A journalist friend of the family, Robert Hattaway (find him here on Twitter), got in touch to say how he wanted to write about the Public Possession Chill Pill II comp. It's an insight into the musicians and how they work to make this sort of sound. Lovely. Over to Robert...
Public Possession’s Chill Pill II presents a global survey of contemporary downtempo and chillout sounds. With both label mainstays and affiliates exploring the more contemplative side of electronica, we took the opportunity to speak with some of the artists involved, touching on subjects including staying creative during the pandemic and the healing potential of ambient music.
Simon Popp, whose meditative ‘Amina’ opens the compilation, describes how, at the outset of the pandemic, he struggled with the absence of live performance in his creative life. “I wanted to work full-time on my new album, but unfortunately I wasn't very inspired the first few weeks”, says the Munich-based drummer and composer whose pre-pandemic schedule had seen him performing regularly with groups including Runden, Fazer, Roosevelt and Abstand, the German word for ‘distance’ that’s now a prominent feature of daily life in the country.
DJ Chrysalis has also felt a lack of inspiration with the absence of clubs. In Melbourne where he’s based, the pandemic has had a particularly devastating impact and the city’s usually vibrant music scene has been paused by lockdowns put in place across the state of Victoria. Like most, he’s spent the majority of his time at home due to the restrictions that have been introduced including 8pm curfews and the requirement that people stay within a 5km radius of where they live. “Without the music, arts and cultural activity, Melbourne has lost a lot of the spirit that draws people in and keeps them sustained”, says Sui Zhen, speaking from her partner’s family property in Monbulk near the Dandenong Ranges in rural Victoria. “I think many people are reevaluating their future lifestyles given that the city itself is no longer serving its functions.”
This is certainly true for Vanessa Worm, who, after spending the first of Melbourne’s lockdowns in the city, decided to move back to her hometown of Invercargill, New Zealand. The situation in New Zealand stands in start contrast to that of their antipodean neighbours. The country is almost completely free of COVID-19 thanks to swift lockdowns in the early stages of the disease and the island nation’s ability to closely monitor its borders. Both she and Eden Burns, who also made the decision to return from Mel- bourne, had to spend two weeks in government-monitored isolation facilities upon arrival. Despite only having made two songs during the course of the pandemic, she says that the experience has helped to her clarify ideas surrounding her practice and given her a clearer idea of the kind of music she wants to create.
For some artists, the pandemic has meant more time to dedicate to making music. Ruby Kerkhofs, who produces under the name Nice Girl, says that she’s been producing far more than normal. “I felt like [before] life was moving so fast I couldn’t keep up”, she explains speaking from her hometown of Christchurch, New Zealand. Recently, she’s been trying to push her creative boundaries, collecting recordings from her dad’s improvised rehearsals, attending some experimental nights and picking up some instruments. Despite the unfortunate cancellation of a SXSW appearance and an extensive touring schedule disrupted, Sui Zhen has still had a range of projects on the go and has been working on creating exhibition scores in addition to some music supervision work. She’s also recorded a series of isolation jams that may manifest as something in the future, though she’s not putting unnecessary pressure on it. DJ City has found plenty of inspiration in reading during the past months, but likewise emphasises the importance of not putting too much pressure on creative projects. “I’ve been trying to remind myself that it’s ok to also have non-productive days, to take breaks and not force creativity”, says the Berlin-based artist. Bell Tower’s workflow has been put on hold for more pragmatic reasons. Living on a fourth floor apartment that gets quite hot in the Berlin summer, his laptop simply hasn’t been able to handle the heat.
For many of the artists featured on Chill Pill II, chillout and downtempo music has been an interest for some time. DJ Chrysalis explains that, while he’s only just started to dabble as far as his own productions are concerned, he’s been fascinated by these sounds ever since his uncle showed him a Moby CD at a young age. For Bell Towers, early exposure came in the form of a Sunday night experimental/electronica show on Australian youth radio station Triple J and DJ City notes that the eclecticism of prominent nineties labels like Warp, Rephlex and Metalheadz was a big influence. "I remember when Metalheadz put out their tin box set with artists like Hidden Agenda, Source Direct and Dilinja. Almost a third of the tracks were downtempo. Lemon D had a track called Urban Style Music that really inspired me to explore ambient and trip-hop further.”
