ISC’s John Jones speaks to the “bubblin’ up” production trio from Chicago.
At In Sheep’s Clothing, we’ve quickly become fans of the Chicago three-piece outfit Purelink. Their first release, a two-track digital single, was included on Pitchfork’s ‘Best Electronic Music 2021′ and Resident Advisor’s ‘Records We Missed in 2021.’ Since then, the group has claimed their own distinct corner of the contemporary electronic music scene with this year’s Puredub release via Lillerne Tapes and a self-titled 12-inch record through the new label UwU Dust Bath.
Masterfully blending lush soundscapes and angular, dubby rhythms, the group has been quietly dismantling the turn-of-the-century approach to downtempo and making something uniquely their own.
To learn a little more about the origins, regional effects, and what’s to come for the group, ISC’s John Jones sent over some questions and a request for some recent favorite tunes.
John Jones: As I understand it, you all have been pretty close and have been making music individually for quite some time. At what point did the idea of collaborating pop up?
Ben Paulson: Tommy and I have known each other forever, but we actually didn’t start making music together until around 2018 having both moved back to Chicago after school. I had been making electronic music in some fashion or another since the end of high school, though around 2017-2018 things started to click a lot more when I moved away from a more traditional way of making tunes. Tommy happened to pick up the cello around that time, and I started showing him what I was doing in Ableton and taking him to a lot of experimental and dance shows around the city. We often didn’t know anyone at these shows personally lol, but we were really inspired to see what was happening.
We actually didn’t meet Akeem until mid-late 2019. One day Tommy was at Shuga Records, where Akeem was working at the time, and they got to chatting about Visible Cloaks, and about how they both made music. After that we started hanging at shows, going deep on Basic Channel / Chain Reaction and other sounds that were influencing us. Eventually leading to an insane first jam session early 2020, pre-pandemic, at our makeshift studio in Tommy’s living-room, 3 computers plugged into an interface. After that session we knew we had to do something together. Once covid hit it felt like a no-brainer diving into something with all this free time, and basically spent a year plus cranking out our first three projects.
Chicago is a town that has many distinct musical identities. Growing up there, I’m sure you all were inundated with the city's offering of house, indie, post rock, footwork, and jazz… Do you think the city itself has altered the way you interact/perceive music? Are there artists from the city you find yourself returning to?
Akeem Asani: it’s been a blessing to grow up around a city with so much history, & being exposed to so many different styles definitely has its impact. As teens in the suburbs, indie rock was what really inspired us – and led me to hearing bands like Tortoise & Smashing Pumpkins for the first time. After moving to Chicago for school I was introduced to house and footwork for the first time and started going down the electronic rabbit hole, seeking out any shows at Smartbar I can go to or any Teklife events possible.
Some Chicago artists that come to mind are Forest Management & Fire-Toolz – both electronic artists on very opposite sides of the experimental but use their influences to make a very unique sound.
In a wider regional context, It appears that a unique blend of ambient, sound design, and club music has been coagulating in the midwest for some years now. Labels like West Mineral, Lillerne Tapes, and the mix series C Minus have helped define the edges. I guess I’d be curious to get your take on this growing community, and maybe you can point us in the direction of some lesser-known artists coming up.
Tommy Paslaski: These labels you mentioned, along with countless others (3XL, Motion Ward, xpq, Reserve Matinee, Quiet Time, Incienso, to name just a few more), have been and continue to be inspiring and influential to all of us. The summer of 2021, C Minus invited us to play one of our first shows (DJ set) as Purelink, which was a formative experience for us. It was honestly overwhelming meeting so many talented artists that I’ve looked up to for a long time, but the common thread was that everyone was kind, supportive, and genuinely valued and cared about the music. That’s really what I think makes the community so strong and why it continues to grow so rapidly. There’s a certain openness/freedom around leaning into the experimental side of things and focusing on feeling and emotion that really comes through in the music everyone creates.
There are far too many “lesser-known artists” in this community online who inspire us and so many more to discover as well. The FOIL group (Cor2pel, DJ PW, DJ Candle, sters) out of Richmond VA have been showcasing talent and creating art and music for years. Shiner makes beautiful music you can find on SoundCloud and is very low key. People like Michael Aurelius, AVESSEL, Immaculate Conception, Otra Dek, Faithful, obe, and outsidenightair here in Chicago doing great things.
