Aural Cinema: An Interview with OOFJ

20 Apr 2015 — Andrew Darley

Reading the history of how OOFJ came together, it almost seems as if the realm of film was pushing them together. The classically-trained saxophone player, Jenno Bjørnkjær, was attending a New York conservatory before becoming disillusioned with the structures of jazz standards that he had to follow. He decided to leave the school in his third year and began composing his own instrumental pieces. One evening he saw a production of Twelfth Night, which featured the South African vocalist, Katherine Mills Rymer. The two hit it off and bonded over their shared love of their favourite directors: Bergman, Carax, Kubrick and Roman Polanski. By this time, Jenno was working with electronic music and creating Lars Von Trier’s Melancholia film score. The two not only fell in love and married – they formed a band. Performing as OOFJ (abbreviation of Orchestra of Jenno), they made an album of idiosyncratic electronica, strings and soaring vocals. OOFJ are now about to release their second album, Acute Feast, which pushes their established sound into new territories. Staff writer Andrew Darley chatted with Katherine and Jenno about their determined desire to add something new to the art world and how cinema has both formed and guided their unique bond.

Acute Feast is coming out tomorrow, April 21, via Ring The Alarm (USA)/Fake Diamond Records.

Read the interview after the break.

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How does this album’s energy compare to your debut, Disco To Die To?

Katherine: Looking back now it feels like Disco To Die To, the first album I ever made, was more icy in energy. In an emotional sense, I look back and see some of the grief and the distance I was feeling because my father had just died. I mean it was kind of like you have a numb heart and then you make sounds through ice cubes.

Jenno: Disco To Die To was more a question of feeling around in the dark for the sound, whereas this album's energy is almost like taking the sound we found and opening it up. It sounds like its reverbing around the universe.

Katherine: But also its underwater, both places are similar. And there is a warmth, even if the warmth comes from strange places – it's more nourishing.

Jenno: Hence the name Acute Feast.

So that’s where the album’s title comes from?

Jenno: When I first heard Katherine's suggestion, it sounded like "a cute feast". I'm Danish so this word ‘acute’ was a bit strange to me.

Katherine: At the time, I was revisiting my Peter Greenaway love affair which I developed while I was a lonely teen. The thing is that I was thinking graphically when I thought of the name. I like the idea of ‘terrible pleasures’. Extremities of the best and the worst kind interest me. So I suppose Acute Feast is the sumptuous, the warm, the tasty, the sexual and loving with the flipside of gluttony, the rot, the smell and the disaster of a heavy meal.

Jenno: It’s the extremes of things that are the most interesting, the most destructive.

Were there any plans made about how the band’s sound should progress after Disco To Die To?

Jenno: We never set out with anything definitive musically as to how we should sound on this record. We knew we found a sound together on our debut, so it was more a question of how to progress past ourselves.

Katherine: Without trying to be like other people or try to become a reggae band or something! This time around we made more than 40 songs and the process of throwing stuff away and sitting on songs for a year definitely carved out what we actually ended up pursuing versus what we thought we wanted. As much as we are into classics and a ton of stuff that is influential, we think it’s important to make music that you can hopefully listen to 10 years later and it still sounds fresh.

Jenno: Not to become a reference of a reference.

What was your initial intention for OOFJ to become?

Katherine: I had no clue. I just blindly did things without really thinking about it, besides from giving my opinion to what sounds I liked. I think as we began to be like "Okay we’re in a real project", we just wanted to try make OOFJ a complete world.

Jenno: Before I met Katherine I was making instrumental music under this name so our partnership definitely changed my musical aspirations. We have similar taste but my sound before meeting her was slightly different. Katherine was born with a darkness that I tap into. More and more, we realize our controlling streak. From press images to videos to making music, we like to make everything ourselves. I think we just want to contribute to music and art – by creating something new.

It’s no secret that you're both creative and romantic partners. Making this album, did you feel that you knew much more about how each other worked?

Jenno: We are very, very close. We make our music wherever we are living so there is no break between things. Honestly there is nothing I didn't know about how she works. I think we just established more of a work flow. But making music like we do also gets into the details of things. Minute idiosyncrasies, ways of hearing and such. Since it was Katherine's first time doing all of this she had to work out what she was trying to say as an artist. As did I, but from a vantage point of experience. I think this time around both of us were more prolific.

Katherine: I knew more of the process of making something. I think I had more conviction in myself this time around. But honestly Jenno and I work in a very compatible way. I wish we could say we fight like Fleetwood Mac – that would make for a better novel!

Can writing lyrics be sometimes awkward or difficult, given that you could be referring to each other in the words?

Katherine: I write about life. The heaviness of it, I guess, is where it all comes from. Jenno will suggest changes once we lay stuff down. I like the feel of words more than concrete meaning. Words have different timbres. Jenno and I both feel like there is something very affecting in repetition.

Jenno: We never put out the lyrics Katherine writes and a lot of the time we're not letting it be very clear. But if you actually had to listen and hear what she writes, she is very clear about something secret. She likes this meta data thing which I think is great. You are affected on your own terms in your own life, without knowing why hopefully.

