Talk about perfect timing. Just as the summer heat ignites thoughts of sunnier climbs Afterlife arrives with this latest instalment of refreshments. Into The Heat begins via sun soaked rays suggesting a cosmic refrain, with echoed voices pulsating alongside the rhythm of generous percussion and soaring, celebratory keys. The expansive sounds which fuel Wanderlust then perpetuate the notion that something good is about to happen with suggestive swirls of emotive synths, sprinkles of piano and a deliberately intense expectation. Jolly Up, completes the series of originals with a four on the floor chug of driving beats accompanied by chimes of joyful resolution destined to feel hot on the sound system.
Last but not least are DJ Rocca’s remixes of Si Si Si from last year’s Naif EP. Not surprisingly the tantalising Erodisco mix replays the influence of the 1980’s into fresh movement with vocal stabs alongside a neat line in bass. The tempting colours of his most impressive Dark Arts mix finishes as introspective layers synthesized sound create dangerous corners to lose yourself in.
The end is where we start from. Echoing Elliot’s timely vision is a sound place to begin this next instalment of compositions designed explicitly by Steve Miller aka Afterlife. Four equally seductive numbers quench the thirst for all things musical beginning with the sublime title track: Burning Man. Probing at thoughts of environmentally sustainability, which fit into the jigsaw of chaos engulfing the planet at this very moment, the music offers some form of resolution as blistering chords are shallowed by a chorus of Dub inflections and driving drums. Followed by the enviable low-slung chug of Dub Baby, space is employed allowing for contemplation via a swirl of heart-strings plucked, translating a world of emotions. The beautifully haunting strains of the exquisite Konishi then contrast vibrantly with evocative keys striking at the world on fire. While, Jupiter Rising ends the journey on a high as carefully crafted notes collide over taught beats amid the euphoric warmth of 1980’s keys.
At the core of the music created by Afterlife life exists somewhere between lost and found. Looking inward, forever reaching out. Capturing moments as if they were yours to live, a shared experience if you will. The title track, Naif can be located on a sunny upland offsetting its sunshine rhythms with brushes of grainy Dub, alongside a pulse of deep bass – translating Jamaica via Chicago. And that early House influence can also be witnessed on the proceeding, Si Si Si with its Knuckles styled bassline, slung low, amid a cascade of finely tuned snare-drums. As with all the numbers here it’s in the detail where you find the magic crafted, with thought process and imagination set free to live and breathe. The quietly epic, To The Beach is perhaps self-explanatory, yet as bliss unfolds there are hidden depths to be discovered in the breeze of Balearic charged warmth. Dune, completes via a sassy shuffle inspired by the world of rhythm (from Talking Heads to The Beatles) which sees the artist redefine a playful approach to life. Here, Now and After…
Once upon a time you might smoke something. Today, maybe you look up at the blue, sunshine sky to get your satisfaction. Either way this tranquil, yet probing set of music plugs neatly into the lineage of sublime, chilled music that you can all too easily apply the imaginary word Ibiza too. Red Moon sees a collaboration between Afterlife, Lenny Ibizarre and James Bright on three of the productions as the title track gets frisky with a series of punchy rhythms, while Earth Rise hits you with a rush string infused richness, high on atmosphere and life. The particuarily excellent Left Bank is the most up-tempo and energised number of the three, feeling suitably refreshed via the thump of four on the floor kick drums alongside a heady swirl of effects, vocals and melodic musicality. The System then sees a solo Afterlife expand reverberating sounds deep into the horizon as the pluck and twang of reggae influenced sounds sound magnificently invigorating all over again.
Music is about feeling. Right? The bottom line is where the depths of emotion reach out to. It may cause you to feel a, b, or c (maybe all three at once). Some music you listen to, you nod your head, and it passes by. Neither really here nor there. Functional cause and effect. Then there exists music like this. So, on that very note: Afterlife.
