Interview: Yamaneko

At present, Yamaneko is the true form of producer and DJ Joe Moynihan, who has also appeared on Truants as Talbot Fade. Yamaneko’s rise has been that of a slow tide, bringing parts of each project to shore one wave at a time. His first trilogy was a mix-album-mix combination that wrapped ambient, grime, new age and soundtrack influences around Pixel Wave Embrace, released on Local Action. Two years later, the London-based, bass-wide record label would release Yamaneko’s second album, Project Nautilus [Keygen Loops] – a meditation on melancholic keygen composition accompanied by mixes in the form of Nautilus Dawn and Nautilus Dusk. The artist also collaborated with Mr. Mitch as Yaroze Dream Suite and released a solo cut on Mumdance’s Different Circles imprint. Through Talbot Fade, Moynihan has further explored ambient compositions and remixes with releases on Truants and Local Action. As he goes on to explain in our interview below, his music is in part a means of coping with London living. Whilst life in the city is burdened by its reputation of urban loneliness amongst the many, the most pervasive themes and features in his works – tender openness and deep care – confront such isolation, transforming his music into something of a social, emotional panacea.

Hey! “Hello Tayyab mate, how are you?”

I’m doing alright – I just watched that video of JME chatting to Jeremy Corbyn so I’m monitoring my levels of hope pretty closely. How are things with you? “Things are fairly calm here, just sitting at my dayjob desk with a big ol’ bowl of ratatouille in the hope that people will think I’m on lunch and not bother me during this chat, ehehe. I haven’t seen that video yet! But big up Corbyn for going around and actually talking to people directly. I hear you on the monitoring hopes thing – I’m a little scared to get my hopes up in case it all goes 2016 on us, but at the same time it’s reassuring to see so many young people registering in the last week or so and artists I love all showing their support for him. I hope he gets in, man.”

It’s pretty much been 10 years since the Northern Rock ship sunk and financial chaos spread, just before the time young people like myself could vote. Things have been pretty bleak since then, though it’s important to remember that we’ve made it to the present through persevering hope. I guess you started producing music in this era? Could you summarise in your own words each of your aliases, perhaps as stages in your development as a musician? “Yeah, I think I started making tunes and mixes in 2007 actually, and in a way that sort of persevering hope element drives a lot of the music I was writing. I turned 18 in 2007 and had been going out to clubs for a few years before then and the atmosphere in the dance has changed so much since then. Mostly for the better – I think that comes from a combination of people using music as both escapism from bleak living/working conditions and as protest against it, all the while learning that everyone coming to these events needs to be loved and cared for, allowed to be themselves and not feel threatened. Obviously there has always been that element in clubs to a degree (though I accept this is more of an overly optimistic lore interpretation of ‘the dance’ in its headier days than the reality), but I do reckon those external factors have helped encourage some of the more progressive club nights and noticeably less hostile environments we have seen in recent years. But yeah sorry, you asked about aliases!

“I think the first one was Shadow Moses, in 2007. I had just moved to Cardiff and wanted some tunes to soundtrack some late night walks around, getting to know the city and that. So I made a bunch of mixtapes in Acid Pro that are probably all long gone now, but the process of going through videogame ambience, YouTube samples and field recordings and making tracks specifically for blend/transition purposes and using them in mixes has stuck with me ever since, and still drives the Yamaneko and Talbot Fade mixes I do both on CDJs and in Ableton. I made a few tracks with a friend I lived with in Cardiff under that name too, but we stopped working on it after I moved to London and focused on my Yamaneko stuff. That one started in 2009 and I’ve always considered it my main outlet, and the truest representation of my personality in music form.

“I started Talbot Fade in 2012, while going through a heavy phase with Akira Yamaoka’s Silent Hill soundtracks and Leyland Kirby’s work as the Caretaker. I wanted to channel some of the more unhappy emotions I was dealing with at the time, while making something I found calming. At the time this was not really part of what drove Yamaneko so it made sense to keep it distinct from that project. The two have merged a bit more recently, but all of my music is driven by emotions and hope, certainly.”

And Rimplton and Boardgame James? “They are two different people! Friends of mine.”

!!! “Yeah, I remember Tom [Lea, of Local Action] saying around the time of the Fader mix that a few people assumed that all the Daybreak stuff was just various aliases of mine, but all but the three I listed above are all definitely different people, ha, and all very influential to me in their own way. I don’t think I would have even sent my tunes out to people like Tom if it wasn’t for their encouragement early on.”

Let’s talk Yama and Talbot. A lot of your work is sample-based and I’d imagine part of that approach comes from the Caretaker. What is your approach to sampling? How much does personal, emotional attachment to source material have to do with that? Do you view potential samples in terms of their functionality? “I wouldn’t sample anything that I didn’t feel like I had a deep personal connection to. I think it stems from DJing more than anything [else], and like, why you select particular tunes to play people. For me it’s having a big positive emotional reaction to a piece of music and wanting to share that with people and setting up context around that so that there is a higher chance they will understand or feel what I’m feeling when [I’m] processing it in my head.

