If there’s one musician who understands the enduring allure of the analogue synth, it’s Jason Sloan.
Since 2012, Sloan has specialized in crafting weird and wonderful minimalist electronic and synth wave via his passion project, L’Avenir, all while adhering to a strict “analogue and vintage equipment only” mantra. For fans of early 80s synth acts like Gary Numan, Depeche Mode and Fad Gadget, the chilly electronic aesthetic of L’Avenir is a dark dream come true.
L’Avenir has released six albums to date, most recently “Shadow & Reflection,” which came out in September 2021. One look at the gorgeous album cover art and pale, pink vinyl, and it’s obvious that Sloan’s commitment to crafting a distinctive aesthetic for L’Avenir goes beyond the music. As a video artist and professor who teaches at the Maryland Institute College of Art in Baltimore, Sloan draws on his many talents to produce a visual experience for fans that matches the music every step of the way.
Interestingly, L’Avenir represents something of a second life for Sloan. For many years, Sloan’s primary musical focus was in crafting gorgeous ambient sonic canvasses using electronic sounds. While Sloan clearly revels in L’Avenir’s more structured pop approach, he is by no means finished with ambient. We can expect more experiments with pure electronic space in the very near future, he assures.
For DC area music fans, the Friday, May 6, 2022 edition of WE FOUGHT THE BIG ONE at the Marx Cafe in Mt. Pleasant presents a great opportunity to discover what makes L’Avenir so compelling. I asked Jason Sloan five questions via email to learn more about his beguiling music project and journey as a musician and artist. Read on…
1) Tell us a little about your journey as a musician and sound artist. How did you go from making spacey, ambient music for many years to icy synthwave?
Jason: For me there was never that much of a sonic disconnect between the genres. So much of the sequencer driven music of “ambient/space music” artists like Tangerine Dream, Michael Hoenig and even early Steve Roach has a lot in common with the synthwave genre. I was never classically trained as a musician so my approach to compositions was, and still is to an extent, a lot like painting. I think about sound as colour, texture etc. So when I started writing and recording music back in the 90’s it was easier for me to learn my craft thinking about sound like watercolor if that makes sense. The strict beatless ambient music I created for almost a decade and a half was, in hindsight, my music school as I learned about music technology and what it could do. But I’ve always loved Synthwave, Post-punk, New Wave, New Romantic (sooo many sub genres – ha) since I can remember. I owe a lot of that to my Aunt who introduced me to bands like The Cars, Flock of Seagulls, Duran Duran etc. back in the very early 80’s. Once that door was cracked open I just tried to find about as many of those bands as I could back then by reading NME, Melody Maker, Smash Hits and mix tape trading. So in my mind, moving from the ambient genre into Synthwave was just a natural progression once I got a better handle on the technology.
2) What is it about the analogue synth sound and vintage equipment that resonates with you?
Jason: At the risk of sounding corny, there’s something about the sound of vintage analogue equipment that just feels like home to me. Part of it, I’m sure, is that so much of the music from my teenage years was composed using what, back then, was state of the art. But I’m also very much about process and craft. I really enjoy the tactile nature of interconnecting drum machines, sequencers, synthesizers and getting them to talk to each other. Even more so with a non-MIDI kit. Not that I’m opposed to working strictly on a computer or in a DAW, but there’s something about creating with vintage hardware and pure electricity that really is appealing to me. It’s like the machines are alive with the current flowing through their non-human, circuit-veins. Yum. Haha.
3) How would you describe your writing and recording process? Has it evolved as you have gravitated to more structured pop sounds?
Jason: With L’Avenir the process is a bit different from how I might approach writing an instrumental ambient track. Primarily because ambient music is best if it has time to evolve and breathe so those tracks tend to be in excess of 15-20 min. That length just really wouldn’t work well in more of the traditional pop music context. Especially for radio and club DJs. When writing for L’Avenir, I’ll usually begin by writing a basic drum pattern or melody line and just build around that. Once it’s recorded, I write the lyrics and record the vocals. It’s both an additive and subtractive process from that point forward. The song’s are usually inspired by personal experiences as well as books, films, current events and sometimes surrealist or existential concepts and ideas.
4) I love how the L’Avenir aesthetic isn’t just about the music – it’s also about the presentation. From your album and EP release artwork to your music videos and website design and even your decision to put out a home video release on VHS(!), it’s clear you put a great deal of thought and craft into defining the L’Avenir experience for the listener. Would it be fair to say that this is just as important to you as the music itself?
Jason: Without a doubt. It’s probably pretty obvious but I’m a huge fan of Factory, 4AD, Mute, Situation Two, DoubleVision and so many of the early EU based independent labels from the 80’s. The designers and owners for those labels, Vaughn Oliver, Peter Saville, Daniel Miller, Tony Wilson, Ivo etc, were just as concerned with the visual presentation of the music as the sound itself. That philosophy always resonated with me. In the pre-internet days you obviously couldn’t go sample an LP on YouTube or wherever, so I was always buying LPs based upon the visual presentation, sleeve design and song titles. 95% of the time, even if I had not been familiar with the band up to that point, I could see/hear how the sonic aesthetic had informed the design as much as the design had informed the music. So when presenting L’Avenir, besides it being a tip of the hat to my personal inspirations, it’s very important both the music and design are informed by one another.
5) How do you feel about performing live versus making a record? Is there a particular vibe or feeling that you look to create with audience members who experience L’Avenir live?
Jason: Yes. First and foremost, I don’t want the live L’Avenir sound to mirror the records. I do play the album tracks live but I also want them to be slightly different. Sometimes faster, slower or a different arrangement all together… just something special for the audience. That’s just my personal philosophy for live music in general. But if a live performance sounds exactly the same as the record, why spend money to go see the show if there isn’t any difference besides volume? Again, just my personal philosophy. But that’s what I always loved about bands like Section 25, Sleep Chamber or even Cabaret Voltaire. You knew the songs, but they were always a bit different or just more raw. I’d say live, L’Avenir is a little more stripped down, but still maintains the spirit, atmosphere and mood of the LPs. When possible live, I love to create an almost ritual-like immersive atmosphere with low lighting, a fogger, incense and video projection. Total sensory immersion if you will.
Listen to and purchase L’Avenir’s music on Bandcamp. Check out L’Avenir’s website for more information about recordings, live performances and merch. Be sure to catch L’Avenir at WE FOUGHT THE BIG ONE at the Marx Cafe (3203 Mt. Pleasant St NW) on Friday, May 6, 2022 at 10pm. Jake Reid from Secret Wilderness and Screen Vinyl Image is guest DJing.