The forthcoming third album release by Venus in Motion is so much more than chilled out music. Liberation is an exceptional musical journey into powerful, heartfelt, soul with fourteen hooky tracks that all deliver inspirational, down tempo grooves. Liberation’s songs also relate to life, love and empowerment.
The album embodies a sound pioneered by self-taught producer and House DJ Angel Johnson. Liberation is a truly outstanding selection of carefully crafted compositions, where the tracks sit well in Jazz, Soul, Funk or Breakbeat genres as well as in Lounge or House. In fact, Angel says herself that the sound embodies both an electronic and an organic vibe.
And she is not wrong. Released on the 27th of this month, Liberation is the next chapter, following on from two widely received albums – Walking in Limbo & Somebody’s Heaven – and several single releases. The project is a master class in music production and music industry management, because Angel pretty much manages the whole process herself, with a little help from some of her friends of course. But while she is clearly busy behind the scenes, the music on Liberation by no means sounds like it. Each track has a distinct message and fits exactly into its place on the album.
The promotion for the album release kicked off three months ago on International Women’s day, targeting a carefully selected group of tastemakers on the album’s advance release mailing list. Rather than just mailing out a zip file into the ‘black-hole’ inboxes of DJs, journalists and radio show hosts, Angel and her team decided to send it out track by track, so every week reviewers got to experience the album as it should be heard, reflecting how an album is produced and compiled.
Her passion for making groundbreaking down tempo music came through a combination many years experience behind the decks in clubs around the world as one of the first ever female touring House DJs, being a great house music producer and her impeccable musical sixth sense. To be fair though, for those of us that know her, and for those of you that should, the Venus in Motion sound is really another level and far removed from the sound we would normally associate with DJ Angel. So did she get bored with the House Music?
“No. I love, have always loved and will always love House Music, it’s in my bones!” she admits.
“Venus in Motion began because in the heyday of the ‘90s alongside the infectious groove of the 4/4 beat which pulsated through me 24/7, there were moments when I needed a little down time, and in those times of relaxation, 6am after a club, chilling at home or driving around in my car… I listened to Hip Hop, Trip Hop, Ambient Pop and Soul.”
Angel was a resident DJ at legendary UK nightclub Venus. She DJ-ed at regular gigs with other super-clubbing brands such as the Hacienda and Ministry of Sound, as well as spots DJ-ing all over the world, including Ibiza, which was in its heyday at that time. She has come a long way from those days and before that, when she had to borrow her mate’s older sister’s ID card at the tender age of sweet sixteen, to blag her way into the dance music clubs of her native city of Nottingham…
Decoded Magazine caught up with Angel, who apart from being a great producer is also a hard working mother, while she was taking some well-earned R&R from the new album’s promotion, drinking a cup of tea at her home in a little village named Ocata on the outskirts of Barcelona (incidentally the name of her record label as well). So how did she end up there?
“I came to Barcelona as I’ve always loved Spain. As a kid, we always used to come for package holidays to places like Benidorm, Llorret, Calella… I visited Barcelona with a friend 15 years ago, I met my partner at the Harlem Jazz Club, we fell in love and the rest is history!” she confirmed.
“I had been writing songs for a while, down tempo songs and there came a time around 2003 when I just decided to go into the studio and start laying the tracks down. Before then I had been working with other producers on my house tracks, but the desire to produce my own mellower sound got stronger and stronger, the songs in my head kept coming so I went into the studio and started recording them and that’s when my first album Walking in Limbo was born,” she added.
Her new album really showcases her talent. Not only for the lyrical content with the heart-on-sleeve stories she weaves in, or the depth and warmth of her production style, but also the sheer melodic journey that Liberation takes you on. Standout tracks are difficult to select – it’s an album of killers with no fillers.
“The title Liberation comes from a personal desire that I have to liberate myself from fear! It represents freedom from all the fears that hold us back in life. The fear of not being enough. Good enough, strong enough, intelligent enough, rich enough, slim enough, etc… It’s about personal freedom and letting go of fear, guilt, worry, competing, blaming and all that negative shit that holds us back!” she pointed out.
How on Earth does she fit them all into her Studio and what’s the process? “The third album features singers Naomi Leigh, Cherry Mars, Tammy Cartwright, Moses Okorotete, Gary Reader, the sax player who has featured on all my albums. Then there’s Columbian guitarist Miguel Ramon and a bass player called Keith Bradshaw who regularly appear on the new album among several other session musicians. But they don’t come all at once to the studio though… that would be impossible for me,” Angel joked.
“The singers come individually, flying in from the UK at separate times apart from Moses who lives here, and all worked very hard while they were here to get all the tracks finished. The process is that I write the music, then the song, or sometimes the song then the music, then I think of which of my singers it would be right for. There are a few co-writes on this album too, in which case I write the backing track and then we work on the song together.”
“When I used to produce in my earlier days, I used to keep on throwing more and more instruments into the mix. With experience, I learned that space is the magical ingredient! So I eliminate everything that is not absolutely essential to a track and acknowledge that every tiny detail that is present has a major role. I go into the studio with an open mind – it’s the best bit of kit I have and it serves me very well,” she added.
“I seldom relax I am prone to over-thinking and worrying, but I’m at my best when I am with like-minded, creative people.” But it’s not all work, work, work…
“Chilling in the sunshine with my family and friends is precious. A long soak in the bath with some quality music playing in the background always winds me down helps me to disconnect. I love a good TV series. I really enjoyed Peaky Blinders and Game Of Thrones, although I’m not watching anything at the moment. Love a good book too. The last book I read was Ruby by Cynthia Bond. An amazing book, which because of its heart wrenching and provocative content, leaves you feeling unhinged, and the story stays with you for a long, long time after you’ve read it!” Angel explained.
Liberation is indeed a stunning showcase of talent and flows effortlessly from start to end, and also leaving a distinct impression after hearing the album. It is a thought-provoking voyage through compelling musical constructs, using the combined strengths of talented instrumentalists and vocalists to drive the whole thing home where no one gets left behind.
Album making is a soon-to-be forgotten art form, especially in the way people typically access their music today. But this one is definitely one for kicking back, somewhere and sometime soon, turning up the volume, fully immerse yourself into Liberation and experience it from beginning to end.
Describing the new album as either blissful, hypnotic or funky wouldn’t even cut it. As discussed earlier, it is so much more than that. Game-changer? Quite possibly so. This one’s definitely a keeper.