Ilias Pitsios talks about Greek underground music, the Beastie Boys and his labels Echovolt and Into The Light

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Ilias Pitsios (aka Dynamons) is the co-founder of the Greek label, Echovolt Records, and Into The Light Records. Based in the beautiful surroundings of Athens, Echovolt has been beaming fresh and versatile waves onto the international club and electronic music scene since 2009. It’s been 4 years since Ilias and celebrated selector Tako Reyenga got together to form Into The Light. Their inaugural compilation of Greek Electronic Music, Classics & Rarities was a sublime introduction to a world of lesser-known musical excellence, which received deserved critical attention. Ilias Pitsios’ DJ sets are rooted in classic and leftfield dance music approaches with a modern and contemporary twist.

Can you talk about how you started in music?

The first thing I can remember is watching my dad make cassette tape compilations with the records he had back then. He was listening to legendary Greek producers like Theodorakis, Hadjidakis, Xarxhakos, and some classic music. But the care he showed, writing down the titles and tracklists by hand on custom-made covers and carefully storing the records back onto the shelves, really drew my attention and taught me a lesson I still carry inside me. I feel that listening to music is something like a ritual. At the age of ten, I bought my very first records. They were strictly hip hop records like Public Enemy, Ultramagnetic MCs, NWA, etc. In high school I got into the punk hardcore thing and then again into hip hop, discovering its roots; funk, soul, disco breaks, etc. So in the late 90s I got my first turntable and basically started as a battle DJ, scratching and doing routines. Then I realised that I was enjoying mixing electro instrumentals from those DJ tool records, and with the help of some online forums I entered into the world of old school electro, Miami bass, etc. Soon I got to know the newer electro production that I never thought existed, and ended up listening to Underground Resistance, which blew me away. The rest you can imagine. I’m trying to license some very rare recordings by the Greek composers my dad used to listen to and somehow it feels like I have returned to my first ever music memory! It’s a full circle!

You run two labels: Echovolt Records and Into The Light. What motivated you to set them up and what kind of music direction do they have?

Currently, I run Echovolt with two great friends of mine, Dimitris and Kostas. The idea came to us during our usual summer vacation on Crete in 2009. I guess it was just a way of doing something music-related that had the potential to be appreciated by more people than just our local circle of friends in Greece. And I guess we kind of reached our goal. We release all kinds of contemporary dance music from our friends, or from random people that we find on Soundcloud. I run Into The Light with Tako Reyenga of Redlight Records, Amsterdam. We debuted with an official double vinyl compilation featuring obscure Greek electronics from the 80s. Into the Light still specializes in Greek producers, some of them already famous but with a vast unreleased material, and some of them completely unknown even in my hometown, but with equally interesting material. By running those two labels I feel that I have found a balanced way to release almost all kinds of music that I love.

Can you talk about how you structure your DJ sets?

It always depends on the party I DJ at, but whenever I have the freedom I try to tell a story. Actually, it’s funny that you are asking, because I recently realised that the Check Your Head album by the Beastie Boys really played a big role in terms of structure. I know that the connection might sound weird to many people, but it used to be (and still is) my favourite Beastie album because of its diversity. I always have that album on my mind whenever I play.

Into The Light was inaugurated by the compilation, Greek Electronic Music, Classics & Rarities. Can you talk about it?

I had not heard most of the records until Tako, with whom I run the label, played them to me. Tako knew those records from a friend he had in Athens called Petros, who unfortunately passed away. The Into The Light compilation is dedicated to him, as we kind of only know all of that stuff through him. After Tako left Greece, I kind of got obsessed with those obscure Greek records and started digging alone again and found more. I felt that I had to do something with those records, especially when I realised that almost nobody in Greece really knew about them, with a few exceptions of course. It was a procedure that lasted almost a year, but it was really worth it!

The Greek electronic scene is not widely known. Can you talk about some of the clubs/labels/artists worth mentioning? What is the state of the club/arts scene in Greece nowadays? How has it been affected by the financial crisis?

I think art and social life are pretty vibrant right now. I have noticed that more and more people are trying to be creative and do something for the public good in general. It is kind of reasonable I guess, in a period of crisis, that more and more people are trying to be more creative. The club scene is also quite good. There are less proper clubs and venues left but the quality of events is not bad at all. It’s funny to say but I’m not really a club type of guy. I have also noticed that the level of producers and DJs is getting higher and higher. Some new record labels have popped up recently as well. Check out the amazing Teranga Beat, Modal AnalysisLower Parts, or Insi. As for record stores, that’s a different story. Only a few are left, unfortunately. But there is always the flea market every Sunday, and a few second hand record stores, which are always fun to visit!

 

Budapest duo Céh unveil a new video

Off is the first single from Céh’s second long-player Love Song Demon, out soon on Evocative Objects. Budapest based noise rock duo Céh is something of a minimalist punk experiment, a collision of two worlds: Raymond Kiss’ visceral guitar and Gábor Kovács’ rough and rugged electronic sounds and intense vocal presence. The outcome is an amalgam of noise rock, industrial punk and delightfully crude drum programming. The band’s debut Youth is Impossible was released in 2015 by the Hungarian art collective Brain Fatigue. Céh is one of the SHAPE projects playing at the upcoming Les Siestes Electroniques festival in Toulouse, France. Watch the video for the single, involving lot of coffee making, below.

