played in a club. “I think that just by breaking down implicitly the boundaries of what can be played in a club is a political act in itself.”

Particular examples of doing a good job in bringing deconstructed music to a club are on a rise - there are more and more local events, panel discussions and parties taking inspiration from online sources, writing manifestos, guidelines, and welcoming all respectful individuals, or focused on LGBTQ or POC communities for example. Gabe names parties like GHE20GHTH1K in New York, Bala Club, Club Chai in Oakland, Fade To Mind parties in LA, Creamcake in Berlin, Staycore nights in Sweden, Tropical Waste in London and the event Club Etiquette hosted by The Dance Pit, which is also a zine. The zine includes writing of The Dance Pit as well as other people’s writings and talks about politics on the dance floor in an incredibly functional way. “That’s an operation that I respect so much. I like that she approaches it with fully fledged willingness to talk about subjects that are often ignored or viewed as ilicit,” comments Gabe about the artist’s attitude. When it comes to the events of Astral Plane and how Gabe visualizes them in the future, the idea is to re-evaluate what a performance in a club can be, or even in non-club environments like warehouse spaces, art galleries, or outdoors. 

Now looking to 2017, they plan to release projects in both fully formed space and on the internet, taking inspiration from the likes of Quantum Natives and PAN - the final product would exist as a visual product and as a fully formed musical EP, but can also be adopting for a live space. “I always try to push things further in general,” concludes Gabe. And more releases for 2017 are planned, including an unofficial collection of bootlegs and a second EP from Chants coming up in early February, together with a collection of remixes from his first EP. We can only wait in excitement for how Astral Plane will fulfil their plans.

By Zuzu Friday | Loose Lips