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Abstract, experimental electronic music from one of our favorite local labels.
Shimmering. Foggy. Warm. Hypnotic. These are all words that have been used to describe the abstract electronic music released on Los Angeles-based label Motion Ward. Since its formation in 2015, the label has steadily released a number of sought after cassettes, 12″s, and full length LPs. While initially only putting out one release a year, the label has recently accelerated in output which can be credited to the growing community that label founder Jesse Sappell has brought together through personal interactions and global relationships with artists he’s considered long time inspirations.
The liner notes for each release are typically short and to the point, but the label often provides a choice quote or poem that perfectly captures the mood of the recording. Their latest release Limitless Frame from rising producer Ulla Strauss comes with this message:
“Being somewhere, while being somewhere else
A place I look for in other places
A moment on repeat
I made this music as a way to hug myself”
We caught up with Jesse to learn more about the label and how it has grown from a few releases by local producers to a global roster containing some of modern electronic music’s most exciting names.
ISC: How did the label come to be? Was running a label something you always wanted to do?
I started the label because I wanted to hear more of a certain sound that had me really interested at the time. A friend of mine in LA (Tre / Brown Irvin) was (and still is) making really special stuff that resonated with me. It all happened in a really natural way. Running a label hasn’t been something I’ve always wanted to do, more of a gradual interest that grew over a sort of short period of time.
Where does the name Motion Ward come from? Was the initial intention to release dance music?
“Motion” can refer to lots of things, whether it be the atmospheres of songs or the beats beneath them. “Ward” can be used to refer to a place. Moving things that can live together in a slowly expanding little zone. There were lots of bad names that I came up with before it, but I think this one still makes sense to me in a weird way.
Tell me a little bit about the Motion Ward extended universe that’s been established in the label’s 10 or so releases. How did things grow from a couple releases in 2015 by local artists to the global network it is now, with releases by artists from Japan, Russia, and the burgeoning midwest electronic scene.
I would say things started to expand after the third release, a record by my friend Shy (uon). I sent him a tape (MW001) and started emailing him — probably too excessively — after coming across the bblisss comp he released, which featured lots of his friends and people who were also living in Chicago at the time (with some exceptions, like Pendant). Ulla and Naemi (exael) were on that comp and that was the first time I had heard their music, as well. The whole thing really hit me in a deep way. I basically asked every person on that comp if they wanted to do a record lol. I got really obsessed with Kouhei’s (Ultrafog) music around this time as well, after coming across his tape for Solitude Solutions.
Lots of people started reaching out after Shy’s record was released, like Rory for instance (Pontiac Streator). Online conversations, recommendations from friends, Soundcloud digging, and a few serendipitous moments led to the formation of the other releases. Doing the mix series (Motion Cast) has also been a way I’ve been able to get in touch with people globally.
Through these collaborations friends have been made, and I’ve had the chance to go camping/travel/meet lots of the people I work with and stay with them, and also have hosted a lot of them here in LA. Got to hang with lots of the crew in the forest at Sustain Release in 2019, which definitely cemented some bonds. It’s really been one of the best things about running a label.
I feel lucky that I’ve been able to meet so many amazing people through doing it who are now a part of my life. The process of connecting and getting excited about music together then finding out about all of the other things we have in common is the best.
Looking at the artwork credits, you can see there’s been a few different contributors to the visual output of the label, yourself being one of them. Do you plan on keeping the artwork loose and collaborative?
Collaborating is super fun and it’s great meeting whatever artist I’m working with where they’re at while also getting to have input myself. It feels good to make something together you both are happy with, and I’m grateful that I’ve been able to go through that process with people on most of the releases. Shoutout to Shy for all of the beautiful art that he’s provided for the label — for a while it was just him! He really helped with the direction.
Would you say the label has a "sound"?
Not really, I hope it can be a little different for everybody who listens. I want things to keep changing because it feels more reflective of life/personal listening habits, but I also want to move slowly and try to make sense of things in some way from release to release.
I think a narrative that’s emerged is that the sound is “ambient”/“dub techno” or stuff like that, and while some of it is informed by those things, to me it feels different than the more classic versions of those genres and inclusive of lots of other inspirations outside of that realm.
One of the interesting things to me about doing a label is trying to contextualize certain music with other sounds and genres that can maybe make for some new associations with it, lots of music is connected in really tiny/ interesting ways. David Toop’s book Ocean of Sound definitely inspired some of this thinking in me. My main hope would be that it’s stuff that people feel they can get close with.
What's the day-to-day operation like at the moment?
Listening to a lot of music and trying to absorb it in different contexts. Also working on more stuff of my own lately with a friend here in LA, John Jones (aka av moves). Ulla’s record is coming out this week though, so I’ll be spending lots of time sending out Bandcamp orders.
Plans for the rest of the year? Any upcoming releases we should get excited about?
Besides Ulla’s record there are a few others in the works but nothing fully finished so probably better not to mention who they’re by specifically 🙂
How do you typically listen to music at home? What is your setup at home/office? Do you have an area set aside for listening?
In my desk chair right in front of my speakers for the most part, or in the kitchen on a small bluetooth speaker. I drive quite a bit so I listen to music in my car often. I also do a lot of listening outside on bike rides/walks. It’s nice doing those things without music too, but being preoccupied with a little physical activity sort of opens up space to be able to listen to things deeper.
What are you currently listening to or excited about musically right now?
I’ll take this as an opportunity to lump in some current favorites/shoutout some people in my life I’m very grateful for who have helped me a lot this past year (whether they know it or not) in no particular order…
The Humble Bee, Polido, Ura, Lamin Fofana, Maxine Funke, Perfect Sound Forever, West Mineral, DJ Sundae, Florence, Hysterical Love Project, Micheal, Brandon, Izzy, John, Evan, Christian, Grant, Ryan, Iggy, Spencer, Jeff, Cory, Aubree, Brian F., Eli L., Marty, Jesse P., Kyle, Masahiro, Ariel, Kate, Joel, Mona, Ju Ca, Cory, Liam, Jake, Rory, Ulla, Ken, Nathaniel, Kouhei, Ben, Shay, Phil, Jonny, Xander 🙂
For those looking to dive deeper, Jesse also included a playlist with some favorites.
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