INTERVIEW: Ako | NARC. | Reliably Informed | Music and Creative Arts News for Newcastle and the North East

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Whether as part of alt. rap duo Badger, synth-goth powerhouse Mausoleums or a lynchpin of local promoters/label Kaneda Records, Sim Soden has appeared in the pages of NARC. plenty of times in frequent years: yet for all of that, his solo work as ako has often taken a back seat. Having worked under the name for over a decade, the debut ako full-length West Babylon finally arrives this month, and Soden was able to shed some light on this dark, elusive project.

Discussing the timing of the album, Soden explains: “I always said to myself right from when I first started to take the ako stuff more seriously when I was doing my masters in 2012 that I’d do an album when the time was right. It just felt the time was finally right: hard to say exactly why, but partly because I wanted to do a new live set for the project, and to get enough tracks together for that basically meant writing an album’s worth of material.”

While past ako material delved into the realms of witch house, West Babylon finds Soden expanding the parameters of the project, incorporating the harder, dystopian edge of old on tracks like Bonehill Interchange alongside more melodic influences, including an Elizabeth Fraser-channelling guest appearance from Me Lost Me on Spirit Compass. Of this, Jayne Dent (Me Lost Me) says: “I think that the title stood out to me first conceptually and I found it easy to hum along with, the vocals just appeared really naturally so I knew that was the best one for me to work with!”

Discussing the evolution of his work, Soden notes: “I basically spent the first five years of ako messing around with drum machines, and got that side of things down pretty early. I think there’s something deeply intrinsic about understanding rhythm, a lot more so than melody and harmony. So I think what’s mostly evolved is understandings of harmonic progression and how to write interesting melodies. I also play a lot more stuff on the new ako tracks, rather than drawing them in with a mouse or programming them on a sequencer. I think that really helps get away from the rigidity in structure of loop-based electronic music, and really helps tracks flow and progress better.”

I jumped ship to vapourwave because it was in its infancy, and I could have a lot more fun with it. I also liked its interesting commentary of the hyper-capitalism of the nineties, the alternate future vibes and the tongue in cheek exploration of the ‘art as a commodity’ mindset

As well as seeing release on Bandcamp via Sunset Grid and other streaming platforms via Kaneda Records, West Babylon is also being released as a limited series of VHS tapes, complete with visuals made by Soden. Having always produced visuals for his own live shows and worked on design for Kaneda Records releases, Soden discussed the design aspect of his work and his interest in vapourwave. “I first started messing around with visuals properly as part of my masters course, I’d taken a module on PureData that I was already somewhat familiar with, although up until this point no one had pointed out to me that you could use it for visual stuff as well. I really like the idea of reactive visuals, and of linking musical and visual rhythms for live sets, as it added a new dimension to the performance for audience members who weren’t hardcore IDM fans and didn’t really get a lot from watching someone with a beard turning knobs in a darkened room.

As for the vapourwave aesthetic, I got into that as I was starting to lose interest in witch house around 2014: I enjoyed witch house up to this point as it was kind of a ‘frontier’ genre, but as genres progress they end up getting heavily formalised as a result of commodification and degenerate into boring ‘music by number’ with a bunch of gatekeepers who weren’t around in the early days. I kind of jumped ship to vapourwave because it was in its infancy, and I could have a lot more fun with it. I also liked its interesting commentary of the hyper-capitalism of the nineties, the alternate future vibes and the tongue in cheek exploration of the ‘art as a commodity’ mindset. I like the importance it placed on the visual aesthetic too, and it did this with a much more critically informed mindset than a lot of other aesthetic genres.”

Given Soden’s involvement in multiple projects, it’s perhaps not surprising that production and musical ideas have sometimes found themselves flitting from one project to another, but the latest take on Nightforest – an ako track that became a Badger track that’s become an ako track once more – is a fairly unique case of musical to-me-to-you. “Nightforest started out as an ako track. I had an ako gig booked in Bradford around when Badger had a tour booked, so we decided to try and do a collab set where Chris [Maltby, Badger vocalist] would come on with me half way through and do some Badger tracks. Whilst working out the set, he said he really liked Nightforest and that he’d like to do some words over that as a way of transitioning to the Badger material, so I made a new version of the track and we went from there. It was really well received and it’s sent us in a new direction production-wise, so expect some new Badger along similar lines this year. In terms of picking which project a particular track goes with, it actually makes life super easy because I don’t have to either shoehorn disparate ideas into one project or have to drop tracks that don’t fit, it means I can just make whatever I’m feeling at the time and allocate it to whichever project it fits most and that I don’t waste time working on tracks I can’t use.”

ako releases West Babylon on 12th September via Sunset Grid and Kaneda Records


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