London-born Ario is not just a DJ but also the founder of the ambient label most insiders talk about: Astral Industries. Is the label’s success only due to the combination of cutting-edge releases and unique artworks, designed by artistic genius Theo Ellsworth? In fact, Ario’s personality and vision have a lot to do with the prosperity of his project…
While artists usually create a record label as an outlet to produce music freely, Ario is, and always has been, turned towards others; he is clearly a passionate and social character. With a diverse range of musical influences, equally at ease with discussing his love for nu-metal, downtempo or drum’n’bass, he’s the laid-back dude you feel an instant connection with, someone who makes people feel comfortable around him. His natural social aura has been key in developing relationships with high-profile artists such as Deepchord, Wolfgang Voigt and Monolake.
“Going back, way back into time”, his first steps behind the decks were as a drum’n’bass vinyl DJ: “I bought a battered pair of SL-1210s, knocked on the club booker’s door on my first day at university, passed him a mix CD and the next thing I know, I was a resident at the university’s drum’n’bass night”. Immersed in what he calls the UK’s “go-to youth gateway electronic music”, he was introduced to Deepchord’s music by a friend, which set him off on today’s path.
Ario remembers: “Coming across Deepchord’s music was my first proper exposure to ambient and techno and I was really blown away. Perhaps the jump from drum’n’bass to techno and ambient may seem strange to some, but at the time a lot of artists I respected within that scene were moving towards deeper sounds, like Instra:mental, Oak, dBridge, Nether, Commix [Shifted] and ASC. A portion of drum’n’bass artists was moving towards this pretty deep, more minimal half-time stuff, and many moved on to something else entirely. For me, it was techno and ambient”.
After university, Ario started throwing parties in London, including in the mythic and now defunct Plan B and Dance Tunnel clubs. With a debt of gratitude to Deepchord and a loose plan to launch a non-dancefloor-oriented label, Ario booked Deepchord and asked him to make the first release – which he accepted – and Astral Industries was born with Lanterns. As for the artworks, Ario came across Flying Lotus’ record “Pattern+Grid World” while digging in a record shop: fascinated by its artwork, he contacted the creator, Theo Ellsworth, who accepted to work for Astral Industries. Soon after, having attended a Wolfgang Voigt gig at St John’s Church in Hackney, Rückverzauberung Live in London came out as AI-02.
Launched with two great artists, Astral Industries rose fast under Ario’s vision: “I want to give artists as much creative freedom as possible, so rather than focussing on one narrow sound, the label explores a range of influences, whether it be more neo-classical (Wolfgang Voigt), dub or drone (Deepchord), fourth world (Chi Factory) or more modular stuff (LF58, Multicast Dynamics)”.
For the rest of 2021, you can meet Ario in South Korea playing at vurt, Seoul’s most dedicated club for ambient and underground techno. Astral Industries’ Soundcloud page contains a playlist of his recorded mixes, which are equally adept at transporting you to trippy contemplative atmospheres as they are in taking you onto the dancefloor of an intimate techno club.
FROM THE CIRCLE TO THE FLOOR⁴
In Early 2021, The Hypnotic Techno Circle organised a DJ competition to provide mixes for podcasts we collaborate with. It was open to anyone interested within our community and evaluated by a panel of passionate listeners, including Ntogn from Hypnus, Joachim Spieth from Affin, Oslon from Oslated and Gent from Orb Mag. The fourth prize was a slot at Art Bei Ton, the third at Oslated, the second at Monument and the first at FLOOR⁴. Those who didn’t make it to the top four had the opportunity to try out their chance in about 30 more podcasts.
The project was big in terms of organisation. We’ve been very honoured to receive a lot of submissions, and after months of listening, with various steps, our panel elected Ario’s present mix as the winning one.
We are aware that holding a competition in art is double-edged, as it can potentially drive a wedge between those who enjoy being challenged and those who firmly condemn it in the artistic realm. We respect every point of view, but we believe, on our side, that only the ego is a potential issue in the competition world, not the competition itself, made to entertain and open interesting doors. For us, it has been nothing else than a way to negotiate slots in influent podcasts for our talented artists, that they would not get without it.
