Text by CLOT Magazine
We are presenting a new mix that will transport you into the enchanting realm of the early autumn months. This special mixtape is curated by VAST HABITAT, a recently established record label, and it showcases a curated selection of artists and music from their freshly minted catalogue, as well as tunes that have inspired and resonated with them.
Vast habitat founders are Daniel Lea and Michael Deragon, aka Heliochrysum, which we have featured in the past (Bedroom Community Records). The project grew out of the artists’s desire to create an environment where music, design and art can coalesce. A good demonstration of this is their crafted selection of music and a superb visual approach.
The label launched with the release of two new solo albums — Lea’s ‘ENTHEOGEN’ and Deragon’s ‘DAWN’, and a compilation, VHS 001, which is the first in a series of engaging sonic conversations with artists working across electronic music, modern composition, and ambient. The compilation includes a remix by Heliochrysum of a track from Pinkcourtesyphone.
For this mixtape, they share they have included things they were listening to while making their records, film scores they love, deep sound design elements, some ambient/electronic music, a few of the works from the VAST HABITAT catalogue and other works that we love listening to or moved us along the way.
As well as being an electronic-focused label, a lot of VAST HABITAT is using real instrumentation, working with amazing players like Yair Elazar Glotman, Bethan Kellough and Jamie McCarthy. So it’s nice to hear the instrumentation of Six Organs of Admittance and Michael and I are huge fans of ‘Crash’ Soundtrack from David Cronenberg, scored by Howard Shore, which is all guitars very Glen Branca inspired.
Vast Habitat is launching this month. How Vast Habitat was born/incepted, and what are its main artistic aims behind it?
VAST HABITAT was born out of our desire to create an environment in which we could craft all the details of releasing music. We had been talking about different labels and trying to figure out where to send all the new work we had made, and we both always liked the idea of a label as a community.
I had mentioned to Daniel about starting a label a while back, and then I would get a bit hesitant, but then about a year ago, Daniel said, “what do you think about making an initial investment and doing this label?” So that’s how we began, and quite soon after that, we started building a community of collaborators as well.
Collaboration has always been very important to Daniel on his records, projects and film works-from, from working with musicians to mixing and mastering. With every record, different collaborators are a key part of his process. Working with others, for me as well, was always a huge part of the musical process. I’ve been in several bands over the years and have worked a lot in the dance world as well as scoring films, so having others to work with and off of always creates a sense of discovery which is such a great place to work from.
Conceptually, every record needs a different approach and new people to work with. That’s how we’ve come to work with so many artists like David Sylvain, Ben Frost, Yair Elazar Glotman, Bethan Kellough, James Kelly (WIFE), Shifted, Jamie McCarthy, Rupert Clervaux, Rafael Anton Irisarri, Chasms, Valgier
Sigurdsson, Mark Wastell, Roberto Crippa, Roberta Jean and Jess Bryant, to name a few. So community has always been very important to us; even if some of this is across email, the relationships are important, so it’s great to be able to open that up for the label.
Our main aim behind it, well, it’s really about trying to craft our vision in all aspects of the label, from the artwork, logo design, the music, merchandise design, and, ideally, creating a community of artists to work with on all the different facets of the label. We are here learning as we build VAST HABITAT, and hopefully, we get the chance to release interesting music with unique collaborations and work with as many artists as we can moving forward.
How have your previous experiences shaped the ideas you developed for the label? How do your different backgrounds and personalities play a part in it?
We want this label to be an environment of growth and community…of constant creation and pushing ourselves to strange places with wilder ideas and new musical relationships. A big part of the label for
us is to work with others as we build VH. From our design team (Roberto Crippa, Elisabetta Porcinai, Margherita Baldi) to Hot Salvation as our distribution team and other musical artists in hopes of building a place for engaging art. Much of our lives, for all of us, is a solitary experience and music/art
can really blossom with a community of creative minds coming together and pushing each other in a myriad of ways.
We both have unique interests and experiences, professionally and personally. We have worked on a wide array of musical projects, scoring films, sound design, music for dance, visual art, design and theatre. The combination of interests and our openness towards one another’s tastes/backgrounds are
really how we created the label as well as our work together as Heliochrysum.
Thankfully, as we are figuring out how to manage the technical elements of the label, we are able to share the tasks and help each other learn new software and things like that. We both have our days where all the admin stuff utterly spends us, so we get to delegate the tasks back and forth and tackle what we must. We try to also encourage each other as we learn how to do this.
Apart from your own releases, what is the label’s focus for artist selection? I can see lots of known and interesting names in the VHS, for example, that seem to be close to your circle. Is it your idea to have submissions, or are you selecting at the first instance?
For now, we plan on reaching out to folks we want to work with and see what might be possible. Eventually, we want to bring in some submissions and see what new work is out there in the world. Of course, if there is an artist out there who thinks the world we are building is fitting for them, the door is
always open for emails.
