If Aphex Twin reaching promotional blimp status struck you as extending beyond his cultural significance, consider the impression it had on Upstate New York’s Photay: “Aphex Twin is like an encyclopedia. 100,000 contrasting genres, production styles and timbres spilling out of one artist.” That same fearless influential spectrum compartmentalized into one person’s creative capacity exists on Photay’s self-titled EP for Astro Nautico.
Originally a member of the Makoshine collective, a group of friends at SUNY Purchase that began making experimental electronic music together, Photay linked up with Astro Nautico at the collective’s Free Candy event. Since discovering and building with the crew, Photay has been honing his personal body of work, heavily influenced by electronic beacons like DJ Shadow, Flying Lotus, and of course Aphex Twin. His music is a manifestation of his travels to Africa and his studies in percussion and turntablism as well. With all of this in play, the self-titled EP winds through exploratory textures of meditative headphone music, like on the dimension-warping opener “Detox”, only to arrive at “Illusion of Seclusion”, which is an expansive instrumental that contextualizes the entirety of Photay’s influences into a magnificent jazz excursion. The lone feature by Seafloor on “Reconstruct” breaks the vocal silence on the EP in the form of the finest electro-pop track you’ve yet to declare your song of the summer. By the time “Reconstruct” arrives at its pristine chorus of recalibrating one’s center, it’s understood that Photay’s malleability will take him well beyond the DIY warehouses and house parties. His self-titled EP is a stepping stone of monolithic proportions.
Your bio says you learned of Aphex Twin at the age of nine. What was your immediate impression of Aphex Twin at the age and now at 21, how has that impression altered?
The first time I heard Aphex twin, I was a hyper lil nine year old, red headed whippersnapper. I remember loving the music instantly. The spastic nature of the music resembled my energy at the time, constantly running around and bouncing off the walls. Back then I knew zero about producing electronic music. Some adult had only told me that all those electronic music guys were using s-y-n-t-h-e-s-i-z-e-r-s.
Currently, I’m back full circle to my nine-year-old music library, loving Aphex Twin, Squarepusher (other earlier WARP artists) more than ever. Now that I actually produce electronic music myself, Aphex Twin is like an encyclopedia. 100,000 contrasting genres, production styles and timbres spilling out of one artist. I really respect the fact that Richard D. James barely follows any trends in music. He inspires me in that I think those bold moves are responsible for the long-term freshness of his music.
Your background includes live percussion and turntablism, but your debut is built on audio software. Did you incorporate any of these past skills into the making of the EP or how did they help in the construction from a digital platform?
Correct! Live percussion and vinyl samples certainly exist on the EP but their presence isn’t huge. I think my background as a drummer consciously & unconsciously seeps into Photay. Though I would like to incorporate more live drumming in the future! In addition, my once broken turntable is back up and running. I’ve acquired an old synth & I’m now 6′ 3″. Excited for whatever comes next!
How did your time in Guinea, West Africa shape your music as Photay?
The music I experienced an played in Guinea was incredible! I was fortunate to study under some really amazing musicians (playing Djembe & Balafon). I’m extremely drawn to the music of Africa and I often incorporate certain elements & sounds into my own tunes. For instance, I have over six hours of field recordings from the trip and I’m currently still sorting through them. However, it’s not exclusively an influence in my sound. Above all, the trip exposed me to a world infinitely contrasting to what I know here in North America.
Did your friends in Makoshine have input and influence on the EP?
Yes! At this point, Makoshine is a synonym for my best friends/ biggest influences. To name a few: Ace Mo, Dali Vision, Kallie Lampel, Yung Gutted and Mood Tattooed. Just a little background, Makoshine is a collective my friends and I formed our freshman year in college. It ultimately became a huge outlet for our music and gave us the opportunity to start playing shows together.
From forming Makoshine at SUNY Purchase, how did you then become involved with Astro Nautico?
All throughout college, my friends and I have been attending countless shows in the city. One night in January 2012, we went to one of Astro Nautico’s Free Candy events. Archie Pelago was playing! The show was soo damn cool. Inside a converted parking garage there was great music, VHS video projections, every color light of the visible spectrum and lots of people shaking their hips. That night I was very fortunate to meet Bennett Kuhn aka the tall man with the big beard. We exchanged a few words, I told him I was a huge fan of everything going down that night and I gave him a Photay “business” card. A month later Sam Obey reached out and asked me if I wanted to contribute a track to Astro’s annual compilation Atlantics. I did! Since then, I’ve gotten to know those guys pretty damn well. Especially after we spent 26 hours together in a land rover driving straight down to SXSW last spring. I think that was initiation.
Overall, I am extremely honored to be apart of Astro Nautico. Infinite support from Sam Obey, Paul Jones, and Bennett Kuhn!
Your influences and techniques are vast, from DJ Shadow and Flying Lotus to seeking field recordings and associative music (akin to Hot Sugar). When it comes down to contextualizing all this into a sound that is Photay, what’s the biggest challenge and what aspects of weighed the heaviest on you in defining that identity?
I’ve often struggled in finding a happy balance between club friendly music and headphone, kitchen, outdoor whatever you want to call it music. The EP is an amalgamation of genres, sounds and feelings I like. Part of the Photay sound is my restlessness and the need to always keep changing and trying new things.
Photay’s self-titled EP is out September 9 on Astro Nautico.