FLOOR⁴‘s prominent underground mix series, in particular, has 100k active followers. This is an amazing platform, among others, to help us achieve our supportive goals: spreading our niche sound further in the underground electronic music era, to insure the survival of our scene. We believe “in networking”: FLOOR⁴’s founder Marcos Milos is a true wizard in the field and his project moreover conveys both the authentic passion for music and the unity that we value. FLOOR⁴ highlights techno, house, tech house and we are happy to represent the hypnotic techno aesthetic inside, thanks to Ario.
It is worth mentioning that Ario entered the competition anonymously and made it to the top thanks to a particularly well-designed set. Reviewing it in this article consists of explaining why and how the set reached the first position.
Let the music speak.
A GLORIOUS JOURNEY
1️⃣ The track selection
Evaluating the mix of a DJ competition returns to the question “are there objective criteria to evaluate a mix” and more generally “what is a good mix?” In a RBMA lecture, we had the chance to attend in 2015, Daniel Avery answered: “It’s a mix where I can get lost in,” a statement which could be extended to “a mix whose content never ejects the listener out of the journey”.
In the shoes of a DJ, particularly in the context of a competition, big is the temptation to bring the favourite tracks of the moment. However, two tracks not matching with each other or a loss of consistency during the course of the music are potential ways to disconnect the listener from his trip. Donato Dozzy, known to be very creative, often takes the risk to play the eclectic card, but even then, he brings either a percussive guideline which will connect the various tracks together and lead to a certain consistency differently, or balances the loss of it by boosting the trippy flavour of his journeys, with a flawless technique, developed in years of experience behind the decks.
To evaluate the consistency, a first test basically consists of skipping through the mix and feeling if the vibe is globally homogeneous, from one portion to another. It has been particularly well-done in Ario’s mix, and confirmed during the full listening. A first explanation comes from Ario himself in his interview below: instead of building up the mix from the first track as most DJs do, he revolved the entire journey around “Incandescence” by Polygonia, the track starting at around 22:41. The game for him was to select tracks that would perfectly match with that impactful one, a rather original approach. “Incandescence” is a very understandable choice. Well known by the hypnotic techno lovers – from the label IO‘s followers in particular – Polygonia inspires. She has a very unique way to inject groovy rhythms into experimental sonorities, somehow taking out the nerdy side of musique concrète to update it to a fresh, dancefloor-ready modernity. As a result, her tracks are both intriguing and fascinating, groovy and interesting to visit.
If Ario didn’t build his mix on the first track, “Lure” by Biocym is however an efficient one to start with: a short atmospheric plot and the percussions fade in nicely, without wasting time, an intro more-over secured by Circular Limited’s high-quality reputation. The trippy state is then very quickly reached with tracks from artists that are experts at provoking it: the mystical Svarog, CHPTR, Droneghost and Empirical Distress. Ario plays with our senses in-between, making the journey mesmerising and intelligent. The last track “4040” by talented NFEREE – AKA Motion Symmetry today – gently wakes up the listeners from their trip; not too much, as an invitation to start the mix over again, giving to the fast start of “Lure” a great cyclic justification.
2️⃣ The management of the energy
A DJ doesn’t only mix tracks, he also mixes energies. The above paragraph contains an underlying question: “Are consistent mixes boring?”
DJs being also admittedly entertainers, the goal to surprise the audience takes a more or less big place in their creative process. The challenge is however to keep it artistic: there are smarter approaches than bringing a pop track in between two techno ones to spice up a mix… If consistency is important to maintain the listeners inside their trip, playing with energies could be the safest way to sound original and surprising. More than that, playing with energies creates an emotion.
The producers have understood it very well. Except for music consciously made to be repetitive, such as the original hypnotic techno sound, the tracks are commonly progressive, with the mountain pattern being a standard in music, novels and film-making. The idea is to start slowly, build up the energy gradually, before dropping it down. This well-known DJ pattern is applied to the whole mix, in the image of the tracks that compose it. For the competition, we gave our contestants the instruction to follow such a construction.
Ario’s build-up is particularly subtle. The ascent becomes serious with “Cicle” by Droneghost, at 38:50, and reaches a climax with the next track “Double Helix” by Mown. The mountain is a bit like in the UK; not very high, but at the same time, “this is underground babe”.
