Anjunadeep co-founder James Grant and label stalwart Jody Wisternoff are the latest to join us for our ‘In Conversation’ series. The pair took the time just before the start of the new year to sit down and dive in-depth into the creative process behind Anjunadeep 08, the most recent addition to the famed series.
WWD: The emotion in the music and construction of the compilation is extraordinary. What were you hoping to achieve from people listening to your creation?
James: Thank you, it means a lot that you came away with that impression and whilst you’re only a focus group of one 😂, I guess that’s really all we were hoping to achieve – that people might connect emotionally with the mix in some way.
Jody: If someone said they thought it was “baby making music“, I would be a satisfied man! But on the serious, our goal really is to curate a listening experience that takes you on an emotional journey deep in your soul
WWD: What do you feel you brought to this edition that differs to previous works in the series?
James: I think we found a deeper level of collaborative chemistry this time around. We definitely spent more time in the same room together than on previous volumes, which helped. Deep 07 was a bit of a breakthrough for us in terms of creating the type of journey and listening experience we’d always aspired to, as opposed to just a collection of good tracks, so for 08 it was about making sure we gave ourselves the time and space to create a worthy follow up. We struggled for a a while, we had some great music but couldn’t see it piecing together, then we stumbled upon one or two key building blocks and the whole thing started to fall into place. At times during this project it definitely felt as though we entered some kind of crazy flow state, where everything clicked and literally every little edit, transition or interlude idea we tried seemed to come off for us. That was a really special feeling and something I hope we’re able to recreate in the future.
Jody: Yeah we definitely made a conscious effort to spend more time in the same postcode. We quickly realised that one afternoon in the studio together equated to about a weeks worth of Skype / email action. Besides this, its always nice to pop into the office and say hi to the gang.
WWD: Can you tell us a bit about the criteria you applied during music selection?
James: There’s no checklist (except maybe ensuring there’s a good representation of key artists from across the label), it’s more about an instinctive feeling around each track and whether it has the kind of timeless and emotive qualities that we’re drawn to, and then whether it fits into the overall journey that we’re trying to create.
Jody: Besides the actual quality of the music, we also paid particular attention to the sequence of key changes throughout the mix. This can have quite a considerable effect on the listener but almost at a subconscious level.
WWD: Hiatus provides a captivating introduction in ‘Delam’, a record, which has been around for a while. What brought about the decision to start here?
James: We’d been in touch with Cyrus since his Parklands album and he’d sent us an early demo of “Delam”. It was actually a contender for Anjunadeep 07 but we couldn’t get it working on there so it found its way into our Deep 08 folder instead. It’s a timeless piece of music and it felt like it was still under the radar, even though it was already out there to some extent. That it’s Cyrus’ own father reading out the poetry gives it an extra poignance, and we just felt it would make for an evocative intro.
Jody: At one point we were gonna run with an instrumental of said track. Very glad we went with the spoken word version though, his father has a beautiful and colourful vocal timbre which just gets the imagination going.
WWD: It was a mammoth task. What was the workflow like between you in putting the release together?
James: First there’s the hunter/gatherer stage where we’re really just identifying a very long shortlist of potential contenders, which comes from rallying round artists who are either already on the label or with whom we’d really like to work. Once you reach a tipping point where you have enough “definites” on the shortlist, that’s when you can start to properly map out the mix.
Alongside that there are the external songs we’ve identified to remix into something unique for the compilation, so there’s a separate workflow happening with those over a longer period of time. Those tracks are important to the mix as they provide extra depth and colour that we might otherwise be missing if we had to rely exclusively on label material. I tend to be a bit of a magpie on those, collecting ideas throughout the year, then Jody and I get together and see what sticks. Serendipity plays its part too. For e.g. Cinnamon Chasers “Luv Deluxe” was an old favourite of mine yet I had no idea that it was an alias of Russ Davies, who’s now signed to the label. And for the remix of Love Is Not Enough, Jody heard the strings being sampled elsewhere and didn’t know they were from an Above & Beyond track. He sent the strings to me and said “we should do something with them, do you know where these are from,” and I was like “ha, they’re from an old A&B track – too easy!”.
Jody: There is also the last minute contender situation that has to be taken into account. Things that are pretty much set in stone might be reshuffled at the last hour, we literally kept our options open up until the deadline. We did try to include most of our key artists, however certain people like Martin Roth and Meramek didn’t quite make it onto this mix even though they do have some amazing stuff in the pipeline.
WWD: The value of LPs and compilations is often called into question these days. Does that put an added pressure on you to create something special?
James: I’d say that was a source of motivation rather than pressure. The challenge is to create something that stands the test of time, something that people will hopefully come back to for repeat listens. Also this is different from most other mix compilations in that it’s also a showcase of the incredible family of artists on the label. That presents its own challenges as we don’t have an infinite supply of music to call upon or license in. We have to be more patient while the pieces of the jigsaw fall into place. That’s one of the reasons why it takes such a long time – the policy is that it’ll be ready once it’s good enough, rather than trying to work to a specific deadline. That can drive our label & product management team a bit nuts and is why Anjunadeep 08 took well over a year to put together (and why I can’t guarantee that Anjunadeep 09 will be out in 2017!)
Jody: All killer, no filler is the mantra we live by. If you are creating a product that people will part with their hard earned cash to obtain, it bloody better have a lot of blood, sweat and tears involved.
WWD: Looking back into the past, what were the compilations that stood out from among the rest for you?
James: Joris Voorn’s “Balance” mix and Sasha “Involver” spring to mind.
Jody: Some of my partner in Way Out West, Nick Warren’s mixes were seminal – particularly the first Back2Mine and GU Amsterdam.
WWD: Did their creation and execution influence what you were trying to achieve with this project?
James: Not consciously, but in both instances those artists have gone way beyond the normal parameters of a mix CD to create a whole that is far greater than the sum of its parts. I’m not in any way claiming that Deep 08 is on a par with those two albums, as both are pretty seminal to me, but if there’s any similarity at all then it’s probably an obsessive attention to detail and a reliance on track stems to achieve the desired result. We requested the parts to so many of the tracks that by the end we’d nicknamed our label manager “Dom ‘Stems’ Donnelly”.
Jody: Yeah we really went to town this time, dissecting a considerable number of the tracks at their DNA in a quest to realise our vision. If you have a luxury of obtaining parts, it makes perfect sense to take things a step further. Kinda reminded me of Anjunadeep 05 in this respect
Now that the work behind the compilation is all taken care of, what’s next for you?
James: Right now I’m on holiday with the family and winding down for Xmas but am definitely looking forward to our Miami party in March as well as the chance to do a few back to back sets with Jody in early 2016 to celebrate the release of the compilation.
Jody: Tonight I am in London for the Anjunadeep XMAS party at XOYO as Way Out West, alongside Yotto, Icarus and Dom ‘Stems’ Donnelly so am very much looking forward to this! After the xmas and NYE festivities are over its time to finish the Way Out West album which is due for an early 2017 release, watch this space!