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Ahead of his live performance at Bulmers Forbidden Fruit on Sunday June 3, Cóilí Collins catches up with recent Brainfeeder Records recruit Ross From Friends.
“They literally told me to just ‘make the project that I wanted to make’… Ever since, I’ve been doing exactly that. Not thinking about ‘will this music work in a club?’ or ‘is it too weird?’.”
This could be another interview with Ross from Friends about how he’s not just a lo-fi house artist, but it’s not. The man behind the infamous name is, at this stage, much more than a handful of popular YouTube uploads.
Since his initial emergence via OOUKFunkyOO, we’ve seen his three-pronged live show (which features live guitar and keys) go everywhere from Panorama Bar to the BBC.
He released a breathtaking eight-track EP on rising label Magicwire and has ditched the tag of an internet fad and become a real life musician, not the sole product of sleepless nights and a laptop. His most recent announcement, an EP on Flying Lotus’ Brainfeeder label, marks his rise through the underground to the fringes of pop culture. While brandishing the term ‘pop’ on one of the most obscure labels in existence is a bit of a stretch, Brainfeeder dwarfs most electronic-only labels in terms of mainstream significance when you see the multitude of acts that have graced the label.
It took a Rolling Stone acknowledgement of DJ Seinfeld to be recognised as a legitimate artist rather than just another lo-fi guy, while Mall Grab’s absolute denial of being in any way related to the online scene that he arguably popularised was what orchestrated his own separation from the rest of the bunch. It’s difficult to pinpoint Ross From Friends’ moment that sprung him to widespread approval. It’s been a long journey that in the end took him from lo-fi to FlyLo.
"Flying Lotus got in touch with me over Twitter saying that he liked my tunes and pretty quickly afterwards he asked me to do an album on his record label."
“The Brainfeeder thing has actually been in the works since around August 2016; Flying Lotus got in touch with me over Twitter saying that he liked my tunes and pretty quickly afterwards he asked me to do an album on his record label. I’ve basically been trying my absolute best to not tell everyone I meet. Obviously it’s mental to be complimented by such a legend like FlyLo and to put something out on such an interesting label like Brainfeeder.”
Ross From Friends’ music has never been the archetypal definition of ‘house’ and there’s nothing archetypal about the music released via Brainfeeder. Flying Lotus himself is the definition of unpredictability, having five albums to his name, as well as a mixtape under a secret alias, not to mention his extensive work in film; most recently directing and scoring one of the most controversial pictures of last year, ‘Kuso’.
A forward-thinking home like Brainfeeder for RFF’s music seems like something that should’ve happened a long time ago.
“Their whole approach is to let an artist completely fulfil their creative vision; they literally told me to just ‘make the project that I wanted to make’. It felt like such a comforting thing to hear. So ever since, I’ve been doing exactly that. Not thinking about ‘will this music work in a club?’ or ‘is it too weird?’.”
The whole Ross From Friends brand and project is one that was born through club culture. ‘Talk To Me You’ll Understand’ is, without a doubt, his defining track and one that most definitely found its home within the confines of underground clubs worldwide.
Still, it and the rest of his back catalogue haven’t been conventional four to the floor house bangers. Moving to Brainfeeder reinforces the well-roundedness of his music and the uniqueness of his live show, but it doesn’t spell the end of his revered DJ sets.
“There is definitely still a place for DJing. I really enjoy DJing, there are certain things you can convey with a DJ set that aren’t possible with a live set and vice versa. I’m probably not too concerned about the balance of those two things and how it might come across, but sometimes if I feel like I haven’t DJd for a while, I’ll try to push for that side a little more. It helps to mix it up a bit.”
Support hasn’t dwindled from clubland, with one of the genre’s leading names, Bicep, enrolling RFF for the Belfast duo’s album tour alongside Hammer.
“That’s been just great. It has really allowed a broader fanbase access the music,” he explains. The Londoner’s journey somewhat mirrors that of Bicep’s; gaining traction online and then building a reputation as a formidable live act, which then led to an album. An LP from the producer hasn’t reached us yet, but it’s only a matter of time.
“The kind of people who maybe wouldn’t be into what we do would find themselves enjoying it. As for the Bicep boys, we’ve found ourselves goofing around, swapping ideas for live show gear, which has been really inspiring.”
Electronic music fans are probably the pickiest when it comes to what they consider ‘underground’. There’s a certain pressure to remain strictly underground when making new tracks and playing live, as if there’s an invisible line between underground and mainstream that you can’t cross. His dive away from strictly house music is still ‘cool’ in the eyes of his fans, as was his original rise to fame. Dance music fans often carry a ‘with us or against us’ attitude, and I wonder if he felt that would hurt his following if he began making non-electronic centered career moves.
