We first came across Sebastian Reynolds in the early days of Joyzine when we were regulars at Oxfordshire’s rather splendid Truckfest and he was playing in local bands including Flights of Helios, Keyboard Choir and The Epstein. In the intervening years he’s introduced us to a swathe of new bands as publicist for the likes of Huck, The Mining Co. and Huguenots.
Today though our interest lies in his solo work, and in particular his new EP Athletics which manages to rather wonderfully combine his twin passions of middle-distance running and ambient synth-led soundscapes. With songs running the gamut from the amateur enthusiast to world record breakers, and featuring guest appearances by BBC commentators Steve Cram and Tim Hutchings, it’s an intriguing peek into a world rarely delved into by musicians.
We caught up with Sebastian to find out more about the tracks that make up the EP.
‘Cheptegei’ was the catalyst for the EP, it’s my first piece of music that is directly inspired by my love of competitive distance running. I’ve been into athletics and all kinds of sport since I was very young but for various reasons ended up going down the route of music as a profession. In August 2020 I happened to be watching the Diamond League athletics fixture from Monaco when the Ugandan runner Joshua Cheptegei, completely out of the blue, broke the 5000 metre world record. The shock and incredulity in the voices of the BBC commentators Steve Cram and Tim Hutchings was really quite something, and I am very grateful to them for having given me permission to use the commentary samples for the track. Cheptegei’s run was pure poetry in motion, but what the track really explores is greatness and that, at any moment, often when we least expect it, something incredible can happen.
The arc of ‘Final Push’ is intended to represent the contrasting mind-states that one experiences during hard training or racing. In these situations, where one is pushing oneself to the limit, one can switch from blissed-out trance-like states through to pure grinding pain, sometimes in a heart-beat. The question remains – what lies beyond pleasure and pain??
Musically I think it works to have a moment of calm after the opening duo, but, given its place in the track list, this pean to the giddy pre-race exhilaration probably should have been called ‘half time’, or ‘quick breather’.
The psychology of sport and competition is fascinating, in the animal kingdom the theory of ‘dominance hierarchy’ commonly known as the pecking order, is the quest amongst competitors to be the Alpha. Competitive running is fuelled by an obsession bordering on the fanatical in terms of times and PBs, one’s place in the hierarchy is defined by one’s best times for whatever distance, a throwback to our evolution as hunter-gatherers, replace pbs for animals killed and how many and the primal attraction to such numerology starts to make sense!
Celebrating the grind.
Contrasting with the jubilant Cheptegei, Four-minute mile is a downbeat closer which celebrates Roger Bannister’s breaking of the four-minute mile at the Iffley Road track in Oxford on 6th May 1954. My father was there with his father on the day, and as much as this piece is a tribute to Bannister and his achievement, it’s just as much a nostalgic hymn to Oxford where I grew up and musically a nod to the great Vangelis (RIP) and his piece ‘Chariots of Fire’.
Athletics is out today – listen and download via all of the usual digital platforms
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Article by Paul Maps
Photograph by Ed Nix