Simon Posford has never headlined a mainstream dance music festival, but for those familiar with his name and output, the English musician is nothing less than a major electronic scene star.
Posford and his collaborator Raja Ram began making music as Shpongle in the mid-’90s, using the project as a vehicle to pioneer the “psybient” genre that melded psychedelic trance, ambient music and world music into a mind-melting sound that many Shpongle devotees have described as nothing less than a religious experience.
Spatial, heady and transportive, the music has been a longstanding soundtrack to the psychedelic culture existing in the more “transformational” realms of the global electronic music scene. In the last 25 years, Shpongle — playing both as a duo and with DJ sets performed solo by Posford — has dropped jaws at many of the world’s most crucial psychedelia-infused electronic music gatherings. (“Like what the f–k even was that?” wrote a Reddit commenter in regard to Shpongle’s 2015 Electric Forest set. “I have seen a lot of s–t but I have never even experienced anything like that in my f–king life.”)
Last May, Posford and Ram performed what were billed as the last Shpongle live shows at Colorado’s Red Rocks Amphitheatre. The two-night run sold out in eight minutes. (The duo have said that they will continue to record music in the studio together.)
But while Posford is off the road as Shpongle — and like everyone else currently off the road entirely due to the pandemic — he’s still exerting his heady influence. This past Friday (July 3), he released his debut solo album Flux & Contemplation – Portrait of An Artist In Isolation via his own Twisted Records label.
Recorded, as the title suggests, while under lockdown at his home in England, the album’s 10 tracks range from meditative sound effects layered with distorted spoken word clips about doing mushrooms, to pretty piano meanderings to high-vibe, high BPM productions that would be effective at any given jungle rave, Burning Man set or socially distanced backyard gathering.
“Now is the best time to release the album,” Posford tells Billboard Dance, “because it is very much a ‘lockdown album.’ It (hopefully) captures an essence of the isolation and lockdown experience, and hopefully provides an escape for people in this already surreal situation.”
Here, Posford talks about growing up in a musical household, the process behind his new album and the ideal mind-state in which to listen to it.
1. Where are you in the world right now, and what’s the setting like?
I’m lying in a half-full bathtub of tepid water. It’s not ideal — my boiler has been broken for a month, and I can’t quite get enough hot water for a full bath. I’m not sure why I thought this would be a relaxing place to answer these questions, but here we go …
2. What is the first album or piece of music you bought for yourselves, and what was the medium?
I think it was Complete Madness, by Madness. On cassette.
3. What did your parents do for a living when you were a kid, and what do they think of what you do for a living now?
My grandfather was a composer in the 1940s. He wrote mainly musicals, and had some tracks performed by Vera Lynn, Bing Crosby and other luminaries of the time; so music was always playing in the house, and my family is still very supportive of what I do. I think they were probably worried about drugs, but they seem to like some of my more psychedelic music.
4. What was the first song you ever made?
I wrote a song on the piano aged about 8 with my dad called “Chicken Vindaloo.” I think we’d been watching Peter Sellers …
5. If you had to recommend one album for someone looking to get into dance music, what would you give them?
Tricky, there are so many genres of dance music … and I’ve never particularly liked any of them! I had many people tell me that my first Hallucinogen album, Twisted, “got me into dance music” or “got me into trance,” but I’m not sure I would recommend that, as it might be a bit weird for some people and it now sounds a bit irritating to me. I’m a big fan of the early Trentemøller stuff, so maybe Early Worx or something. Possibly Underworld or Leftfield.
6. What’s the first thing you bought for yourself when you started making money as a DJ/producer?
When I got my first record deal advance, I bought a Roland Sh101 — something I still use to this day. I didn’t start DJing for a quite a while after that, so I would have bought more studio gear.
7. What’s the last song you listened to?
I went on Spotify to check how the encoding and mastering sounded on my lockdown album that was just released. I was concerned about a loss of 3D and depth. Before that I was listening to “On My Radio” by The Selector. I’m enjoying a bit of a 2 Tone Records renaissance at the moment.
8. What’s one song you wish you had produced?
“Mr Blue Sky” – ELO
9. How are you filling your time during quarantine?
Much as I fill my time out of quarantine: playing a bit of piano, pottering around the garden and jamming in the studio. I’m quite surprised an album came out of it, honestly.
10. What’s distinctive about the place you grew up, and how did it shape you?
I grew up in the countryside, and it gave me an appreciation of nature.
11. What’s the first dance music show that really blew your mind?
Probably one of the underground acid house warehouse raves I went to around 1990.
12. What, exactly, is a shpongle?
Shpongle is my band with flautist Raja Ram. Last year we sold out Red Rocks Amphitheatre in Colorado, in eight minutes. Yet nobody has seemed to have heard of us …
13. What is the first thing you do when you get back to your hotel room after a show?
Have a shower.
14. What is the most memorable thing you’ve ever seen happening in the crowd during one of your sets?
A giant inflatable spaceman tea-bagging my mates in the crowd.
15. Your music is firmly entrenched in psychedelic culture. What does the word “psychedelic” mean to you?
16. You’ve been playing shows for a long time. How have you seen the festival scene and the psychedelic culture therein transform in the last 20+ years?
I suppose I’ve seen it grow in popularity. The themes remain the same.
17. Psytrance is one of the more misunderstood electronic genres. What’s great about this music?
The community. At psytrance parties there isn’t the prevailing alcohol and sex vibe that you get with more mainstream events. As for the music, I haven’t really listened to much psytrance since the early 2000s, so I couldn’t say. But in the early ’90s it sounded fresh and cutting edge at the time, and way more trippy than the other dance music I was hearing back then.
18. What’s the ideal setting in which to listen to your new album?
In a hammock with a great sound system or pair of headphones, and maybe a little stoned.
19. This album sounds like it took a great amount of time and attention. How do you stay focused while making music?
Not really. It was the fastest album I’ve ever made, because it was all live dub mixes on my mixing desk, so it’s sort of creating itself as it plays along. I’m not very good at staying focused, that’s why this method works for me.
20. One piece of advice you’d give to your younger self?