isolatedmix 37 – Rafael Anton Irisarri: Substrata Edition

After moving to the USA, one of the very first things I did was ask Rafael Anton Irisarri if he was planning to host another Substrata Festival, in what would potentially be it’s 3rd edition. For two years ive sat and envied this festivals attendees, its ethos, its intimateness and of course its amazing lineup, wishing I could fly across the pond to Seattle to attend. So as soon as the dates for this year were announced I was pretty quick to jump on board and support the festival.

A completely independent festival curated by Rafael Anton Irisarri himself, the first round of funding (via Indiegogo) has been and gone, with some amazing funding gifts available should you be generous enough to support the endeavour, including an exclusive mix by Markus Guentner, and a day-trip with the artists on the last day of the festival. It’s pretty clear from speaking to Rafael that his intentions to bring the best possible artists to the festival are a priority, and so a second round of funding has just gone live to ensure he can bring the exact type of talent to match the festivals ethos.

Combined with my eagerness to attend the festival, was my eagerness to finally have Rafael submit an isolatedmix. His productions as RAI, The Sight Below and more recently with Benoît Pioulard as ORCAS have been big inspirations for me and I can now happily say, that not only will I be attending Substrata, ASIP also has a very special mix by RAI. Themed around the festival, the mix includes productions from artists who have previously played, and (ahem) artists who may have something to do with this years lineup.

You can help fund the festival here, and if you can’t make it, then sit back and enjoy this brilliant mix by Rafael alongside a few questions I got to ask him surrounding the mix and the festival. I hope to see you there.

Can you tell us a little bit more about this years planned festival? What can the first-timer (like me) expect?

RAI: Substrata is a small-scale festival I started in 2011. My goal was/is to create an intimate space where the boundaries between performer and listener are blurry and the invisible plane that exists between the audience and artists is breached. In less abstract terms: I want to create a space that is inspirational and stimulating, that educates but also entertains, not only the audience but the performers. It is focused and introspective. As a journalist said about it: “Substrata aims to create artists out of its attendees; it aims to shatter the barriers between the stage for the performers and the viewers. It is very small and personal, only happens once a year, and might be one of the more interesting experiences you are missing.”

This is a completely DIY endeavor. This means no corporate sponsors, no city grants, etc. Substrata is truly a community supported event. It is very humbling. I’m forever grateful to everyone who’s contributed to our fundraising campaign and all the people that make this event happen.

In regards to what to expect: do you remember that old Seinfeld episode in which George Costanza does the opposite of everything he’s ever done and when people ask him, he replies: “I’m the opposite of every man you’ve ever met”? Well, Substrata is going to be pretty much the opposite of any major music festival you’ve attended. First thing you’ll experience upon arriving is the venue. It sits in the middle of a residential area, and while still within the city, it feels isolated from everything around it. It has a huge lovely garden and it is quiet and peaceful. Next thing you notice is the collegial atmosphere: there’s no separate “area” for the “stars” – no backstage, none of that us/them b.s. – everybody is commingling, very much so like you’d experience at an art opening, not a concert. You’ll also notice the lack of “headliners” – everybody is treated equally, there is none of this ego crap. We all do the same thing, and first and foremost, we are all human beings that deserve to be treated with the same level of respect you’d want others to treat you. Therefore, the same level of care goes to the performance of the local artist, to the regional or international one. I ask the audience to be on time and experience the entire program, which is curated specifically with that intention – to play from start to finish and capture your full attention. After all, what’s the point of going to one of those events where there are a million overlapping things and you only catch 10 minutes of an artist, only to run to the next venue and catch another 10 minutes? It’s this ADD syndrome what’s wrong with our culture today.

The mix must’ve been a joy to put together with such amazing artists’ productions, did it take you a while to whittle the track list down? What was your approach?

RAI: It did actually take me a bit. Some of the music I know by heart, so it’s easy to know which is the key signature and know what could work well together. On the other hand, there are a lot of styles represented – from modern classical, to ambient/drone to minimal electronics. I think this represents best how a Substrata evening evolves. These are the things I’m interested in presenting: music completely outside the mainstream. If I told people Substrata is an “electronic” music festival, a lot of Americans would assume it’s EDM-type stuff, which is sweeping the nation with a mad furor atm. I’ve even gotten emails from agents, trying to push X or Y artist. I find it quite hilarious, as whomever sent it has never heard of us, only knows we are presenting “electronic music” and that we are a “festival”.

