Tech-House DJ Mossmoss on Developing on His Ambient Side and Weirding People Out
Scottish-born DJ/producer Mattie Bowen, aka Mossmoss, has lived all over the world, but found his musical and spiritual home the first time he visited San Francisco in 2006. "The weather was amazing, it was culturally and artistically diverse, and visually brighter than anywhere I had experienced; I just loved it," he says. Moving here just two months after his visit, he quickly integrated himself into the nightlife scene with help from friends like Alland Byallo, and was soon behind the decks of parties like Kontrol. Seven years later, he is now a resident of As You Like It, and has opened for artists like Jeff Mills and Matthew Dear. We spoke with Bowen about the chill/ambient side of his career, playing Chillits, and upcoming productions. He plays Saturday at Public Works with Speedy J, Henrik Schwarz, Woolfy, and more for the Indian Summer Block Party.
What's been the most musically influential city you've lived in thus far?
Well I first started listening to electronic music when I lived in Scotland, and carried that with me to the States when I moved here at 15. I'd like to say that my stint in the Midwest was my most musically influential period of time in my life, as I started going to Detroit Electronic Music Festival back in the early '00s, and I was completely blown away at what I experienced both culturally and musically. That, paired with meeting a ton of great people from Chicago and the general Midwest during those years, really gave me a decent understanding of house and techno, what had evolved, and was continuing to form.
But when it comes down to it, I've had such an amazing time out here and such a diverse interaction with music in the Bay Area that I'm not sure that I could have been any more influenced by a stateside city these last seven years. It's like an electronic music festival every weekend, all year long.
You're known for your tech-house sound, but recently you've been moving toward more ambient/chill sets. What prompted this change?
To be honest, I rarely listen to straight up techno while I'm at home, it's just not the kind of mindset I want to be in when I'm relaxing or trying to get some creative work done. Because of that, I started building a decent collection of ambient and more downtempo stuff -- slower-paced and more methodical psychedelic music, which would inspire my creative visual side. It just naturally started leaning towards a less beat-intensive sound and was lucky enough to be able to utilize that collection when I was invited to play Chillits this year. [It's] one of my most favorite sets I've played to date. I get to do it again at our Freaky Friday party in October, when we set up a chill room in the loft at Public Works.
Tell us what kind of story you created with this year's Chillits set.
I had a rough idea of what I wanted to do. Notoriously, Chillits has had some psychedelic undertones in its programming, and I wanted to bring people on a bit of a journey, and let them experience some of my favorite pieces. My brother made a couple of tracks for that set as well, which was really awesome! I've always tended to play darker sets, and I have a bit of a desire to weird people out a little bit, to get weird and a little bit twisted, but also very serene and beautiful. It's a fun balance to try to achieve. I had so much music to work with for this set, but really just let it flow out of me. The setting was absolutely stunning; out in the woods, under the stars, with huge lit-up trees rising everywhere around us like a tunnel into the abyss. I just hit play and let the music take me on a journey as well, as cheesy as that might sound.
You describe a musical experience in a way that's very similar to an art piece. What's a painting that would represent your musical sound?
Funny that you should ask that, as a lot of people may not know my other passion in life is painting and illustration. I guess I'll just have to let everyone see some of it to truly see how I visualize the world around me. That's something I've been working on for years without many people knowing. I hope to in the near future share some of my visions with people and let them in to a much more intimate expression of my self.
Are you thinking about getting back to producing tracks or just DJing for now?
I'm definitely still producing music. It's super satisfying to have a piece that you can say is entirely yours, but it's been a few years since I've released anything other than remixes. I've been working on some things pretty extensively, some more experimental techno and house, some ambient stuff, and I think I'm finally getting to a point where I'm happy enough to start letting some of it go again. It's really easy to get wrapped up in your own work and lose perspective, which is why it's so important to get feedback from a crowd and fresh ears. I plan on playing a lot more of my own material in the years to come and perhaps working that into an entirely original live set.
How did you connect with the As You Like It crew?
I met Jeremy back before AYLI existed; we have a lot of mutual friends in the Midwest and we just hit it off. He was forming AYLI out of previous production company, with a new, entirely different focus, and he decided to do an underground party at the Compound out in Bayview. It was a gig comprised almost entirely of live acts, but he asked me to play a DJ set. Shortly thereafter he asked me to be the first resident for AYLI, and the rest has been built into what we're doing today. I'm very grateful for all the work he's done and for the opportunities to express myself through music. I love my AYLI family and am proud to be working with such incredible friends.
What's been your favorite party you guys have put on so far?
There's been so many! I guess some of my most favorite moments have been opening for Jeff Mills, and Laurent Garnier. Things years ago I never thought I would get the chance to do. I remember the Nicolas Jaar party in 2011 at the old GAFFTA space on Market Street being a super dope party; the space was really cool, and the vibe was thick. All of the music that night was amazing. I think we were really onto something special that night. My set with Sassmouth in Detroit a few years back was a really fun one for me, too. She's been a good friend of mine for many years, and it was exciting to get to play back to back with her there.
You guys will be co-throwing a block party come Saturday. What's been the most challenging aspect?
AYLI, Public Works, and Sunset Sound System have really done a fantastic job in bringing in an extremely eclectic line-up for this weekend, and all credit really has to go to them for setting it up. The challenge I have is playing music to meet a level of talent that I'm not sure we've seen in one single party, during one day, in quite a while. I'm really excited to get up there and give it all I've got and get people moving. I'm pretty sure the most challenging aspect for me is going to be surviving the whole thing, since I'm not going to want to miss a second of it!
Whose set are you looking most forward to?
Speedy J always kills it, but I can hardly wait to see Henrik Schwarz outdoors!