A Sagittariun is a project that, totally focused on music, opted to avoid the limelight that is often synonymous with a DJ or producer’s career. Having recently waived his anonymity, A Sagittariun still operates at the fringes of the scene delivering quality records that, by his own admission, can slip under the radar a little too much – perhaps owing to his reluctance to fire up the PR machine.
The majority of his work can be heard on Elastic Dreams, the Bristol-based label he has run for the last eight years and on which he has already released a prodigious 17 records. A total of 30 years in the business have taught him a great deal about running labels, agencies and the commercial aspects of making music, so we were lucky to squeeze in a few questions on the back of his contribution to Owain K‘s Innate 002:
You’ve been in the game for some time, albeit under different aliases. Your latest pseudonym, A Sagittariun was originally designed to be anonymous, to preserve that mythical and intriguing image – but what made you abandon that anonymity? Did the period of anonymity achieve what you had intended for it?
First and foremost, the concept behind the A Sagittariun project has always been focused squarely on the music, and for me, on a personal level, to fully indulge myself in producing the roots music that has had such a profound effect on me. I initially ran the project in a completely anonymous way, not only to remove any preconceptions, but also as a game really, a test to see whether or not I could create something that would have some interest and gravitas without resorting to the social media ‘me me me’ mentality, the style over substance mentality, I wanted to see how far it could run really, for my own personal amusement.
I didn’t really have any expectations at all, so it’s hard to say whether or not I achieved what I had set out to do, I made a couple of albums and a bunch of singles and remixes that I am extremely proud of and that I think stand the test of time, they tick my own boxes which is the most important thing for me. If anything, the anonymity of the project, I think at times, literally made it so anonymous that nobody was listening. I’ve been largely ignored within the techno scene, for the simple reason that I don’t make enough noise, there’s plenty of other artists singing and waving their hands around, I guess it’s the old adage, “those who shout loudest’ haha!
Why did I come out of the shadows? I guess I got tainted by the lure of what might be on the other side by unveiling the cloak, removing the anonymity, believing that by doing so that the opportunities to further the reach and interest in the project might grow, but that hasn’t really happened that way. It did get me a feature on Resident Advisor though, so every cloud and all that.
What are your feelings towards the obligatory social media presence of artists? Does it say something if an artist is so focussed on Instagram, premieres and press Vs plying their trade? If the music is good enough – will it get the recognition in the end?
Whatever floats your boat really, but for me, it’s kinda tiresome, and a complete distraction to the music. In fact, I’d go as far as to say it’s all a load of bollocks really, it’s not got anything to do with what I’m doing or interested in doing. I have a small but loyal following on Facebook and all that, and I like to keep the true believers up to date with the music, so I use it to my own advantages, I don’t let social media use me.
Unfortunately I don’t think that recognition comes to good music alone, we’ve gone beyond that point now, it seems that every aspect of an artist’s trajectory, and the music that comes with that, is managed and marketed and packaged in bite sized social media chunks and finely tuned hype. I’m sure there’s some exceptions to that, but I think that the media play a much bigger role now in filtering what music gets pushed through to their audiences and what doesn’t. It used to be the case that record labels and tastemakers shaped what the media wrote about, but it feels now that the media set the agenda for what music the record labels now sign up.
You’ve been pretty prolific (2 albums and 18 EPs!) with the alias since its inception – is music a full-time occupation for you at the moment?
Music has always been my full time occupation since a very young age, so it’s in the blood really. I have a day job within the music industry but I wouldn’t say I’m a full time music producer, I produce music in spurts and often at odd times of the morning or evening or weekends. But really there’s no lines between making music and occupation, it’s not like you can turn it on and off like a 9-5 job or whatever, in fact I’ve never done a 9-5, music is my every waking hour (and in my dreams too) so I don’t know any different really.
You’ve spoken before about your music wanting to make a statement, to get the listener to really take notice and say, “wow, what the hell is that??” – but where and how did you learn to make music and what artists did you hope to mimic with your first forays into electronic production?
I don’t set out to make music that grabs the listener, rather that I need to make something that grabs me first. Otherwise there’s little point to doing it in the first instance. I find it difficult to craft more ‘functional’ music, it doesn’t pique my own interest as much as when I’m just going with my own flow and taking the music to places that are beyond functional and to a place that really comes from my heart. As sentimental as that sounds, it’s an honest approach that I can only work to.
I learned to produce on the fly really, I was in punk bands in the late 1980s which informed me a lot about the attitude of doing it yourself, but it took me many years of listening and working in the electronic music scene before I actually started producing, and perhaps that’s gone in my favour as I’ve a wider palette of sound and influence to draw upon. It’s not really a case of mimicking any one artist, but I do have strong influences that come through in my music, and not just musical influences, film and social history also shape the attitude of the music. I think the quote you are referencing is out of context a little, most music is made by accident, I don’t set out with an agenda, if a happy accident occurs that makes my music unique, then that’s the beauty.
Have you felt previously that working in music (running a label/agency) and being an artist (having to create yourself) are complimentary activities, or does admin and focussing on commercial aspects erode artistic creativity?
I don’t really think of it in that way to be honest, I just do what comes naturally to me, and what I’m driven to do. Working in the music industry does give me an edge in that I try and create something that’s against what I might be doing with other artists or other projects. Making music is a release for me, I’m not necessarily doing it to be part of the club, so to speak, rather I’m doing it as a direct opposition to other things that I’m involved in.
You have previously spoken about your love of radio and of days spent recording chart shows to cassette as a youngster. You currently have a show on the mighty Leeds-based KMAH radio – is there still space for listening on the airwaves in the face of streaming platforms such as Spotify and Soundcloud, or do you see radio listening figures declining?
Indeed I do love radio, been an avid fan since a boy, listening to Radio Luxembourg late into the night through a one ear piece headphone, to discovering John Peel on Radio 1 and having a whole new world open up to me. I enjoy doing my show, it keeps me in touch with current music and I enjoy seeking out music that moves me, as it should do. Music is pouring out of so many platforms, which is a good thing, music is as accessible as it’s ever been, so I think there’s room for all the ways in which people listen and follow music. I do the Telepathic Heights show for my own pleasure, and if one person joins in with my enjoyment of the music, or 1,000 people, or 10,000 people, then it’s all good, I don’t pay attention to play counts or listener numbers to be honest.