Coming to light via his Arcadia mix and subsequent LP, A Goal is an Image, both on label Halcyon Veil, the music of Will Ballantyne juxtaposes acoustic motifs with synthetic sound design. It’s the subconscious product of being inspired by the music he listened to growing up, combined with the natural outcome of using iPhone and YouTube field recordings as source material. “I tend to gravitate towards the feeling of electronic interference or distortion acting as a kind of bed for a more true, acoustic motif to play on top of”, says the Vancouver-based producer who goes by the alias City.
While his music has been described as taking ‘styles foreign to the putative club experience’, City affirms that this isn’t deliberate. “I think in a way it’s kinda disrespectful to try to mess with what people get out of clubs”, he says. “I really haven’t spent a lot of time in clubs or club culture so I wouldn’t feel right attempting to mess with that mold.” Instead, City’s music revolves around what he calls ‘anxious momentum’, “this feeling of overwhelming inevitability, something inescapable and crushing.”
City will be playing at the upcoming Progress Bar club night in Amsterdam on December 2. With a stacked line-up of artists, including GAIKA, 808INK, Kojey Radical, S4U, Gage, Madam X and Covco presenting an explosive history of the future, plus a talk by political commentator and Novara Media co-founder Aaron Bastani about Fully Automated Luxury Communism, the night offers a glimpse at divergent futures of reigning chaos and post-capitalist utopia. Before his performance at Progress Bar, we spoke to the artist about juxtaposing sounds, his musical and artistic influences, and his approach to composition as a scrapbook of personal experiences.
** I’m interested in the counterbalance between acoustic motifs and synthetic sound design that can be found in your music. Is there a deliberate negotiation of the two?
Will Ballantyne: It’s not a deliberate juxtaposition. I do love that sound, though, like an amplified acoustic guitar over the top of screeching electronics or whatever. A lot of the acoustic stuff is inspired by the music I listened to growing up, and then the sound-design elements are what producing in Ableton and using iPhone or YouTube field recordings as sample sources naturally lends itself to. I tend to gravitate towards the feeling of electronic interference or distortion acting as a kind of bed for a more true, acoustic motif to play on top of.
** The artwork for your Arcadia mix came courtesy of Jaakko Pallasvuo. How did your music and Jaakko’s artwork respond to each other?
WB: Jaakko posted it on one of his blogs a few years ago and I just had it sitting on my hard drive for a long time. I was super lucky getting that to be the artwork for the mix because I love that piece so much. I don’t think I’ve ever fallen harder for an artist’s body of work than I did for Jaakko’s. I discovered him after that Amnesia Scanner release where he did the poem, and the more I dug into his writing and comics and sculptures the more obsessed I got. His stuff is so beautiful and honest and sincere and delicate, I was extremely happy that he agreed to let me use that specific piece for the cover of Arcadia.
I take a lot of inspiration from what I perceive as a diaristic approach in Jaakko’s work. A lot of my samples, melodies, song titles, progressions, etc., are things that have been bouncing around my head for years and it’s a conscious process to incorporate them into my music so that I can try to present something that’s honest and fleshed out.
** Are there other artists you’d like to join forces with at some point?
WB: I deeply admire Lane Stewart and Collin Fletcher, so I was extremely happy that they did the artwork and design for my Halcyon LP. In my circles, I’m a huge fan of everyone in the Immunity and s.M.i.L.e. crews. Awe Ix is also an icon. I love this artist called Kentree Speirs from Vancouver, I used to walk past one of his huge paintings hanging in the window of a gallery every day to work and it blew me away every time. David Rappeneau is someone else I’m constantly amazed by. Ville Caillo and Joey Holder are also high up on my list.
** What was the central theme of A Goal is an Image? How did it expand on the ideas you had previously explored?
WB: A huge musical theme for me is anxious momentum. I don’t quite know how to explain it but it’s what I’m always trying to capture; this feeling of a kind of overwhelming inevitability, something inescapable and crushing. That’s the guiding principle behind my live shows as well. The artwork refers to some of the diaristic principles in my work. The picture framed in the centre is a picture I took on my phone that Lane and Collin found on my Twitter or something, and then Lane printed it and framed it and shot it so that it became part of a whole larger piece. It’s important to me to portray this beautiful naturalistic picture that also resonates with my personal experiences. Textually, the song titles contribute to a narrative alongside my other tracklists and releases that’s better left unsaid.
** Regarding your diaristic approach, seeing as diaries are often private records, how do you feel about exposing yourself in this way? For example, are there ever anxieties around publicising your work?
WB: I don’t consider my work diaristic in the sense that I’m revealing a personal narrative. Perhaps scrapbooking is a better comparison than diary-keeping. Instead of feeling uncomfortable, I actually really want people to piece together the recurring or thematically linked elements, from titles to certain sounds or musical themes.
** Your music seems to be based around principles of texture and abstract ornaments as opposed to more traditional musical parameters. Can you tell us about your methods of composition?
WB: A lot of the texture comes from experimenting within Ableton with field recordings that I either make on my phone or I get from YouTube. A lot of the time the rhythmic pulse of a song comes from those experiments. Then I’ll build something up harmonically or melodically, and that’ll usually be something that I’ve been playing on the guitar for a long time. Then I just listen to the skeleton of the piece over and over and over again, while I walk around, while I do chores, etc., and slowly add or subtract parts as necessary and then hammer it into some sort of affective, climactic structure. As far as anything principled with regards to composition, I’m mostly just trying to make something affective and durational, like an isolated riff that each song builds to. Every sound and part of each of my tracks is goal-oriented – they all contribute to the climax and the overall propulsion.
** Boomkat describes A Goal is an Image as taking “styles foreign to the putative club experience.” Do you purposefully set out to unsettle people’s experience of the club?
WB: Not at all! I think in a way it’s kinda disrespectful to try to mess with what people get out of clubs. I really haven’t spent a lot of time in clubs or club culture so I wouldn’t feel right attempting to mess with that mold. That being said, it’s only through the live shows I’ve played that I’ve realized that my stuff doesn’t really work in a club context. I’ve been kicked off the stage before; I was booked to go on at peak time in a busy club and I had no idea my music wasn’t going to work there. It should’ve been obvious to me though!
** Your Only Borders mix is about to be released as part of Ascetic House’s next batch of cassettes. What can we expect?
WB: That mix is part of the same series as Simulation Mix, Arcadia, and Guts for Garters ‘17. Basically a mix of original pieces and sketches that functions as a larger piece in and of itself. There is a lot of crossover between those mixes and A Goal is an Image; a lot of songs appear in two or three of those projects. The tracklists are basically entirely fictional and don’t relate to the songs that are inside. But music-wise it’s material from about a year or two ago, some stuff that I wrote during the process of writing A Goal is an Image. There are some germinal pieces that’ll be released in a more fleshed out way in a collaborative LP with an incredibly inspiring musician named i.o, hopefully next year.
** Are there any other particular trajectories you’d like to explore with your music in the future?
WB: I’m currently working on a live show with a lot of new material that’ll have me playing guitar for the duration. Conceptually, I’m not exploring new ground but I do feel like I’m honing my approach to my sound, and being able to control it a bit more finely. Anything that allows me to play at high volume out of huge speakers.**
City – Guts for Garters ‘17
- Grief ‘17
- No Highway Too Long
- A.po.lo.gy (with i.o)
- I can’t recognize this
- Faith (with i.o)
- One day at a time
- Can’t lose
- Fleeting Approximations of Parallel Phrases (with v1984)
- Mouth of the river
- Fatal flower (with i.o)