This month I am very excited and honoured to welcome electronic producer Dan Clarke aka Zaflon on to the show. I first came across Zaflon‘s music just over two years ago when I reviewed his EP LDP1 for Fourculture at the beginning of 2016. Ever since I heard that EP I’ve been entranced and bewitched by the deep, mysterious and haunting sounds he creates. Often using found sounds, Zaflon‘s skill is to create deep electronics with a neo-soul vibe. Utilising hip-hop and trip-hop beats, dub bass lines and talented guest vocalists and MC’s he forges a dark and unsettling groove that belongs as comfortably in the main room of clubs as the fabric coated walls of chillout rooms.
Exploring Zaflon‘s music is to take a journey into a whole kaleidoscope of styles, sounds and moods. The mix he has compiled for us here at The Jupiter Room encompasses the full magnitude of his musical vista, pulling together the disparate strings of his sonic bow and melding them into an amorphous whole of shadowy corners and neon sunsets, such is the varying scope of his musical visions.
Delving into his musical past it is clear to see how his sound has evolved:
“AMGDN” from 2009 showcases Zaflon‘s stark production and use of d’n’b and breakbeats. Also present is the drama and epic-feel that would go on to become one of his signature sounds. Where “AMGDN” perhaps lacks the subtlety of his more recent work it does show his influences ranging from dub, jazz, rock and IDM.
“You Cannot Be Serious” features more hardcore breaks and a massive wall of electronic sound. This hits you directly in the gut with its heavy fusions of electronics and beats with a fair sprinkling of samples to punctuate the boiling chaos.
“Intentions” is Zaflon moving his sound closer to acid techno and electro-industrial. Again the samples are inspired adding so much depth and texture to the track creating a cinematic mini-epic and I am an absolute sucker for well-placed samples and these work perfectly, with the squalling 303 adding to the shuddering percussion patterns. This is an alternative dancefloor pounder you can really lose yourself in.
“In A Word” moves us nearer to his current sound. Atmosphere is key here as Zaflon weaves textures skillfully using the abrasive sound and imagery of guitar, beats, samples and synths. Genre’s are starting to be straddled, something Zaflon carries off with great skill and aplomb.
Zaflon‘s work with Gilan on his EP LDP1 is extraordinary and is an artist truly finding his distinctive voice. Production is stark with pointed beats and distorted bassline that frames Gilan’s vocals. “Sincerity” blends earthy with the ethereal whipping up eerie atmospherics and overall fuzz-tone feel.
More recent compositions have been deep, dark and majestic with many featuring in the mix he has constructed for the show.
As well as producing music, Zaflon works for music mental health charity Key Changes as a producer and music mentor. Key Changes provide music engagement and recovery services in hospitals and the community for young people and adults experiencing mental health problems. Encouraging and promoting well-being through music is an incredible way of engaging with communities to help channel energy into positive spheres.
This organisation has helped people like Poetic Justice express himself through his music, confronting the reality of pulling back from the brink of suicide and the intense joy of hearing his track being played on the radio during a visit to a North London barbershop. It is honest and confessional and an absolute banger!
The Jupiter Room sent Zaf some questions to find out more about him ahead of his mix for the show.
Tell us about yourself Zaf.
Hi Jupiter Room, thanks for having me on the show.
I’m a music producer from South London using a combination of live instrumentation, digital sound-design and field recordings to make my tunes. I also produce and develop artists, mix and work for UK’s leading mental health music charity Key Changes.
I grew up in the suburbs and have been engaging with the London music scene from a young age when I used to play in bands and make home recordings on my 8-track. I’ve been involved in many music projects and have been on a wild journey which has taken me from producing neo-soul records in a giant basement to putting on shows in warehouses with live dance acts, working with raw MC’s in studio lock-downs in West London and producing grunge and metal bands. I’ve made TV sound tracks, adverts, developed music packs for iPhone apps and made several lo-fi smartphone documentaries both here and in LA. I pretty much live my life the way I want to and try not to get too damaged along the way.
You currently record as Zaflon, what is the sound and ethos behind this project?
I like to go for abstracted beats and soundscapes combined with trip-hop, post-rock and club music sometimes with a bit of neo-classical thrown in there for good measure. I like to use allot of found sounds that I record myself which are usually natural sounds like tree bark and Thames lock gates. I spend ages working on synth patches to get them as unique and expressive as possible and like to keep things dark and atmospheric even when the energy of the track is up. I use a multitude of different techniques to stay interested in what I’m doing and always combine live recorded instrumentation with a digital approach.
I play guitar on pretty much everything, even if it is mashed up and mutated beyond all recognition (which most of the time it is). I’m also a fan of the classic drum breaks (Amen, Funky Drummer, Think etc) as an ode to the days when I used to make d’n’b.
When it comes to collaborations on Zaflon music I always push people out of their comfort zone and try to avoid anything that even remotely sounds like a cliche if I can. The Zaflon project is a release for me and lets me do what I want without having to please anyone else, so sometimes I make my tracks a challenging listen whilst at other times I want the result to be more bold and satisfying. The way a tune sounds is usually a reflection of what’s going on in my life at the time and what new aspects of production I’m focussing on or exploring at the time.
What is your earliest musical memory?
Spinning around on my belly, trying to breakdance on the coffee table when I was 2 whilst my dad blasted Eurythmics and Rolling Stones out of the hi-fi. Then it would have been my mum chasing me and my sister round the house to classical music CDs and flamenco music.
What did you grow up listening to?
