Album Of The Week: Shades – From A Vein (1985 Music)
"Direct, honest and personal": Alix Perez and EPROM discuss their most accomplished body of work to date
Savour these times… We are currently in the thick of the most fruitful and exciting era for albums so far this century. The last few years of off-road turbulence and stasis strangeness have led to a slew of extended listening experiences that would never have happened if it wasn’t for covid.
There have been many examples on this Album Of The Week series already – Tali finding the time to explore her skills as a producer and reveal a whole other side to her creativity, Ténèbre making an album completely removed from his usual uncompromising club signature, Bachelors Of Science embracing the need for something positive after such a negative chapter in our shared experience. The list goes on and on beyond these examples: if it wasn’t for the lockdown then Culprate may not have launched a second crowd-funding campaign for his powerful fourth album and Noisia certainly wouldn’t have written Closer if it wasn’t for covid pausing their split.
Over the coming months, possibly years, many more albums of this calibre will be revealed by artists as they bring more and more of their lockdown experiments to life. But right at this very moment let us direct our ears to From A Vein, the remarkable second album from Alix Perez and Eprom’s Shades project.
Their most accomplished body of work to date (which is saying something considering the respected duo’s previous output), From A Vein is a beguiling experience that takes off where their debut album In Praise Of Darkness left us five years ago, sucking us deep into its macabre, aggressive underworld, smothering us in heavy sonic pressure.
An otherworldly and wholly immersive experience that builds on the duo’s love of subverting boom-bap beats, embracing studio experimentation and twisting bass music textures inside out, it’s an album that’s impossible not to get lost inside of; discovering new pathways on every listen… And it’s all down to the pandemic as Alix found himself in the US during the early phases of covid.
It was always hoped that in the wake of dark times, the brightest lights would shine. In this case, dark times have led to some of the most beautifully dark beats imaginable. Far out, intense and truly unique, there is nothing on this planet that sounds like – or makes you feel like – From A Vein.
1 More Thing sent Alix and Sander some questions to find out more…
Did you set out to intentionally write an album or was there a moment when it suddenly changed into a different beast and you knew it had to be an album?
Alix: This album is a result of the pandemic / lockdown. In 2020 I was in the states about to embark on a long US tour with Tsuruda when the world shut down. As I was already in the US at the time, I decided to head to Sander’s in Portland and spend some time there. With nothing going on at the time, it was a perfect opportunity for us to spend all our time in the studio. That’s what really gave birth to our second album. We already had a few sketches on the go, including the Gaslamp collab, but although we can work remotely quite well, I think that we really come together when we’re in the same space. I spent around two months in Portland before heading back to London and at that point we had most of the album written. At least concrete ideas that later formed something coherent.
Sander: Yeah, a couple of these tunes existed in a very rudimentary format during our 2019 touring dates, just tunes that we would throw in the set during live shows. When Alix ended up at my house during the pandemic we developed those into significantly more fleshed-out ideas, and realised we had the start of an album going. We decided to just keep at it, and at that point we were writing about one tune per day – the majority of the tunes on the album were completed rather quickly.
It feels like you’ve gone IN to create an immersive experience that’s meant to be enjoyed and felt from start to finish. Do you discuss a vision or a brief to make sure that consistency is felt?
Alix: Like all our previous work, it is generally a common natural process. We bounce off of each other in the studio without pre planning too much. We do have a direction in mind, especially with an album but I believe that the turning point from idea to body of work happens naturally. With this particular LP (which personally I think is our best work to date) we did write the bulk consecutively and under abnormal circumstances. Whilst the world was on pause it gave us the chance to give it all our attention and creatively be free from other usual distractions. It really added to the existing ominous palette we carry as a duo.
Sander: We didn’t start with a specific brief – we just know each other well and know what the sound of the project is. We’re both happy to push it in various directions. On this album we ended up doing a bit less of the traditional NY-influenced boom bap beat structure and exploring different tempos, but I would say that happened very organically rather than intentionally from the outset.
What can you tell us about the concept and theme of From A Vein?
Alix: From a Vein for me means that it’s direct, honest and personal.
Sander: I think Alix ended up naming the album. We don’t operate from a specific concept, but we do hope that the music has its own narrative to it, or that the listener can create one in their mind. Titles are tricky, but we keep a few books around the studio – Dante, Borges, graphic novels by Junji Ito or Moebius – that we often refer to for title inspiration.
