Ghosts on Tape is St Louis native and fervent raver, Ryan Merry. He relocated to San Francisco in 2003 and was quick to make his impression on the North Californian city with his striking dj and live sets, alongside his bastardized meld of bass-driven electronica productions. Merry has an obvious knack of balancing vintage and contemporary within his music via the canny use of antiquated machines and modern day technology.
2009’s ‘Predator Mode’ EP was the record that really put him on the map, leading to an exclusive mix for Mary Anne Hobbs‘ Radio 1 show and a string of compilation appearances on Planet Mu, Tigerbeat6, Frite Nite, Shockout, True Panther, Friends Of Friends, and Opit, among others. Merry also co-founded ICEE HOT, the influential monthly party (and newly minted record label) in San Francisco.
Anthony Naples is the young man behind the delectable debut for Justin Carter and Eamon Harkin’s Mister Saturday Night imprint. On ‘Mad Disrespect’ Naples manages to combine the ghosts of New York’s Paradise Garage and Detroit house with a whiff of UK-centric, bass-lead futurism. Following a solid start to life as a producer Naples has gone onto remix Four Tet and has forthcoming material on the aforementioned ICEE HOT. Check out the results of their Vs. interview below:
Anthony interviewing Ghosts on Tape:
I just got back from San Francisco (sorry I didn’t call) and I noticed – and maybe its just because I was out of my element – but it seemed that San Francisco is a world of its own. It’s geographically pretty far away from big electronic music cities like NYC, Berlin and London. How do you find being a producer, and running a night works out there in comparison to those said cities. Do you think geography has any effect on what you do, or how you do it?
Yeah, that’s what I love about San Francisco, it really is it’s own little world. It’s full of weirdoes and people who wanna dance and party. Geographically, we may be far away from those cities you mentioned, but it’s enough of an international city to where it doesn’t feel too disconnected. The culture here is different of course, and California’s Draconian 2:00 AM alcohol cutoff time means that parties just happen much earlier than they would in Europe. There is a cool afterhours scene happening here, if you know where to go, so you can still go and rave til the daylight hours. But its much more underground (ie illegal).
When we started ICEE HOT we wanted to fill a void that we saw in the nightlife here. There was a ton of great music that wasn’t being represented here, and we knew people would love it if they gave it a chance. That’s one of the cool things about SF. People here are willing to try new things. People are open. It’s geographically a small city, so if you start making some noise, people will pay attention.
I think a major difference between SF and NYC, Berlin, London is that those cities have a sound, where as San Francisco does not. So you have all these little weird pockets of different stuff going on. There ends up being some overlap between scenes, but for the most part, its pretty feasible to just start your own little thing, and if people latch on to it, then its great. We’ve been lucky in that ICEE HOT has a small but very dedicated fan base. Our parties are generally pretty small in size and intimate, and there is a core group of people who show up each month, so it’s really beginning to feel like a little family we have here.
You had a pretty busy 2009 – 2010, popping up every where for a minute. Aside from ICEE HOT evolving as a party and now a label, and your DJ sets of course, what else has been keeping you busy as of late?
I’ve stayed busy producing a lot of stuff. There was a period in ’10-’11 where I ended up taking on a lot of remix projects, and most of them weren’t well promoted or were on small labels that didn’t really get my name out there in a big way. They definitely helped me grow as an artist and refine my sound a lot more, but for the most part it felt like a little incubation period. It helped me figure out what exactly it was that I wanted to do without the pressure of peoples expectations. I was also making a lot of stuff for my live PA sets, which ended up taking away a lot of time from me actually recording new tunes. I’ve since shifted my focus back to producing and DJing and I’m getting a lot more done now.
On that note – why start a label? It seems pretty easy these days to get your music out to established labels all over the world, so why rough it out and release from a completely homegrown platform for the next EP?
There is nothing quite as satisfying as doing it yourself. My partners and I definitely have our own vision on how we want to do things, and we’ve built up enough experience, know enough of the right people, and saved enough funds to just do it on our own. Honestly, these days I don’t like the idea of seeking out acceptance from outside sources. Of course, I want people to appreciate and enjoy what I do, but if I have some cool new tracks that I want to put out, I like the idea of being able to do it on my own terms, and do it with my good friends who understand my vision better than anyone else. I’ve always wanted to be my own boss, and I hope people will understand and like what we do with our label in the future. We want to be in it for the long haul. We don’t wanna be the hot new thing. We want to execute our ideas and have people appreciate them for years to come.
Going back to San Francisco and the West Coast in general, what producers and nights out there have you been keeping up with? There seems to be a huge surplus of producers popping up out of Portland, San Francisco, Los Angeles and with that, I’m sure more nights as well?