How do you agree or decide when a song or record is done?

Jenno: That's a good question. You can fiddle away on small things forever if you want to. The biggest fear for me is if I hear something we have released that I’m not satisfied with. I never want to have regrets, like maybe I should have changed the mix, or I don't like that synth completely. The list can go on on and on.

Katherine: Jenno is very detailed, so he can deal with the intricacies of things for a long time. Also he has the patience of Job. We listen and keep the record for a long time and see how a song can still be liked by us after that. Even if we are hearing it and rehearsing it like a 1000 times – from the beginning stages to the geeky mastering side.

Cinema and film are clearly important to you. The obvious giveaway is that you met during the making of Lars Von Trier’s Melancholia. Were there any films in particular which inspired the mood of this record?

Jenno: I think the films we watched at that time were very Russian. One film called Come and See was a big thing for me. It’s a horrible nightmarish but beautiful war film from 1985 – full colour horror.

Katherine: When we first met we went to see a film called Krystaliov My Car! which I suppose in some way was very influential. And as always and forever, we were both heavily interested in Polanski. Chinatown I would say threads through everything in Jenno.

Also, reading reviews of your music to date, one of the most common words that comes up is 'cinematic'. Do you hear your music in this way?

Jenno: Yeah, I understand it. If you have symphony music like we do in our music, of course you are going to hear that. But actually what is strange is that only the older films have really special composed scores that have a definite personality – composers like Morricone, Komeda or John Barry. Today a lot of films are sparse atmospheric so the cinema people hear in our music is there, but it's almost like an echo.

Katherine: I hear it in this way but more like you score your own soundtrack. Somebody said the other day that listening to us while driving to Tesco's made it a much more glamorous experience. This is what its about. I think we want to put you in another world, which is like cinema. Maybe we should come up with a new term: Aural Cinema.

Are there any songs on the album that you are particularly fond of or mean something to you?

Jenno: It changes, radically. But as of today. I would say "Cherry". It is really beautiful from the composition work, to Katherine's melody.

Katherine: I think we both have that as a favourite right now, because we are in rehearsal and we are finally working out how this song should work live. I enjoy singing it. It’s delicate with adult themes. Personally for me, its nice to sing on a track that is so refined and sing  the word 'sweat'. Its the meta thing again.

The video for "I Forgive You" pulls on both beautiful and disturbing elements and leaves a lot to the viewer’s imagination. How did its concept come about?

Katherine: Banal things are terrifying but also comforting. As I said earlier, there is something to this life, at least to me, where everyone is shut inside their minds. Language can only do so much.  How we function with all this unsaid stuff and hidden dark thoughts are very interesting but it’s also about how we manage not to lose our minds. I like images that are a bit strange. A lot of the times we work off  the idea of making something normal become expectational in some way like the close-up scene of the man cutting his toenails.

Do you think visuals, both in music and film, can be too explanatory or literal in the time we live?

Katherine: I think the problem in this age is maybe we are all iconizing ourselves. I mean it's weird that everyone is connected to technology. Creating a simulacra of themselves, which if you're in a band involved in this process is something very odd and interesting. I think the problems comes in when people become too perfect in this realm. Everything is a calculation. There is a danger of explaining yourself into the ether.

"Sailor" features a saxophone which Jenno is classically trained in. What was it like playing that instrument, especially in a completely different context?

Jenno: I like playing saxophone in environments that are not strictly jazzy. I prefer making the instrument new. I don't really dig 'shredding' on a saxophone playing the classics like I did for years. Its seems pointless to me. I like the sound of the saxophone – the voice, not the jazz association of it. Even though I love jazz, our live set has a lot of improvisation built in, as a jazz band could have. However, we are doing it with electronic music instead which in some way is our take on what jazz can be nowadays.

You’ve said previously regarding your background in jazz and classical music, that the idea of making an album that doesn’t exist already is what’s most interesting to you. Do you feel you’ve done that with Acute Feast?

Jenno: As egomaniacial as this sounds, I think we have come pretty close. The trick I think is using all the influences we have together – jazz, classical music, modern progressive music, pop music, dance music, bossanova – and swirl them into something that hasn't existed. I think our sound is pretty special, obviously otherwise it would be very depressing right now here for us. Luckily we are in a position to make stuff we like and are not constrained by making things to fit within a specific time or sound that is happening at the moment.

Katherine: At best we hope that Acute Feast sounds like the 'past-future'. We are not into nostalgia and glorifying analogue or digital moods or sounds. We like to jumble it up and almost squeeze it through our filtering system. We make what we think is honest and uncalculated and that comes from us. So I think in that respect we have done that.

Interview: Hama

27 Mar 2015 — Anaïs Duplan

Throughout our conversation, Hama referred to his synthesizer as a piano. This is telling. The Niamey-based musician insists that his music is, all in all, traditional Nigerien music – despite the futuristic quality that the vibrant synth tones and processed drum-kits lend to Hama’s latest album, Torodi. It’s perhaps this play on the ancient-future that has brought Hama such critical acclaim across The Republic of Niger and the countries that surround it; however, Hama’s music was virtually unheard of in the United States until Sahelsounds, a record label founded by ethnomusicologist Christopher Kirkley, which features the music of 50+ musicians whose music Kirkley came across during his travels in West Africa.

