This month, the spotlight turns to James Dean aka electronic producer BUNKR, who has put together an amazing mix of future beats and ambient diversions for The Jupiter Room. It’s a huge honour to welcome James onto the show, especially as he was played on the very first show way back in August 2015. As well as the mix, James has also answered some questions, giving us an insight into his influences, his writing process and soon-to-be-released BUNKR album.
As Lost Idol, James Dean wove delicate and spacious soundscapes dabbling in experimental, jazz, downtempo and ambient electronics. His output has been prolific, earning plaudits from artists and DJ’s such as LTJ Bukem and Mr. Scruff. Through Lost Idol, James demonstrated his musical prowess, infusing his recordings with elements gleaned from a wide array of artists and genres, creating records that were as varied as they were immersive. It was also as Lost Idol that James utilised live and acoustic instruments to bring a tangible and tactile essence to the electronics, evoking an emotional warmth and depth so often lacking in experimental music.
Having released a couple of EP’s in the early 2000’s, James’ first album, Utters From A Cluttered Mind, arrived in 2006 on his own label Cookshop, to much critical acclaim. Brave The Elements followed four years later, taking a more ambient route into twilight electronics. It is a wonderful journey into nuance and atmosphere, a triumph of composition and production that wraps the listener in shimmery coils of sound. 2016’s Chrome Machine Tales saw James move his sound towards more traditional song structures, his voice processed through vocoders wrapped in analogue synths.
With Lost Idol on hiatus, James is now piloting a different ship as BUNKR. All the elements that gave Lost Idol its emotional weight and languid depth are there, with the mood and feel of a post-club chillout room. There are beats and there is bass, yet this isn’t 4-to-the-floor pumping kicks, it’s far more subtle than that. Melody takes precedent, the beats tumble and break into the tide of sparkling electronics and vaporous harmonies.
To date, two EPs have been released both exploring melodic techno elements and IDM. Having more in common with the melodic swirlings of early Autechre or the precision-engineered beats of Plaid, Appl Skies exudes warm, delicate synth textures that evoke a gauzy, somewhat nostalgic mood. Post-storm sonics chime and sparkle with hazy textures to form warm and dreamy escapism. This is an EP of lilting electronic charm. What is particularly interesting is James’ melding of melody, bass and beats to fill space with widescreen ambience that has pace and power, lulling the listener into dramatic diversions. The balancing act is tricky but James is adept at the modelling, finding that netherspace between the ambient and propulsive.
BUNKR is a project that captures the dynamic exquisiteness of Lost Idol and infuses it with sliding, clicking, and crashing sonics. This is the world of folded techno, of hypnotic rhythms and glacial electronics and while there are no vocals, one can almost discern voices in the ether, an illusion created by the stream of melodic eddies. There are swells of gorgeous synth planes that would make Vangelis weep with envy, notes that span horizon-to-horizon, tinkling and shimmering as they fall back to earth. Outerstellar thrums with cascading beats and waterfall electronics. Everything tumbles into pleasing shapes, interlocking with the precision of Tetris.
BUNKR is a leap forward in concept and design, inviting the listener to explore and forage amidst the verdant palms. It is a rewarding journey, one that uncovers more with each listen. New album, The Initiation Well, is awaited with growing anticipation and will undoubtedly prove to be that lost city in the jungle, one that slowly reveals itself to be a timeless masterpiece.
James took some time out to kindly answer some questions for us here at The Jupiter Room:
What is your earliest musical memory?
Fragments of songs from my Mum’s record collection. She used to stick these massive headphones on my head as a young kid and play me The Beach Boys, The Doors, Joni Mitchell and Leonard Cohen at high volume, which I loved. Certain moments within the songs really stuck with me, like the Theremin line at the end of “Good Vibrations” which genuinely terrified me at the time and still gives me the shivers even now.
What did you grow up listening to?
Being a kid growing up in the 1980’s, Sunday evenings were all about religiously taping my favourite songs off the radio during the Radio 1 Chart Show with Mark Goodier and Bruno Brookes at the helm. I think I was around the age of 11 when I really started developing a passion for a particular scene which in my case was hair metal and thrash – so it was Def Leppard, Guns N’ Roses, Faith No More and Slayer all the way. The big game changer was when my best mate’s cool older brother introduced us to Primal Scream‘s Screamadelica – that album, along with the discovery of free parties and mind-altering stimuli, opened the floodgates and led me on to early ’90s rave music, shoegaze and psychedelia. The Orb, The Future Sound of London, Syd Barrett and badly recorded DJ mix tapes from Sterns were the soundtrack to my youth.
