Machinedrum and Braille Collude as Sepalcure
Combining brains can be the most fruitful way of creating music distinct from your own. Sometimes solo studio sessions just won’t cut it. And when two musicians get in sync, magic can happen.
This certainly seems to the case with Sepalcure, the duo of Travis Stewart, from North Carolina, and New Yorker Praveen Sharma, who are known separately for their bass-caked electronic releases as Machinedrum and Braille, respectively.
“It comes down to our long term friendship,” Travis explains. “We used to jam together and never started really making actual tracks for a good five, or six years. Once we started doing that, it made so much sense that we had that trust and rapport together that is really essential for a successful collaboration.”
The duo have honed a distinctive sonic stamp since their Hotflush debut single Love Pressure in 2010. When they first arose, RnB with an alternative tilt was an emergent phenomenon, with artists such as How to Dress Well and The Weeknd defining a nebulous movement influenced by atmospheric electronics. Fashioning something soulful and affecting from sonorous RnB vocal samples, dub bass, broken beats and garage inflections, Sepalcure’s music, coming more from the electronic side, complemented it but moved beyond its confines.
In 2016, experimental RnB has continued to flourish. When you have James Blake lending a hand on Beyoncé’s Lemonade and the DIY nature of serpentwithfeet and D∆WN (who’s currently collaborating with Machinedrum) influencing a raft of new musicians, it’s clear there’s a prevailing taste for soulful records with an unorthodox approach to production. But just as they did when they first appeared, Sepalcure have sculpted something fresh from their form with their new long-player. If their 2011 first album cultivated a heady post- dubstep feeling, then their new album Folding Time sees them further flesh out those vocal samples, for the first time inviting guest singers aboard.
Rochelle Jordan (a solo artist who’s collaborated with several electronic acts including Jimmy Edgar) features on the lead single Fight For Us, her lush voice adorning an ornate, delicate RnB ballad of circling guitar figures and Rhodes keys. Its stop-start rhythm has more than a touch of Timbaland, but the tumbling, filtered junglist breaks and splurges of synth suggest a different source. Devil Inside with Angelica Bess (who’s worked with both of the producers separately) embeds her resonant vocals on a dark pulse of fractured dancehall beats, before a wistful acoustic coda.
While apart they create dissimilar records — Machinedrum making everything from footwork and jungle to house under the Aden alias, and Braille fashioning mutant takes on RnB on his debut album Mute Swan — when they work together, they pool their many influences and combine them in ways they’d never think to do when producing apart.
“We definitely have similar backgrounds as far as influences go, but what we want to create in the studio can sometimes differ, so when we come together you see this meeting of worlds,” says Travis. “It’s a good collision.”
Although Sepalcure arose when the post-dubstep scene was at its height, they have always eluded simple categorisation. In the intervening years, Machinedrum has become far more well known, releasing the excellent Room(s) and Vapor City LPs through Planet Mu and Ninja Tune and forming a relationship with the Teklife footwork crew, while Braille has put out singles through Rush Hour, Hotflush and Hypercolour offshoot Glass Table, and his debut album on Friends of Friends. They’ve tried out various genres, but the twin threads of soul vocals and a dub aesthetic runs through their material. It’s there on album tracks Dub Of, with its cavernous, wide-open drama, spelunking bass and 4/4 thunk, and the spaced out, micro-detailed Brother Forest. Both suggest an affection for dub techno.
“All things dub, definitely dub techno,” says Travis of their influences on the record. “Basic Channel, Rhythm and Sound,” chimes in Praveen. “You can hear that on Dub Of, that takes a lot of interest from that world.”
But despite their overt influences, Sepalcure understand that to be pigeonholed risks being reduced to a fad. “We never avoid any rhythmic structure,” Praveen tells me, declaring his commitment to experimentation, and summing up the free spirited nature of Sepalcure’s sonic explorations.
Folding Time is out now via Hotflush Recordings