5 Questions: L’Avenir

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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…

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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.

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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.

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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.

May2022

5 Questions: Secret Wilderness

Under the nom de plume Secret Wilderness, DC multi-instrumentalist Jake Reid follows his creative muse wherever it takes him.

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For someone who has spent the better part of the last 25 years pushing the boundaries of blistering noise and pummeling beats (Alcian Blue, Screen Vinyl Image, Machine Drift), Jake is using his Secret Wilderness project to mark something of a departure.

Instead of squalling guitars and cavernous reverb, Secret Wilderness swims in more subtle psychedelic waters – the kind of floating, ethereal space music that one associates with Germany’s pioneering komische movement in the 70s and the 90’s U.K. ambient scene. Jake’s love of early Detroit Techno is still on display, but Secret Wilderness is less about the frenzied dance party, and more about the calm late night drive to destinations unknown.

In April 2021, Secret Wilderness released “The Endless,” a selection of tracks born out of impromptu jams that explore different moods. There is a stately, almost regal quality to the way Jake weaves together different sounds and textures to form these gorgeous compositions. The gentle synth patterns of “Cloud Forest” are especially evocative of the way clouds move in the sky, with plinking keys peaking through the chords like sparkles of sunshine. It’s a lovely piece.

As comfortable as Jake is making more abstract music with Secret Wilderness, rest assured he hasn’t abandoned his affinity for piercing, wall-of-sound shoegaze. 2021 marked the release of “The Collection” on Anathemata Editions, which compiles Alcian Blue’s CD-R EP releases across a double cassette package that includes liner notes by Oliver Ackerman (Skywave/A Place to Bury Strangers/Death by Audio). The tracks were lovingly remastered by Jake. These recordings have never sound better.

Maybe it’s no surprise then that Jake has been picking up his guitar more frequently lately? In fact, Jake has been finding solace in playing covers from his past bands and past favorites, and he’s performing a special show at the Friday, Feb. 4th Livestream edition of WE FOUGHT THE BIG ONE on Zoom (register here). I got in touch with Jake to see what he’s been up to lately and learn more about his rekindled interest in the guitar. Read on!

1) When we last did an interview, Secret Wilderness had recently put out a gorgeous tape called “The Endless.” What have you been up to since then?

Jake: I didn’t work on a whole lot of music most of the summer. I hit a creative wall where I wasn’t feeling inspired to make anything and when I did I was being really critical of it. There’s a few projects I’ve worked on with others and a few I still have hanging around, I’m slowly getting back into the swing of things.

2) What’s it been like to pick up the guitar again after taking a break to explore electronics? Is it fair to say you’ve rediscovered your love of the instrument?

Jake: I got into skateboarding last year, like for the first time ever. That’s been a big part of the guitar catalyst, there’s something about riding a piece of wood across concrete and blasting Dinosaur Jr that go really well together, I got the itch again to start playing.

I started playing covers and that led to me recording some covers for fun. Some of it will never see the light of day and other stuff might get a release. Paul (Static Daydream) and I did a really rad cover of a Psychedelic Furs song, sort of a later catalog track that has a Phil Spector wall of sound vibe to it and I did a M83 cover recently I’m really happy with.

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3) Speaking of playing guitar again, what can you tell us about remastering the Alcian Blue catalog for the “Collection” release on Anathemata Editions last year? Was there anything that surprised you about those recordings when you revisited them?

Jake: This project was a long time in the making. Sean Grey and Terrence Hannum had talked to us about this a few years back but it took Sam and I a long time to source some of the material. The masters from Years Too Late were way over-compressed. Sam had to find the old PC we recorded the songs on and fire it up and we found old final mixes of songs pre-mastering and we were able to re-master those to how we thought they should sound.

The mastering process was fun, I’m glad it took us a while because I re-visited some of the masters a few times in order to push myself to make them sound as good as they could. It wasn’t until I had to do the artwork that the memories really flooded in. Alcian Blue was formed from 4 friends that went to high school together with a mutual love of similar music and it grew from there to Kim joining, our sound developing, and our ability to play beyond DC. I’m thankful Terrence wanted to do this and pushed us to do it, as he put it, we have this document of what we did.

4) Does working on the mixing and mastering side of things scratch an itch for you that writing doesn’t?

