Bear Bones, Lay Low: Chameleon times

For over a decade, this Venezuelan, now long-time based in Belgium, has been creating psychedelic electronic sound by juxtaposing digital and analogue sources. Using repetitive melodies and rhythms combined with dissonant sounds, BBLL wishes to induce a multilayered trance that allows solemn listening as well as ecstatic dancing in a mental space where the archaic meets the futuristic, where the earthly meets the cosmic. As an active musician in Belgium’s experimental underground, he has also been part of numerous free music outfits, including the late Silvester Anfang/Sylvester Anfang II, and is currently active with the electronic duo Tav Exotic among other projects. He has releases on various labels such as Kraak, Ekster, Lullabies for Insomniacs and BAKK to mention only a few.

Where are you now and what have you been up to today?

I’m high up in Carabanchel in Madrid in Madrid, Spain right now. Yesterday afternoon I played a show with Raymonde with our new project, Rio Azul. Lately, I’ve been travelling a lot to play shows; my friends are starting to hate me because I’m flying too much. They have a point, but I can’t say I haven’t enjoyed the experience of going to different countries and jamming.

Because of environmental reasons? There has been more awareness about the environmental impact of the underground music business.

Yeah, mainly because of that. And supporting these big companies ‘n shit… I really think we should all be able to travel more and explore, yet it is so fucked up that the most affordable way to move around is the most polluting and oppressive one, the one that doesn’t even let you bring your own bottle of water… you know how it is. But yeah, it’s the whole dilemma of the solo musician nowadays… I don’t want to contribute to this but yet I want to play this show… Paddy Steer and Goodiepal are the only ones I know who’ve found a way to bypass this: one tours in his van the other on his bike!

Do you feel the community/scene you are part of is able to sustain itself and is sustainable?

Some of it is, the more radical and less commercially inclined scene I’m involved in.

How would you define radical in this respect? Or, which are the radical communities?

Well, I guess it’s just the people who try to do the most they can without needing too much money. I mostly know people from the French underground who live by strong principles. But I think you can find people like this everywhere in the world. They rely more on solidarity and contributing than business relationships. I think anything that bases itself on that is self-sustainable and is bound to live longer. Because it’s about the love for something and a certain way of doing it and that is later transposed to all other aspects in life.

The economics of the scene is interesting.

It’s just people doing things and we call it a scene because these people share a form of taste. But in the end it’s not at all homogenous. Things gotta be experienced and acted upon at the moment, then you learn. Everybody has kinda their own way of doing things, especially on the economics side of things

I guess you also have a different perspective, especially on what’s happened in the last years in Venezuela. The impact of economy and politics.

Well, in the world in general. I can only talk about what I’ve experienced, and touring and playing in drastically different environments helps me understand a lot about how we live and handle things. It has led me to stop believing in a system that polarises. That says there’s only one way of doing things, therefore the opposite is excluded. I guess this year with SHAPE and all has led me to think a bit more about this side of things: up to what point is the money side important? What type of social situation do I want my music to be a part of? Principles, or survival within a system? So many things, many doubts, but it’s good to think about this stuff. For now, I feel more like a chameleon, going from one end to another, adapting to an environment, trying to learn from it and going with what I feel is the most in tune with me.

The reality of everyday existence has become more like shapeshifting I feel.

I get the feeling it’s more about that than what we are programmed to think. We think we are just one thing, that we can only specialise in one thing, but these are all constructions of some sort. Like the way our eyes capture light and then it gets decoded by the brain in a specific way to give specific forms. But it ain’t all JUST that. Our idea of time and all this stuff, it’s morphing and depends on the moment and the point of view… Yep, too complex, don’t know where to go, what to think, gotta follow instincts, feelings and thoughts and try to surf.

Do you feel this shapeshifting is also reflected in your work and sound?

In a way yes, because I’ve realised I don’t particularly fit into a specific genre of music, if you’re thinking of music as isolated little boxes within a big box labelled MUSIC. Sure, it’s part of the big branch of electronic sound, but I’m always surprised and happy that my music can be part of a night club environment, a rock concert, an experimental evening, in live or recorded form. Still, I feel you can always tell it’s the same person, so no radical metamorphosis there. I was listening to the first stuff I labelled as ‘Bear Bones, Lay Low’ when I was a teenager, it was just improvised noise with pedals and cassettes and whatever crap was around, not this high-end technological system I’ve been playing with lately… and the vibe is the fucking same.