Waclaw Zimpel: ‘Where can we be free, if not in art?’

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Waclaw Zimpel is a classically educated Polish clarinetist. He studied classical clarinet at the Akademia Muzyczna w Poznaniu (Music Academy of Poznań) and at the Hochschule für Music und Theater, Hannover. He has collaborated with a wide range of musicians including Ken Vandermark, Bobby Few, and Perry Robinson. He has been active in several ensembles and projects including Hera, which consisted of Polish musicians Paweł Szpura, Paweł Postaremczak, and Ksawery Wójciński from Poznań and Warsaw. The ensemble aimed to research the roots of improvisation: liturgical music, Indian traditions, African trance. His project, Saagara, relies on a powerful rhythm crafted by the instruments of southern India such as ghatam, khanjira, or thavil (a drum hitherto used mostly during Hindu rituals). Another project of his is LAM. In this trio – which also includes Krzysztof Dys on piano and Hubert Zemler on drums – the main inspiration is the work of American minimalists.

What have you been up to recently?

The biggest project right now is a film score for a Polish movie that I’m working on with my band, LAM. Besides this, we started a duo with [2016 SHAPE artist] Kuba Ziolek of Stara Rzeka with whom I perform as Zimpel/Ziolek. We’re releasing our first album on Polish label Instant Classic. In autumn, we’ll be playing a lot of concerts with LAM, and I would like to change our music a little bit.

You frequently collaborate with other musicians.

Actually, less so than before because ever since I recorded my solo album I’ve started playing a lot of solo concerts. But, of course, playing with other musicians is still my main interest. I’m probably more focused than beforehand, when I couldn’t tell how many groups I would be involved in exactly. Right now my main collaborations are Saagara – my Indian group with South Indian musicians – and my Polish trio LAM. And there’s also the duo with Kuba Ziołek.

Can you talk about how you became interested in various non-European musical traditions?

I was studying Western classical music, which is a really restricted musical tradition. As it’s taught nowadays, there’s no room for improvisation. Especially in 20th century classical music, there’s an emphasis on intellectual content in music. I was really tired by this. Emotionally, I felt much more connected to folk traditions which were more about the body and emotions. There’s dance and rhythm in every folk tradition. There’s a lot of amazing spiritual traditions – especially in the East – like for example the honkyoku tradition of the shakuhachi flute from Japan, which has been a big inspiration to me. All this was much closer to what I was interested in. I didn’t only want to focus on the theoretical, intellectual aspects of music, but wanted to be much closer to the human perspective. That’s why I started to become interested in folk traditions and tried to adapt certain techniques to my musical vocabulary. Right now, I’m also searching within the vocabulary of electronic music.

In your biography, trance is mentioned as one of the elements that you’re interested in. There are perhaps some parallels between traditional and electronic music in terms of trance.

I think that electronic music – especially the club scene – is like contemporary urban ritual music. Trance is really interesting to me. On many different levels, I’m searching for it in all my projects. The most magical thing which comes out of long-term repetition of melodic and rhythm patterns, is a certain suspension of time. While playing or listening, you lose the sense of time. You don’t know where it starts and when it ends.

How do you choose which traditions to adapt to your musical lexicon?

It has been my regular practice to search for different traditions, and to try to adapt them. In the beginning I was taking everything I found along the way, whereas right now I’m more rational in my choices. I’m trying to understand what tool I could use to make my expression richer, depending on what suits my style and instruments. Sometimes, a new instrument can be very haunting. I buy it and learn its different logic, and try to transpose it to the clarinet. But anyway, this is a kind of lifestyle, and probably my main musical practice, which helps me to develop my language.

When I moved to Warsaw almost 9 years ago, I met people who were into Polish folk. This was very refreshing to me. When I was in elementary school, Polish folk music had a very bad reputation. ‘Folkish’ was used as an expression when you played out of tune. Music teachers used to say: “Oh, you sound like a folk musician”. It was very pejorative. I discovered this music for myself around a decade ago and realised that there’s also a lot of trance in Polish traditions, for instance in the traditional Polish dances: azurka and oberek. The dancers constantly rotate. It reminds me a little bit of the dervish dances. One song can take up to twenty minutes or half an hour at weddings and other dance parties. In parallel to that, I also discovered Ukrainian folk music, with its polyphonic singing, which was also a big inspiration, and I also started to listen to African music, especially gnawa. Years later I had an opportunity to meet the great Mallem Mukhtar Gania, brother of Mahmud Gania, from a big family of Gnawa masters. We played quite a lot of concerts together. They call gnawa the trance Sufi music, with the emphasis on trance. This is also where the blues came from. When I was learning classical music in elementary school, aged 13 and 14, I also began to play mouth harmonica. This was something from another world, revisiting the blues masters such as Sony Boy Williamson II, Sonny Terry, and John Lee Hooker. John Lee Hooker’s blues forms are very basic, and it’s also about trance. Blues was the first tradition that I could really relate to much more than classical music. Later on, I discovered John Coltrane and the jazz tradition. I also listened to Hindustani music, trying to adapt some ideas from Indian music to mine, but it was very difficult from the theoretical point of view. I was adapting certain moods more than particular tools. We were trying to do this with my former band, Hera. Later on I went to Bangalore to study Indian classical music, where I got introduced to a Carnatic system, which is much more restricted and rhythmic than Hindustani music. I started studying this amazing musical form. It’s totally different to what I had learned before and it’s very inspiring. There are different traditions. Some are very intuitive, and some are very complex and difficult to understand, like Indian classical music.

