Photay. If you don't know him, you should, and that's sort of why I'm writing this post... Photay, (Evan Shornstein), is a young, talented musician and producer whose name is almost as cool as the man who bears it. Blending electronic music with natural, real world sounds, his work is incredibly refreshing, and it's revolutionizing the electronic game. At just 22 years old, he is already part of the collective Makoshine, in 2012 he released his first solo project, and he has also recently released a self-titled EP with the record label Astro Nautico.
On the cover of Photay's most recent release, a very young, moppy-haired boy stares out coldly at the listener. The picture is of 8th grade Evan, back when he first began playing drums. Yet his interest in music, especially the large and strange sonic genre, started in 5th grade when he first heard 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," Shornstein said. It was during his high school years when he first began discovering turntables and digital audio software. For this young creative, nothing hindered his musical growth. He was fortunate to have been raised in an environment of openness and acceptance. Both of his parents are teachers, and they urged him to do whatever he loved doing from a very young age. So he followed his passion, and attended SUNY Purchase (State University of New York at Purchase) to pursue music. At SUNY Purchase, he stumbled upon kindred spirits, and together they formed the collective, Makoshine.
Photay's creative process is incredibly progressive. His music is a unique amalgamation of numerous sounds and influences: Guinean influences, Latin and African percussion, Bollywood vocals and even the recognizable sound of the Beatles. He is a master at blending the sounds of nature or household objects with electronic samples.
"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."
Photay has a different way of approaching all of the various sounds he incorporates in his music. For him, sounds represent different textures. When he produces, he produces with a material in mind. Photay is very pulled by foreign music and likes taking sounds that appear unusual and alien to the western ear and blending them into his tracks to create something that is fun to listen to. Because each of his songs touches upon and draws from a different genre within electronic music, each track is incredibly unique and a work of art in itself. A lot of his current creative process was shaped by the time he spent in Guinea (West Africa) during his freshman year of college. His monkier, Photay, comes from the Susu language, meaning "white boy" in English. Photay says he was fondly called this constantly while he was in Africa. This period was a turning point in his career as he was exposed to African percussion styles, like the djembe and balafar, that he effortlessly weaves into his album. Another totally cool thing that he did while abroad was record the sounds of Guinea - conversations of the locals, children yelling, the various African dialects - and incorporate them into his music to give it an extra dimension. I find this astonishingly ingenious and creative. Essentially, he views sounds as different materials and textures, then overlays and assembles them to create a fantastic end product.
So, let's get to the good part... You can go onto SoundCloud or Spotify or whatever to find his entire album, but I'm just going to discuss a few of his songs to give you a feel of what he's all about. The album opener "Detox" does exactly as its name suggests. The initial soft sounds of nature meshed with a gently brassy background slowly cleanse your mind for the rest of the album. It's a great song to start the album off with because it represents everything Photay is: the perfect mixture of birds chirping with the soft rising and falling of synth sounds and a thumping beat. It has a sedative-like effect, and almost puts you in a trance. The next track, "Reconstruct" (feat. Seafloor) features gentle, breathy vocals that are expertly juxtaposed against a brassy trumpet. Overall, it's a very fun track - stopping and starting abruptly, sprinkled with crescendos, bubbling synth samples, and authentic trumpet recordings, it's almost impossible not to dance to. If you decide not to capitalize on this work of pure artistry that I've just introduced you to, please at least listen to "No Sass." This track takes the cake, and is arguably the best song on the album. As he often likes to do, Photay again misguides the listener in this track - starting with a dark, sullen vibe, the track transitions into climbing riffs and vibraphone strokes. The absolute best part (in my opinion, at least) happens at 1:28. If you're like me, this part makes you just want to fall backwards and land onto the rising cloud that is the building synth. Following shortly after comes the blatant appearance of a stable lead line which momentarily offers an intense, clear note in the midst of the dazzling fray of instruments. A proper work of art that you won't be able to stop listening to, trust me.
You can't easily classify his music. Sure, you can call it electronic, but "electronic music" is such a massive and vague genre. Photay's music is something totally different within the sub-genres that exist under the electronic umbrella. You almost feel as if you are learning about different cultures as you listen to his music, and that's what makes it such a unique listening experience. It's definitely an active listening experience. The amount of meticulous thought and careful construction that have gone into the making of each track is apparent. The entire album is something that makes you want to sit down and listen attentively to the music as it pleasantly surprises you with all of its twists, turns and interesting sounds. It's a fun album, and one that directly parallels its creator - filled with youth and promise.
"ASTROCAST35: Photay." Astro Nautico. Web. 19 Mar. 2015. <http://astronauti.co/astrocast35-photay/>.
"Never Overlooked: Photay "Photay" EP | Mass Appeal." Mass Appeal. 7 Sept. 2014. Web. 19 Mar. 2015. <http://massappeal.com/never-overlooked-photay-photay-ep/>.
"September 18, 2014." No Sass: Photay Opens Up On Debut Album « The WILD Magazine. Web. 19 Mar. 2015. <https://thewildmagazine.com/blog/no-sass-photay-opens-up-on-debut-album/>.