Eskmo: Hypnotic Electronics Guided by Intuition

Eskmo: s/tEskmo: s/t (Ninja Tune, 10/4/10)

Eskmo: “Cloudlight”

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Brendan Angelides, the San Francisco-based electronic producer known as Eskmo, is not holding back anymore. With the release of his Hypercolor EP in 2009, he focused on writing “songs” instead of “dance tracks.” Because smaller dance labels tend to expect a specific track structure (intros, outros, breakdowns, etc.) on vinyl, Angelides was confined within a tight box of creation. But with tracks like the hypnotic, introspective “Harmony,” he was able to distance himself from the tired conventions of dance music. “I started to release exactly what I wanted without thinking about labels or what anyone else wanted,” he says.

Angelides has created music since 1999, when he took his moniker from Eskimo, the 1979 album by San Francisco avant-garde group The Residents. He first used the moniker as his alias on a full-length album that he created for a high-school graduation project. In place of the final paper that he needed to write to graduate high school, Angelides wrote and produced a complete album. “Then I knew I could make something,” he recalls. As to why he dropped the “I” in Eskimo, Angelides offers no explanation. “It just made sense to me at the time; there’s no other reason than that,” he says. “Now I joke [about it] and say that it’s not about ‘I’; it’s about ‘U.’”

He is equally mysterious when asked about his creative process, preferring to let the music speak for itself. “In terms of what feels right to me, I just dive deep into an idea, step back, modify, dive in again, step back,” Angelides says. “I Dream I’m Flying,” from Hypercolor, is a good example of the artist’s swirling, crunchy brand of dance-friendly electronica. The song forgoes any discernible intro and outro, while a military-march beat and rhythmic cascades of sound propel the listener from one uplifting sonic height to another. In typical understated fashion, Angelides says, “It’s weirder than your typical dance electronic.”


“Weird” is one way to put it, but “more innovative” and “more interesting” are a bit closer to the truth. These are meticulous compositions that reject predictability in favor of a consistently progressive and complex soundscape. On each track, Angelides develops a base layer of restrained polyrhythmic discord. Grimy dubstep beats are coupled with textured percussion that, instead of boring into your ear canals with bass-heavy brawn, seems to expand and take root. Found sounds are re-purposed in audio collages and become a part of Eskmo’s unique musical language.

On his eponymous full-length, released on Ninja Tune in October of 2010, track titles like “Cloudlight,” “Color Dropping,” and “Moving Glowstream” point to the highly visual characteristics of Eskmo’s music. His songs develop an unmistakable tone quality that begs for colorful descriptions like “warm” and “bright.” His album covers are similarly expressive, drawing from the same aesthetic wellspring that is the music. The art for Eskmo is blanketed in soft, glowing pastels, with an alien-like Angelides floating in ethereal repose. The layers of daubs, scratches, and drips — like the fragments that form the music — aren’t immediately apparent, but they make the sort of unheralded contributions that are necessary for an appropriately cryptic and beautiful cover.

“I finally wrote what I really wanted to write and broke through my own barriers.”

It makes sense that such colorful, visual music comes from a musician who learned the piano by ear. Angelides learned through experience, developing an acute sense of tone and pitch. In ninth grade, he was inspired by the English electronic dance band Prodigy and rock band Primus, prompting his decision to learn bass. While forming bands, he was further influenced by ambient-glitch artist Aphex Twin, house and techno godfather Frankie Bones, and Moby.

Following graduation, Angelides produced music that was born in seclusion and isolated thoughts. Living alone in a lakeside house in Connecticut for two years, he created soft, internal music, a more “chilled” version of electronica, under the alias Welder. But it wasn’t only the remote locale that inspired the quiet sounds. Poring over documents and papers about the dark underside of American society and government and conspiracy theories surrounding 9/11, Angelides got caught up in an introspective phase. “9/11 struck some serious chords for me in numerous ways, and my music started to reflect that shadow part of myself,” Angelides explains.

But ultimately, he grew tired of obsessing about the past. “I found that it was only separating me from those I cared about,” he says. For the past five years, Angelides has refrained from fixating on conspiracy documents. He started exploring a more jubilant side of himself that eventually spilled into his music. “I finally wrote what I really wanted to write,” Angelides says, “and broke through my own barriers.”

In the years following, he released a dozen singles and EPs while touring in North America and Europe, opening for producers like Brazilian electronic and hip-hop-fusion producer Amon Tobin and California experimental laptop musician Flying Lotus. He has remixed music by Bibio, Spor, STS9, and Bar 9 and also runs the record label Ancestor, which released Hypercolor.


With Eskmo, however, Angelides’ growth reaches another milestone. Whereas Welder was soft and introspective, Eskmo is open and sprawling, reflecting his emotional growth. The track “Siblings” communicates his experiences with family. With eight brothers and sisters from various marriages, Angelides finds joy in family visits. “Every time I see them, I always feel inspired to write music, and I put them in the songs,” Angelides says. The song “We Have Invisible Friends” is a reference to his spiritual side. “It’s the idea of tapping into the spirit realm — that remote viewing — and the overall concept that we all have a guardian angel watching over us,” he says.

In addition to family and spirituality, Angelides is passionate about working in the studio, and one particularly famous fan proved to be the perfect partner: Amon Tobin. Angelides opened for Tobin at Yuri’s Night, the annual worldwide party to celebrate Russian cosmonaut Yuri Gagarin’s first flight into space, and the two hit it off.

Finding an equally laid-back yet focused artist in Tobin, the two collaborated as Eskamon on “Fine Objects,” a found-sound-laden drum-and-bass track released in April of 2010 on Eskmo’s Ancestor label. “[The collaboration] just came about because we both enjoy fiddling with field recordings and are both into the idea of sound for the sake of it,” Angelides says. “We both have the clear understanding that we know we’re going to get something down and we’re not going to stop until we do. Tobin really loves the sound and not the rock-star element of music; he’s not trying to write a track to make it cool.” Though he doesn’t say it, Angelides is also describing himself.

As for Eskmo, Angelides’ best and newest effort also finds him returning to his early musical origins. “It marks a full cycle of the character that I created back in 1999,” he explains. And now, with a clearer sense of the music that he wants to make, Angelides has been able to shed traditional electronic-music trappings. “I really let go of that [boxed-in] mentality,” he says. And, in a true return to form, he’s working on more Welder material — “slowly but surely.”

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