My own musical identity began when I was an indie kid in the 90’s with bands like Radiohead and Manics. I had a band with my school friend Oli Gearing (RIP <3) called Polyphonix. Shortly after indie along came trip hop, big beat and grunge from the states. Then at A Level college I was that weird kid listening to Boards of Canada, Dillinger, Squarepusher, Aphex Twin etc. This was also the time I started producing on my first digital 8-Track (the Boss BR8), it took 100mb Zip Disks and had loads of awesome on-board DSP FX processors.
Then at 18 I did a stint of work experience at Mute Records where I discovered loads of music like Speedy J and Barry Adamson who made a big impact on me. Later on at Uni my tastes broadened and I got into Jazz, Soul and hip-hop music.
Where do you draw your inspiration from, both musical and non-musical?
As far as famous artists go:
Radiohead, Holst, Unkle, The Beatles, Aphex Twin, Kendrick Lamar, Flying Lotus, Nils Frahm, Colin Stetson, Bjork, Nine Inch Nails, Burial, Godspeed, Mogwai, the clients and other staff I work with at Key Changes, The River Thames (upstream), artists I produce and perform with, interesting characters that emerge in my life, tell me their stories and usually get me involved in some form of disastrous adventure which ends up with me having to reassess the very foundations of my existence.
When is your favourite time of the day or night to write/record?
I love doing midnight sessions and find that magic hour for audio is usually from 12-1am but I don’t get too fussed about the time of day I work at anymore because late night sessions are bad for your health and wholly unpractical.
I used to be a night owl but I’ve become more of a morning person through necessity and living in the real world. I love naturally filtered sunlight though and find summer dusk truly inspirational.
How does your live set-up differ from your studio set-up?
I’m literally putting my live set-up together now. It used to be me with Ableton controller, a guitar, a keyboard, a small set of mpc pads and midi pots. I would then have a space on the stage for a guest vocalist and bring the featured vocalists on about halfway through the set. Now I’m incorporating more live musicians into my act starting with a fantastic bass player Anthony Boatright who I just did my first show with at The Finsbury on Thursday which went down brilliantly. I’ll still be going out as a solo performer for more DJ type setups with a minimal controller rig too. My studio set-up, however, is totally different. For a start I use Logic and I work whenever I can, wherever I can, whether I’m using downtime at the Key Changes studios on the weekends or in a cafe or on a train with a pair of closed back headphones. I also like setting my gear up in rehearsal rooms and getting loud and creative through a big PA especially if I’m jamming with a guitarist.
Do you compose quickly or do you spend hours tweaking and finessing your tunes?
Both. When I’m jamming with clients, collaborators or on a roll, things happen quickly and easily and everything feels very free-flowing but when I’m actually wanting to release something I will spend endless hours adding to and refining the mix. I’ll often find myself obsessing over some nuanced detail that makes no difference to the tune but becomes vitally important to me to get right, I guess that’s just part of game. It gets really hard sometimes because I work totally on my own at the latter stages of the production process and usually don’t have anyone to bounce off until after it’s finished but I do prefer it that way.
Tell us about the mix you’ve done for The Jupiter Room.
This is a very special mix and has some exclusive material on it. Most of these tracks are quite recent. At the beginning of 2017 I promised myself that I would put out a new track on Soundcloud every month, it was a bit of a gruelling process in and amongst all the other work I had to do but gave me results that I didn’t expect and took me to places I never thought I’d go. There are also a few collaborations on here too with vocal features coming from Mina Fedora (USA), Lefty and Gilan (LDN). I also put on a remix I did for a Canadian artist called Lights and an instrumental collaboration I did with a childhood friend Joshua.
What are you listening to at the moment/who should we be checking out?
Nils Frahm / Colin Stetson / Shortparis / Anna Von Houswolf / Objekt / House Of Waters / Rival Consoles / Abyss X / G9Luv / Anna Tosh / Lefty
Describe your music in three words.
Dark Melty sympho-noise.
What’s your favourite sound?
Can I take 3?
The sound of a steel boat hull being hit with a large wooden stick just below the surface of the water.
The laser-like sound that train tracks make as a train approaches the platform.
If you could make music history, how would you do it?
I want to set up an inclusive music studio where people from different backgrounds and disciplines can safely collaborate with and learn from each other.
I’ve witnessed first-hand how regular music engagement can help people in many aspects of their lives and I’d like to set up a studio that is centered around wellbeing and creativity in equal measure.
I’d also like to be the first person to sell a million billion records in a day but whatever…
What are you currently reading?
Grief Is The Thing With Feathers by Max Porter. It’s a really beautifully written story about how sometimes the most damaged and dysfunctional person can play a healing role in people’s lives.
What’s next for Zaflon? Where can you see your sound developing?
More 3-dimensional mixing, more live instrumentation, deeper Reaktor patches, traveling further for sound recording, more organic sounding synthesis, deeper structural complexity.
My big aim for the coming year is to start traveling more with my music, whether that means playing live or working travel plans into collaborations.
When are you playing live next?
I’m currently booking shows so if you’re reading this send the offers my way 😉
Any new releases in the works?
There’s a lot of unreleased material included in the Jupiter Room mix and I’m continuing my programme of 2017 by putting out a new track every month over 2018 on SoundCloud. As for full-scale releases, I’m seeing if any decent labels are interested before I self-release again.
Any collaborations or remixes in the pipeline?
I’m currently producing a trip-hop artist called Ishani involved in a collaborative project with art rocker Anna Tosh and a few tracks with bass player Anthony Boatright and violinist Mónica Viñoly. I’m also working with a talented Hip-hop artists Lefty who you can hear on this mix too.
Many thanks Zaf.
Thank you Jupiter Room, It’s been a pleasure and an honour.
All pictures from artist’s Facebook.
This show was broadcast Thursday March 29th 2018 on Fourculture Radio.