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Hodge on How Gardening Influenced His Debut Album ‘Shadows in Blue’

Turns out that producing music and growing chilies have a lot in common.

It’s no secret that many of TEB’s favorite artists have talents far beyond making beats. Folks like Yu Su and DJ Tennis whip up exquisite home-cooked meals, Manuka Honey is an avid tarot card reader and astrologer, and British DJs anu and Danielle are illustrators. For Jacob Martin AKA Hodge, it’s all about gardening. Sit in the green room with him, as I did during our Boiler Room Budapest event back in March, and it’s only a matter of time before the two of you enter a continuous IPhone scroll of his prized vegetable patches. For Hodge, cultivating crops is a practice that not only keeps him nourished, quells his anxiety during uncertain times, but also inspires his production.

With over 20 EPs under his belt on labels like Livity Sound and Berceuse Heroique, it was inevitable that the British producer would release a long-player. “Shadows In Blue” takes his signature dark, percussive sound into deeper territories, drawing influences from sci-fi books, old prog-rock album covers, old school raves, and most notably, from his “obsession with nature,” as he puts it. In the following personal essay-meets-gardening guidebook, Hodge, resigned to the wave of industry-wide gig cancellations, hunkers down in his home in Bristol and returns to sowing the seeds that initially inspired “Shadows in the Blue”. These are his green thumb tips and tricks.

One thing I’ve always liked doing is relating everything in some way to music, and growing vegetables really fits. When writing music, I will often collect folders of samples before I start or unplug and reorganize everything in my studio. I’ll change the signal paths of my hardware by using different combinations of guitar pedals to get different results. When planning to grow food, there’s a similar type of process. I’ll set up pots and trays in the best spots to get the most light, consider which plants grow well together, and examine ways to utilize space. Just by watering a seed each day you get to watch something grow and equally if I just get in the studio each day and write music or be creative, ideas start to appear.

As I wrote Shadows in Blue, I was just beginning my obsession with nature.

As I wrote Shadows in Blue, I was just beginning my obsession with nature. Last May, I played in Singapore at Headquarters, an underground club tucked away on the water-front, and I had a chance to visit Gardens by the Bay, a 101 hectare nature park which has the largest glass greenhouse in the world. On the grounds, there’s an area known as the Cloud Forest where, under a vast, oval-shaped glass roof, a 138-foot structure stands at the center, covered in plants and accented by a waterfall on one side with intertwining steel bridges. Walking around in what seemed like a simulation of the future, it made me think of humans setting up structures on another planet and growing plants inside big greenhouses to preserve a specific atmosphere. Most of the books I read during that year, by science fiction authors like William Gibson and Octavia E. Butler, evoked a very dystopian or cyberpunk feel, but this felt like an optimistic version of the future. Seeing the sky bridges surrounded by plants all around me felt so utopian and ultimately very inspiring. 

During these months, I’d also moved house and had access to a garden for the first time. The garden had some old broken decking that I fixed for a place to chill on in the summer, planted tomatoes and runner beans, and bought second-hand pots whenever I found them. Since then, I’ve never really stopped changing things in the garden. I’m the type of person that likes rearranging my house all the time to get a different feel. I’m always moving furniture or buying new plants and moving them around and considering different places for them to fit in with the plants I already have. It’s the same with music. When I was writing Shadows In Blue I’d often take parts of old projects and lift stems out to layer with the new, resampling old drums and layering them into a new track. Some of the tracks on the album flow into the others through one continuous sound. It was like making a weird, ever-changing audio puzzle, constantly rearranging sound until it all fit.

Gardening is something everyone can take part in.

Gardening is something everyone can take part in. Even for those who don’t have a garden or outdoor space, window sills in general are amazing to grow vegetables: they work as a sort of greenhouse. Having the saplings inside and behind glass means the temperatures shouldn’t drop at night anywhere near as much as just growing outside. 

For my first time growing last year I chose a bunch of really easy veg to start with and off the back of that experience I’d suggest picking beans, radishes, chillies, carrots, tomatoes, strawberries, salad leaves, and herbs as a good starting point, as well as sprouts and microgreens, which are great all-year-round plants. I personally gravitate towards vegetables that grow above ground, as it’s easier to see what’s going on, and I get more pleasure out of watching them grow. 

To get started with most seeds, use little pots or–for an even more sustainable option–use a toilet roll center, cut and fold the bottom in on itself, filled up with soil. My follow-up tip would be to stand either of these in plastic bags or a plate or bowl on the window sill to prevent the mud from getting everywhere and staining any surfaces. I had to learn this the hard way–and I’m sorry to my partner Emilie for wrecking most of the window sills in our house.

I love growing chilies but they’re a bit more difficult to get started. For the plant to germinate, they need a consistently higher temperature than a lot of other seeds. They tend to take around 3 weeks to sprout, but a tip to help speed up the progress is to place a clear freezer bag over the top to help maintain the temperature levels. Another fun thing with chili plants is that you can change the heat levels in the chilies as the plant grows. Stressing and snapping stems or starving them of water will decrease the yield of chilies, but increase the heat of the chilies that do grow. 

Another one of my favorite beginner vegetables to grow is tomatoes and fortunately, they can also be grown in either pots or grow bags. Growing outside or, at best, a greenhouse will yield better results, but it’s also totally possible to grow these inside. Tomato bush or cherry tomatoes are probably the best for growing inside because the other varieties can grow up to 6-feet tall. But if you want to grow big tomato plants inside, I’m very into that and would like to see photos. 

What most people don’t know is that a majority of store-bought tomatoes are actually picked green and then ripen to red in transit (most actually travel up to 1500 miles until they land at the local supermarket!). Last year, I grew far too many and a large portion of them were green at the end of the season, so I picked them, covered them in boxes with a banana inside, and left them for a week or so. The next time I checked, 90% of them had ripened to red. 

Where these indoor plants are grown is another factor worth considering. I’m lucky to have a south-facing garden and windows–the best direction for the sunlight to hit during a large portion of the day. If your spot doesn’t get enough light, artificial grow lights are not too expensive and always an option. I currently use a grow light on a Ficas tree in my house that’s living in the shadows and it works surprisingly well. 

Another really cool way to grow plants inside other than on window sills is with vertical gardening. I tried this for the first time a few weeks ago and was pretty lazy for my first attempt, in that I bought a pre-made fabric hanging wall. I have little pots inside the 18 pockets, mainly occupied by coriander as it’s my most used herb. My next plan for growing herbs in my kitchen is to put hooks on the ceiling and use tiered hanging planters to use up some of the headspace higher up in the kitchen. 

It’s actually surprising how much growing food has helped my anxiety levels before and throughout this period. Just planting seeds, potting and repotting, finding new places and ways to grow things, and even writing this article about the process makes me feel good. Immersing myself in plants and growing food has opened me up to new ways of thinking. The calming nature of gardening, combined with the patience and attention it needs, helps inspire new approaches to music. It’s like I’m more in touch with a very basic part of life.

Shadows in Blue is out now on Bandcamp.

Caroline Whiteley is an editor at Electronic Beats. Find her on Twitter.

Published April 17, 2020. Words by Jacob Martin.