In Conversation: Charles Vaughan Talks Jazz, Electronica and his new EP 'Reflection, Exhale'
Beamed across from me via the internet airwaves of Zoom is producer, DJ and promoter Charles Vaughan donning a bright yellow Lucy & Yak jumpsuit, reflective of his own shining personality.
A few technical errors and mutual friend conversations later Charles tells me of his journey into the music industry. A self proclaimed techy, at the age of 14 Charles discovered a love for jazz, DJing and production which was spurred on by his music tech teacher, who he used to create beats with. "Jazz just opened my mind to being like you can improvise and come up with this whole new way of thinking...my piano jazz teacher would take a jazz tune and be like, right how can we completely reorder and completely re-make this up. Jazz fully opened my ears to exploring and producing in a way that I don't think any other genre has, or ever will, for me" Charles says.
Whist studying at Goldsmiths - where he went to follow in the footsteps of his hero James Blake - he begun to get involved with the South London scene, firstly running a night at Amersham Arms focused on showcasing jazz bands. After being offered a show on Balamii and with some of the bands dropping out and slots to fill, he started to DJ Jazz: '"I'd never DJed jazz before, that wasn't even a thing that I'd thought about and Balamii had asked us to do a show. My mate couldn't make it so I did it alone and it was the first time I'd ever DJed vinyl as well. I was like well I've got these jazz records I guess I'll just put them on the turntable and play with them, I've watched people do it enough. And then I was like oh, fuck, I really like DJing jazz ... Don't get me wrong I love playing keys and sax, it's lovely, but DJing offered so many more opportunities in my head. There were so many ways of expressing yourself".
Following this came his party Birdland Kissa with Mr Jukes playing an exclusive 25 cap DJ set in Peckham, and Resolution, an event series that he runs with friends focused on audio, visual and immersive surround sound events which has seen them play the likes of Red Bull Festival. At this point Charles pauses and says that whilst he loved running all the events and being known as a promoter that he wanted to focus on himself as a DJ and build himself as an artist. This was when he threw himself into radio.
Currently, Charles is probably best known in radio for being co-producer to jazz DJ and broadcaster Tina Edwards on Worldwide FM. After booking Tina for a Birdland Kissa show the two got chatting and discovered that they both wanted to do a show focused on exploring the intersections between jazz, electronica and club music. "I've been shocked with Universal Sanctuary" Charles says, "Worldwide really opens some doors and you meet some really amazing people". Charles goes on to relate to me his experience of recording his first show. "The first show we recorded a French pianist called Chassol, we were doing a live session with him...in the basement with Giles [Peterson] and I was like oh my god. So I remember going round Giles' house and being like okay this is surreal". Still sounding in awe he tells me how he ended up drinking whiskey with Giles before heading back.
However, whilst Worldwide FM has opened many doors for Charles he tells me how his show on Melodic Distraction has been a great opportunity for him to develop himself as an artist. "I [wanted] to have a show that was my [own] show" he says, "I [didn't] want it to be so focused on a genre, or a movement... I [wanted] to be able to come on the show and play the latest Brazilian reissue and then play this obscure IDM track, and then play disco, and then play really out there jazz".
Like his radio show, his production is not something which can be constricted by genre. "When I make music it's never really focused on one genre, I always seem to jump between genres. The last release before this was a nu disco release... and then the last EP I did was a mix of electronic-y and hip hop stuff". His new EP 'Reflection, Exhale', a 3 tracker which moves between ambiance, break beat and jazz infused electronica, is reflective of this sporadic nature.
"The third track was the one that came first actually" Charles reveals. "I'm a massive fan of this ambient producer called H Takahashi, he did one of my favourite albums of 2019 called 'Sonne und Wasser'. The ideas behind how he created his album were really gorgeous it was all about looking at plant life cycles and the cycles of nature". One night he was listening to the album, which helps him cope with anxiety and sleeping, and an idea popped into his head: "I could hear this melody that would go over [one of the tracks] and it just wasn’t coming in, so I went and sat down at the keyboard and played this melody... and I was like maybe I could make an entire song out of just this one line repeating gently". This was how 'it will get better' came about.
Ironically, 'crisis at 1.52am' came from a very different source. "I was rewatching the Saw films and there's this scene in Saw 3, it's an awful scene where this couple are talking about getting this divorce, but under it was this incredible pad... I literally stopped the film got out of bed and was like I have got to sample that" Charles says, laughing. The sample forms the main pad in track with Pixel's violin playing adding a whole new layer.
Lastly, 'im so fucking tired of it all' evolved out of anger and wanting to make a ravey dance track which goes in hard but doesn't have a million elements to it. "I’m a massive fan of special request and I was listening to his stuff a lot and he put out a sample pack ages ago" he says. 'I was just mucking about with it and the breaks in it were sick and I really quickly put together this beat".
In spite of having a really difficult year in 2020, experiencing mental health issues and anxiety, last year did give Charles a chance to focus on not only production but himself. "I've had to focus on myself which I haven't done before. I think the thing I will bring out of 2020 is learning to look after myself in that way. I feel I get very addicted to working on all these projects and the hustle of London but I burn out very quickly" he says contemplatively. Indeed, this time has allowed him to reconnect with himself, play old vinyl records he hasn't played for years and given him time to work on some more upcoming material. Things to watch out for include an incredible sounding Louie Vega Style remix of Beyonce's 'Deja Vu' and a 15 minute disco multi track project.
Talking with Charles throughout the interview was a reminder of why I'm here running Halcyon and the spark of his passion was captivating. It confirmed my view that this someone who is in the industry because he genuinely adores being a selector and a radio host - something that we sadly can't say of everyone now a-days. His movement into the production world is sure to be long lived, full of genre bending constructions and fantastic creations and I strongly recommend you listen to his reflective 'Reflection, Exhale EP', an EP which encourages exploration into the deepest, darkest apertures of your mind and body.
'Reflection, Exhale' drops on the 4th March. Find out more HERE.