Simon Posford thinks big.
The 40-year-old British DJ’s compositions have evolved into thousand-fold mosaics, his shows into dance carnivals backed by LED screens and filled with LSD fans.
As Shpongle, he curates spectacles with a Burning Man verve, and dance parties where you actually want to listen to the music.
The Shpongle circus comes to town on Sunday, Oct. 14 at Belly Up Aspen.
“I try to create a journey, a psychedelic landscape through which one would want to travel,” he told me via e-mail from the road. “A mellifluous excursion into inner space. I improvise a little within a basic framework.”
As electronic dance music and dubstep and a jumble of DJ-driven sounds have become a dominant force on the live music and pop scenes in the last couple years, Posford has been hailed as a groundbreaker — a psychadelia-soaked John the Baptist to Skrillex’s club-whomping Christ.
He broke out in the mid-90s, under the stage name Hallucinogen. His trance-driven first studio album, 1995’s “Twisted,” was a trend-setter that laid the groundwork for many of today’s DJs. The spoken word sampling over synths and digital effects in his rave standard, “LSD,” helped define the house music sound.
His ambitious, huge-sounding work as Shpongle — aided by near-legendary live shows — has pushed electronic music into a new dimension. A collaborative effort between Posford and the flute-playing psychadelia scene veteran Raja Ram, Shpongle’s sound has an organic, symphonic aesthetic to it. It manages to transcend the coldness of so much electronica, making innovative use of world music and Eastern instruments. It’s a blend of acoustic guitars, African drums, Middle Eastern arias, cellos and flutes, filters through Posford’s computers and emerges as something genuinely new.
The pair have grown a worldwide following without the usual hype and media attention. They’ve focused on the music, and fans have followed.
Posford refers to Ram, a co-founder of the ‘60s psychadelic rock band Quintessence, as his “sonic co-pilot,” and their friendship might just be the heart of Shpongle.
The pair met back in Posford’s Hallucinogen days, when he recorded at Butterfly Studios in London. Artists from the various studios in the complex would break nightly from work and meet up for home-cooked Indian vegetarian food from its chef, he recalls.
“It was during one of these dinners that I met Raja Ram, a mustachioed Dali-esque psychedelic cartoon character, who regaled us with stories and jokes and a continuous running commentary,” he says. “We bonded instantly and resolved to work together when the opportunity arose.”
Ram has contributed a whimsical Hippie Era spirit into Shpongle, along with its name (an adjective he coined for a certain type of tripping, as in, “I’m feeling a mite shpongled.”) Their collaboration is as much a combination of their talents as an expression of their friendship, helped along by regular “acid tests,” where they use themselves as subjects to gauge the effect of newly recorded music on the psychedelically altered brain.
“Raj has helped me appreciate the power of words, the importance of language and the value of love in making each day a little better for everyone you meet,” Posford explains. “Nobody is more adept at passing on a smile than Raja Ram.”
Their lavish sound, nudged along live by Posford at his DJ set-up, gets associated with drugs a lot. Posford doesn’t shy away from the fact that it’s a friendly sound for psychadelics, but there’s more to it than the chemicals in the audience.
“[T]he only rule we abide by when making music is to create something that we want to hear ourselves, in any state of consciousness,” he says.
The pair have made a handful of trips to Aspen before, most recently playing Belly Up in April of last year. Posford says his fondness for Aspen originated with “Dumb and Dumber,” the lines from which he says leave him giggling to himself as he wanders around town. And the unpredictability of an Aspen audience — transient, changing by the seasons — makes him eager to play here again.
“As a performer, I find Aspen interesting because you never know what kind of crowd you are going to get at the show,” he says.
And while he often plays massive festivals, including sets at Burning Man, he says he’ll take a cosier setting like Belly Up any day.
“I like the intimacy of smaller venues and if I was a hugely successful musician that didn’t need to pay bills anymore, I would probably only play these kind of shows,” he says.
The venue may not be able to hold his usual stage set-up, known to fans as the “ShpongleTron.”
“I suspect that Belly Up is too small for my massive erection (so to speak) and we will end up using the house lights ... thankfully they have a great selection,” he says.
Posford says to show up ready to dance. Portland-based DJ Phutureprimitive opens up; he’ll go on stage immediately after Sunday Night Football.