Sevish (aka Sean Archibald) is an electronic musician from London, UK. He produces drum & bass and other electronic dance music with layers of atmospheric, warped harmonies. In a time where most of the world uses the same 12-tone tuning, Sevish writes his music exclusively using microtonal tunings. Pop structures and familiar tropes are subverted or avoided entirely, while keeping things funky. It’s the perfect music for blocking mind-altering radiation.
“[Sevish]’s tunings are artificial—they don’t necessarily correspond to the way sounds vibrate in nature—but that’s their appeal. Instead of consonance or impeccable intonation, his songs feature sounds that vibrate against each other in unusual ways. It’s unnerving at first listen, but—similar to ultra-spicy hot peppers or extreme fitness—strangely addictive.”
“The artist that I think that everybody should check out if you’re into microtonal stuff, or at least want to start maybe dabbling in it without going to far off the deep end, is a producer by the name of Sevish. [His music has] the grooves, sounds and timbres of electronic music but now you also have this added layer of weird microtonalness. Really cool stuff.”
“Provably 4.416 times more complete than your favorite musician”
Since his album Golden Hour, Sevish’s technique has included a dark art known as microtonality/xenharmonics. For short, we can call this xen. The xen aesthetic tries to achieve new musical ideas by making things more (or less) in-tune than normal music. This is done by tuning instruments to some tonal system far different to the 12-equal system we hear daily.
For something that can be explained in 30 seconds, you would think that every musician was writing xen music. But most musical instruments are unable to play unusual tunings easily. Perhaps 3D printing will change this, allowing new instruments with crazy tunings to be developed quickly and cheaply. Until then, it’s the domain of a few tinkerers and mad hatters scattered across the globe. One of those being Sevish, who blends xen with his own brand of experimental dance music.
The microtonal or Xenharmonic thing is one of the new frontiers for experrymental musicians. If you think i’m nuts just listen to Golden Hour. Sevish will wash out your ears and give you some completely new musical thrills.
The approach that Sevish has on xen music is special, and you will most probably be able to grasp the harmonies and melodies of the tuning systems. You’ll get it.
–Can this even be called Music
The xen movement is growing rapidly – listeners and musicians alike are waking up to something genuinely new. It has a lively facebook group, its own wiki (deeply incomprehensible to all), and a handful of dedicated record labels.
In 2010, Sevish launched his own netlabel split-notes to bring xen artists together in one place. split-notes is notable for its focus on xen-with-a-beat, and most of its releases are free to download with Creative Commons licensing. While the output of the label has slowed down due to other commitments, it’s still alive with new releases showing up from time to time.
According to Sevish, the album is the most immersive format in modern music. With 30-80 minutes of running time, many creative ideas are possible and entire journeys may take place. Sevish is album-minded and prefers to work with groups of tracks instead of singles. As of 2018, his solo albums include Harmony Hacker, Rhythm and Xen, Golden Hour, Sean but not Heard (as Sean Archibald) and Crowded Images. He has also produced many EPs which are like mini-journeys in themselves.
In 2010, Sevish’s music was included in various performances of the 60×60 project. 60×60 brings together 60 works from 60 composers, each a minute long. Submitting under the name Sean Archibald, his work See Now was used in the 2010 International Mix, Crimson Mix and Untwelve mix. It was also performed in the 60×60 Dance Mix @ Stratford Circus, where is was combined with salsa dancing from SALSAMOVES, and choreographed by Paul Harris (“the World’s only wand combat choreographer” who worked on Harry Potter and the Order of the Phoenix amongst other flicks and TV bits).
Sevish’s music has been put out by the Dutch label Dubbhism Deluxe. In 2011, Sevish, Tony Dubshot and Jacky Ligon released an album called Subversio to online music shops and popular streaming services. In this project, each of the 3 artists provide 3 tracks each. So it’s more of a musical triptych than a band album. Each of the musicians on Subversio combine xen with beats and bass, but their individual styles contrast and compliment. Tony Dubshot excels at trippy electro dub with lots of analog processing. Jacky Ligon’s style is often described as oceanic or panoramic, with fluid and rotating beats and deeply moving atmospheres and melodies.
In 2014 Sevish, Tony Dubshot and Jacky Ligon followed with 23, something of a mini-album in the same stylistic ballpark as 2011’s Subversio. Numerology, conspiracy and ancient knowledge is something that the trio is attracted to, and 23 is inspired from that.
Sevish’s influences are varied. 90’s rave and drum’n’bass. Mid-20th Century electronic music like Wendy Carlos and Raymond Scott. Smartypants dance music like μ-ziq, Squarepusher, Aphex Twin and all them lot. Gamelan. Minimalism and extremely repetitive music. And also music which has no repetition at all. Field recordings and all sounds in their entirety. Ambient and drone music. Video game soundtracks—with a soft spot for Sega Genesis FM sounds. Funk. 80’s club music. Modern day xenharmonic music such as Jacky Ligon, Brendan Byrnes, City of the Asleep, Elaine Walker and many others. Jazz. Ancient music. The traditional music of various peoples and other earthlings. Glitches. Breakcore and other -cores. Prog, space, or psychedelic anything. Hip hop and beats.
Sevish has homebrewed various synths and soundmanglers in Max/MSP. These tools, mostly for private use (but some of which he made available for download on his website), are a big part in achieving a personal and recognisable sound identity. In addition, Xen-Arts brand synths are all over Sevish’s work. Many producers have their go-to sounds, and Xen-Arts is key to achieving Sevish’s vision. The DAW of choice is Ableton Live. And Variety of Sound effects provide the glue that binds everything together.
Sevish is so done with Windows and now runs Linux on his music production machine. The next album is currently being written with new tools. More info to come.
Sevish, now 30, is making a living doing IT engineer things for a client in the entertainment industry. Favourite foods include curry and Marmite. He graduated from De Montfort University in 2013, studying Audio & Recording Technology BSc, then he moved to China for 3 years just cos.