Fri, Jun 28
Lodge Room and Minty Boi present



Travis Stewart’s journey to making 3FOR82 began, fittingly, on 3/4. For his 41st birthday, on March 4th last year, he ventured out to Joshua Tree National Park, California, to seek clarity and inspiration for what became his 11th studio album as Machinedrum; 12 high-intensity, ruminative tracks that thread the needle between his past, present and future selves. “I’ve been to Joshua Tree many times and I’ve always felt a great sense of clarity every time I visit,” Stewart explains, “and I knew that I should, at some point in my life, go out there to work on something creatively.”

3FOR82 builds on the vocalist-centric, genre-blending songwriting of the last Machinedrum album, 2020’s A View Of U, and the thematic groundwork laid down on 2023 EP 4#TRAX (dedicated to channel trax on IRC, a ‘90s chat platform). Between drum & bass, hip-hop, jazz, R&B and juke, dazzling beat switches and a singular ear for sonics, Stewart weaves in a crew of collaborators. Jesse Boykins III, the album’s co-executive producer and a close friend of Stewart, leads with various contributions; while a ritzy cast including Tinashe, KUČKA, Duckwrth, AKTHESAVIOR, Mick Jenkins, Ezri, Tanerélle, Deniro Farrar, Topaz Jones, deem spencer, aja monet, ROZET, Will Johnson and Ian Maciak rounds the record off.

This rich, prismatic approach to collaboration builds on the uptempo vocal manipulations that won Stewart acclaim in electronic communities, notably on 2011’s breakout LP Room(s) and 2013 opus Vapor City. 3FOR82’s lead single ‘ZOOM’, featuring Tinashe, kicks off the campaign on March 4th; the album is due for release on May 24th, through Ninja Tune, accompanied by a boutique printed zine, co-designed with visual artist and LuckyMe affiliate Joseph Durnan [124 World]. Given that Ninja Tune was one of young Travis’ favourite labels, this speaks to a mantra guiding the record: observing nostalgia through a contemporary lens.

In the quiet vastness of Joshua Tree, Machinedrum combed through old harddrives full of his late-’90s beats: many of them were made on Impulse Tracker, a rough freeware programme that lay untouched for the better part of a quarter-century. “That’s really where I cut my teeth in electronic music-making,” he remembers. Although he’s been a committed Ableton Live user for years, “there’s been a yearning for me to tap back into that older self; the software is super limiting, and there’s a unique creativity that comes out of limitations.”

After finding a DOS emulator that would run Impulse Tracker, he recorded himself playing and riffing off these beats to build 3FOR82; sample by sample, he made original sound banks that could be fed into a dedicated library, giving 3FOR82 a distinct tone. “From there, there was no going back,” Stewart smiles. “It bridged the gap between my past and future self”. This period included recording himself and his environment with a VHS camera, then running the footage audio into the tracker, creating a meta-library of sounds.

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Solitude wasn’t the only parameter Stewart set for the process of making 3FOR82. Time was a defining element of his creativity, too. “I went from that seed collecting phase into a pure experimentation and creation phase,” he says. “I gave myself one month to start as many track ideas as possible: over that month, I created around 45 different ideas; then, I decided which ones were the strongest, and focused on them for the album. The ones that I gravitated to really just had these natural pockets for vocals.”

As much as possible on 3FOR82, Machinedrum brought each vocalist into the studio for face-to-face time, and they’d record conversations on his camera focused on a theme: “If you could visit with your younger self, what would you say to them?” From there, vocalists wrote lyrics to, or as, their teenage selves. Choice quotes are woven into the music as monologues or samples — 3FOR82’s opener, ‘Oracle’ begins with reflections from aja monet on dancing alone. On lead single ‘ZOOM’, Tinashé narrates youthful lust on the dancefloor; at one juncture in ‘KILL_U’, Tanerélle’s soothing tones reminds you that, at times, “You’re lost, then you’re found, there’s so much you achieve”; across ‘U_WANT’, KUČKA tells herself “there will be better days”; while on ‘RISE’, ROZET riffs that she’ll “grow from the floor to the sky”. The effect the theme has on 3FOR82 is tender and punchy, tying these strands of R&B, pop, jazz and drum & bass together.

With decades’ of work under his belt, across various guises — including Machinedrum, ambient project Tstewart, indispensable club rocket J-E-T-S with Jimmy Edgar and Sepalcure with Praveen Sharma — a collaborative outlook and practice is what charges Stewart. “If you really pay attention, vocals have always played an integral role in my songs since the beginning,” he says, reflecting on his catalogue. “Whether it’s chopping them up, like a ghostly sound in the background, or whether it’s a featured singer, I’ve always considered the voice an essential instrument in my work.”

For a futuristic artist, it’s prudent to ask: why look back? Growing up in rural North Carolina, the teenage Travis Stewart discovered dance music not on dancefloors, but through internet forums, mp3 download sites, production software channels and scrappy audiovisual ephemera. “Because I was obsessed with music that was made for environments that I didn’t grow up in, I had an outsider perspective of what that was like and an appreciation for the ‘bedroom listener’ aspect of it,” he says. “By not initially hearing how DJs would interpret these tracks, making music for both home and the club is key to my work.” Now, having spent years living in Berlin, New York City and Los Angeles, “finding a middle ground between all those club and social influences has definitely inspired my music.”

In tribute to the importance of screen glow to his artistic development, Machinedrum has lately been running monthly online beat battles called COMPO, a twist on his experience competing with other young beatmakers way back when. “The limiting factor of having these really small zip files of samples was a necessity, because you couldn’t share anything over a dial-up modem that was bigger than 10 megabytes — but what came out of that was this cool, challenging aspect,” he says. With COMPO and the 3FOR82 sound library, he’s “collaborating with my younger self, taking these ideas that I wrote when I was so naive and giving them new life. “There’s a whole community that’s formed around COMPO, and the enthusiasm I’ve seen from the community has been incredible.”

To tie one final bow around the project, Stewart notes what the record has taught him — a principle that chimed with the album’s title. “It took me 41 years to realise that I’ve always been obsessed with polyrhythms and how three interacts with four, and this was probably subconsciously influenced by my birthday!” he laughs. “I love rhythms that have interlocking three patterns over a 4/4 beat, and I love the rule of threes because when things are presented in three parts, your audience is more engaged.” For 3FOR82, the creation process was divided into three parts: “sound library and palette curation, experimental creation, and finalising.”

There lies an echo of the implied fourth: how Stewart’s audience receives the splicing, blending and reconfiguration of sounds, voices, temporal zones and oh-so-human memories that feeds into 3FOR82 — a refinement of the the template that has made Travis Stewart such an enduring presence in 21st century electronic music, and an extension of the range of what a Machinedrum album can be now, and in the future.