Rather than citing the influence of specific artists, Vanessa Worm explains how downtempo and ambient music signifies a stage in her creative process. “After a creative block or break from making music, my first songs back are normally far more stripped back”, she says. Made in the early days of adopting her current moniker, the ethereal tones of ‘Orion No.3’ can be seen as the result of a period of artistic renewal. Similarly, Simon Popp describes how process has informed the direction of his music, a manifestation of the meditative state of mind that he tries to achieve when playing or writing. “When I started working on my first solo album it somehow went into that direction automatically”, he recalls.
“I think as our attention spans shorten, listening helps us escape the digital stimulation”, muses Nice Girl, responding to the suggestion that ambient and downtempo music act as an antidote to our digitally overstimulated lifestyles. It’s an interesting idea to reflect on, particularly with an increasing amount of our lives occurring in the digital realm. “I think ambient was partly created as an antidote to our real-life stimulation”, says Munich-based artist Occupanther, who believes that it might be similarly applicable for digital de-escalation. While it might not be an effective countermeasure for everyone, as Sui Zhen explains, sparsely arranged music can be useful for slowing down the mind and connecting with the body. “It’s best enjoyed when you zone out and take your time”, says Bell Towers, a sentiment echoed by Vanessa Worm, who notes that, though its effectiveness will vary between different people, ambient music can require patience. “We could always do a little more with that!”
Further to this great piece from Robert, our Bruce wrote this brilliant review a while back which we sat on to run alongside this piece...
For many of us, days like these don’t really call out for bleak music; we’re already wallowing in our internal mire, and in this year of angst, we hardly need a reminder. Nor do we require our nights to be filled with music that’s overtly celebratory; for all but the most foolhardy of us, the ineffable joys of dancing in a crowd of sweaty bodies seem like a distant fantasia. Perhaps that’s why a release like the Public Possession label’s ‘Chill Pill II’ compilation feels so welcome right now: It’s brimming with the kind of music can make you feel like everything’s indeed gonna be okay, with just enough weirdness to keep things interesting. With a couple of exceptions, these are tunes that are more interested in a dopamine embrace than an adrenalin thrill.
A bit of backstory: The first Chill Pill comp, released almost exactly a year ago on the Munich’s far-reaching Public Possession label, was meant to provide the soundtrack to Ibiza’s (quite possibly apocryphal) Eivissa Gardening & Recreation Center. As such, it sketched out a dreamland version of the Ibizan sound, more like a hazy remembrance of balearica than an actual rendering. Most of its tracklist, featuring the likes of Bell Towers, RIP Swirl, Andras, Tornado Wallace and Sui Zhen, was something close to magical. No need to fix what ain’t broke, and so ‘Chill Pill II’ fits into pretty much the same template.
The lead track, Popp’s contemplative ‘Anima,’ sets the tone. The ambling percussive notes of what sounds like a mbira is blanketed by sheets of resonant tones, with a simple drone of a bassline laying out an evocative melody. Sui Zhen makes a repeat appearance with the minimalist pop of ‘Another Time,’ her speak-sing voice adding a layer of candied charm to the tune’s velvet throb. Other returnees include RIP Swirl, whose ‘Whacked,’ with its peeling bells, stately pacing, twangy chords and windswept aura could pass for a scene-setting excerpt from the score of a long-lost Sergio Leone film. (It’s one of the few ever-so-slight hints of unease in a compilation more concerned with woolgathering.) The pitched-down boogie of Bell Towers’ ‘Precious’ has the vibe of an opiated roller-skate jam, while Nice Girl & Michael’s hymnal ‘Conjunct’ forges glides along like a stroll across a dewy field at sunrise.
Elsewhere Vanessa Worm’s ‘Orion No.3’ is a dreamland melody, it’s sighs and swoons lingering well beyond its three-minute run time; DJ Batman’s relatively epic contribution, the ten-minute ‘Hello Darkness My Old Friend,’ blends various gurgles, thrums and reverse-tape effects to melancholic effect. JD Twitch’s ‘Jimi’ wraps its ‘All Around the Watchtower’–referencing melody around sighing synths, arrhythmic plunks and a voice spouting beat-style poetry — it should be a bit of a mess but it’s actually quite affecting. In one of the comp’s more forceful cuts (which isn’t saying all that much in this languid company), Young Marco’s ‘Encarta’ tempers its marching-to-paradise majesty with delicate chimes and just a touch of wistfulness — like much of ‘Chill Pill II,’ it’s the aural equivalent of laying on your back in a verdant meadow on a warm day, watching the clouds drift overhead. It’s not in a hurry to get anywhere, and that’s sort of the point.