Lowtide x Lord Echo
Last week we were graced with the Latin, Afro, disco beats of Michael August aka Lord Echo. Travelling all the way from Wellington to play a DJ set at Auckland's Cassette Nine, Echo laid down his signature sultry rhythm and blend of world genres. Newest member of Lowtide, Louise Chandler, sat down with Mike ahead of the show to discover how he branched out from the likes of 'Fly my Pretties' and 'The Black Seeds' to launch his solo career. Read the interview below and peruse the gallery for a throwback to the Queen's Birthday boog!
What do you think the main factors have been to garner your international success?
To be honest, without wanting to blow my own trumpet too much, I think it’s because of the quality of the music. I think it’s of a good standard and it’s dependable in a way. I’ve always tried to consider how music will be useful to people and how they live their lives. I try to make music that’s useful for living. Really I’m just lucky that what I think is good, a whole lot of people also happen to think is good.
I think that it’s possible for that to happen now because people can access music on their own accord. The first record that I put out wasn’t really released at all. There was no message out there, apart from in Japan. People have discovered it for themselves. I think that kind of experience can lend you to connect with an artist or their music a little bit more, as it feels like it's ‘yours.’ I definitely am just a lucky beneficiary of the new kind of model, where there is not a major label standing between my music and the people that might enjoy it.
You’ve signed with independent labels in Japan, the United Kingdom, Berlin… Multiple territories. How has this come to be?
I haven’t reached out to these labels actually, they just got in touch with me through hearing the music. It’s not something I’ve tried to do. I have had the luxury that what I’ve made, people have liked it and whatever successes have been based off that without much effort on my part to try and convince people to pay attention to it, I have tried to do it much more with this last record. I think I’m just lucky.
In what ways has being from New Zealand influenced the music that you’ve made?
I think in many ways your environment is your life. Your creative output comes from what you do and how you live. Your environment is naturally a part of you whether you know it or not. I grew up in the country, and as a musician sounds travel so differently in the country compared to how they do in the city.
In the city, sound hits walls as its traveling, whereas in the country, sound can travel over long distances. I can remember as a kid, just instilled in me, how there’s a sensation of music arriving in your ears, arriving from a long distance away, in a rounded way, ambient space. From this I always try and put an element of that into the music I make because it adds an element of mystery, an element of depth, and a feeling of three dimensional space.
I think the other main thing about New Zealand, and this environment influencing the music, is the fact that the industry here is so much smaller than overseas. There’s not the same crazy, giddy heights that people might want to get to.
In terms of the musical communities, it feels like people overseas seem quite mistrustful of each other, and that there’s this desperation, this aggressiveness to get to certain places - that seems to be the case for the music industry in larger places. My experiences have been that here, people are just happier to help each other out and support each other, and especially across genres, and different scenes, people will mix and mingle more and it’s much friendlier. I feel like that’s made a huge difference to my music.
What advice would you give to a New Zealand musician who’s working with a DIY framework?
I guess it’s about the social media aspect of it. The way I see it, that’s what’s taking the place of the major labels, or what the labels used to be. It used to be that you made the music, and what stood between you and what gave you access to potentially lots of people that might like your music was the major labels that had the money to sell music, to advertise your music, booked the tours and pump it out to these people.
And while that model still exists to a degree, now there’s other ways to link your creative output and people that might be interested in it. Social media is that interface - for better or worse - it is what it is, and if you’re really lucky, which I feel I have been, people get into your music because somehow they find it, and on the strength of it on its own. But it’s not something you can bank on. It’s about finding a way to communicate . Even if you don’t feel like doing those things, it’s a necessary evil. And then that might be a much more pleasant way of engaging with people than what you have to do with the major labels. My advice to myself, don’t whinge too much, just do it! Be generous, and people are interested in you. I wish I could take my own advice there.
I was lucky to be in the Wellington scene at the start of the 2000s - something was happening - and I think I’ve always just been so interested in those times and place - because that’s what they are - they exist in a time and place and then they gradually come to an end. You can’t make the scene. You can create the conditions in which something might arise but I do feel like one of the key elements usually is cheap rent for artists. You often need space to get things happening. That’s why this collective format you guys have going on here at Lowtide is a way to circumvent that - sharing the costs between people makes it doable otherwise where would you be? And there you have the community, the cross-pollination between different forms, and that’s always exciting - that’s the melting pot. I think it’s cool when things aren’t like a mono-art form - it’s all creative processes. Anyone that does creative work, you know that you have that creative process in common with them, even if they are completely different - you can still engage on that level and learn from how people approach what they do.
I used to do a lot of painting when I was a teenager and I stopped because i didn’t have the space and I couldn’t afford the paint. And that’s fed a lot into my music, and that’s why I consider mixing and conceiving of music in terms of painting, sometimes. So, I think it’s really cool to transpose ideas from one thing to another. Yes you can sit down and try to be disciplined, and make something and force something out, but often the best you can do is create the ideal conditions, create the space, and then be patient.
Do you ever find that your past creative endeavours creep up on you? Do you ever wish you had a clean slate?
Yeah, totally. I remember being in Wellington, and they called it the Wellington sound or ‘welly dub’ - it’s always hard to find the perpetrator of these myths - I remember when it was cropping up. I guess things have to be sold, you have to sell something somehow, and it's important to put a name on something. You have to be label it to say what that is.
How are you feeling about playing tonight in Auckland at Cassette 9?
Very excited! I have some very great music. Not of my own, but other people’s. I think with any kind of performance, any kind of arts - anything really - in order to make it exciting for you and for the audience, there needs to be an element of risk involved, where something could go wrong, to make it exciting. With DJ'ing having some fresh music for you is where the life enters.
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Photography by Connor Crawford