Throwing Snow The London-based producer discusses endorphins, crafting arpeggios, and his latest releases on Houndstooth

For over a decade, London-based producer Ross Tones (under his prolific Throwing Snow moniker) has been plotting his musical development in the form of nostalgic house vignettes (Shadower / Sanctum), cinematic dancefloor workouts (Clamour), colorful bass experiments (Mosaic), arpeggiated techno epics (Axioms), and an extensive back catalogue of singles. His previous releases with Houndstooth — an artist-led offshoot of fabric Records — have pointed toward exciting developments in UK electronic music, capturing the spirit of rave culture and its confused decline through patchworks of dewy textures, snappy rhythms, and warming sub bass.

Earlier this year, Throwing Snow released Trébucher, a one-two punch of visceral techno that marked the first in a series of four club-primed EPs. It was followed up just last week with another two-track release, titled Simmer. TMT spoke with Throwing Snow about his new direction while touching on the role of genre, rhythm, and emotion in music designed to make you dance.

So you’ve chosen to unravel your latest music gradually as a series of four EPs working up to a vinyl release in the Summer. Is there any reasoning behind releasing this whole body of work in parts as opposed to releasing it all together?

Yeah. Basically, for the least few years, I’ve generally done albums that are more headphone listening, but with dancefloor elements – and then Axioms, the last body of work, was separated into three sets of two tracks with vinyl release at the end. This is a chance for me to get out of totally immersive album-style tracks. Because the last album, Embers, was basically one entire track, entirely cyclic, and everything had so much meaning, including the artwork and things like that. It’s quite an intensive process, so it’s nice to kind of break out and free myself. I’m just doing stuff to make people dance, I suppose.

That makes sense, because “Trébucher” from your latest EP is definitely a club-ready track, with all that sub-bass. It sounds like it’s been designed to just obliterate a club system. I mean, it’s a huge tune. Now you’ve always made music that works on the dancefloor and chosen sounds with this kind of visceral touch, but why did you decide to orient this latest EP and the upcoming EPs specifically in clubs?

When things get too complicated and heady and considered, I can appreciate the album on the academic side of things. But then the whole reason I write music – and basically the only reason I write music – is because there’s a very specific bit when you’re starting to write a track where you automatically know what to put in next, then for a split second you know it’s gonna work and the hairs stand up on the back of your arms and it’s like a rush of endorphins. Then it’s kind of over and you know you’re gonna finish the track. And sometimes when things get too academic, though it’s a hugely rewarding process, I miss that little rush of endorphins that makes the whole thing worthwhile. You’re always kind of chasing that little moment when you’re writing. It comes back a bit when you play it live or when you see other people experience it. But it’s that lovely moment, it’s like tingling. It’s a very odd thing to say: it’s an addictive process and you never know when it’s gonna come.

Absolutely. Just off the back of that, do you find it quite difficult to actually capture that feeling in your music given that it’s generally so hard to comprehend and articulate? In other words, how do you awakening that elusive sensation in others through a drawn out process of creation?

Well, I think most artists end up doing it through process. So instead of trying to reenact a moment – which is basically like the end product – you get a series of rules or ways of working that are more likely to produce that kind of emotional end product. That’s the best way I can describe it. I think that’s what everyone talks about when they talk about process. Like, you know where you wanna go, and though you can’t always imagine it you do know how to get there, so you try and go through this process again and again and again until you hit that little bit of magic.

You have to just cross your fingers and hope that something worthwhile comes out at the end?

Yeah. And that’s also kind of the basis of the tracks that I did for Axioms. I would try and try and try, and I was doing Snow Ghosts tracks, other music, things like that, but the Throwing Snow stuff just wasn’t coming. You’ll just not want to write music, and then suddenly you’ll get this feeling like, “Oh, I have to do this.” All of those tracks on Axioms were written in pairs over 48 hours, pretty intensely. And that’s kinda what happened with “Trébucher” and “Tantrum.” They both came from using the same bits of equipment and going through this process, and then just saying, “Yep, that’s gonna be it.” I kind of trust my process to a certain extent now, so if I’m in the right mood I know it’ll come out.

