As “multidimensional creative dissidents” Lost Souls Of Saturn, Seth Troxler and Phil Moffa fuse elements of techno, dub, house, jazz, psych and ambient into vivid and expansive new shapes. Enhanced by augmented reality, it’s quite the trip

“I’m from Detroit, and there were always these science fiction narratives in Detroit techno,” says Seth Troxler, talking about his and Phil Moffa’s mind-bending audiovisual project, Lost Souls Of Saturn. “We were trying to create these mini worlds, which have been a bit lost in electronic music. We’ve always tried to create a whole narrative journey that goes with it.”

As Lost Souls Of Saturn, Troxler and Moffa blur the boundaries between art, music and storytelling. Their self-titled debut album, released in 2019 on R&S, was a suitably far-out launch into cosmic effects, interstellar weirdness and astronaut transmissions. Still, it often cleaved to a recognisably dance music template, mixing club-ready beats with sonorous synth atmospherics. 

Their new album, ‘Reality’, is a very different proposition. Recorded in New York, it’s untethered from genre and stirs astral dub, eerie spoken-word passages, constellations of jazz instrumentation and plenty more surprises into its mystic electronic brew. The duo’s debut was accompanied by a film and incorporated into art installations at cultural spaces like London’s Saatchi Gallery and New York’s Metropolitan Museum of Art. For ‘Reality’, however, Lost Souls Of Saturn have made an extraordinary augmented reality comic book – in collaboration with artist programmer Rob Shields and Abstract Comics – that syncs with the album and explores its holographic worlds. 

Not only does the music track along as you read the story, but if you hover a tablet over the frames or wear augmented reality glasses, the pages come alive with sound and visual effects. According to the duo, it’s the first AR comic book album, and they’re thrilled with the results.

“There’s really never been anything like this,” enthuses Troxler. “A synaesthesia-based comic that interacts in this way. Each frame is like an Ableton clip, so it’s a seamless audio experience that goes with the image and sound effects. As you scan through the comic, it unfolds different parts of the album.”

That’s not just hyperbole. The comic is incredible, with animated frames, voiceovers, explosions and bold, bright bursts of colour that mark it out as something truly special. But as an album, ‘Reality’ is impressive in its own right, as evocative and cinematic as its visual counterpart. An early highlight, ‘Scram City’ is deep space dub decorated with starbursts of trumpet – courtesy of Greg Paulus – that sound like jazz legend Donald Byrd at his most astral, while Rishab Rikhiram Sharma’s sitar adds another layer to the cosmic tapestry. 

The spoken word monologue of South African artist Lazarusman drives the eerie soundscape of ‘Realization’, which sounds like a communication from a future dimension replete with words of warning, the recording crackling as if beamed from a galaxy far, far away. It’s reminiscent of the future prophecies in John Carpenter’s ‘Prince Of Darkness’ film, and it turns out that the cult director is a big influence on the pair.

“That kind of suspense, science-fiction horror is a huge inspiration for us,” says Troxler. “B-movie culture, that whole thing, you know? You create worlds in your mind when you have songs so telling that allow a whole premise.”

Very different is ‘Click’, with its glitchy broken beats and the jazz-inflected vocals of Lvv Gvn, feeling a little like the pioneering work of Nicolette or 4Hero circa ‘Two Pages’. Then there’s the epic ‘Mirage’, featuring the vocals of Adam Ohr (formerly known as Addy Weitzman of Footprintz), one of the record’s few concessions to clubbier rhythms, and the atmospheric, cavernous ‘Lilac Chaser’, with its squalls of guitar effects and vocals from Detroit post-punk band Protomartyr. 

“We knew we wanted great performances and soloists on the record, and we brought people to the studio after we had some things done,” says Moffa. “We treated that stuff like samples. Not everything is where it was played.”

Long before Lost Souls Of Saturn, both artists were highly successful in their own fields. Troxler, born in Kalamazoo, Michigan, and raised in Detroit, is widely known as a DJ, regularly playing clubs and festivals all around the world. He owns the record labels Tuskegee, dedicated to promoting black and Hispanic artists, and Play It, Say It, for stripped-down club tracks. His own productions have appeared on many of the biggest dance labels, and his mix albums for prestigious series like ‘DJ-Kicks’ are celebrated. 

Moffa, meanwhile, hails from New York and has released plenty of his own house and techno EPs, although he’s also a music lecturer at Purchase College SUNY and an adjunct assistant professor at Brooklyn College. Moffa ran his own studio, mixing and mastering for everyone from Nile Rodgers and Chic to Kool Keith, and it’s where he first met Troxler, while collaborating with house duo The Martinez Brothers. 

Moffa and Troxler hit it off and decided to start making their own tracks. Their first record, ‘Rogue Music’, released in 2015 on Hypercolour, was still very much in the club sphere. But the strange energy and weird occurrences flowing around Moffa’s studio convinced them to start Lost Souls Of Saturn.

“The original studio was in the basement of this building where some crazy records were made,” says Troxler.

“The room itself had classic 80s records written in it, including Chaka Khan making an album, or the Rammellzee album that Jean-Michel Basquiat did the cover for,” adds Moffa. “I met the guy who played congas on that record – he came to the studio and we made a connection. It’s underground, just a few hundred feet away from the basement of Madison Square Garden. We always felt there was crazy energy there. There were crazy people on the street. It’s near Penn Station, so the biggest maniacs in New York were running around.”

