Subtempo Guest Mix 027
Yorkshire based composer Thomas Ragsdale melds cinematic electronica with immersive soundscapes and blissful techno workouts. Spending his formative years composing a varied catalogue of music for TV, film and advertising companies, his gradual shift into the world of performing music is one that's quickly won acclaim from the likes of Resident Advisor and FACT. Thomas is part of Domino Publishing's exclusive and prestigious composer roster. His approach to writing and producing is built around a minimalist framework, choosing to rely heavily on organic instrumentation overlaid with subtle electronic elements, whilst live performances take on a more visceral approach with tense peaks of sound in front of a full live visual show.
Hi Thomas. First of all, thank you for doing this mix for us. I wanted to start by asking you about the mix. How, where, and when did you record it?
I have one of those Traktor controllers with the jogwheels and Traktor software on my laptop, so I set everything up in my front room and blasted it out in one take. My wife has just got one of those Mario Kart Live things and was driving the car around me constantly too. It was a strange experience.
Is there a theme for this mix?
I totally admit to being a little rough and raw with DJing, so I just wanted to do an unrehearsed mix showcasing this kind of hypnotic spiraling techno vibe I’m so into. I love these tracks that have uncomplex elements that keep going and adding tiny changes throughout. It’s brilliant for mixing.
You are an incredibly prolific artist, and yet you live in a hyper remote place in the UK. How does that work for you?
It works amazingly so far. I’m 36 now and spent over 30 of those years living in giant cities with lots of culture and artistic influences, but I wanted to try living somewhere totally new. I live in a very small village in West Yorkshire and people live differently - mostly at a much slower pace, but also very welcoming. It’s given me a chance to breathe and take in different influences. I can also walk my dog properly.
Do you find it works better for you to live remotely? What drove you to move out to the sticks?
For now, it’s definitely having a positive impact on my music. We have chickens and an allotment for growing vegetables and I’m spending a lot of time outdoors these days. I’m also volunteering in the village and helping out with underprivileged people. No one really cares that I make music, and they probably wouldn’t understand it anyway, but I kinda like that. You’re equal, and it brings you right back down to Earth. I was trying so hard to live somewhere that had real grass for so long, and finally made it happen.Thomas Ragsdale at one of his most recent studio iterations. © Danny Payne
You’ve become well known for this hypnotic analog techno sound, but your catalog is incredibly varied and you are very prolific in terms of output. Would you say you’ve found your go-to place when you make music as Thomas Ragsdale or does it vary from project to project?
I’m still trying to find out exactly what I want to do and admire people immensely who can find a genre and just run with it. Like those very specific genres that people stick to for years - that’s great work. I’m opening up new side projects at the moment to make me feel more comfortable making drone metal AND synthy techno AND jungle all at the same time.
You also create music for sync in TV and advertising, and you’ve also done a few soundtracks as well. How does that process differ from writing your own personal stuff?
I have to get in ‘work mode’ for that side of music, but it’s very similar for me as I use the same tools and always write from an artistic point of view, as opposed to a ‘commercial’ one. The trick to good soundtrack music is to make actual music, and not unremarkable noise. The other trick is convincing people that this is a good idea and it won’t ruin the film.
Do you typically sign it under a different name? Or do you not feel a need to bucket the projects under different monikers?
So far my soundtrack work is Thomas Ragsdale, but I’d be totally open to trying something new in a different project...Ragsdale's live sets combine live instrumentation with analog machinery, making the experience one that perplexes audiences globally.
And you are part of Domino’s sync arm, correct? How’s that working out for you?
They’re BRILLIANT people and their focus is 100% music. They also have great creative brains that combine with business brains, so they make the right artistic decisions whilst making sure you’re doing the right thing for your career. They’ve sourced me some brilliant projects for my music and I’ve just finished a true crime docu with them that’s coming out soon...
Have you always been signed to an agency like that or have you done it on your own at times? Do all projects you currently do come via Domino?
I’ve been writing music as a job for 10 years, but only with Domino for the last 3, so up until then it was me, myself and I. I used to just email directors and film companies and try to get them to listen to my music. I hammered down enough doors enough times to make sure I got through. Now I’m purely working with Domino and a few friends.
You run a label too, Soundtracking The Void. What’s the ethos behind that? What drove you to start your own imprint?
I was really wanting to find an output for my music (and other people’s) that I had complete control of and that I could shape the image and aesthetic to exactly what I stand for. It’s an outlet for anything weird and wonderful and we don’t have a specific genre or anything like that. We have a passion for unusual sounds and people with a creative drive.
