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Spontaneous production: An interview with Glenn Astro & Ajnascent

Crate-digger, DJ, label head, and producer, Berliner Glenn Astro is a man of many talents. Having started his career as a hip-hop DJ, Astro soon found a kindred musical spirit in Max Graef and began producing noodling, jazz-infused works with a dragged-back hip-hop mentality. Releasing his first LP in 2015, Throwback, last year saw an upbeat collaborative release with Graef on Ninja Tune, The Yard Work Simulator, and now the forthcoming mini-LP Even with Ajnascent.

Comprising six tracks of largely improvised studio jams, Even brings Astro’s latent jazz influences to the fore, as well as showcasing the talents of relative newcomer and label-mate, Ajnascent. Tracks like ‘Диско’ combine Rhodes keys with a grooving rhythm to conjure Roy Ayers at his best, whilst ‘Nefastis Machine’ brings the listener back into the frenetic, drum-heavy territory of Yard Work. Ultimately, Even is a satisfying synthesis of spontaneous live instrumentation coupled with electronic textures. 

We spoke to the two producers about their days as high school classmates, the art of collaboration, and mixing genres.

How did you both meet?

Ajnascent: We went to the same high school and used to occasionally swap records and talk about music, despite having different tastes. Since Glenn was a year above me (and in high school, a year is a lifetime) we didn’t share the same friends. We only reconnected later when we both moved to Berlin.

Glenn Astro: It’s funny considering we grew up in the same town, went to the same school and have a similar background. We even have the same name [Konstantin]!

What was the recording process for Even?

A: We basically pressed record, started playing and later overdubbed it. It was great having all the instruments ready to go in the studio; we could jump between them quickly which made the process very fast.

GA: There wasn’t really time to question or analyse things, so whoever had a good idea played it in that moment. The vibe was very laissez-faire without any expectations and that gave us freedom to experiment with different set ups. If it sounded good we kept it, if not…

A: …we kept it as well!

Do you prefer to work in collaboration?

GA: I love doing both. When collaborating you have someone to give you feedback straight away, which is great when you get writer’s block!

A: Definitely. The more diverse the taste of the collaborators, the more interesting the process and the outcome is. You end up making choices that you maybe wouldn’t otherwise and there’s room for both conflict and progress.

Is live improvisation something you want to do more of?

A: For me, it’s actually the opposite. Having spent most of my career in live improvisation, it’s a bigger challenge to now be more concise in writing and performing. I’d like to be able to shift from one to the other more naturally.

GA: I wouldn’t say I am able to improvise properly compared to “real” musicians, but we had a live show with this project at XJazz Festival where I played the Rhodes and improvised a little. So yeah, that’s something I definitely want to explore more on stage and in my music!

Glenn, you made your name as a DJ as well as a producer; how do those two roles intersect and differ for you?

GA: Well, they’re different but I love them both! A cool thing about being a DJ and a producer is that you can include your own music in your DJ sets, but I tend not to do that for some reason… It’s hard to explain, I’ve been DJing and producing almost all my life but I never really connect the two.

Glenn, what have been the best and worst things about running your label Money $ex Records?

GA: It’s great to be able to release music by artists you’re a fan of or support your friends. You can also just put out a record when you feel like it or when you think you’re ready. The worst thing is the amount of work it actually takes to keep it going though. Running an independent record label and concentrating on niche music isn’t exactly a gold mine, so it takes a lot of calculating to refinance the next record!

What significance does the UK have for you both?

GA: Speaking from a DJing perspective, UK gigs always feel more open for some reason, especially when it comes to eclectic selections. You can always bring in some broken beat or Latin or even Jungle. That doesn’t necessarily work in Germany or, specifically, Berlin. There’s always been a lot of support in the UK and especially in London for my music.

A: I haven’t had the chance to play in London yet, so all I can say is: jungle is massive!

Order Glenn Astro & Ajnascent’s Even LP here.

Words: Ammar Kalia