In June 2019, pioneering South African artist Ryan Murgatroyd celebrated the launch of his new imprint Swoon Recordings with the release of a deep and expansive two-track extended player titled ‘Wicked Eyes’. With widespread live support from esteemed international selectors including Solomun, Tale of Us, Adriatique and Eelke Kleijn to name a few, Murgatroyd had successfully inaugurated his mission to build and develop a catalogue that both transcends the clichés of four-four music and explores the more avant-garde and soulful manifestations of electronica.
Almost three months on from Swoon Recordings’ debut offering, and with Wicked Eyes still making serious waves across sound systems and dance floors the world over, the Johannesburg-based producer unveils his all-important follow up release on the burgeoning South African label. Titled ‘Is That You’, the sophomore release sees Murgatroyd explore a slightly different sonic path to its predecessor, as he delivers a standalone original mix, brimming with ambient piano refrains, tense discordant arpeggios and chugging beats across its transcendent nine-minute duration.
We sat down with Ryan to discuss Swoon Recordings, Is That You, his forthcoming release ‘Find Me Another’ on Get Physical and more…
Hi Ryan! A very warm welcome to Techno Mood. Great to have you with us for the first time.
Please can you introduce yourselves to our Techno Mood readers?
Well, I’ve been immersed in electronic music for about 20 years. Back in 2007 I was making music on labels like Toolroom Records, and even Cr2 records, and then I sort of went off the international map and focused on my South African projects for a while. In 2013 I decided it was time to start making music that would go beyond my own borders, and signed a track called ‘Bantwanas Piano’ to Defected. From there onto Get Physical music, and then about 3 years ago I really got serious, remixing for Super Flu, Lane 8 and putting out music on Bessemyer, All Day I Dream and other great labels. Then I figured the next step was to start Swoon and really ramp up the production of the original material – I want to build a catalogue of some seriously life changing electronic music with the new label.
You recently set up your new label Swoon Recordings earlier this year. How’s that all going?
It feels awesome man! I have a strong preference for electronic music that is unapologetically emotional, subversive and nuanced at the same time and it’s always been complicated to try and put those ideas into a box and make them perfect for a label that already has a strong identify and history of tracks that sound a certain way. We had to believe that we could really do something unique and be in the conversation for one of the most respected electronic music labels on planet earth. It sounds like a lot but of course we have to have a giant vision with the label! Or maybe I’m delusional?!? We’ll see…
We’re really digging your downtempo single ‘Is That You’ and the accompanying music video. Can you tell us little big about the whole project?
The thing is, I’ve always felt a bit limited within that typical 4/4 house and techno music. I always wanted to make something more intense and lean towards the harmonic and cinematic, even take a bit of influence from Nils Frahm and that kinda neo classical music, but without losing that subversive edge that dance music has. And then I started this piece as a downtempo listening track, but amazingly as it developed, it seemed to be very versatile and ALSO work on the dancefloor. So it’s a 5 minute really thoughtful electronica track, with a poppy element in the melodies, and then it kicks down into a really cool bassline that ALWAYS gets hands in the air, whenever I play it. I used to open my sets with it, and that worked really well, but lately I’ve been closing with it instead and that works an absolute charm! Ive never been free enough, creatively, to work with this kinda format – 9 minute arrangements that only drop at 5 mins, but man it feels too good.
A big part of the ‘Is That You?’ concept is the video. It just so happens that my grandmother has a multi decade career in making costumes and puppets and even in Jim Henson type animatronics, like the kind you see in Netflix’s Dark Crystal. And even before Netflix announced they were going to remake it, we had an idea to do a sorta Jim Henson puppet style series of videos for some Swoon records. We wanted to build a cool character who embodied the song, and really made you feel the emotion in the song, but was also completely ridiculous, and make the movement very quirky and create a superposition of a legit piece of art with the completely ridiculous puppet moving in a way that is so unrealistic that it actually becomes believable. We took influence from shows like ‘The Muppets’ and even older puppet characters from the 1940s. The fascinating part of this is, the puppet has a fixed expression on his face and any emotion you think he is experiencing is being projected on him, by you. I mean not to get too deep about it, but it’s an interesting thing humans do where we anthropomorphize and project our emotions onto animals or inanimate objects and this story and character, in particular, seems to elicit a lot of that, and is cool to watch from that perspective. The whole video was shot on a set that is 1m x 1m big, made entirely of paper mache, by my gran top to bottom. And we shot it in one day, just being completely silly. I just love the little dude so much! He makes it so relatable. It feels nice to be putting out something that i actually consider to be some form of visual art.