“There’s a big difference between the sampling approach for Yamaneko and Talbot Fade. Nearly all the Yamaneko melodies and synths are written by me, but ‘told’ via samples if you know what I mean. Instead of using a synth, I’ll pitch a one-shot sample of Rayman throwing a punch or something. Using menu/item sounds from various games as percussion, that sort of thing. But it’s all built from scratch and with some exceptions (like “Primrose Island”, which is kind of a tribute to bait cover versions of videogame OSTs on YouTube) [it’s] all my own melodies. Talbot Fade on the other hand is more driven by heavily processed samples (not always from other artists though, sometimes I make them myself before Talbot Fading ‘em up), inspired by the Caretaker like you say, or Burial’s ambient tunes – all sorts of things really. But they all have to mean something to me on an emotional level for sure.”

Relaying your melodies through samples really comes across in moments like the final stretch of “Pixel Wavedash”. Other times I feel like you’re recontextualising FX; On “Blemtrails”, they’re almost punctuation for the music. Does your relationship with your chosen samples change after you’ve deployed them? “Oh for sure! Once you’ve spent so long listening [to] and toying with a particular sound, I guess it will always have an effect on you. For instance “Pixel Wavedash” was inspired by playing Super Smash Bros. Melee with my friend Akash. He mains Marth, so I used a lot of that character’s FX and speech soundclips as punctuation, while the synth tries to convey the ups and downs of playing competitively against friends, while also trying to communicate how calming that experience is and what those sounds mean to me – again driven by an exercise in regular escapism from living and working in London. “Not like, hundreds of loud people. Just peaceful” innit. Big up Isai.

“Since the album come out, I haven’t played Melee nearly as much as I used to and I think that stems from my relationship with the samples changing. A lot of sadness surrounds that album for me, and while I still treasure everything I referenced on there, some of the emotional responses to those sounds have a sort of unique shadow attached to them now.”

Those sounds seem to carry a lot for you. The first time we met in person, I remember you gave me a Cubone Pokémon card after we’d previously talked about their touching lore and backstory. Are you much of a hoarder? Do you have any personal affectations around you that you’d describe, physically or digitally? “Oh man. I do admittedly have a bunch of physical things I can’t bring myself to throw away so I guess so. Here’s a ridiculous story: When I was a kid, I used to pick up stones I found on the playground and then I would put them in my pocket because I was too scared that if I threw [them] away I would never ever see [them] again. I ended up having shoeboxes in my closet absolutely fucking ram-out with stones and little things like that. Thankfully I got over that, but that notion of not being able to see something again has stayed with me. It’s like throwing away a treasured memory, or worse, forgetting it ever happened. I do keep a lot of stupid stuff, but I like to share them or give them to people, like that Cubone. I’ll remember the act of giving it away and that will make the memory more special. Fucking big up Cubone man.

“Digitally, I’m less precious. But that’s partly because I’ve had so many hard drive failures over the years, I can’t afford to be [precious]. I’ve lost thousands of photographs and tunes and in a way it feels like those years of my life have been erased. Luckily, I’ve got a bunch of Pokémon cards and shit like that kicking around to remind me of things though, eh?”

I feel you on treasured memories, though I’ve come to realise how poor my own memory is. I feel like you don’t necessarily get to choose what stays with you, and that lack of control over yourself is a little scary to me. “For real. My memory is similarly all over the gaff and in a way I think that’s why making music means so much to me. In albums, mixes and tunes you’re kind of pocketing that little moment of time spent writing them and all those emotions you are feeling, and can revisit them later, like those little shoeboxes of memories. Like a diary really, but I’ve always been shit at keeping one of those and have always felt more attached to melodies than words. There’s a lot to be said about specific sounds, frequencies, melodies and how they can jog your memory, or transport you somewhere in time. Other people have described it better than I ever could, but it’s mad just how deep into your brain these little reminders can sit.”

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Your music samples a range of videogames which is something that I often feel is (unfairly) viewed as nostalgic, of holding on to an experience in the past. At the same time, you sample new cultural ephemera too, and your music has been described in some capacity as cutting edge in its associated fields. You’ve been involved in music that has seen a “second life”, such as new age at London’s New Atlantis. I was wondering how you envisioned your various musical activities in terms of past, present and future? “This one is difficult. In a way, I concede that I replay certain videogames or rinse certain albums more than is probably healthy and could be perceived as nostalgic in a negative way, but I also feel like the things I’m drawn to most are experiences or music I personally find timeless. I’ve spent hundreds, maybe thousands of hours on Dark Souls and Bloodborne and they haven’t lost their charm or ability to induce adrenaline, surprise, triumph and wonder. Similarly, I can’t see myself [ever] not being totally floored by “Pulse X”’s distorted kick stabs, or getting mad ASMR from Wiley’s Devil Mixes, or feeling that instant state of calm and relief that listening to literally any Hiroshi Yoshimura record evokes. Celebrating these personal reactions isn’t necessarily regressing into the past, and sharing them with others is what makes certain music or other cultural experiences memorable and timeless and able to move the generations that follow it.

