DOWN THE RABBIT HOLE SHE GOES
Picture this: Kempsford, England; a small village deep in the west country. Young Riz Maslen sits astride her mare, posture straight, hair whipping back with the wind as she rides across fields and farmland. "I used to go riding and worked my holi9days at the local riding school," remembers Maslen, "But as I got older and discovered music, the need to leave was ever present."
And leave she did. Maslen, who is now known to fans as Neotropic, and in some circles Small Fish With Spine, is among the ever-expanding group of producers redefining the parameters of post-techno, experimental music. Her latest endeavor, White Rabbits, is an exercise in cinematic ambience that combines not-so-typical elements of world groove and dub. Tense, haunting and uniquely organic, White Rabbits doesn't pander to the listener with traditional song structures or catchy refrains. The music moves at its own pace and plays by its own rules, engaging the listener in an atmospheric experience that is once conceptually transcendental and intensely personal -- signature components of the Neotropic aesthetic.
Leaving Kempsford behind, Maslen moved to London in the mid '90s and eventually found work at North London recording studio. It was there young Riz hooked up with ambient gurus-in-residence Future Sound of London and began swapping her vocal skills for studio tips (many of the vocals on FSOL's seminal Accelerator album are Maslen's). Her collaboration with FSOL, coupled with her increased exposure to studio equipment, soon convinced Maslen that her future was far better served behind the soundboard than behind the microphone (although she does still sing). The rest, as they say, is history…
Maslen soon signed to Ninja Tune offshoot Ntone, which released the first three Neotropic albums. Her Small Fish With Spine project also released music on Oxygen Music Works, while a host of remix offers began pouring in (see essential discography). She then began Council Folk Recordings with longtime friend and collaborator Paul Jason Fredericks (of Two Banks of Four fame). The label, which was launched as an outlet for their own music and that of like-minded artists, has lain dormant since 2002 after only three releases (none of which were Maslen's.) But now, with Maslen having finished White Rabbits and Fredericks back from a recent Japanese tour, both are eager to resume their release schedule in 2005.
It is Maslen's latest release, however, White Rabbits (put out by Dirty Loop's Mush imprint), that is her priority right now (although she recently pulled out of the Fall 2004 Mush US Tour for reasons undisclosed). Some might say the jump from Ntone to Mush signifies a shift in Neotropic's focus, but Maslen is quick to dispel that notion. "I had already recorded a lot of the material [for this album] when I signed to Mush. This is really about Neotropic's journey moving forward."
Maslen is a woman of multiple passions as well as strong opinions. And with her hands in virtually every aspect of the music business (she also works in a record shop), she's earned her place atop the Tide box.
There is always, the dreaded "female question." After nearly a decade of studio work, Maslen is continually plagued by the woman-producer categorization and is forced to address the issue in every interview, including this one: "I hate this question. Yes, I have had experiences where, had I been a man, I would have been treated differently…but I am a musician, first and foremost."
Still, Maslen was a trailblazer for female producers, and she takes her role model status seriously. For the past few years, Maslen has been teaching music technology to disadvantaged youths in East London, many of which are women. "It's been very encouraging to see the amount of women who want to work in music," says Maslen, "not just as singers, but as writers and producers of their own work."
And while her students may know her as Riz, it is Maslen's work as Neotropic for which she is most widely known. The release of White Rabbits marks the return of that persona and Maslen's foray into the deepest, dubbiest rabbit hole in all of Wonderland.