These days, there’s an increasing interest in global music. Your approach seems to be a more respectful one, not an orientalising one though.

I don’t want to judge anybody, but for sure there are these situations where collaborations between cultures take place only because those two cultures are in one studio or on one stage, and there’s no real understanding of each other. To me, it’s definitely very interesting to go deep and understand what it really is about. Especially with these huge traditions, like the Carnatic, which is more than 5,000 years old and has particular, very complex musical codes that you need to spend a lot of time studying. When a certain culture is that old, it’s necessary to dedicate a lot of time trying to understand what was invented by hundreds of musical generations.

Can you talk about your project, Hera?

It was probably one of my most important bands in the past. We started playing shortly after I moved to Warsaw. It was more or less at the same time when I started my collaboration with Ken Vandermark, from whom I learned a lot, especially how to compose in improvisation. Hera was about transgressing our own limitations as improvisers and also about trance. All of us were big fans of Coltrane. This kind of energy was close to us. Our first album was very much in the free jazz tradition, with many other influences. Actually, I was adding some melodies from Gregorian chants, for example, and some kind of Slavic folk melodies. After the first album, we became more interested in rhythm. We were meeting and practising different rhythms. We found some kind of trance patterns, which we developed together. We also recorded with Hamid Drake, the Chicago jazz drummer, who as a musician and person was very important to us. We had a lot of fantastic musical experiences. I think we had the best time as a group in 2011, when we recorded our second album, Where My Complete Beloved Is.

Were you also inspired by the rich Polish jazz history?

For sure I was. The music of Komeda, Stanko, or Seifert was very important to me. I’ve always been a big fan of very personal music that was not trying to be something else than it is. These kind of qualities can be found in the music of the above artists. However, as much as I admire certain musicians, I’ve always had a problem with jazz education. Right now it has started to change, but when I was in high school it was very orthodox, in a bad way. Many musicians started treating music theory like a religious cult. They would go crazy if you improvised without using the old techniques. For them, to be able to play free jazz, you would first have to prove that you can play Charlie Parker’s licks. To me this is totally absurd. I have a huge respect for old traditions as long as you treat them as a source of vocabulary to express yourself, and not as religion. I think there isn’t one way of doing things in art. Of course, it is very important to have knowledge, because it might give you a wider perspective, but after all, free expression is the most important thing to me, beyond styles and limitations. Where can we be free, if not in the arts?

Is it hard to find your own way since you have a vast knowledge of many traditions?

Learning traditions other than Western classical music was a way to find my own language. I think it is very much about how you treat other traditions. When you look at them as a source of possibilities, it can be very inspiring and thought provoking. But if you want to realize those traditions exactly how they are, it might be crippling. After my classical music experience, I knew I didn’t want to become a classical performer of other cultures. You probably cannot find a sitarist playing Mozart; being European and trying to become a Carnatic player might likewise be impossible. I grew up in the Western classical music environment. One the one hand, it was great and it developed my musicianship. But when you have ambitions and you go to schools, teachers automatically send you to competitions, you have to play all the exams, etc. It is a very competitive circle. The most difficult was to relax and get rid of certain ideas that I had been taught. Later on, I understood that it is not how music should be. A competitive atmosphere is not for the arts. Artists shouldn’t have to prove how great they are.

You also received state awards. How did this state recognition feel?

It’s a great feeling when somebody recognizes your music. One of my goals is to be in touch with the audience, maybe because of this folk music experience, which is very much for people. I want to feel like a folk musician who is playing for the people, and these awards give you more opportunities to play.

Culture politics is changing right now all over the world, marked with cuts in arts funding, right-wing politics, etc. This has been the case in Poland as well, I presume. 

It influences culture right now. What politicians are doing to the arts is really sad. A lot of great, interesting contemporary activities were stopped due to funding cuts, because they weren’t aligned with the new right-wing Ministry of Culture. Lots of great theatres are experiencing hard times, not only because of finances, but also due to the replacement of directors by more or less anonymous people without experience. These people are dealing with culture in Poland right now, and it’s very sad on many different levels. It’s also about changing the jurisdiction of many institutions. Thankfully, there are still some organizations that have retained their old staff and who are experienced in working with international cultural circles, but it’s getting more and more difficult. Right now, if you want to be honest to yourself, very often you have to be completely financially independent.