“While New Atlantis is kinda focused on ambient and new age music it’s really just like any other night in it being a celebration of sounds and frequencies the people involved absolutely adore and feel calmed or invigorated by. Like so many things I feel drawn to, it celebrates the old and new simultaneously in a way that feels constantly ‘present’, so to speak.”

Star Wars: Knights of the Old Republic is probably the main game I revisit through playing, YouTubing, reading about etc. In one part, you enter old ruins on Dantooine to find an ancient terminal, locked by a puzzle where you must “identify three primary life-giving seed world types”, the answers being grassland, arboreal and oceanic. Water is a prominent recurring element throughout your works, from release and mix titles and themes to the sounds themselves. What is it that draws you to the ocean? “Oh man, that Star Wars game kind of nails it really. It gives me life. On so many levels. I grew up on the Thames, and not far from Southend-on-Sea, which was always a big treat to visit. While living in Cardiff I spent a lot of time working by the Bay, and have generally felt more at peace when close to, or in earshot of water. The sound is like catnip to me, so I tend to bang it on everything, and tend to have an entire folder of rain/stream/wave samples when playing in the club too. You honestly have no idea how gassed I get every time to play them on a system and hear those lovely bubbly frequencies amplified. I also tend to drink a lot of water. I’ve suffered from migraines and cluster headaches a lot since I was a teenager, so staying hydrated has always been a priority to try and avoid them. And when they strike, I associate drinking water with healing (or a vessel for bare painkillers, whatever) and relief from that.

“I feel like this is a pretty common feeling for many people, as the ocean and sea surrounds everyone to some extent. So it’s universal, and I like the idea of being able to communicate these feelings through sound with absolutely anyone.

“Life is a total madness and can feel like being lost at sea sometimes – I feel like people are constantly sending out their own unique flares in the hope of attracting someone to help them find their way, or maybe shining a light to help guide others who are lost. I think a lot of musicians do that with the sounds they choose to make, or sample. Firing out these signals and seeing who responds. We’re just trying to bond with others ultimately innit.”

I guess people often look to clubs and such places to be spaces for those connections to form. In addition to New Atlantis, you’ve played London’s FWD as a DJ and it was a pleasure inviting you to play Come Thru in Leeds. These are quite different parties, so I wonder what your approach is to DJing and what you generally strive for as a selector? “Above everything else, selecting and playing tunes for people to dance or enjoy in some way will always be my favourite part of music. To me, all these shows feel linked as each time I’m just playing tunes I proper love and want other people to hear and love too. But at the same time I regularly go to shows and raves and appreciate that anyone going to a certain night has certain expectations of it and wants a certain vibe delivered to them. As a DJ I want to both deliver that service that people have made the effort to go out and support with either their presence, time or money, but also surprise and share my own personal taste with. I happen to like all sorts of stuff that doesn’t always work in one particular environment, so I think I try to play a lot of varied nights in order to satisfy that urge to share, but while having a respect for the context in which these things are shared.”

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Which records have you enjoyed playing out and blending together recently? “This year I’ve only really played at Rye Wax for New Atlantis and the one-off all night b2b with Aurora which was an absolute blast! Since they have turntables and most other venues have CDJs these days I finally got to play my copy of “So Much Love To Give” by Together out after buying it like a decade ago for £20 (it got repressed like a year later ffs) and imagining it as part of a set for so long. I could have cried. I probably did.

“Otherwise I’ve been playing a lot of new Bandcampient stuff alongside new things I’ve been working on. There’s this great label called Terminal Dream [that] Pixelord runs that has put out some absolute Halls Soothers. Data Discs have recently reissued Yuzo Koshiro’s incredible the Revenge of Shinobi soundtrack and have given it a nice remaster so it’s been great fun incorporating those memories into sets lately. And of course, music friends have made and kindly shared with me. Shout out Akash and sad-rave each and every, all the Daybreak boys and the New Atlantis ambient superheroes.”

What are you working on right now and what else can we expect to see from you in the future? “I recently made a bunch of music that got picked up by a spa to play during meditation and gentle exercise sessions and stuff like that, which has really motivated me to make a lot more environmental music for specific places, and hopefully progress onto some actual soundtrack work from there, which would be a dream. Although all of this music stuff has been a dream from the start, to tell you the truth.

“Aside from that, New Atlantis has a wicked ambient compilation coming out on tape and digital at the end of June. I’ve got a Yamaneko tune and a Talbot Fade tune on there alongside some amazing chilled tracks from New Atlantis regulars and friends like India Jordan, Eye Measure, and a killer Deadboy and Throwing Shade collaboration. We’ll be throwing a party at Rye Wax on the 29th June to celebrate too! I’m also nearly finished with a solo EP that should be out this year if I don’t get too distracted by distortion2‘s any% speedruns of the Souls games, and a separate album project I won’t go into any detail of just yet. Expect more shows too, hopefully.”

What was the last thing that made you burst out laughing? “Dunno about laughing but I watch this video of a cat swiping a plush toy from a house next door around five times a day and I just burst at the seams with joy every time.”

Yamaneko’s most recent album, Project Nautilus [Keygen Loops] is out on Local Action and available to buy here.

Images courtesy of the artist.

Tayyab Amin

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