Jake: Mastering is a lot of fun and I know what I need to do to get the work done where writing is always a longer process. Mastering is 50% technical and 50% creative in a way that’s hard to explain. The best part is I either get to work on stuff I don’t know and always get surprised or, I get to work on my friend’s material which is always a treat. Last year Sisters of Your Sunshine Vapor sent me their new album to master. I put it on and was just floored by how incredible that album is. I’ve known them since they first started and being able to hear their progression to such a “firing on all cylinders” psych band is so exciting. I love mixing but I’m only ok at it which is great because it means I’m always learning and being challenged. It’s easier to mix other people’s stuff than my own, I’m my own worse critic haha.

5) Have you always been interested in covers? Or is that more of a recent thing? Can you give us a tease about some of what we’ll be hearing at the WFTBO Livestream show?

Jake: Covers are a great way to learn songwriting and different ways to approach playing over what you already know. I learned to play guitar by sitting in front of my stereo and played along to Jesus & Mary Chain songs and Cure songs. My first show ever was playing this very 90’s coffee shop in College Park called PLANET X, it was like right out of So I Married An Axe Murderer, gigantic latte mugs and everything. I played Jesus & Mary Chain songs and Velvet Underground songs, Matt played bass and Clark played bongos haha. When Alcian Blue was called “Wintermute” we’d play house shows and do Blur’s “Song 2” and The Verve’s “Rolling People” before we moved onto doing The Cure and a personal fave, Slowdive’s “Joy.” And in Screen Vinyl Image, we’d cover The Stooges, Slowdive, and Ride.

Without listing song titles I’ll be playing Damien Jurado, The Bats, Skywave, Ride, and Slowdive as well as some Alcian Blue and Screen Vinyl Image tonight.

Listen to and purchase Secret Wilderness’ music on Bandcamp. Be sure to visit the Secret Wilderness website and the Ice Station Studio website. And be sure to check out Secret Wilderness’ online show at the Friday, February 4th Livestream edition of WE FOUGHT THE BIG ONE via Zoom. Register for the Zoom link at: bit.ly/WFTBO_SECRET. The show kicks off at 10pm EST.

February4

5 Questions: Katie Alice Greer

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Katie Alice Greer is a force of nature.

As the charismatic vocalist for Priests, Katie commanded the stage with a fire, energy and unpredictability that ensured every live performance was seared into your memory.

When the band announced an indefinite hiatus at the end of last year, it prompted fans to ask — what’s next? Katie decided to opt for a major life change by moving to the West Coast. The passion that always ignited Katie on stage continued to drive her to create and explore in her new environs.

Since moving from DC to L.A. in the early part of the year, Katie has released two EPs and a stunning cover of The Rolling Stones’ classic, “Play With Fire.” She is currently working on what promises to be a must-hear solo album — no doubt infused with the wild creative abandon that has long been her hallmark both in Priests and in her own previous solo material.

With Katie playing a special livestream show for WE FOUGHT THE BIG ONE on Friday, Aug. 7th via Twitch, I took the opportunity to ask her new life in L.A., her evolution as a solo artist and how she is staying positive in a world that is trying its best to keep us all from feeling that way. Read on…

1) You relocated to L.A. not long before the COVID-19 pandemic. What prompted your move and what has L.A. life been like for you in these strange and scary times?

KAG: I moved across the country and got about 2 weeks of what was previously normal Los Angeles life before we all started staying home. It’s been a strange time. I moved here to continue making music. I love DC and now I love Los Angeles too. It’s a great city for what I’m working on these days because so many other people are working in creative fields. My life is probably similar to most other people’s these days– I tend to stay home, I mask up when I go out for groceries or a jog. I keep in touch with people by phone. I try to spend time in nature regularly because it really brings me a sense of peace. I also try to meditate once a day. And I’ve been making a lot of music. I just try to keep in mind that reality is really stressful right now– for everybody — and do whatever I can to not add to it for myself or anybody else. Let’s go easy on ourselves. And try to have fun when it’s possible.

2) Even though Priests is on indefinite hiatus, you still run Sister Polygon with some of the members. What has that experience been like, especially with you now living on the other coast?

KAG: It’s mostly the same, really. Daniele and I complement each other well. Daniele’s brain works in ways mine never can.  We’ve slowed down our release schedule for the time being. I’ll have some news soon about a new imprint I’ve been working on.

KAG – “Play With Fire” (Rolling Stones cover)

3) I’m curious to learn more about your creative process as a solo artist versus being in a band. You released an inspired cover of the Rolling Stones “Play With Fire” in February and two EPs in March. How do you see the way you make your own music evolving now that you don’t have a full-time band as well?

