On 28th July Sir Tim Berners-Lee, the founder of the World Wide Web, was wheeled out at the Olympics Opening Ceremony as a symbol of British genius, as if to remind the rest of the world how indispensably intelligent we all are. However misleading that might be, it’s hard to complain about him being afforded such celebration. Certainly, in the field of music, the internet has transformed the industry beyond recognition. There’s a certain liberation in the fact that you no longer need a zany back story and four pretty faces ready to be splashed onto the NME’s front cover to reach thousands of people. These days, an internet connection and some decent music are far more important; a fact to which Liverpool-based producer AFTERNAUT can attest: “I wouldn’t be doing what I’m doing now if it wasn’t for the internet,” he tells us, and it’s fortunate that the internet does exist, because what he’s doing is creating intricate post-everything atmospherics so deep and spacious that each track feels like some sort of drugless out-of-body experience.
In October, Afternaut was featured as ‘Soundclouder Of The Day’ and the intensity of the following attention was so dizzying that he recalls that, “I don’t even know how that happened. It was a blur.” The influence this had on his own self-confidence was perhaps even more important than the exposure he received. “That gave me so much motivation,” he says, “I had so much doubt in my music before; I found it difficult to tell if people would like what I was doing”. Judging by the 12,000 people who have elected to follow him on Soundcloud, it seems reasonable to assume that people do, in fact, like his music.
Of course, though, the benefits of the internet are not limitless, and it’s clear from his case that the collective strength of the Liverpudlian music scene has had as much of a positive influence on him. Having moved from York in March of last year, he remembers that he was “blown away by the music scene here” right away. “It’s because of the venues and promoters,” he says, “they do far more than just picking bands and letting them play; every show seems individual”. Local promoters Harvest Sun were quick to pick up on Afternaut’s talent for submersive, melody-driven electronica, and curated a bill alongside the similarly ambient Sun Drums and Sun Glitters. It was then that things began to change, Afternaut claims, “because there are loads of people around like Sun Drums to bounce ideas off”. Having been removed from the sometimes one dimensional cul-de-sac of the internet, the way he viewed his music began to change. “Playing live changed my sound a lot. The beats and percussion are definitely more groove-driven. Before, it was more regimented and routine.” As a result, Afternaut’s sound is the perfect collision between the freedom of digital production, and the humanity of physical performance. Some electronic music struggles to retain a character, or to convey any credible emotion, but it’s this road-tested experience that makes Afternaut’s music the exact opposite; it’s both affecting and tangible.
Afternaut also avoids the other common complaint about electronic music – that live sets seem pre-meditated. Despite this common preconception of producers’ live shows, Afternaut’s is heavily improvised. “Every gig I play I’ve put together from scratch,” he explains. “I break every track down to its individual elements and then feed them through. I can dictate the flow so that it reflects the night.” In actual fact, in this scenario where he is able to manipulate and drop in or out each individual element of the track according to his own emotions, he is afforded much more freedom than a traditional band, and the resulting set could be considered an even more ‘pure’ musical experience. It’s perhaps this ability to alter his music very precisely to the atmosphere of the night that gives his sets a transportative quality. He says himself that “after my other shows people have said that they’ve been completely taken out of themselves and have had an experience which they’ve never had before with music.” And with plans in the works to create an audio-visual link in which the way he puts together his tracks on the night will dictate projected visuals, it’s clear that Afternaut’s sets are far more involved than a man standing in front of a laptop, pretending to be doing something of some musical significance rather than scouring Twitter for top quality topical jokes.
That sort of indifference and trickery was always going to be unlikely from a man who is so passionate about his scientific philosophy of music. Firstly he refers to music as being a “place” rather than a sound, and certainly, when you find yourself at the centre of one of his hugely detailed tracks, it’s tough to disagree. On this subject he suddenly becomes animated and tells us that “it all boils down to mathematics. Melodies sound appealing to us because they are in mathematical order. These things are too complex to even think about, but subconsciously it does affect things.” You get the idea that these things aren’t, in fact, too complex for him to think about, yet he denies our suggestion that he is secretly a particle physicist. We are not entirely convinced. This intelligence certainly comes across in his music, which is both painstakingly complex and disarmingly subtle, without seeming sterile or over-thought. Naturally, we’re keen to hear details of forthcoming material, and he reluctantly admits that he has a body of songs “which will end as an album, hopefully before the end of the year”. On the question of releasing the album, his commitment to his own music is again clear as he admits that he would be happy to self-release the album even if a label doesn’t step in. His passion is obvious from what he says, but you can hear it in every poured-over sound that punctuates his rich musical collages; so much so that there’s no need to worry about whether a label will step in or not. As he admits himself, “the good stuff eventually rises to the top.”