In the current climate of electronic music, it is easy to bury oneself in the plethora of records that are released on a daily basis. All too often we find ourselves bombarded with tracks that hold little true value as a listener. Rarely do you find a producer who can completely stop you in your tracks, utterly immersing you in the beauty of their creation. Phaeleh - real name Matt Preston - is one man who possesses this ability.
Since his debut release in 2008, the Bristol based producer has honed in on his own cinematic sound that incorporates elements of classical, garage, dubstep and electronica. His latest EP, 'All That Remains' is set to release on April 22nd, showcasing the downbeat, ambient stylings that have been sorely missed during his sabbatical from the music industry.
The lead single 'Mountain' is as upbeat as it is solemn, shifting from deep twisting synths to minimal house drums and uplifting keys, while Preston’s second single 'Remember' nods towards garage influences with chopped up female vocals coupled with melodic drum patterns. As he prepares for his EP release later this month, we sat down with Phaeleh to chat about fabric, Bristol, Miles Davis and mood lighting...
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First things first, where did the name Phaeleh originate from?
In terms of the name, I'd been using different names for gigs I was doing around 2005/2006 and decided I needed to commit to something long term. I wanted something I'd made up so there wasn't a chance of someone else using it, and getting a Myspace and things would be easy too. In terms of spelling it's a mixture of a few words I liked visually, with a conscious 'ae' put in there which I think was influenced from old Greek names, I think the 'L' was put in to break up the word vertically. It was very much an aesthetic decision, and when Google said there were zero results I decided it was the one. It certainly has become a talking point, more than I could have imagined.
Your latest project 'All That Remains' is set for release later this month, what were your main inspirations on this project and how did it come together?
All the tracks were written with different albums in mind, some have been kicking around for a while and some are more recent. I had made the mistake of signing to a label which resulted in me releasing no music for two years, so after we decided it was best to go our separate ways the first thing I wanted to do was get some music out there, as I'd made so much over that time. I've definitely been inspired by my earlier work pre-dating Phaeleh, where the emphasis was on capturing live performance, whether that's synths, guitars or something else, rather than spending ages programming things and avoiding a lot of the imperfections which makes music more human.
Your tracks have a truly immersing atmosphere to them; do you like to create a similar atmosphere in the studio that mirrors the music you’re creating? I’m picturing lights low, lava lamps lit, shoes off, real cosy kind of vibe…
I think it's very important. I can think of only one released song of mine made in daylight, everything else is generally done through the night as it's always seemed easier to create an environment I feel I can be creative in. It's also fair to say my mood lighting game is pretty damn strong, too.
When listening to title track 'All That Remains' I felt a kind of Aphex Twin mood to it. Would you say he is a producer that has had any influence on your music?
Absolutely. I've always said in terms of inspiration and where I've come from creatively that electronica is definitely more my roots than anything more obviously dancefloor based. The older Aphex stuff along with his better known aliases definitely had a big part in my earlier work, and especially the more ambient stuff, which also got me to actually listen to some Philip Glass, Steve Reich and Brian Eno properly, which my music teacher at school had been telling me to do for years.
I think the three albums which really made me take electronic music slightly more seriously and spend more time in Cubase was 'Selected Ambient Works', Prodigy 'Experience' and LTJ Bukem 'Producer 01'. I think down the line 'Making Bones' by Red Snapper and the Breakbeat Era album made me realise that guitars and computers could actually work pretty well together.
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It certainly has become a talking point...
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Despite being unique in your approach, the sheer depth to your sound has led many to align you with dubstep. What are your thoughts on the current state of dubstep in 2016 and do you have any producers in particular that you are feeling?
I'll be honest, I have no idea what's going on in the grand scheme of things. I'm not a record buyer, I don't know what music genres people are on about, I was just very lucky 10 years ago to be surrounded by a lot of active buyers and DJs, so was exposed to a lot of music and club nights which showcased a lot of dubstep. On top of that, when I started doing the Phaeleh thing I was getting sent so much good music it was a lot easier to feel involved. I'd say that pretty much everyone I knew then who was playing it and buying it 10 years ago isn't now, and I can't remember the last time I was sent a dubstep promo.
I also think a few years back the term dubstep covered so much music, where as now I think people are a lot quicker to come up with sub-genres for whatever reason. This isn't to say nothing is going on, as there inevitably is, I'm just not as aware of it these days. There are definitely people like the Chord Marauders crew making awesome music around 140bpm, which I would still call dubstep, but at the same time if I played it to most people they wouldn't think it was due to the type of grooves and overall musicality.