How do you see the future?

It’s a difficult question. I want to see the future positively, but to be honest I see it in rather dark colours. I definitely want to do what I do no matter what is around me in terms of politics. Changes are happening so fast right now that I don’t know where they will stop, or whether they’ll stop. In general the mood is dark, not only in Poland, but in the whole world, as everybody knows. I think the world is running towards a massive destruction.

Chlorys mix for NTS Live

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Listen to a new SHAPE mix by Romanian DJ Chlorys, created for the London based radio station NTS Live.

Chlorys is a DJ, visual artist and soon-to-be-cyborg based in Bucharest. After only one year of trekking through the murky & engulfing waters of electronic music, Chlorys is already a member of the Queer Night family of DJs. During this relatively short time span, she played alongside Lena Willikens, Borusiade, Khidja, Holy Fix, Utopus, L-Vis 1990 etc. and was part of the Rokolectiv Festival 2016 roster. Her music selection spans from electronica, disco, minimal and beyond. She situates herself (or not) everywhere in-between or outside of the genre-formula, letting herself be seized by the limbo currents into undisclosed territories. Incorporating a background in visual arts,  Chlorys emphasizes on a multi and interdisciplinary approach to music and is concerned about socio-political context. All those interests led her to be a contributor to Bucharest based The Attic Magazine for sonic and visual investigations. Noticing the need for an inclusive local (and international) electronic music scene, as of late 2016, she and other female-identified musicians (Admina, Cosima Von Bülove from Raze de Soare, Hipdiebattery & others) have started a platform and a studio called Corp. whose aim is to promote and encourage female musicians by offering them the space and time where they can exercise and outperform themselves.

Track list:

Unit Moebius – Track 7
Nona Inescu reciting Margaret Atwood x Jim Nollman – Cello and Wolf Pack
Eric Satie – Six Gnossiennes III x Circles – Mental Dart
Masahiko Togashi & Isao Suzuki – Creatures In The Deep Blue Sea
Laurie Anderson – Speak My Language
J D Emmanuel – Expanding into the Universe
Rudiger Lorenz – Forgotten Island
Milton Bradley – Psychological Drama
Sissel Wincent – Investigation
Australopitecus Oltensis – Pre (forthcoming on Future Nuggets)
Chris Carter – Electrodub
Telectu – Minimal II
Monte Cazazza – Climax
Rude 66 – Untitled x Vangelis Katsoulis – Earth Beat
Alien Community – A Long and Perilous Voyage (Part 9)
Giuliano Sorgini – Ultima Caccia x Anna Caragnano – & Donato Dozzy – Fraledune
Coil – The Sea Priestess
Cluster – Der Wanderer

Click here to sift through previous collaborations between SHAPE and NTS.

Gabey Tjon a Tham talks about exploring the natural side of technology

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Gabey Tjon a Tham (NL) transforms spaces into a sensory environment through kinetic machines, light and sound. She observes simple behaviours and patterns in nature from where she extracts and assembles fundamentals. Her work explores relationships between humankind, nature and technology where unpredictable processes, conflict and harmony are important subjects. She develops techniques, invents mechanical sculptures that embed different materials and perform at different poetic levels. Hereby choreographies that have both a mechanical and natural character arise. In every work, the elements are constantly evolving thus demanding patience and attentiveness to fully reveal themselves. They invite us to wonder at, contemplate, and investigate. With each work she aims to create immersive spaces where we can experience how the world touches us.

The patterns in your work are quite organic. Can you talk about your inspiration from nature?

Even though my works evoke strong associations with natural phenomena, it’s not my aim to simulate these. I like to explore their underlying structures that can be understood from a more fundamental level and can be present in us as humans, technology and nature. Processes that are found at moments of inception or subsiding and not necessarily found in pretty flowers, majestic trees or bold landscapes. But rather in the minor, tentative, hidden and ephemeral: things so subtle and evanescent that they are invisible to unrefined eyes.

I’m interested in questioning what nature is as our relationship with nature is changing. Untouched nature is almost nowhere to be found as ‘we have been here’ echoes all over. We are living in a time in which the ‘made’ and the ‘born’ are fusing. While the old, current aspects of nature, such as trees, plants, animals, atoms and climate are increasingly controlled by mankind, effectively turned into a cultural category. At the same time our technological environment becomes so complex and uncontrollable that we start to relate to it as a new kind of nature. Where technology and nature are traditionally seen as opposed to each other, they now appear to merge or even trade places.

Can you describe the process of your work? How do you translate ideas into concrete works? 

Usually I delve into a certain topic for a longer period of time, which can take up to a few years. I’m gathering different perspectives through theoretical, technical and material research that results in one or multiple installations. Usually an idea for a new work starts with a familiar, but still unclear image of a space that serves as a point of departure. This can be a colour, form, a sound that evokes a certain atmosphere.

The digital and physical material I’m working with are a combination of high and low technologies that are quite elementary and don’t have a significant meaning yet. Like a motor, speaker or LED. Each work is like inventing a new medium or an instrument that has a logic on its own for which I have to develop a new vocabulary. I keep track of my research and development on my blog, which is more of a personal source of ideas, preliminary sketches for the installations I have made so far and want to make in the future.

