Twenty-two mixes later and we’re signing out of 2023 with a producer and DJ whose solid reputation for both emotive electronica and high-energy, mercurial club music has seen him enjoy some of his career’s best years in recent times. Born in Bristol but operating from London since 2011, Otik has found his way onto a plethora of quality labels over the past few years, with Intergraded, Future Classic, Shall Not Fade, !K7, Aus Music and 3024 all coming forward to house his music. It’s an astonishing body of work, filtering through reticulated D&B, breakbeat-laden techno and wide-eyed trance-house with a rewarding element of introspection and catharsis. With a style previously described as a “dream meeting between the likes of Shed and Martyn”, it’s no surprise that his debut album Cosmosis would be released on the latter’s label earlier this month. It’s a truly personal album that tangibly conveys his life experiences in its sound, making it hard not to get completely swept up in tracks like ‘God Given’, ‘Non Believer’ and ‘Blue Hills’. We caught up with Otik, real name Ashley, to chat about nostalgic rave transcendence, finding his musical feet in London, his approach to harmonic mixing and his new job teaching music tech to 8-10 year olds. For the final Truancy Volume of 2023, Otik has supplied us with a mix that complements his album to perfection, and his melodically balanced approach to mixing makes for an emotional look back at all our favourite dancefloor moments this year.
Hey Ashley, thanks for taking out the time to answer some questions and doing this mix for us! So just to start, how have you been, and if you were to summarize the last 12 months in a small paragraph what would you say? “Hey, thanks for asking me to do this mix. I’m a big fan of what you guys do so I appreciate the opportunity. I’d probably describe the last 12 months as a bit of a blur. So much has happened both musically and personally that it’s made time absolutely fly by for me. There’s been a lot of changes both positive and negative in my life in the past year, from relationships to new jobs and advances in my music career. It’s been quite emotional and intense but I think once I’ve processed everything I’ll hopefully be able to convert the experiences into some new music.”
So just to start I’ve been enjoying reading some of your past interviews and was really interested in reading about the switch you made in channeling more of your life experiences into your music rather than just making the catchiest and bassiest track you could make. Can you tell us what informed that switch? “I think for a while I was unable to make emotional dance music that actually worked. I’ve always enjoyed hearing it but somehow just wasn’t able to make it, and I think it was because I wasn’t using real life inspiration I was merely copying and/or taking ideas from artists I liked to listen to or what I thought people liked to hear at the club. I think a lot of artists start out doing that; taking inspiration from their influences, but there comes a point when that process becomes stale unless you really pour yourself into the music.”
There’s tracks like ‘Crystal Clear’, ‘Paradise Mode’ and ‘Creationzim’ where I can really feel that ‘nostalgic rave transcendence’ you’ve talked about in those interviews. Has working with melodies and deep pads something you’ve really grown into and tried to master since you’ve started producing? “I definitely dabbled in melodies and deep pads from the very beginning but I struggled to make anything that sounded original. I went through a lot of stages of trying different sounds out and I think the whole bass/club/broken techno scene spoke to me for a while because it was kind of easier to replicate. It can be mostly bass, hard hitting drums and not always necessarily the most melodic sounds, so there was less pressure to come up with completely new ideas with that style of producing. Once things clicked on the melodic side I never really looked back. The emotion is the most important thing to me now even if the drums or bass don’t hit as hard as they could.”
So going back a bit can you tell us about some of your earlier days getting into electronic music? Do you have a first dance music listening experience that really stuck with you? I understand you were brought up on a lot of reggae whilst growing up in Bristol. “I was surrounded by a lot of reggae when I went to see the family on my Dad’s side, but I spent most of my childhood with my Mum and Step Dad. The music they used to listen to in the car with me has definitely had the most impact on what I make these days when I look back. Café Del Mar mixes, Faithless, Massive Attack, Portishead, Morcheeba and The Streets were regularly on rotation, and the melodic elements have really stuck with me throughout the years.”
Despite being from a very musical city like Bristol, you’ve mentioned that the move to London 12 years ago has had more of a long-lasting effect on you in terms of getting involved in music. Can you tell us about your early London years? We have a very similar move time so was keen to hear how you started to immerse yourself in music here in London once you got there. “My early days in London were mostly spent learning to DJ and perfecting my production with my friends, trying to land myself sets at my local student union bar and getting put onto new music. Before I moved here I’d never heard of artists/labels like Caribou, Boards of Canada, Hessle Audio, so my eyes were fully opened by the experience of changing cities. I also learned a lot in my Music Culture classes, which was the course I took on at university that put me onto new concepts and ways of making and understanding music.”