So in my mind, you came to prominence at a time when genres in electronic music were slowly beginning to blend into one another and the categorization of all this disparate music was becoming futile so everyone just kind of panicked and called everything “UK bass.”

Yeah, or whatever. “Future garage”… “Post-dubstep”…

Exactly. By kind of shunning genre in that way, all of your records to date have brought a new sound and drawn from a different set of conventions in electronic music. Why do you favor this more explorative approach instead of settling on a particular aesthetic and style?

I get bored, to be honest with you. There’s a quote from Jóhann Jóhannsson that I thought basically epitomised everything – and by the way I have such a massive respect for all his work and it’s just such a tragedy we’ve lost him. He said: “The key to having a successful career is to find the thing you do well and do it again and again for the rest of your life. But I’m not really interested in that. I’m interested in expanding my language as an artist and as a composer. And I try to expand it with every project.” And I couldn’t put it better than that.

Without asking it’s clear from your discography that your musical background is pretty varied. Could you elaborate a bit on how you got into electronic music to begin with and how those beginnings influenced your style?

I grew up on a farm in Weardale – which is actually signposted as “England’s last wilderness” – when the internet was first coming out, and there was no music scene so we had to travel miles to go to a record shop, where I discovered punk and UK metal. Then by listening to stations that played that sort of stuff I discovered John Peele, who exposed me to a plethora of totally different records. That whole aesthetic, I picked up on that straight away, and I love that: You can get the same emotion but with totally different ingredients. Music is not just about tapping into the technicalities. Sometimes it’s the end emotion that ties things together. You can have different music from different sides of the world with different instruments and different tempos and everything, but it can still give you the same feeling. That’s the bit I’m interested in, because that’s the only bit that’s intangible.

And given that we’re talking about feeling, do you think there are any particular sounds that you tend to fall back on when writing your music? If so, why do you think that is, and do you think they relate to a particular feeling that you’re trying to capture?

It’s difficult to say that because everyone’s brain develops differently and is molded by their own musical experiences. So sometimes what I’m getting from my music or what I hear in someone else’s music might not necessarily be the same as everyone else. Like, there’s all this stuff about major chords being happy and positive, but then you play it to someone who’s been growing up on darker music where everything’s minor and they get happy moments out of it – you can associate that emotion with a minor chord. So it’s kinda difficult to quantify. All I can say is, what I enjoy is the tension and release. And awkwardness: stuff that’s almost there but not quite. I dunno, it’s an odd feeling to describe. That’s when I know it’s a Throwing Snow track, for instance, because I get this same feeling where I know “this is it.” Sometimes I write a piece of music and it’s like “no that’s for Snow Ghosts,” or “that’s for another project,” or whatever. But Throwing Snow has this specific feeling. I can’t quite describe it, it’s like nervous tension, I suppose, and then trying to release it.

Well, I get the feeling you music often plays around with contrasts – whether it’s between light and dark, organic and mechanic, tension and release as you say, there are a ton – and you get the feeling that it’s kind of teetering in between these different contrasts. And that’s not to mention the contrast between genres! Do you think these contrasts are something that you consciously incorporate into your music or do they tend to come about quite naturally?

They come about quite naturally. It’s not something I necessarily think to do. But that’s what I enjoy above everything. I enjoy ideas working together – not necessarily musical ideas – and how they fit together and can complement each other. That’s what I really enjoy. Embers was all about natural cycles and the interconnectedness of everything. I don’t see these elements as necessarily different. In my head, they’re just bits of audio that work perfectly together. But I can totally understand how in other people’s heads they’re like, “Oh that’s from there, that’s gotta be this piece of gear, or a sample, or some kind of cultural reference point.” For some reason, I just kind of like mashing stuff together. It just comes out as bits I like from lots of different genres. And I try and force it all into 125 BPM, which is one of my rules at the moment: 125 feels natural to me because it’s like a fast walking pace, and there’s something about that rhythm that I like. So that’s kind of the rule at the moment: to force everything into this meditative tempo. When you walk, you kind of feel that tempo, and I do a lot of walking ‘cause I’ve got a little dog. I suppose that’s just when I’m naturally thinking about things.