I’m not interested in music that provides instant gratification, and that reflects a lot of my curatorial pursuits. Most of the music I selected relates to the music I make and it all goes back in full circle. There are also a few exclusive things in there – for example, the first proper track is from an ongoing collaboration between myself and Yagya, the Scanner track is something he specifically made for his performance at the festival last year, the field recording I mixed in with Lawrence’s at the beginning is from last year’s Substrata field trip. Markus’ track is an unreleased track he sent me for a compilation I curated last year (and ended up using a different one), so there’s a few exclusives in there.

What goes through your head when curating the festival? Do you aim for artists you’ve always wanted to see but haven’t yet been able to? Or artists you’ve seen and will know will bring a good performance?

RAI: Curating is an artform of itself. To me it reflects a very personal style and aesthetic. Every artists I’ve booked, I have seen perform previously, so I can vouch for their quality. I also know each one of them in person. I wouldn’t book an artist if I haven’t seen/heard before, even if they got all the right “hype” behind them. I give two shits about hype or what yay or nay popular magazine says. I only trust my own ears – I’ve even declined some of my best friends – not because I think they suck, but because they might not be the right fit for the aesthetic I’m going for the festival. Furthermore, I refuse to take suggestions from agents – I even refuse to work with agencies that simply treat music as a commodity. Which is kind of sad, as there are artists I adore (and in some cases friends with) that I’ll never be able to book for Substrata just out of principle. No need to mention names – they all know who they are!

RAI: For the most part, I’ve reached to my own community of peers, some colleagues, others dear friends. In most cases I’ve worked way in advance. For example, a few artist playing this year were asked to play last year or the year prior and for whatever reason they couldn’t do it. So there’s a new chance now. I’m also doing this thing where an artist who attended a prior year will get invited to perform at a later edition. Last year for example, I invited Widesky. I met him originally at the first Substrata – he had literally moved to Seattle from New Mexico 3 days earlier. His first order of business in Seattle was not to find a place to live (or work that matter) but to come and support this little event filled with underground music he loved. That to me said it all. Turned out he was an artist himself and after I heard one of his performances, I knew this person should be playing. This is similar in a way to my own journey in the music scene – one day I was watching one of my musical heroes perform (Robin Guthrie), the following year I was playing with him at an event. I truly want to create a platform in which others can enjoy similar experiences. That’s really my utter motive – to give back and share.

I’m falling in love with the Pacific North West at the moment after recently moving here and of course, you’re based in Seattle (where Substrata will be held). How much does this place inspire you or your own productions?

RAI: I would say almost 90% of my output if inspired by this region – its vast landscapes, the beautiful massive mountains and volcanoes, the rain forests, and the dark waters of the Puget Sound. My own music has a fluid quality to it, probably due to been surrounded by water constantly. I love the PacNW and wouldn’t want to live anywhere else in America. This is the place that was made for me and I’m delighted to be able to live and work here.

Apart from Substrata what else can we expect so see from you this year?

RAI: There is a new RAI album coming out this summer, it’s a follow-up to “The North Bend” on Room40. I’ve been slowly working on TSB material, but that might take a while longer to get it released. I’ve also been working on new ORCAS material along with Tom, nowadays he lives in Seattle (close to my house too) so it makes collaborating much easier! I’d love to play some more in North America – it’s a pity there is not much interest here for what I do. Later this month I’m playing in Bellingham at the BEAF (Bellingham Electronic Arts Festival), but other than that, all my plans for shows are in Europe or elsewhere. Kind of a shame really, there seems to be a big disconnect between my American listeners and organizers of concerts here in the US. What can I say? ADD culture galore 101.



0:00. Lawrence English – Patterns Review
1:28. Rafael Anton Irisarri – Substrata Hydrophonic Listening
2:15. Yagya/The Sight Below – Sleepygirl
6:52. Markus Guentner – Get Anything Done In This World
16:17. Loscil – Hastings Sunrise
23:09. Mirrorring – Drowning The Call
29:45. Svarte Greiner – Final Sleep
32:57. Tim Hecker – Dungeoneering
37:28. Scanner – 47° 36′ 35″ N, 122° 19′ 59″ W
40:47. Biosphere – Warmed By The Drift
47:11. Jacaszek – Lament
54:01. Nils Frahm – Ambre
57:39. Marcus Fischer – Shape To Shore
63:05. Oren Ambarchi – Stars Aligned, Webs Spun
66:10. Eluvium – Under The Water It Glowed

Artwork photo courtesy of Marcus Fischer, captured at the Substrata 1.1 Field Trip.