Label of the Week: Pocketmoth
Hailing from Brisbane is an independent label by the name of Pocketmoth. Founded by Zach Degnan and Iti Memon, the label offers a selection of electronic music that has an emphasis on sonic diversity. The label’s unbound perception of creativity has seen their back catalogue at times extend beyond electronic convention, with some releases featuring elements of hip hop and alt-rock too.
Over the course of the label’s short life, they’ve been host to eight stellar releases: two compilations, five EP’s and a tape.
The label officially kicked off in 2017 with their first compilation, Infinite Twist.
A blanket of field recordings aptly opening what was to be the first instance of sound and curation given to us from the Pocketmoth boys. Brisbane’s Black Mannequin throws us into the abyss with a haunting array of quiet samples, ambient tendencies and the beautifully odd voice of Kevin Orr crooning quietly over the top of ‘Asphalt’. The found sounds continue on Tils‘ ‘The Language’, the track literally opening a door and inviting us in to experience the wonky bassline and unassuming hip-hop samples.
Quincy Raw delivers tension through curation on ‘sun15’ whilst Sargent Bonzo takes things to a DIY alt-rock place. Melbourne’s Christopher Brooks comes together with Brisbane’s Rahms for an intensely slow-burning deep tech-house number in ‘Trails’. Rahms On the hip-hop side of things, Sum Randm brings downtempo hip-hop to the compilation, opting for a woozy glean which quickly turns to tracked percussion and high tension, whilst RDGR‘s ‘hip-EEZ’ takes hip-hop to a psychedelic place, an apt vocal sample talking away over the warped instrumental.
The label’s dedication to their ethos is entirely evident from just the first release, and it’s from here that they began putting out longer form releases from Pocketmoth favourites.
In March, 2018, PKM001 came in courtesy of Infinite Twist‘s track two contributor, Quincy Raw. Where their contribution to the compilation was complex and highly emotional, their EP, timesweeper ramped it all up tenfold.
Opener ‘Stedelijk’ surrounds you with an army of helicopter blade swooshes, an ominous harmony of deep synths and the pitter patter of light chords as they dance atop the ferocious noise. The beautifully ambitious number sinks slowly into the quiet, until we’re dropped straight into a sea of hi-hats, and we’re instantly thrown onto the dancefloor. ‘B5’s Beehive’ layers percussion over drawling ambient melodies, while the short and sweet ‘Kamae’ tricks your ears with sounds just beyond our reach. Nine-minute closer ‘Day Changes’ brings melody to the end of the release, some pulsing light house percussion pushing forth layers of light chimes, staccato chord hits and the industrial crunch of a heavily phased drum in the background.
For the label’s second release, Israeli producer Gábriel Magdelani and Infinite Twist contributor Christopher Brooks offered up the Mary Ann EP. Striking a balance between function and emotion, the EP shows two sides to the same idea. The idea here being expansiveness through hidden motifs and unassuming sounds.
Magdelani starts us off with ‘One For Mary Ann’, a deep dive into dark, deceptive territories of carefully constructed sounds. The track is essentially melody-less, relying on the push of delicate sounds and drawn out synths to be the force behind this until over the halfway point when a tempered saxophone delivers delicate phrases every now and then until the track’s end.
For the B-side, Brooks takes on Magdelani‘s ‘Cathedral’, injecting melodic percussion in with an array of delicate samples, a drawling pitched-down vocal phrase and laser-samples. In the same way Magdelani has, the real focus here is on the hidden sounds and what’s not immediately visible.
July 2018 saw Gábriel Magdelani come back to Pocketmoth for PKM003, One For Mary Ann. The hypnotic collection spans four tracks, taking you on an immersive journey through sounds less familiar.
Opener ‘Friends In The Woods’ brings solace through undulating chords seeping in and out of the soundscape, whilst contrastively, ‘LFS004’ tracks live percussion with dark tones and a drawn out, distorted stab for a cloudy bout of heaviness. ‘LFS005’ brings unchanging high octave percussive samples to a simple house beat and uses that to drive the light, wispy soundscape, and finally, we’re left with ‘LFS006’, the darkest of them all. He’s applied the same logic of careful sound curation to this one, but not confining himself to small sounds, instead widening his palette to include sounds a little more sinister.
This immense variety explored on this release sits right at home and in stead with the Pocketmoth ethos, something you can see they’re really pushing for.
