Something weird happens when you’re listening to an Escaflowne release. His tracks are so completely different to each other, yet so uniformly good, that you feel like you must have started playing music in another tab accidentally. Surely these tracks aren’t on the same EP by the same artist?
Granted, many of his releases comprise “collections of random edits” — most notably a seven-strong series of EPs called 'Looseys'. Even so, the breadth of these tracks is impressive. The latest, 'Looseys V7' swerves from 'Music sounds betta', an irresistible, skittish version of you-know-what by Stardust into 'Catch Me', a propulsive update of a Loleatta Holloway soul track. 'Real Luv', an unrecognizable Mary J. Blige refix, is a fusillade of helium vocals, happy keys and blistering beats, and to close out, Ralphi Rosario’s house classic 'You Used to Hold Me' gets a high-octane makeover that fuses the feeling of the original with jungle’s thrilling rhythms and choppy percussion.
Born Brandon Terral, 30-year-old New York transplant Escaflowne (named after the Japanese anime TV series) can also do mellow Afro-Latin weirdness, acid techno, fancy footwork and polyrhythmic electro, to name but a few styles in his arsenal. He’s one of the many producers who make up Brooklyn’s astonishingly rich club music scene in 2021, most of whom are known for their frenetic productions and freewheeling, abundant output.
Terral’s DJing, too, is compelling in its unexpectedness, all sharp-yet-fluid left turns (check the first blend in his Lobster Theremin mix for starters) and ear-prickling gear shifts (note the fifty shades of jungle in his recent mix for The Lot Radio). His Impact mix for Mixmag, containing four of his own tracks, showcases his love of Salsoul classics, UKG and ultramodern edits of club anthems. In the few months clubs have reopened in New York, he’s been booked at Brooklyn hotspots Nowadays, Bossa Nova Civic Club and Jupiter Disco, and while he’s not yet achieved the notoriety of local stars such as AceMo, MoMA Ready and Kush Jones, it feels like it’s only a matter of time. With 14 stellar releases to his name since September 2019 on labels such as Sorry Records and Fixed Rhythms, and plenty of support from his esteemed peers in Brooklyn and beyond, expect to see Terral stepping out in a big way in 2022.
What made you decide to move from Austin to New York three years ago?
A multitude of reasons. I was like, ‘Oh, I need to leave Austin, I can’t stay here.’ They say Austin is kind of a music city and it has held that reputation in the past, but as Austin has become gentrified and grown, that has become less true, for artists. Things have gotten more and more expensive and there’s less space and community and opportunity for growth. It's good for local artists to be able to have their fun and enjoy their lifestyle but they weren't able to really advance — especially if you were doing electronic things.
So, upon coming here [New York] I kind of realized that this place was for me. I went to Berlin afterwards and it was nice, but this felt like the most ideal place. In a sense that there’s no better place in the world for a Black person that makes house, techno and other electronic music than New York. In regards to the culture and opportunities that are here for you, it’s probably the best. So it just made sense.
And when did you first start making and playing electronic music?
So I'm originally a jazz-trained, classically trained saxophonist. I play other instruments — trombone, violin, viola, percussion. I could play piano pretty decently. There always would be instruments in the home anyways, there's a piano in my grandmother's house. My mom gave me this little Casio keyboard that I’ve had for my entire life. So there was always something, so this [my music career] is just an affirmation, I guess. But I think a friend of mine invited me to my first rave in Sacramento when I was 17 [Terral grew up in California’s Bay Area before moving to Austin]. The venue was actually pretty dope. It was some big multipurpose space, not like a stereotypical warehouse. Upon going to that, I was like, ‘Oh, this is what I like, I really enjoy this. This is nice.’ When I was in community college directly after high school I took an introduction to digital music class. It was simply teaching people how to make different music with Logic and shit like that. And I kind of knew at that moment that I really enjoy doing this, and then I started to acquire the programs on my own personal computer — but I didn’t make any full dedication to dance music until I was 21.
What about gear, what’s in your collection?
I really don't have much, I have a MatrixBrute and a HydraSynth, so an analog, mono and a digital polysynth. That’s pretty much it. I've had more in the past, but it's not necessary. At least not for me. Some people are gear people. I'm not. I play a majority of stuff by hand via keyboard or piano. I don't really like input stuff. Gear is really dependent on what style is being made. So let's take garage, for example. If I'm gonna make a 2-step UKG track, ideally, if I want it to be authentic, I should be using things that people used at that time to make those tracks, which gives you a cut-off of around 2006, 2007. But actually, a majority of sounds in general are digital. So I have a Korg M1, I have some other presets, I can pretty much approximate the sound of a classic 2005 UKG track. For a genre like that, hardware isn’t needed. However, if I want to make like, acid techno, I should probably bring out my mono synth.
