Bennett Kuhn, a lanky 23-year-old from New York with lots of love for cats and subwoofers among other things, is currently hard at work on a bunch of new musical projects including a jungle single to be released this summer as a white label under a secret moniker, another EP for Civil Music and a debut EP of Mt. Desert Island, a collaboration with Brooklyn-based songwriter/lyricist/singer/guitarist and best friend Jesse Kohn.
Kuhn’s mix offers a vast insight into his musical tastes, it is “a soundtrack to active remembering” featuring lots of unreleased material from Astro Nautico affiliates: Space Ghost, Moist Ghost, RAJA, Time Wharp and Young Montana? The artwork for the mix (‘Elephant Graveyard’) comes from the famous myth that old elephants naturally depart from their groups and travel long distances to ritual bone yards where they perish alone. Kuhn also dedicates this mix to his friends dog Mandy Burrows, who perished last Tuesday after living very happily for a long time.
We’ve been in contact for the past 3 years and I’ve witnessed Astro Nautico progress from a small online blog to establishing itself a strong presence in the electronic music community. Can you tell us about the roots of Astro Nautico: how it all began, its mission, what you do for it and what you thought was lacking in the world which led you to establish Astro Nautico?
Paul Jones (aka Paolo Xz) began Astro Nautico as a radio show in Montreal around 2007. When he, Obey City and I graduated from college and returned to New York two years later we set things on their current course.
The mission is to disseminate new music of the highest quality for free. Forever. While eating homemade tako yaki and getting high scores at NBA Street Vol. 2.
We three share most label tasks. Paul specializes in making album artwork and videos, I specialize in writing all our press releases, and Sam (Obey City) does our mastering.
What led to Astro Nautico wasn’t a lack out in the world so much as an overabundance inside us (of inspiration and creative energy, the product of years of privately listening to and producing music).
What’s the story behind the coining of Astro Nautico and its logo?
For the name we have to turn to Paul Jones: “The name comes from two of the most inspiring things in our lives: the Ocean and Space. Vast frontiers the depths of which may never be fully known to us.”
The logo is a funny story. Paul jacked an image very similar to it off some Tumblr somewhere years ago. He shared it with me and Sam last year and we both loved it, but then Paul could never find where he got it, and a reverse image search on Google shows nothing even remotely similar.
So we just don’t know where it came from. I’m worried it’s the property of some evil Chinese corporation with a death squad legal team. As a preventative measure I vector mapped a similar image in Photoshop, and we’ve been using that ever since.
Adding another layer of protection, my 12-year-old self once earned a green belt in Kempo.
What’s your personal history with music, when did you veer off the commercial music track and start exploring electronic and experimental music?
Growing up on Long Island I played drums with friends in rock and funk bands as well as the school’s jazz ensemble. In high school I worked my way up the drum line. I can tell you with confidence Nick Cannon is a poser.
I think the first time I made music on a computer was early in high school (c.2002) on an old family PC. I made loops using Hammerhead Rhythm Station and a program called TS-404.exe and then plugged them into Cool Edit Pro 2.0 (Thank you, Peter Quistgard).
Still to this day my earliest music stands up as the weirdest, most repetitive and horribly mixed sound I’ve ever encountered. Like if you converted your hair dryer into a microphone and then recorded the sound of that microphone being run over by a subway car and reversed it.
Yeah, straightaway pretty far off the commercial map. I’m the son of two uncompromising individualists so you can blame them for that.
In 2011 you released Slime Beach EP on Civil Music, when did get involved with Mark (label head at Civil) and when did you both decide to release your music on the label?
Mark contacted me about my music late in 2010, about a year before he and Matt (co-owner of Civil) released my Slime Beach EP. Civil’s model as a label is to work with artists over an extended period of time, to build with them. This was exactly what I was looking for when Mark contacted me, so it wasn’t long after that first contact that we committed to work together on a series of releases.
I’ll have at least one more EP on Civil in advance of my debut LP. Hoping for both this year, but I’m in no rush.
I try to make music that won’t expire in a matter of months. Years is another story. But, for example, I produced ‘Slime Beach’ in June of 2010.
Where did you spend the majority of your time writing your music? Do you have a preferred environment or any rituals?
Let’s be real. All the producers I know mainly work from sedentary positions on couches and beds. It’s not too glamorous, but we have to work on our tracks for hours and hours and hours. We get back aches just like everyone else. So we recline. Sorry if that’s not hardcore.
As a ritual, when the above has me feeling like a lazy turd I occasionally do get up and perform diamond cutters. If you don’t know what diamond cutters are, they’re a form of calisthenics. When done right your muscles can cut real diamonds.
In your forthcoming album is there a particular theme or emotion within it? What was your inspiration and vision for the album when you started work on it?
I do indeed have a full-length in the works for Civil, but before that I’m working on another EP for Civil, so I’ll comment on that for now. The new EP is going to pick up where Slime Beach left off: four new experimental club tracks. Each tune began with a sample from a different cassette tape and gradually took shape around that. They’re all faster, 160bpm and up. I’ve been listening to a lot of Footwork.
Astro Nautico’s artwork appears to be heavily influenced by arcade video games, with Super Mario and Sega-like graphics. I’ll assume you played a fair few games whilst you were growing, can you expand more on this adoration for this artistic direction.
