We are at the Willowbank pub on Smithdown Road, sat outside to a symphony of car stereos and police sirens that mercifully distract from my relentless use of ‘I know what you mean’ on the interview recording. 21-year-old producer GHOSTCHANT, or Joe Cornwell, was raised in south-west London, before moving to Liverpool to study for a music degree.
Following an adolescence as a guitarist, he discovered the likes of Burial, Whistla and Crypt, prompting a love affair with bass music that has found him on these pink pages today. “Producing music was something I picked up myself. Up until I was seventeen, I was playing guitar in punk and hard rock bands, just teenage dreams really. Then, when there was no one else to play with, I decided to pick up Fruity Loops and try and write some songs.” His modesty almost sounds sincere, as anyone with a torrent client who has woken up one morning and decided they want to be a producer (everyone) will testify: teaching yourself on audio workstation software might as well be quantum physics.
Over the course of two EPs and several free downloads, GhostChant has quietly cultivated a reputation as one of the city’s most exciting local bookings. Last year’s Fables EP (AudioRejectz) is rich in texture, as soft, sampled vocals float gracefully over spacious, cinematic synths. Follow-up Late Night Talks EP saw him find inspiration in much darker places, with mournful vocal loops and more bass-heavy synths creating an almost menacing, haunting atmosphere. Electronic music, of course, has always been celebrated for its intricacies, and GhostChant can be defined by his precision. Every reverb snare, every synth pedal note, every vocal loop: all so deliberate to the point where you wonder if the poor lad ever leaves his bedroom.
A self-proclaimed celebrator of ‘future-garage’, GhostChant is part of a growing movement of producers incorporating 90s UK garage into their own forms of contemporary electronic music. As we tentatively reminisce over a genre that we are probably too young to even remember, it’s clear that Joe harbours a deep affection for the 90s and early 00s scene: “Everyone enjoyed garage at the time and people still love it now. It’s a different aesthetic these days though, more revisionist, as producers incorporate garage with different aspects of electronic music”. He is not alone. You can find the once-ridiculed genre rearing its head ever closer to mainstream electronic music these days. Garage music has always seemed dated and retro. Perhaps that’s part of its charm. I mean let’s face it, scrape away Grant Nelson and M.J. Cole and you’re not really left with much when it comes to icons. Far from a revival though, what producers like GhostChant are doing is taking the best elements of garage music – the syncopated bass lines, the shuffling hi-hats, the looped vocal snippets – and blending them with current trends in underground electronic music to create something with much more feeling. Gone are the Casualty theme tunes and So Solid Crew sex tapes and what’s left is the bastard child of the genre which, at last, feels like it’s heading somewhere constructive.
Joe is keen to remind me that, above all else, he is trying to be as varied as he can, both in his DJ sets and his live act: “I mean, I love garage music and it’s important to have some context, but I’m not looking to remain hard-lined in one particular genre.” His actions speak volumes in this case, as he balances a residency at the student-centric house/garage night Release with the more arty, experimental Deep Hedonia shows. Joe’s references to Deep Hedonia and influences like Tycho and Burial demonstrate a desire to keep challenging himself and his audiences artistically. I’m not saying that there isn’t an art to crowd pleasing, but there is making sure you are up-to-date with current trends and selections and there is making new ones for yourself. I mean, credibility exists within electronic music in its loosest form. All it takes is a sync placement as the cast of Made In Chelsea grope each other in a hot tub and, before you know it, Duke Dumont has a number one hit whilst everyone else tries to subtly unlike his Facebook page. Over the last ten years, house and bass music have existed as a constant series of Russian Dolls, as a sub-genre outgrows its underground origins and a new sub-genre forms from the ashes. In this post–everything age, it’s vital that producers like GhostChant keep moving forward both sonically and technically. Stop and think for a moment, before you’re standing there with a daft face on as a load of students laugh at your AU Seve t-shirt. Call it an identity crisis if you like, as different groups of social, economic, and culturally contrasting young people attempt to characterise the scene in a way with which they are comfortable. And I know you want to say that it’s just about the music, but next time you see a fake-tan-clad young person shuffling to Bicep in a G E E K t-shirt and a Comme Des Fuckdown beanie, try and tell me everything isn’t fucked.
GhostChant’s latest release, a remix of Frenchfire’s excellent Antique, takes on a more immediate sound, allowing Sarah Zad’s smooth vocals to linger wistfully above a minimal, yet potent drum machine/synth accompaniment. It sees Joe open himself to a wider audience, and will certainly draw the attention of RnB fans in the same way as Shlohmo and Lapalux have done already this year. An appearance at Sound City alongside the likes of Mount Kimbie and Oneohtrix Point Never beckons, followed by his second appearance at Release alongside an as of yet unnamed Swamp 81 Records heavyweight. Its early days in this young career of course, but it’s rare that you see a young producer traverse through his ideas on what electronic music means to him with such confidence and such ease. In GhostChant, Liverpool has a real shot at finding the homegrown icon that this vibrant electronic music community has been longing for. And this is only the beginning.