During the process of creation the content develops along the way where I’m trying to apprehend my medium by forming the material with the image I have in mind, but also allow space for unpredictable behaviour of the material to happen. It often doesn’t want what I want it to do. In this way I form my material, but the material also guides me during the process. I consider my material as a kind of nature which allows me to construct a microecology that serves as a mirror to ourselves and the world around us. The final work becomes something that goes beyond this initial image that I was talking about. It is an experience that triggers the imagination of the spectator, rather than something that needs to be understood.

Can you describe it on a concrete work of yours, for instance, the installation Red Horizon, commissioned by TodaysArt & MoTA?

In Red Horizon, I continued to develop the techniques and mechanics that I have used in ))))) repetition at my distance to explore new expressions of light, sound and movement by using different materials and ways of use. The image of a swarm consisting of white particles creating geometrical and organic forms in a dark space motivated me to create new work. During a one month residency at MoTA I developed the first prototypes for Red Horizon where I made three kinetic/light/sound sculptures that control a set of groups differently.

I was looking for another way to make a composition in time for an installation that consists of multiple entities. Instead of controlling the units separately, I wanted to create a system that controls them from a meta-level by setting simple rules of boundaries for them to move freely, which also made them more unpredictable. In ))))) repetition at my distance the composition is linear and has a clear beginning and an end and I wanted to break this cycle by developing a system that directs itself and keeps evolving.

My point of departure for Red Horizon was working with complex and emergent systems that were inspired by theories of early cybernetics – a transdisciplinary science from the 40s exploring the control of biological and mechanical systems. In the end, I made different pieces that created complexity through delays in the timing of the speed and directions of the motors, the brightness and flickering of the LEDs and the spatiality of the sound source. Also, I was wondering if complex behaviour could be present in a mechanical system and ended up with bringing the ‘white particles’ that I had in mind into motion with a double pendulum. What makes this mechanism special is that the second arm always behaves unpredictably although it depends on how the first is controlled by a motor. The second arm turns together with the first and therefore generates a chaotic behaviour, which creates the natural character of the work. In Red Horizon, each arm of the pendulum contains a white light and a small speaker that moves along the unpredictability of the mechanism and draws these after images in your eyes.

What are some of the biggest challenges in your work?

Often each work consists of materials and techniques that I’m not really familiar with. Many of the elements have to be custom made, since that particular mechanical part, electronic circuit or piece of software programme doesn’t exist and has to be build. It’s a challenging, but also exciting journey spending hours browsing the internet, learning tutorials, exchanging knowledge and working with engineers and fellow artists. I guess many new media artists share this way of working and also the art community in the Hague is a great place to meet and collaborate with creative people coming from various different fields.

What role do humans and humanity play in your work, also in relation to the Anthropocene/post-Anthropocene context?

Even though our daily lives are controlled by complex digital technologies it’s difficult to grasp their inner workings, because of their ambiguous character. In my work I’m interested in exploring the natural side of technology more, which is not based on ideas of a society driven by efficiency, innovation and exponential growth. I try not to see humans as the anti-natural species that merely threatens and eliminates nature, but rather as catalysts of evolution. What drives us to invent technologies to design our environment?

What are you currently working on & planning?

I’m currently working on some scale models for sound sculptures that explore feedback loops and hope to realise one of these on a bigger scale. It is part of a research that I started during the 10-day residency ‘how do we save time?’ at Timelab in Ghent last November. I wanted to work on ideas for a new installation that explore a different perspective on technology that is not driven by efficiency and with a different use of time that is closer to natural processes and human experiences of time.

I made the first model for an interactive two-channel sound installation where two seats incorporating one speaker each are positioned opposite one another. Each seat has its own sound source of a bird flapping its wings. A natural rhythm that will only work when two people are sat down, which closes the ‘loop’ and connects them through a shared experience by processing the two sounds coming from each chair through a custom-made effect where its output is fed back into its input and therefore changing the sound continuously.

For this research I was influenced by the ideas of mathematician and philosopher Leibniz (1646-1716). He devised the modern binary number system, which is the foundation of virtually all digital computers and was considered as the patron saint of Cybernetics. His ideas were of great influence on the origins of our digital universe and therefore the beginning of the development of our information society.

In contrast to efficiency, Leibniz’ binary system was inspired by the Chinese philosophy I Ching, the book of changes. It described a microcosm of the universe through a symbolic construction of the processes driving change. What struck me was that he found some sort of confirmation for his theories in I Ching’s depiction of the universe as a progression of contradicting dualities, a series of on-off, yes-no possibilities, such as dark-light and male-female, which formed the complex interaction of life and consciousness. I noticed I felt more connected to Leibniz’ ideas, rather than the applications of his binary system today. We both have the motivation to construct a universal language through scientific and metaphysical concepts that comprise life and consciousness.

www.gabeytjonatham.com

By Lucia Udvardyova

Photos: SHAPE with Inga Mauer & Apeiron Crew at MeetFactory

Prague’s MeetFactory hosted SHAPE again as part of their regular open studio night Public House (this time connected to the Museum Night). SHAPE’s de facto headquarters invited some of the best new DJ’s out there – Copenhagen trio Apeiron Crew and Inga Mauer whose discerning music taste has been making waves as of late. The music side of things was preceded by a lecture from Dennis DeSantis about creative strategies for electronic music producers. DeSantis is the Head of Documentation at Ableton, musician and author of the book Making Music: 74 Creative Strategies for Electronic Music Producers.