“There definitely is a certain pressure, I think especially within dance musicians and DJ culture. It’s nice to work with a label like Brainfeeder where there really is an ‘anything goes’ mindset. It’s refreshing to be a part of that, and I think it has pushed me as a producer to make something that I’d never normally make. I’m very excited for y’all to hear it!”
Being associated with the lo-fi movement has been a label that has proven far more difficult to shake than any other umbrella label in house music.
That particular sound was harmed by both the media’s interpretation (The Guardian, FACT Mag) and also by the number of copycat artists that came in such a short space of time, resulting in its reputation being tarnished.
Even before Flying Lotus and Bicep’s co-signs, Ross From Friends had proven he was more than a bunch of distorted drums, emerging from repetitive lineups to prominent festival bills such as that of the upcoming Forbidden Fruit Festival in June.
“I’m not sure if it’s fully shaken. I’m sure I’ll always have some tie to it in one way or another, it’s a pretty easy device for journalists to use when defining the music. I love a lot of the music still, but unfortunately quite a large part of it has become fairly saturated and lacks the originality that made me love that style in the first place. In regards to the copycat nature, I’ve tried to ignore any of the negative connotations.
“For seven years I’ve been doing Ross From Friends and I’m really happy with where the project’s going. Obviously it’s flattering if others have been inspired by that, but if that’s not where their inspiration comes from then that’s cool too.”
Having played in Panorama Bar, XOYO, on BBC Radio 1, as well as supporting Little Dragon and a lot more, becoming a household name rather than just an underground favourite doesn’t necessarily seem like an unattainable goal for the Londoner anymore.
“When I think of household names I think of like Simon Cowell or Dale Winton or something,” he says, laughing off any possible comparisons.
The producer is at that stage where he’s highly-rated among his contemporaries and is on the verge of catching the public at large’s attention given the variation of his accomplishments to date.
“I can definitely feel that things have changed, especially with recording a live set at Maida Vale for BBC Radio 1 and playing at Panorama Bar, they both happened in the same week and felt like such huge milestones. It was really overwhelming actually.
“It has happened pretty slowly so it’s felt like a really natural growth. I really enjoy it at the moment. Especially meeting people who like what I do, that’s always really nice to hear. If it’s negative spotlight that obviously doesn’t feel that nice, but I haven’t had to deal with too much of that.”
Despite being one of the more musically-inclined electronic music artists out there, he still maintains a tongue-in-cheek outlook to his position as a musical artist. If that wasn’t obvious via the semi-satirical ode to David Schwimmer, a quick flick through his Facebook and Instagram will see continuous displays of self-deprecation; using his own records as champagne coasters or photoshopping himself and the band outside Berghain.
“Yeah I reckon what I really like at the moment is just having a bit of a laugh. I know that other artists like having a laugh too but sometimes that doesn’t really come across when they present themselves as an artist. A lot of bands and producers are focused on coming across as cool and serious, when in reality that’s not what they’re actually like. The self-deprecating bit is just a part of my humour, I’ve always found that kind of thing really funny.
“I really don’t do that much outside of music, it takes over everything I do (in a positive way of course). I like going to the pub and I like skateboarding, but I haven’t done either of the things as much for a while. When we were in New Zealand, the owners of the club we were playing in Wellington had a mini ramp in the backstage room and he brought us skateboards. I feel like that needs to happen a lot more.”
A brief observation of most DJs or electronic music producers’ Instagrams will find a collection of posts referring to the stresses of their never ending travelling schedules. Rushes to airports, long waiting times between flights and commutes between stations, hotels and venues makes an artist’s life feel like it’s always in the hands of a timetable and obviously infringes on creative time, but also on life outside of producing and gigging.
It’s no different in the case of the ‘Bootman’ producer, even if he is on the road with two of his best mates.
“I’d be lying if I said it hasn’t been tough, not seeing friends and my girlfriend as much, but honestly I can’t really believe that I’m allowed to do this. Just travel with two of my best friends, getting the opportunity to hear loads of music from around the world and see all of these places that I’d never have gone if it weren’t for this.
“I could imagine it’d get lonely if I was playing solo a lot more of the time, but I’m absolutely honoured to be able to share this with two of my best friends.”
Having come from seemingly nowhere, Ross From Friends’ rise is now one of the most unique ascensions in electronic music. Longevity is something of a grey area among all house and techno artists, and his branching out to Brainfeeder sows the seeds of a legacy that may last as long as Friends’ itself.
Ross From Friends plays Bulmers Forbidden Fruit which takes place this weekend.