A juicy mystery can be difficult to resist. In the business – and art – of marketing musicians, framing an artist as a cagey, riddle-shaped entity can make for a clever and gratifying strategy. Over the years, the esoteric, right-out-of-reach approach has paid off for Daft Punk, MF Doom, Jandek, David Bowie, Odd Future and heaps of others. Since its 2011 formation, Slow Magic has crept up into that club, too.
Slow Magic is one musician – maybe more, but probably not – who makes experimental, strangely soothing electronic music that’s described on his Facebook page as “the sound made by an unknown imaginary friend.” Slow Magic is much more pointedly mysterious than most musicians, but he’s not a total question mark either. The man behind the project has never publicly disclosed his name, but when given a number to call for the interview, a name came attached. Since Slow Magic asked that we avoid publishing his identity, we’ll just call the guy Joe.
He’s never disclosed his age, location (although his phone does have a Colorado area code) or a picture of his face. On stages, in photographs and in videos, Joe dons colorful headgear reminiscent of Hawaiian and African tribal masks (much like SBTRKT, another enigmatic electronic producer). This costume, he says, puts him in a certain headspace while playing live.
But while there’s an aloof, unapproachable aura surrounding most musicians who take the mystery angle, Joe is a different case. There’s something super bubbly and spunky about the way he speaks, especially as he explains the main reason for his anonymity.
“When I started, I simply wanted [Slow Magic] to be separate from any person or location, so I think that my focus was not on myself. I just wanted the music I was making to be out there. I’m lucky because I think people understand the reason. I thought it would be harder [for this] to stay exactly what I wanted it to be,” he says. “Even when I’m touring all the time and people could find out who I am, they don’t really try as hard. I think they understand that it’s music by an imaginary friend. It’s kind of like Santa Claus: People that know who I am keep it a secret because it’s more fun that way.”
That childlike sincerity and appreciation of naiveté shine through in Slow Magic’s 2012 EP Triangle, especially once you pair his slippery, sweet, ambient pop melodies – a heavily layered fusion of sliced-up vocal samples, dulcet piano and keyboard portions, and entrancing drumbeats – with cover art of children happily playing on the beach. Triangle shows a real sense that youthfulness – especially the preteen days – is a concept worth preserving, or, at the very least, revisiting.
“There’s an innocence with youth that, if we’re older than a certain age, we’ve all gotten away from,” says Joe, who cites the Beach Boys as a huge inspiration but, in action, sounds like Tycho or Boards of Canada. “[In] a lot of ways, the music I have been making is trying to capture something that we’ve all been through that’s a little bit more simple and fun.”
But here’s the thing about Daft Punk, Doom, Bowie and other names on the above list – hell, this goes for Santa Claus, too: Practically everyone eventually gets humanized or revealed for who – or what – they actually are. Plus, any entertainer teeters on the precipice of his privacy being invaded if he’s grabbed the public’s attention. If a mystery is juicy enough, someone is going to want to solve it. For now, Joe’s secret’s safe with us.
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