Private Playlist: Machinedrum keeps it chill with music for self-reflection

Machinedrum. Photo by Bethany Vargas

Private Playlist is a listening session with Southern California’s most notable musical figures in their private creative environments.

Machinedrum is the primary production and recording vehicle of Travis Stewart, a musical polymath whose career spans more than two decades and over a dozen full-length releases. Taking up the Machinedrum name in 2001, his first critical breakthrough arrived with 2009's album, "Want To 1 2?" His 2011 album "Room(s)," for the Planet Mu imprint, met with similar acclaim. He went on to form successful collaborations with Praveen Sharma (Sepalcure) and Jimmy Edgar (JETS). As Machinedrum's own stock continued to rise, Stewart sat in the producer's chair for artists including Dawn Richard, Theophilus London, Azealia Banks, Rochelle Jordan, and Logic. Similarly in-demand as a remixer, his clientele includes Kelis, Solange, SBTRKT, Bonobo, and DJ Shadow. Now headquartered in Thousand Oaks, his latest album, "A View Of U," was released in October 2020.

For this edition of Private Playlist, Machinedrum steps away from the dancefloor and shares his favorite music for self-reflection, from the ambient pop of Sam Prekop to Tigran Hamasyan’s modern/classical hybrids.


Machinedrum: This year has been pretty intense, obviously, as it has been for everyone. It's required a lot of people to take a look at themselves, and I've definitely chosen to recalibrate. Luckily, before the year started, I was already on a road to decrease touring and focus more on studio work, and I already had the ball rolling on that. Any free time I have, I've been spending with my wife, keeping it pretty chill, even as far as the content we're putting into our brains. Since the world is basically a horror show right now, we've limited the stuff we watch to [more] calming or brainless types of things. When it comes to music, I've been listening to a lot of stuff that's relaxing, and not as much electronic music, unless it's more on the ambient spectrum.


I start off a lot of my days with beatless stuff like Sam Prekop's new album, “Comma,” which came out this year. "Above Our Heads" is a really beautiful ambient song, very meditative. It has a pulsing, mantra-like quality to it, so it's very soothing to the brain. The album as a whole is a brilliant listen, and I feel this track really captures the essence of it. Sam's first solo record (from 1999) is one of my top 10, if not five, albums of all time. I can hear it front-to-back in my head, I've listened to it so many times. There's something so innocent and beautiful about his work. I love his catchy melodies, his instantly recognizable voice, and his approach to songs.


I've been a fan of Tigran Hamasyan's music ever since I heard it on Gilles Peterson's show around 2013 or 2014. I've always loved his super-unique approach to composition. It’s very modern, but you could tell that he has these deep-rooted Armenian classical roots, which become very apparent in the melodies and arrangements that he chooses. His new album is just as great as all of his others. He's at his best when he brings together a group of performers that are just as talented as he is, and reflects the polyrhythmic, math-rock time signature stuff that he's so good at.


There's something so innocent and beautiful about Nahawa Doumbia's voice, and the overall feeling you get from listening to it. Even if you don't necessarily understand what she's saying, it's very uplifting. And I think we need more music like that: natural, celebratory music.


I've been a huge fan of Jorge Elbrecht ever since Lansing-Dreiden. I love Violens, and all of his solo music has been great. Jorge has never been a stranger to concept. When you listen to his music today, or back then, he has this very specific approach to melody, bringing the old into the new and borrowing from a lot of '60s and '70s psychedelic rock influences. At the same time, he has a very low-fi, sometimes dark, but also very beautiful approach to his songwriting. I'm genuinely fascinated by his work.


There are a lot of musicians I've been discovering through Instagram: different people who are either instrumentalists, or have very specific projects that don't make as much sense unless you have the visual component of them performing it. Lars Lucy 8legions is a perfect example of something that's equally interesting when you're just hearing it. This guy, Lars Dietrich, is very into creating robotic instruments. His Instagram and YouTube are super-interesting, because they give you some context behind it. He has these different robotic instruments that play keyboards and drums. And he himself is a jazz musician, and he plays saxophone, so he'll play along with these compositions that he's come up with. But they're all centered around a performer who is usually on a TV screen or a computer monitor. It's an anime face that's singing along to the track, in a text-to-speech kind of voice. He's given it the avatar of an anime character, so it seems like the music's being controlled by a machine. And a lot of the songs have this wonky, hip-hop kind of feel, but then you have these crazy bass lines and chord progressions. It's super-interesting.

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