Juno Plus Podcast 100: Gavin Russom
Months back some internal discussion took place over bad instant coffee and a selection of pastries about how to approach number 100 in this podcast series, and whether it should be treated as some sort of landmark moment or not. However, calling in some PR favours and sweet talking a high profile name into putting together an hour mix of their newest promos would be quite the departure from the manner in which the series has been cultivated since it commenced back in 2011. Instead we decided to call on an artist whose work has been a firm favourite of the editorial team long before Juno Plus was conceived: Gavin Russom.
The New York-based artist is rightly synonymous with DFA Records, helping to establish the label’s reputation with several releases alongside Delia Gonzalez, including the essential kosmische-inspired album The Days Of Mars and the contemporary disco classic “Casual Friday” as Black Leotard Front. Following these endeavours, Russom went on to explore acid techno as Black Meteoric Star, and formed The Crystal Ark together with Viva Ruiz and a rotating cast of musical contributors, an avant-pop project that brought a Brazilian influence to his analogue sound. Though tastes have evolved over the past decade, there’s a timeless quality to each of Russom’s projects making them longstanding favourites at Juno Plus.
Although DFA issued a double pack of dubs from The Crystal Ark LP this year, Russom has been drawn back to solo production, having found a suitable platform for his mind-bending dancefloor experiments in Entropy Trax. The offshoot of Ecstatic Recordings, a label run by Walls pair Alessio Natalizia and Sam Willis, Entropy Trax has been a Russom-heavy concern so far, with the producer responsible for the both label’s debut release and its imminent second record..
We’ve been sitting on this mix from Russom for a few months now, and are very happy to present it as our 100th podcast. Russom was also kind enough to engage in a round of questions and answers, in which he discusses how his relationship with Natalizia and Willis came about, the new Brooklyn night CITY CL//B he’s started with Lauren Flax, his upcoming plans and more.
Hi Gavin, how are things?
Things are crazy, man. Right now I’m sitting here waiting for them to announce the verdict in Darren Wilson’s trial and there are a lot of rumours that he’s going to be acquitted of the murder of Mike Brown. Of course we hope not but that’s the general consensus. There’s a real strong movement building demanding justice and not backing down, which is tremendously inspiring and definitely needed.
The police department in Ferguson is preparing military style equipment to crush any response to the verdict and the governor of Missouri just declared it a state of emergency. There’s a ton of other stuff going on as well but today that’s where I’m at just waiting for this verdict to come through and disgusted by the way the government is handling it.
Thanks for this mix – how was it put together and what were your intentions behind it?
It’s a mix of vinyl and some files as well. I was layering sounds in addition to just mixing one track into the next. It was actually done a little while ago, but wasn’t so much focussed on presenting new tracks anyway. I was more focussed on quality music and telling a good story. I wanted to present a mix that reflected what a current DJ session of mine is like, but also functioned as a nice piece on its own. And I wanted to present some of the new stuff I’m doing for Entropy Trax in context.
How did the relationship with Entropy Trax heads Sam and Alessio Walls come about?
They approached me about doing a release with an offshoot of Ecstatic they were working on that was going to be focused on experimental dance floor sounds. Sam reflected back some stuff about my previous work that made it clear they had both engaged with it deeply and really got it. Seemed like a good fit and has been a great experience so far working with them.
Was it refreshing to refocus on solo productions after time spent on The Crystal Ark?
It’s definitely been interesting to go deep into solo work. Getting The Crystal Ark going was the main thing I was doing every day for a while. Now it’s become an entity of its own which is very cool. What has been most exciting for me about these new solo releases is taking what I’ve done before and using that as a kind of firm foundation, and seeing what I can build on that. Whereas before I think I was mostly focused on getting that foundation into place.
You recently started a night at Bossa Nova Civic Club with Lauren Flax called C//TY CLUB – how is that going?
We did our opening one in October and will do the next one on Friday November 21st. The first one was fantastic and this one is shaping up to be even better. Bossa Nova is a great spot and I feel like I can really push what I do in terms of a DJ session there and people will come along with me.
It’s a continuation of the Drakkar Noir parties you did with Lauren, correct?
