Hear the Sonic Aesthetic’s (Literally) Balearic Disco Via International Feel
Having moved from Uruguay to Ibiza, the International Feel label founder steps out from behind the curtain
The term “Balearic” gets thrown around a lot these days, but in the case of Mark Barrott and his label International Feel, it’s more appropriate than usual. For one thing, Barrott actually calls Ibiza home. Beyond that, few contemporary labels more faithfully channel the balmy psychedelia and breezy eclecticism of the White Isle in its bohemian heyday.
Barrott has spent most of the past few years comfortably behind the scenes, letting artists like Gatto Fritto and DJ Harvey carry International Feel’s freak flag. In fact, it would be hard to get much further from the limelight than Uruguay, where Barrott was based until his move to Ibiza last year. But the change of hemispheres occasioned a change of heart, and Barrott is now stepping forward with his own solo project, the Sonic Aesthetic.
His debut EP, out next week, displays all the hallmarks of International Feel’s sun-kissed and windswept aesthetic: Slow-mo robo-disco pulses, bubbling arpeggios, aquamarine synth pads, and even a distant hint of acoustic guitar, with the requisite nods to Manuel Göttsching and DJ Alfredo. Listen to “The Paradol Chamber” below, and read on for a brief email exchange in which Barrott talks about his time in Uruguay, praises Ibiza’s “pockets of guerilla resistance,” and proselytizes for the joys of doing more with less. (Easy to say if you live on a Mediterranean island, of course.)
You were, until recently, based in Uruguay. How long were you down there, and what was it like running a label from there?
We lived in Berlin and didn’t want to commit to another rental contract on the house we were living in. At the same time, I’d sold my music consultancy business and had, for the first time, a degree of financial freedom, and so, one rainy afternoon, we decided to cast our net wide to see where it would lead. After a few hours on Google, we narrowed it down to Uruguay and Chile and headed off down there to take a look. During that trip, in a moment of madness, we bought a house — which is for sale, if anyone’s interested — and, six months later, complete with cat, moved. We lived there for three and a half years, running the label from there. I lead (these days) a fairly quiet and introspective life, so it doesn’t really matter where I am as long as I have good, fast, and stable internet, and Uruguay has that. So it never really felt that we were on the edge of the world—until you get on a plane in Montevideo and see that Madrid is 10,000 kilometers away!
There was also the added benefit of being distant from any scene in Berlin or London. This meant that my curation of the label was never clouded or influenced by what was going on around me. Where we lived, apart from the Argentinian invasion for two months every year, nothing was going on, and I could focus on the label, making music and listening to Test Match Special.
And now you’re in Ibiza. Is this your first time living on the island? Why did you decide to make it your home?
It started with the death of my aforementioned, beloved, and sorely missed cat. That meant no more winters in Uruguay, and so in June 2012, when the cold weather hit, we decided to spend the Southern Hemisphere winter in Europe, to catch two summers back to back. We started off in Ibiza and immediately thought, “Eh, this is Uruguay in Europe, why did we never think of this in the first place?” Two weeks later, we’d found a rental for 12 months and scrapped the rest of our European travel plans. Here we still are, enjoying the winter sun.
International Feel has, from the beginning, pursued a more or less explicitly “Balearic” aesthetic. Given how loosely that term gets thrown around, what’s your definition of the style, and how did you find your way to that kind of music?
On one level, my “pop music” period was the ’80s, and there’s nothing more Balearic than Compass Point B-sides from those years. But really, it came down to starting the label to release my own music, not wanting to stay focused on any one sound as a producer — I’m fickle like that; Ghost Box one minute and L.I.E.S. the next — and therefore thinking, “OK, if I call it Balearic, I can just make and release and sign whatever I want under the ‘anything goes’ banner of an Alfredo DJ set from the early ’90s.”
As label head, you’ve stayed behind the curtains for a while (although you recently admitted that you were Bepu N’Gali). What made you decide it was time to step up with your own music?
The simple answer is that it just felt right. I do like my low profile and anonymity, but after making a lot more of the label’s music than I ever let on to, and having lots of fun with some of the backstories, it just felt like the right time to focus overtly on my own music and put everything under one banner, which is the Sonic Aesthetic. Although the first release is on International Feel, each subsequent release will be under a separate label, also called the Sonic Aesthetic. No fancy artwork, just center labels, house bags, and, hopefully, great (and very varied) music.
International Feel is a little different from a lot of electronic dance music — it’s slower and a little deeper, and it’s not really made for the peak hour. It needs the right kind of venue, the right kind of sound system, and a public that’s looking for more than just getting wasted and fist-pumping to top 40 hits. Does Ibiza offer many places for International Feel, or is it more a mega-club experience these days? How do you feel about the global infrastructure for left-field dance music in general?
Ibiza does, from my limited experience, seem to be more “mega-club” these days, and it reminds me of society in general, where everything is packaged, branded and hermetically sealed. Maverick thinking is becoming a dangerous occupation, which is exactly what the people behind the people in government want — work, consume, die. What bullshit, working to buy stuff you don’t need. Life is, and should be, about passion and joy.
Having said that, Ibiza, more than most places, has some great pockets of guerilla resistance and is one of the last bastions of truly bohemian culture, particularly once you head off the beaten track. It’s in this space that International Feel and now the Sonic Aesthetic always aim to be, but when you look on a global scale, the internet has changed everything, sometimes for the better and a lot of times — well, every dickweasel now thinks they have an opinion worth listening to, and a lot of the magic has been lost by over-familiarity. Whatever happened to the thrill of smoke and mirrors? These days, everybody thinks they are tastemakers and pioneers, finding new things to blog about, new music to rip and upload — not because they are thieves, but because they can, and they want to “share.” But the reality is that most people are sheep, being led softly down a road that they aren’t even aware they’re walking down, whilst being fed just enough happiness to keep them asleep. I keep thinking about writing a sitcom called Can Tit, based around an oh-so-trendy bar in Ibiza where all the “individualistic fashionistas” (who look like all the other individualistic fashionistas) hang out, do nothing and talk bullshit. The “we changed the world in an afternoon” brigade.
But, at the same time, it is a great time for creativity and music, with the technology and the ability to finish something and instantly get it out there, so I guess, as ever, I’m slap bang in the middle of a contradiction — the best (and only) place to be! My whole way of living now is that less is the new more. I want freedom from choice, not the other way round. I’ve come to the conclusion that limiting your options, both in the creative process and life itself, actually makes for a more interesting life. The journey itself becomes exciting, not just the means to an end of a needless decision or purchase. Do infinite choice, global connectivity, and instant gratification actually make for better music and happier people?
And, by the way, I’ve no intention of doing any secret International Feel parties in the woods of Northern Ibiza, so please, everybody, stop asking. (‘Cause when I do them, I’ll never tell anyway!)