In early 2012, Lone dropped his album Galaxy Garden on R&S Records. His debut for the label was less an injection of colour, more a full-on explosion. Born of the memory of finding boxes of 90s hardcore cassettes in his friends dad's cupboard, Galaxy Garden melted down rave nostalgia into hedonistic chord progressions, jungle-inflected drum patterns and dreamy vocal harmonies - and sent heads reeling once animator Konx-om-Pax got his hands on it, too. Here was a debut that smacked of intrigue, personality, memory, and a playfulness that felt often muted in the UK scene at the time.
Now, Lone returns with his new album Reality Testing, which we're pleased to bring you the premiere of in full.
If Galaxy Garden was his insistent forward-thrust into the world, Reality Testing sees Lone find a spot, lean back and take it all in. The 90s rave influences of previous years have ebbed away, and in their place another sort of personal nostalgia; a rediscovery of hip hop that shows Lone at his most considered, and makes Reality Testing a genuine delight to hear.
[Updated]: You can stream clips of the album and read our interview with the man himself below.
THUMP: It's hard to belive that Galaxy Garden came out two years ago now. How have you been since the release? Did you go straight back into writing more music?
Lone: Yeah, it's nuts. I finished Galaxy Garden in early 2012, and immediately after I began ploughing through the writing process again – but I felt locked in. With Galaxy Garden, I wanted everything to be gleaming. Synthetic, crystal clear, colourful - to carry on with that glossy sense of clarity. I made an EP of material like that, but I ended up scrapping it.
Lone: It sounded exactly the same as Galaxy Garden, basically. My heart just wasn’t it in. It seems clichéd to say that you make music for yourself, but if I’m bored by it, there’s so way anyone else will like it. It’ll just be shit. I had to come up with a new idea.
Do you feel the positive reaction to Galaxy Garden played a part in it; making music for others as much as yourself?
Lone: Well, it’s never been a conscious want to trick people into liking something. I’m mostly trying to surprise myself. I’m happy to wait for an idea that’ll get me interested again. I often see the Lone project from the outside looking in. Lone is kind of like an imaginary friend to me. If I was Lone’s number one fan, what would I want him to come out with? What would be cool for him to do next?
Well, I definitely can feel a strong influence of hip hop on Reality Testing.
Lone: There definitely is. No rave hardcore stabs, no big twinkling chords, nothing like that. I knew I was done with that and, in that case, what else was I to dig into? I went back to some stuff I liked when I was younger - especially all the skate videos that I watched. Maybe it was an early midlife crisis. Skateboarding was how I discovered hip hop when I was 15 or so, and skate videos always had sick soundtracks – shit like early Wu Tang and Gang Starr.
To be honest, hip hop got me back into making tracks, but I still wanted to make tracks that could be played out in the club, so there was a lot of house and techno influencing Reality Testing. Sinking into both, it got me thinking that a lot of old techno was built in the same way as hip hop instrumentals.
Lone: Well, take Theo Parrish for example. That house sound - that’s built on MPC’s using soul and disco samples - isn’t too far removed from how hip hop producers use those same records. It’s about the weight of the production, the graininess of it all. I love electronic music with that homemade feel. It's as if you’re in the room with them.
So, what about that feeling did you try and pull through Reality Testing?
Lone: I’ve found a lot of hope. I mean, I’m at one with the idea it’ll sound like me no matter what, but it’s much in the same in the way directors look for source material and research it. This is my angle on it. The jump off was seeing the skate videos, then going back to records of the time I bought, but I tried not to reference J Dilla. That happened a lot a few years ago with the LA beat scene. Brainfeeder are great, but I didn’t want it to sound like a "faux-Brainfeeder" record.
That being said though, the album hasn’t turned out the way I wanted it to in a lot of ways. I wanted to make straight up hip hop – no tricks, no glitchiness - but then, because it’s me, it didn’t sound like that. I guess there’s no point in trying to strip it back so much that you strip yourself away with it.
The album feels much more densely packed that Galaxy Garden, less "clean" sounding.
Lone: A lot of the "clean" sounding stuff - I'm just not up on it now. If get bored, that’s it. It's not that I won't go back to it ever again.... I just think I'll end up making a jungle album next. It's also probably no accident that I got into rawer techno like L.I.E.S., and newer Detroit house stuff like Funkineven, Kyle Hall and Jay Daniel, when I was writing Reality Testing. It's a total reaction against that cleanliness.
So, in the hip hop vein, how sample-heavy is Reality Testing?
Lone: I wanted it to sound like it was totally sampled based, but I didn’t want to sample lots. I generally focused on learning how to make nicer chord progressions, because that’s my favourite. 'Coincidences' is just a VST Rhodes sound, but I'm proud of it because it sounds like some old soul sample. I was really taking the effort to make it sound battered. There are a few horn stabs and the odd chord here and there taken from elsewhere but, aside from that, it's all me. I don't think it's anywhere near as "colourful" as Galaxy Garden is.
Well, there is colour in Reality Testing - it's just more muted.
Lone: Yes, that’s absolutely it.
Perhaps you can find some solace in that hip hop is a technique and a mindset, rather than strictly a sound.
Lone: Absolutely. All the more house-ish tracks on the album have a real swing to the drums. I wanted to build house tracks much in the same way I’d build a hip hop beat. It just happens to be at a different tempo. They can sit side by side without feeling miles apart.
How do you think you kept that hip hop feel sounding fresh, rather than some kind of hackneyed revivalism?
Lone: Taking myself away from scenes, and not worrying about what’ll work with a hip hop crowd maybe? I was around for the peak of UK hip hop because I used to DJ at shows a fair bit, and so my connect to hip hop has always been a pretty immediate one, but my favourites were always from NYC. It does feel like a filtered down version of hip hop. I only went to NYC for the first time a couple of years ago.
You have a new live show for Reality Testing as well, designed by Konx-om-Pax again. Without wanting to give too much away, how would you describe it? What’s the vibe like?
Lone: Well, I wanted to do a whole new live show with Konx-om-Pax again because he did such a sick job with the animations for Galaxy Garden. I wanted this show to be a showcase of his work as much as my own, to really show him off. Initially, I thought of it as a showcase of him as much as me - to let him go with his animations - but having spoken at length about it all, he’s just really hyped to make stuff that speaks to the album.
He totally understands my sound. It’s not going to be as colourful and ravey as the Galaxy Garden show was. It’s quite abstract now. There's more footage as opposed to animation. We filmed some scenes in Lisbon recently with lots of lens flare and graininess - some skateboarding too.
Are you skateboarding in it?
Lone: I actually am, yeah! But very badly, though.
I remember you saying that you were inspired to make Galaxy Garden from finding old rave tapes. Now, with Reality Testing, through your love of skateboarding and hip hop. Do you think your thought processes for writing music are - not so much nostalgic, but inherently child-like? About re-discovering and re-interpreting old loves?
Lone: I hadn't thought of it like that but, yeah, that's kind of it. My albums are documents of my life. Music is my diary. It's my way of keeping on top of things, I suppose.
The debut live A/V show for Reality Testing will be held in London on June 18th. More details here.
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