Ryan Griffin / ASIP
Subtempo Guest Mix 012
Ryan Griffin is the main guy behind the internationally revered ambient haven, music blog, label and community, A Strangely Isolated Place (ASIP). Created in 2008, their blog continues to be the foundation, with a focus on unearthing some of the very best ambient and electronica; through reviews, features and guest mixes. These origins have helped foster a warm and welcoming community of like-minded music lovers.
Surrounding the release of this mix, we caught up with Ryan Griffin, to talk about music, his background and his other passions. Read below for this insightful interview into the man behind ASIP's journey.
Hi Ryan, first of all, thank you so much for taking the time to do this mix for us and doing this interview.
No problem, thank you for the invite.
I wanted to ask you about the mix itself. Is there a specific theme to this mix? Anything we should know about?
As you know, I’ve been strapped for time lately and didn’t think I’d get around to anything for you soon, but inspiration struck whilst I was on vacation at the Coast in Oregon. The theme is unrelated though to the trip.
Overall, the mix is kind of nostalgic in sound and textures. As with all my mixes I like to take some twists and turns, so it starts very peaceful and calming, and evolves into some darker moments, eventually coming out the other side. On hindsight, it turned out to be a mix full of memories in melody and texture. A little romanticized if you like. And as a special bonus, it ends with a special upcoming ASIP track.
How and when did you record it?
This one was straight in Ableton with a couple of effects and loops. As I said, I was away for the week and had my laptop with me, so you’ll find a bunch of the tracks are from the last few months, fresh off my hard drive.
Tell me about your dj life, is that something you do often? I heard a mix you did for Headphone Commute with a detailed overview of your record collection, and both things were impressive! Do you consider yourself a dj first or a collector first?
I’m not DJing out much lately, but it seems I’m doing online guest mixes every couple of months now which I really enjoy. I’ve played a couple of techno shows in LA, and a few friends parties where I dig out my old House and Garage records, but the ambient stuff all goes online it seems. It’s hard to DJ out ambient music. Not many venues are suited for it unless we go back to the chill-out rooms of the rave era or some of the dedicated festivals you see now. I know a few people who try and put on shows in Cafes or Bars and the music gets drowned out. It’s a hard thing to crack if there’s no ‘performance’ involved. Putting together recorded sets enables the listener to dive in at their own time and pace without distraction. I enjoy putting them together and spend just as much time - if not more time preparing- compared to when I play out, as the flip side is people can come back to it again and again.Ryan Griffin's listening station. A small part of his 2000 piece (and growing) record collection.
My record collection started in house, UK garage, trance, then moved into techno and minimal, and then I started to collect ambient music. So I was a DJ first. That leaves me a lot of catching up to do on the ambient vinyl front. My father-in-law actually asked how many records I had this week. I answered around 2000 and he said “Surely there can’t be that much more to collect??!”... I enjoy that I still have to hunt for some classics I missed all those years ago. Its the chase and the excitement knowing there’s still so much more to dig for.
Now, I primarily buy music I want to play to people one day, not necessarily collect, but it’s one and the same when you’re paying $30-50 for a new double LP. I’m going to get the most out of it, whilst also treating it as something I will keep and look after.
Is your love for vinyl what made you start ASIP? Tell me about how the label got started.
Kind of. ASIP started at a blog ten years ago, August 2008. I was posting more and more music, and more artists were reaching out to me without a home, or just wanting their music to get heard. Blogs had so much more reach and power back then, nowadays most people don’t have the time to revisit dedicated blogs and read long-form content it seems. But that won’t stop me plugging away at it, as I enjoy doing it.
I started a free digital release series as a result of this growing artist community called The Places Series, and after some great feedback moved into vinyl. Vinyl was always the dream and the end goal, but in 2008 I never would’ve thought it would happen.
And that was back in the UK, right?
Yes, London/Hertfordshire, but If I remember rightly my first vinyl record was finished when I was living in Portland, Oregon.
But you live in LA now.
Correct, three years now.
What prompted you to move to LA? Did it have anything to to with ASIP?
