Free At Last

Off Peak exists as a new collaborative feature between record label 48k and Insert which aims to tap into those recreational tracks that DJs and producers listen to in their down time, giving an insight into the sounds they feel, but don’t fit into a club context. The guidelines for this feature are challenging for the artist but important for instance, a certain portion of the tracks should be from non-male identifying artist and at least 25% created by people of colour.

People who abide by the phrase “Jack of all trades, master of none” clearly have never met Josh Padarathsingh, also known as Free At Last. Josh is a prolific graphic designer and art director—notably the man behind the incredible art direction and design work at NON Worldwide, but also involved in so many more projects than that—as well as a DJ and producer. We met him when he played at our event series, GeoFront, back in August, and he’s been a good friend of the label ever since.

We asked Josh to curate a playlist for us, and true to form, he gave it 110%, turning in a first draft so large that we actually had to ask him to trim it down. The final draft is a deeply personal, expansive playlist begging for repeat listens and ready to soundtrack and elevate an entire day, if you want it. We chatted with Josh about the driving forces behind the playlist, his listening habits while doing design work, and what’s up next for him (as it turns out, quite a lot).

"I don’t envision any context other than being lost."

Do you envision this playlist being listened to in any particular context? Long commute, at work, pre-party, etc.? Was there any sort of unifying theme behind it that you had in mind while constructing it?

I don’t envision any context other than being lost. For me, this mix is an introspective investigation aiding in my ability to feel and relive certain moments of my life.

What’s your favorite track on the list?

Bob Marley – “She’s Gone”.  The only way I can describe it is saudade. As a teenager, I used to rewind and listen to it over and over and over. Sometimes the full song, other times just the first few seconds. The chords send chills down my spine every time.

You told us that you primarily listen to music on YouTube. How do you think that influences your listening and discovery habits, if at all? Do you feel like it gives you more freedom, or do you still feel the creep of the suggestion algorithm?

I’ve discovered so much music through YouTube. I use it like my local record shop, with the algorithm only acting as the tab the store puts in front of the genre—the small photo acting as an album cover. The amount of people who have had access to it over its existence has led to such an amazing collection of sounds from around the world. I love digging through playlists and uploads of music people have ripped from old CDs, vinyl and cassettes. I love reading the comments like “chuuuunnnnnnnnneee” or “ this bring me back to such and such” or “like if you’re still listening in 2011.” Unlike major streaming services, YouTube has so many personal uploads and white label releases that no one would ever have access to, unless they lived in the region and even then were lucky enough to hear it. For me specifically, I love finding 90’s Jungle, Kuduro, 90’s Bubbling tapes, Changa Tuki mixes, 90’s Southern Hip Hop, early Grime instrumentals, UK Drill, Dennery Segment, as well as older music from the West Indian and African diaspora. I’m a huge fan of producers uploading and selling their beats. I browse through them all.

There’s a huge range of dates, movements, and styles on this list; it’s a really expansive list. Was that intentional, or a natural outgrowth of your listening habits (or both)?

It was unintentionally intentional. Everything I do I make personal by default, even if I try not to. All these songs relate back to times, places and people over the course of my life, how they have shaped me and decisions I have made. Some of these memories are pleasant while some are mildly traumatizing. For instance, Eartheater’s “Inclined” reminds me of walking around during a summer trip in Poland a few hours south of Warsaw. The architecture and overall charming decay of the city felt like I was in her song as it buzzed through my headphones. “Heavy Metal” by Headie One reminds me of being in a cab on a wet rainy night, following the windy empty roads of East London. Cocteau Twins – “Alas Dies Laughing” I first heard on the radio of an old paint-covered Ford F-150 driving through Long Island City in the dead middle of winter. I was an apprentice for a painting company at the time and had been feeling so lonely, overworked and tired. I hadn’t seen a friend in months. Sugababes – “Lush Life”, on the contrary, brings me back to a moment full of friends and love. I was with my then-girlfriend sitting in her living room with her best friend. Her friend was playing music and casually played this. I fell in love.

This is our longest Off Peak playlist ever, and the original draft was almost twice as long! What’s your favorite track that didn’t make the cut?

I had to cut about an hour of music! I don’t even know how to choose one.

Young Thug – Daddy’s Birthday
Sugababes – Overload (SMD Remix)
Drexciya – Aqua Worm Hole
M-Beat (ft. Nazlyn) – Sweet Love

We know that you do a lot of design work. Is this the type of playlist you would use to help inspire you? What the creative process behind that?

When I’m designing, I usually don’t listen to music, especially if I’m working by myself. I find the process is overtaken by the way I listen to music. I begin switching genres and moods from track to track, which becomes an investigation of its own. So to combat that, I binge-listen to podcasts: talk shows, stories, documentaries or anything language-based to keep myself company and enrich the visual conversation. That, however, is specifically for design. I also work out of a studio with two close friends, one who is also a designer and the other a filmmaker. When we work together, we listen to a range of things: usually mixes from friends like Asmara, Manara, and Sweyn J are playing, or maybe some ambient music from one of their playlists.

What’s next for you, for Free At Last, for your design practice? Plug whatever you’d like.

Those who know me know I like being busy. Design-wise, I’ve been working with two of my favorite people, Asma Maroof and Prince Will, on their new venture called Stress. I have some designs debuting with the talented designer Mowalola Ogunlesi. I’m designing graphics for my friend cyber69’s burgeoning streetwear line Via Sacra debuting next year as well as doing designs for a few local designers. I’m working with an amazing team comprised of Tim SaccentiHassan Rahim and JS Aurelius on the identity for New Forms Festival 2019 in Vancouver. As for Free At Last, a song came out on the PDA compilation curated by the beautiful and irreplaceable PDA family in London. I am hoping to release some more music this year. Other than that, I just want to work with more friends and make new ones.