Members: Bastien Raymond, Anthony Antcliffe
Interviewee: Anthony Antcliffe
Current Release: Ashkabad's Fire Drop is out via Flower Coast / Patch Work.
Recommendations: I would recommend, for those who do not know him, the painter Jerome Bosch (15th century) who is one of the pioneers of surrealism and his very spectacular “Garden of delights” on display at the Prado museum in Madrid.
And finally the album Opus Incertum by the group High Tone which was for us the starting point of the love we have for Dub. And surely one of the founding stones of the French touch of the genre.
If you enjoyed this interview with Ashkabad and would like to know more about the duo, visit their official website. They are also on Instagram, Facebook, and Soundcloud.
When did you start writing/producing/playing music and what or who were your early passions and influences? What was it about music and/or sound that drew you to it?
We started playing music when we were teenagers, first with instruments, guitar and voice for me and drums and then bass for Bastien. The computer however arrived quite quickly and allowed us to have home studios early on - and therefore the possibility of composing at home.
As for influences, personally, my first emotions, I had them in the car to go to school. My mother made me discover Sting, Sade, Queen, sublime extraordinary voices, and my British father introduced me to 70s rock like Led Zep, Hendrix and of course the Beatles! I then very quickly fell in love with the reggae rhythm and its offbeat guitar skanks.
Bast fell into the pot of French electro dub of the 90s at a very young age. It was he who allowed me to discover the plethora of groups that existed during this golden era, and for us revolutionary, with its High Tone, Ezequiel, Kaly Live dub, Brain Damage …
This how we embarked on our exploration of our love of Dub, its ethno samples which transport you, its deep bass, the infinite possibilities of crossings, of experimentations it offers.
When I listen to music, I see shapes, objects and colours. What happens in your body when you're listening and how does it influence your approach to creativity?
I already think that our listening to music has evolved over time. You don't really listen to it the same way before and after learning music. It also requires us today to make an effort not to listen to music in an analytical way, especially when it's dub!
At the same time, it is also what drives our creativity forward. A bit like beat makers who sample old jazz vinyl. We can be inspired by a sound, a rhythm, a piece of melody, and this in any style.
I will say, in order to better answer the question, that for us it is the color of the piece that will often influence our composition and the pieces that particularly affect us. And it is the dark, minor, melancholic colors that will speak to us.
How would you describe your development as an artist in terms of interests and challenges, searching for a personal voice, as well as breakthroughs?
I think the biggest challenge for an artist is not to rest on their laurels. Never be sure of yourself while having sufficient confidence in your legitimacy.
It seems to us that since the creation of the group in 2011, we have always wanted to experiment. As I said before, dub is a bottomless pit for mixes, crossovers. It can be found throughout our discography. We have a lot of different music and styles in our personal tastes, and they evolve over time, so do our compositions.
We have also always thought that live concerts should reflect an integral part of our universe. This is why for years we have been working with Gautier, our soundman and lightman, on a light show and stage decoration and precise sound. To advance as an artist, you have to be well surrounded by the right people of course. We are lucky to be able to count on our producer Arnold from Patchwork prod, our turner Aftrwrk and our label FlowerCoast
I think it's all these factors that make us find our own path and keep moving forward.
Tell me a bit about your sense of identity and how it influences both your preferences as a listener and your creativity as an artist, please.
Wow this one is not easy!
Personally, having dual nationality, French and British, I feel a bit torn between 2 identities, 2 cultures. Is this one of the reasons why we find songs that are very calm and others that are very angry? Maybe …
What, would you say, are the key ideas behind your approach to music and art?
The main idea is first of all a devouring passion, a visceral need. Composition is our way of emptying the excess of emotion, as others choose painting, theater or sport.
It is so deeply ingrained in us that we decided to try to live from it. And we feel extremely lucky to have the opportunity to make a living from music. Living from your art is very rewarding, and it's a virtuous circle, we have time to make it grow and mature.
How would you describe your views on topics like originality and innovation versus perfection and timelessness in music? Are you interested in a “music of the future” or “continuing a tradition”?
That's a big question!
Although we are focused on innovation, the search for modern sounds, the use of the latest software and virtual instruments, we like to keep some touches specific to reggae and dub. Like for example the presence of the guitar skank live.
But it is true that we particularly like to push the doors of modern styles, like trap and like the possibilities of crossbreeding offered by techno, trance and other styles of bass music.
Over the course of your development, what have been your most important instruments and tools - and what are the most promising strategies for working with them?
The main tool was the computer, MAO (musique assistée par ordinateur / computer-assisted music) software. It is the basis of our creative process. Bast and I work on the same software, which allows us to work remotely. By living 100 km from each other, it is obviously very practical!