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Photos by: Derek Halsey and Richard Hodonicky

Apeiron Crew discuss DJing, club politics and Copenhagen music scene

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DJ trio Apeiron Crew, founded in Copenhagen, is made up of Danish natives Sara Svanholm, and Simone Øster, and Scottish export Emma Blake. The three are likewise respectively considered as solo artists, and known under their individual aliases Mama Snake, Smokey, and Solid Blake. The three became mutually associated through a steady and ongoing contribution to the Copenhagen techno scene, noted for their active passion for the underground electronic environment and the ability to utilise divergent tastes into a unifying force. Since 2014 the three have worked their music motives together throughout the city, from their residence at Culture Box to throwing one-off secret location events and holding down regular radio slots for the masses. Apeiron Crew hold an incredibly enthusiastic approach to DJing, encompassing the intensity and flare of the underground after party potential throughout every set.

Can you talk about your beginnings – what are your individual backgrounds and how did you meet?

Mama Snake: We were all introduced to the Copenhagen clubbing scene through pretty different music styles and parties. I think I got into electronic music and club culture when I was in high school and went deeper into it after I graduated. I went to a lot of different parties with music from all around the spectrum and finally found my haven within the techno and house scene, which is also where and how we met – Emma and I worked in a record shop together and I met Simone through Emma, because they had met at the legendary club, Dunkel, a few years before.

Solid Blake: During the madness of my teenage years, I was introduced to some great music and an amazing scene in Glasgow. My friends there helped me to discover a lot of stuff that still influences me today. After I moved to Denmark, I wanted to make sure I was in similar surroundings. I was lucky enough to meet a bunch of interesting and talented people pretty quickly, including Sara and Simone, who I love playing with as Apeiron Crew and very much admire, as well as Troels Knudsen (Ctrls), who I’ve been making music with for the past few years as Historical Repeater.

Smokey: I’m from the outskirts of Denmark and I spent quite some time, during my teenage years, attending and organising illegal rave parties. I was also digging for electronic music at the library as I seemed to be the only one into it. That interest carried me to Copenhagen, where I was immediately swirled into the scene and have been more or less a fixture for the past 8 years, both as a promoter at Culture Box and Strøm Festival, and as a DJ. Before I got really involved with Emma and Sara, I’d known Emma vaguely through the scene and we once met at Sonar Festival in 2013 (at the Karenn live show I believe). We were SO excited to randomly meet there and decided that when we come back we should be friends for real!

You also play individually. How do your individual sets differ from when you play together?

Mama Snake: When we are playing by ourselves, we get to present exactly what we are into at the moment as individuals. My strongest love goes out to techno – these days especially to the faster, trance inspired stuff since I have played a lot of closing or after hour sets around Copenhagen where that tends to fit in really well. But I do also love house, which I never really get to play when we DJ as a crew since Emma and Simone are not always feeling my cheesy and/or deeper tracks. So I can’t bother them with that when we play together, haha.

Smokey: I like your cheese, Snake! I’ve been doing the warm ups a bit lately, which I really like actually. I like to play a slower, bassy, percussion flavoured selection these days.

Solid Blake: At the moment I’m going through a bit of a transitional period with my own style of DJing. Part of that is borne from the fact we’re switching up how we do things as a crew, but I’m also seeing this year as an important pivotal point in my own approach to music. Working on live sets recently has helped me to better understand what I want to deliver with a DJ set, and the same is true in reverse. I still have a lot of work to do before I get close to the vision I have for either of these things, but the process of getting there is very rewarding.

Can you talk about how you structure your DJ set when you play together? Do you talk about your music selections beforehand? Have you ever been surprised by one another’s track selection?

Mama Snake: DJing as a crew doing b2b2b sets is sort of like being in a band. When you don’t meet up ahead of a gig and practise it doesn’t always turn out how you want it to. Getting busier with our studies and work has made it more difficult. We thus started dividing our long sets a bit more to keep the crew vibe, but with a bit more of the unique Solid Blake, Smokey, or Mama Snake approaches.

Smokey: Yeah, this has actually worked out fine. You could imagine that we all wanted to do the closing set, but agree pretty easily on that. Have I been surprised? Oh boy, yes.

Solid Blake: I love the challenge of a b2b for fun, but I do think when we’re doing this professionally we have to make sure the set is coherent and interesting to everyone in the club. When we’re being booked to play for a crowd who have paid to be there, it’s not about us having fun really, but of course it’s great that we usually manage to do so anyway. For that reason, the b2b will be reserved for extra special occasions, to make sure we know the kind of music we collectively want to present to an audience.