Exactly. We did Drakkar Noir for a year and then decided to take a little break.
What prompted the decision to put Drakkar Noir on hold?
We wanted to take a little time to take stock of what we had done and figure out how to focus it more. One of my big goals was to create a place where music heads and dance floor devotees could co-mingle and inspire each other to freak out in new and interesting ways. Drakkar Noir would go there sometimes but we wanted to make that the central focus. We wanted a spot where the queer club scene and the synth nerd weirdo scene could find common ground and wanted it to be really really freeing for people, in a deeply pleasurable way.
We brought in a co-producer; Zachery Alan Starkey, who has helped a lot, and got PXLPOP to do some great graphic design and make T-shirts and posters. I became very very focused about what I would play. It seems to be working so far. We just did two quick mixes (one each) and made a collaborative track to give people a feeling of what the party is like which you can check here.
You’re known for being a skilled hand at creating and maintaining synthesisers – do you still build instruments for yourself and others, and if so what was the last synthesiser you built?
Over the past few years I’ve been working on refining my designs and producing something really unique. It’s been a long process. Don’t want to say too much about it beyond that but it’s meant much more time in the design and testing phases and as a result I haven’t built anything else in a while. Keep an eye out though.
Back when you started the Black Meteoric Star project, you were one of relatively few people making analog techno – now it’s something that’s inescapable. What’s your opinion on the increase in contemporary techno made with analog means, and are you a fan of any of it yourself?
Yeah, I mean there were definitely people doing it before BMS appeared, like the UR guys, Sandwell District, the first wave of people putting out stuff on Nation like Traxx, JTC, Beta Evers, D’Marc Cantu. There were other worlds that touched on that idea too, I think Philip Sherburne talked about that when he originally wrote about the BMS record. But for sure the landscape has changed now and many things I hear evoke that Black Meteoric Star sound; that mix of techno and punk aesthetics and influences from synth wave and early electronics.
I think part of that is all the new technology that’s come into being since I made the first BMS tracks. Things have definitely moved in that direction. I like a lot of new things I hear coming from people with an ear toward analog electronics and raw sounds. Recent standouts have been the Silent Servant/Broken English Club split on Cititrax, the Charles Manier record on Nation, Beau Wanzer’s stuff… Jahiliyah Fields, Svengalisghost, Florian Kupfer and Jorge Velez’s stuff on L.I.E.S. I liked Aurora Halal’s EP and included a track from it on the mix.
What can we expect from you in 2015? We read that there is another LP from The Crystal Ark in the works?
I’m going to be continuing the 12″ series with Entropy Trax, and also releasing a four-track beatless piece called “Hail of Arrows” via Sam and Alessio’s main Ecstatic imprint. I’m putting together a live hardware set that I should be taking on the road by May. Viva and I have been working on some new Crystal Ark material which we’ll be going out to L.A. in January to work on with the rest of the band. Still not sure if it will be a set of singles, an EP or an album when it’s done.
Nation is going to be releasing a track that Traxx and I did together in my studio under the alias GAVOM as part of their Modern Electronic Element Series Box Set. It’s a cover of wave/goth band Psyche. There’s also going to be a previously unreleased Black Meteoric Star track coming out on the second volume of the Bossa Nova Civic Club compilation Bushwick is Melting.
1. Gavin Russom – Synth Snake (Unreleased)
2. Barker and Baumecker – A Murder of Crows (Ostgut Ton)
3. Qoso – Jura (In Paradisum)
4. The Hacker – Parallele Universe (Zone)
5. Gavin Russom – the Purge (Entropy Trax)
6. October and John Osborn – Programmable Blood (Tanstaafl)
7. Communication – Dawn of Time (Irmgardz)
8. Aurora Halal – Siren (Reprise) (Mutual Dreaming)
9. Steve Lawler – Kalimba (Shed Remix) (R&S)
10. Gavin Russom – Telemetry (Entropy Trax)
11. Maelstrom – Discord (Zone)
12. Kobosil – Think and Think (Hardwax)
13. Ruth – She Brings the Rain – Ruth (Paris/Minimal Wave)
Header image used courtesy of Zachery Alan Starkey