That’s interesting, because a lot of people think that rhythm in music – and life in general – derives from walking and the heartbeat and these natural processes. So it comes as no surprise that a tempo like that feels more natural for you.

Yeah, and when you get the pace when you run, the breathing pattern gets into a little song or a little rhythm in your head, you know? When I was a kid, I used to love the three rhythms on top of four. With “Trébucher,” the start of it feels like it’s in three and you think you’ve got it and then it starts going faster because it switches time. I love that contrast between different rhythms and the way you can have this steady pulse, but then you’ve got enough space in between to play around with it all – that’s why it’s like a kind of stumbling feeling.

With this EP that sense of rhythmic play you’ve got going on in both tracks kinda defines their structure and development. Your tracks don’t tend to evolve according to this kind of standard bread-and-butter techno progression. Although they do draw on elements of these more conventional forms, it feels more like your music evolves organically and playfully, especially in the way you handle rhythms. On “Trébucher,” you’ve got all these rhythmic permutations cycling around a single arpeggio – or in the case of “Tantrum” a single bassline – and these control the movement of each track as opposed to the more standard A-B forms. How do you go about structuring your music in that way?

I think it’s something I learned through making Embers. The whole point is that there are these natural cycles that go round and round and round, and then another natural cycle will interact with that at a slightly different pace and be reliant on that. So I kind of got it into my head that I can do that with arpeggios. For instance, I bought the MFB Dominion Club – the synth that’s appearing on everything – because you’ve got multiple waveforms, you’ve got three separate oscillators that you can mix together, and you’ve got two envelopes, and it allows me to morph a sound as opposed to switching between two different waveforms. This allowed me to make what I heard in my head evolve in-sequence. So it’s like using the sound to replicate what the arpeggio is doing, and then the rhythm is just there to back it up, just to make it move, just to play with the shape of the arpeggio. In “Tantrum,” it’s the same pattern but the timing changes, and in fact that’s the only thing that changes.

Yeah, the bassline shifts back a single beat…

Yeah, yeah, it skips slightly and knocks you off, and that just gives it a totally different emphasis. It’s like going from reggae on an off beat to house on straight four. And that’s just a slight change in the system, a change in a cycle. That’s what interested me with Embers: these slight little changes in natural cycles. That little change in the cycle can give you a lot of totally different variations, and totally different interest throughout the song. That’s the kind of thing I’m trying to explore.

Looking forward, what does 2018 have in store for you?

Well quite a lot. Other than writing these tracks, I’ve got a potential big project in 2019 we’re working towards. Whether it works out or not, I’m not sure. We’ve just been recording the Snow Ghosts record, and it’s quite a large piece of music with lots of other people involved. So we’re just finishing off the final recordings of that. Hopefully that should be out in autumn 2018. And then, I’m going to America, I’m just trying to find dates for that. I’ve got a few other things that I’m gonna do where nothing really fits any of my current projects, like Heathen Rights, which I consider the darker side of Throwing Snow. And it’s also my label’s 11th birthday. We thought we wouldn’t celebrate 10 years because that doesn’t really tie in with Spinal Tap, so we thought we’d do 11 years instead. We’re gonna do some limited tape releases to come out with some artists that we’ve showcased over the last 10 years who’ve gone on to do bigger and better things.

Now I wanted to ask you one last question: if your music could conjure up one feeling in every listener, what would you want that feeling to be?

I suppose it would be like frustrated euphoria, I think that’s the best way to describe it. Yeah, ‘cause basically the end goal is never the best bit. It’s always the bit leading up to it which is the most exciting. It’s that tingling feeling. It’s the same feeling I get when I’m writing: that rush, that change, that shift in emotion, that unexpected but pleasurable moment.

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