Unless you've released stuff under aliases, it looks like it's only really been just over two years that you've been releasing music. And you’ve put out like, 14 releases in just over two years, that’s pretty crazy.
Even for that amount of workflow, there should be an asterisk because there's a whole pandemic. There's time, right? But I’ve been “producing” since I was like 20, and probably did not get good enough to think about trying to release things until maybe three or four years afterwards. I have done stuff under previous aliases, but it hasn't been that good, so I made sure that things that existed before this alias were just deleted; they weren’t good enough. I got good around the time that I needed to, and all the projects you’re seeing now are things that are acceptable to me. For my career and lifestyle, the pandemic was probably the most beneficial thing that's happened. I'm not gonna lie about that. I was like: you have an extended amount of time to work on your craft, you moved here to work on your craft. I'm a very logical person, I can detach from the emotional aspects of things just to get it done. And I was like, you’ve been blessed with this huge amount of time, you need to go change your life, change your actions, and double down on this. You probably won't get this again, this is a golden opportunity.
Before lockdown, things were already smoothly going into motion. The current level of polish and skills were already there, it was just about having the time to further and further refine stuff. I’m a very competitive person too, and if you're going to be around everything that is world class all the time, like in New York, you should probably be taking notes either literally or mentally like, oh, this is what this sounds like. Or this is what this looks like at the highest level. If you’re around all this all the time, it just makes you better. This is what the best sounds like, compared to living in Austin where what would come through or what is existing around you is not the best. If I’d moved here sooner, I would have gotten better sooner.
Fixed Rhythms got in touch and said ‘Hey, do you want to do this?’ And I’m like, let me vet you, and go ask people to make sure that you’re ok, and once I knew that, I asked them what they wanted, genre-wise. Because production-wise, since I'm all over the place, if someone asks me for something, I ask them what they’d like. One, it’s a challenge and two, if I'm gonna work with a label, I rather do something that's on brand, right? And then part of that record was me attempting to be Skee Mask. The other part of it was just making fun, out-there electro.
I feel like I saw a comment on Instagram where you said you don’t actually play vinyl?
I don’t. It’s too much hassle. But I want to purposely make as many records as possible, because whether you like it or not, records are validating and people will always hold physical in higher regard than digital — that’s just an innate human thing, you know, to want to have something in your hand. But DJing vinyl’s way too much hassle. I’m definitely not a purist. DJing vinyl is literally a waste of time in so many different ways. Procuring all the vinyl versus doing all the practice versus making sure your vinyls are in decent condition, versus like, playing the music. It’s just not a good use of your time.
I always think of it this way: I’m a musician first, a producer second, a DJ third, an audio engineer fourth [Terral mixes and masters his own and others’ music]. To me, DJing isn’t shit, you know? Not in a bad way, it's more theoretical, like, due to oversaturation, the value is lower. Technically, to be one [a DJ], doing it's very easy.
To me, productions matter a lot more because it’s a simple numbers game. You could DJ and it’ll be fun, it'll be a very impressive experience if you're good. But the people that see you, that's just a one-off. If you're making productions or making records, you'll probably reach so many more people, maybe in more profound and consistent ways than your one-time experience. And especially during a pandemic, hopefully this has taught people about mortality. When you're dead and gone, you can't DJ. But you could be dead and gone and your records would still be touching people. So I always care more about making music way more than DJing. Because that will live beyond myself.
How disciplined are you when it comes to production and working on music, now that we’re not in lockdown and things have opened back up again?
I try to be disciplined. With nightlife coming back from the summer onwards, life was getting in the way, but I try to make time for it. I try to very much create the time and make sure that when I do have the time I'm in peak performance. You’ve got to make other decisions with the rest of your life so that you can really make use of the time. For me it’s three things: good sleep, being well fed, and being in decent shape. Some people don't realize that you should probably go to sleep at this time, or if you go for a run the day before you do this you’ll be in a happier state of mind. I understand what drives my creative flow states.
Who would you say who are like the main artists that you look up to?
I saw Objekt a couple of weeks ago here at Nowadays and that was actually extremely inspiring. For DJing digitally, that’s like top level. This is what I should be striving to achieve. The way he was getting into some of his blends, even when he would fuck up, and the correction of that and how he went through the next one; his effects usage, it was just all just completely top notch. That was definitely the best DJ set I've seen in a while.
