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By Milan Perera

Bristol based Ambient Experimental Electronic artist, Sonotto is launching his debut EP, Could We Be Closer on the 21st of January

“Sorry if that sounds arrogant, but truthfully there’s nothing particularly that comes to mind”, said the Bristol based Otto Neckel when asked of the music influences he tried to emulate on his journey as a budding musician. Sonotto, as he is known in the music scene, uttered those words without the slightest hint of pomposity or conceit, but with a quiet confidence that stems from an innate sense of self-assurance. I had the pleasure of interviewing Sonotto at his Clifton flat; overlooking the majestic vista of Ashton Vale. It was a grey, wet Saturday afternoon, low clouds were threatening further rain. Outside, Spanish moss streamers melancholically hung from the trees. Despite this lugubrious ambience, my host was effervescent about the release of his forthcoming debut EP on the 21st of January. There was such a note of exuberance in his voice that the overcast winter afternoon suddenly seemed golden. 


Born in Stirling and based in Bristol since 2018, where he firmly put down his marker as a promising artist in the burgeoning local music scene. Sonotto, like many great artists, is full of surprises. He speaks with a cut-glass Public School accent, but to my surprise, he had never stepped inside one! Homeschooled as a child and raised in the Scottish countryside, he was able to roam the vast verdant glens and the heather-clad hills to his heart’s content. This idyllic childhood proved to be a vital factor in Sonotto’s open approach to art, where he is not bound by hard and fast rules on creativity. In his youth, he was a skilled dancer and a member of the troupe ‘The Unusual Suspects’. He further branched out to modelling and photography, but it was in music he finally found his métier. 


Entirely self-taught in the early phase of his musical education, Sonotto was still producing tracks while attempting to get a place at a music school or a university. The entry requirements were still the traditional ones and hence Otto was overlooked by institutions based in Scotland. He made the crucial decision to move to the South West of England in 2018, applying for a place at Access Creative College in Bristol. The top brass of the institution were impressed with his temperament and talents, and he was granted a place. When asked whether he found this new chapter of classroom education daunting, Otto responded that it never crossed his mind as he ‘came without baggage from school structure.’ For the next two years he immersed himself in music studies, learning the rudiments of music production and a myriad of technical elements such as: saturation, distortion, reverb, delay, and mixing. He opposed the stereotype of Art students, while his classmates were clubbing into the small hours of the morning, Otto was lost in the stars and composing new material. There was a glint in his eyes as he recalled the performance he gave in front of his teachers and peers at his graduation ceremony. Thereupon he knew this is what he was destined for. 


He is a natural performer, as discussed at length in various music reviews. No doubt his experience in dancing and modelling played a crucial role in channelling his artistic vision to audiences. Although there is no hint of hero worship of one particular artist, Sonotto maintains an open mind to be stirred and animated by artists of various genres. He is full of admiration for musical acts such as Flying Lotus and WARP Records. He cites Since I Left You by The Avalanches as a groundbreaking album, consisting of samples from an extensive range of genres. 


The debut EP of Sonotto has been in the making since 2019. “You know, I’m a perfectionist”, he apologetically added, with a smile. The initial stage of the project came off the back of a break-up from a long term relationship, Otto was able to channel and crystallise a kaleidoscope of emotions into his debut EP. 


The EP consists of four tracks of contrasting elements. The opening track, Lightbox, begins with a hypnotic arpeggio passage played on a kalimba, capturing the listener into a trance, followed by layers of sound that gradually descend on the main theme. The next track, Who, What, Now, draws heavily from hip-hop, it is embellished with jazz organ and frenetic percussion elements that result in a delightful melange. 


The highlight of the album is no doubt The Lightside, its ethereal ambience lifts one up from the present moment and slowly drops you down into a caldron that seems to suspend in space. The adept layering of sound is further evidence of Sonotto’s skill in experimenting. 


The final track of the album, Rose Leaf, Blossom, consists of the upbeat sound of djembe drum beats and samples of exquisite African choirs. It is further adorned with synth pop elements that sweeten into a celebration of life. 


We had been discussing music for a full two hours and time flew. The EP, Could We Be Closer, is due to be released on the 21st of January, and arrangements are underway for a launch party gig at Art Club Bristol on the 4th of February. I took my leave from Sonotto with a firm shake of hands after being enthralled with an afternoon of engrossing conversation and music.

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