My “day job”. Nothing to do with ASIP. If anything, I imagined it being detrimental to ASIP because of the great music community Portland has, but that’s the good thing about running a label - as long as you can get to a post office, you can still manage it! I think I’ve probably DJ’d out less and had less opportunities for shows though after moving to LA. It takes a while to build or connect with a local community, and LA is one of the hardest given its sprawl. There’s some great stuff happening here though. Awesome warehouse parties, and a steady trawl of shows of course. If and when I find a good location for a show, I’ll look at putting one on.
ASIP, A Strangely Isolated Place, what a unique and beautiful name. What’s the story behind the name?
It’s an easy one. Named after Ulrich Schnauss second album. He was (is) a big inspiration to the beginnings of the blog and was the first to do an isolatedmix for us. And it’s one of my favorite albums of all time. I also like the sentiment of the title.
For those that are not familiar with the label, would you say there is a “sound” to it? Or has that evolved over time?
From my perspective, as label curator etc, I don’t ever look for a particular sound. It’s simple for me; If I like the music, then I will try and support it. Of course, I’m not going to be releasing something far from what the readers/listeners may expect though, but I try and keep it varied as much as possible. The label has featured classic ambient, drone, electronica, modern-classical, techno and everything in-between. If anything, the “sound” aims to cover all aspects of this type of music, and maybe one day it will have achieved that.
Is there an ethos to the sound of ASIP?
Similar to the above, if there is, it isn’t by design. I like to think that one day people can reflect back on the label and identify it as a sound or a recognizabe moment in time. Just like the way I look back at City Centre Offices, or FAX, or even Warp. That’s the sign of success for me; if the label helped push artists and their music into a new place or identity. I don’t think it’s easy to know that in real time unless you have strict genre/style of releases. Who knows, maybe we’ll look back at ASIP and realize what a mish-mash it’s all been and nothing will make sense. “What was that guy doing?!” ha.His first record pressing came through during his time living in Oregon.
Would you say that now you mostly produce ambient records?
If I had to generalize, yes. But, the Earth House Hold record isn’t necessarily ambient, Christian Kleine’s is more electronic, and a few we have lined up for 2019, definitely aren’t ambient… that being said I believe ambient isn’t necessarily a style or sound anymore, it’s more of a feeling. People escape, ignore, or are attentive to different things in music. To base it off Eno’s term, what’s ignorable and interesting to me, might not be the same for someone else. Music is subjective and that’s what makes ambient music so powerful, as it can take so many shapes and forms now. I listen intently to some ambient music and I can’t do anything else other than focus on the details. Similarly I can put on some dub-techno and completely zone out. All depends on your state of mind at the time I guess.
As a lover of ambient, I think it’s fair to say that ASIP has become a modern world-wide reference. Would you say that is true? You seem to have a pretty solid fanbase.
I’m very flattered by that, but I don’t think it’s true. I like to think we still live in some corner of the internet. I still see many lists, reviews, articles around ambient music that aren’t even close to covering our corner of the world, and I’m fine with it staying that way.
It’s the origins of ASIP and blogging I like to remain true to, and once something becomes too big, it becomes news. Nobody wants news. Blogs and publications that aim for that are often doing it for monetary value, advertising etc. I’ve kept ASIP my “hobby” for as much as I can. Of course, I’d like more people to see or hear what I put out, but I’m a firm believer in people hunting down what they like. That’s what I do after all. And it’s more rewarding as a result, instead of throwing it in peoples faces at every given opportunity.
I believe people want to find something no-one else has and pass it on. That’s how culture grows and what makes something feel special. I miss stumbling across something so awesome that you have to share it with your friend in person. I hope people feel like that with ASIP. I still get emails from the odd person taking the time to say how much they enjoyed the blog or label as a music resource. That’s what keeps us going.
I recently signed up for your label’s newsletter, which I highly recommend to people (you get a free compilation!) and I was surprised to discover that you didn’t always produce vinyl, your first releases were all digital?