Your next record ‘Find Me Another’ is a more club oriented track on Get Physical, a label with which you have a long history. Can you talk to us about that release?
Well one influence I did absorb from being in Africa is a love of the more soulful deep house sounds of yesteryear. I haven’t dabbled in that sound for a while, and it was nice to get back to my roots and write a 120bpm song that is just made for a small, sweaty basement, or a mid sized room of 500 people losing their minds. This track is all about vocals and baselines and its refreshing to write something so stripped down and has a sorta old school soulful feel of the vocal. Definitely a huge track in my sets as well. It’s out this week Friday actually, check out the latest edition of Get Physical Radio for a cheeky teaser.
What are your favourite pieces of studio equipment right now?
Okay so I just bought the new Korg Minlogue Xd, which is downright fantastic because it creates very complex hybrid analogue/digital sounds. It’s the only piece of hardware which can create these complex digital bell tones that I would normally have to use Reaktor or Omnisphere for. It’s insanely cool and it’s only like 500 Euros! Honestly if you only ever buy one hardware synth, this is probably it!
I use the DSI prophet Rev 2 a lot too, the aftertouch in insane, it’s a proper instrument! It likes big chords, lots of polyphony and to be played like a proper instrument – that’s refreshing because alot of polysynths lack the nuance and sound too harsh, synthy and brittle for me.
And then number 3 has to be Omnisphere – the best software instrument ever made in my humble opinion – I own every upgrade, every add on, including keyscape, and the pianos and emotive polysynth sounds are unreal, as are the textural sounds, atmospheres and leads.
Lastly I’ve just gotten into Arturia Pigments – very very interesting sound design framework it has, nothing like I’ve seen before.
What would you say are some of the biggest challenges running your own imprint?
Well of course it’s a million times more stressful, having to upload all the releases, check the artwork, deal with engineers, mastering, aggregators, PR people. But I love it. Of course just clawing your way into people’s consciousness when there is so much good music out there, but it’s a long term game. The hardest part is getting records into the right hands and building them into real hits that have extended shelf life. But I believe the right music always finds a way, and our first release was getting caned by Solomon, Tale of us and Adriatique weeks after we released it so the universe is being good to us!
Who or what were your biggest musical influences growing up?
I grew up listening to classical music with my grandmother, and so my initial electronic music influences were quite progressive, maybe James Holden “The Sky Was Pink’, Guys like Dousk, Patrick Chardonnay and even early Eric Prydz when he was still all about big funkiness in his productions. Nowadays its Nils Frahm, Floating Points, some Bonobo, and more eclectic electronica.
Top 5 favourite records you love to play out at the moment?
Well look man I have to biased here, so excuse me. But I make the exact records I like to play, so..
What have you got planned for the rest of the year?
Yeah look I’m not taking any prisoners this next few months. First off ‘Is that You?’ ss out right now on all stores. Secondly, the Get Physical music release ‘Find Me Another” with Mikhaela Faye on Sept 20, that’s up for Preorder already on Beatport. I’m in Berlin at the end of September for the 17 years of Get Physical Party with Blondish, Sailor and I, MANDY and Cioz. And then 4 October we have a very nifty club record out on Swoon, satirically named ‘Tonald Drump’, which is all about big synths and massive drops for late night club action, basically the complete antithesis of ‘Is that you?’ but still with my sonic signature in it;. Im also releasing some bits on Booka Shade’s label very soon.
Tell us something we might not know about you..
Geez this is putting me on the spot. I have a very big…surname. Well I lived in Peru for a bit doing plant medicine and investigating traditional healing methods. I have a podcast which I do on integrative medicine and other topics of scientific interest, its called Deep in the Mong
Any final words for our Techno Mood readers?
I think I’ve said enough 🙂
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