Absolutely. Growing up I always thought it funny how in video games your movements and actions are severely limited relative to real life (Press A to jump and Z to crouch, but there’s no button for you to clap your hands or scratch your head or even smile.). And yet, just walking around in a virtual environment can so often overcome you with the sensation of radical freedom (think Zelda, GTA). Off what Paul said above, I think video game worlds are potentially every bit as inexhaustibly explorable as are The Ocean, Outer Space and music.
And that’s the Astro Nautico connection. It’s like, Infinity, man.
Tell me about the infamous ‘crow’ noise featured throughout your records?
Watching the documentary Dub Echoes a while back I learned that, when asked, King Tubby would never reveal where he got his famous cow moo. People were really curious, and some were even jealous. They’d go out into fields lugging big tape recorders and sit there trying to get the cows to moo just right. But, “You can’t mic a cow.”
Years later we learned that Tubby had just got a human friend (presumably a baritone) to hold a cone in front of his mouth and have at it. So yeah, a gentleman never tells. Maybe it’s a real rooster, or maybe it’s the sound of solar flares flaring slowed down 64x. Or is it 63? Review your Dub classics. You’ll find it.
How do you go about sourcing new artists to release records on Astro Nautico? What’s your release schedule looking like so far for 2012 and beyond?
Most of the music we release we hear through friends and friends of friends. Other times we’ll contact someone about doing an Astrocast mix (www.mixcloud.com/astronautico) and that will lead to the artist revealing some amazing unreleased material. It’s awe-inspiring how many unknown music geniuses there are in this world. (Also, as a rule we listen to everything that is sent to firstname.lastname@example.org.)
For our schedule, just this past Tuesday we dropped Abel’s Girls single (peep the Huerco S. remix in my mix). We’ll follow that with two more albums from West Coast artists this Spring, but first, on April 20, we’re releasing Atlantics Vol. 2, a full-blown compilation LP drawing from all of our music friends both old and new. Later in the year we’ll swing back to the Beast Coast, but there are no details on that yet.
What’s your impression of the European electronic music and more specifically the UK scene? What are the good things and the bad?
In the UK new sounds become consolidated media-digestible styles/scenes much faster than elsewhere in the world. For example, Footwork music has been happening for more than a decade in Chicago, but the whole time nearly no one outside of there was listening in. No one knew its name.
Now, thanks to the importing efforts of Mike Paradinas, everyone knows about footwork and knows what to call it, which makes all the difference when it comes to charting scenes internationally.
Once people can name a style, they can try it on. All the pros and cons come from this point, and you know what they are. The cons are the shallow hype-hungry imitators (just spend 10 minutes cycling through tracks on Soundcloud’s ‘juke’ forums). The pros are the deeply respectful but forward-looking Second Wave innovators (people like Om Unit and Machinedrum have led the way).
In other words, behind every wave of hype there are equal parts bullshit and gold. And there’s enough hype in England to go around.
But ultimately, the way the U.K. works musically as a whole is not the kind of thing that can be either good or bad. It’s just a wild system of interlocking influences and actions and intensities.
What is personally so special about a new U.K. sound is that I never know what I’m going to hear when I press play.
You recently played in London, was that your first time in the UK? What experiences did you take from this trip?
This was indeed my first time in England.
Highs: Civil Music takeover of Fabric Room 3, late night fried chicken with S.Maharba, a packed Streets of Beige at the Old Blue, first time seeing Kutmah at Rhythm Factory, three full English breakfasts in a row with Young Montana? (two consecutively at the same restaurant in Dalston), Tim Parker’s You’ll Soon Know radio show on NTS Live, Bare Girls swigging on orange squash out of a chemistry flask in the middle of the night, Yorkshire pudding, and many, many cold pints.
Lows: losing a phone, leaving $200 in an ATM before I even left JFK, and the exchange rate (basically, I’m broke), the busted volume knob on DJ Pyramid’s Juno 60, and the words written behind the altar of the old cathedral in Coventry: FATHER FORGIVE.
Can you please tell us about the mix you’ve recorded for IA? Please expand on the track list and overall atmosphere.
Musical inspiration from Agen and Sharku of 300AD, Howse’s recent mix for Concepto Radio, and an out-of-print Greg Davis tape gifted to me by Matthewdavid (not to mention all the individuals featured).
As usual, lots of unreleased material from Astro Nautico affiliates: Space Ghost, Moist Ghost (We’re working with multiple ghosts right now), RAJA, Time Wharp, Young Montana?, and chits.
The mix is a soundtrack to active remembering. This a unique time for me in my personal life as my family is preparing to move out of the house where I grew up.
The artwork and title (‘Elephant Graveyard’) come from the famous myth that old elephants naturally depart from their groups and travel long distances to ritual bone yards where they perish alone.
That we ever told ourselves this story says more about us as a species than it does elephants.
Nostalgic yearning, temporal amnesia, wandering unto death. “I do not know where I am.”
It’s sad that so many great memories slip off the table of our lives. If only we could be frozen in the absolute happiest moments of our past. Would you choose that? Or would your happiness melt into boredom if you were to dwell there (then)?
Time to uproot. The wheres and whens can only take you so far.
“Your divinity lies within.”
I dedicate this mix to the dog Mandy Burrows. She passed on Tuesday after living very happily for a long time.KuhnAstro NauticoAmbientElectronicaExperimental