Yes, The Places Series. It was 29 releases, ranging from singles to full albums, given away for free (or $1 now simply so it shows in your collection). As before, I had a platform and people were listening, so I had the chance to present music I loved. Some artists were completely unknown at the time, some were my personal musical heroes, and many have gone on to do some great things. I’m very proud of everyone that took part in the series.
Was the jump to vinyl easy to make? Was it something you always planned on doing?
I funded the first release using Kickstarter / Indiegogo. We raised about $7k - roughly the cost to press a double LP. It was easy to raise the funds, as I had so many people supporting me and ASIP at the time. Even the CEO of the company I worked for got behind it which was humbling. But after that, I wanted to do it on my own and realized I could keep it going. I’m lucky though - to put that much money up and have people back it, is rare. I never would have dreamed of pressing vinyl when I started ASIP, let alone continue.A Strangely Isolated Place's vinyl pieces are a work of art.
The physical goods you guys produce are absolutely mesmerizing, art basically. You could almost hang them on a wall, colored vinyl, special cases, beautiful. Are these unique very elaborate pieces something you’ve done from your first vinyl release?
I try and put as much effort into the presentation as the music itself. 90% of the time the artwork takes longer than the actual music! It’s what gives vinyl its addiction to me - holding something that feels and looks as good as it sounds. If something is packaged beautifully, yes I view it as a piece of art - an overall message and intent. Vinyl does that so well.
We’ve also dabbled in some wooden cases before - for the first two compilations. My intent is to do something special like these with any compilations going forward… for artist releases I’ll likely keep it focused on the vinyl unless a concept presents itself as worthy of something different.
Do you feel strongly about making a vinyl release for every ASIP release nowadays? Or do you do digital releases too?
I battle with this a lot now because of how much hassle it is to press vinyl. Many other labels do too. Not to drag, but last year I had 2 records mess up (ASIPV007 and ASIPV008), with 3 final pressings faulty and ended up losing money. I’m still trying to find a home for the discarded vinyl. People don’t recycle vinyl anymore - there were facilities a few years back for it when vinyl was the primary format, now they’ve disappeared. Maybe they’ll come back in business now all those discarded 80’s movie soundtracks nobody asked for have to get recycled... So that’s a pain to say the least.
This year, I have two records messed up (so far!) with the plant taking no responsibility, resulting in me switching up plants and a delay of about 4 months. This means I’m missing my planned anniversary release date and impacting every artist waiting down the line well into 2019. You can see why some labels just do digital or CD… and I don’t blame them one bit for keeping it that way.
The process (and industry) right now messes with your motivation and I often think about resorting to just doing digital or other means. But, I haven’t been pushed over that line *yet* and will continue to push for vinyl for as long as I can, as it’s a format I personally most enjoy. I also like to think people come to expect that with ASIP now. I’m not sure how a purely digital release series would do unless I could offer something tangible with it. That being said, we always release digital alongside the physical so everyone can enjoy the release.
For those of us who want to go and explore your back catalog, what are 5 releases that are a must listen.
Oh wow, that’s got to be the hardest question to answer. I’d rather someone else did that who had an objective opinion… I love them all, that’s why they’re on my label! Maybe start with the first five!
And the ASIP artists are all over the world right? Does that pose a challenge to you or does it mean you have a place to stay in every country? [LAUGHS]
Yes, although I have an accidentally high concentration in Germany… (Arovane, Hior, Brendan (Merrin Karras), Christian, Markus all live in Germany). The rest range from New York, to Argentina, China (cheers Brock!) London etc. And yes it is a challenge in the sense I would love to be doing label showcases. If I had a local artist community (or if I lived in Berlin) then it would be much easier.
I also love the mixes on your site, it’s one of those things that I always want to remember to carve out the time to explore more. You have some amazing contributors in there. Is there any specific curation that goes into those?