Were there any regular parties or clubs you were going to or attending? “I was a regular at Fabric, the club blew my mind when I first discovered it and I found myself at so many parties that were being held there. I also remember going to Rhythm Factory very often, which is a now defunct club that was shutdown about a decade ago in Whitechapel. I even played some of my first ever sets there before its last days. I was genuinely gutted when it closed.”
It was interesting to read your opinion on harmonic mixing and how you’re such a fan when it comes to transitions. As someone who is also a huge fan and reckons it comes from my love of liquid drum and bass circa 2005-2007 era, do you have a pinpoint on where it originates for you do you think? “I guess I’ve just always had quite a good ear for hearing if something is in key or not. I’m not properly musically trained and I don’t know how to read music. But I’ve always been able to tell when something is harmonising. Maybe it comes from hearing my Mum sing along to adverts and music on the radio when I was growing up. She would always sing the harmony to whatever was playing and I used to practice doing the same thing when I was alone in my room, so maybe that process trickled down into DJing when I grew up.”
A lot of people seem to be DJ first, producer second when it comes to their career path but from what I’ve read and you starting to use Fruity Loops at 15 it seems very much the opposite for you. You mentioned in 2021 that you still considered yourself a beginner as a DJ. Two years later, with some more high profile gigs under your belt, how have you been feeling in that regard? “I definitely feel like I’ve found my feet more now in the DJing world. I’ve been very blessed with some of the gigs I’ve been offered this past year. I still feel as though I could be better, but I think that’s just how I am as an artist/person. I don’t think I’ll ever be fully satisfied with my work and there will always be some room for improvement, but that sort of spurs me on and I think it’s important to recognise that there’s always another level to work towards with anything you do professionally. I think once you stop trying or thinking you can/should enhance your abilities, things can sort of become stagnant and the quality of your art or performances will suffer.”
Is the way you prep your sets and playlists more organized now? I’ve listened to so many of your sets and it’s great that you sometimes don’t know what direction you’re going to get. Do you feel you’ve locked down the way you move through genres and BPMs in an efficient way? “I tend to prep my playlists for shows based on the line up and where I’m placed on the set list. I used to kind of play whatever inspired me at the time or represented me as an artist but I’m a lot more considerate of who is on before/after me at shows these days. For example at my Drumsheds debut last week I played mostly 128-130bpm four to the floor stuff that wasn’t too heavy as I was the first one to play. I always get told by others to do me and just perform the best set I can, but I find it more important to keep the flow of the whole night steady these days instead of trying my hardest to stand out. With mixes I feel like I have a lot more freedom so I tend to weave in and out of genres and BPMs more because I guess a mix is more representative of who I am as an artist instead of entertaining a crowd at a party with a particular ethos.”
You recently released your debut album ‘Cosmosis’ on Martyn’s 3024 label, can you tell us a bit about the timeline in connecting with Martyn for the first Soulo EP, and how this developed into the idea of an album. From what I understand a lot of the album was being produced in tangent whilst in lockdown? “So I first sent Martyn some tunes via email around Summer 2019 but we didn’t actually get into a convo about a release until March 2020 which was at the start of the pandemic. There was a lot of delays and changes being made to the EP so I ended up making newer music in 2021 and the Soulo EP became a mix of club tunes I made in 2019/2020 and more recent tracks from 2021. I made most of the album at the end of 2020 during the winter lockdowns but I didn’t send the music to Martyn until January of this year. I was sort of nervous for anyone to hear the music at first because it was so personal to me and I wasn’t sure if people would connect with it. But surprisingly, as soon as I sent the tracks over to him he was instantly down to release them as an album which was a really nice moment.”
Two of my favourite movies are Days of Heaven and The Thin Red Line so I loved to read that one of your inspirations for the album was Terrence Malick and his film philosophies. Can you tell us how you wanted to achieve that through your music and how you initially initiated those ideas? “I’m a huge fan of Malick’s films but I never really planned to make an album using his themes. To be honest I never really planned to write an album at all, but once the first 3 or 4 tunes came together I realised a narrative was forming and everything started to fall into place. I noticed that a situation I was going through at the time sort of mimicked a monologue that was performed in The Thin Red Line, so I layered it over an ambient piece I’d just made and it fit so perfectly that I basically just followed that thread for the rest of the creation process.”
Has there been a lot of creative freedom in setting up your own label ‘Solar Body’ for your own releases? Your four releases in now, has there been a process to the releases at all? Or just a chance at pure experimentation without third party pressure. “Yes, definitely. The idea of setting up the label was precisely for that reason. I wanted more freedom and also not to have to wait so long to release music. When you release tunes with other labels you have to do it within the confinements of their release schedules which can sometimes take months, even up to a year. That sometimes frustrates me as I feel that my music always evolves, and by the time it’s out I think I’m at a different stage creatively or I could’ve done better. The turnover with Solar Body is so much quicker so I can actually release something that reflects where I am creatively at that moment in time.”