KAG: Limitation and restriction are essential for how I make stuff. I love making music by myself as much as I love making it with other people. By myself, the limitations are very technical. I’m not a great musician. I’m not being self-deprecating, it isn’t my strong suit. I don’t care that much. Not that I don’t respect musicianship, if anything I deeply respect it and just know it’s not ‘my role,’ I write songs. I know my way around the instruments I need, and can usually have more proficient friends play parts I write, if need be. I usually incorporate the recording process into the songwriting, instead of writing the song first, and then recording. Recording, for me, is like an instrument, and definitely the one I’m most proficient in. But I mostly consider myself a songwriter and maybe a producer, depending on the project, and a performer. With others, the restrictions are determined by the group. What fits in the center of the Venn diagram of the different interests of those involved? I really love that as well. I’ve been writing with a few friends during quarantine, sending tracks back and forth. I love that whatever we come up with sounds unique to the collaboration, and not necessarily like something either party would write solo.

I’d like to finish the record I’m writing and release it. I was hoping to put a live band together out here in Los Angeles before covid-19 struck! Maybe someday we’ll be able to perform for live audiences again and play music with others. I would definitely want to be playing live shows with a band for most of the new material I’m writing.

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4) What’s your take on livestreams? Has it been difficult to adjust to performing for a virtual audience?

KAG: This will be my first where I’m playing music, so I don’t know yet. We hosted an SPR variety show a couple times at the beginning of the pandemic so I have a little experience as a livestream host. I thought it was really fun and started getting the hang of it, like compiling news analysis to read between guests and stuff, but it was super time-consuming and I’ve often had a hard time prioritizing my own work and realized this was continuing that pattern. I like the idea of connecting with people from the comfort of my home. I’m interested to see how it changes my performance. It seems hard to feel stage fright staring at myself in a phone, but I imagine I’ll feel a little silly which is fine.

5) These are dark and scary times we are living in for a multitude of reasons. When you look at the state of our world, is there anything that gives you hope for the future?

KAG: I have a hard time with this one. Some days I read the news and just feel really, really bad. I’ve been reading a lot of political theorists from the past and in different parts of the world, seeing how their thoughts and experiences navigated them through tough times. I have a feeling I go to demonstrations for the same reason people go to their house of worship if religious. I feel so deeply moved by people coming together. I’ve seen so much thoughtfulness and concern for others when I’m out marching. People keeping enough distance, wearing masks, handing out masks to others, hand sanitizer, snacks. Feeling my own sense of personal politics evolve is always exciting to me, and I really love seeing it in my friends too. It’s certainly strengthened my resolve in my own political beliefs. I am deeply moved by the number of people who have surveyed the toxicity of our reality and instead of giving up, spitting in the face of evil and cruelty and saying, “hell no.” We’re in a renaissance of social movement— labor resistance, human rights and environmental protection. It is truly profound to see people organizing to create a reality they actually want to be a part of. I’m not usually a person who puts much stock in electoral politics, but we have to consider how completely eroded our houses of government have become by decades of electing lawmakers to look out for corporate interest instead of people. So I am also right now inspired by the work of organizations like Justice Democrats, and the kinds of candidates they’ve so far successfully gotten into office. I want to see more Cori Bushes in Congress in the next few years, and I’ll do whatever I can to help make that happen.

Listen to and purchase Katie’s music on her Bandcamp page, follow her on Twitter and Instagram. And catch her WFTBO livestream show Friday, Aug. 7th at 10pm EST via: www.twitch.tv/WFTBO

august2020

YouTube Playlist: Michael Kentoff, Chester Hawkins & Chris Videll

One of my favorite things about co-hosting the long-running monthly WE FOUGHT THE BIG ONE music party in Washington DC is bringing together so many different and deliciously geeky perspectives on what we loosely refer to as “left-of-center” music — music that you’re unlikely to hear through most mainstream channels.

This 15-track YouTube playlist with commentary perfectly encapsulates what I’m talking about. With five tracks each selected by The Caribbean’s Michael Kentoff, Chester Hawkins and Chris Videll, this playlist runs the gamut from abstract minimalist techno and obscure tropicalia to dub-infected krautrock and classic Slumberland faves.