For VHS001, we reached out to a lot of people. Most people got back to us, but some, maybe, forgot or were too busy. So we will keep reaching out to people whose work we love and see what comes back to us each time.
For VHS002, we have some amazing names and hope that they all still come off, it’s very exciting making these collaborations, and we learn new ways of working each time; we aren’t precious our own materials; if artists want to use stem and completely destroy it and build on top of that then that’s the way it will go. We love getting surprises back, and it is going in a completely different direction.
For example, Daniel sent over a broken synth loop that was gated at a weird time, and Bethan Kellough couldn’t find the one. This made her put a techno four-to-the-floor beat, which is very different from her own work. We ended up making a dark techno track.
So it’s great that we both went outside what we both do to create a true collaboration which forms a new creature. Once the label grows for VHS003, we want to put artists together who love or respect each other from afar, like Bethan Kellough and Yair Elazar Glotman. We would love to hear what they would make together that might then inform a new collaboration which might find its way to a full-length record. We hope!
And what would you like to bring to the scene with your label that may be missing from others?
For us, a big part of this label, besides releasing our own music, is to bring other artists together and to help facilitate a community of collaborations. We both create endlessly in our own right and want VH to be a space where artists can come together and see what magic can be found in that process of conversations through music.
The visual side of the label feels very prominent as well. Could you tell us more about how the label’s visual identity is envisioned?
Daniel had worked a lot with Roberto Crippa on other projects (LAND/CURA MACHINES), and Roberto also did the design work on our Heliochrysum record. So Roberto and his team were vital in creating a visual identity. VH’s aesthetic is the result of a long creative conversation with both of us and Roberto, Elisabetta and Margherita.
This was truly an organic process of handmade work being scanned into the computer, then torn apart again and put back together in different ways, much like the music we make, which features one element rising into another only to be torn away, then holes arising out of walls of sound, organic elements decaying into something else, etc.
The simplest example of this can be seen in the VAST HABITAT and VH logos, where elements of the letters are torn away if you will. Also, you can see within the artwork for the releases that we love textures, minimalism, clean lines, organic decay, simple movements, brutalism etc.
The music, sounds and processing informed the visuals, the same way we re-amp sounds and re-process through analogue, digital, modular, acoustic recordings, synthesis, etc., is the same approach the design team takes with the visual images. Making something with paint, scanning, creating textures from real materials, setting them on fire, photography, scanning materials like concrete and stone, it’s pretty much the same process of decay and manipulation. They work hand in hand with each other.
What are your main inspirations for your artistic practice (or the label) these days? What have you been most excited about recently?
For Michael: his artistic practice with collage/mixed media painting, returning to playing guitar through countless effect pedals, Qi Gong, his cat (Bastion), Colin Stetson’s record When We Were that Which Wept for the Sea, classic horror films and always being at the ocean for dawn…either surfing or meditating with the sunrise.
For Daniel: entering into modular synthesis is something I thought would be a challenge with dyslexia, but it actually works out great, as long as you don’t mind the chaos and give into it. Film is always a go-to for me. Los Angeles has the best cinema in the world- 35mm films run every night at the New Beverly and American Cinematheque, Architecture, the LA river, driving, playing the guitar a lot focusing on open tunings and cluster chords, preparing to follow up L A N D “Anoxia” released on Important Records in 2015, collecting VHS, keeping artists alive by buying physical vinyl, blu ray and tapes.
VAST HABITAT: Simply put- we are excited to launch VH into the world and keep building collaborations and community.
What is your relationship with technology nowadays? And how do you cope with technology (screen/digital) overload?
Daniel: I took 5G off my phone over a year ago, and that is very healthy for me; it actually works out great; you have to order cabs from airports, but that’s better for independents. I limit all forms of a screen- no email on the phone, very few apps; with ADHD, the fewer distractions, the better it allows the brain to focus on what’s important, trying to stay present in a world that is constantly bombarding you with things if you let it.
Going for hikes, meditating, which I’ve been doing for 13 years now, watching films in cinemas as you are completely present and immersed within the picture, and working with analogue is nice using physical equipment. I’ve always preferred that. For the last 2 years, I haven’t had the net at home, which is great as I can’t check anything until I go to the studio, so that’s very healthy; remember the days you would get to work to check something!
Michael: I start my days at the ocean, usually surfing-just trying to connect to something greater than myself and something that makes me be present technology fails in the way…I do have to take days away from the screens completely, leaving my phone on silent and working on my collage art practice which is cutting, tearing paper, scraping paint and gluing-all analog…it’s like working in the garden for me.
I get tired of screens quite quickly as of late, and even while composing, I have to step away a lot to just listen and not look at waveforms-usually pacing as I need to move around a bunch while working. I actually enjoy working with pedals and analogue synths much more than the computer.