There’s always something special about the releases from Project: Mooncircle – the Berlin imprint first established in 2002 by Gordon Gieseking as an outpost for experimental sounds in a city dominated by techno. Always teetering on the boundary between the organic and electronic, and with acute attention to artwork and design, the label has put out records from a refreshingly mixed bag of artists, including fLako, Robot Koch, Deft and John Robinson, who’s 2009 album Who is this man? was produced by none other than MF Doom.
One of the label’s most consistent voices in recent years has been British-born, Tokyo-based beatsmith Rob Orme, aka submerse. Orme started out experimenting with 2-step and future garage forms (he turned in this storming Hyp mix back in 2011) before his move to Japan saw him adopt a more woozy, off-kilter style on his 2013 debut LP, Slow Waves. He followed that up with last year’s Stay Home, which continued his freeform assemblage of sounds that could be grouped in with those at LA’s Low End Theory nights, yet with Orme’s own distinct approach.
With his latest EP Awake, Orme delves further into an introverted atmosphere inspired by 1980s movies, drone and video game soundtracks. Not surprising, considering he recently spent downtime in a Tokyo hospital after what he describes as being “burnt out” from the run of shows that followed his last album. Read on for the experiences in that period which informed his brilliant new EP, and stream one of its shortest yet most infectious cuts in “sophomore”, an enchanting number that takes cues from the work of both Madlib and Joe Hisaishi.
Hey Rob, what’s changed for you musically and in life since Slow Waves and Stay Home?
After Stay Home I was playing a lot of shows and got a little burnt out. I had surgery and was in hospital at the end of summer for a while, it felt pretty unreal being in a Japanese hospital. At night it tripped me out a bit, it felt like an early ’00s Japanese horror movie. The view at night was rad, I was pretty high up and the hospital was right in the middle of Tokyo, just outside Roppongi. While I was in the hospital I made a lot of drone/ambient and movie soundtrack playlists. All I could really do was listen to music and play video games – mostly re-playing Persona 4. The whole experience kinda got me back into even more mellow stuff, and gave me ideas of what I wanted to work on for my own music once I got out. I’ve still been working on hip-hop type stuff too, but definitely on a more mellow tip.
You currently reside in Tokyo and the city seems to have inspired much of your previous work, was Awake written during your time there?
Yeah. Apart from Slow Waves, everything I’ve done in the past four years, I made in Tokyo. The city inspired me even before I moved here… Now I’m here, most of the stuff I make is almost like a soundtrack to this city.
You’ve expressed your love for anime, and ‘sophomore’ definitely feels like a nod towards this. Do you purposely hint towards your influences through your use of instrumentation and harmony?
I think it just kinda comes out while I’m making music. I get pretty easily influenced by stuff; if I’m into a movie or game at the time, I guess I subconsciously move towards something that could be my take on it, or gives off the same kinda vibe. Like I said, I’d been watching lots of ’80s horror and anime too. I like the respite scene music, it always seems to have those DX7 style Rhodes.
Lo-fi ambience and white noise are a recurring theme throughout the EP. Do you take field recordings and gather found sounds whilst on your travels?
Yeah, I’ve been taking field recordings for a long time now while travelling to play shows. Over time I’ve just built up a folder of stuff I go back to. I also record things from vinyl, tape and VHS. With every release I’ve been adding more and more layers of hiss, crackle and white noise. I always spend a lot of time working on textures, and when making beatless stuff I want them to fill up more space and play a bigger role.
What’s your production set-up been like for the making of the record?
I still mainly use Ableton and my [Roland] SP-404. I’ve been going digging for records more, and just sampling stuff from VHS and cassettes as well as sampling synths. I feel comfortable being restricted and just working with limitations and what I have. I usually switch up some plug-ins with every release.
Much of Awake is a beatless affair and focuses on delicate soundscapes, was this a conscious shift in direction?
I was influenced by what I was listening to. I didn’t really plan it to be that way but after half the EP was done it just felt kinda right making beatless stuff. Once my health started to get better I was trying not to push myself, so most days I would play games and just go out for walks to get my strength back. I never go out without headphones, and would just roam around at night listening to the same playlists I made while I was in the hospital.
Tracks like ‘turn back, something is wrong’ are incredibly cinematic and the title even suggests a film scene. Have you thought about writing soundtracks and are you inspired by writing alongside a visual?
Yeah, I think about it all the time. It would be rad to make music for movies, video games and cartoons. Sometimes while making music I play movies and videos in the background on mute, sometimes it feels like I’m making music just for what I’m watching.
The balance of percussion-led tracks beside ambient atmospheres throughout the EP paints a picture of someone standing still whilst everything is moving around them. Do you think your move from the quiet industrial town of Runcorn to Tokyo, and openness to explore, influences this in your music?
Definitely on this release, for sure. Even though I feel like I know the city more and more each year, I still feel lost. Being in a city surrounded by millions of people kinda reminds you how small we are. People say Tokyo is one of the loneliest cities in the world and I can see that for sure, things move fast here and it’s hard to keep up. Maybe if I still lived back home I would be making folk music now.
What’s the next move after Awake?
Right now I’m just working on fitting this new release into a live set and working on some tracks that will fit in-between. I played a lot of club events after releasing Stay Home, which was dope, but like I said it burnt me out a bit. So with this new direction I’m hoping I can play more mellow shows. As summer comes around I will probably get into a summer mood and work on more mellow hip-hop again, and hopefully more beatless stuff too. Maybe that work will go towards my next release…
Awake is out April 29 on Project: Mooncircle. Pre-order it here.
Images: Repeat Pattern