Future nostalgia informs Vancouver-based label More Than Human’s EPs
Let’s forget, for the moment, how the records sound. What’s more immediately impressive about the first two EPs from the new Vancouver-based label More Than Human is how they look. The Passenger’s Negative Object and Plays:four’s Lay Doe don’t exist in CD form. Instead, they’re encoded on heavy-duty black vinyl with minimalist white-on-black labels; those hefty discs are then swaddled in pristine white inner sleeves and further protected by an outer layer of textured cardboard. Glued across the front of that layer, and wrapping a third of the way around the back, is a glossy paper banner printed with gallery-grade art: Joseph Albers’ 1966 abstract Variant VIII in the case of Negative Object; an undated and untitled Erik Undéhn photograph for Lay Doe.
It’s not going too far to say that these are the most handsome recordings ever issued by a Vancouver label. It’s also possible that they’re the first local productions ever styled by a foreign design firm, in this case the Stockholm, Sweden–based company Bedow. When Gareth Moses—CiTR DJ, media professional, and aficionado of all things electronic—decided to start a label, he also decided to do things right.
“I don’t know how to put this without sounding arrogant, but you can make an immediate impression by the fact that you’ve put out vinyl records with the kind of care and quality and look that we have at More Than Human,” says Moses, calling in from an advertising shoot in Nova Scotia.
He’s talking about the initial response to his label’s look from consumers of vinyl, but also about the reaction from electronic-music artists the world over. The true measure of the splash his label has made is that it’s going to make a quick leap out of Vancouver and into the international market: its next project is an EP from the U.K.–based electronic folk artist Kemper Norton. After that, Moses promises new music from a true pioneer of the electronica genre—although he’s hesitant to say who, as the contracts have yet to be signed.
“It’s not a kind world for artists, even artists of a certain stature,” the aspiring impresario notes. “The fact that you’re putting out vinyl means that you’re serious about the work that you do. This is happening quite quickly on some levels, and I think it’s because people like the aesthetic, and they like the music, and they’ve seen that you’ve made a commitment to getting this stuff out.”
Gazing at More Than Human’s sleeves is more than just a pleasing visual and tactile experience. For seasoned vinyl hounds, the unified aesthetic approach will be reminiscent of the conceptually coherent output of Manchester’s acclaimed Factory imprint, while the wraparound slick is a direct nod to the even more iconic Folkways releases of the early 1960s, which introduced North America to roots styles from around the globe. Granted, there is an odd disjunction between Plays:four and the Passenger’s thoroughly contemporary sound and the old-school vibe of the packaging, but that’s also intentional.
“I was definitely going for what I call ‘future nostalgia’, which is an idea of an ideal future that never happened,” says Moses. “You kind of feel nostalgic for something that never took place, but you wish that it had. That was partly what informed the aesthetic look of the label, but in terms of choosing vinyl, I just think that people approach and digest the music different when it’s on physical media. You’re more likely to give yourself over to the experience than when it’s on shuffle on an iPod. It doesn’t necessarily make it better, but it’s more like seeing a film in the cinema versus seeing it at home.
“One conceit that I had when I was talking to the designers,” he adds, “was that in the future there’s a library of electronic music, and it’s run by robots—the More Than Human Archival Recording Library, or something like that.”
That Plays:four specializes in digitally manipulated sound indicates that Moses isn’t entirely committed to analogue formats. So is the fact that each More than Human release comes with a download card, for those who don’t always have time to take part in the ritual of the turntable. But when it comes to expressing the label’s retro-futurist aesthetic in sound, the Passenger is a perfect fit. The solo disguise of recording engineer, DJ, and vintage synth collector Jesse Creed, its music spans the gamut from drifty, Eno-inspired ambient sounds to driving, sequencer-assisted IDM, often with one foot in the era that preceded this.
“The machines I choose kind of define what I’m going to make with them, almost,” says Creed, on the line from his CanMARC studio. They don’t really dictate where to go with the music, but they definitely encourage the kind of music I make—or colour it, anyway.”
Moses describes the Passenger’s music as having “a kind of childlike quality”. “It’s quite emotionally direct and simple, which I like,” he notes. “It’s very warm and encompassing music, I think.”
Creed has a simpler definition: whether dreamy or beat-driven, his work aspires to the psychedelic state.
“That’s pretty much exactly what I’m going for with everything I make, to take people away,” he says. “I think that’s the most powerful thing we have with music.”
True enough—whether that music’s experienced in a sweaty underground nightclub or at home, with gorgeous album art in hand.