Jack of many, master of, seemingly all - Ishmael is a Bristol based multi-instrumentalist-come-DJ who’s gigs can also come under the guise of a live ‘Ishmael Ensemble’ act. His sound is where Jazz, technical musicality and ‘off the beaten track house’ intersect, and have been picking up buzz ever since his initial release on WOLF almost 7 years ago. Almost household name, taste making labels such as Church and Banoffee Pies have since picked up and radiated this sound; luckily for us and you we managed to glean a little further understanding of what makes him tick, and also lock down a new FH mix from the artist.
First things first, huge fans of your music, new and old. Talk us through how you got involved in music, how did you start producing?
Aw thanks guys :) I’d always played instruments and been in bands from a young age but I guess my journey really started around the age of 13/14 when I bought some decks with my brother and got a cracked copy of Cubase from a friend at school. I was really into drum & bass & trip hop and started out trying to replicate my favourite tracks using whatever sound sources I could find, my parents’ Pink Floyd records, General Midi drums, that “DJ!” button on the Yamaha keyboards at school.
Talk us through your home/studio set up what couldn’t you live without?
It’s basically quite simple, I use Logic 9, an outboard mixer with a few effect sends, a 4 track Tape recorder and various instruments. I love my Wem Copicat tape delay, that gets used on everything.
You’re a multi-instrumentalist, how do you pick what to play when building a track? Is there a set ‘formula’ where certain instruments come into play when creating or is it free flowing?
I’ve got archives full of recordings I’ve made with the other guys in the band, I usually create a drum pattern or vague arrangement and build on that. It’s all about finding that state of flow where things just come out, but you have to have the parameters in place for this to happen, otherwise it’s just endless jamming. Limitation is key! Choose just one lead instrument or 3 random chords, it doesn’t matter, just don’t give yourself too many options.
How did you and Amie get involved together, and how powerful do you think is it to bring together sound and visuals in a performance?
The most memorable gigs I’ve been to have always had amazing visuals so it’s a real treat for us & the audience when Amie joins us. We met about ten years ago whilst working in a bar in Stokes Croft, Bristol. She was studying film & animation whilst I was pursuing music, we’d often speak of grand visions & plans for the future, it’s nice to see we’re starting to now realise those dreams.
What was the reason for wanting to move into live performances?
I’d been doing solo stuff for a while & kind of stretched myself thin on stage, trying to play too much at once. It just made sense to get my friends involved, plus it’s loads more fun playing with your mates.
How do you approach live shows? There’s obviously a lot more prep involved but do you find them preferable to dj-ing?
There is a lot more prep but I love it. It’s so much fun dissecting the tunes and working out how to play them live, it’s like a reverse jigsaw puzzle, the finished tracks are there, we just have to take it apart and rebuild it with the instruments we have. Djing is a completely different experience so I can’t really draw too many parallels, although as I mainly play vinyl, they can both be backbreaking!
Do you ever find it difficult to split your time across live performances DJ-ing and producing? Creatively how do you find the time and headspace?
Not as of yet, but this year will be an interesting challenge, we’ve got a big live tour, I’m dj-ing a lot & doing much more producing and remixing, ask me again in December!
Check out the Ishmael mix below:
How do you see your output progressing over time, what’s next for Ishmael ensemble?
I’d like to mix up the recording process a bit, it would be nice to bring the others into the arrangement / composition side of things a bit more. We’d love to do a soundtrack or a really unique visual show. There’s lots of ideas floating around the room at the moment but for now we’re just investing as much time as possible into the live show, that’s the most important thing for us; delivering our music well on stage and connecting with people in the flesh.
And there we have it, make sure to keep an eye on your local gig venue(s) to catch the ensemble’s tour in May and many thanks to Ishmael himself for taking the time to chat to us at FH.