Electric Sea Spider by James Horsfall

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Los Angeles by Flying Lotus changed the electronic music landscape forever: quantized rhythms are no longer acceptable. Flying Lotus managed to form a syntheses from hip-hop, IDM and free jazz ideologies, creating beat music that was more about the sound aesthetic than musical structure. As a result there are a plethora of beat producers post-Los Angeles. It seems there are new releases everyday inspired by that album or the new beat scene.

One of the local artists that has successfully waded through the rising tide of beat producers is Jim Sellars, the meek twenty-one-year-old Melbourne resident behind Electric Sea Spider. He has turned heads locally and internationally and gained respect from many likeminded producers, including ones signed to Flying Lotus’s Brainfeeder label, the Russian label Error Broadcast and the rap artist Lupe Fiasco. This is due, in part to his quirky sound aesthetic and his live production and performance bias.

Sellars’ sound is a beautifully weaved juxtaposition of glitch and harmony, clutter and space, organic and mechanical, separation and muddy. Spending copious amounts of time trawling though the seemingly endless sea of vinyl samples, Sellars moves beyond the usual hip-hop staples such as jazz and funk. “I never limit myself when I look for samples. I always try and challenge myself. In some of my tracks on Mohican Beats, there are samples of hardcore punk, Christian a capella music, sock puppet shows and old sci-fi soundtracks … I just try and make anything work.”

This willingness to sample unconventional material coupled with the loose hip-hop aesthetic makes each track Sellars produces sound unique, a result of his interesting use of plunderphonics. Creating new work from the old, Sellars’ music is more than a bricolage, it pushes how far you can warp samples before they become something more. He weaves intriguing and original tracks with old sounds. “Blending sounds from the 80s with sounds from the 40s. There are endless possibilities, and amazing potentials,” he says. This makes Sellars music instantly recognisable.

These possibilities have not always been the case for Sellars or the Electric Sea Spider moniker. He started making music under the pseudonym in 2007 “when I was listening to way too much Warp Records” and confesses they were “pretty terrible Aphex Twin rip-offs”. Sellars has come along way to say the least. Considering he is only in his early twenties this is a significant achievement. Sellars has clearly formed a love affair with the beat genre, especially artists affiliated with the Brainfeeder label. However his interested not limited to the L.A. beat scene. Sellars often looks to the past for inspiration, particularly noting fellow Melbournians The Avalanches and their 2000 release Since I Left You.

Sellars loves cartoons and draws constant inspiration from them. Jim is inspired so much by cartoons in his ideal studio set up: “I’d have Nickelodeon running on mute next to my computer while I made music”. Sellars adds, “I’ll just watch this crazy Spongebob dream sequence and think ‘wow, I could totally write a track to this’. I just love how spontaneous and wild cartoons can be, and sometimes I try and put that to my music.” The spontaneous and organic narratives that are common structural devices used within cartoons clearly inspire Sellars. In Sellars’ tracks you hear this; they are organic, spontaneous and fun. Sellars fabricates vivid imagery that is psychedelic and fun, allowing the listener to smile.

Sellars has offered five releases as Electric Sea Spinder since 2008. The first two, Fear God Fear Satan (2008) and In Lucid Dreams (2009) are no longer available to download from the label, Mine, all Mine! which is based in Wisconsin. “I chose to end those releases because, first of all, the sound wasn’t what I was ever trying to lean towards. They just weren’t serious releases, and I always wanted to do bigger things, but just didn’t have the time or patience during that period. Really, they were just quick tracks I threw together with little thought process or direction in mind. Some people still like them, but I just don’t hear myself when I look back on them.” This announcement coincided with the release of Mohican Beats in 2010. Sellars’ third release The Thief is still available for download. This album clearly marks a change in Sellars’s artistic direction, not only from the evidence suggested by his deletion of the earlier album from, but also from the musical quality of the album. The previous releases Fear God Fear Satan and In Lucid Dreams offer nowhere near the complexity of Sellars’s later works, in particular Mohican Beats and Spit Rainbow/Weed Tape.

On listening to Mohican Beats, one might feel that there are similarities between it and Flying Lotus’ Cosmogramma. Although, Sellars may have upstaged Flying Lotus’s own creation. Sellars’ pieces are short and poignant. There is none of the self-indulgence that Flying Lotus flaunts, where there are too many sounds coupled with complex instrumentation that make the tracks too long and grating. Sellars’ pieces state their intention and pleasantly proceed to a musically desirable outcome; what makes his tracks enjoyable is the aesthetic and human quality that he imparts on them. Sellars is not bending the listener’s perception, nor does he intend to. Sellars is carving a uniquely identifiable sound for himself within a crowded genre.

The two tracks that make up Spit Rainbow/Weed Tapes are metaphorical sides of a cassette tape. Within the ‘sides’ there are many musical ideas that loosely form tracks. Well-constructed soundscapes help the ideas float effortlessly forward to the next. The beats are typical of Sellars’s work; the sampling is beautifully executed and is an ode to Sellars’ prolific beat writing.

What makes his later releases so effective is his live production technique, aided by his favoured piece of hardware the Akai MPD 24. Hip-hop is synonymous with the Akai MPC. Like many of his United States contempories Sellars has also favoured the Akai-made digital version of the MPC, the MPD. “I’ve been using computers to make music with samples since I was 12, before I even knew hip-hop beats were produced using samples. I only got the MPD about a year and half ago. It’s one of the staple pieces of equipment for this kind of music, and it’s just really comfortable to work with. I used to make more trip-hop and ambient-orientated music, but using computers always made it sound so robotic and stale. The MPD just gives you more freedom, I think, because everything is at your fingertips. I use the MPD for everything.”

This live compositional approach is shared by many of Sellars’ local Melbourne producers such as Panorama, Galapogoose and Wooshie. Melbourne has provided the perfect place for Sellars to develop and nurture Electric Sea Spider. “I find that people in Melbourne are very open-minded and keen to hear artists try new approaches towards music.” Sellars adds, “There’s a lot of great music happening down here, and I’ll definitely never complain about having too much good music available locally, but it just means that people need to stand out – with their music production and their performances – to get a decent crowd.” This is not to say artists in other Australian cities have not had an impact on Sellars. “The ‘OneoFour’ collective in Sydney achieved something special I think, and I’m involved with the ‘This Thing’ collective in Melbourne, which is attempting to do similar things … This Thing is a collective of producers, DJs and assorted talent (radio hosts, artists, sound engineers, etc) who are all just good friends wanting to give a home for this kind of music that we all love. It consists of myself, Mikekay, Wooshie, Galapagoose, Andras Fox, Ben Houghton, Baba X, Dream Kit (Declan Kelly, son of Paul Kelly), Rambl, Crumbs, James Ireland and more.”

Jim Sellars is a young, passionate and considered producer. Locally minded, with a strong work ethic, Sellars translates this all into high quality output. It is exciting when Australia offers up talent as exquisite as this.

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About Author

Sound designer and composer James Horsfall is currently completing his degree in Music at the Australian Institute of Music. Investigating acousmatic and electro-acoustic works.

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