Ambient beat producer Matthewdavid's 'Outmind' tells the story of his Los Angeles experience
It was a balmy spring afternoon and the day’s woozy effect seemed magnified within the cozy, white, hillside backhouse in Highland Park. Through an open window, sunlight and breeze streamed into the home recording studio of Matthew McQueen, a.k.a. Matthewdavid, who at 26 has amassed a laundry-list of extant titles: artist, engineer, label head, local promoter, radio host/DJ, digital content manager and, in his words, “interstellar cross-collaborator.”
The multi-tasking is a lot to keep up with -- not least of all for him -- but the most common thread running through his various occupations is clearly visible in the rented space he shares with his girlfriend, visual artist Jesselisa Moretti. In fact, it almost qualifies as a third resident. His collection of cassette tapes seems to have the run of the place. There are easily a thousand of them -- stacked neatly on shelves, piled haphazardly in corners, or loose on the mauve carpet.
“I love the sound,” said McQueen, taking a break from finalizing the cassette-sourced DJ mix he’d made that morning for website Altered Zones, the experimental music offshoot of Pitchfork Media. “The crunchiness, the warbling, the swelling. That undulating sonic quality that happens when you have an old tape that’s gone bad. You can’t find it anywhere else.”
McQueen’s debut album “Outmind” is out April 19 on Brainfeeder, the imprint run by Angeleno electronic auteur Flying Lotus, and it’s full of that reel-to-reel, analog iridescence. His trademark mélange of ambient textures, psychedelic instrumentation and earthy beats has made McQueen a unique presence within a local scene typified by computer-derived music.
It helps too that he produces Top Tape, a monthly open-call cassette-DJing night at Silver Lake’s Hyperion Tavern, and runs a cassette label with Moretti, Leaving Records. Meanwhile, his day-job involves digitally mastering albums for Alpha Pup, the label at the heart of L.A.’s electronic music movement, and overseeing the company’s online distribution system.
“It’s a little ironic,” said Alpha Pup boss Kevin Moo, “but I think it just shows how much of a music person he is. He knows both sides of the business, and whatever he’s doing, he’s really going for it. I’ve known him since he moved here and I’ve been lucky to see him really take off.”
An Atlanta native, McQueen had taken piano lessons as a child, then withdrew into rap at 14 when his family moved to Gulf Breeze, Florida, a “white island of suburbia” near Pensacola. While pursuing his B.A. at the state university in Tallahassee, he began to experiment with jam sessions, and listen to the left-field hip-hop of L.A. labels like Stones Throw and Plug Research.
He became an intern at the latter immediately after moving west in October of 2006, a couple of weeks before the opening night of Low End Theory, the Lincoln Heights club night that ushered in the so-called “beat scene.” McQueen’s growth has moved in tandem with the local musical renaissance, and he’s helped push it along in ways both concrete and abstract.
“I ended up sampling his early stuff for my ‘Los Angeles’ record,” said Steve Ellison, a.k.a. Flying Lotus. That 2008 LP was praised for its ambient warmth. Moreover, it was the scene’s crossover moment. “I was hearing a lot of beat-driven music, and this kid started sending me all of this analog stuff. It was such a magical sound, really wondrous. I told everybody about it.”
McQueen continued recording but worked primarily as a tastemaker, first as part of the Dublab web radio collective and later at Alpha Pup, where he’s taken on the role of occasional talent scout. Last year he brought Russian imprint Error Broadcast into the budding label family, and his own Leaving Records roster includes artists as far-flung as England and New Zealand.
All of this, McQueen said, fed into “Outmind” which opens with a sampled cassette field recording of Dublab founder Mark “Frosty” McNeill praising the sights, the sounds and -- befitting the patently hazy Matthewdavid vibe -- the smog of the city. The album’s songs are imbued with a hard-to-pin-down quality that both McQueen and Ellison refer to as “seeking.”
“Music’s very spiritual for me,” said McQueen. “This record was four years in the making, and it’s been a self-discovery process inspired by the encouraging energy here. I think it’s far-out enough to raise some questions from the listener, but it basically tells the story of my Los Angeles experience.”
-- Chris Martins
Photo: Experimental beat producer Matthewdavid poses for a portrait in his studio in Los Angeles on April 24, 2011. Photo by Stefano Paltera/For The Times