Persona | Distal | Anarchostar

Persona | Distal

Bass Goes to Space with Producer's latest, Retrograde Space Opera.

by Joshua P. Ferguson

In electronic music, forging new pathways is the norm. It's a future music for the present day and it's constantly evolving. But 30-year-old Atlanta producer Distal has just one-upped the scene at its own game with his new full-length Retrograde Space Orchestra. Mainly because he hasn't just created an LP's worth of new music, he's created a complete new world for it to live in, complete with superheroes, space aliens and a backstory that rivals anything currently on the stands at your local comic shop. 

Prior to his days making music, Distal's earthly alter-ego Michael Rathbun soaked up sci-fi in any form he could get his hands on. While his chief creative outlet has been his own leftfied take on bass music, with releases on notable labels like Soul Jazz, Tectonic and Om, his latest venture marries his love of space, the future, art, politics and music. The result is his debut release on his newly minted Anarchostar label—which is also the world the LP takes place on. Retrograde Space Opera is a frenzied odyssey through hyperactive breaks, UK-informed dubstep, bright and funky interludes, cosmic synth rave and an all-encompassing mood that beams the listener into a high-speed space race through interplanetary sonic landscapes and a high-tech future of doom, peril, adventure and hope.

The hope comes in the form of Distal as cosmic anti-hero, a character placed within the world of Anarchostar and brought to life by Argentinian artist collaborator Freshcore. The gist of his mission is to rescue worthy souls from a planetary collapse. We caught up with Rathbun via email while he was on the road in support of the record to ask him about the concept's genesis, his work with Freshcore and his thinking behind the world of Anarchostar. What we got was an exclusive glimpse into the world he's created. Here's what he had to say.

What brought about the idea to create such a highly stylized record label concept? 
The idea behind the Anarchostar came from my deep love for science fiction and comics. I get comics on a weekly basis and those stories usually unfold on a monthly basis, so I thought, why aren't more labels telling a story in the same way as a comic? Why aren't we waiting for the next part of a bigger story while waiting for the next release? Why not use the same universe with different authors and artists? I felt Anarchostar would be a great way to merge my love for story telling and science fiction with music. 

Was there something that sparked an ‘aha’ like, I’m going to take my music and insert it into this make believe world? 
Honestly I get almost all my ideas in the shower! It just came to me one day. I always want to go on entrepreneurial tangents and I was just thinking, instead of bridging out and starting a new medium of creation why not bring it all together under one roof. 

What about influences? Any books, movies, specific comics you drew from? 
When I was a kid I would watch Star Wars on repeat. I got a bit more meta when I was 10 and I watched 2001 with my brother. Shortly after came Dune, Aliens, Blade Runner, Predator, Akira, Event Horizon, and in my later teens I went even further into the rabbit hole with films like Solaris (the Tarkovsky version), Brazil, 1984, Stalker, La Jatee, Clockwork Orange, Dark Star, etc. 

Now, later in my life, I turn mainly to comics and novels to quench my sci-fi thirst. Pretty much everything Jodrowosky touches… Metabarons, Incal and Technopriests in particular is my ultimate favorite. RAI from Valiant, Caliban by Garth Ennis, Walter Simonson’s Star Slammers, Rick Remender’s new LOW, Dan Abnett’s Guardians Of The Galaxy and the rebirth of Flash Gordon by Jeff Parker is great! For books, I’m big on Scott Card, Asimov, Clarke, Heinlein and Gibson. I'm currently reading the line of Ender books from Orson Scott Card. I love Scott Card’s writing. I love his slight touch of political commentary in everything. I feel Anarchostar has a slight brush of the same. 

What was the creation process like for Retrograde Space OperaDid the music come first and then the world rose up around it or did you create this world to write music and design within? 
Both. I want the story to influence the music just as much as the music influences the story. I hired on Freshcore to design this world and I was somewhat of a creative director in the process. I had been working on this stylized musical universe throughout 2013, but I didn't know what exactly what the story would be. I had the concept before the story, and my music has always sounded futuristic. I wanted to just wait for the right story to present itself to me. 

In October 2013 in the middle of the night the Anarchostar story came to me. I stayed up for hours writing out the whole story on my phone in bed. I woke up and realized I was only one or two pieces short of finishing the album. I feel like I had been molding that specific story throughout 2013 and hadn't known it. 