Steve Miller’s production guise will doubtless suggest certain things to certain people but what he has achieved with this new album is quite breath-taking. In certain part that is down to the sheer wealth of ideas which have been incorporated into this freshly imagined musical equation, defying, then defining expectation. There’s a sense of play here which doesn’t get tied down to any particular notion, or indeed feel tired after the longevity of creating music of quality for decades. There is also a sense of joy as the sounds play on. Take the second track, Back To Mine for example which contains the sort of beautifully executed chord sequence that sends shivers rushing all over the spine – the true indication of bliss. Or even the tougher dancefloor pulses sparking Berimbau to life, follow that by the deep string intensity that sees Celluloid resonate across the horizon. All of this is music exploring everything. Which then brings us right back to the title of the album – a statement in itself. But not before tasting the fragrant African flourishes of Kora, Kora, Kora and the broken rhythms of Shelter, via the Mashti remix of keynote Afterlife number: Speck of Gold, which again retells a story from the artists rich history of reference (another avenue to explore). Back to the beginning. Music is indeed all about reflecting what you feel about life, love and everything.
Welcome back to Magazine Sixty, Steve. You are in the process of crowdfunding a vinyl release of your Afterlife album Speck Of Gold from 2003. So the first question is why have you decided to revisit that particular album in 2018?
Earlier this year I created a post on social media asking fans what they would like to see me release to celebrate 25 years of Afterlife in 2019. A sort of “Best of Afterlife” if you like. They all asked for it to be on vinyl and specified their favourite tracks, a lot of which were from the original Speck of Gold double album on CD. Even 15 years since its release it is still one of my top selling albums digitally so it made sense to be the first album in a vinyl format since Simplicity 2000. This release is Vol.1 only as with vinyl the maximum playing time per side for top quality is only 21 minutes max. If it proves popular then vol.2 with the remixes will follow. I thought it would be a nice touch to have gold vinyl rather than black. It was great to dig the premasters out of the archives and have them mastered with full dynamic range for vinyl only. These masters sound better than the originals.
And the second is talk us through the process of crowdfunding itself. Something which wasn’t an available option as such back in 2004?
Diggers Factory provide an elegant solution to producing short limited runs of vinyl. You specify a number of discs to be produced. They recommend a campaign period of 50 days to receive the pre orders. Once that amount is met then production starts and the wax is delivered to Juno Records for delivery to each customer. In this case I specified 200 copies. If pre orders do not reach that figure then everyone who ordered it will be reimbursed automatically.
What does Crowdfunding say to you about the breaking down of barriers between audience and artist and how each can now interact directly?
I think the concept of crowdfunding screams AUSTERITY loud and clear. In this case it helps cash strapped non mainstream artists and labels to still release vinyl which has expensive set up costs that may result in a huge loss if they misjudge their market. That’s OK for big labels to absorb but small labels can go bust. There’s a lot of talk about the resurgence of vinyl sales on the increase but the amount is still pitiful in comparison to digital downloads and streaming which is a shame because the sound quality on vinyl is just so much better. I have bought rare vinyl on this basis and when it arrives I get a warm feeling that I was part of a bunch of people that actually made it happen and treasure that.
Generally crowdfunding seems to be the new way for new ideas to become a reality via a populist vote unless you have a friendly bank manager or an investor that will want a share of the business. It’s a more transparent way of doing business and that can only be good.
What does the album’s title: Speck Of Gold signify? Why did you choose Cathy Battistessa in particular to sing it? And can you tell us about how you married the music to the vocal?
The track started as my reaction to the utter horror of the 911 attack. The world had become a very fearful place and I felt it was only the start of the madness to come. I began the original track the day after and it was incredibly dark hip hop.
Cathy and I had discussed writing a track together so I called her and said “I have this really dark track that needs the sunshine of your voice”. When she sent the vocal back with those pure, melancholic lyrics I realised that the backing track needed to be more hopeful, less despairing, to create the right amount of juxtaposition, so I rewrote the track from scratch working with the vocals as inspiration. Still too dark. Three attempts and two years later it was finally complete after at least 100 hours of studio time. Naturally it had to be the title track for my next album.
The original album featured a number of significant guests. Is there a certain track which you feel resonates more now than it did in 2004? Or did one of the collaborators capture something that has defied the time in-between?
It has to be the title track Speck of Gold. Right now the world is in so much trouble due to human greed and stupidity it resonates more than ever with the opening line “Hope is all we have, with each birth, every tear, we have hope”.
It’s time we put our differences aside once and for all and started living with compassion and intelligence. This world could be a beautiful place and we, at the moment, as custodians need to take responsibility for it.
