Rival Consoles: Turning Darkness Into Melody
Rival Consoles is the pseudonym of Ryan Lee West, the Leicester born and now London-based artist, producer, and DJ. He’s known and respected in the field of electronica for his introspective, mind-melding dance music. His latest release, Night Melody was released last week, spawning the single Lone – an urgent, driving piece with a syncopated synth ostinato, deliberately detuned sounds and a thinking man’s beat. I meet him at a chic coffee shop around the corner from his studio turned home in Forest Hill, south east London.
“I’ve been working on the mini album for four or five months straight”, opens West, in his mild midlands accent. “And I don’t mean that in the glamorous way. It’s been destroying my brain; there’s been a lot of problem solving. The ideas themselves always come quickly, it’s more the second stage of making things better and solving problems.”
With Night Melody in the bag, he has mostly been playing at festivals this Summer, with his next performance being at Space in Ibiza; perhaps surprising given his music is hardly commercial. How did that come about, then?
“Yeah, normally Space is mainly the commercial stuff. But it’s this curated festival called Afterlife,” West reveals. Kiasmos, his label mates on Erased Tapes Records, are also playing – one half of which being Icelandic piano composer, Ólafur Arnalds. “So it’s different to their usual music... Not too different, just more tasteful.”
There’s been plenty of debate about the live aspect of DJ sets these days, but with someone like Rival Consoles, you can rest assured it is a true live experience.
“There’s a lot of playback”, Ryan concedes. “Maybe 40 to 50 percent, because I’m limited to what I can do with two hands. But basically, I have a lot of stems and sections and loops and phrases from my music which I’ll piece together live. I’ll use keys – because all my synth sounds come from my Prophet ’08 synthesizer going through guitar pedals. So the way I make music in the studio, I do exactly the same live. I also try to improvise transitions between sections and songs.”
I mention that there’s a noticeable evolution along his discography; earlier albums like Kid Velo were quite a bit more dancey and beat driven, and while his newer albums like Howl are still very much danceable, there’s perhaps a greater emphasis on the overall sound design.
“With Kid Velo, I didn’t want to just make gloomy electronic music,” West says. “But I didn’t want to make sickly dance music either. I don’t like the idea of being this miserable, dark, electronic artist. And a lot of people either gravitate towards that, or the really poppy dance music. I feel like not many people can go between the two really successfully. I’m just exploring different points on the spectrum.”
In fact, West was never drawn to electronic music by any desire to create big club tunes; it was a much more artistic choice:
“There’s so much conditioning that goes into playing a musical instrument, especially if you’ve been taught. Whereas with the computer, everyone’s got a much more clumsy, messy, naive approach to it. Not many people have been trained in electronic music; I don’t know anyone that has! Most people that play the piano or something, they have been trained.”
Ryan clearly feels this naive, childlike approach often yields the most interesting results musically. I ask how he came to sign with Erased Tapes Records, and am surprised to learn he was their first artist (joining when it was actually just a MySpace page, and not officially a record label), given that it’s now known best for its neoclassical composers such as Nils Fram.
“I found this MySpace page called Erased Tapes Records and thought it looked interesting,” West recalls. “I found an email address for Robert [Raths, label owner], and sent him something really arrogant like, ‘check out my music, it’s really good.’ And it worked! [smiles]"
His latest release, Night Melody, was made during the winter and, as its title suggests, in the dark portions of the shorter days and longer nights.
“For some reason, this year, the light really devastated me,” West reflects. “It was constantly on my mind that it was going to be dark at 4pm every day. I was constantly stressed out by the darkness. I was making some music in the little bit of light that existed, but mainly I was working at night. I’d be going out with friends and partying to cope with it, but the problem with that is then you wake up late and realise you’ve only got two hours of light! So that’s why I called it Night Melody.”
West describes Night Melody as 'a little more mature, and patient':
"In terms of the [sound] palette, it’s an evolution of what I’ve been doing in the last three records. Everything’s slightly detuned, slightly out of focus. I like everything to be slightly broken sounding; I don’t want it to be neat and crisp.”
Having got a glimpse of his studio earlier, I enquire about the gear Ryan uses to achieve his uniquely disjointed sound.
“Spring reverbs,” he says, immediately. “I love spring reverbs because they add a darkness to everything, no matter what you put through them. Copicat tape delay, just to overdrive it slightly, so everything is misbehaving.”
And is there anything on his wish list?
“I’ll write a list of things people should buy me,” West says, with a smile. “The Prophet-6 synth – someone should buy me that. And I’d love a Korg Minilogue, which came out this year.”
I suggest that perhaps his label mate, Nils Frahm, should charitably donate some of the crazy amount of gear he owns.
“That could be the title of the article: ‘Rival Consoles needs the equipment more than Nils Frahm," West laughs. In terms of clear goals, it seems his only desire is to just keep making good music. “I’m already writing a new album; I just want to keep developing this palette of sounds I’ve been working with.”
And if the latest record is anything to go by, that palette of sounds will stay with us, capture our fascination for a long time to come. Night Melody is available now on Erased Tapes Records.
Words Adam Protz