Ambient spaces

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The ‘return of ambient’ narrative from last year was distinctly overblown, as these things tend to be. Certainly it worked nicely as a hook for discussing some recent releases, but beyond that it was a bit misleading. Ambient never went away, there have been excellent releases coming out every year. What has changed is that it appears the mainstream is paying a bit more attention to it. And the real challenge is not finding good ambient, that is always readily available, rather it is finding spaces where it is possible to listen to it. On mnml ssgs we talked quite a bit about the disappearance of the chill out rooms and we focused a lot on promoting ambient music. And in recent years, with my friends David and Jerome, we have being doing the Sound Garden chill out parties in Tokyo, which have been great and gave an indication of what is possible when the right elements come together. Through organizing these events and DJing stuff that goes beyond straight dancefloor music, I have felt that it is still difficult finding opportunities and spaces to play this type of music out – you really need to have the right environment and a sufficiently open-minded crowd. I’ve had some really positive experiences, but also a lot of frustrating and disappointing ones. Fortunately it does appear more party organizers are thinking about trying to create spaces and opportunities for playing music that is not just for the dancefloor, but is also not necessarily overly dark or abstract. There have been quite a few live recordings of people playing ambient sets or in chill out rooms at bigger events recently, which gives me hope that this might start becoming a bit more common. It is tough – in the middle of the night people often want to dance – but it can also work really well having a space that is not so stressful, more open and gives people a different way to engage with music. Recently at Rural festival, I played a set of ambient and kosmische stuff in the second room. Some people didn’t understand it and left, those who stayed sat on the ground and really listened properly and connected with the music. It was one of the most worthwhile sets I’ve played in ages, and a reminder of what can happen when things fall into place. Certainly it is easy to idealize or romanticize what chill out rooms used to be, but at their best they were a space for people to connect with each other and with other forms of music. They also were a way of providing balance and the right kind of energy to parties. There needs to be a flow of moods and tempos and intensities…

I’ve included below a few recent sets that have been posted which suggest what is possible in the context of a party. This is not always easy or straightforward to do, and it requires organizers and artists think carefully about the best ways to present and share such music. There are plenty of times and places where ambient or downtempo makes no sense, and it’s important to respect that too. Thought and effort is required, but there definitely is potential for expanding and diversifying the kind of music being played at parties and festivals.

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