Zen Champ: An Interview with Iglooghost
Defying the very limits of genre (as to be expected when signed to Flying Lotus' label), Iglooghost's eclecticism is primed for a breakthrough.
Flying Lotus' Brainfeeder label has steadily developed one of the most compelling and diverse rosters of any electronic label around today. Signings to the label include some of the most distinctive and idiosyncratic talents around. From the deconstructed techno of Lapalux to the experimental jazzy, hip-hop tinged, Daedelus to left-field hip hop producer Tokimonsta, the label has consistently showcased the left-field, experimental electronic artists that can't be found on other labels. A collection of artists looking to dismantle any notion of genre before putting the pieces back together in their own unique way.
Added to that list can be Irish producer and visual artist Iglooghost. His 2015 debut EP for Brainfeeder, Chinese Nu Yr saw him exhibit a similar ability to splice divergent and disparate sounds together to his contemporaries on Brainfeeder. From grime and garage to Japanese ambient techno, from rave to dancehall, the EP saw him showcase his eclectic tastes as well as his talent for layering intricate sounds and textures.
Iglooghost's debut full length for Brainfeeder Neō Wax Bloom continues to see him experiment with genre and structure while eschewing traditional beats. The result is a colorful, psychedelic mix of anything and everything with sounds and noises clattering together at a head-spinning rate, like a painter covering the canvas with anything they can find. Ideas arrive with such brain melting speed that it's difficult to keep up. It's a spectacular, intriguing vision with each track crackling with the excitement of originality.
The man behind Iglooghost, Belfast born, Seamus Mallagh, is as intriguing and fascinating as the music he produces. Here, he talks with PopMatters about his early exposure to electronic music, his approach to creating such left-field, experimental music and the outlandish concept behind his new album.
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What was the first album you fell head over heels in love with?
When I was a little kid, I loved dancing around to dumb-ass metal in my room, while I played with Lego and stuff. I used to have hella Slipknot, Slayer, and Korn CDs. I remember being obsessed with this album called Pass The Flask by some hardcore band called the Bled when I was a lil' bab. My music doesn't resemble this stuff at all sonically obviously, but I'd like to think the extremity and obnoxiousness are qualities I've gone on to implement in the Igloo stuff. I'm low-key a still big sucker for weird skramz bands nowadays.
What were you initial memories of electronic music and how did you get into it?
I mean, growing up in the 2000s meant I heard a lot of electronic elements cross pollinating and seeping into other genres without knowing it. I think my first conscious exploration into an electronic genre was when I was 11 or so, getting into silly breakcore stuff on MySpace and Last.fm. Really ridiculous hyper-fast speedcore with those pulverized amen breaks and stuff. There's a lot of old unlistenable imitations of that I uploaded when I was a kid, that you could still probably find if you looked hard enough. [laughs]
How did you start making music for yourself?
Other than a few experiments with tracker software when I was 11, I dipped back into it when I was maybe 15. I was trying to make like silly rap beats for other kids on the internet. That was around the time every teenager wanted to be in Odd Future.
What equipment did you use initially?
FL Studio like most people -- but instead of getting into Ableton I took a couple of wrong turns and got lost in Reason city. I'm trapped there now. It's cool though, I can sort of divine any sound out of that program like I've definitely tamed it. Just means I can't collab withlearnedanyone ever. [laughs] I mean to be fair I think Flylo made Cosmogramma on Reason so there's still hope!
At what point do you know you're ready to make an album? Is there one key idea that starts the whole process off?
I'd definitely been trying to make one for as long as I've been Iglooghost, but there was for sure a point where I realized I needed to sorta train myself and find a reason to justify making one. I'm really psyched I ended up with a sound I'm happy with though, man. It took me years and years of tantrums and smashing up my stuff in fits of rage, but that eureka moment where you figure out your impetus to make an album ... that shit is big. I think if I revealed the thought process that kick-started the record it would kinda ruin the fun -- like I just gotta see if I successfully communicated it or not. Yikes!
Musically, what were the touchstones for you when making Neō Wax Bloom?
Y'know, just because of how long all these songs took to make, my ears would usually be too exhausted from working all day to listen to too much new electronic stuff in the evening/night, so I'd usually end up bumping some new-age stuff, mathy stuff, or like some traditional music from across the world. I got heavy into choral music and a lot of traditional south-east Asian stuff, as well as finding out there were hella "easy listening" ambient electronic records coming out of Japan in the '80s.
A lot of that stuff tried to synthesize traditional acoustic instruments out of early synths... so you got this amazing simulation of ancient Japanese music with these glossy, synthetic timbres. If anyone's curious about that shit, check out Paradise View by Haruomi Hosono, City Life by Koharu Kisaragi, Yumi No 4-Bai by Masumi Hara... there's tons more and it's all pretty damn good.
What inspired the concept behind the album?
