Wearing an armful of sci-fi literature and crate-dug obscure jazz on his sleeve, Joe Mills, aka Aver, first gained creative renown from his South Manchester origins as a founding member and mainstay of hip hop collective The Natural Curriculum. Now relative veterans of umpteen self-released records forged as a group, TNC have retained collaborative approaches despite their geographical divisions of recent years.

For Aver, his emigration in 2016 to East Berlin’s stark Soviet straβes has afforded the time and space to concentrate on honing his own production dexterity. It’s a move that has coincided with kindling musical flames via Brighton-based label Village Live, as evidenced by two LPs to date – last year’s Die Berlin Dateien and last month’s Dressed For CCTV. Both showcase an ear for abstract, labyrinthine compositions, setting synthetic scenes of panicked paranoia in dimly-lit alleyways with the constant spectre of fidgety drum licks and looming basslines.

Aver took the time to respond to our curiosity about TNC, production processes and touring the records with a live band.

You’re now two records into a solo journey. Is this just a side-project from The Natural Curriculum or the next step?

It operates as both. I have been friends with members of TNC since I was in primary school. I’ve been in the group for about 14 years and will always share ideas and make tunes with them, but since 2015 some people have had more pressing issues to attend to and we haven’t all been living in the same country, so we’ve all been operating more individually. But I’m sure in the future people’s timetables will align and we’ll make some new material.

With regards to it being ‘the next step’, for me it’s just a natural progression of what I was doing before, but the absence of rappers has meant the beats have had more space to become experimental. Omas is still all over the new record and Jam and El Statiko were also on the last one.

In what ways does your Aver material and method differ from the TNC days?

The method is not too dissimilar, except that the stage where people write lyrics is removed. I still come up with concepts in the same way and I still build the tracks with similar structures as I used to.

Recently though, having more time in the studio, I have got better at allowing my mind to wander and go off on tangents, meaning the collages of samples are more strange and surprising for me and hopefully for the listener as well.

The material itself, without having group decision making applied to it, has become a bit darker and more dystopian, which is where my sound tends to end up if left unchecked.

How has moving to Berlin enabled your musical output?

I don’t know if has particularly enabled it. From an outsider point of view, my working with a record label will probably make it appear like something drastic has changed, but I’ve been knocking stuff out like this since 2011. Granted productivity and success fluctuate across this timescale, but my musical output has been roughly the same. Whether or not people give a shit about it is a different matter, but that’s largely the way in a world that’s conditioned by the advertising ethos of ‘the more something is seen, the better it is’.

You opted for German song titles for Die Berlin Dateien, but have reverted to English for Dressed For CCTV. How has language and place affected your production process between the two? How do the records compare or differ from your perspective?

I used the German song titles because I was learning German at the time and thought it a good way to learn. Similarly, I used my first six months in Berlin to practice making better music and sharpening my skills. Having settled more now and got into my rhythm, I’ve moved into a much darker, heavier and more futuristic territory. The other album is nothing in comparison to this one, I have the terrible feeling that some people may prefer the other one, but I can’t help that. I’ve been waiting to use ‘Automatic Art’ (the intro track) for three years and it, along with the title track, show songwriting and compositional ideas that shit all over DBD.

What have the Village Live team been able to add?

They mostly offer a non-biased opinion on the tunes. I speak to them a lot, mainly chatting shit about music and ginger people, but I can’t deny that it gives me confidence to have them on side. Plus, they get stuck in with regards to promo and the more mundane side of the music business, which is something I respect a lot.

I’ve seen a Village Live sticker as far away as Thailand. How far has your music travelled?

I was in Japan recently and I went to a shop in Kyoto and they had a little Aver/TNC section, which I must admit was pretty fuckin’ sweet to see. I’ve had some nice messages from folk in Colombia and other South American countries, which I guess is pretty far away.

You’ve enrolled some sought-after contributors for the record in Doron and Omri. How did they become involved?

Tinder is responsible for this stroke of luck. My sister, using the app for the one and only time, met a lovely man called Nir. Turns out Nir is a pretty lethal drummer, who was nicely embedded in the Berlin jazz scene and is really good friends with Doron, Omri and a tonne of other great players.

After they had been dating for a few months, we all started hanging out and got talking about music. Things just kinda grew from there.

Will they be on board for live shows and what would be your setup?

Doron, Nir and myself have started a band called Move 78 and we’ve been working on a live show based around my past two albums, which will hopefully include Omri and a bassist called Hal Strewe, if their busy timetables permit. The setup would initially be Nir on drums, Doron on Synth and me playing a sampler. It’s gonna be nuts.

What’s next for Aver?

I’m working on an album with BOOKS, a producer whose style is rooted in drum’n’bass, but is on some whole other shit now. We’ve built half a record and need to get in a room together to build the other half. He did additional production of four tunes on my new album and is generally a brilliant guy. His debut vinyl release dropped on Detuned Transmissions same day as my album, so go check that shit.

I’ve started work on my third Village Live album, which is made exclusively from Manga and Anime records I picked up in Japan this year. I’ll hopefully get that finished early 2019.

I’ve got an album I produced for mate and rapper Spider Jaroo, which is ready to drop, just sorting videos and promo bits.

Dressed for CCTV is available now via Village Live, here.
villageliverecords.com
instagram.com/aver_tnc

Ian Pennington