“Total ‘Ghostbusters’ vibes!” laughs Troxler.

Combining their love of sci-fi, audiovisual aesthetics and eclectic musical tastes, Lost Souls Of Saturn was born. While their first album was recorded in the original studio, ‘Reality’ was created in their own custom-made studio space. That wasn’t the only change.

This time around, they wanted to move away from club tracks towards something more experimental and less easy to pinpoint.

“If we made something that was too much of a dance tune, any cliched thing where we’re like, ‘Oh, we’re just making a house or a techno track today’, those would have been the things we binned, for sure,” says Moffa. “What most excited us were things we could follow into being experimental, way more than like, ‘Is this going to be the perfect club beat?’.”

Genre-agnostic, the music made by Lost Souls Of Saturn is open to interpretation, swirling together so many psychedelic, disparate threads.Moffa says he prefers to look at it as a kind of musical mosaic.

“It’s collage. We feel like we assemble all these pieces and use a little bit of luck. We put it all together and whatever happens, happens. For sure, there’s a little bit of destiny to it.”

The way Lost Souls Of Saturn work in the studio is also mysterious. Jamming out tracks for hours on their electronic equipment, it sometimes feels like they’ve ventured onto a different astral plane, and when they return, there’s some vibrant musical creation recorded that they have no recollection of making.

“It’s weird, the musical process of how we write this stuff,” says Troxler. “Sometimes we’ll just be working on different synths, and after we’ve got it all recorded we’re like, ‘How did that come out?’. It sounds kooky, but it just happens.”

“I can’t think of another project or even solo thing where you’re there, you start recording, and then you’re like, ‘How the fuck did we even get here? I don’t remember doing it’,” continues Moffa. “We follow all of these paths and crazy shit happens to us when we’re together on the musical equipment or just on the street, and we try and put that into a narrative.” 

Many musicians talk about the unknowable mystic conduit of the act of creation – how sometimes songs seem to flow out without them even realising. But Lost Souls Of Saturn have another interpretation. The two believe that the characters who populate their comic book, Frank and John, cross over from their own galaxy via a portal and command them like avatars, writing the music while they’re temporarily under the control of these inter-dimensional beings. 

“They inhabit our bodies,” says Troxler. “At times we’re Phil and Seth, and other times we’re Frank and John, you know? They’re reality hackers, like in ‘The Matrix’, where they could tap into anyone. That’s almost like a type of tourism, or in a ‘Total Recall’ kind of way, where you can be this alternate person.”

Like sci-fi author Philip K Dick – another of the duo’s influences – Lost Souls Of Saturn see reality as permeable, a place of many dimensions and time-slips, and their far-out electronic transmissions are the result. The idea of inter-dimensional possession might be a tall story, but it’s easier to believe when you listen to the record’s interstellar explorations. 

In addition to the electronics and guest musicians that populate ‘Reality’, Seth Troxler and Phil Moffa like to tap into samples, which they obsessively gather wherever they can find them. 

“We’re always collecting all this crazy shit,” says Moffa. “And when we’re with one another we procure this stuff together. It’s the dice roll of destiny – finding a sample, just being there in the moment and grabbing some shit and listening to it. Also, getting excited about the least exciting part – the thing between the cracks – and making the most of it. We go to thrift shops if we’re shopping for samples.”

“A lot of our samples come from these weird tapes you find,” adds Troxler. “There used to be a Salvation Army shop next door, and we’d go there and find inspirational esoteric videos.”

Although Lost Souls Of Saturn evade specific musical references, there’s one in particular they can agree on. 

“I always think that when I hear The Orb, the influence is there,” says Moffa. “It’s the concept of ‘always be sampling, always be recording, and always be building up cool materials that you can put together’.”

Lost Souls Of Saturn have recently completed a new venture within the art world, with a month-long series of different visual collaborations at the W1 Curates exhibition on London’s Oxford Street which ran throughout February. 

There, audiences had the opportunity to experience the AR comic first-hand. A limited edition release of 250 copies of the first two issues – which could be viewed in AR and in projection – were available on launch night and promptly sold out. 

“We call it an introspective, because we built this world with incredible graphic design, and for years we’ve been building all these crazy assets about it,” says Troxler. “At the W1 Curates exhibition you could see the comic being projected with the sound, as well as an artist who did this really interpretative digital art piece on humanity’s struggle. 

“Then there’s this film we did for the first album about human emotion, with Kandinsky-inspired light design. It has always been this multidisciplinary, multi-experiential project.”

“There were four reasons to come back and see it, because every week was a different film,” says Moffa.

Given all their visual and sonic ideas, it’s tempting to ask if Lost Souls Of Saturn would consider making a science-fiction feature film depicting the lysergic stories of Frank and John in high definition. But Troxler points out that realising their ideas in live action would probably blow most Hollywood budgets. 

“Doing the comic was a way for us to create a film or some type of storyline without spending the money,” he says. “A lot of it is science fiction-based, so you’d need a lot of CGI!”

“It’s a different way of telling the story,” adds Moffa.

Whether you experience it with the visual side or not, ‘Reality’ is one heck of a trip, which could have you questioning what’s imaginary and what’s not.

“What is reality?” asks Troxler. “That’s always the question.” 

‘Reality’ is out on Holoverse Research Labs/Slacker 85

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