And you put out cassettes mostly? Was this format-specific always your intent?
It wasn’t at all, to be honest. It was just by chance I happened to check the pricing and how available they are and we just took a chance on them. They’re so much fun to collect and it gives people something to latch on to.The quiet surroundings near Yorkshire where Thomas Ragsdale is based, sit in juxtaposition to the dancefloor and urban nature of a lot of his music.
Do you run it alone? Or do you have partners in that?
I run it with my wife Ashleigh, who’s more into the image and how things are represented as a whole. I do the music day-to-day side and she mostly tells me what looks terrible and what looks half ok.
How long have you been running the label?
We just had our third birthday and had a big overhaul of artwork, videos, logo and that kind of thing. I think it’s nice to shake things up once in a while.
Besides all of this you also have another project with your partner, as FFION. Tell me about that.
That project started purely from messing around on one synth - an ARP Odyssey - and seeing if we could make music using this synth alone. It’s spiralled into multiple EPs and we now have two albums signed and ready to come out next year. It’s got kinda busy with that one and we also played live last year with the project.
On Twitter and on Instagram you are very active bigging up other producers, other sounds, and sharing tools and knowledge, plug-in favorites, etc. Do you find these platforms help connect you to the wider electronic music community?
Totally and it’s so much fun to do. But it has to stay fun and the moment it’s not fun it’s time to log off. I do get a lot of social media anxiety/breakdowns and have to turn the screens off for a day or two. The race and urgency to ‘keep up’ is VERY high. I love sharing what I’m doing though and what I’m enjoying on a musical level. I’ve also started baking and occasionally do ‘The Great Electronic Bake Off’ via my Instagram stories.As he explores the depths of analog, Thomas finds inspiration in his reel-to-reel tape machine and Watkins Copicat echo unit.
What are some of your go-to instruments, tools, or sounds (digital or analog)?
Right now I’m LOVING this Squire Bass VI guitar I have, which is a regular guitar, but with bass strings. There’s a band called Loathe who use them to amazing effect. I also love my reel-to-reel tape machine and Watkins Copicat echo unit, both from the 60s & 70s. The sound they give can be very unpredictable and chaotic, but beautiful.
Do you have any tips for aspiring musicians or people looking to start a label?
Definitely don’t worry or be concerned too much about what other people are doing. I have spent a lot of time down this rabbit hole and it’s a terrible place to be. I was worried that my music wasn’t good for dancing and at the same time worried that my music wasn’t ambient enough. You can never win this battle. Here’s my advice for making the best music you can - turn the internet off, plug your brain into your machines and take a long time to make any sound. Don’t rush and there’s no hurry to finish an EP in a day or a week or a month. There’s room for every genre and artist, whether it’s black metal, microhouse or big room EDM. Just go for it. The same applies to starting a label - just take it slow, work hard and take it at YOUR pace.
Anything we should be looking out for from you or artists on your label coming soon or anything recent you’d like to point listeners to?
There’s plenty to come, so make sure to subscribe to me on Bandcamp and also the label Bandcamp. And also find us on Spotify to stream our catalogues if you want a taster.
Well, thank you for taking the time to do this interview and mix for us man!
- Indian Wells - Night Arp Blues [MESH]
- Efdemin - America [Curle]
- Wink - Have To Get Back [M_NUS]
- Thomas Ragsdale - Mocking Bird [Pfeiffer]
- Herzel - Glide [Uncanny Valley]
- Sterac - Lately [Klockworks]
- Daniel Avery - Darlinnn [Phantasy Sound]
- Shifted - Control [Mote Evolver]
- Svreca & Voices From The Lake - Isolation [Spazio Disponibile]
- Jon Hester - Sending Signals [Rekids]
- Chymera - Noise Tool [Maeve]
- Voiski - Taking Flight [Dolly]
- ROD - Welcome Back Mama [Afterlife]
- Ryan James Ford - Community Don [Clone]
- Keith Carnal - Pillow Talk [Second Degree]
- Matthew Dear - Lakonic [Ghostly International]
- Rødhåd - Pigeons Dancing On The Roof [WSNWG]
- Daso - Sam n’Max [Connaisseur]
- Heiko Laux - Antipode [Klockworks]
- Space Above - Leave Home (Edit Select Remix) [Space Above]
- Thomas Ragsdale - Raven Sway [Soundtracking The Void]
- Etapp Kyle - Sakura [Klockworks]
- Steve Moore - Frigia [L.I.E.S.]
- Ela Minus - N19 5NF [Domino]
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