Providing an incubus of sorts for ideas and explorations about music rather than simply setting up a record label, Armon Bazile has truly forged his own path through his music. It’s a path that runs deep with a spirituality whose intent is felt on each record, whether that’s the otherworldly, downtempo electronics of “Moonstalk,” the soaring, spatial techno of “Ozzie Davis,” or the blissful, aquatic deep house of “Underworld.” Releasing his first pieces of music digitally on his own Deepblak label in 2001, Bazile’s big break came when a friend passed on his music to Ron Trent, who duly signed the young producer to the first release of the then-resurrected Prescription label. The two went on to collaborate as Indigenous Space People on the Prescription off-shoot Future Vision for a beautiful moment in deep house, “Across The Universe.” Since then Bazile has been releasing under a raft of different names and with an open mind towards the genres through which he expresses himself, has established himself as a true artist. LWE caught up with Bazile to talk about Deepblak, the perils of accessibility and why his label mates are more like brothers than musical peers. He also provided us with our 101st exclusive podcast, an intimate collection of past and future Deepblak classics that will slowly rush over you like a rising tide.
LWE Podcast 101: Aybee (51:10)
01. Herbie Hancock, “Tools” [white]
02. Aybee, “Ozzie Davis” [Future Vision]
03. Aybee, “Nigg#z and Space Machines” [Deepblak]
04. Prof. Delacroix, “Build Her” [Deepblak]
05. Mist Works, “Common Question” (Aybee’s Immortal Mix) [Atjazz Record Co.]
06. Ron Trent, “Manifesto” (Aybee’s Blak Space Federation Slap) [Deepblak]
07. Orion 70, “Enki” [Deepblak]
08. Orion 70, “Blak Planet” [Deepblak]
09. Aybee, “Love Of” [Deepblak]
10. Aybee, “Solaris” [Deepblak]
You set up Deepblak ten years ago. Can you tell us what your involvement in music was before this?
Aybee: I dabbled in production as kid, nothing serious. It got serious while running a portal site that covered night-life entertainment where I began to start hearing things in my head.
You have talked about being somewhat disillusioned with music you were hearing around this time. Do you mean specifically electronic music from around the Bay area, or techno and house in general?
At the time I was taking in a lot of music from the different scenes and for the most part enjoying it all, but there was something missing. I never felt complete. It was like an incomplete sentence. I kept hearing things in my head that I could not sync.
Was there one final moment that pushed you over the edge and made you want to start Deepblak?
As I mentioned I would go out to clubs and come home feeling incomplete, so I would start playing around with my drum machine (an old Dr. Rhythm) searching for ways to express what I was feeling internally. After gaining confidence in what I was doing, my D.I Y. gene kicked in with all its foolishness, convincing me that I could start my own label. I remember going up to an early DJ mentor of mine, John Paul Shiver, at a tiny little night I had at a DJ bar and saying, “I think am going to start a label”. I’ll always remember, he looked at me with this little grin and said, “OK we starting labels now?” and that was it. That endorsement was all I needed.
How thought out was the label? Was it simply a desire to create something different, to find your own sound or were there deeper lying concepts and ideals behind it?
It was not very well thought out at all. I just followed a feeling. I was a recovering web 1.0 guy who was lucky to escape that bubble bursting without having a nervous breakdown. With music I felt like a child again, like the first day of school. I was spiritually changing — my life perspective was changing. All I knew is that I wanted it to be a home for creativity. I basically disappeared from society while within it for a year. I became a monk of sorts. I began to live rhythm. I began seeking a greater understanding.
Tell me about the rest of the Deepblak crew? Were they all on board from the start or have there been additions along the way?
The Oakland based crew is Afrikan Sciences, Damon Bell, Blaktroniks and myself. Our paths all intersected along the road. About 3 years in I found myself getting some head nods from the broken-beat community. One day I was contacted by Afrikan Sciences via the 4hero board saying that he was digging the vibe, and that he was living in Oakland. When I checked out his music I knew something was happening. I now had a fellow traveler and we proceeded up the road. Blaktroniks had always been around. They had been doing their thing since ‘96, and were a source of inspiration as I decided to pursue my path. They had been on Jonah Sharp’s Reflective label, had several albums out, and were seasoned live performers. The were very much a pioneering group in the Bay Area. If you go back and look at Oakland sonically in ‘96 you will not hear anything close to what we do. So it took a lot of courage on their part to step out to the world. Mutual respect between us was always there. One day we just asked ourselves, why are we not working together? We had a meeting at Afrikan Sciences’ pad in ‘07 with the now Berlin based Onyx Ashanti in attendance to figure out how we could work together. That’s when Blaktroniks became involved with the label. Damon Bell came into the fold after moving to Oakland from So.Cal. We became friends through our mutual friendship with Ron Trent. I knew Damon as a DJ, but he mentioned to me that he had been doing production. He let me hear some his stuff, and boom, it was a done deal.
And do they stand for more than being just artists on the same label? I get the feeling the ties are a bit stronger than that.
These are my brothers. These are the guys who lend you 20 bucks when you’re broke, or invite you to dinner when you are hungry. I have respect, love, and admiration for them individually as men. It’s life enhancing. I am humbled and forever grateful that I am able to experience this cycle with them.
I know you take some inspiration from your grandfather and your uncle who were both involved in music, but what were some of the first electronic tracks you remember hearing that really switched you on to it?
So much and so many. But I will say this: when future civilizations dig us up I hope they find Manuel Göttsching’s “E2-E4.”
