Matthew Duffield of Barcelona-based label See Blue Audio uses ambient music as a baseline for a mix that touches on hip-hop, Spanish rock, and electronic music. Plus, we chatted about expatriate life, Premiere League football, and more.
Name: Matthew Duffield, although I’ve used the name See Blue for the mix to tie in with the name of my label, See Blue Audio.
Hometown: London – Leeds – London – Belfast, although I spent the most time in London during the second spell there.
You’re a bit of a Tottenham Hotspur fan, if I’m not mistaken? Is that in relation to the neighborhood in London you lived in?
Indeed I am a Spurs fan, and I’m writing this after we just beat Manchester United 6-1 in a historic victory – COYS! It’s not always such good times, mind you. Actually, I was born in south London, where scarily Millwall are the nearest team, but my mother’s side of the family are true North Londoners. They kind of divide equally into Spurs and Arsenal supporters, and I sided with the Spurs half, even when I was growing up in Leeds. They always seemed so exotic, especially when they brought in those famous Argentineans, and it was part of keeping my connection with London.
When I moved back to London, I ended up living in Tottenham, just a mile from White Hart Lane stadium, which was a cool stroke of luck. My passion for football faded for a while but I rediscovered it living in Barcelona. The game is massive here, of course, and I live close to Camp Nou, so it was hard not to be get swept up again.
Are there any political or societal reasons for your move to Spain?
Brexit was the culmination of a growing sense of anxiety I had about the way things were heading in the UK, and nothing that’s happened since has changed my mind. London was becoming impossibly expensive too. More than anything, it was simply the need for change.
There’s a nastiness that’s creeped into British life that I’ve found hard to deal with, but then not only the UK, of course, when you look at many other countries, including the US (Trump, alt-right) and Spain (Vox). My recent trips back have been to visit family in Belfast, where things are different again, and the lack of consideration the UK government has for Northern Ireland is staggering.
On a more positive note, leaving the UK has also given me some distance and the opportunity to look at things again. There are many great qualities that continue to shine through, and I have a strong feeling that many people are looking for new and different ways to live. There’s always been a special energy in the British Isles, and I think there are signs that things are moving in a positive direction in the face of some very destructive forces. The night is always darkest before the dawn and all that.
Home away from home: If I had to choose two places that have made the biggest impression on me in recent years, I would first say the Maramures Mountains in Romania – if you like hiking, this area is a must. There’s a deep spiritual quality to these vast hills.
For a more urban experience, Chefchaouen in Morocco for sure, another place with a special vibe. With its distinctive blue buildings and vibrant medina, it’s big enough to get lost in, but still with a village atmosphere. I’d love to spend a month in Chefchaouen one summer and really immerse myself in the life there.
You’ll never take the London out of me though, and the Yorkshire Dales will always have a special place in my heart.
When was See Blue Audio founded? What led you to start a music label? Do you wear other hats in the music world other than being a label runner, music fan (and occasional DJ)?
I’ve had the name, concept, logo and website address for See Blue Audio for a few years, but somehow, I never managed to get things moving. It took a push from a good friend – thanks, Andrei! – and it’s been pretty much non-stop from then over the last 18 months. There’s no grand plan, just to keep releasing good music and working with great artists. Running a label is kind of addictive too, so who knows where it will end, and the music policy is open.
I worked in dance music for many years as a music journalist (DJmag, iDJ, Knowledge and others), then as a promoter in London before setting up the Sedition DJs booking agency. For a few years, I was totally immersed in the scene, but the move to Barcelona also coincided with deciding to have a complete break from the music business for numerous reasons. I always had it in mind to set up a label and it came into being with See Blue Audio. I wanted to keep a foot in the music world, and this has allowed me to do it without having to rely on it for my living basically. Music has been the most defining force in my life from as early as I can remember, so being able to make a small contribution is a wonderful thing.
The ambient scene is a refreshing place to be too. People are generally supportive, respectful and passionate about the music. I can honestly say that dance culture combines some of the best traits of humanity with a few of the worst, but with See Blue Audio I’m only in contact with the former.
I’ve never even tried to be a DJ and the recent series of See Blue mixes are more in the vein of mixtapes; in fact, 80 minutes long in the style of a mix CD. It’s a real pleasure to put them together, just as it was for your mates back in the day. I have a general feeling about music I’m trying to get across too, which is not about genre or style. As I say about See Blue Audio, shade rather than light.
And you also have a blog that is unrelated to the label, can you tell us about that?
I think many of us kept some kind of scrapbook when we were kids, so my blog is kind of a digital version of that, and essentially random reflections about pretty much anything. Whatever catches my eye goes in there alongside supporting my own projects, of course. As with all social media, I’m presenting a better version of myself to the world, but there’s nothing on there that I wouldn’t stand by either. Moving to a different country is a tough business, so I think it’s also been a way of documenting that process in a random way.
On the music front, there’s also plenty of folk and country. I was also lucky enough to be able to travel a fair bit over the last four years and I wanted to capture that, while Barcelona is a very photogenic city. Like many people, I think I’ve also been redefining my ideas about politics and life over the last few years, and my blog is part of that process of re-evaluation. Just to be clear, I’m not becoming more conservative with age and quite the opposite! Nothing short of a global reset is required.
What’s coming up on See Blue Audio? We released music from Londoners Mink Freud and f5point6 in September, and have releases coming up from Fragile X and Steve Hadfield in the next few weeks. Both artists have dug deep in to their personal experiences during this strange year to produce some fine, reflective music. Mink Freud and f5point6 both have more tracks in the pipeline too, and I’m hoping to have more artists on the label soon. I’m always on the lookout for new music, and the styles can be wide-ranging.
Your guest mix is a treasure trove of artists that most listeners have likely not discovered yet. Was there any particular theme or concept?
As I mentioned before, it’s about shade rather than light and I think this runs through all the tracks I’ve chosen. Like-minded music can be blended together in a meaningful way irrespective of age, genre and cultural framework; another mix I’ve done recently included a track from 1919. I would choose these tracks from the mix to identify artists particularly worthy of further investigation:
‘Well’ and ‘Being There’ are two recent ambient tracks by KMRU from Nairobi, who has been getting a lot of attention recently. His ambient, drone, and field recording tapestries have taken the genre to a deeper, richer place. His recent mix for Resident Advisor is truly mind expanding.
Cold wave synth music isn’t much known within wider electronic music, but it deserves more recognition. ‘Resolution’ by Italian producer VOGUE.NOIR on the Belfast label TONN Recordings is a great example of why cold wave is such a vital musical force. Properly underground electronica.
Niño de Elche is one of the most exciting and creative artists in Spain. He comes from a flamenco background, but now works in all kinds of forms. ‘La canción de los gitanos’ is a rock-style collaboration with the band Los Planetas, while his last album, ‘Colombiana’, is highly recommended and something different all together. This guy is the man!
With See Blue mixes, I always include just one forthcoming track on See Blue Audio, and in this case, it’s ‘Alone, Dark’ by Steve Hadfield from ‘Displacement Activity Vol. 3’ released on November 6.