Electronic dance music has always been made with the intention to make people move, or indeed dance, as the phrase quite explicitly suggests. And for a long time the creative energy of curious, experimental artists has met the simultaneously loose and rigid structures that comprise the very core of dance music in such a way, that the end result moves people in more ways than one. Nothing makes me happier to feel something while dancing, like the strange sense of togetherness meeting that inward-looking solitude whenever a Burial tune gets played out in a packed club, or the space between cosmic floatation and grounded bass that Peverelist traps you in on ‘Roll With The Punches’. It’s one thing to make beats that make your head nod, but it’s another thing entirely to make you feel something other than just the sub.
The Archie Pelago trio make electronic dance music with the intention to move people, both physically and emotionally. Combining a more ‘traditional’ approach to writing music with the love of being caught up in the moment in clubs, the New York based trio have slowly been making an impact on the way club music is digested live. I remember, around the same time I was getting into the group’s music Well Rounded’s Donga mentioning their remix of Distal & HxdB’s ‘Booyant’ the night after KingThing played it from the edge on Sub FM. He said it was something different, something out there, something that had to be heard. These are all very accurate observations from the reliably informed Donga, but I would also argue that Archie Pelago tunes are something to be not just heard, but seen.
On this notion I suggested that they visually capture their mix for Sonic Router – creating our first ever video mix. The insight it provides to how each sound is born and subsequently manipulated is really quite arresting to behold when you consider that the trio combine live saxophone and cello work with a DJ, whose skeletal selections get improvised over and affected. Sonic Router Mix #121 is what growing, evolving, head-nodding organic music looks and sounds like when it’s twisted and reconstructed through a bunch of wires, connected to a mixer and two turntables.
Sonic Router: Could you kindly introduce yourselves to those reading who may not have stumbled your way yet? Who is it that makes up Archie Pelago and what role does each of you play?
Kroba: Archie is made up of three people: Hirshi, Cosmo D, and myself, Kroba. In the production sense, we all share a role. In our live setting, I play tenor saxophone with Ableton, Cosmo plays cello with Ableton, and Hirshi is controlling Serato and our main mix… he plays trumpet on our productions though!
As individuals you all have uniquely different musical upbringings and experiences, so how did the Archie Pelago concept come about and what unifying elements tie it together?
Cosmo D: After some years freelancing around New York as a session cellist and sideman, I found my passion for electronic music drawing me to ‘bass music’ parties in New York like Dub War and Turrbotax. It was at Turrbotax where I met Dan (Hirshi) and we started a correspondence. This turned into us making tracks together starting in the Fall of 2010 and Zach (Kroba) soon came on-board on Dan’s recommendation. Bringing our instruments to production sessions was one of the key elements to honing in our sound in the beginning.
K: I met Dan at a night that he was doing in the city, and we later played different sets on another gig. He told me about a musical project he was starting with a cellist/producer and asked if I was interested. We set a date, I went over to Cosmo’s house and the rest is history! Regardless of our different musical upbringings, we all share the same love and affinity for this ‘bass music’ (for lack of a better term).
Hirshi: I started doing radio on WNYU in 2009 while I was still studying music at university. Doing the radio show and eventually gigging around the city allowed me to be in a position to meet a lot of talented musicians. Connecting with both Cosmo and Kroba was eye-opening; they are strong instrumentalists who were also inspired by more forward-thinking electronic dance music. Seeing that balance at play propelled me to get productive with these guys and would eventually bring the three of us together in the studio.
Describe the music that you make together as Archie Pelago…
K: Our music is a personal reaction to this ‘bass music’ that we hold so dear. Through our different musical upbringings, we each bring certain elements to the table, but it is an overall melting pot of influences ranging from avant-garde jazz to acid house, from footwork to Mahler.
C: This music is an exploration of how we collectively merge live musicianship with electronic beats and textures, all within an electronic dance music context. We’re exploring how we can make this blend feel as natural and seamless as possible, sometimes to the point where it’s ambiguous where the live instruments end and the synthetic ones begin.
