This is the first in a series of interviews with other music reviewers, bloggers and online magazines that I follow with interest, in an effort to help spread awareness of the poor, unpaid/underpaid, overworked music obsessives shining light into the shadows of the music margins and who provide an essential alternative to the mainstream, largely big indie and major label obsessed media.
Please say a big hello to the mystery writer behind the Drifting, Almost Falling blog. Click play on his lovingly, "randomly organised and chosen" curated playlist - "What is Slow Music? The Drifting, Almost Falling edition", the first in a series of mixes & playlists from invited guests and dive in to the interview to see what makes him tick. You can also listen, with a couple of unavailable exceptions to the playlist on Apple Music, Deezer, Youtube and Spotify.
So I don't know your name as you want to remain anonymous and quite frankly I don't blame you. We're in a Wild West age of unregulated data collection for commercial and as yet unknown ends. Just to set the scene for the readers, is there anything you could tell people about where you are based, what gets you out of bed in the morning and why so private?
Hi James, lets just say that I am far away from where the action is, although in this inter-connected world where everyone is an email or direct message away, not too far. Responsibilities get me out of bed in the morning, but that said I don't tend to sleep in. Why so private? I just wanted to do something that had no ties to anything that I have done previously and generally as a person I am introverted and prefer not to reveal that much.
So Drifting Almost Falling's mission statement is, "Investigations of Minimal Ambient, Drone and Modern Classical Sounds", which for the sake of brevity I'm going to lump under the ambient umbrella during the questions. Has this been a lifelong interest in the more laid back side of music or were you a founding member of the Napalm Death fan club and this is a latter day evolutionary leap in your music listening habits?
Well, a decent amount of people interested in Ambient forms tend to come from either the club side of things or from the styles of extreme music. I grew up progressively chasing the more extreme forms, while having a broad taste. I did the standard Thrash > Hardcore > Grindcore > Japanese Noise route, while still having an interest in other genres like Indie Pop, Industrial, Minimal Synth and Ambient. There has always, even up to current days a time where I will still listen to blast beats and orchestral arrangements as well as other forms of music. You need the balance of things in your life and music is no exception. I have been interested in Ambient music on and off since around 1993 where I read an article in a short lived UK magazine called Indiecator which had included an interview with Alex Paterson of the Orb describing listening to Brian Eno's ambient works while looking at a foundry in Germany in the mid 80's while on drugs and the words / description was so evocative. I had heard of Eno and was familiar a few years earlier with the track "Sky Saw" thanks to the movie "Dogs In Space". This is pre Internet times so the distance between finding information and actually getting to hear these records was rather difficult (especially in my isolated city). Skip ahead a few years and I became infatuated with Thrill Jockey especially Tortoise and Oval and the various Post Rock bands that embraced ambience within their music like Tarentel or even the dream pop/Shoegaze of Bowery Electric. The major turning point was the 2008 issue of the The Wire called "Unofficial Channels" (Issue #297) which introduced me to a bunch of blogs that were ripping all the early Home Normal, Hibernate, Kesh, Sonic Pieces, etc... releases and that opened my eyes. I discovered a lot of great music this way which I now get to promote and support as well as purchase til this very day. From this point onwards I haven't looked back.
Where did the blog name come from? In my rather hurried research I spotted a laid back label named, Drifting Falling, is there any connection?
There was a label called Drifting Falling which I believe has ceased existing. I thought I had taken the name from a track from the Richard Ginns "Fall, Rise" album and I didn't check it to make sure it was correct. After the blog started to find it's feet I was doing a cull of my collection and came across the album and discovered it was called "Drifting , Almost Covered". Further on in my collection I came across the Clem Leek album "Lifenotes" which I had bought in a bulk lot and saw that it was on Drifting Falling. I must have subconsciously joined the two names. That label has only released one thing since 2011 and that was four years ago, so I think I am safe in using it. That said if they objected I would find another drifting name as I like the connotations of the word and what it evokes.
What do you get out of ambient music personally?
Quite simply there is so much ugly stuff in the world that it is nice to be surrounded by a form as beautiful as Ambient and it's related scenes. It takes you to a different mindset. The beat-less and wordless approach is enticing.
There's been a growing interest in ambient music the last few years. I have a theory that it is a cry for help from the always switched on generations X, Y & Z as well as former ravers growing old, keeping things electronic but mellowing with age. Do you have any thoughts on its growing popularity?
It is a case of swings and roundabouts. Some people follow trends, while others look for something else to engage with after whatever they were into before is not doing it for them any more (cue Sebadoh's "Gimmie Indie Rock"). I think the popularity thing is probably cyclical, but you look at some of people's collections on bandcamp and it tells you the amount of people who have "X" release in their collection and for the most part the numbers are minor. After a while you will see natural attrition as those who treat it like a fad will soon disappear and the usual artists, labels and some new ones will continue to proper and develop the music.
What changes have you seen in the ambient world since you developed an interest in the genre and do you have any thoughts on where it is heading or any thoughts on where it should/could head?
I think there can be a tendency to be too active with releases. Artists tend to have a wide reaching catalogue on the various labels and there is a tendency on both artists and labels to release a lot of product. I am not going to be the one to stay stop or set limits on releases, but there is a feeling that sometimes the music is like a Ferris wheel. If you miss a few releases you can always catch up with what they are doing later. I would prefer a less is more sort of approach where releases have been put out because they are so good that they demand to be put out and you need to hear them, rather than just be part of a cycle. With Digital formats music can be put out so easily and sometimes it shows this.
As far as I can see you've been writing reviews for the last three years. What made you decide to put finger to keyboard and start writing about music? Had you done any writing before?
