Live instrumentation and dance music are often disassociated, perhaps this is because we have become accustomed to the sight of laptops, buttons and machinery. However, that is not to say that there aren't people producing electronic music with instruments in this day and age, no, far from it in fact.
Ishmael is a producer most commonly known for his take on house music having released on labels such as Wolf Music, Church and Deso. However, most recently he has taken a sidestep away from the typical narrative of a dance music producer, hooking up with instrumentalists to create what he has titled the Ishmael Ensemble. "Songs For Knotty" is the first release to emerge from the project and has just been released on Banoffee Pies Records. The project sees more of a focus towards jazz and abstract electronics than club built sounds, a twist in a musical career which shows great promise. Ahead of his appearance at Farmfestival alongside the Ensemble we caught up with him for a chat as he contributes to our mix series...
Who are you, where are you & what are you?
Hello, my name's Pete Cunningham, I live in Bristol & I make music under the name of Ishmael
Can you describe the mix you've made for us?
The mix is a collection of music i listen to at home, it's a lot of jazz & spiritual stuff i've collected over the years. The intention is to let the listener forget their surroundings and enjoy a variety of sounds from around the world.
How was the mix made?
I recorded the mix at home using two turntables, a mixer & my Watkins Copicat Tape-Delay.
If you could pick one track from the mix, what would it be?
The Jazz Doctors - Spoonin' - I bought this when i first started collecting jazz records and haven't played it for probably 5 years, so it was a joy to pull it out and listen again. I love how Frank Lowe (sax) & Billy Bang (violin) play off each other on this one, you can really put yourself in the room and visualise the session.
You've just released your debut as Ishmael Ensemble, how does this project differ from your previous solo work?
The production process hasn't really changed, it's just a new sound palette. "Songs for Knotty" is made from completely live instrumentation whereas my previous work has always contained some degree of samples. I think this change occurred when i started to feel confident in my own abilities as a musician to the point where i was happy to record something that i felt was true & honest.
How did the group come about?
Firstly I'd like to make a distinction between the record and the band.
The record was made over the course of 3 or 4 months last summer. I wrote most of it at home with the instruments I had to hand, the various collaborations on the record came at a later stage of the writing. It was more about finding the right voices and instruments to suit the mood i wanted to set as opposed to forming a band per se.
The band has elevated the music to another level, there's now 6 people's interpretations of the melodies & rhythms, each bringing their own unique voice to the table. The tracks have really come into their own and we've written a fair amount of new material as a collective. Thankfully this has come about rather naturally, the majority of the ensemble are friends of mine from school & we've been playing together since around the same time. There's a lot of synergy in the room.
Where can we see the band?
We're doing a couple of launch shows over the next few weeks, the first of which are Friday 17th March at The Silk Mill, Frome & Saturday 18th March at The Crofters Rights, Bristol.
You're also playing at a few festivals over the summer, are you excited to take the show on the road?
Festivals are a great way of presenting your music to a new crowd, so yes we're super excited to reach a wider audience. I think the live show will develop a lot through gigging. It's always hard to gauge which parts of the set the audience will react to most during the rehearsal process.
You have also been djing a lot recently, what can we expect to hear in your dj sets?
I've been playing less "safe" music in the club environment recently. I think the fact that my last few releases haven't been so dancey, people are expecting to hear a wider collection of music when they see me. I'm not sure whether my audience has changed or i'm more confident in my selections. People haven't stopped dancing yet so i plan to continue down this route.
What's in store for the rest of the year?
I'm actually moving to Berlin for the summer to work on some new music. As i mentioned there's a fair bit of new Ensemble material so perhaps we'll get an album together. For now i'm really enjoying the creative process without consciously thinking about what i want to release and when. I'm more interested in developing as a musician at the moment.
Ismael and his Ensemble play Farmfest 28th & 29th July. Sign-up for full line-up announcement HERE.
Follow Ishmael on Facebook HERE.