Yes, and people may not realize it as I have a purpose for anyone involved. Every artist I invite to do an isolatedmix has impacted or influenced ASIP in some way. Be it a music producer, DJ, label-head etc. I don’t just host mixes I like, or host people who just do great mixes - they start as an invite and I often ask people to curate with intent. That means I get a lot of friends or colleagues wanting to offer great mixes and I have to turn them down. It’s my own personal way of getting some insight into people that have influenced ASIP. Some artists couldn’t even put a mix together, and I ended up doing it for them (in one instance!) but the point was to get the insight behind the tracks they chose, not necessarily the mix. And some, are just natural born DJ’s, mixing in key and doing exclusive edits. I like the variation.A Strangely Isolated Place records spotted at Vacation Vinyl in LA.
What else do you do? I saw some beautiful photography from your time in Japan on a feature article I read on your site. Are you a photographer and writer as well?
I would never call myself either of those, but it’s two skills I’ve kind of attempted in order to help everything with ASIP. I certainly enjoy photography and take it seriously at times (a real camera and all) but it’s a hobby. And a writer… well I don’t think my writing is any good, but I’ve “blogged” for ten years now. That’s my excuse to be able to put words on the internet and not be judged for bad journalism or grammar, ha.
Running a small label you have to learn or develop multiple skills (or have friends that are OK doing stuff for free) I write, design, code, shoot and edit videos, photograph the records, I’m great at going to the post office, lethal with packing tape and stampers… the list is endless and a constant education as the label evolves. [LAUGHS] I’m also lucky to have some good friends who enjoy helping out with the label for free or at low costs.
You release ambient music, which is a sound I always associate with winter, but you live in a very hot and dry place. Do you find that contrasting or does one help the other somehow?
I find myself doing the opposite to what you may expect. I think I’ve created more dark, winter and dystopian mixes since being in LA… maybe that’s some weird inner reflection though. Hopefully not.
I always believed in a specific meaning to “A Strangely Isolated Place” which helped secure it as the perfect name for the label. The idea that no-matter where you are - a crowded train, a traffic-packed freeway, a beach, a dark room, ambient music has the ability to transport you to wherever you want to be. Your own strangely isolated place. So, it doesn’t matter where I am i guess… headphones take me elsewhere.
Well, I hope the LA crowds are benefiting from your input into the airwaves, cooling down overheated crowds.
Maybe if I can get a show together soon they might benefit…
Anything you have coming in the future on ASIP that we should know about? Anything exciting in the near future that is not top secret?
On the label side, we have an anniversary compilation coming as soon as the plant can buck its ideas up. Hopefully 2, maybe 3 more albums this year, and a packed 2019. I’ve never been sat on so much amazing music so it should be an exciting year ahead for ASIP.
For the blog, we have a few little celebrations for ten-years of existence. A couple of special mixes and another little project if I can see it through. Hopefully revealed in the coming months…
Thank you man, it’s been a pleasure. I hope you keep doing the important work you are doing and long live ASIP!
Thank you, the pleasure is all mine!
- Tongues of Light - Healing Side [Pre-Cert]
- DJ Healer - At Last (Becoming The Storm) [All Possible Worlds]
- DJ Richard - Dissolving World [Dial]
- Lori Scacco - Other Flowers [Mysteries Of The Deep]
- Sonae - Soul Eater [Monika Enterprise]
- Sophia Loizou - Order Of Elements [Kathexis]
- Strië - Capsule [Serein]
- Christoph De Babalon - High Life (Theme) [DHR]
- Abul Mogard - Quiet Dreams [Ecstatic]
- Hands - Beelitz Heilstatten Pt6 [Ecstatic]
- Suzanne Ciani - Quadrophonic Part One [Atmospheric]
- M Geddes Gangras - Kalapana [Umor Rex]
- DJ Healer - Hopes And Fears [All Possible Worlds]
- 747 - Cretaceous (edit) [Aquaregia]
- Hotel Neon - Roke [Archives]
- 36 - Soul Boundary [A Strangely Isolated Place - forthcoming]
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Most tracks are available on our Guest Mix Playlist available on Spotify and Apple Music until we update it with the next guest. Follow the playlists to get fresh tunes curated by a different artist every month.