Borealis’ 2014

Back in December I caught up with Borealis aka Jesse Somfay, the talented Canadian producer and DJ, currently signed to Los Angeles label Tipping Hand. Somfay has a fantastic ear for sound, both in his own work, and when he gets behind the decks, as his 2013 session for Mantis Radio proved.

You’ve put together a chart featuring some of your favourite albums from last year. What was it about these albums that, in a really strong year for electronica, made them stand tall above the ocean of the many other excellent offerings?

The end-of-year-list is a strange creature to me. I decided to be a little bit of a chameleon this time around and select a very small segment of the music that inspired me most from this year and from the past – the 1980s in particular. I have only included four releases from this year but by no means were they the only releases that I enjoyed just as much.

As you say it has been an incredibly strong year for creative electronic music and I have heard so many great releases from this year alone. It has been quite some time since the last time I can recall such a quantity of quality music being released into the wild. If I didn’t have as much time as I do, I would have a difficult time keeping up. These four albums are from artists who I have consistently found create their own veins of gold to weave their own tapestries from and most certainly they have kept up that tradition with their most recent opuses.

I am always more fond of music that sounds very extraterrestrial and from the outside of what is normally found in most zones of music. The album which I felt most resonant with this year has been Aphex Twin’s Syro. It reminds me of so much of the music from the 1980s, which I know and love deeply, but it sounds like it is from a completely different universe – one which I can relate to even more so than this one.

I will not gush too much about it but it is easily one of the most relatable albums that I have heard in my life so far. Everything that I have wanted to hear – and some things I didn’t even realise I wanted to hear – emotionally and aesthetically in electronic music is present in Syro and because of that it really has challenged me to dig deeper and travel further outward as a listener and as creator.

It has solidified the inspiration within me as a creator to look further outwards from what presently exists and to explore further beyond where music of the past has left off but never really progressed further from. There is literally an infinite potential of exceedingly beautiful music waiting to be created and brought into this world and it is albums like this that very clearly demonstrate these potentials in action. It is a wonder why more people do not follow these unknown paths – the results can be excruciatingly wonderful!

Do you agree it’s been a strong year? I don’t mean just in terms of the quality of releases but also that strong, hard music has really been pushed by many these past 12 months. In particular the tough as nails, industrial techno that’s been raging in clubs in London, Berlin and Europe. As a stateside artist, but one that has been supporting the sound in part with your more melodic rich and deeper sounds how has it been over there?

I have listened to a lot of what could be considered the continuation of harder breeds of 1990s techno – from where it left off – this year and I completely agree that there has been an upswing in the boldness of music being released lately. This is something that I like to see! It is inspiring to see creators willing to go into territories that are familiar, but instead of repeating the known motifs blatantly, are taking them into the unknown instead.

I am very picky with this kind of music personally since I came to know techno from the first cluster of waves of harder techno in the 1990s. Though I have heard a lot of the old tropes repeated in the past couple of years there has been a lot of innovation and exploration as well. I am particularly fond of the present wave of gnarly, saturated, 4-track cassette deck techno and house (a couple more well known examples being the music that comes out from the L.I.E.S. and Berceuse Heroique camps).

Although it is a different kind of enjoyment from the more melodic music that I primarily enjoy, I resonate quite a bit with the textures and percussive structures that are present in a lot of these works – they play upon my synesthesia really nicely! I always enjoy it when new synesthetic experiences are provoked within me in new and unique ways – it is a thrill that I find difficult to describe literally.

I can’t really speak accurately to the current state of this kind of music here in Canada and North America since I don’t go out to events at all. I’m a very isolated person by nature and by choice so I’m not entirely aware of what the zeitgeist is in Canada or if there even is one or not. What I can say I do notice though is that there is a lot more interesting music coming out of Canada now than there has been in a while – artists like Khotin, Lnrdcroy and Boreal, labels like Forbidden Planet, Mood Hut and Pacific Rhythm and a number of others. There is new light coming to life in electronic music here and I am excited to see where it leads!

Some huge returns have happened in in 2014, namely Warp released Aphex’s Syro and only in 2013 we had the return of  Boards of Canada’s with Tomorrow Harvest. As a fan of both musicians back catalogue, were they worth the wait? Did they deliver? It was, what, 13 years since Richard D James last did an album proper.

Both albums were well worth the wait. I’m not one to be impatient for music and I believe that creators need whatever amount of time it is that they need to come up with something that they are truly content with. When it comes to expectations from other creators; I have only the expectation that they do what they themselves truly desire and need to do, and not what I or anyone else might personally desire for them to do.

As for Syro, I have listened to it many times now and in 2013 I listened to Tomorrow’s Harvest just as often and enjoyed it just as much. Each time I hear and feel something new and a little bit different than in the preceding listening sessions. They both have had profound effects on me as a creator and as a listener in general as most of their music always does.

I use charts more so to share some of my favourite selections with others who might not already know of this music so I will often leave out some of the more well known releases in favour of the lesser known ones – or once popular works which are no longer as present in the electronic music zeitgeist – that I enjoy for those who might want to dig further and deeper. I can’t recall if I included Tomorrow’s Harvest in my charts from 2013, but even if I have not, it has been one of the most inspiring albums to me since it was released. Autechre’s last two, Oversteps and Exai, and their associated EPs, have also been on regular rotation.

Another album that has been consistently inspiring me since I first heard its demo versions is Henry Saiz’ Reality Is For Those Who Are Not Strong Enough To Confront Their Dreams. I don’t make mention of it simply because he is a dear friend, but because it truly is one of the most genuinely inspiring bodies of work present in my life and it helped me on a deep and personal level when I first heard it. Some music is so close to the heart, so precious, that it can effect the way you live and feel for a lifetime. This album has had that profound and impact on me.

I have to admit that I’m currently not well versed in present day music outside of electronic music because I have chosen to isolate myself to primarily listening to music from certain eras from the past. I presently like to listen to music that I would not want to make myself but that I am genuinely inspired by and take lessons from. In this way I am less tempted to lift styles from other contemporary artists and instead encourage myself to create my own vein of gold to mine from.

Borealis’ 2014 chart.
Aphex Twin – Syro [Warp Records]
VHS Head – Persistence of Vision [Skam]
The Bug – Angels & Devils Ninja Tune]
Clark – Clark [Warp Records]
Tangerine Dream – Exit [Virgin Records]
Tangerine Dream – The Keep [TDI]
Slowdive – Souvlaki [Creation]
Depeche Mode – Black Celebration [Mute Records]
Simple Minds – Sons And Fascination [Virgin Records]
Orchestral Manoeuvres In The Dark – Dazzle Ships [Virgin Records]

Interview conducted December 18th, 2014.