And were there any parties you were going to that inspired you?
I have a wide ear so I would roll to a lot of different scenes and draw inspiration from many things. There was no definitive party or moment. But I will say I had a soft spot for what the drum and bass kids were doing in San Francisco. They had a lot of passion.
What were the first pieces of equipment you bought?
Dr. Rhythm DR-660 and a Korg X5.
Still on equipment, what forms the basis for your most of your tracks? Is there one piece of gear that you find indispensable for your tracks?
The basis for most of my music is emotion… life. The more I live the more I experience, the more colors I gain to express myself. The equipment is inconsequential. It is merely an extension of the spirit. Hardware or software I can use to speak.
When you started Deepblak I understand you took a year to shut yourself away and focus on it completely. Were you undertaking any kind of practical exercises at this time to help you develop your skills, or were you basically working solidly on making tracks?
I was trying to figure who I was and why — what was this rhythm I had inside and why would it not leave me alone? These things require sacrifice and isolation to understand. I think the primary skill I built in that time was listening and feeling. Hearing something in my head and trying to bring it to a tangible existence. I had no map. What I learned is that every sound has a soul. It has life-force, electricity, a few seconds of root cause. The greater attention you pay to the sounds the greater your ability to articulate your soul’s thoughts.
With the concept of seclusion in mind and developing your own sound, how much help or hindrance do you feel the accessibility to music and information is these days?
Access can drown out your voice. People have unprecedented access to everything, and don’t even know why they want it. As my dad always says they have “Text but no context.” The access is only reflective of one’s consciousness. There are amazing things happening and terrible things happening. This balance is ancient. The information age puts people on a hamster wheel of speed, acquisition, and transaction. The need to keep pace takes over, and they soon forget why they are running. Speed is often a killer for creators because we need time. Things take time. When you put the emphasis on speed context becomes expendable. Context is essential in finding what old jazz musicians call one’s “voice.” Take your time, unplug, and find yourself — find your voice. If you can find the discipline to do so I think you can use the access wisely.
From various sources (your bio, track names and your tweets) I gather there is a deep vein of spirituality running through your life and your work. Did you grow up with this or was it something you discovered yourself?
I don’t believe that you discover something that was already there. I think that we are ALL born with the answers and we spend our lives learning the questions. My path is my purpose. Everyday is another day in school.
How do you feel it informs your music and creativity?
It is the root cause. The source.
Can you run us through some of the aliases you use and what they mean to you.
o1o (Oakland’s 1 and Only) was a name I used for things slower in tempo. Afrobatik was more up-tempo staggered in homage to the jazz fusion things I love. Prof. Delacroix, honestly I just thought it would be cool to put out some music with a French name. Orion 70 was more of an homage to techno. Bla Kula was for underground remixes. Lamaj was deep, late-night house or what Ron Trent and I like to call The Brotherhood of the Baby Powder. Aybee is all of the above. There are others, but a good friend mentioned that I should kill that practice because folks were getting lost and he was right. So Aybee from here on out.
You’ve released two albums to date. Was the approach to the albums different? Did the medium of cassette for the Further release play a part at all in the way you made Ancient Tones?
Yes the approaches were very, very different. With the East Oakland Space Program album I wanted to put frequencies in the air to offset the negative ones that were suffocating my home town. That’s how it started, but by the time it came out so much had changed in my life, it became so much more than I intended. With the Ancient Tones project, Mark at Further Records essentially gave me a blank piece of paper, crayons, and then said, “OK, color and call me when your done.” It was so pure, that experience. Just coloring. The cassette was great because I knew people would engage in a long player format so I could really stretch out in a cinematic way. And I must a admit also there’s a great feeling going to a café, and pulling out a 20 year old Walkman with no reverse button in the midst of iPods.
The way Ancient Tones flowed, parts of it sounded quite like a live PA. Do you play live?
Yes, I do play live. It is the most exhilarating feeling. I stumbled into it last year. Afrikan Sciences and Blaktroniks were very helpful in that process. There is nothing like the pure horror of people looking at you as you build a vibe. That horror turns into happy accidents and excitement as you get the roller coaster going with no steering wheel. At least that’s how we do it. I will never forget the second live session Afrikan Sciences and I had at my apartment. We just plugged in everything and he started with a some crazy warped out sample and we built from there. One hour later he was murdering his upright bass with sweat dripping onto his laptop, I’m building beats, playing synth and anything else I could find. Pure madness that all made sense, just one of those moments where the stars aligned. We stopped and looked at each other like what just happened? We go to check the recorder, and we only had the first 10 minutes recorded. We just shook our heads. We always say God took that session. That was a thrill. I will spend the rest of my life trying to do that again. I am working on developing a monthly in Oakland around the concept of our live sessions.
You’ve had a few releases now on Further Records. Do they feel like a bit of a kindred label for you?
Yes! They could have been great label owners in any era of recorded music. They are the type of people where you can say, ‘I have a recording with beetles jumping into a bowl of buttermilk on top of my Moog,’ and they will be like, ‘Let’s do it.’ That attitude makes every artist better. Very grateful to know them. Good people.
What can you tell us about the mix you’ve put together for us?
Sort of a mini Deepblak sampler. A small trip. Dedicated to my feline Brother Stew who recently made his transition. Hopefully the mix is a little propulsion on his journey.
What can we expect from Aybee and Deepblak in the next year?
Albums from myself, Afrikan Sciences, Damon Bell and a lot of cool concept projects. More work with Further and others. More live performances. Continued study, evolution, and development of our voices.