Talking To Travis: Clash Meets Machinedrum

Discussing ‘Vapor City’…

From Berlin to New York. London to Paris. Barcelona to Los Angeles. Travis Stewart aka Machinedrum’s rise – as gradual and well earned as it may be – has taken the producer across the globe, resulting in some bizarre shifts to his subconscious.

Drifting to sleep, the North Carolina-born artist found his mind returning to a city he had never visited, one that didn’t even exist. “I was transitioning between New York and Berlin,” he explains. “At its most frequent it happened once or twice a week, but at least once a month.”

A conglomerate of memories, places, its architecture would bleed into his production with surprising results.

“I started recognising sonic characteristics and qualities which were prevalent in different songs,” Stewart continues. “It sort of reminded me of districts in a city – you can know where you are by certain characteristics of the area, and the song sort of resembled that as well.”

Recorded in a helter-skelter fashion whenever his schedule would allow, Stewart’s new album ‘Vapor City’ (Clash review) owes its origins to a ferocious thirst to create.

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‘Eyesdontlie’, from ‘Vapor City’

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“I really try to stick to being in the moment – that initial moment of conception. The more time you spend between that original thought and re-visiting the thought, the [more the] idea becomes obscured.”

Gradually, a cache of new material was assembled, until Stewart had some 70 songs contained in a single folder. “I had this crazy playlist that I would go through and work out what direction I wanted to go in for the album,” he says. “It is a loose concept.”

“Loose” is an adequate way of describing ‘Vapor City’. Machinedrum is loose with concepts, loose with titles and loose with tempos: generally speaking, the producer is exploring the upper ranges, mapping out the exchange between footwork and that classic jungle sound.

“With footwork, specifically, what I was attracted to was the minimal nature of it and also the full-on body feel which the songs have. They’re just very rhythmic, almost akin to African percussion, African rhythms. The tempo relationship with jungle was apparent, and it all just kind of spoke to me in a very big way.”

Fused with this, though, is a love for avant-garde hip-hop – specifically, the way in which Stones Throw artists will chop, chew and distort classic funk samples.

“Essentially, I’m trying to find the halfway ground between a hip-hop track and these faster juke, jungle, drum ‘n’ bass tempos. I’m finding a happy medium between these two worlds.”

In addition to sonic space, ‘Vapor City’ explores a cerebral attitude to electronic music quite apart from its roots in system culture.

“Electronic music which really interests me is the sort which can really blend both home and club listening, that can work in both environments,” Stewart explains. “It’s a very, very challenging thing to achieve, and I think it’s something I’ve always strived for but it’s only recently that I’ve become successful in it.

“There was a good period of time where I was like: ‘Why don’t I hear anybody play out my tracks?’ Then I tried to spin them in my own sets, and I was like, ‘Oh… this is why’.”

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‘Gunshotta’, from ‘Vapor City’

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Words: Robin Murray

‘Vapor City’ is out now on Ninja Tune and is reviewed here. Find Machinedrum online here

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Stream ‘Vapor City’ in full via Deezer, below…

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