Good news for us, then, that Michael, Chester and Chris will all be taking turns behind the turntables at the March 1, 2019 edition of WE FOUGHT THE BIG ONE. Enjoy whetting your appetite with their smashing selections below…

MICHAEL KENTOFF

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Bill Ding – “Make It Pretty” (1997)

Michael: “At a record store in Chicago in 1996, I heard the record Bill Ding and The Sound of Adventure and was like WTF? It sounded (and sounds) like nothing I’ve ever heard. Turns out Bill Ding was a project by John Hughes III and Dan Snazelle. My former group Townies wound up recording an EP with John in 1997 (still a favorite of mine) at the Hughes family compound on the Illinois-Wisconsin border. John picked us up at Midway in his white Ford Bronco and promptly played us the new, yet-to-be-released Bill Ding record, including the first single “Make It Pretty” – it was a memorable drive. The weekend recording session, from which I learned a ton, included dinner with John’s family wherein I had the opportunity to discuss Kubrick with John’s dad, the director and writer of Sixteen Candles. Bill Ding music takes me back and thrusts me forward.”

The Whatt Four – “Dandelion Wine” (1967)

Michael: “I’m not necessarily old enough for this to take me back. I discovered this recently on an amazing Ace Records comp Happy Lovin’ Time. The Whatt Four, a quartet from Riverside, CA, recorded this beautiful, mysterious song with the legendary Bakersfield producer Gary Paxton in 1967. I listen to it constantly – like a mental patient.”

Monster Rally – “Vaqueros De La Isla” (2017)

Michael: “Monster Rally was probably a WIRE magazine discovery for me. Ted Feighan of Cleveland, OH is Monster Rally. He obviously crate digs lovely exotica and makes it even more magical through samplers and sequencers. If I had this album (Flowering Jungle) on vinyl, I’d play it at WFTBO.”

Arpanet – “Wireframe Images” (2002)

Michael: “Arpanet is a project by the surviving member of one of my favorite groups, the Detroit techno duo Drexciya. Gerald Donald made this record as Arpanet in 2002. His work has become progressively more abstract, but no less cool. I love Arpanet, though, because it still swings like a motherfucker.”

Jane Weaver – “I Need A Connection” (2014)

Michael: “UK songwriter Jane Weaver’s most recent album, Modern Kosmology, is one of my favorite records of the past couple of years. I play it often and I’ve played it quite a bit at prior WFTBOs. Rick went fucking ape the first time I spun it, so I thought I’d throw in an earlier song that’s just as addictive as her most recent stuff. Dying to see Jane live.”

CHESTER HAWKINS

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Moebius & Plank – “News” (1979)

Chester: “First heard this LP at age 12 and it re-wrote my brain immediately. It was also my introduction to the work of Dieter Moebius, who remains a huge influence today.”

Hawkwind – “Opa Loka” (1975)

Chester: “Another one from early childhood that stuck with me for a lifetime. Perfect blend of motorik rhythm + classic 2-note bassline with atmospheric flourishes. It could go on for hours… it SHOULD go on for hours.”

OSE – “Orgasmachine” (1978)

Chester: “Heldon-related project (Pinhas & Auger from Heldon + Hervé Picart) — A charming bit of late-70s French electronics which holds up beautifully.”

Chrome – “New Age” (1980)

Chester: “Infinite classic. I found Chrome during DC’s suffocating late-80s hardcore era and it was a breath of magical clean air. Dystopian anti-wave for Ballard readers and irredeemable acid eaters.”

Qluster – “Perpetuum” (2018)

Chester: “Saving this for last in honor of the lateness of the hour when WFTBO closes shop. A perfect balm for 3am space travel, Qluster’s latest marks a return to sequencers and electronic patterns. Roedelius & co. never fail to deliver unique stretches of headspace.”

CHRIS VIDELL

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The Normal — “T.V.O.D.” (1978)

Chris: “A brilliant single, Warm Leatherette b/w T.V.O.D. BLK TAG recently did a deconstructed live cover of T.V.O.D.”

The Lilys — “February Fourteenth” (1991)

Chris: “A favorite on Slumberland. I’ve played this one before at Marx. And another one with a fantastic B side.”

Stereolab — “Cybele’s Reverie” (1996)

Chris: “We were talking about favorite singles from the ’90s the other night, and this Stereolab came up.”

Flying Saucer Attack — “Wish” (1993)

Chris: “I have almost everything Flying Saucer Attack released, but not the ‘Wish’ 7 inch. I really hope for a singles collection from FSA one day.”

The Chills — “Rolling Moon” (1982)

Chris: “Realized the other day I hadn’t listened to this in a bit. And since The Chills will have played here by the time this is out…”

Want more? Be sure to check out the Friday, March 1st edition of WE FOUGHT THE BIG ONE at the Marx Cafe (3203 Mt Pleasant St NW DC)!

March2019