Christopher Port might just be one of the best kept secrets in Australian dance music. In recent years, the Melbourne producer has honed a sound comprised of brooding samples and bass-heavy electronic rhythms to impeccable effect, cultivating a passionate following of rave-ready fans and establishing himself as one of the nation's most dynamic producers with each release.
On his latest release, Ritual Music, Port shows that he's well ahead of the curve with seven new tracks that only further aids his reputation for quality over quantity. Taking a detour from his usual brand of moody, Burial-indebted UK Garage, Ritual Music sees Port toy with pulsating synths, choppy polyrhythms and warbling drones to sublime effect.
It's equally as danceable as his prior works, yet delivers a certain organic quality that's so often lacking in much of today's gridlocked grooves thanks to Port's own ability as a drummer, with the producer combining his sensibilities as a producer with his talent behind the kit to turn in seven tracks of cosmic dance euphoria.
With the release of the EP, we spoke with Christopher to find out more about the recording of the new project, what equipment he used and how his backgrounds in jazz drumming and dance music collided to form what we're hearing across Ritual Music.
Hey Christopher, it’s an absolute pleasure to chat. When was Ritual Music conceived? Did you complete the record during the lockdown?
Hey thanks so much. I recorded and produced Ritual Music between July and November 2019, so well before all the lockdowns. I had a few rough sketches floating around beforehand, but the majority of it was finished then.
It has been a pretty strange preparing this release while in lockdown. A lot of my energy has been going towards just managing the lockdowns here in Melbourne, so I’ve just been taking it at my own pace. I’m very happy for it to be coming out despite all the strangeness.
I really dig the new palate of sounds you’re working with over the project. Was there anything in particular that motivated you to explore these more cosmic and jazzy elements we’re hearing?
With Ritual Music I wanted to draw on the vast musical experiences I had before I started releasing music under my own name. I grew up learning and playing Jazz and a wide variety of World music from Brazil, India and Africa. Immersing myself in these different styles of music has left an indelible mark on my subconscious. I wanted to get out of the way of myself and let these subconscious influences come out in the music.
You’re an accomplished jazz drummer, and you really show off that side of yourself as a musician on Ritual Music - specifically, ’Tambourines of Joy’ and ‘Slid’ are especially great examples. How much of that knowledge do you apply when programming drums electronically, and inversely, what aspects of beat programming do you aim to recreate while physically playing?
Energy and momentum have always been the pre-dominant driving force behind my music and drums are the perfect example of that. Drum programming was something that came really naturally to me; it was all the other stuff like chords, harmony and arrangements that I really had to work hard to develop in the early days of recording my own stuff.
Physically playing the drums in while recording has been a really new thing for me, I have always just clicked around with a mouse on the screen to program my drums. I got to a point where I was chasing more of a natural feel in the drums and found myself endlessly shifting individual notes around on the grid to get more of a natural feeling. This led to me just playing the drums live. It’s funny but I’d never really had a desire to play live drums on my own stuff until now, but all signs were pointing me in that direction so I just went with it.
I’d love to hear about some of the equipment you’re using over the EP. Can you describe the space you recorded it in?
I used Drums and Percussion and a range of plug-in and analogue synths. I recorded at Bellbird which is a studio out the back of my managers house. It’s a beautiful open space. I set up and recorded in there for about four or five days. I then did some extra programming and mixed the record at home.
It sounds like we’re hearing a lot of cool analogue gear - what kind of keyboards and synths did you lean towards?
At the moment I tend to gravitate towards older sounding synths. I used my Juno 6 and Microbrute. I like blending these with straight up digital plug-in synths, like the Arturia Farfisa and some of the stock Ableton synths. I really don pay much mind to the Analogue vs Digital debate when it comes to synths. I just use whatever is the most fun and whatever sounds good.
Some of the bass hits over the EP are mega heavy too. Did you program them in the box? Were there any other cool samples that made the cut?
For all the bass sounds I used an 808 Plug In, Juno 6 or Microbrute. Pretty much all of them were played in live except the bass on ‘Sine’ which was programmed.
What did you aim for, or have in mind, while mixing the project? Was there anything in particular that you went in with as a reference?
In terms of mixing I approached each track differently but in general I wanted to keep things pretty raw and on the vintage side of things. I used Tape Emulator plug-ins pretty extensively on the record. I would bounce tracks out through the plug-in then run them through again over and over to get the sounds I was after.
The main references I used for mixes were Art Blakey and Alice Coltrane records. The texture of those records is so nice in how it kind of sounds smudged over. I also love how elements of the music at times kind of randomly dance around in the stereo field. There are moments in some of their records where an instrument will all of a sudden randomly pan all the way to the left for no apparent reason, and then just go back like nothing ever happened. I love stuff like that.
Ritual Music is an apt title for the new EP - it’s really quite a hypnogogic listen. Obviously dance music and ritualism go hand in hand, but how else did you tap into this concept across the EP?
I kind of realized though the process of researching various rituals that they are kinds of habits that serve you. They benefit you in some way and just generally improve your quality of life. I have my own rituals that I use to center myself and focus my mind whilst playing and making music. Rituals are also great for bringing people together and nurturing communities. Which is something dance music has always done well.
Finally - what’s your game plan for the foreseeable future? Any plans to hit the road, or are you working on anything else?
I do plan on hitting the road, but not to play music. The first thing I’m planning on doing post-lockdown is to go bike packing. I’ve been daydreaming of where to go for the last few months. I’m really looking forward to spending some time away from home and being out in nature for a while.
Beyond that I’d like to do some shows eventually but it’s impossible to plan much at this point. This year has been such a seismic shift in everyone’s lives around the world. I think it will take a while to fully process it all. That being said I am super optimistic about the future and what it may bring.
Ritual Music, the new EP from Christopher Port, is out now.