But maybe that’s good? To sort of have your own sound.

Well good and bad, it’s not for me to judge. That’s more up to the listener to decide. I’ve come to realise that when someone makes music coming from a deeply personal place, within a genre or not, you will always recognise him or her. As opposed to when you make music to emulate a specific style of music that has been done and that you love. The personality is erased in favour of the preset form. They are both good exercises! But with one, no matter what you do you will be found, with the other, your mask will take over.

Like Asmus Tietchens. So many names, different styles, as hard as he tries to hide you know it’s him! James Ferraro as well! Of course, I’m not comparing my music to theirs, I feel they have achieved something quite high as artists, influential and unique. They are true masters in my book. But I feel some sort of connection since people tell me “oh that sounds like Erni” ‘n shit. It’s also been a while since I’ve been making music and now I realise that it’s still coming from the same place, deeeeeeeep from my heart or soul or DNA or sub or unconscious or whatever, hahaha.

Is music your only channel for this?

It’s the channel I use the most to materialise it. I also draw a lot when I travel, I make collages when I have time at home, decorate my surroundings and talk… sometimes too much, hehehe. Also the type of records I collect is a channel for this expression.

What records do you go for?

Nothing specific, but I’ve realised lately that most of the records in my collection have a dark vibe. Or heavy and intense… I want look for lighter things now. I’ve been listening to Iasos again recently. Getting more into “latino” sounds like mambo or samba, which I didn’t like too much before because they were “too happy”.

You are also involved in Kraak as a curator. Does this make you think differently about music?

I guess I think about what would fit with their vibe, which is pretty open but quite specific. I’m always happy to share things with them since it’s a great platform for outsider music in Belgium.

I saw there are budget cuts to culture in Belgium now, do you think it will affect the event and others?

The idea behind Kraak is to promote curiosity and curious people making curious things and to have the means to promote and properly host the artists. Because of recent political bullshit, who knows for how long. Cultural funding will just be reserved for the already well-placed institutions doing the same shit that every other institution does. Let’s see. But the spirit is in the non-institutional and in the underground and that will never go, because there was never any help from the government in the first place! Only time will tell how Kraak will evolve with this situation.

People often question if it still exists – the underground.

At the end of the day, I feel that what we call underground is really just people doing something for love and fun and learning. People just playing music in the streets and in their villages or sharing it with friends is part of this for me. Times have changed, that’s for sure. But there will always be some weirdo who just invites friends and friends of friends over to listen to this other weirdo do his or her thing. And then one day that weirdo will want to meet other weirdos in other cities, countries, etc. and make the effort to connect, with whatever means are at hand. I don’t even know how it is in the virtual world! But from what I understand, there are a lot of small communities of people that share and enjoy music only virtually.

You don’t like smartphones I guess?

Yes and no. I don’t want one for myself. But this is the way people relate to others and to the world nowadays. Many good things, many fucked up things. But I do feel it would become a chain for me and I wouldn’t have these moments to relate to the world in an old-fashioned way, let’s say. I have a tablet when I travel now and that’s more than enough for me

What is the best thing you’ve heard or seen lately?

Well, the stuff that really inspires me regularly, so by extension ‘lately’, are the friends that are still doing their thing in their own way without the whole career mentality. Chrysostomos just discovering and listening to music on a little speaker by the sea. Hugo ‘n Lise making beautiful posters for a small show in their house. Jamming in the house with Tomas… Corny as it sounds, these simple things have more and more sense and impact on me than concerts lately. I guess because they are things that evoke longevity to me, things you can do all your life. Metabolismus made me cry with their show this year in Brussels though. DJ Klakke with his set in this year’s Meakusma festival had the same effect. They are examples of this longevity I’m talking about. And that conveys this powerful feeling of music being an extension of someone’s life, not only entertainment.

Interview by Lucia Udvardyova
Photo: Fanny Devaux