How about your setup? What instruments do you play and what constitutes your studio?
C: I play cello and use Ableton. Most of the Archie material gets assembled and mixed at my home studio. You’ll see it in the video mix. I have Adam A7s for motoring, plus a decent Yamaha sub. I’m running our workstation on a PC that I built, though I use a Mac laptop for live shows. I have a Blue Baby Bottle mic for recording all the instruments. Ableton Live is the workhorse sequencer for us, though Zach operates in Logic and Dan is a Reason man. iOS programs like NanoStudio and DM1 are starting to enter our workflow as well, especially when we want to make sketches while we’re on the subway.
K: I play saxophone and use Ableton. I primarily use Logic to compose music, and use my Beyerdynamics headphones to monitor.
H: I play trumpet primarily but have been fooling around with flute lately on some of our tracks.
Inform us a little about your songwriting process. It’s common for producers to shoot layers back and forth but the Archie tunes feel very whole and evocative of that group session vibe. Who often initiates each tune and how does it take shape?
K: Our songwriting process varies. We can all start making a beat in Greg’s studio and lay horns/cello down all in one day, or each come up with stems on our own time and then finish it as a group. Lately, we’ve been taking a more subconscious route by recording our improvisations and programming with care for our live takes.
C: Our go-to method has been what Zach mentioned. Lately we’ve been starting to improvise long-form in Ableton and chisel those improvisations down into new tunes. This is a promising process for us because there’s literally no buffer between coming up with ideas on-the-spot and recording them, along with real-time effects manipulations, to audio.
Sampling in the traditional sense, a sort of staple ingredient embedded in the electronic music psyche, is almost entirely absent from your work. Even on your Car Crash Set release, which had moving cut-up vocal loops and stabs, were taken from a vocalist working on the tune rather than an acapella or youtube rip. Is it important for you to maintain a high and honest verisimilitude in your tunes and to keep them as organic as possible?
C: I think we reach for ‘live’ elements in our tracks because playing our Instruments was a big part of our upbringings and our current life flow. Adolescence spent in Monday Night Youth Orchestra, adventures in the NY jazz world later on – these experiences, consciously or not, inform my contributions to Archie.
Kroba: Many producers aren’t trained instrumentalists and don’t have unlimited, direct access to musicians. Because of our ‘classically’-trained skills as players, we incorporate our acoustic sounds into our electronic music… it’s makes more sense for us to manipulate our own sounds rather than the sounds of another person.
H: You use the tools you’re most comfortable with. Ours happen to be the instruments we play. Though we do spend a good deal of time re-sampling our own sounds and twisting them.
Following on from that, your live performance leans more towards a full band setup than the usual Ableton sets. Did the Archie Pelago concept originate with the idea of performing tunes live as such in mind?
C: Dan didn’t initially set out to do a live performance approach, but all the elements were there: Serato had just come out with The Bridge right around when we formed Archie. I had already been using Ableton for a while with solo cello, and The Bridge allowed me to synchronize my cello’s Ableton set with Dan’s DJing. Once Zach got his own Ableton rig up, running and sync’d with us, our live set clicked.
K: I come from a jazz performance background and have been messing around with electronics in live band settings for years. For me, using Ableton was a natural progression. Once we realised that we possessed the ability to perform on our acoustic instruments and use electronics to process that sound in a live setting, we decided to go ahead with our live show.
H: Once I realised what was possible with an Archie live ensemble, we never looked back. Even our early live explorations at Cosmo’s studio got us excited about the sound we were producing on the fly. I can confidently say that no one does it quite like this.
So tell us who does what in the live setup and how your equipment works together to recreate those sounds…
C: If you’d like to see exactly how we rig up our live show, I made this diagram:
Do you ever write a tune with how it’ll be performed live in mind or does that process come after without interfering in the production of a tune?
H: When we started performing live, I was playing mostly minimal selections of various rhythmic styles and Cosmo and Kroba would do their thing over it. It’s been an interesting process re-working our finished productions into live dubs, which really came out of demand for original Archie material during our live sets.
