We’ve had Alex Ruder lined up for a listener feature since before the website was launched. Alex is a Seattle native currently stationed at KEXP where he hosts the wonderful ‘Pacific Notions’ radio show; the early morning showcase of the latest contemporary ambient and modern classical music. In addition to part of a radio station that does so much for music of all scenes, Alex runs Hush Hush Records. The label was established in 2012, and has built up a prolific discography, including works by WMD, Craün, Walrus Ghosts & Max Frankl, and many more.
In this feature, Alex talks about his introduction to ambient and experimental music, keeping up with the latest releases, and running his own tape label.
How did you first get introduced to ambient/drone/experimental music?
My introduction into experimental music came towards the beginning of high school, sometime around 1997/1998. My longtime childhood friend’s older brother was getting into obscure German electronic music during this time, and his taste started to slowly trickle into what my friend was checking out, which eventually made it ways to my ears. My first memory of listening to electronic music with any type of awareness/interest was the Mortal Kombat soundtrack, soon followed by a phase of discovering Aphex Twin, Prodigy, Chemical Brothers, Juno Reactor, Infected Mushroom, etc., basically artists in that whole electronic crossover realm of late 1990s, which (more importantly) led to discovering Warp Records. Aside from Aphex Twin, Boards of Canada was one of the first ambient/downtempo groups I remember becoming enamored with. All of this soon led to discovering more electronic music labels and artists, largely thanks to the internet becoming a useful tool for discovering underground music that existed beyond what was being pushed on mainstream radio and MTV. The labels that I feel were seminal to my slow but steady path down to the ambient/drone/experimental rabbit hole were City Centre Office, Type, Neo Ouija, and Touch. I also want to give a shout-out to Belong’s album ‘October Language’ (Carpark, 2006) as being one of the first drone albums that left me truly blown away.
What is the one album that you can play over and over without it getting old?
Within the instrumental realm, I think the one album that I can always go back to is Balmorhea’s ‘Rivers Arms’. That one means a lot to me.
As far as general albums, these are the ones that have meant the most to me in my life:
Burial – Untrue
DJ Shadow – Entroducing…
The Notwist – Neon Golden
Prefuse 73 – One Word Extinguisher
J Dilla – Donuts
Radiohead – Kid A
Deltron 3030 – Deltron 3030
Talking Heads – Stop Making Sense
How do you seek out new music? Once you’ve found it, what is your perfect listening environment?
Over the past couple years, the main way I’m seeking out new music is through Bandcamp. I follow a lot of artists and labels on Bandcamp, so every day I’m getting notifications of new releases. Skimming through Boomkat and Bleep’s new releases each week also tips me to some exciting new sounds. A Closer Listen and Stationary Travels are my go-to websites for discovering ambient, neo-classical, and experimental releases, Pitchfork and FADER for more mainstream stuff. I also love seeing what friends are posting/recommending on their social media channels.
I wish I had more time to just sit down, relax, and fully immerse myself in new music, but these days the environment I dedicate to close listening is during my commute to work. My wife and I recently moved from Seattle to a small one-road town that’s a 40-minute drive to the city, so listening to new music in the car with a scenic backdrop has become my go-to listening environment.
Can you tell us about your favourite new release from the last 12 months?
I think that would go to Tierra Whack’s Whack World album/video.
My wife and I have been listening to it a lot while making dinner and doing work around the house, it’s just a super creative and unique album that moves quickly, so it’s easy to listen to on repeat.
As RTR is a tape label, we have to ask: What attracts you to the cassette medium?
I love cassette tapes ❤ It was the first medium I remember as a child, listening to Michael Jackson and Cat Stevens tapes in my parents’ car. I started buying a lot of tapes in the early 1990s, still have some great hip-hop and R&B tapes from those years. I was also obsessed with listening to the radio and recording my favorite songs to tape, so I’d have these tapes titled like KUBE – December 1992′ that basically documented exactly what the hip-hop/R&B station was playing during that month. I was totally that kid making friend’s mixtapes back in elementary school too. I moved away from tapes once CDs hit the market, but I’ve definitely had a renewed passion for tapes since starting Hush Hush. Aside from being attracted to the look and feel and sound, I love the ability to tell a story in two halves. I always keep that in mind when doing tape releases.
Another major factor in Hush Hush doing a lot of tape releases is the financial element, as it’s just so much cheaper and more financially realistic to do a small run of tapes rather than vinyl.
I run the independent labor-of-love label Hush Hush Records.
I host a weekly Sunday morning show on KEXP called “Pacific Notions” dedicated to ambient, neo-classical, new age, downtempo, post-rock, and other cinematic styles.