Xela - Biography
British musician and self-described “art-geek” John Twells has gained some much-deserved notoriety over the past decade. Releasing carefully crafted abstract electronic music that incorporates elements of dark ambient, fractured psychedelia, classic musique concrete, IDM, noise, and avant rock, Twells has hit some major highs in recent years under the Xela moniker. From his beat driven early releases to the cinematic dark textures of his current work, Twells has created a diverse discography where innovation and quality are the central points of cohesion.
For Frosty Mornings and Summer Nights was released on the Neo Ouija label in 2003. The debut Xela record explores warm, dynamic, and highly melodic beat driven electronic music that recalls the best of early ‘90s British IDM. Twells displays a keen ear for deep atmosphere and textural detail as well as a classic sense of melody and song structure. On tracks like “Under the Glow of Streetlights” and “Japanese Whispers” Twells bathes the listener in warm washes of ambience, glowing lead synth melodies, and crackling glitch beats.
The following year brought the release of Tangled Wool, this time for the respected City Centre Offices label. Here Twells combines the electronic density of his debut with acoustic instrumentation and a more varied production aesthetic. He drapes IDM beats and undulating electronics with guitar and, less frequently, vocals. The results are hypnotic, lying somewhere between early Four Tet and Mojave 3.
Concurrent to his own releases, Twells has been running the excellent Type label since 2003. Releasing daring music by the likes of Mokira, Khonnor, Deaf Center, Grouper, Yellow Swans, and Peter Broderick, just to name a few, the label continues to grow into one of underground music’s most respected labels. It wasn’t until ’06 that Twells released his own material on the label, and that release brought a giant shift in the Xela sound.
2006’s stunning The Dead Sea marks the beginning of Xela’s current, and most rewarding, phase. Twells leaves behind the gentle, shimmering electronics and quietly pulsing beats of his early work in favor of a densely layered, claustrophobic sound that merges classic Italian horror movie soundtracks with the textural noise of Wolf Eyes. Rhythm is still at play here, but shattered and buried beneath layers of drifting surface grit and heavily processed drones. Melodic elements do surface via acoustic guitar and gliding synths, but overall this is an album focused on atmosphere. Rattling and clanking percussion and slowly moving, hazy loops of dark electronics are the order of the day. Tracks like “Drunk On Saltwater” and “Creeping Flesh” show Twells’ deep sense of spatial-minded production, marking The Dead Sea as a truly innovative album of dark ambience.
After The Dead Sea Twells’ release schedule went into high gear. Over the next two years he released several split releases in limited runs on labels like Rite, Digitalis Limited, and Barge Recordings. In ’08 he released no less than four full-length albums. Never, Better and the excellent The Illuminated on Digitalis and Heirs of the Fire on Rite all came out in limited runs on cassette, LP, and CDR. All three records explore texturally deep, flickering, dark ambient drift with mesmerizing results. In Bocca Al Lupo, released on Type, is much more widely available and similar in style.
Twells shows no signs of slowing his Xela release schedule. 2009 brought a 10” titled Transit featuring two of his most innovative tracks to date, as well as a new full-length for the Dekorder label called The Divine. Both records continue Twells’ masterful study of atmospheric drift and cosmic, doom-laden drone. With an output this active and high in quality, Twells is surely cemented as one of the most engrossing abstract electronic producers operating today.