C: Productions can stem from something we did in a live show, where we’ve recorded what we’ve done and refine it later. Usually not the other way around.
K: Sometimes, I will make a sketch with space for live improvisation but for the most part, we edit our finished tunes into live dubs after the production process has ended.
How did you all get into electronic music?
C: I caught wind of the US ‘electronica’ boom in 1997 when I was in middle school and that was my first way in. Later on, at a summer music camp I attended, a camp counsellor would clear the dancefloor with Aphex’s ‘4’ and I was hooked. I always loved the genre, but it wasn’t until I started going to NYC’s Dub War that I felt my life as a musician was on the verge of moving more seriously in that direction.
K: I discovered Aphex Twin, Brian Eno, and Squarepusher in high school and never looked back. My experience with dance music started with jungle in the early college years, which eventually led to discovering Burial, Kode9, DMZ, and the like.
H: I was really into independent hip-hop for a while before I became fed up with the lack of quality live experiences I had. When I started attending Dub War everything changed and my tastes took a drastic dip towards the experimental electronic. LPs from Scuba, Burial, The Bug and Benga were a big force during this transition.
From a UK perspective, the dubstep-leaning electronic music scene seems richer and better nurtured in New York than most other places in the US thanks to the likes of Turrbotax and Dub War etc. Is this true? How did living in NYC fuel your motivation towards ‘bass-music’ and how does it support you lot?
H: We are spoiled in New York. There’s a huge amount of talent circulating in-and-around this metropolitan area. Living in such proximity to well-curated events gave me no choice but to consistently attend and consume. I think for most of us on the scene out here, our level of access has greatly enhanced our inspirational intensity. Once you start showing up, it’s like down the rabbit hole from there…
C: People in New York who throw nights like TURRBOTAX®, Percussion Lab, Full Service, On the Sly, and Reconstrvct are incredibly dedicated to making these nights as good as they can be on all levels. Being a part of these nights as attendees and, at times, performers, has inspired us to push ourselves as far as we can musically, both as producers and as a live unit.
K: We are definitely surrounded by contemporaries and music lovers alike in the city. The scene for this music is quite small, but there are dedicated musicians and party-goers who are always striving to experience an amazing time at a night. It’s a great feeling to be in the company of people who truly care about our music, and it’s great to be able to support them through their musical endeavours as well.
I think one redeeming factor about the word ‘bass-music’ is that it doesn’t have that ‘UK’ prefix, it’s definitely a global sound. Do you think there are any notable cultural differences that remain in the output and maintenance of this sort of music on each side of the pond?
C: In New York, there’s no institution or single community setting the pace for a sound. It’s coming from a varying degree of passionate corners, diffuse and in flux. This sort of environment leaves the opportunity for artists, promoters and local DJs to experiment (sometimes radically) to develop their sound.
K: New York is a very fast-paced city; the music created here tends to reflect that. There really isn’t any time for sitting around and hesitating, it’s all in the moment. I feel that living in NYC gives us the drive to keep making things happen and to always be on our toes, making as many musical sketches and tracks as we can conceive in our minds.
Who are bringing the levels out there that you feel are overlooked in the UK scene?
All: Distal (though he’s getting more visible with his Tectonic releases, no doubt). Blind Prophet out in Long Island. Simple in Detroit. Dave Q, one of the founders of Dub War, is a don. Nihal is definitely an up and coming DJ to keep an eye on. Jordan Rothlein is a great presence in the community and runs the vibrant Table Tennis show on WNYU. Contakt runs the TURRBOTAX night and is an amazing DJ as well as a stand-up guy. Of course, the Percussion Lab crew for running some amazing parties at very low-key spaces. Every Monday last summer they’d bring in a guest like Dorian Concept, Scuba, Silkie, SBTRKT, all to play at this humble Bed Study bar. Totally surreal and awesome.
You’ve got a beautiful remix-slash-cover of US/Canadian producers Distal & HxdB’s ‘Booyant’ (finally) coming out on Tectonic this year. Who arranged that and was it your original intention to stay so true to the original tune?