Can you tell us about three albums that a) define you getting into electronic music in general, b) maybe a midway album when you were fully invested in DJing and and c) a recent album that you’ve especially enjoyed?
a) Burial – Untrue.
I’d heard electronic albums before this of course, but once I discovered this I knew for sure it was something I wanted to get into and haven’t looked back since. It’s a timeless piece of music that still inspires me to this day. I’ve spoken so much about Burial in past interviews that I think I’ll leave it there. His music means a lot to me.
b) Special Request – Soul Music
This album blew me away when I first heard it. I used to use so many of the tracks in DJ mixes and practices at home when I was getting into recording mixes and playing out. Even today I still play some of the tracks during high tempo mixes/sets or towards the end of a show.
c) Evian Christ – Revanchist
This is a beautiful and powerful album and it really humbled me into realising I still have a long way to go as an artist to get to this level of production. It’s so subtle and intense at the same time I really don’t know how he managed it, but I think it’s great and was definitely worth the wait.
What sort of other hobbies or interests do you have outside of electronic music? Are there any books, films, shows or other things you’ve seen or been reading/watching that you might want to share? “I like to keep fit I guess, I go to the gym regularly. It keeps my head clear. If I’m struggling mentally I always find that exercising really helps. I also enjoy doing pretty standard hobbies like playing darts and pool with my mates and having a few pints. The pool and darts can get quite competitive haha, and we have a proper league table and everything.
With regard to films and series I’m pretty obsessed, I’d say it’s my second love after music. The most recent film I’ve watched that absolutely tore me up was Aftersun. I’ve seen it 3 times now and I can’t get over how powerful and realistic its portrayal of depression is. It’s beautifully shot, the acting is so impressive and the soundtrack is perfect. Highly recommend. Series wise I’d say Atlanta is my most recent favourite. The series ended in winter last year but I keep going back to it and finding new things in it. It’s such an amazing reflection of how black people are treated around the world and especially in the world of music, and it has this genius way of intertwining fantasy into real life situations which leaves you puzzled and desperate to find out what you just watched and what it all means.”
Could you describe the process of creating this mix? Was there a specific message or feeling you wanted to convey? “I’ll be honest, other than the usual goal which is to keep everything as melodically balanced as possible, the main aim of this mix was to have fun. I decided to go outside of my comfort zone for once and drop a few things I wouldn’t usually play but would love to hear if I was out. I kept things mostly within the house and techno range too, and usually I tend to go all over the place with genres. I really enjoyed recording this and I hope that shines through when people listen to it.”
What are you looking forward to for next year? What are your artistic goals for this year and beyond? “I’m really excited about the prospect of writing another album. I’m not sure what it’s going to be about yet, but I want to take things a step further from Cosmosis, but also make it more accessible, which is going to be a big challenge but I’m looking forward to experimenting with that idea. I also would hope to travel to some other areas of the world to DJ. I’m heading to India for the first time this week to play Magnetic Fields, which is going to be a serious pinch me moment. But I hope I can continue to try and spread my sound to other far away places. Australia, America and other parts of Asia would be really cool, so I’m setting my sights there for 2024.”
Last, usual question from us, what was the last thing to put a big smile on your face and when was the last time you had a proper dance? “So I started a new job a few months ago teaching 8-11 year olds music tech part time at private schools. Some of the things they come up with are really impressive and some of the things they say can be both genius and hilarious. Last week was kind of a fun lesson as it was the last one before the Christmas break, so the kids were given a silly Christmas rap acapella to make their own music over. One of the kids decided to go full Aphex Twin and made the most bizarre sounding track with elements that were all over the place and barely matched the acapella. I sat down to listen to it and we both looked at each other for a second and burst out laughing. I was actually super impressed with it even though he went so off road with the track, and it was all for a bit of fun anyway.
The last time I had a proper dance was a few days ago after my set at Drumsheds for the Bicep Curates The Hydra event, which I was so grateful to be a part of. I opened one of the rooms, so by 9pm I was totally free to check out all the other artists and stages, and me and my mates just danced right through until the end. Daphni and Bicep’s sets were incredible and it was my first time at Drumsheds so I was pretty blown away by it all.”
You can download Truancy Volume 321: Otik in 320 kbps and view the full tracklist on Patreon here. Your support helps cover all our costs and allows Truants to continue running as a non-profit and ad-free platform. Members will receive exclusive access to mixes, tracklists, and discounts off future merchandise. We urge you to support the future of independent music journalism—a little goes a long way.