One of the crucial voices missing from the oral history of illbient I put together in 2014 was Naut Humon, founder and A&R of Asphodel Records. The label had been a cornerstone of the short-lived scene, home to releases from DJ Spooky, WeTM, Sub Dub, Badawi, and Byzar. To many illbient and Asphodel were inseparable.
I tried but couldn’t get a hold of Naut at the time and it wasn’t until the summer of 2015 that we finally managed to make it happen, thanks to Raz Mesinai’s help. I decided to use the conversation with Naut as a way to delve into the history of Asphodel, and his own, for the book as well as for a feature on FACT magazine. The idea was to tell the definitive story of a label that many knew but few had ever investigated in depth, a label that had fallen through the cracks of time yet remained important to so many scenes that are part of the book – illbient, turntablism, experimental beats.
In telling the evolution, and ultimate death, of Asphodel Records, the feature also looks at Naut’s work behind the scenes and the production work he brought to projects like Mixmaster Mike’s debut album. Coming from a different era, Naut remained closer to the traditional producer role – in the back, orchestrating, facilitating – yet he also saw the value in using old practices to refine new ones, and in the process help to push along the evolution of the producer as artist.
Beyond giving artists the necessary tools, Humon was also hands-on in engaging them to upgrade their music making skills. When he first began frequenting turntablist and illbient circles, he was surprised to find that most of the artists weren’t releasing music beyond homemade cassettes. He brings up the example of ISP member Mixmaster Mike, who debuted on the label as a solo artist with 1998’s Anti-Theft Device and joined the Beastie Boys as their official tour DJ soon after. “I would go and visit Mike at his place in Vallejo and listen to all these cassettes he’d made,” Humon explains. For Mike’s debut, Naut got the idea to reflect this history in the recordings, by weaving elements throughout. Humon became the album’s producer, in the traditional sense — guiding Mike’s creativity while teaching him how to work with new technology. “Asphodel was trying to enable artists to learn the skills needed to be on their own,” says Humon of his hands-on approach. “I had a customised way that I would be a behind-the-scenes producer.”
As a bonus, there’s also an edited transcript of our entire conversation.