What’s going on at the global level can also be worked at the local one. In the deepness of his mix, Ario teases the listeners here and there, by playing some tension/release games. At 16:10 for instance, the bells of “Rollin Dust” by PVNV surprise, which, once passed, boost the groove of the coming next track “XV” by CHPTR.
Ario’s flawless management of the energy, also highlighted by the subtle mix of the percussions, gives a lot of life to his mix.
3️⃣ The technique
It is commonly said that the track selection matters a lot more than the mixing technique… However, ruining a transition between two tracks can also strongly eject the listeners out of their trip. It doesn’t have to be catastrophic: a simple loss of dynamic after a bad use of EQs, for instance, can already create a more or less uncomfortable listening experience. A clash of melodies or – less known – of hi-hats, can also be particularly unpleasant.
Ario didn’t provoke any of these awkward situations in his fourteen transitions. Under the microscope, he does sometimes have a tendency to fade in the next track a bit fast, such as when he brought “Site A“, by Unknown Location, over “Object_01“, by Void, at 5:46. But it doesn’t bother much and contributes to the above-mentioned game of tension/release. On the other side, he takes all his time to fade out, which brilliantly contributes to the fluidity of the mix. A particularly well-done transition comes for instance between “Double Helix” by Mown and “Luminophor” by Joachim Spieth, just before the last track. Ario created a mash-up between the two tracks, in a way that the latter ends up covering the previous one with its warm drone-ish mantle, to start the slow descent in a particularly peaceful way.
We’ve already mentioned it in our mix review of Cobahn’s Scene: the ambient-based artists often show impressive skills to create subtle transitions in their techno mixes. It has a lot to do with ambient music being a lot more difficult to mix: we encourage you to check out this set from Ario, showing how at ease he is with this challenging task.
INTERVIEW ON A SELECTED TOPIC
Ario shares some of his views and musical approaches.
How did you approach this mix? What has been your creative process?
I remember that day I got an unexpected promo download from Phonotropismi; it was a Polygonia EP… I put the tracks on and they were a nice vibe. I felt quite inspired at that moment to do a techno mix. At almost the very same time I saw the directive for the mix competition and I thought the specificity of the guidelines made for an interesting challenge. So I just wanted to make a mix that incorporated some of these tracks I’d been sent, aiming for the climax-driven “mountain pattern” of the guidelines. I started slow and simple, trying to keep it hypnotic, building the energy and coming out the other side.
What does the ambient world teach you that can serve your practice in the techno realm?
Musically I feel the two worlds (ambient and techno) are very closely linked, both striving for similar notions of depth and boundlessness. When I want to dance I listen to techno and when I want to chill I listen to ambient. Both present portals to enter through to get lost in the music. So there are certain sensibilities that underpin both ambient and techno, and certain philosophies as a DJ that are important in both genres.
Some people think that art should never be subject to competition, what is your personal opinion on this topic?
Really it’s just a bit of fun, I don’t overthink these things personally and honestly I’d have been just as happy coming fourth, first or not in the top places at all. The process and act of creating were the most important aspects of all of this. Everyone has different tastes, approaches and takes on things and that’s a good thing and should be respected. As long as the “competitiveness” doesn’t feed any egotism or jealousy, it’s all good to me.
(Please buy the tracks to support the underground scene with us)
1. Biocym – Lure [Circular Limited] 2. Void – Object_01 [Alexandar] 3. Unknown Location – Site A [Circular Limited] 4. Svarog – Fourth Myth [Norite] 5. PVNV – Rollin Dust [Taapion Records] 6. CHPTR – XV [CHPTR] 7. Empirical Distress – Mystical Dust [Circular Limited] 8. DJ Deep & Traumer – Streets At Night (Part I) [Possible Futures] 9. Polygonia – Incandescence [PhonoTropismi] 10. Persuasion – Xaviera [Black Opal] 11. Polygonia – Theft of Mind [PhonoTropismi] 12. Droneghost – Cicle [Circular Limited] 13. Mown – Double Helix [Circular Limited] 14. Joachim Spieth – Luminophor [Affin] 15. NFEREE – 4040 [NFEREE]