And finally. What else have you been working on, are there any forthcoming plans you would like to share moving into 2019?
I am just working on the finishing touches of my next album called Everything Is Now which is scheduled for release on 7th June next year.
Sometimes it gets to the point were saying nothing is enough. And I would suggest those moments arrive in a slow motion of procession when listening to Steve Miller’s beautifully realised visions of clarity. Three pieces occupy the release so let’s begin at the start: Tao gives rise to ONE. Soft bell chimes and swirls of igniting pads signify more of a life-affirming experience than words perhaps have the ability to capture. Its like you don’t want the warm glow to end as you find yourself lounging in addictive, tranquil bliss. ONE gives rise to TWO follows expanding the time frame to twelve minutes and again plays with your imagination as dream like sculptures of repeating sound drift in and out of consciousness. Finally, TWO gives rise to THREE completes by doubling the minutes into an expanded twenty three minutes of wonder. By the way, something sublime occurs at the eleven minute mark as a subtle change of emphasis calls into question your expectations. However, at this point I’m going to stop talking and recommend you press play for yourself.
So, String Theory. Is it about strings or theory? Or the combination of both? Perhaps the opening GIVE IT UP reveals part of the answer as its soaring combination of fiery Trumpets, rushing arpeggios plus timely drum-breaks alongside refreshingly cool chords all eventually crash and burn, while disintegrating into the rather beautiful Like This, igniting a sense of past times via engaging rhythms and evocative atmosphere’s. The album’s title track then feels reassuringly familiar touching upon classic Balearic vibes moulding sunsets amid poignant instrumentation that in turn play with a variation on strung strings. However, blue sky thinking is firmly grasped on a number of tracks and the darker, more intense edges relished on the likes of the blistering BARBUDA along with the deeply resonating SPANISH FLY move the music in intoxicating directions. The probing, blissful electronic weirdness generated by the echoes contained within the particularly brilliant final number, LAST SUNSET perhaps best gather up all that previous information and transform it all into epic proportions completing another first rate realisation from the maestro Steve Miller. As a bonus two remixes complete this latest long player with the first track, Give It Up getting frisky and jazzed up care of WOLF Music’s Medlar, then contrasted by Futureboogie’s Christophe who injects further party excitement into it all.
Afterlife’s brand new album feels as much about breathing in life as it does about celebrating it. Opening up the possibilities is the self-aware (and rare) On The Inside (co-written/ performed by Coldcut’s Jonathan More and Matt Black) which plucks a sense of George Harrison from the ether as vocalist Holly Chand fuses the cosmic together with finely tuned production values. That feeling of the expanse unfolds with the proceeding The Way To San Jose as gently strummed guitars illuminate the horizon of Balearic futures. And much as before the music then traverses differing occasions and atmospheres via punchier drums on the funkier On Being – you register a theme now? – while taking a dip into the light via the more downbeat, though strangely uplifting, Disparu. The equally captivating Frankly My Dear also ploughs relaxed yet conversely invigorating sensibilities affording your mind a holiday of its own location, as the frankly wondrous cover of War’s timely The World Is A Ghetto ends with a rush of emotion which you will find throughout your being. Poignant electric piano engages with the sentiments alongside pulsating waves of drums and bass signifying the power of music and musicality all in one easy lesson. Let’s see what the Winter brings after….
Subatomic ‘s latest shot across the horizon sees multi-instrumentalist Micko Roche tease the airwaves with perfect harmonies and beyond. And what’s particularly wonderful here is the diverse nature of the sounds as the play fast and sometimes loose with identities and atmospheres. From the low-slung kick drums that drive the delicious opening title track forward to the liquid funk of the proceeding Slow Train the album proves to be much more than just the sum of its parts. Listening to this feels like a celebration of life, albeit without the darker moments, but by absorbing all of those gorgeously breathy vocals will prove to be as good a lesson in existence as any. Numbers like Coumshingaum then simply surpass themselves with the kind of excessively blissful guitars that wouldn’t be out of place on Crosby, Stills and Nash’s debut album, and from me that’s a compliment. The wash of stereo eventually finds its logical conclusion with the suitably pulsating beats plus harmonious words of The Sea, though not before Afterlife performs magic upon both Baltimore and Slow Train on two bonus versions. Choice.