One month on from PKM003, and the label branched out and put out their first tape. PKMTAPE01 came in from Infinite Twist contributor RDGR, a sample based lo-fi hip-hop producer out of Brisbane.
In stark contrast with the more traditionally electronic releases on the label, these tracks vary from 51 seconds in length to 3 minutes, 9 seconds in length. The 25 minute trip showcases RDGR‘s skills as both a producer and a composer, shuffling off-kilter quantising in with some gorgeous synth work and expert vocal manipulation. Opener ‘~1~’ messes with the tempo, while ‘~2~’ builds a driving melody out of a chopped and skewed vocal. ‘~4~’ puts the focus on the length of the synth line while in similar stead, ‘~7~’ focuses on the warp of the synth. ‘~9~’ could easily be a Com Truise B-side, which I think shows the scope of RDGR‘s focus as a producer. They produce hip-hop but with an electronic mindset, something that makes this beat tape sit far apart from anything else, and right at home with Pocketmoth.
The label didn’t slow down in 2018, with Bcharre carrying PKM004, Malik, into September. The techno release feels like a first for the label, but the addition of it to their back catalogue is no surprise.
The Brisbane based artist wrote this EP between Brissy and Berlin, so it’s no surprise that his exposure to what is arguably the techno capital of the world, rubbed off on him. Malik kicks off with ‘Amir la Shay’, a brutal and honest insight into the direction of the release. The track breathes with the beat and works in stead with a dominant synth fluctuating in and out of focus. ‘Talking Trees’ takes a delicate approach, dotting light synth stabs on top of a crisp percussive line. We’re talking tinny closed hats, a soft cymbal and a satisfying beat. The synth work on this one is impeccable, coming back to and seemingly hiding from that initial motif of light synth stabs until it comes full circle and fades out of focus altogether. ‘The Three Ants’ is the darkest of the lot, the pitch never peaking above a certain point until the percussive melody sweeping you off your feet towards the end. It’s all deep, brass-like synth stabs and that boosted hit of bass. ‘شمسShams’ rounds out the EP, taking us through the biggest slow-burner of them all.
Newcomer to the label, Sam Stosuur, delivers PKM005, SEEDS. After years of collaborating on various other Brisbane recording projects and releasing his debut Dunlop Molley on Beats of No Nation just a few months before, his Pocketmoth release sees him push further than he ever has before.
The ‘Seeds Intro’ takes the best elements of traditional hip-hop skits, employing the voice of Kimmy Robertson for a comical peer into what’s to come. ‘Used 2 B’ pans hip-hop percussion over a sprawling bout of synths, some arpeggiated, some simply there to add depth. ‘I’m Real’ takes the housier route, layering touches of tropical melodies over a lo-fi house beat and using similar vocoded vocals to the intro to drive this one. We’re back on that hip-hop tip with a slight footwork influence on ‘Siren Song’, and title track ‘Seeds’ steers us in the opposite direction, with the beautifully chopped sounds of Merinda Dias-Jayasinha‘s voice floating delicately atop a carefully constructed myriad of panned drums and synths. ‘Raindrop’ takes us home with an array of hydrated instrumentals. The slap of the bongo in the background sounds like rain hitting a tin roof, while the glitchy pitter patter of the melody feels like raindrops as they cascade over the final minutes of the release.
And in just a week’s time, we’re about to be gifted with Pocketmoth‘s second compilation, coming to us as Skies. MOTH02 are kicking off the year in a similar way to how they kicked off 2018 – with a celebration of all of the different sounds and faces they’ve fostered in their fast-growing community. Favourites Bcharre, Christopher Brooks and Rahms are set to return for the release, with newcomers Penelope Two-Five, DJ Friendly and more joining the Pocketmoth contributor pool.
The label have said that their second compilation will “unearth an international network of modern producers, geographically distant yet intrinsically linked via the values of underground electronic music.”
If there’s one thing that the success of the label can be attributed to, it’s the vision consistently challenged and exemplified by curators Zach and Iti. With releases coming from such places as Brisbane, Berlin, Tel Aviv, Melbourne and more, their challenge for sonic diversity knows no bounds, and with such a mammoth and fruitful year behind them, it’s only telling what Pocketmoth have in store for us.
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Words by CAITLIN MEDCALF