premiere: space ghost’s “sim city” jacks the house

September 26, 2019

If you want beautiful melodies alongside your electronic slaps, but don’t want to fall too deeply into a retro rabbit hole, you’re in for a treat. Oakland-based producer Space Ghost (born: Sudi Wachspress) uses a lot of synths to bring the vibes of classic boogie and electric jazz records to his tracks. Sometimes, this makes them feel more like compositions for a particular moment in life, intergalactic quiet storm music and whatnot. But he always returns to the funk. That’s the case on his upcoming album for Tartelet, Aquarium Night Club, and especially on the first track to drop off the LP, “Sim City,” a collaboration with Space Ghost’s frequent musical partner Morgan. (No, not Zorak)    

On the occasion of AFROPUNK’s premiere of “Sim City,” we asked Sudi a few questions. He not only talked about Space Ghost’s signature sound and the energy his music is seeking, but also about Oakland’s electronic music scene, and how it is doing in the wake of 2016’s horrible Ghost Ship fire. Space Ghost is one to watch – and one to listen for.

Your pieces are very heavy on synth melodies; I am definitely curious about the gear that contributes to that warm, wide synth sound. Talk a little bit about how you arrived at your production style — who were some of the folks you looked up to and were looking to follow? 

A few years ago I was listening to Oneohtrix Point Never heavily, and his music inspired me to buy a Juno-60. That was definitely the first piece of gear that sparked complete joy for me. It was easy to use and every sound was blowing my mind! I was obsessed with Oneohtrix Point Never’s warm moody pads, and I wanted to incorporate that into my music. I had also acquired a DX7 right before then and started loving that classic glittery keyboard sound. The Roland JX-8P is also a fav of mine and it has a really nice chorus similar to the Juno.

I think that “warm, wide” sound you’re talking about is initially from the Juno-60 chorus, its undeniably fat and addicting. Because of that, I started getting accustomed to having all my synth sounds going chorus. It’s just what sounds good to me in the studio. Morgan has shown me a few plug-ins to get similar types of chorus to the Juno. Most keyboard sounds I record now pretty much have to have some chorus on them for me to feel satisfied. On my last album, the title track “Endless Light” was a collab with Morgan, he walked in my room as I was working on some house drums and bass, he just turned on the DX7, and laid out those amazing chords in a couple of takes. Since then, I felt the need to explore that sound more on Aquarium Nightclub; wide, shimmering, bright juicy chords. The last album had pads, this album has chords.

In terms of melody and composition, Morgan and I talk about that a lot actually, how when we produce tracks it’s hard for us not to get carried away and have a lot of compositional elements and melody. I keep trying to tone it back and make more of a stripped-down dance track but I get carried away and the songs always end up carrying more than I expected from the beginning. I think this happens because I listen to a ton of Boogie and Disco which have an intro, verse, chorus, bridge, outro, tons of melody and leads, etc. It’s like when I’m making a house track, I’m writing it as if there are going to be lyrics. I think that’s just how I’ve trained myself to make songs.

Initially, for this album, I started aiming for a Larry Heard-influenced style, but as I kept making new songs I really wanted a modern boogie/house vibe and was getting into Mystic Jungle, Nu Guinea, Whodamanny, and Modula, basically all those Napoli cats. There were also definitely Mood Hut influences, some Kyle Hall and Funkineven at times, a little Glenn Underground, Burrell Brothers, Thomas Leer, African and Brazilian music, tons of Disco, Boogie, and House from the ’80s. After digesting all these genres and styles, I tried my best to recreate and combine them in my own unique way.

You are part of Oakland’s electronic music community which was hit directly and extremely hard by the Ghost Ship fire. The community lost people and friends — but it also brought very dark and undue media attention on a scene that was creatively flourishing. I almost want to say that the name of your album, Aquarium Night Club, references the event. Can you talk a little bit about how the community is doing? Both creatively and logistically. Are people putting on DIY shows again?

Ghost Ship was very heavy for the community. I know many people who were affected and lost friends, and it was quite hard and probably still isn’t the same for them. That said, I don’t know if I’m the best person to speak on this matter because I didn’t personally know many of the folks lost in the fire and I don’t want to speak for anyone else’s experience.

Aquarium Nightclub is not intended to reference Ghost Ship by any means, it is something separate from that. I think the music I make draws from places outside of Oakland, I find influences from other eras and places from around the globe. But even though I’m inspired from the outside, I love sharing my music with my community here in the Bay.

I’m not sure what you would consider DIY, but I know people are putting on tons of great shows in the area. There is definitely a surge of dance nights centered around Boogie, House, and other Balearic sounds. My friends and I throw a monthly called Open Soul, it’s an all-vinyl Boogie, Disco, and House dance party. We have other friends who do similar things, for example, Lower Grand Radio has a DIY radio space, Smart Bomb is a monthly that always has the beats and leftfield lo-fi slaps, B-Side Brujas hold it down almost any week somewhere in the Bay, there’s a night called Palace that’s more on the housey side, and of course the OGs at Sweater Funk in the city. The scene is here and for me its a great place to be.

Talk a little bit about “Sim City” and about Morgan, who you collaborate with on this and on “Strange Sequence,” another great track from the album. They also happened to be two of the collection’s chunkier piece. I’m gonna call them the most Larry Heard-esque on the album, combing a fat bass synth and lovely high-end synths.

Morgan is a music guru. He can always come up with fattest chords, groovy baselines, or catchy melodies, you name it. He’s pretty private and doesn’t go on social media or anything, but we’re frequent collaborators with similar taste in music. He helped me mix the entire album over the course of a few months, and I was able to bounce arrangement ideas off him while we dialed in the sound of the LP. “Sim City” and “Strange Sequence” probably sound more beefed up because Morgan is a very thorough producer. He’s very intentional in his musical choices, and when we get together, we will try and really flush out the idea. I’m thankful he’s on my team.

“Sim City” and “Strange Sequence” kind of sidetracked our mixing for a few weeks, as we felt like we needed a few more stand-out tracks on the LP. The intention was to make some very groovy house joints that were easier to mix and dance to. “Sim City” always felt like an “alien rave track” to me, it has a mix of psychedelic, tropical, and somehow futuristic and vintage sounds. The original bassline, which we ended up taking out after a few iterations, sounded like you were playing Sim City 2000 or something, so the name stuck. It definitely has those Larry Heard vibes, maybe some Lone influences, but in the end it’s us just doing our thing and having a good time.

Space Ghost’s new LP, Aquarium Night Club, will drop on Tartelet Records in late October.