It's a long story. In real life, I live in this huge mansion that changes color, glows in the dark, and has a lot of floating parts/rooms. It's a really weird looking place until you get used to it. Anyway, I have this giant garden I hang out in a lot, and I met these strange little beings through a little portal I found. I learnt about the void some of them live in that's called "Mamu", and how a giant calamity involving two huge eyeballs falling from the sky had completely screwed up their ecosystem. I made a big album inspired by all this stuff. So it's not really a concept album, considering it all actually happened I suppose.
Sonically, it's a rich, complex album. Did the songs come quickly or take more time to mold and shape?
Thanks! They took fucking ages man. All of them took over a month at least, and I'd only manage to finish about one or two bars after a full day's work. I set out to never copy/paste a single bar so all the songs would work as these constantly evolving pieces rather than beats. Not that I have a problem with repetition -- I love crazy club shit as much as anyone, but I guess I really fancied that challenge, and I've always found it weird not many people have felt like doing that with modern electronic music.
What's your preferred way of working? Quick bursts or long stints?
All day. I mean to say I'd prefer working for that long would imply it's fun -- like that shit really felt like military camp. I had to discipline the fuck outta myself and override that natural human instinct to cut corners ... and I sorta broke my brain in the process. I mean what matters is that I got this finished album in the bag now I guess. Sorta feels like I've given birth and I've already forgotten how traumatic childbirth was. [laughs]
Were there any tracks that were total pains in the ass?
Dude the last track "Göd Grid". Oh man. That thing is like 220BPM or something. I ended up condensing it into over four minutes eventually after like three months of work, but for the longest time, that thing was like eight minutes long. Couple that with the fact it's so fast -- that means the same amount of effort I'd normally put into writing a bar counted for significantly fewer seconds. Absolute madness.
There were like 64 bars I fucking hated that I ended up chopping off in the end, which was a bittersweet moment because I absolutely adored some elements of it. I kinda wrestled with those four minutes for months. Oh yeah, and the project file was so big, at one point it was impossible to even play it back within my DAW, so I had to bounce out the audio (takes around 15 minutes) every time I blindly made a minor edit, just to hear if I wanted to keep the edit or not. I'm getting PTSD just thinking back to it. By some divine miracle, I managed to fix that motherfucker and get it to work. Absolute carnage though, holy shit.
Can you always find the sound that's in your head? How easy is that?
That's a sick question! All my stuff starts as an imaginary song in my head. Like obviously you can't imagine all the details with complete clarity, but you can kind of dream up an approximation of the unborn song's function/feeling. I'll then usually sorta skat out imitations of it using my voice to make it feel a little more tangible, usually in the shower -- then try and sculpt the non-existent song out of the big ol' library of noises I've collected on my laptop.
Did you ever find yourself going too far down the rabbit hole?
Oh yeah. I mean with "Göd Grid", that's kinda an anomaly of a story, because usually I just fuck up and cling on to a song for months, before rightly pulling the plug. I've had a million horror stories like "Göd Grid" that haven't panned out. RIP all my lost songs man. You can dress up a structure in the most beautiful and crazy sounds, but if the structure's crappy then it's never really gonna sound great. It's such a hard thing to admit, too.
Who is your go to quality controller? Who do you look to for honest feedback?
You can't trust anybody! It's messed up. Even your closest homies have an agenda whether or not they realize it, I feel. 99% of people you show your stuff to are either trying to be too nice or too critical. It sounds like the most obvious advice ever, but the end of the day you just need to be 100% content with your stuff. I wish I had a clone who could listen to my music that I've burnt myself out over.
What are the main ways in which you think have progressed on this album? Writing, understanding, composition, structure?
I hope to think I've just improved at being Iglooghost. Just zoning further and further into what this project is supposed to be. I wanted to make like a full-screen, IMAX 3D, mega-HD, 4K realization of Iglooghost.
What did you learn about yourself as a musician in the making of this album?
Probably that even if you feel like you know yourself, you gotta be fucking careful because your mental limitations can take you by surprise. I think I was arrogant enough to think I was invincible and could wing it through pushing myself over my limits. I ended up just going super-super-Saiyan and fucking up my health by the end of the record. Trying to be as productive as humanly possible can end up as the most hindering thing ever creatively. I lost a lot of valuable time because I didn't take care of my brain ... and your brain is all ya got, so you need to be kind to it.
What marker(s) will you judge the success of the album?
I mean I'm happy it's what I wanted it to be from the beginning. From the cover to the length to the actual musical content. That shit is really, really fulfilling already. I know it's gonna be a little bit too jarring to land on The Fader and stuff. [laughs] but I really hope loads of kids find it on YouTube in 50 years, because they thought the cover looked weird and cool. Like when I'm digging up albums from old Blogspot sites, I just think how nuts it is that some dead guy's weird album has ended up in my iTunes, in the UK, like 60 years into the future. Whoever made that album is basically immortal now. They'll travel through people's computers forever now even though they died decades ago. Knowing I could do the same thing makes me less scared of dying.
What do you hope the listener will get from the record?
I hope they imagine crazy scenes and little movies in their head and email me what they saw. [laughs]