Astrels

Astrels’ Steve Edwards on ‘Sheffield Space Opera’: “Even though I’ve been doing music for a long time now, this is one of the most exciting things I’ve worked on”

Renowned Sheffield musician Steve Edwards is back with his most intriguing project yet… 

Astrels’ debut album, The Velvet Sea & The Afterglow, has seen the house music don joining forces with Joe Newman of Reverend & The Makers, where together they’ve utilised an impressive array of vintage synthesisers, state-of-the-art electronic equipment, killer hooks and a ‘Sheffield space opera’ concept to take us all on a cosmic journey from a Dystopian Steel City into the stars.

Last month, Joseph Food charged up his flux capacitor and cadged a lift in the main man’s spaceship to see what all the fuss was about. 

Tell us a bit about how Astrels started out?
A lot of this was put together in lockdown. Me and Joe Newman have worked on music together on and off over the years but have always done our own thing too. Astrels is something that’s a bit conceptual. I’ve always been a big sci-fi fan and wanted to do something cinematic, like a soundtrack to a film. Rather than make a soundtrack match an already existing film or story, we kind of did it the other way around: started making music and I later storyboarded a concept around it. 

What sort of music influenced the sci-fi soundscapes?
A lot of old prog, early hip-hop and a lot of dub sounds – Scientist, King Tubby and Lee Perry. Throw in some big George Clinton-style mad shit, too.   

How did the concept become cemented during lockdown? Did it give you more time to invest in the project?
Yeah, I was watching a lot of sci-fi stuff to pass the time. I then got into Stranger Things, which had a really immersive sort of vibe to it. Joe has all these keyboards in the studio; he’s like a mad scientist with all the vintage synths, analog synths, Moogs, organs  – all that stuff. We started exchanging ideas and he’d start creating these sonic soundscapes. I started to realise that we were onto something different, something with an interesting hook to it. 

You mention there’s a dystopian theme running through the album. Was that a direct link to the times we were in when you were making the album?
Well, it was a dystopian world! Nothing open, empty streets and roads. Those first couple months of lockdown were just mad. Remember police going out in helicopters to catch people walking in the Peak District?! It was a bit Orwellian at times, wasn’t it? Then you throw in the conspiracy theories, the power of social media and the rise of post-truth. Well, I suppose it’s easy to see why my head went there. 

You mentioned creating a story to go with the album. Could you tell me a bit about that?
It starts off with the main character, who is a bit like Sheffield’s Anakin Skywalker. If I’m going to write about dystopian futures, I’m not going to write about New York or Tokyo or London like most do – it’s going to be based in Sheffield. It’s set 100 years in the future, natural resources are diminishing rapidly, people have lost their faith and they’re looking over their shoulders into the shadows. 

If I’m going to write about dystopian futures, I’m not going to write about New York or Tokyo or London like most do – it’s going to be based in Sheffield

Was there an element of not wanting the concept to overshadow the music, or the other way around?
Joe’s such a proficient programmer and musician who really knows his way around electronica. So he created these mad sounds but was also able to inject a lot of soul into it, give the music some great beats. I’d hear these sounds, reflect on my own influences and start with a title, like ‘Neon Messiah’, and then build around that. 

“Joe’s such a proficient programmer and musician who really knows his way around electronica.”

Tell us a bit about that track, ‘Neon Messiah’.
 
‘Neon Messiah’ always felt very Blade Runner to me. I imagined a dark, decaying Sheffield in the rain, mistrust in the air and people shuffling around, keeping themselves to themselves. It follows this 16-year-old kid down at the River Don, looking up at the flats (I pictured Park Hill) where his mum lives, debating about leaving to join the Federation and discover new planets. That’s the beginning of the narrative. The song opens with the line, ‘Down by the water’s edge / I can see the stars shimmer in the sky’. That’s Series One, Episode One! 

You have the music bringing the story to life, but are there plans to go further with this? Film or animation? 
Absolutely. I’ve been looking for an animator, which would be amazing to do. I’ve also been looking for a scriptwriter to come on board, so we can say, “Here’s the soundtrack and here’s the thread of the story. Can we build on this?” That would be amazing. The idea is to do a trilogy, this being the first album of three following this story and this world. Even though I’ve been doing music for a long time now, this is honestly one of the most exciting things I’ve worked on from a creative perspective.

“I started to realise that we were onto something different, something with an interesting hook to it.”

Did you listen to any concept albums while making it? It feels a bit like this could be a Sheffield version of Jeff Wayne’s War of the Worlds!
That’s a really good parallel. I did have War of the Worlds in my head when making it, that idea of ‘what’s out there?’ What a fantastic album. I went to see the live performance when it came to Sheffield and it just blew me away.

How did you ensure the tunes retained some danceability for performing live, or was that not a concern?
It’s that balance of saying what you want to say, but doing it in a way that people can move and relate to it. ‘Starship Motherchild’ is a real big tune, opening with these big drums, and it opens with, ‘I just wanna fly away / far from this lonely place / beyond the stars in the sky / leave all this bullshit behind.’ They’re pretty universal lyrics, so people can relate to them how they want. It’s not a ‘now, listen to me’ vibe at all. 

You’ll be bringing the live show of The Velvet Sea & The Afterglow to Church – Temple of Fun. Tell us a bit about what people can expect from this space opera?
Killer hooks. Soaring vocals. Some great electronica. Fat beats – it’s a big sound. Visually, it’ll also be interesting too. It’s an itch that I’ve wanted to scratch and we’re doing it now. It feels like we’re onto something here and it’s just a case of letting people know now.

Astrels will launch their album at Church – Temple of Fun on 17 November. Tickets (£10) are available here. The Metropolis Psychosis EP is out on 3 November.

@astrels_music_band




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