H: I met Distal at a Tuesday night weekly run by my buds at Broken Teeth. He was just getting the ball rolling with Embassy (early 2010) and I was thrilled when he agreed to come on my radio show the next night, with Mite as well. We kept in touch, and I saw him again when he returned to NYC in early 2011 to play at Dave Q’s Twisup party and spoke to him about what Archie were beginning to do. We had already released a remix we did for Submerse on Slime Recordings and we were hungry for more opportunities to re-arrange and Archie-fy some tracks.
C: Dan was crucial in connecting us with Distal for remixing the tune to begin with. I wanted to follow the original structure because I thought it was great, but bookend it with our own style of sonic texture and ambience, providing contrast. Beyond that, I played cello basslines, did some heavy lifting with the drum programming and transcribed the synth parts into Sibelius. Hirshi and Zach then played down the horn and clarinet charts and provided structural tweaks. Our use of vocal samples in the outro was Hirshi’s touch.
H: The first draft I heard of this I received while travelling in Jerusalem. When I heard what the arrangement sounded like mixed down it made me cry.
Have you got any other confirmed releases due out this year that you can tell us about?
H: Well, we’ve got a remix we did for our homie Eyelove forthcoming on Slime Recordings. We’re also working on some edits for Wheez-ie so keep an ear out for that.
C: Exciting stuff but we can’t talk about all of it just yet. Definitely a wax release on Donga’s Well-Rounded Individuals label in the spring. Keep tabs on us at archiepelago.com for the updates on this front.
How about the live show? Is that sticking to NYC or will you be upping sticks and embarking on any tours soon?
C: Right now, we’re playing locally around the New York area. We have shows at Turrbotax and Mister Saturday Night parties in the works, and will be doing a writing collab with DJG out in San Francisco in early March. Beyond that, we’ll see…
OK, so you’ve kindly recorded a very special video mix for us. Tell us a little about how it was put together and what you’ve included in the mix…
H: After we video-recorded our live set on WNYU’s Table Tennis program, we realized how potent the Archie live set was visually. Since that set in August, our tastes and chops have grown tremendously. We want people to hear and see exactly what we are doing. That’s why we decided it would be best to record it in Cosmo’s studio, which is more or less our comfort zone.
C: This is a you-are-in-the-room-with-us video mix driven primarily by our original and mostly unreleased music. We did throw in a few outside selections into our mix too, ‘re-purposing’ them live within our sound-space.
K: Some of the readers may have seen our Ustream broadcasts, but have not experienced our live set as of yet. We wanted to bring as much of the live aesthetic into the room as well as create an intimate environment to showcase our creative breeding ground. This set is a pinnacle example of Archie early-2012: respecting our roots, while pushing forward into unknown territory in an extremely musical fashion.
H: Lastly, big respect to Untold and Joe. Hessle and Hotflush are two sources of major inspiration for us. The tracks we selected here are just an idea of what material we like to expand on live: they move us.
Finally, Sonic Router traditionally asks its guests for words of wisdom. What have you guys learnt that you’d like to share with our readers?
K: Keep an open mind, expose yourself to as many types of music as you can!
C: Remain passionate, be open to new opportunities and change, give back whenever possible.
H: Communication is critical in this industry. The best way to be involved is to make yourself heard.
DOWNLOAD: Archie Pelago – Sonic Router Mix #121
Cuthead – Unacceptable Mustache Styles [Uncanny Valley]
Scuba – So You Think You’re Special (Joe Remix) [Hotflush]
Archie Pelago – Subway Gothic [Forthcoming]
Archie Pelago – Carmen on Gold Street [Forthcoming]
Simple + Helix – Licking Peanut Butter (Archie Pelago Remix) [dub]
Rx – Orbit (Archie Pelago Remix) [Rad Summer]
Archie Pelago – Hall of Human Origins [Forthcoming]
Untold – Sweat [Hotflush]
Archie Pelago – The Fabric [Car Crash Set]
Photo & Video: Sal Stamatti