Taking his cue from seminal mix albums of days gone by, Glenn Astro is back with a compilation of original productions from a cast of fictional artists on Nothing Is Real, releasing May 4.
Across 13 tracks, the Tartelet mainstay celebrates the thrill of discovery which came as standard listening to new entries in series’ like X-Mix and DJ Kicks, moving between head-nodding downtempo, ambient techno, broken beat and all manner of chill-out room delights. You might be left wishing artists such as DJ 1999, Mental Trance and Eye Soul8r had actual discographies to go and explore, but as Astro himself is keen to point out, “nothing is real.”
Astro has never been shy to embrace classic tropes and tones in his past albums for Tartelet, Apollo and Ninja Tune, but he’s drawing on a different set of influences for this album and embracing the flexibility afforded by using imagined aliases for varied production styles.
“I had the idea to do a mixtape, preferably with unknown dance tracks that also reflect that whole 90s/early 00s vibe,” Astro explains. “Instead of digging for some records that haven’t been sourced yet or trying to find those ‘forgotten’ treasures, I made the tracks myself. That way I had full control over BPMs, feel and the whole arrangement of tracks. I thought of a few alter egos and started producing the tracks in the order that I intended to play them in a mix. In the end a whole compilation of tracks emerged.”
While the concept might suggest you’re going to hear a lot of over-familiar sounds, don’t be fooled. Astro is inspired and inquisitive, channeling the experimental spirit of the 90s and early 00s when electronic music was still continually being redefined in all kinds of micro-scenes. In many cases, Astro’s productions slip into the cracks between genres rather than specifically mimicking a style.
In the run up to its release on May 4, the album will be framed by four key single releases which embody the omnivorous attitude Astro brings to the album. As Crystalline Reality, he explores classic breakbeat in detail, fusing it with starry eyed ambient techno synthesis in an unlikely but wholly convincing combination. Eye Soul8r’s ‘Autumn Subs’ injects ambient synth work in a Fax Records style with a rolling drum funk calling back to the trip hop era. ‘Steppers Worldwide, Unite!’ by The Foundation lands somewhere between pitched down breakbeat hardcore and dubstep, echoing the seldom-mentioned breakstep sound but injecting it with a subtle touch of dub techno. Brain Liquor’s ‘Jaque?’ revels in beatless, Detroit-informed machine funk, laces in some wriggling 303 squelch and gives everything a generous dubbing, but hold tight for the plot twist.
Even if the reference points are detectable, the end result is a curious blend as indebted to ambiguity as the overall concept of the compilation. Like the spine-tingling sensation of hitting play and awaiting the waves of unknown sonics on one of those seminal mixes, you never know exactly what you’re going to get as you take the trip through Nothing Is Real.
“In terms of dance music, the 90s and early 2000s are pretty much the blueprint for everything that I’ve later on made myself,” Astro admits. “At the same time, I don’t want to be overly nostalgic about it. We often look at those times, specifically the Y2K years, as being a lot simpler, realer, more honest, which in some cases might even be true. Simultaneously, it's insanely naive. Everything plastic isn’t necessarily futuristic, you know?”
Nothing is Real drops May 4th on vinyl and digital.
Crystalline Reality - The Growl (Crystaline Mix) - February 8th
Eye Soul8r - Autumn Subs – March 1st
The Foundation - Steppers Worldwide, Unite – March 22nd
Brain Liquor - Jaque? – April 12th