ELVI: ‘My path is a path of much inner conflict’
ELVI is the performing and producing persona of the Rigan disc jockey and curator Elvi Soulsystems (Elviss Zants). His current method is to use low fidelity field recordings as the only sound source – these are recorded sounds of urban and rural habitats, industrial sounds, the sound of the human voice (mainly his own). These recordings are manipulated using primitive modulation – space, repetition, speed, phasing via improvised performance. No instruments – electronic or acoustic – seem to feature in his music. His approach is to always create a tension between opposites – the raw and the pristine, the calm and the aggressive, the minimal and the oversaturated, light and dark. He has extensive experience of a variety of collaborative work.
Could you send us a photo and a sound that expresses your current mood?
Here’s a video of me performing a song called “Motions”. This was captured by somebody on social media sometime before the pandemic. But my current mood is exactly as the song states, or maybe even more than ever: there’s a wind in me.
How have you been in the last year – a year that for many musicians has become quite strange and insular. Were you able to create?
This whole period has been weird indeed. We’ve been missing accidental, human, unexpected contact, but then again – there’s a lot of far more reflective stuff out there than there was before. And that is a good thing, I think. No matter how trivial the reflection sometimes is, I think it’s a good thing that we reflect on the passage of time. From time to time. For me it all came rushing – I became a father, I launched my little digital label, I did a lot of music. And found out I’m way more introverted than I thought I was. Hence, now that I’ve had the chance to DJ here and there, it’s almost harder than it was before. Harder to be amongst living people, harder to make small talk. And also harder for me as a DJ to understand how to approach the dance floor. So, my solution is to always perform in sunglasses. That helps for now.
You are based in Riga, and aside from being a sound creator, you are also a DJ and a curator. Can you talk about your creative work in general, as well as about its genesis. What is your background? How did you get to do what you do?
Yes, I was born in this city and raised by this city. So, it’s sort of a loving and a painful relationship at the same time. I’d say music making, which at the time meant beat making for my friends to write rhymes to, came first and then the DJ aspect and curatorial aspect came after. But soon enough, those lines sort of blurred and it’s been a process for me to shift between those things – when I identify as a person who utterly loves music and is happy just playing records and messing with other people’s creations, and when “the artist within” comes forth and I’m actually able to call myself a performer and a composer. And then, on top of that, I feel this urge or even a responsibility to keep the scene somehow alive and sometimes rekindle it here. My path is a path of much inner conflict amongst those three personas, but it’s one that has been laid before me. And every time I say to myself I’ll stop one or other of those aspects, it doesn’t last long. When I say I’ll not DJ anymore and deliberately turn to playing plain noise at “parties”, it turns out that’s a thing. When I say I’m not a musician, I go out and somehow do a 40-minute piece in a matter of days. Currently, I’m in this phase when I say won’t be creating any more events. Let’s see how that turns out.
How is Riga’s music scene? How is it evolving – what are the projects to watch out for?
Too many DJs. But that’s everywhere, I guess, because it’s just what everybody seems to know how to do. Only there are very few actual, dedicated, in-for-the-long-haul DJs. But that’s not to say that what we have had historically are not the most amazing performers and educators, and I would point out specifically DJ Raitis, who is one of my greatest inspirations and is still the most enigmatic and stylish one out there. I’m sort of in love with the industrial scene here, which is led by the STURM crew. I love my friend SKD, who puts out beautiful records and is a true music lover and DJ too. There is a guy called Damaging Stimulus; he’s one to sit on his stuff for years and years, but I know he’s got it in him both as a DJ and as a musician. There’s a rock band called Nikto. Great name and great sound.
There’s a festival called Sansusī that takes place annually in rural Latvia, but they also have a space they curate here in Riga called Tujauzinikur, which is a beautiful space and they have this light and smart approach to keeping it always on the cutting edge. Yet of course, it has suffered a lot lately. And I guess one could not imagine Riga without the Skaņu Mežs festival. There are lots of things. But Riga is not booming, that would be a lie. Riga needs a renaissance. It needs to reconnect itself to the era that gave birth to our current identity – to the artists of the end of eighties and the beginning of the nineties. NSRD, in particular. That’s our DNA, but we’ve somehow failed to make a connection to it. And the lack is felt.
In terms of your own sound-creation, you work with low fidelity field recordings as your only sound source. Recording urban and rural habitats, industrial sounds, as well as the sound of the human voice (mainly your own). Field recording has been a popular sound-making method for artists with wildly different approaches. Can you talk about yours?
I found this limitation to be the answer to what I struggled with when no matter what synth I would use or what drum machine or even acoustic instruments that I tried to incorporate into my music – either through sampling or through playing them myself – I would always feel that it all lacked authenticity in a fundamental sense. I would always hear that that’s a bassline generated by that particular synth or that percussive sound is again from another very particular set of samples. When I hear it in other people’s music and even when working with other people – that’s not a problem. But when it comes to myself, only now – in the last couple of years – have I found a method where I just hear pure music in my music, if that makes any sense. I use only simple, mostly very cheap device recordings of random things – a coin falling on a table, wind crashing against the little microphone which makes just a crackle… And I limit myself mostly to using that one sound to create a whole piece. For instance – in the EP for my own label called PLUS ÇA TOMBE, PLUS C’EST LA MÊME CHOSE – the three pieces each use mostly just one little bit of recording as the material for the whole piece. This gives me great freedom and great confidence in performance. Yet this approach is, of course, also challenging and still surprises me from time to time.
Your approach is to create tension between opposites. Can you talk about these dichotomies in your sound work?
I guess this aspect is connected to that same element in me that keeps me between the worlds of performance, playing other people’s music and curating events. Although I would like to, I cannot seem to be a “drone” or “ambient” or “techno” performer. And for some time, it seemed to me that it was a flaw within me. But for some time now, I’ve grown to respect that in myself and just let it loose – I can be soothing and the performance can seem monotonous, but you just feel that it’s going to crack after a bit and you will need to put those ear plugs back in. And, although it’s not for everyone, in a sense that tension is therapeutic, which I’m not just saying – I’ve actually listened to testimonies of people experiencing deep relief at an ELVI concert. And I’ve been compared to another of my favourite Latvian bands – Tesa. Which is too much of a compliment, but it indicates the area that those who’ve experienced the concerts put me in. I used to try to decide which “side” I wanted to be on, now I just try to keep that “balancing act” alive, to hold the tension for just a little bit longer.
Collaborative practice is also part of your modus operandi. Can you talk about it? Do you have any dream collaborators?
It is getting harder and harder to collaborate without those accidental meetings, right? To choose to do something together merely “strategically” seems somehow deadening. I do miss team effort. In curation and in music. I have had the pleasure of working with beautiful people. My visual collaborator DEE, we’re friends but I honestly think she’s one of the greatest video artists the world has ever seen, and I’m really not exaggerating. There are still plans to rekindle the project ELVI/DUNIAN with my musical brother Artūrs, who’s had tremendous success now with his Domenique Dumont. And I love every _too contemporary release. So far. If it were possible, I’d like to collaborate more with voices, with people who sing or talk or do both. People whose instruments are just their body, and who would also be open-minded enough to try to sing words that I’ve written or that we’ve written together. So, if you’re out there and reading this, and you think that at least half of what you hear that’s mine sounds nice, let’s hook up!
Interview: Lucia Udvardyova