Joe Seaton was born to be a painter. It’s in his blood. His grandfather was a leftist who set up a painting school in fascist Spain in the 1950s, bucking convention with his vibrant, colorful, expressionist style. Seaton’s own father created abstract works on canvas, sculpted, and taught fine arts in England. So when it was his time, Seaton dutifully headed to art school. But, as his tuition debt piled up, he had second thoughts, specifically: “What the fuck am I doing? I don’t really need the art-school environment to give me confidence and personal development. I grew up in it.” From there, the Londoner set out for Berlin, carrying on his family’s rebellious spirit in the realm of dance music.
Call Super: "New Life Repercussions" (via SoundCloud)
The producer’s 2014 full-length debut under the Call Super moniker, Suzi Ecto, woozily moved between swampy atmospherics and fourth world bangers—he even wove his father’s clarinet work into a few tracks—offering a fine example of 21st century IDM. And since then he’s dropped a thrilling array of experimental techno tracks, mixing abstract and psychedelic flourishes between beats, coming away with a sound that’s both swampy and surreal.
In February, he released a brilliant mix as part of the London club Fabric’s iconic series, a right of passage for electronic acts. True to form, Seaton took a different tack than some of his peers in presenting his mix, opting not for a representation of peak-hour sets but instead envisioning the wee hours of the night, when more fried and frayed frequencies can arise in a club. If anything, Seaton’s Fabric set brings to mind one of Salvador Dalí’s famous clock faces—at almost every quarter-hour a tactile shift takes place, where sounds seem to melt away, revealing a strange new psychic space. Fifteen minutes in, he drops his close mate Objekt’s “The Stitch-Up” like a handful of cherry bombs, letting it explode across the dance floor. He then he slows things down at the 30-minute mark before eventually segueing from the country blues of Walter Brown’s “Keep on Walkin’” to the spectral soul of Yves Tumor’s “The Feeling When You Walk Away” near the hour mark, expertly making a breathless whirlwind of a trip land in just under 70 minutes.
Call Super: "Puppet Scene" (via SoundCloud)
Chatting over Skype from his sparse flat in the Neukölln borough of Berlin last month, Seaton was in the midst of pulling out some records for the party celebrating his Fabric mix. He looked sharp in a designer button-down and glasses as he flatly told me it was five degrees below freezing outside. A portable heater could be seen nearby.
Pitchfork: What was it like coming of age in an artistic family?
Joe Seaton: At the time I didn’t realize this, but I grew up in a very alternative situation. We lived in a squat, and my mom fought a long campaign to get squatters’ rights. It was a fairly different childhood to what a lot of my friends had experienced.
Given your family’s history, did you always think you were going to be an artist?
I’d been encouraged to draw and paint from a very young age, but I had always made music growing up too. I just presumed that I would go through art school, and music would be the thing that I did for fun on the side. But I left art school because I was going into debt quite massively there, and ended up studying international politics at University College London, specializing in the Middle East and Africa. I’m so glad that I woke up and smelled the coffee. And now I’ve been doing music full-time for the last two years.
Call Super: "Nervous Sex Traffic" (Buy on Bandcamp)
In addition to being a painter, your father is also a Dixieland jazz player, right?
Yeah. He came through in this New Orleans jazz tradition, but there was a total UK spin on it. A lot of New Orleans players would come over to London to play. You know how there’s a British strand of techno which is much like Detroit techno? It was very much the same the relationship between New Orleans jazz and British jazz, 50 years earlier.
When I think of Dixieland music, I think of the idea of democratic improvisation, where everyone has this equal voice. Does that inform what you do as a solo producer?
Because I listened to so much of that music growing up, I’ve always believed in finding your own voice in whatever you’re doing. My connection to music has just been one of self-expression, and I think that’s how a lot of those jazz musicians approached life. It’s the same thing for me, but with electronic music.
When did you have your first electronic music experience?
The first piece of electronic music I heard that showed me it had all of the emotion and humanity that I knew from jazz or classical music came from watching a TV program. I must’ve been about 13. As the credits rolled, they played “Can You Feel It” by Mr. Fingers. I didn’t hear that in a club, I heard it on TV. And I suddenly thought, Hang on, there’s a lot more to this.
Call Super: Benji B Radio 1 Mix (via SoundCloud)
What’s the climate like in London now versus being in Berlin?
For everything negative that’s written about London, I actually think it’s not in a bad place right now. It’s not like it was when there were lots of permanent clubs with great line-ups two nights a week. But in a different way, it’s doing OK. There are some interesting smaller spaces and lots of really energetic, younger promoters.
What is your day-to-day workflow like now, and do you have another album in the works?
My normal day is spent working on a mix or whatever shit I’m getting on with, talking to people about what they’re up to or what’s going on in the world, and reading. I get to the studio every day and work away, and there are always some things that go in some folder and other things that go in other folders, but it’s nice to not draw clear divisions between these things. When it comes to albums, I like to have a pretty clear vision: naming tracks, making the artwork, I’m happy to do every stage of it. Making music for a living allows me to live in the present. I don’t need to look forward to my holiday or such and such a gig—I can just look forward to every hour of every day. That is the biggest luxury in life, to be lost in the present.