Anthony Naples has cleared the fog
It’s been a long time since we heard from Anthony Naples. In the four years since his debut album appeared on Four Tet’s Text label, the once-hyped house producer has barely breathed a word to a journalist. In those four years he moved to Berlin, “flopped” as a superstar DJ and got pulled into the city’s party undertow, before returning to New York to rediscover his purpose and his community. None of which would be quite such an intriguing narrative were it not for Fog FM: his exquisite new LP which could well be the year’s best house-slash-techno album.
Fog FM is music for grown-ups, or those of us who occasionally aspire to be one. Thoughtfully composed and richly melodic, it has the ring of a classic – or at least feels indebted to them, variously bringing to mind Carl Craig at his masterful best, the millennial cosmopolitanism of The Other People Place and the expansive ruminations of Shinichi Atobe. It’s a significant evolution from the sample-heavy, loose ‘n’ dirty jams that made Anthony Naples a darling of what we used to call “outsider house”.
When he broke through in 2012 with Mad Disrespect – the Pharrell-sampling groove that was snapped up by Brooklyn DJs Eamon Harkin and Justin Carter as the debut release for their party-turned-label Mister Saturday Night – the then-22-year-old musician played up to his status as a fresh-faced newcomer, allowing journalists to paint him as a naive genius. But, as he later admitted, Naples has been making music since his teens, mainly mixing his friends’ rap demos. As Mad Disrespect became an underground anthem, the Miami native cemented his rise with solid 12”s on The Trilogy Tapes and his own Proibito label, taking every opportunity that came his way with the horizontal insouciance of a beach bum who’s found a winning scratch card.
© Alex Huanfa Cheng
“I remember being on the phone to my booking agent at the time,” he recounts, “and I’d DJ’d five times in my life. He said, ‘I got you a gig at Panorama Bar, do you wanna do it?’ I was like, ‘Why not?’ I just didn’t think about any of these things. [Trilogy Tapes label boss] Will Bankhead would be like, ‘Do you want to make a record for me?’ ‘Sure, easy.’ It was all easy. It was that way until two years ago.”
2017 was a turning point for Naples. Having just returned to New York from Berlin, he found himself an outsider in his old stomping ground, but it was the best decision he’d made in a long time. Today, we’re eating quiche in a Parisian tea room, despite neither of us living in Paris, and Naples has just returned from a two-month roam around Japan with his wife (and Incienso label co-owner) Jenny, where between onsen dips he played at Precious Hall, the audiophile temple in Sapporo. (“There might have been eight people there on a Friday night, but it was one of the best parties I’ve ever been to,” he beams.) After a few dates in Europe, he’ll soon be heading back to New York and to the community of musicians – including Huerco S, DJ Python, Beta Librae and Doxa – who have been the catalyst for his much-needed reinvention. His time in Berlin took its toll.
“It got dark for me. It wasn’t as bad as the horror stories about people going to Berlin and really losing themselves in the party, but as far as I would let myself go, I lost myself in that.” Off the back of his swift rise to fame in New York, Naples had great expectations of the high-flying, hard-touring career that awaited him in Berlin. “And I just flopped. Everywhere I went I was doing the wrong thing. I wasn’t thinking anything through. I was playing music that I didn’t even really identify with, like Bileo’s You Can Win – a big Motor City Drum Ensemble classic, which I didn’t know was a huge classic! I just found it in a store, like, ‘Yeah, I’m gonna throw this into a techno set!’ Like an idiot. It was just so disjointed and I made a fool of myself.”
Dean Blunt once described Berlin as “the biggest coffee shop in the world; nothing happens, it’s purgatory for people who failed in their own countries.” Naples nods in recognition. “I definitely had that ringing in my head when I was there. The thing about New York is you can’t do what I did in Berlin, which was just loaf around. You couldn’t get away with it. Most of my friends have three jobs.” Thousands of miles from the tight-knit scene that had boosted him into dance music’s top tier, Naples lost his direction and “made some bad choices”. “It’s something you have to go through yourself,” he says, “and I wasn’t asking anyone for advice on how I could get out of the slump.”
Looking back, he wonders why he left New York just as everything was going his way. But his return – aided by moving into a house in Queens also occupied by DJ Python, Will DiMaggio and DJ Nicely, and then meeting his soon-to-be wife – was the catalyst for his quarter-life comeback. “It all improved in New York, and it’s only been improving. Now it feels like a static, blissful state, where every time I go out it’s a great time – and I feel like I want to reflect that in my music.”
Fog FM was created in idyllic-sounding circumstances, written over several months in the tiny apartment he shared with Jenny in Ridgewood, Queens. He maintained a routine for several months: wake up, lots of coffee, a quick walk, then solid work from 10am until late afternoon. “Then around 5pm I’d be like, OK, I need to shower,” he laughs. His setup stayed minimal, with just a few synths and, for the first time, Reaktor software. The biggest change was getting decent monitor speakers, finally, and spending time actually testing the music, playing tracks in Ubers to gauge his friends’ reactions.
“As a person I’m not so confident,” he says, picking his words. “Over time I’ve worked on that, including in music. I think this time I gave myself a licence to make something solid… or something.” (Resistant to anything like a bold statement, he frequently qualifies his words with “or something” or “I think”. You can see why he’s made friends with the nice guys of house, like early supporter Four Tet.) Where his early tracks were banged out in a few hours, directed by the “first thought, best thought” philosophy of labels like L.I.E.S., these days he allows himself the indulgence of spending weeks refining his compositions, working to a clear brief.
But, he says repeatedly, Fog FM is absolutely not a concept album. “I’m not making Dark Side of the Moon,” he laughs. “It’s rare when I’m making music that I’m thinking about anything at all. But I made the title track and all of a sudden I was making music to reflect this idea I had of a really isolated radio broadcast.” It’s supposed to sound like someone is playing music “over there, somewhere”, or like catching half a song on the radio and never finding out what it was. “I used to listen to so much music on the radio, and you would hear stuff more ambiguously than you do now, where you go on Spotify and you have the title of the track [right there].”
© Alex Huanfa Cheng
Front-loaded with steely, propulsive club cuts, Fog FM takes several diversions into mulchy ambiance before gently unravelling in hazy house drifts. “I thought really hard about how to make it flow from beginning to end,” he notes. “It would be a shame if it was just [heard as] one song here, one song there.” He’s referring to Spotify, of course. He hates the way it separates music into quantifiable units, ranking tracks by popularity. Artists are now at the mercy of this “big mood machine”, as journalist Liz Pelly recently described it, criticising Spotify for manufacturing mood-based playlists in order to sell advertising.
The idea of music being reduced to background ambiance is “really scary,” he sighs. “When you see a film or read a book you have to be 100 percent involved, but with music it’s becoming more and more like it should be for a place like this [café].” Naples held his ground against the big mood machine for many years, only uploading his music to Spotify in 2016. He tries not to think about it. “I use Tidal,” he grins.
When he and Jenny get back to New York in a few weeks’ time, they’ll be ready to plant roots. Through Incienso they’re building a family-oriented operation, with increasingly essential releases from artists like Kiki Kudo, Buttechno and DJ Python. “I feel like I left right as things were going really well in New York, and I came back into it as an outsider for a little bit. But now I have a strong community of friends,” he says, reflecting on his journey. “And right now, New York is the best scene in the world.”
Photography: Alex Huanfa Cheng
Fog FM is out now via ANS