I had done a blog years ago, around 2010/11 that has been wiped from existence. It was more eclectic and had a local presence. I closed it just when I started to get on the Hibernate and Room40 promo lists (which I haven't managed to do this time). As for writing about music I was just wanting to help support and promote that artists and labels that I like and this seemed to be a good vehicle at doing so.
I don't really review music, rather I try to point people in all sorts of odd directions and let them make up their own mind. You are putting in a lot more effort and going into more depth & describing how the music affects you personally with your reviews. Why did you adopt this approach, how the hell do you find the time to do it regularly and how long do you think you'll continue?
I just write about what I feel about the music. I have no musical training so I can't tell you any of the intricacies of creating a piece, it's all magic to me. It would be great to know a bit more, but it maintains my childhood illusion of the mystery of music and keeps a youthful feeling about the form. For me music has to resonate or speak to you. In the past when it came to broadening my taste I realised that if music doesn't talk to me or I can't relate to it, it is not for me. Case in point HipHop. I am not the target demographic and the experiences contained within this form are not mine, so it doesn't resonate to me, even though in the late '90's I did dip my toes in it with turntablist side of things like Rob Swift, Invisbl Skratch Piklz, Mixmaster Mike etc.., for a brief moment.
I tend to be a bit all or nothing in my approach to writing as I can get on a roll and then just have a time where music is building up in the queue but the spirit is weak. As for how long do I think I will continue, the answer is I think about stopping regularly and then a piece of music will come my way and I am reminded that it is not too bad doing a blog.
Do you find writing reviews difficult? Even with my short teasers it takes me a while to summarise the release and I struggle more with ambient music to find differentiators between releases and avoid repeating myself. Any tips?
I do not rate my writing at all, I wish it could be better. I tend to be fairly limited in the vocabulary that I use, with repetition being a known component. I think the key to writing is to be express yourself using your own language. Don't see another reviewers style and try to make it your own. If you don't say certain words or phrases in your day to day communication why are you putting it in print?
The music press and journalism has changed, alongside the industry itself, beyond all recognition in the last 15 years with very few magazines or blogs that started the new millennium still in print. Did you have any favourite magazine or review sites that are no longer with us and what are your feelings on how music journalism has altered?
I used to be a Wire subscriber for years but our tastes went separate ways years ago. The only music magazine I picked up recently was Electronic Sound and I was a bit disappointed in the majority of it, some of the features were good but it had a lot of filler. I don't tend to look at many sites as they tend to cover a wide range of genres and sometimes it is just a cut and paste press release/news item. If I want to read good writing and check up on what releases other blogs are getting I check out Stationary Travels and Headphone Commute. Both are the gold standards in Ambient blogs.
You've just done a series of articles on labels and artists that you like, which was actually the catalyst for me to do this interview, as I'd been meaning to do something similar for ages but never found the time. Would you also like to share a few of the magazines, blogs or sites that you keep an eye on to try and make sense of today's deluge of new music?
Do you have a preference for digital or physical media and have you embraced streaming culture? Do you have any thoughts on the rise of streaming platforms?
I used to be a big buyer of physical releases, but could never keep up. My habits have changed thanks to a more minimal mindset where I have have to justify each purchase, that way I focus my purchases more to things that mean more to me than to the great mass of releases. I used to be negative towards digital and slowly I am coming around to it, though it has still hard to grasp the ownership of something intangible. I don't like anything that Spotify stands for. I prefer Bandcamp and I love the app. It is streaming, but it is your collection and it has more of a connection to you and the people responsible for the music as it is part of your collection you have got straight from them and not some company paying the artists a small fraction of their worth.
I'm presuming that you get sent a lot of music to review, how do you keep up with all the new music you receive? Apart from the music that gets sent your way, how else do you discover new artists, labels and releases?
I download most of it and them set aside time to check it out. I don't review everything and I focus only on things I like and want to promote. I am as equal to covering an artist with their first digital only self release as I am a label with a CD, LP and Digital release. I do follow artists and labels on Twitter and Instagram where I may come in contact with something new.
I notice one of your recent reviews was actually some sleeve notes you wrote for a release. Do you see the blog ever morphing into a label or some other musical entity?
That one was the second time I was asked. I passed on the first as I had never been contacted by the artist before and with Olivia Belli I had developed a relationship with her covering three of her previous releases and she had kindly sent me one in the post. It helped that I really like the record, the artist and the label it is on - Memory Recordings. As for doing a label or another musical entity it goes back to the minimalism mindset and the fact that there are plenty of labels out there as seen by the tip of the iceberg in those label posts. There is no need for another one. Plus I have been there, done that.
Do you have any thoughts regarding ambient music that you'd like to get off your chest that we haven't discussed?
My two ones would be just be yourself and slow down your output. I have immense respect for those that are DIY in their approach and don't feel the need for someone to do things for them. It is a good way to get established. The second point I have raised before, just make sure there is a need for the release and it is killer.
The world is currently in lock down due to the Covid-19. People are stressed, worried, suffering and as a consequence contemplating their lives, the world we live in and reassessing what is important on all sorts of levels. How has this unprecedented moment in modern history affected you? What sort of changes would you like to see in the post virus world? What sort of changes will you personally be making?
You would like to hope people will be nicer but as you see via Twitter that is not the case. I think things will just go back to some form of normality, but this should be a reality check of how fragile our way of life can be. We are so used to our routines that when they are disrupted it can throw us off balance. Hopefully economically in our little musical scene most people can come through unscathed, but I do think different modes of music delivery will have to come into consideration and we will probably head more into a digital world until delivery methods are returned to the way they were before.
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Lazy Days, Hazy Moments & Dancing to a Slower Groove