Following their take on Aphex Twin’s Selected Ambient Works at The Jazz Cafe, four of our favourite musicians in the world, Ben Hayes, Maxwell Owin, Jake Long and Jack Stephenson-Oliver are starting a brand new project together: Asoma. With one foot in techno, the other in the jazz that they’re all so involved in creating (being collaborators with Nubya Garcia, Joe Armon-Jones, Vels Trio any many others), this is going to be an electronic, dance-based and beautiful world to immerse in.
We’re incredibly excited to say they’ll be debuting the project at Brainchild 2018. So we asked Ben to tell us a little more about what to expect.
So your Brainchild set will be the first one anyone will see! Can you tell us a bit about what they can expect from Asoma?
Recently, we’ve all independently found ourselves drawn to electronic music and dance music that exists outside of what you might expect from us as individual musicians. There’s this realm that’s relatively untouched by our extended musical family of harder, less soul-centric dance music, where you find techno, electro, and the darker, harder sides of things like footwork and dubstep. What we’ve tried to do is venture out there and bring back what we can, and re-contextualise these ideas in the musical language we all know. So I suppose you can expect to hear aspects of our musical personalities refracted through the prism of this “other” world of dance music.
Playing the Aphex Twin show Jazz Café was obviously a big impetus for putting Asoma together. Had you guys thought about doing something like this before that?
It’s something that had definitely come up. We’ve all individually increasingly found ourselves working electronics into a live context in new ways, so it’s natural that we’d want to explore it further. The Selected Ambient Works show was really necessary, though, in my opinion. It was only with this album, totally outside of any of our comfort zones, looming over us, that we could have thought to pull together the setup we did.
This being a new project, and with you all being busy musicians in so many bands, how have you approached writing & rehearsing material?
It’s a struggle! Everyone’s doing so many amazing things that it’s next to impossible to get our diaries to line up.
Our approach to creating music has been to start with a seed, whether it’s a full track someone’s produced, a sketched out idea, or even just a bassline or drum groove, and explore it until it feels settled. Thankfully we’re all improvisers at heart so it’s very natural just to run with something. From there it’s about figuring out what the key moments are and how we want the track to move.
What’s been the biggest surprise so far with the project?
Probably how natural and free it felt to play with sequencers running. We’ve all had experiences in the past in bands with click tracks and it can often feel pretty confining musically, so I was worried working with sequenced material would be the same. In reality, though, I think the limitations actually just opened up whole avenues that didn’t exist before. Knowing that some of our gear is tightly locked in means we can make bolder decisions and take bigger risks and trust that the groove will hold through in a way we’ve never really experienced before.
What excites you most about it?
There’s something about playing music this way that feels very similar to reading and interacting with a crowd when DJing, only there’s the improvisational connection with the rest of the band. So I suppose the idea of bringing the crowd into that link-up – letting their response guide the shape of the music – that’s very exciting.
If you had to choose 3 biggest influences for the project, who would they be?
Aphex Twin’s definitely going to be in there. Maybe not so much aesthetically at this point but the challenge of recreating Selected Ambient Works 85-92 is what led to our setup and our way of working, so aspects of the album are woven into what we do.
Juan Atkins is definitely important too. Obviously he’s key due to his part in the birth of the techno, but the space and the sonics of his music are really incredible too, and still feel super relevant in creating dance music. Also he pioneered a lot of the drum and synth sequencing techniques we’re using now.
Finally any project that tries to bridge the live and electronic needs to pay respect to Moodymann. In many ways we want to achieve live what he achieved in the studio.
Asoma will be playing the Brainstage at 10pm on the Saturday night at the festival.
In the meantime, enjoy this mix they’ve put together celebrating their influences for the project.
Photos by Jordan Matyka.