Ben: I was really blown away by Goo Age and Sleepdial sets at the C minus showcase this past June. Both of them came down from Denver, putting down really inspiring sets — all while running sound for like ten acts the rest of the night. Legends.
The idea of being in a “band” making electronic music has always been very intriguing to me. In my experience, it has always required a very system-oriented process. I guess I’m curious what approach has been best for you three? Do you each have defined roles? Is there specific equipment, programs, or plug-ins that you find essential?
Ben: It’s kind of funny to think about how we started out jamming right away. I guess at the time we were heavily inspired by that Ghostride The Drift record and hearing about the xpq? group recording sessions. We were just like “duh, 3 computers into a mixer makes so much sense, we gotta try that ourselves.” That led us to using Ableton’s link feature, which syncs our Ableton projects over wi-fi, leading to the group’s name as well. A couple friends have said we’re an actual “jam band” and I love that lol. Recording can start from these sessions, but it varies and we do often end up in arrangement mode cutting up the recordings. In terms of equipment and software, we use standard stuff more producers have. We try to keep it simple and get to the point. Though I will say, dropping chord type samples into a convolution reverb is one of our special tricks we pull out often.
You all seem to be playing live increasingly more. Do you find it hard to perform live often being adjacent to a dance/club context? What is your ideal performance scenario?
Akeem: We’ve really found our stride with more ambient-leaning live sets at the moment. I wouldn’t say it’s hard being club adjacent, but we definitely would like to do some more dance oriented live sets down the line. Luckily we’re pretty good DJs so we can adapt to any show.
I’d say an ideal performance would be a chill out room or a sunrise live set–we’ll be performing the latter at Sustain/Release later this year so we’re excited to finally check that off the list.
Any plans of releasing new music in the near future?
Tommy: If I’m being honest, we are sitting on a lot of unreleased material that I’m excited to share, but we are taking our time. We definitely have plans for them, and a couple releases/compilation tracks/remixes already slated for a release.
Sensational – Thick Marker
Akeem: I hadn’t heard of the NYC rapper until he released on Priori’s NAFF label last year. He’s been rapping/producing his own tracks since the late 90’s. Also highly recommend his documentary Rise and Fall and Rise of Sensational
The Grid – Floatation (Special Request Remix)
Akeem: Paul Woolford has always been an influence for me, and his take on The Grid’s latest single is a great reminder why; the 12 min. remix perfectly blends chill out ambient into an infectious trip hop groove. Will have on repeat all year.
Thool – Je Sors (Steppin Out)
Akeem: Always love covers that are better than the original. I’ve been obsessed with 80’s new wave music since I was 12 and Joe Jackson’s version of the track never really did it for me back then; Thool’s 2017 version on Bullion’s Deek Recordings is the definitive version in my opinion!
Smoke Point – Waterwheel
Tommy: I’ve been inspired by Brian Foote’s production and curation over the years. This collaboration with Sage Caswell checks all the boxes for me.
Forest Management – Synonymy
Tommy: John Daniel is a creative force here in Chicago and his new album on Towhead Recordings is a fresh, new take on his sound. This track is really deep and contemplative and is a true stand out for me.
Loraine James ft. feeeo – Sensual
Tommy: I’m always so impressed when musicians can demonstrate range in their productions but still hold onto their unique voice. This song is a classic for me, an emotional and beautiful composition featuring some soft, reaching vocals from feeo.
Shiner’s Edge – Each Hour w Natalia (mix3 version)
Ben: Downtempo jam from our good friend shiner. He’s been coming out with some great stuff on his Soundcloud. Lovely words from Natalia on this as well. Looking forward to their collaborations.
rogergoon – Keep Them Dreams Blazing Forever
Ben: We’ve been on a bit of a post-rock kick and this new project has a lot of interesting ideas packed in. Sounds fresh yet calls upon some late 90s/early 00s tunes.
Ultrafog – Hourglass
Ben: Kouhei is so talented. Love the range of sounds he covers. This new one struck me hard.
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