Collectives have been a force in the history of underground music, Underground Resistance with their collective vision as being one of the best examples. What would you say is Apeiron Crew’s collective vision/stance in the context of club culture?

Mama Snake: To keep moving forward I guess. We never sat down and defined what we do and I don’t think we need to. I think it’s important to constantly improve your mixing skills and spend time on finding new music. In the context of club culture, I like to play more liberating and left wing clubs and parties that seek to create spaces for people who don’t necessarily feel welcome in the norms that society sets. To DJ was never intended as a political project of mine, but you can’t ignore the fact that it has a strongly political aspect, and recently I have explored this more. I mean, Trump is the fucking president and the UK is leaving the EU, so we all need to get involved in one way or another. I hope this is something we as a crew can do somehow. We have been put in this position of being part of a movement that promotes women in music by a lot by magazines, journalists and online forums, without this being an intentional goal of ours, but I feel that we should live up to that and take on the task. We have talked a lot about not exploiting some good cause to further our own careers within music, but I think everyone should contribute to make the environment in electronic music more welcoming, especially if you are in a position to do so.

There has been a lot of talk about creating inclusive, open-minded safe spaces on the dance floor as a reaction to the status quo. Do you strive for something like that?

Mama Snake: 110%. Even though this is something that is strongly enforced at most of the events we are a part of, some people still, unfortunately, experience harassment of some sort. A friend of mine who also participated in a podcast about techno feminism made a valid point, that sadly the problem goes way beyond club culture and is based in how our society works, so changing things within club culture only is in some way trivial since it does not necessarily affect the bigger picture. That being said, I think it’s still precious and extremely important to at least be able to go out and to be freed from whatever shit’s going on in your life, even if it’s only for one night. You have to at least try to make your surroundings better, even if it only changes something in the habitat you live in.

Solid Blake: I can’t imagine anyone I know disagreeing with the principle of having inclusive, open-minded, and safe spaces. The difficulty seems to come from the fact that people will always have differing ideas of what that actually means and how to achieve it. To me, the pursuit of some utopian ideal of nightlife is misguided. The process has to be ongoing – you can’t just write a manifesto and fix the issues in your scene. That said, attendees, promoters, staff, and artists being respectful to one another should be up there as one of the most important indicators of an event’s success.

Can you talk about the scene in Copenhagen? The city is known as the base of the noise/experimental label, Posh Isolation, but we perhaps know less about the city’s dance scene. Is there cross-pollination between the various music scenes?

Mama Snake: To be honest I love talking about the scene in Copenhagen since I am so proud and happy to be part of it! Since the city is quite small there is definitely pollen being shared and spread amongst the different scenes. You mention Posh Isolation, who are actually friends of ours that, for instance, celebrated their birthday this year with a 2-day bender with experimental, noise, and techno acts (myself included). For sure there’s a lot of love going around for each others’ projects even though they don’t necessarily fit into your own taste in every facet. The dance music scene is thriving with new labels, club nights, off-venue raves, and the newly opened Percy Records, where we can all meet during the week to spend way too much money on the great records the owner curates. Copenhagen is kind of a secret rave heaven these days. Crews like Fast Forward Productions do collaborations with crews from all around Europe to showcase the best of techno from our hometown and abroad. Twin Cities do amazing house music parties, and there are secret raves done by Et Andet Sted (“another place” in Danish) at the old vegetable market and open airs on the artificial island in the middle of the city called Refshaleøen.

Solid Blake: I often think about how lucky I was to end up in Copenhagen and be part of such a lively scene for its size. There’s a lot of interesting stuff going on, but the city is not totally saturated with too many parties. A new venue, event, or label popping up generally still has the space to be celebrated in the scene.

Can you talk about your label, Ectotherm?

Mama Snake: Ectotherm is a techno label I started with Courtesy last year, spawned from being surrounded by a bunch of talented people in Copenhagen. It’s definitely a representation of the Copenhagen sound these days, with our signees Schacke, Rune Bagge, and IBON being active DJs in the scene for many years. They’re now also starting to play more international gigs, spreading the sound just as we intended. Running a label puts a different perspective on the electronic music industry and is definitely a way for me to stay connected with the scene, to secure my future within it.

What are you up to next?

Mama Snake: I’m graduating from medical school this winter, which means adapting to a new life, trying to fit in the gigs when I’m not working the night shift on weekends. Changing from one kind of night job to another I guess, haha. We have a bunch of exciting gigs coming up this year, from Optimo 20 in Glasgow to some really interesting festivals through the SHAPE platform including the UH Fest in Budapest. I’m really looking forward to that one, since I also have some friends there that I am excited to visit. Ectotherm keeps on growing with new releases lined up from our Copenhagen crew, and our monthly show on NTS continues with guest mixes from friends and family, which is a lovely way of showcasing the various aspects of your music taste and those of others outside of a club environment.

