“I’m in London preparing for a show at Fashion Week, so I’m sort of homeless at the moment, just crashing on couches and wherever I can.” Maybe I’ve spent too long on that DJs Complaining Tumblr, but Joe Cornwell seems to be revelling in his current residentially challenged state with the buoyancy of an artist who knows he’s on the cusp of something big. Joe Cornwell is the one-man beat maker GHOSTCHANT.
Four months ago, I interviewed an enthusiastic young producer who after a debut live show and his first residency, was just tiptoeing into the Liverpool music scene. Four months is a long time. Returning from Croatia’s Outlook Festival, GhostChant is now on the promo trail as he prepares for his debut single Laid To Rest to drop on the 31st October, under the prestigious Barely Breaking Even imprint. With an album expected early next year, his career certainly appears to have taken a remarkably steep trajectory. I mean, when we first met, the term ‘bedroom producer’ seemed to apply a little too literally, as he presented his idea of what electronic music meant to him from the safety of a few low key live shows and online mixes. Now though, he cuts an impressive figure here in Liverpool, name-dropped by media outlets all over the UK and playing acclaimed live sets at the GIT awards and, more recently, the Liverpool International Music Festival. I repeat – four months is a long time.
Joe’s relationship with BBE came about through a mutual contact of his manager, Joe explains gratefully: “My manager, Andy, works with WordySoulSpeak who are also signed to them. So when the label asked him if he had anyone else worth checking out he sent over the new single. The guy came straight back and said ‘yeah, we have to meet up’.” The rest writes itself, with Joe now calling the likes of Phantogram, Henrik Schwarz and DJ Jazzy Jeff label mates as he prepares that, as of yet unnamed, full length. “At the moment I’m stacking up about 18-20 tracks,” he says confidently, “narrowing it down to around 11-12 for the album, three of which will be singles with heavy vocal tracks on them. I’m really interested to make it work as a collection though, rather than standalone songs. That’s all going to be an extended part of the songwriting process though: taking a step back and seeing how they merge together – almost as if it’s a 70-minute set.”
In the May 2013 issue of Bido Lito! Magazine, Joe willingly placed his music within the context of UK Garage or more specifically, ‘Future Garage’, as we discussed the influence the resurgent 90s genre had on his early recordings. Whilst I wouldn’t say that he’s distancing himself, the term certainly resonates a lot less. “I do sit down now and just think right, ‘do I want this track to be more two-step, more half time, a more house-y feel’,” he outlines animatedly as he describes the songwriting process for the album. “Then I work with my arsenal of sounds and get the beat from there. It’s only as I go along that I start to hear the influences come in. Like, I might listen to it back and go ‘oh yeah – that sounds like Mj Cole or Bonobo’. I’m trying to stay open-minded when it comes to the general feel of the record though, starting with that deeper, more dubby sound, and then just experimenting from there.” This whole ‘future-garage’ thing is more of an idea really, rather than an actual genre, as producers take very small and marginally defining characteristics of UK Garage – like the shuffling hi-hats, the beat-skipping kick drums or pitch shifting – and appropriate them with the basic principles of current tastes and trends. Joe speaks as an artist carving his own way now though, and with a full length out soon he has the opportunity to focus his wide palette of sounds into a body of work that can be defining for him as an artist and not just a genre in which he operates.
GhostChant is at his most disarming and affecting when you are reminded that, despite the technical prowess and shadowy abstraction on show, Joe Cornwell is human after all. His brief catalogue of work has a striking ability to condense vast, evocative backdrops into just three short minutes, hiding all the finer details of the vocals or melody under a murky surface and creating immersive layers of depth. He is making music that rejects human interference for something much more calculated, moving into a more cerebral place and aiming for the more personal aspect of the way we experience sounds, rather than those primal urges that much of house and techno targets. This is evident on Laid To Rest, where the recurring vocal line of ‘You don’t know the way’ and its inherent rhythmic qualities help anchor what are almost chaotic scenes around it, keeping the dramatic away from the grandiloquent and creating a piece of music that is devastatingly affecting. And despite a rolling, metal on metal drum and bass beat underlying the track, it certainly isn’t aiming for the dance floor, instead creating a profound sense of subtlety and grace – you know, that kind of introvert, headphone bliss that you would experience with your hood up on a bus journey instead of at 5am when you’re playing God with your brain chemistry.
“Technology has made music accessible in a philosophically interesting way,” said Thomas Bangalter in a recent interview with Pitchfork, suggesting that producers have a responsibility to connect with listeners on a more personal level than the more derivative and commercial side of dance music would have you believe. Whilst I’m not suggesting there isn’t an art to crowd pleasing, electronic music is often oversimplified into two main components: melody and rhythm. GhostChant is fighting to ensure that texture and tone are never overlooked. And, at the moment, none of these tracks feel like they have to be any one thing. You could imagine the album being littered with pieces of pure, ambient soundscapes as easily as with fully-fledged, verse-chorus songs. What is certain though is that, whenever the album does come out, it will be an evocative and immersive soundtrack, written for a sustained and rewarding look within.
Laid To Rest is out on BBE Records