Another favorite would definitely be Physical Therapy. Stylistically, we’re somewhat close as well. So whenever I see him play, I get lots of good ideas. And Titonton Duvante. I saw him here [at Nowadays] on Friday and we’re kind of technically similar, we like the same kind of blends and when he would cut something, it’s where I would cut something, so we’re kindred spirits. I fuck with that. Production-wise I really like the work of Skee Mask, I’ve always liked the work of Skee Mask, it’s just a very nice blend of breaks/IDM/ethereal techno. He’s probably the main inspiration. With house, I don't think I have one specific artist I look up to, it's just kind of the more pianos, the better.
Read this next: The 20 best piano house tracks ever
There’s a track called 'String Ting' on your recent 'Burfdae' EP. It’s inspired by 'Strings of Life', right?
That track was conceived when I went to that first outdoor Nowadays party that happened this spring. It was like the first all-vaccinated party and 'Strings of Life' was played at some point and I think it was like the highlight of that night in general and from all the videos of that show. This happened after your article about Derrick May came out, and even when I was there with this buddy of mine I was like, “I know this is a joyful, momentous moment, but at the same time, it's like, I wouldn't be playing this Derrick May track, as much as I love it.” This kind of sparked an internal debate about, you know, cancellation and artists’ work versus artists themselves and yada yada. So, 'String Ting' was made in homage to 'Strings of Life' artistically, but also practically in the sense that I really do not want to support Derrick May’s work. So I wanted to make a track close to it so I can play this and personally be okay with it. It’s so I don't have to support and spread the word and gospel of Derrick May. It’s for the greater good, I guess.
Do you have plans to release an LP?
I don't believe in LPs for dance music. It's just too much work. People consume albums less and less due to streaming and shit like that, and even if you wanted to put your LP on vinyl, a double or 12” is already a bitch so you’re just making your life harder. Now is just not a good time for LPs in dance music, I don’t think.
Can you talk us through how you did that UKG rework of 'The Boy Is Mine'?
I heard a version in a Daft Punk mix and found it and downloaded it off Soulseek but the pitch wasn't steady and there was a whole bunch of noise in it. After I listened to it I thought, I can just do a better version of that same exact track, and that’s absolutely what that was, it was made completely out of spite. As for the sound, period-specific music throughout all music history has been limited by technology. So the ‘80s sound like the ‘80s because people are using what was cutting-edge at the time, like Linn drum machines and DX7s and stuff like that. After listening to that track I was able to key in on all these certain elements, I was like, oh, M1 Organ, check, I got that. I was listening to the harps that come from the original Brandy and Monica track, I was like, ok, this was made in this era, these harps sound kind of fake, they probably came from like a rompler keyboard from the ‘90s, I probably have something that’s pretty close to that, check. So it was taking the pieces of the remix I wanted to make and also taking the pieces from the original track and pushing on all the nostalgia knobs just right. So it sounds very much like the original track, but it also sounds like UKG.
Read this next: The 10 most influential synths of all time
Anything else coming up we should know about?
There will definitely be a lot of things coming out next year. There'll be another record coming out, a really nice remix, at some point probably Sorry’s first actual vinyl record. So look out for that because I have no idea when that'll be done because vinyl is fucked. You’ll see a lot of jungle and 2-step releases in the earlier part of next year and then I'll probably switch and do something else. After that, I don't know because life is very fluid right now. Making long-term decisions is hard at the moment.
Can you tell us about your Impact mix?
For this mix, I wanted to play a couple tracks from all my core genres. While tastefully squeezing in some forthcoming/newly released tracks with some old favorites. So, expect some house, some techno, some club, and various breaks.
Buy Escaflowne's music here
Annabel Ross is a freelance writer, follow her on Twitter
Deee-Lite - Runaway (Remix)
Trackheadz - Our Music (Original Mix)
Escaflowne - Betta Believe(House mix)
Miles Fontaine(Jeremy Sylvester) - Keep On
Piano City Productions (PCP) - I Want Your Love (Totally Uplifting Mix)
Escaflowne - Da Acid
DJ Technics - Cuum On
DJ Sega - It Doesn't Matter (2007)
Tessela - Hackney Parrot [10 Ton Mix]
Oall Hates - Sohn Eins
Joris Voorn - Incident
MOONY - 3 IN 1 DUB
Kanyon - Real Angel
NIKKI NAIR - Buggy
Escaflowne - Music sounds betta
pt(Physical therapy) - darksteps in the foot (illegal mix)
Escaflowne - Catch me