Matthew McQueen, known by most by his stage name, Matthewdavid, doesn’t have any qualms with the term “New Age.” While some electronic composers might prefer the term “ambient,” McQueen is attracted to the more metaphysical label, for its mystic connotations as much as its musical ones. In McQueen’s eyes, 2016 feels very much like part of a New Age; his new record, Matthewdavid’s Mindflight, Trust the Guide and Glide, reflects his blooming reality.
“I love the fact that things are always in flux, constantly moving,” McQueen says from his place in Los Angeles. “My ideas of who I am are always shifting and very inspiring. We’re in 2016 now and gender is fluid. Men are questioning their values of themselves. Sexism, racism, these things are all being questioned right now…Things are loosey goosey and wavy gravy now, man.”
Though he’s worked with Flying Lotus’ electronic/hip-hop Brainfeeder crew and collaborated with rappers like Odd Nosdam and Serengeti, McQueen’s latest follows the same openhearted path that inspired his previous albums Mindflight and Ashram, explicitly evoking classic New Age music in both tone and intent. From the fantastically idyllic cover art by painter Gilbert Williams to its crystalline synth drones, the record is an homage to the “incredible outsider, psychedelic, electronic music that was being made in this country under the banner of the New Age musical movement, when in the late ’60s counter-cultural pluralistic spirituality merged with European space music, modern classical, assorted global sounds, and electronic music into a folk art specifically designed to inspire, relax, comfort, and heal.
This kind of music directly inspired McQueen, who cites conversations with New Age scholar Douglas Mcgowan (producer of Light in the Attic’s essential I Am the Center collection) and Zach Cowie (DJ Turquoise Wisdom) as indications of a wider excavation of the genre’s often misunderstood psychedelic roots. It was Cowie who turned McQueen on to Michael Stearns’ 1981 LP Planetary Unfolding, which provided deep inspiration for Trust the Guide and Glide.
“What’s so cool to me about a lot of this older New Age stuff that’s now surfacing is how freaky it all was,” McQueen says of exploring beyond more commercially known works. Not that he has a problem with “cheesy Windham Hill or world fusion stuff,” either. “I use the word ‘cheesy’ subjectively,” McQueen says. “I actually quite enjoy a lot of the New Age flute music. Celtic faerie mystical music that people write off as cheesy — I enjoy it. It does a lot for me personally.”
McQueen’s exploration of psychedelic spiritual music has directly impacted Leaving Records, the label he launched in 2009, distributed by Stones Throw. In addition to releasing work by modern practitioners like M. Geddes Gengras and Ras G, Leaving has reissued cassettes by Laraaji, whose joyful work inspires McQueen’s music as well. Leaving helps connect disparate threads: Afro-centric “hippie rap from the ’90s” like Digable Planets, free jazz, electronic dub, blossoming space folk.
He cites the forthcoming LP by artist/writer/deejay Carlos Niî±o, Flutes, Echoes, It’s All Happening!, as an example of these ideas converging.
“It features Madlib,” McQueen says. “It starts with a groove yet proceeds into the nebula. The album also features [New Age pioneer] Iasos giving a lecture on waterfall/fountain energy; There’s an Alice Coltrane tribute — Kamasi Washington rips on a track.”
It’s “perfect space collage music,” McQueen says, and while that term could apply nicely to Trust the Guide and Glide too, there’s a proud outsider quality to the New Age tag he’s drawn to. It’s part of McQueen’s aim toward musical “boldness,” which informs his hip-hop productions, his quiet storm R&B experiments, and his contemplative soundscapes.
“Coming from punk rock, hip-hop, DIY culture – I love the fact that things are always in flux, constantly moving,” McQueen says.
“I can say I make new age music and really turn someone on, get someone interested,” he continues. “Some people, for sure, back away, smile, smirk, laugh, scoff. That’s fine. But I actually think it’s alluring. A lot of folks know me as a beat maker, rooted more in hip-hop and electronic stuff, and might not really get or understand the New Age or ambient angle I sometimes take with my music. But [I like that I] I could just infiltrate their consciousness, showcase and demonstrate a little perspective on something different or new.”
Like previous Mindflight albums, the album drawn from long form, improvised live broadcasts McQueen has recorded for the Los Angeles freeform Internet radio station Dublab. “Dublab became my place to experiment to sound and just turn on the antennae and broadcast,” McQueen says. “Sometimes it gets a little freaky, a little collage-y. I aim for harmony and fluidity, but sometimes it takes a little while to get there and they’re fine with that.”
McQueen is then able to take these recordings and use them as foundational elements to mold, bend, elongate, and layer on. It connects to his beat maker roots, manipulating the samples the way he might a soul sample or drum loop, but with a spiritual aim — he calls the record a “statement of identity and a new door into cosmic consciousness” on Leaving’s site.
“What I’m hoping for is more of a participatory listening experience, honing in on a deeper listening experience,” McQueen says. “You can really stretch time. That’s always been fascinating to me. words/j woodbury
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