I do think a lot of the producers doing the 160 thing at the moment are really capturing the essence of hearing those older tunes on a system, and it's at a tempo where I think you can have a lot of fun mixing in other stuff as well.
One city that boasts an almost unparalleled connection with dub and dubstep music is your hometown Bristol. As a Bristolian, how much would you say the city has influenced your production?
Whilst I've been based in Bristol for a while now, I wouldn't claim to be a proper Bristolian as I only moved here in my 20s, though I'm from nearby and my family all sound like pirates so I guess I'm not too far removed. If I'm honest it was the older Massive Attack or Portishead stuff that caught my attention when I was younger. I wouldn't say the more recent stuff had an influence on my production, but the experience of living in the city, playing nights and the people I met over the years probably have.
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I'm just enjoying having creative freedom again...
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Who would you say is the best talent coming out of Bristol in 2016?
I'm so out of the loop I couldn't tell you in terms of new artists. But the producer I've rated as most consistently making great music is probably Arkist. I'm never quite sure where Versa and Rowl are based, but there's some Bristol connection there from what I know so I'll mention them too. Djrum is the producer who has probably killed more producers aspirations than anyone else, so despite the fact that every release he makes makes me want to format my computers and start again, I could never tire of his stuff. I'm also loving everything Rhyming in Fives is making at the moment, he does a great job of fusing cinematic synth epicness with more traditional dance elements, and I definitely had some producer envy when I heard his recent releases.
The first time I saw you play was back in 2012 at fabric, it was a pretty special atmosphere in Room 3 and definitely one I won’t be forgetting soon. You’re returning to fabric next month and have curated the line-up for Room 2 bringing in the likes of D-Bridge and Om Unit. Why did you select these artists in particular?
I basically wanted a line up that I would want to listen to. I've been really lucky with those playing the nights, with people like Djrum, Versa and Rowl and Zed Bias getting involved too. They're all people I respect musically and personally. I also really appreciate genuine people in this industry. Everyone on the lineups for the Bristol and London shows have always been down to earth friendly people when I've spent time with them, and I think the music compliments each other well. I'm really looking forward to both shows!
Aside from those memorable moments at fabric, do you have a favourite set you’ve played or a moment during a set that has really stuck in the memory?
I think my earlier shows were my favourites, or at least the ones I remember the best. I have some found memories of early shows in Lithuania, Poland and Russia amongst other places, as well as my first tour which was in Australia and New Zealand. Whilst the travelling is always exhausting, it's always refreshing to see how welcoming people are around the globe.
I think the two recent festivals which stick in mind would be Shambhala in Canada which I played in 2014 and Envision in Costa Rica in 2015, it was kind of crazy to see the support I had at both of them and also the level with which people connect with the music in settings like those. I definitely saw a lot of tears at both of those shows, and for me, generating an emotional response in the listener is the main goal of making music, so I hope it was a case of that, and not my stuff triggering some horrendous comedowns.
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I definitely saw a lot of tears at both of those shows...
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Who are your guilty pleasures when it comes to listening to music?
I've always had a soft spot for having a cheeky garage and house mix at home, but I really don't spend enough time listening to music as everything I work on normally needs my ears. In the rare chances I do have time, I've been dusting off some old albums which includes a fair amount of Wes Montgomery and Ronny Jordan, and slightly more worryingly, I have recently been enjoying 'Tutu' by Miles Davis.
What is one track that you’ve got on regular rotation right now?
Anything by Afriqua.
What have you got in store for the rest of 2016 after the release?
I'm still taking it kind of easy on the gig front. I burned myself out quite badly around 2012/2013 so I've only got a few things lined up. I'm heading to the States for Sonic Bloom festival and doing a handful of gigs over there. I'm dusting off the band live show for a few things over the Summer, and whilst I still haven't done half the things I'd like to with it in terms of creative ambition, I think we'll probably have it as as more regular show before the end of the year.
Over the next month or two I'll be applying the finishing touches to my follow up to the Somnus album I did a few years back, though I'm not rushing it too much, but that will be out this year. I've also thrown away so many albums in the last few years, that I'm starting to think about doing something with some of those tunes before I bin them forever, but part of me likes the idea of starting from scratch again and not swamping people with too many releases.
So we'll see what happens, I'm just enjoying having creative freedom again, and being able to work on different things at the same time and avoiding the tunnel vision that so easily happens when you're putting all your time into one project.
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Words: Angus McKeon
'All That Remains' EP will be released on April 22nd. Catch Phaeleh at London's fabric venue on May 6th, and Bristol's Marble Factory on May 7th.