Montreal, 2008: Paul (Paul Jones) was high on life. He started a radio show on CKUT 90.3FM to act as a canvas for the sounds he was listening to, from blurry L.A. beats and hazy London post-dubstep to bewildering tape collages and lo-fi psyc rock. The show was dubbed “Astro Nautico,” taking inspiration from outer space and the ocean: twin infinities, emblems of borderlessness itself.
As a friendly gesture, Paul would reach out to artists featured in his mixes. Sometimes people would return super appreciative words and even exclusive music. Over time, Paul came to feel that people were listening, had been listening, and would be listening, and so began the intense process of maturation known as growing cojones (or “gaining self-confidence”).
In 2009, Sam (Obey City) and I (Kuhn) came aboard. We three were already best buds from our shared youth playing in bands in our hometown of Huntington, Long Island. Our future funk three-piece Groove Gravy once legendarily devastated a sea of emo nerds at the 2004 Huntington High School Battle Of The Bands with a face-melting rendition of “Fight For Your Right.” You could say we three got our musical sea legs together. So when Paul, Sam and I graduated from college, and Paul approached us about whether we'd been making or listening to any electronic music on our own (we had), it all locked in.
Whatever we listened to and liked went up on the new Astro Nautico Blogspot. After a while, we thought it would be cool to release a batch of our own original productions, so we slapped together our first official release (“official release” meaning Mediafire .zip file): Atlantics Vol. 1 (2009). It was a condensed 6-track seapunk-before-#seapunk index of our still-incubating music minds.
We genuinely had no idea who if anyone would listen to Atlantics, but we got a couple hundred downloads and in fact Impose ran an article about it. We were stunned, like a bright light had flashed in our eyes. It wasn’t that we thought we “blew up” or anything; it’s just that for us to throw some music out into space and ping back solid encouragement from people all around the world was like raw discovery, pure vibration.
[Photo by Lorenna Gomez-Sanchez]
Over the next year or two Paul, Sam and I released solo EPs. Paul formed an international collective of video artists and began pushing the limits of the VHS medium (this would develop into the production company and Astro Nautico visual affiliate Paris Group International). Sam had already met Travis (Machinedrum) in 2009. Sam passed Travis his new Astro Nautico tracks, and Travis introduced Sam to Dom at LuckyMe, which has so far resulted in two Obey City EPs for LuckyMe: Champagne Sounds (2013) and Merlot Sounds (forthcoming). I connected with Mark at Civil Music, and through a deeply enriching back-and-forth slash mentorship I have so far released two Kuhn EPs with Civil Music: Slime Beach EP (2011) and Kings EP (2012).
Simultaneous to these developments, we allowed Astro Nautico to become a venue for other producers, scaling up to the level of a full-fledged net label. In 2011, we opened our gates to Howse (later Tri Angle), Raja (later Ghostly International), and The Range (later Donky Pitch). Our curation revolved around a nucleus of styles including footwork, beats, RnB, and ambient. Then in 2012 we pushed further afield, releasing a series of records from West Coast artists (Dreams, Space Ghost, Abel, Dane Chadwick) as well as two artists originally from Atlanta (Time Wharp and Moist Ghost), plus a cross-cultural VHS-sampling compilation with Daytripper Records of Osaka, Japan. In May 2012, we dropped Atlantics Vol. 2, which was significant to us in that we three original artists were now surrounded by music from friends all around the world, bridging all kinds of cultural disparities and providing a broad representation of the label's sound.
CAUSE 4 PAUSE:
Apart from Minneapolis duo Comanche's time traveling debut full-length Silicon Basilica plus another jam-packed international Atlantics Vol. 3, this year we took a (long) moment to collect ourselves and plan for the future. From mid-June to mid-July we were astounded and humbled to raise almost $9,000 in a Kickstarter to fund the production of a series of 12″ vinyl EPs. (Thank you to all our supporters!) Our first release is by Pennsylvanian lone wolf melodic dance artisan Chits. His Custom Hype EP was released digitally last week, with vinyl soon to follow on Nov. 26.
This is running long, so here are a few munchable facts: we took over Boiler Room NYC this summer, hands down one of the most fun nights in the label's history (archived performances should be live in coming weeks); our monthly Astro Nautico party at Freecandy in Prospect Heights celebrated its one-year anniversary in July; and our ongoing series of mixes called “Astrocasts” (previous artists include Lapalux, The Range, Space Ghost) is stacked for the rest of this year.
[Photo by Elizabeth D. Herman]
Looking (/hearing) forward we steady maintain full of optimism, encouraged by the fact that every year our home of New York regains some corner of the limelight it deserves in the world of electronic music. Also we are proud of the fact that we were never doing this for anything other than the music itself, which is to say for our friends and ourselves and our city and our time and how all of that sounds.
If you were to ask me what’s the one thing that unites our artists’ many sounds, I would say it is the unique way these folks balance respect for roots with drive toward innovation. As ever a point merging twin infinities, paradox of constant flux, impossible bridge: Astro Nautico.
The following mix was curated by Paul Jones.