Where do you draw your inspiration from, musically and non-musically?
I dig Optimus Prime and not Galvetron, I dig The Leader of the Pack and the Do-Run-Run, Spinderella and Bruce Lee, The Bad and the Ugly, V for Vendetta and Into the Groovy.
Your current project is BUNKR, what is the sound and ethos behind this project and how does it differ to your work as Lost Idol?
BUNKR is basically the records a 41-year old man who stopped going to clubs years ago would like to hear if he did go to a club. Seriously though, I felt Lost Idol had a minor prang with a brick wall – not serious enough to write off indefinitely, but at a point where a little rest and recuperation was needed. The BUNKR project happened pretty spontaneously and I just enjoyed making the music and not over-thinking it too much. Sound-wise there’s parallels for sure – I think both projects have a slight psychedelic bent to them for example – but BUNKR is definitely a more beat-driven, nostalgic beast. It kinda sums up my love for electronica, techno and ambient music.
The visual aesthetic for BUNKR is very distinctive, what’s the idea behind this visual style?
The artwork is all done by a guy called Sam (aka Magic Torch) who basically creates these beautiful interplanetary landscapes. A little bit sci-fi, a little bit prog which is how I like it. My wife actually bought me a print of his for Christmas a while back which I absolutely love, so when it came to approaching someone to produce the artwork for BUNKR he was my first thought. I think it visually represents the BUNKR sound to a T. It’s great having an in-house designer like Sam on board – when writing the BUNKR album there were certain points where I was just sitting and thinking ‘what would Sam draw along to this?’. It definitely had an impact on how some of the tracks on the album came out.
Tell us about your studio setup. Do you use hardware, soft synths, DAW or a combination? Does this differ to your live rig?
I use a pretty unorthodox combo of gear – a few old synths, some cracked software plug ins, this and that. I’ve never been a real studio geek in terms of the gear I use. It’s more about what noise I can get out of something rather than what vintage model it is. For those that are interested though, for me it’s Logic in the studio and Ableton for the live set.
Describe your music in three words.
Far out, man.
What are you listening to at the moment?
The sound of the clock ticking loudly whilst I try and focus on writing these answers.
You have a new album in the works, can you tell us about it?
Yes, the first BUNKR album is all done and at the vinyl factory as we speak! It’s called The Initiation Well and is due out around July on the VLSI record label which is run by the wonderful Echaskech guys. I definitely relish the challenge of recording an album – it requires a very different mind-set than making singles. It’s like carving a bloody big sculpture – chipping away, constantly refining but always with that end goal in mind. I feel satisfied that this album provides the listener with an intrepid exploration of the BUNKR sound world. It’s melodic, pretty atmospheric and a little bit woozy. To be fair I can never really aptly describe my own music, so I guess you’ll just have to judge for yourself.
What’s your favourite sound?
Heavy rain on the window when I’m in bed.
Tell us about the mix you’ve done for The Jupiter Room.
Well, again I didn’t want to over-think this mix too much. I wanted to include a few BUNKR tracks alongside my label mates Jonathan Krisp (whose new album is pure heat) and Echaskech (who turned out a gem of a remix for me), but other than that it’s just stuff I’m enjoying listening to at the moment. So you got some Pye Corner Audio, Mikron, Jon Brooks (aka The Advisory Circle), Ochre and other bits and pieces. I think it’s a good little selection for headphone listening – a slow, languid intro with a bit of movement in the middle and latter half to make you possibly tap a toe to.
What’s next for BUNKR?
I’m really excited to get the album out, definitely want to do some more live shows, and beyond that make some new music. I’ve always just made this shit up as I go along, never really had a long-term plan musically. I think that’s the one good thing about having a slow steady day job that pays the bills – the music is my escape. I don’t need to worry about it putting the next meal on the table or paying for a new pair of socks, it’s pure folly which is pretty liberating really when you think about it.
If you could make music history, how would you do it?
I don’t have any grand plans to make music history. I’d just be chuffed if, in 100 years from now, my great Grandson dusts off a BUNKR LP, plays it to his kids and says ‘Many years ago your Great Grandfather was busy making this strange electronic music. Pretty cool huh?’. I’d be long gone, but that record will far out live me, which is a wonderful thing.
Thank you James.
This show will be broadcast on Thursday 25th April 2019 on Fourculture Radio.