909originals chats to Audiojack ahead of the release of their new album, ‘Surface Tension’
Since they rose to prominence on Ralph Lawson’s 20:20 Vision label in the mid 2000s, Audiojack have built an enviable portfolio of tech house grooves, most recently with the Isolation Tapes series, a set of releases inspired by last year’s lockdown.
Along with their own label, Gruuv, which launched in 2010, the duo, otherwise known as James Rial and Richard Burkinshaw, have issued a slew of tracks on labels such as Crosstown Rebels, Hot Creations and 8Bit Records.
In 2017, Audiojack set to work on developing their second long player (after 2009’s Radio); a project that has now come to fruition with the unveiling of the album Surface Tension on Crosstown Rebels, which is set to land on 30 April. You can pre-order it here.
909originals caught up with them.
Hi guys, thanks for talking to us. We’re now more than a year into the COVID crisis – other than the obvious negatives, how has it been for you from a creative standpoint? Has it been a productive period?
Not necessarily productive in terms of our level of output, but it’s been a great opportunity to make music without any agenda. We’ve explored more experimental sounds, making some breaks and more eclectic electronic stuff.
Traditionally, Audiojack music was always made with the dancefloor in mind, but the music we’re making now maybe has a wider appeal.
The Isolation Tapes series were very well received – did that help to keep the creative juices flowing?
The Isolation Tapes were more like self-induced music therapy for us; a way to create an environment we could control and inhabit, escaping the real life we found ourselves in. They were only given a name post hoc, it wasn’t until we’d made five or six tracks that we even considered making them into a series.
We really enjoyed the whole experience and releasing them this way though, and we’re planning to do a follow up series this year.
Have the themes explored in those EPs (introspection, transition etc) influenced the sound of the new album, Surface Tension?
Not at all, the album was pretty much finished before we started making any tracks for the Isolation Tapes. We started making the Surface Tension album back in 2017.
The album took several years to put together –aside from the pandemic, what was the main reason for this?
A combination of things, mostly the level of thought and detail, then overly procrastinating about it all. Surface Tension is inspired by the great listening albums where you can put on a pair of headphones, close your eyes and go on a journey.
We wrote it as a single piece with cinematic sound effects and binaural surround sound techniques to make it feel like you’re listening to an audio movie. As well as writing songs and arranging the vocal collaborations, we went out into cities making field recordings such as riding on motorbikes and at subway stations.
We commissioned voice actors to do pieces of dialogue for cut scenes between the music and made it flow as a single immersive journey. It’s a rebellion against short attention spans, it’s about switching off from everything, focusing just on your ears and letting your imagination fill in the gaps left by your other senses.
The new album blends a much wider variety of musical styles than your last album, Radio. What sounds and/or other artists have influenced the album’s direction?
We sent 10 tracks to Damian Lazarus back in 2017 to discuss the possibility of an album. He said the tracks were decent but they still just sounded like a bunch of tracks, and if we wanted to do an album we’d have to rewrite it from start to finish, making it something a bit special and different to our normal output.
We were excited by the prospect of doing something more diverse and thought about some ideas for how to approach it.
Jamie had been growing some mushrooms and decided to try the Terrance McKenna method of a strong dose then complete sensory deprivation; alone, in bed, in silence, blindfolded. This was done carrying the question of what the album would be and what came up was both a profound experience and a clear message.
We were to make an immersive experience that can take the listener on a journey and convey the message of freeing yourself from the shackles of technology and societal oppression.
So there were really no direct influences from other music or artists. That said, every artist’s influences are the sum of their life experiences, so there will definitely be musical influences in there but it’s not possible for us to isolate them.
The album was preceded by the single Under Your Skin, featuring Kevin Knapp. It’s not the first time you have collaborated, what do you think Kevin brings to your sound?
We have never really analysed our collaborations with Kevin in this way, it was really just that we were friends and we tried to make some music together. It was, and continues to be a very organic process. Our output has always been well received, which also encourages you to continue as well.
Taking a step back to look at it though, Kevin is a talented vocalist with a very rich and distinct voice which is a pleasure to work with as producers. Sometimes it takes a lot of work to get the best out of someone’s voice on a record, but Kevin’s barely needs touching. It’s refined, natural talent.
