Simon Posford Shares Ineffable Mysteries From Shpongleland
Simon Posford was already an international star in the electronic world when he played a revitalized Camp Bisco for the first time in 2005, though success in the States had continually eluded him. Based in the United Kingdom, his various projects helped introduce the psytrance genre to thousands of music fans across Europe and the Middle East looking for a darker, more psychedelic twist on ‘90s dance music. After making his first Camp Bisco appearance in his Goa trance solo project Hallucinogen, Posford found his biggest footing in the United States outside the electronic underground and now even considers the U.S. a primary market. As his friendship with the members of the Disco Biscuits has deepened, he’s brought over his seminal psytrance project with Raja Ram named Shpongle, his electronic duo with Benji Vaughan called Younger Brother and a range of acts on his Twisted Records label. He’s also formed a Younger Brother live band—featuring Vaughan, singer Ru Campbell, Brothers Past guitarist Tom Hamilton, Duo drummer Joe Russo and Disco Biscuits bassist Marc Brownstein—and plans to release a new Younger Brother album featuring the jamband titans later this year.
While jetting back across the pond to see his girlfriend in LA, Posford also completed a new Shpongle album Ineffable Mysteries From Shpongleland, which was released in late 2009. Below, Posford talks about his upcoming Shpomgle tour, meeting the Disco Biscuits and what he did to make his “alien sounds make sense.”
It is always a challenge for an electronic artist to create a live show faithful to an album. Can you start by talking a bit about your current Shpongle live show and how you plan to tour this material in the U.S.?
It’s sort of a multi-layered sound in the studio and to try and recreate that at a gig is a very interesting challenge for me. I prefer to do it as a band but, obviously, logistically to bring twelve fantastic working musicians over and get them all on the same schedule and to be able to afford the money for them to fly out is quite a hard thing to do. No one from the States has stepped up to do it, so these shows will be Shpongle DJ sets.
We just finished the new album Ineffable Mysteries From Shpongleland, so we’ll be playing a lot from that. [Younger Brother’s Benji Vaughan] is on a lot of the dates as well, so we might do a few Younger Brother DJ sets during the tour. But in terms of the Shpongle DJ show, I’ll just be mixing like a regular DJ. We’re bringing a video VJ guy, and some dance performers, and visual performers as well. I don’t really want to say it should be druggy, but it should be mentally stimulating, as well as sonically stimulating too.
You’re great at multi-tasking in the studio and recently worked on a number of studio projects, including the new Shpongle record, a new Younger Brother album, the new Disco Biscuits album and others. Can you bring us back to when you first started working on Ineffable Mysteries From Shpongleland?
It seemed like a very slow process because we started it maybe two years ago— maybe even more. It’s not actually that we spent two years making it—we just did a lot in-between recordings. Raj has a number of different projects and is on tour. I’m on tour, playing with Younger Brother and Hallucinogen. So, for the actual process, we normally spend a week making a tune—sometimes two weeks with the longer ones. It seems as the technology increases, it means that you can do more, so the tunes can get more complex, and really the only limit now is your imagination.
However, that just means there are so many more possibilities. The first album we did was on an Atari, with a sampler and a few dubs. In those days it was two to three days a tune, where as now the possibilities are so vast that it takes much longer to create a song. When we get together we’ll do a week or two weeks. We might have an idea or a sample or something we want to use. We started off this album with an Indian track—I just got back from India and while I was out there I had a little handheld Zoom recorder that records to SIM cards. I would go around villages recording musicians and singers. So I came back to London armed with all this fabulous stuff I recorded. So we started with that idea and it inspired us to start our first track.
I recently got into Music for Eighteen Musicians by Steve Reich, a classic piece. And so I was quite into that and listened to it a lot when I was in the States driving around which was quite nice—it was very trancey. So we also wanted to do something very Steve Reich-inspired on the new album and brought in a cello virtuoso to do some overdubs. And then the process of sitting in the studio—listening to it over and over—I get quite bored quite quickly, and so I guess that’s why the music never really stays in one zone or stays in one area for too long. The music is an evolving journey, and continually morphing, and different layers coming in and out.
It sounds like modern technology has really allowed you to be a backpack producer in a sense—recording on the fly and using those as the basis of your more proper records.
It is a lot better. In the old days, if you wanted an Indian vocal you’d have to use a sample CD or something like that. I have these sample CDs that I used in the past. It sort of bites you in the ass when you then hear a lead vocal or something you used in your tune, and you hear it in someone else’s shitty tune—in an advertisement of something. It’s sort of quite depressing as an artist. For this album we resolved not to use any sample CDs—or any stuff other people had pre-recorded.
Speaking of world traveling, though you have been a star throughout Europe and the Middle East, it is only recently that your music poked into the mainstream in the United States. How have you felt the electronic and trance scenes over here change in the past five years?
It has definitely changed. I have been involved in the trance scene for years. It’s always been very underground in the States, I hardly had any gigs there, whereas now it’s probably my main market in a way. I come there several times each years and my bigger tours are in the States. I am amazed to be going to places I have never heard of or had never been like Knoxville Tennessee, for example. And I am amazed to turn up there and find Shpongle fans there. Same with Wakarusa in Arkansas. If you watch the news or read popular myth, you’d think these are backwards country hick-y place. But there are Shpongle fans there and people who are quite clued into electronic music and the electronic scene. And I think in the jamband scene you got people like STS9 and people incorporating more electronics—and even the Disco Biscuits incorporating more electronic sounds into their music. That’s definitely opened the door for people like me to come and play over here.