Relaxer: In Conversation

Originally debuting as a mystery project back in 2016, Daniel Martin-McCormick’s experiments as Relaxer have seen him release a five part self-titled EP series and album since they began, with each effort resculpting the frameworks of experimental techno and diving deep into its murky abyss.

Formerly operating as Ital until officially dropping the alias last year, McCormick’s previous work can be counted via imprints such as Workshop, Planet Mu, 100% Silk, and Lovers Rock, the label he runs from his hometown of New York.

Whilst similarly twisting the house and techno model, McCormick’s music under Relaxer ventures from euphoric to industrial, unsettling to hazy, the latter being heavily explored in A Family Disease, the project’s beatless debut album.

With Relaxer – V recently released, we caught up with the Brooklyn producer to uncover more about the project’s intentions, his ongoing search for cathartic and healing in sound, and what comes next for Relaxer as this five-part series draws to an end.

Were the self-titled episodes always going to work in five parts and have the project’s intentions changed at all since you began?

The only intention for the project was, and is, to exist and grow organically. The intention for the EP series was to create a space where it could take shape.

Years and years ago I had this image of a kind of pulsing purple/green, melting music. Something sticky and a bit grotesque, but also oddly seductive. This image lived in the back of my mind, and when I started Relaxer it was like crossing a threshold and allowing that to take over completely.

When I began working as Ital in 2010, I was in a very fresh place. Dance music was an obsession but quite foreign. Pretty quickly the project evolved and changed, especially after I began touring, but a small part of me felt like I was always looking over my shoulder to that earlier work. By drawing a line with Ital, it was a way of claiming everything I had done up to that point and then charting a new course, with that as the starting point.

Was remaining anonymous originally an important factor to how the project was meant to be understood?

The anonymous thing was always going to be temporary – it wasn’t supposed to be a mask. But I wanted to give the project some air. I had never done that, kept information murky. I don’t know if anyone else got anything out of it, but it allowed me two years to explore in the studio in almost total isolation.

How has expanding the project to a live setting gone? Are you always picturing your music in a live scenario when building projects?

I’ve always played live. It’s the main thing I do. I love working in the studio, but live sets allow me to tap into this energy that I’ve always felt a connection to. If I have a long stretch between shows, I really miss it. The music I make is pretty visceral and comes alive in that setting.

One of the biggest challenges is getting solid takes of tracks I write for the live set, or vice versa, translating studio tracks to the live set. But they talk to each other behind the scenes. It’s all about making something authentic and immersive. A big part of what makes a live set work is the spontaneity. I can’t be too tethered to what I did in the studio.

‘A Family Disease’ saw you comprise two lengthy ambient recordings, do the delicate and bold styles of your music play an equal role in your overall sound?

To be fair I wouldn’t really call the tape ambient… When I think of ambient music, I think of chilled-out music you can listen to in the background. I’m not sure it fits that description. But maybe I’m being nitpicky.

I love beatless music, and space. I keep exploring a handful of ideas, and one of them is this kinda hovering, melancholic atmosphere. Working on the tape and some of those b-side tracks opens up room for that stuff to breathe.

There’s no real hierarchy between the more aggressive and chilled out stuff, and actually, there’s a limit to how much I can even comment on my sound. It’s not “my” sound, it just comes to me and through me this way. I have to accept it and let things happen.

What do you look for when you source sounds and textures? Which eras, movements, film genres etc inspire you?

I gravitate towards things that feel cathartic and healing. I look for pain and vulnerability. I really like environmental sounds, and the way synthetic sounds can feel like oozing forces of nature. I was just in Taipei and completely loving the city… humid and grimy and futuristic and tropical and decrepit all at once, with so much energy on the streets. I grew up in the Washington DC and in the summers the heat would just bear down on you. Kudzu would grow over everything and the air was thick with pollen. I love that feeling, of things being overwhelmingly alive and a little disgusting.

In what dream or nightmare world would Relaxer’s music be the perfect soundtrack?

The dream/nightmare of life on Earth.

What comes next for Relaxer as this five-part project draws to an end?

I want to collaborate more. I recently realized that I used to collaborate almost exclusively. Now it’s a rarity. Halal & Relaxer, my project with Aurora Halal, has become more active live, and I’ve been working with some other people in the studio. I want to work with other labels and see what other approaches might work. Relaxer started in a very private place but now it’s time to let it loose into the world.

Relaxer – V is out now. 

Order it here.

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