The visual aspect and aesthetic of Shades has been incredibly consistent since day one. That’s incredibly important to you both isn’t it?
Alix: With both of us being graphic designers at heart, we’ve always had a clear vision in our aesthetic. Sander has made a lot of the sigil work and also has produced the bulk of our AV show visuals which are amazing. Much like the music process I think we both subliminally know where we’re headed and find a common ground very easily.
Sander: Very early on in Shades development I did our logotype and wrote up a design document that we’ve generally stuck to throughout the years, and it’s been helpful in shaping our aesthetic. I do a lot of the A/V work myself, but we’ve hired other artists to do our cover design for the last few releases. We’re both really happy with the cover, done by MFAXII
It’s interesting that a lot of this was the result of the pandemic and making the most of your time. But following that, how do you both work, living in Portland and Auckland most of the time?
Alix: We really make the most of our time together when I’m touring Sander’s way or vice versa. Preferably, we finalize sessions that we started together but I feel we’re equally able to start ideas individually and finalize them remotely, back and forth over the internet. Our studios are quite similar in terms of hardware and software so it’s quite fluid for us to bounce projects to one another.
Sander: Yeah we mostly try to knock tunes out when we’re together. Our process during the pandemic was basically, we’d hang out in the studio all day, and one person would take the helm at the computer and bang out an idea or two, while the other was sort of absent-mindedly listening, and doing another task such as writing emails or even just playing Super Nintendo. In other words, we were listening closely but weren’t intentionally guiding the other person while they were at the helm. I’d just wait until Alix was out of ideas (usually at that point I’d have an idea of where to go with the tune) and I’d jump in and roll it out, or we’d do the reverse.
Tell us about the Gaslamp Killer collaboration!
Alix: That session with Willie Gaslamp was really really fun. We were basically jamming most of the afternoon. Willie had a bunch of dope drum organic drum loops from recorded sessions that we mixed and chopped together. From there we just jammed on top of the loops for a couple of hours, tracking different synths and hardware. It’s one of those tracks that really came together very quickly. We later down the line mixed it and that was it really. It’s an honor to have him feature on the album and he’s been a massive supporter of our stuff from the early days.
Immortals is a real stand out track with GQ and a real wake-up slap in the flow. This isn’t the first time you celebrate his iconic tones and turn his voice into part of the Shades textures as he appears on The Last Judgement. Please big up GQ!
Alix: It goes without saying that Gary is one of the most iconic voices in the jungle / drum & bass. I’ve worked with him several times on Alix Perez sets and it’s always a blessing to have him on. We were listening to some old school 90s sets and came across a couple of samples that we instantly knew would work on a couple of the tracks. With Immortals being a huge nod to the rave sound (sonically), the sample of Gary made total sense and we were delighted when he approved it for our album.
Another particular track I wanted to find out more about was Against The Sun… We’re deep into some Middle Eastern 60s psychedelic stuff right here. The furthest of far out you’ve got so far. I love it. How did that come about?
Alix: We had in mind to have a bridge moment that would take the listener elsewhere and back again. The album is generally quite aggressive sonically and I think this is a welcome break from the madness.
Sander: We knew we wanted to have something a little more cinematic on this album, without sounding too bombastic or too much like a movie trailer. For me, I was really inspired by the tools we used, which in this case was a Max4Live device from a series called Sufi Plugins done by DJ /Rupture that embodies a sort of poetic interface, written in the Tamazight language, that employs various Middle Eastern maqams (like Western musical scales, but different in many ways, and using half-flats and other notes outside of the Western canon of twelve-tone equal temperament). We wrote the melody specifically for that plug-in, so it has that slightly abrasive microtonal sound, and made it more abrasive still by running it through the Sherman Filterbank.
Wow. I think experimentally the closing track Silent Images is the final buck, though. It’s like you can hear you both pulling your own creative plugs out and powering down after such an intense journey. A real de-pressurisation of the album experience. What does Silent Images say for you?
Alix: Silent Image is personally a favourite moment of mine on the LP. It’s made up of a bunch of different recording sessions from that period that have been resampled several times, taken apart and reassembled. It has violent moments but also clear and peaceful ones. It’s a beautiful mess, to sum it up.
Sander: Likewise, Silent Image is a favorite for me. It’s a direction I’ve always been interested in going with the project, just pushing the edges of sound design outward while retaining some of our dark intent.