The fact of having worked on the same software for a long time allowed us to become intimately familiar with it. It is therefore infinitely easier to transcribe the music you hear in your head and bring it to life.
Take us through a day in your life, from a possible morning routine through to your work, please.
It starts with a coffee for me, a tea for bast. This is the basis! Then every day will be different. There are the days of composition but also those dedicated to the management of the group, the preparation of the concerts, the communication …
For the composition, again each session will be different. There are days when we start from nothing, or from an idea, from a sample. And there are those where we will continue an idea already advanced. We can choose to send one of these projects to one of our colleaguea to see if he has ideas to make it evolve.
Ultimately, the only routine is hot water in the morning!
Could you describe your creative process on the basis of a piece, live performance or album that's particularly dear to you, please?
For the composition, it often starts from very litte. But we feel a potential in this “very little”. Then, if this idea is good, we often hear a continuation like a grain of sound, a rhythm, a melody ... With time and a little experience we learn quite quickly to recognize the pieces which have a strong potential and those which may never give anything. Besides, we have plenty of these on our hard drives!
Afterwards, there is a phase that I particularly like, it is the evening that Bast and I spend when we have to decide on the “concept” and the cover of an album. This is often an opportunity to taste a good rum and give free rein to our imagination.
We are very complementary and at the same time very connected, which often gives a ping-pong of ideas that end up creating the concept.
Listening can be both a solitary and a communal activity. Likewise, creating music can be private or collaborative. Can you talk about your preferences in this regard and how these constellations influence creative results?
We do both. Each session is important to us.
It's good to be able to create material each on our side but also to find each other so that the creativity of the other is found in each piece in order to create the "Ashkabad" identity.
We always do a session, often isolated in the forest, before each album or EP release. This is an opportunity to listen to all the projects, to sort and advance the selected pieces.
How do your work and your creativity relate to the world and what is the role of music in society?
The first link with the world is found in the mix of styles we make. We really like to introduce instruments of different ethnicities - Asian, Oriental, South American sounds …
Then, in terms of the messages we try to convey, the main theme we address is that of respect for nature, for our environment. We are both very sensitive to the damage caused by man and the repercussions on future generations.
Despite this, we do not necessarily see ourselves as an “engaged” group. Music, for us, must remain a moment of relaxation, meditation, or else dancing and letting go.
Art can be a way of dealing with the big topics in life: Life, loss, death, love, pain, and many more. In which way and on which occasions has music – both your own or that of others - contributed to your understanding of these questions?
It was as a teenager that I understood the power of music, mainly through the texts of Kurt Cobain. They allowed me to feel less alone and to understand the melancholy I felt.
Our music is usually instrumental, but in some of my lyrics, I was able to use writing as a catharsis, to better understand the ills that gnaw at me.
To write a song is to synthesize, analyze and therefore concentrate the problems that we carry within ourselves. In a way, it's digesting, to move forward better.
How do you see the connection between music and science and what can these two fields reveal about each other?
First, I think that listening to music improves neural connections and brain health in general and that learning music is as beneficial as learning another language. Then, when you create using the computer, you can really get into the physics of music and waves. We can better understand the harmonies, the textures, the rhythms.
And finally, isn't music a link with our own heart and its beats and the pulsations of the blood in our veins?
Creativity can reach many different corners of our lives. Do you feel as though writing or performing a piece of music is inherently different from something like making a great cup of coffee? What do you express through music that you couldn't or wouldn't in more 'mundane' tasks?
What is certain is that composing after a good coffee is very pleasant! I don't think composition is inherently different from painting, sculpting, or even cooking. The main thing is to exteriorize your feelings and sensitivity and use them in the form of expression that suits you.
When we accomplish mundane tasks, we often engage very little of our imagination, our creativity.
Music is vibration in the air, captured by our ear drums. From your perspective as a creator and listener, do you have an explanation how it able to transmit such diverse and potentially deep messages?
Certainly the entry point is the ear but behind it is a biological act that starts. Emotion is linked to hormonal production that will carry a message, happiness, sadness …
What is also interesting to note is its power over the whole body, without necessarily going through the ears. Aborigines, for example, used more than 5000 years ago, what is called "didgeridoo healing". The principle is to adapt the fundamental as well as the harmonies according to the pathologies.
The patients were lying on a wooden structure, which made it possible to apply the vibrations emanating from the didgeridoo to any part of the body, to the point of feeling the waves penetrate through the skin.
And having had the chance to experience this in Australia, I can attest to the incredible power of this traditional method!