Smokey: I am doing my BA in Spatial Design at The Royal Academy of Fine Arts and Design here in Copenhagen, so I am very busy with that. It is my number one priority, to be frank. I’m not doing many solo gigs beyond Apeiron Crew, which is nice actually. I really like going on wee tours with these nutters. My 28 year-old body and mind just demands more peace than earlier. Just gotta respect that.

Solid Blake: As well some pretty special Apeiron Crew gigs coming up throughout the second half of the year, I’m working hard on my own music both for live sets and future releases after my first full EP that’s coming out on Glasgow label Outer Zone at the start of July. Gig-wise, I’m very much looking forward to playing live at Roskilde Festival at the end of June. Attending the festival seems to be a rite of passage for young people in Denmark, so being asked to play there was a huge honour.

By Lucia Udvardyova

Franck Vigroux: ‘My music is the result of desire’

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Franck Vigroux is both a musician and a director. As a composer-performer he has the rare capacity to produce a very wide range of sounds from electroacoustic to industrial noise, modern composition and experimental electronic music. He has performed and recorded with internationally renowned musicians such as Mika Vainio (Pan Sonic), Reinhold Friedl, Elliott Sharp, Joey Baron, Zeena Parkins, Ars nova ensemble instrumental. The uniqueness also comes from Vigroux’s artistic approach that integrates new media and performing arts. Since 2009 he has designed trans-disciplinary shows and collaborates with Compagnie D’autres Cordes, a production agency dedicated to performing arts. His work has been presented worldwide at major international festivals. Recently, he’s developed audiovisual performances Centaure (with Kurt d’Haeseleer) and Ruines (with Félicie d’Estienne d’Orves, Kurt d’Haeseleer, Cyrille Henry and many others).

Can you talk about your musical background?

I played in a lot of different bands as a guitarist, from metal when I was young to free improv. I had the chance to explore a wide range of styles and to meet and work with amazing musicians. I have tried to always be curious an open to all music and arts.

You also work as a director in the performance context. How did this interest develop?

It came when I started to work on radio pieces using spoken word, then on my own videos and finally as a musician in performing arts. I learned how to make music with text, images and moving bodies – a different approach to composition and improvisation. Finally I started to create my own performances with music and other disciplines; something I like to call “electronic opera” or Gesamtkunstwerk.

A certain dramatic aspect is important?

Absolutely, otherwise music doesn’t need anything else.

Your music can be quite raw and direct. Can you describe your sonic aesthetic?

Most of my music is based on the mix of beats, noise, drones, polyphonic sounds. Some of it is harsh, but not all of it. I’ve even released a solo guitar album recorded with just guitar, playing a kind of blues in my own way. This was actually the first music I learnt as a teenager.

When you work as a director – I guess it’s a different approach to direction.

As a director I have quite a precise idea how I want the performance to look like and what it has to talk about. Also my overall responsibility is to write something coherent in collaboration with other artists. The people I work with like video artists, choreographers, dancers, singer or playwrights are chosen carefully because they have a huge influence on the final result. The combination of our works creates something special.

One of your videos, Centaure, for instance, features advertising messages juxtaposed with CCTV crime footage. Is the message of the video something you also agree with?

Yes, the video concept is clear “there’s something wrong here” .

Does your music express some sort of dark Zeitgeist?

Maybe, even though I don’t think it’s so dark. What does dark mean? I live in a very coloured world and I’m an optimistic person when it comes to many subjects.

How do you make music?

My music is the result of desire. I first create sounds, I select them and then I play with this material. My way of working is very intuitional. I don’t have some sort of concept even if there’s always a certain logic in my music. I explore sounds and forms and all possibilities of creating music and visuals together.

What projects are you currently working on?

I’m working on two projects – a new one with Antoine Schmitt, an audiovisual performance called Chronostasis, which is based on the concept of time reversibility. I’m also writing and directing a new production with dancers, video artists, automata, called Flesh. The project is about a man having a car crash, feeling no pain but entering a mentally unknown dimension. It’s very immersive. For instance, we work on perception effects. Flesh is the third part of a performance trilogy I started in 2012 with Aucun Lieu and Ruines. It will be premiered in March 2018.

How important is technology for your work?

I always try to be curious and try out new tools. The role of technology is only to serve a purpose.

Could you talk about your multimedia project Tempest?

The initial concept was to work with noise as a visual and as sound, a kind of cosmic Tempest. Antoine Schmitt and I are playing on a musical structure. We are observing each other, there’s no technological interaction, only human communication. Antoine works with 10,000 pixels which he controls live. There still a good deal of improvisation in that performance. We’ve been playing it for 4 years and it’s constantly improved.

What is your relationship with visuals in general? There are musicians who don’t like visuals when playing live.

When I do solo or group concerts I don’t want any kind of visuals. It’s the same if I’m in the audience. I don’t like video tapestry or any kind of adverts behind the musicians. Doing a live with visuals means to do a real work of cowriting with visual artists or programmers. It’s what I did with Centaure, Croix or Tempest. Concept and synaesthesia are essential to any project of that kind.

Do you still make visuals?

I used to make experimental films in the past, but I stopped. Recently I’ written a short film script for a clay animation film.