By Martyn Pepperell
Cosmic Compositions' founder Addison Chase understands that some of the best ideas come through daydreaming. Scroll down the Cosmic Compositions Facebook or Tumblr pages and you'll quickly get a sense of the retrofuturist and afrofuturist visions he draws inspiration from. Outlines of the faces of ancient Egyptian pharaohs projected onto pyramids. Space-aged buildings constructed throughout Africa in the middle of the 20th century. Classic cars fitted with portable record players. More often than not, they're visions of a utopian future that never quite arrived. "When I was a kid, I always used to have these daydreams of an ideal world," he says. "I would spend hours perfecting it in my head." Since 2012, Addison has been using Cosmic Compositions to turn the daydreams he can into reality. In that time, what began as an inspiring and immaculately curated Tumblr has become a thriving digital community and bespoke vinyl/cassette release record label.
"I've been collecting records since I was twelve, and got into jazz when I was fourteen," Addison explains, sitting across from me in a cabana inside the South American-style back courtyard of Ponsonby's Conch Records Kitchen and Bar. "I've always really enjoyed exploring the past and all it has to offer. In order to understand where music is going, you need to understand where it came from." After classic jazz, Addison became passionate about hip-hop and by the late 2000s, was fascinated with the first wave of the Low-End Theory/Brainfeeder centered Los Angeles beat scene. Through DJing around Auckland, he began helping host performances from international talents like Knxwledge, Ras G, Dibiase, Oddisee, and Onra. Discovery by discovery, he started seeing and hearing things differently.
"I began to feel like there was cohesiveness between bebop and boombap and avant-garde jazz and the beats scene," he explains. "I really wanted to connect the dots. I also wanted to help people my age become a bit more knowledgeable about earlier music. These were things I was into, but no one I talked to really knew about them." So Addison got networking on Soundcloud and conceptualised the Cosmic Composition's Avant-Garde Series: a set of beats-based compilation albums dedicated to pioneers of the US avant-garde jazz movement like Pharaoh Sanders, Alice Coltrane, and Sun-Ra. His girlfriend Jordan Cuthers-Clark created some collage style artwork, helped him out with A&R, and they went for it.
Through rolling the compilations out on Bandcamp, he connected with a network of talented young beatmakers from New Zealand, Europe, and North America. "I think a lot of it was to do with jazz," Addison reflects. "A lot of the beatmakers I work with in Brussels or Paris are very into jazz. That was what brought them to Cosmic Compositions, those Avant-Garde Series releases. They understood it, liked the idea and wanted to work with me." It also brought him to the attention of German record distributor HHV.DE, who offered to press the compilations up on vinyl. "I'm a vinyl nerd, so that was when I felt like Cosmic Compositions went from an internet-based platform to becoming a real record label," he says.
Quiet and softly spoken; Addison can easily blend into the background in social settings. If he seems lost in thought at times, chances are he is. As much as he loves music and art; they're just two of his concerns. "To me, environmental issues are the most important issues. Music doesn't mean much if we don't have a healthy environment," he says. "When I created Cosmic Compositions, I was also working on a fashion label. I wanted to create funds for environmentally focused projects." Addison is fascinated by ideas like free energy, repopulation of endangered animal species and a thorough testing of the medical properties of plants in the Amazon. "The world hasn't turned out the way I wanted it to," he admits. "I think I romanticise the past because we had the world in our hands. If we'd listened to the right people, things could be so different."
In 2015, he decided to expand the label's sonic direction. Psychedelic rock, freak-folk, punk, surf and noise were becoming significant to his listening habits, so he put together The Way Out: a compilation of songs from emerging musicians he's connected with from those realms. "I've always wanted Cosmic Compositions to be a good representation of my taste," Addison explains. He also teed up a series of cassette tape releases from New Zealand producers and musicians like Totems, Mr. Armish and Affsid Kidjhagiffy. "I felt like I was at the point where I could start offering these people a real platform," he continues.
This year, Addison, Jordan, and recent Cosmic Compositons inductee John Silas have been organising music documentary screenings in art galleries and clothing stores around the city. Early in August, they relocated to Berlin to take things further. On a Friday in late July, Cosmic Compositions hosted a going away party at the Lowtide Community Space in St Kevin's Arcade. On the night, a cluster of local beatmakers and rappers performed to a full house of enthusiastic music lovers.
For Addison, it was a heartwarming send off. "Knowing I have that support at home made me real excited about leaving," he enthuses. "I'm going to be working to be involved in the European market, but I'll be pushing this amazing New Zealand music at the same time. I know in Europe we'll have a far larger reach and be able to accomplish a lot more." Hopefully, through the process of turning smaller dreams into tangible realities, he'll end up in a position where he can bring some of his larger visions to fruition.