I always envisioned the label and album to be high concept and detailed, but I didn't know anyone who could pull off what I wanted done [visually] until late in 2012 when I played for my illustrator/designer Freshcore, Fede Mammana. The best part about playing for him is that you get this amazing flyer that he draws himself. From the minute I saw his illustrations I knew I wanted him to work with me on my next project. I feel like our work goes together quite well, he represents me visually and I represent him sonically! As an artist he's mad, brilliant, funny and deep all at once. 

Tell us a little more about how you and Freshcore developed the art? What was the collaborative creative process like for you as someone who works primarily with music? 
I told Fede the story and I gave him a breakdown of all my influences for each track with visual examples of what was inspiring what I was thinking. For instance the track “Ridge City” I sent him pictures of this crazy Japanese highway I had been through that goes through a building. We would discuss it and he would send me drafts along the way. I let him run as free as he wanted once he got the initial idea of what I wanted. We both think very left field, so we usually enjoy what the other one comes up with. 

You’re described as musician and futurist. Can you tell us about the latter and how that influenced your music and outside of the obvious, how it influenced this record?
I’m a bit of a political futurist, and a modern day realist. I often write about what future power structures of the earth might look like. I have a deep seeded mistrust of government and those in most positions of power. I feel that in the distant future and after even more trial and error most forms of government will be replaced with something more logical and less tyrannical like voluntarism or a return to libertarianism. 

Every time you open a new corridor of technology and human consciences you’re also opening a complex web of technocratic ailment. I feel like people will start to embrace simplicity and self-governance surrounding these advanced forms of technology. It’s the only way to not bog up human progress. I mean look at the theory of singularity; you want that to become a reality? Then get some bureaucrats involved and boom, you’ve got the end of humanity. Normally it’s hard to talk about these things within the music scene for obvious reasons. When you start mixing politics and pleasure, bad things happen. This record was a cool way for me to covertly include a fictitious approach to one of my ideas and beliefs of what I believe the human race should be embracing in order to prosper. I hope to publish some theories of mine in the future. 

You come to life within the Anarchostar world as a character. Tell us about him and what he means to this world? 
I wasn’t even intended to be in the artwork. When Fede sent it along, my initial reaction was to chuckle. I thought it was slightly cheesy, but as time went on and I stared at it longer I thought it was actually quite good. It surpasses its initial appearance and after a while it moves to a more psychedelic appearance. In the end I embraced lending my likeness to the story, although I wouldn’t say the character represents me personally in any other way. 

The character himself is a classical antihero and a social pariah. He’s the one who has been unknowingly chosen by the ancients to lead the people to the Anarchostar. The Anarchostar represents a place of total freedom, away from the Tyrannical rule of his planet’s technocratic government. He’s somewhat of a sci-fi Moses. 

His occupation is a nightlife performer. He’s brought up daily to perform in the clubs and cities hovering outside of the planet’s force field where the remaining elite live. He mainly plays these special ceremony parties where people shed their old bodies for new ones. He has to curate the music and party experience specifically around a particular person’s soul so that it will stay trapped in the club and find its new host. He often see’s these people’s souls as heartless and evil things and feels turned off by the whole experience. Even his colleagues seem to have given way to evil and over indulge in their surroundings. He’s different and that is why he was chosen. 

You also have plans for a comic series to be built out around the world you created. Do you have an archenemy? 
Yes, a goal of mine is to turn the Anarchostar story into a comic as well. In its beginning phase my idea is to integrate a comic release and the musical release as a package deal. I think it would be great to give the fans something to read through or look at while they listen. There will most definitely be an archenemy but honestly I’d prefer to develop him further when we have a nice dark music release from someone or myself. 

To leave us with our imaginations run wild, can you tell us two or three things about the Anarchostar future, its cities or its civilization? 
I’m hoping later down the line we can start to work backwards and describe the time surrounding the initial flight from the planet. The ships that were used to flee the planet were the size of small countries and states! I love big ideas and I love the idea of these massive starships where you can’t see the start or finish of them. I feel like each ship carries a universe in itself! The largest cities on the planet are near the poles because those were some of the last remaining places of water that were harvested for fuel. Some areas still harvest the little water they get but the people never see a drop. The middle of the planet hasn’t been explored in over a thousand years, and that just happens to be where the ancient scriptures the anti-hero will seek are held.


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