I can’t speak for other cities, I just don’t know of what’s really happening in Portland or LA. I do have a conflicted relationship with the scene in SF though. There are some very talented and dedicated people doing cool/weird stuff here. There is also a lot of trendy bullshit. Either people take themselves too seriously or not seriously enough. Too much internet music. A lot of the parties I like here are mostly locals, just wanting to put on a fun party. They aren’t really trying to bring in international acts or be producers or have labels. I like the High Fantasy party a lot. Its a Tuesday weekly in a tiny, run-down gay bar on a terrible block in the Tenderloin neighborhood. They have bad sound, cheap stiff drinks, tons of weirdoes and drag queens, and play really really good house music. It’s two dollars on the door and lot of friends end up showing up. It makes for early week sketchy fun. There are lots of parties bringing in some really cool national and international acts. They don’t need me to big them up, just check RA or something haha. As far as producers and DJs, I like Bobby Browser, Roche, C.L.A.W.S., all the Honey Soundsystem DJs, Kenneth Scott, and probably a lot more that I can’t think of right now.
You mentioned that you have some records that are so so so so so good, that you really want to tell everyone about them, before retracting that because you realized that you’d be giving away some of your secret weapons. Could you please share one of these records with everyone?
NOPE! Haha. One of them is yours though!
Ghosts on Tape interviewing Anthony:
You said that ‘Mad Disrespect’ was the first track you ever made. Surely it must have taken you some time to refine your sound before being able to make such a mature debut. How were you able to get to the the sound you ended up at? I think a lot of producers just starting out try to emulate certain artists that they’ve been influenced by. Was this the case for you?
Yeah actually, I was totally trying to copy Gerry Read – or at least his process haha. I was really inspired by the fact he used samples to completely construct the track and it seemed so fresh, I never even thought to use samples before, so I went ahead and ripped some stuff off youtube, records, etc. Before that I had made little loops of 8 bar things, nothing special at all. All MIDI and VST stuff, so it ended up sounding a little too sterile. ‘Mad Disrespect’ was the first time I made something beginning to end with a goal in mind, so in that sense it’s the first thing I made, as there was definitely no time spent learning how to make things sound good.
It seems like you’ve avoided doing a lot of things that many American producers your age do. You don’t really mess around with R&B and rap, you don’t have a goofy internet presence, you don’t seem overly concerned with retro sounds, or worried about having a stylish image (not saying you look like a nerd or anything). You’re not straining to be seen as “the next big thing”. It looks like you are positioning to put yourself on the path of longevity, where as I see a lot of the younger (younger than me anyway) generation embracing this sort of flashy, throwaway internet culture. Is this something you are concerned with?
Well, I don’t want to talk for other people but I guess it’s just one of those things that sounds fresh to some, and less interesting to others. I grew up with r&b and hip-hop all around me, so when it came time to produce music, I guess it’s the same as all these people making trap beats – they probably all had Nirvana cover bands or something in high school, so that stuff seems played out to them, whereas now I’ll hear something from them [Nirvana], or The Beatles and I’ll feel inspired to involve myself to do that. But, unfortunately that’s hard with a PC and a mouse. It’s just a flash in the pan sort of thing, and that goes for internet identity as well – that kind of thing will be played out and I really don’t want to pander to those sorts of expectations. The internet isn’t what makes music culture, at least the sorts that are worth noting, so I guess I feel by keeping my head down, I’m making sure people understand I exist outside of Soundcloud or as some outrageous Twitter personality.
You’ve been living in New York for a couple of years now. Have you have found your way into a community of like minded artists there? Do you feel that there is any sort of unified scene you feel a part of? Or, are you a “lone wolf” sort of artist? Are there things about the NY scene that just drive you crazy?
Not really, no. I go out pretty regularly, but I’ve never tried to involve myself in any sort of scene or anything. I go to Justin and Eamons party a lot and I’m close with them, but I don’t have a bunch of friends who produce music or anything like that.
What are some non-musical things that influence your music? Could be a feeling, a book, a smell, a subway station, whatever.
The Holy Mountain. I watch that movie like two times a month or something like that. I just love it but I’m not sure why!
Since your first productions have been a great success (at least critically and artistically), and now that labels are swarming around you, do you feel any sort of performance anxiety in regards to your future projects? I know that before I ever put out a record, when I was just making music for me and my friends to jam out to at house parties, there was a lot less pressure. After I knew that more people were paying attention, I got a bit self-concious about my tracks (I’ve really just gotten over this in the past year or so). Anything like that going on with you?
They aren’t exactly swarming to be real, so I’m not too pressured. I have one or two things going on, then the rest are just up in the air. I don’t ever think about how people will take to it because as far as I’m concerned it hasn’t been too crazy just yet. Remixing Four Tet was pretty huge, getting on Will Bankhead’s Trilogy Tapes website was big, the RA Recommends thing was really cool and totally unexpected, getting someone interested in booking me as a DJ, etc. But if I never do anything crazier than those things I wouldn’t pay it any mind. Those are like five year goals to me and I did them in less than a year. Actually, remixing Kieran is something I would have never imagined doing haha. I try to assume that each record will be looked at individually because to some, it’s their first time hearing you, and to others, you may look like you got worse. It’s all too relative to really take into consideration!
‘Nature’s Law / No Go’ by Ghosts On Tape is out now on ICEE HOT.