When you’re putting music together these days, are you more conscious that ‘people are unlikely to be hearing this in a club anytime soon’? That your music has to be tailored more for at-home listening?
Yes, the consideration has definitely been present – to make music that can both serve on the dancefloor and be interesting to people at home –but also that concept can be overthought.
Our most popular tracks on Spotify, which is a platform for home listening are the tracks that are popular in the clubs too, some of which you would not expect people to want to listen to at home. So it’s not worth trying to second guess the public’s taste in this situation.
Last year marked the ten-year anniversary of Gruuv. What were your ambitions when you started the label, and how have these changed?
We started the label through a desire to give a platform to some of the talented upcoming artists who were sending us demos; also to provide an occasional place to release our own music, and to do it our way without having to seek the approval of record labels.
I don’t think our attitude to this has changed, but the industry has. Breakthrough artists these days tend to be more clued up, and it’s never been easier to start your own digital label.
The younger generations are a lot savvier when it comes to looking after their interests, and know that having a self-releasing platform can be important in making a living from your music. Streaming has become a big revenue source for artists recently, but streaming platforms like Spotify and Apple pay rights holders, who are not necessarily the artists.
Back when all records were physical, a label and distributor were vital cogs in the chain, and were paid well for that, but nowadays with self-releasing so accessible and the benefits of owning your own catalogue so obvious, things have changed.
I think we’ve become choosier as well. These days, so much music seems to be made from a place of commercial intent, and that doesn’t really appeal to us. We’re looking to feel the connection of the music to its maker.
You first broke onto the scene during the minimal tech house ‘wave’ of the mid-2000s, on 20:20 Vision, with a more stripped back sound to what you do now. What do you make of your early productions, listening back?
Some have aged well, some not so much, but we love them all dearly as they were exactly what we wanted to make at the time.
We’re proud of all our original productions, some early remixes we maybe agreed to do a bit too eagerly, but we don’t begrudge our younger selves that, as that naïve eagerness is just a part of the ride. You’re so happy someone wants to pay you for your music that you forget you’re exchanging a little bit of your soul – a little bit of your artistic integrity – for something as temporary and transactional as money, which will be gone on your water or council tax bill, while the remix remains forever.
One of the more notable projects you were involved with in recent years was the Sunday Social club at Veto in Ibiza, which rejected the VIP mindset, offering affordable drinks, surprise DJ sets etc. Once COVID blows over, do you think that sort of back to basics approach will set the template, or will things revert back to how they were immediately before the crisis?
To our surprise, we found generally this is not what most people want. A large amount of people who come to Ibiza on holiday want to tick off a list of big events and DJs, get their photos taken in the right places and show what a fabulous life they have.
Social-media fuelled VIP culture has infested the electronic music scene, and the new drug of choice is the ego trip.
Maybe the pandemic has given some people chance to re-evaluate what’s important in life, maybe not. Either way, life goes on, everything evolves.
For the less image conscious who prefer to go out, have a nice time and feel connected to others in unity and oneness, when there’s enough likeminded people, these parties spring up, and it’s great to catch them early in their journey – DC10 twenty years ago, for example, is a totally different beast to what it is now.
Most people want to go to popular places, and often that’s because of the atmosphere created by those early attendees, but those vibe creators are not people who go to a party expecting to be entertained and looked at; they know that they are the party. Then it gets too popular, the vibe dies, and it goes round again.
We did have some great parties down at Veto, but in the end it proved too difficult to compete with the huge productions of the big budget events. We still carry this ethos with us though, so who knows, maybe in future when the world restarts we can do something else along similar lines… 🙂
Thanks to Audiojack for talking to us. Surface Tension is released on Crosstown Rebels on 30 April. You can pre-order it here.
1 – Audiojack – Subterranea
2 – Audiojack ft. Kevin Knapp – Under Your Skin
3 – Audiojack – Binaural Dreaming
4 – Audiojack – 925 Shift
5 – Audiojack – Easy Rider
6 – Audiojack – Psychoactive pt. 1
7 – Audiojack ft William Letford – Psychoactive Pt.2
8 – Audiojack x Jem Cooke – Feels Good
9 – Audiojack ft.The Silver Reserve – First Dawn