Evan Shornstein, aka Photay, is a yung & talented producer hailing from upstate in Woodstock, NY and part of an ill group of friends/producers called Makoshine. Our friend Chester (Lord RAJA) introduced us to him and after hearing his music, we asked him to contribute a track to Atlantics Volume 3. He blessed us with the incredible “Communication,” so naturally we needed to hear more.
Now he’s working on a debut for us and it’s going to be something special. In the meantime, here’s an outstanding mix full of originals and inspired tunes to wet your whistles.
It’s too hot to turn up, let’s just cool down alright?
1. Where does the name Photay come from? We seem to remember you telling us that you have some background in photography.
I do indeed have some background in photography, however the name Photay stems from something completely unrelated. Photay is a nickname I received while studying music in West Africa. The word kept surfacing in every social situation when children were around. When children spotted us they immediately became ecstatic and would point at my American friends and I yelling “PHOTAY, PHOTAY, PHOTAY!”. I later found out that Photay, in Susu (the native dialect of Guinea) means “White Person”. I swear I heard the word over 20-30 times each day. The little kids were mind boggled by us. My friend and I were taking a walk around our neighborhood one day and before we knew it there was a posse of 20 little African children following us with giant smiles on their faces
2. Your music is clearly an amalgamation of many different sounds and inspirations, yet the end result sounds completely different from these individual sources. Can you elaborate on your creative process, both from a production standpoint and in terms of what you’re influenced by?
I think its best to start in 5th grade when I discovered Aphex Twin. My friends at the time absolutely hated it. I fucking loved it! At the time I didn’t know a thing about synthesizers or drum programming. I had no idea what I was hearing but I couldn’t stop listening. In addition, I was listening to a lot of DJ Shadow, Squarepusher and Luke Vibert, which exposed me to a large & strange sonic world early on. I’ve always loved the sound of a synthesizer. There is something so visual about its sound. Years ago, before I knew what a filter or an EQ were, I would just hear sounds in music and think about them as different textures and materials. That perspective stuck with me over the years and I continue to produce with a material in mind. James Blake & Mount Kimbie have turned everyone’s heads toward rubber in my opinion.
I’ve always also always been a fan of natural sound and foley. I feel more and more compelled to record the sounds of household objects or nature. The organic transience & timbre that you can capture from a door creaking or a firework explosion is unlike anything that one could produce on a computer. I like having a really large spectrum of sound. That’s what influences me most. I always have fun picking at music like Flying Lotus, because his textures are so thick and there are so many miniscule sounds embedded in his tracks.
3. The tracks in your mix sample everything from latin percussion and Bollywood vocals to a choral Beatles cover and primitive synthesizer test music. What is your relation to these sprawling sounds?
Every since I can remember, there was world music or the Beatles playing non-stop in my house growing up. I’ve always been really pulled toward foreign music. I like when I hear another cultures music and I can’t find the “One” of a rhythmic phrase, or the instruments sounds slightly out of tune because our western ears aren’t used to the slight nuances in their tuning systems. I like taking these sounds that are not so familiar and adding my own 2 cents … but god damn do I wish I could play sitar!
Also, yes lately this early synthesizer music has got me all transfixed. Raymond Scott & Laurie Spiegel! Modular synths recorded on tape in the 70s. Crisp and other worldly!
4. Where do you place yourself in the continuum of world music and its appropriations within currents of Western electronic music? You spent some time in Ghana, right? What was that like musically?
The non-western hue shows up pretty consistently in my music but its not always present. I try and touch upon different genres within electronic music each time I produce a track. I think I exist somewhere within the off-kiltered, glitched out, post-dubstep, chillwave, polka relm, but I don’t like settling down. I like challenging myself to explore a new sub-genre each time I sit down to write music. I’m tempted to produce an old school 303 acid house track for the hell of it!
Yes, I spent a month in Guinea, about a year and a ½ ago. Musically, it was amazing! I took Djembe (hand drum) and Balafon (marimba-esq instrument) lessons every day. We had teachers who were unbelievable musicians. There is a type of mentality there where, if you begin playing an instrument, you become really fucking good at it and you play it everyday. I think it comes from the lack of material objects. The drum or the guitar you own, is really special and you suck out all that it has to offer. I brought a portable microphone/ field recorder and I recorded over 4hrs of sounds. I have a lot cool sounds from the streets of children yelling and weird African dialects floating about in wide stereo. Africa was so fascinating. Musically, it was amazing. Politically & economically, it was shocking and sad but still so interesting. In a nutshell, Guinea is one of the top 10 poorest countries, the military is corrupt, there is no garbage system, and it is insanely crowded! However, the people are some of the kindest and most grateful people you’ll ever encounter. My friend and I played them Beyonce and they loved it! Immediately after we played them Flying Lotus (Zodiac Shit), and they looked confused and requested more Beyonce.
5. What is Makoshine & what do they do? How did you become involved with this collective?
Makoshine is a collective my friends I formed at school (SUNY Purchase). Freshman year we all became real tight and geeked out about electronic music 24/7. Were always comparing our mixes, our synth patches, and our drum sounds. We decided it was necessary to form a collective. We’ve put on quite a few shows now, with a collective of 7 artists in total, ranging from IDM to ambient to off-kiltered hip-hop and beyond. I’ve been screwing around with video art and projecting my films at the shows. The collective is still in its early stages, but we all have many ideas and goals brewing. We have a compilation in the works that will be released in the next few months.
6. How was it growing up in Woodstock, NY? Did any of your family/friends/relatives attend the first Woodstock Festival and have any stories to share?
Woodstock is beautiful. It’s a small town 2 hours north of NYC surrounded by mountains, trees, swimming holes and hippies. I used to really want to live in the city but I’ve come to really like it up here. It’s a great place to make music. In addition to Photay, I’ve been playing the drums for over 10 years and in various bands. Living in Woodstock, we were able to open for some legendary people like Levon Helm, the Wailers, and even Blondie haha.
I had a few relatives who attended the 1st festival, but they were super young at the time. I’m pretty sure they didn’t have any encounters with acid or anything of the sort haha. However, I actually recently baby-sat the son of Michael Lang, the creator of the Woodstock festival. That kid is hyper as hell. Anyway, yeah its wild how many legends are floating around the town. My friends my Brooklyn seem to love it here when they visit.