About the futurism of Hama’s Torodi, Kirley says, “I would say it's futuristic in the sense of the innovation, being the first person to do this – programming the traditional rhythms on the drum machine. I don't think he's necessarily composing with that in mind – the songs are really folk guitar songs that he has worked out versions of on the piano.” Hama’s thoughts are similar. He calls his compositions “modifications” on music he has heard and collected over the years, including traditional music, but ranging from contemporary American pop music to Detroit techno.

In many senses, my coming to hear the album at all was a matter of serendipity. “Sahelsounds became a record label by chance,” says Kirkley. “I had lived in West Africa for two years and was back home in Portland. I had a blog, but no intention to turn it into a label. I met the folks at Mississippi Records who suggested releasing a record. After time it's turned into a label, somewhat reluctantly. There's a demand for the music, people in West Africa can get exposure, get paid, and I can finance trips back to West Africa and have a part in releasing what I think is important and overlooked music.”

When I first called Hama, he expressed being quite happy that I’d taken interest in Torodi. I, on the other hand, was surprised to find that no one had yet interviewed him about it. The compositions, to my ear, are significant insofar as they provide a point-of-reference for modern American Afrofuturism. Though I may be alone in drawing such comparisons, when I tune into Hama, I can’t help but hear the synth drums in the intro to Kelela’s track “Cut 4 Me” or certain elements of FlyLo’s “Turkey Dog Coma.” Or even, reaching in a slightly different direction, Phil Cohran’s “The Dogon” from the 2010 album, African Skies.

Hama and I spoke in a mix of French and English, each of us struggling to overcome the language barrier. (As a result, I’ve translated the parts of our conversation that occurred in French into English.) In many ways, it is a conversation I am still processing. I wonder, in particular, whether music can do the work of Afrofuturism without doing so deliberately. I wonder whether it is misguided to hear the future in something that insists that it is, in fact, traditional. Nonetheless, Torodi is an important release for its innovation, regardless of whether that innovation seats itself in the past or in the future.

Read the interview after the break. 

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When did you meet Christopher Kirkley?

It was around the month of November in 2014. Christopher asked me if I wanted to go on tour and I said no problem, because I’ve been playing music for a long time, since 1986. I was very young when I started composing. I’ve used mostly the piano, the synthesizer. I play the guitar a little, but I play the piano much more. I program everything on it. After creating the beat, I add the melody. But I don’t compose on paper because when I started playing music, it was just in my house. I didn’t have a teacher. So the music is very traditional; it’s not modern.

That’s interesting. It has a futurist quality –

Futurist? No. My music is 100% traditional.

And has it changed over time?

Yes, very much. When I first started playing music, I never thought it would reach the United States. And I have a lot more albums than Torodi, which are much better.

More albums?

I made Torodi a long time ago, around 2002. Since then, I’ve produced ten more albums. But Torodi is the album that everyone likes the most.

Why do you think that is?

Well, my music is for everyone. It’s reached Algeria, Libya, Mali – everywhere. In a sense, everyone hears the music but they don’t see me. They don’t know me as a person. They don’t know who Hama is.

Who is Hama?

I am Hama. I mean, for example, I have a friend in the States, who lives in Iowa. In 1992, he was here in Niamey. I learned a bit of English while he was here and I spent a lot of time with him. After six months, once he finished his work here, he went back to the United States. One day, I called him and asked him if he knew that I play the piano. He didn’t believe it. So I sent him my music and he said, “Wow, why didn’t you tell me this before?” So we’ll see what happens in the future. I hope my music goes far. I know how to compose all kinds of things – techno, rap, zouk, traditional. I have it all in my head.

Zouk? Do you have zouk in Niger?

You know about zouk?

Yes, I’m Haitian, so I’m familiar with Haitian zouk, but I don’t know anything about Nigerien zouk.

Oh, no. I use Haitian zouk. I make selections. Modifications.

So when you compose, you’re combining various genres –

No, not at all. I’m not combining; I’m modifying. For example, I might take a melody from Haitian zouk and then turn that into a completely traditional Nigerien song. I can do the same with techno and hip-hop, by changing the speeds of things.

All that on the piano?

There’s the piano, but also the computer. I make the melodies on the piano, but I use the computer to build the beats. Since I was a kid, I’ve loved European and American music. That’s where I pick up my melodies.

Did you come from a musical family?

No, I’m the only musician in my family. My little brother started making music when I did. He’s since stopped, but I continued.

Why did he stop?

He died.

Oh wow, I’m sorry.

It’s okay. It happens. One day, you might call asking for Hama and someone will say, “Hama’s dead.” It’s just like that. That’s life. My mother has died, my little brother died, my father has died. So now it’s just me and my two little sisters, who I live with here in Niamey.

Have you found a lot of support in Niamey?

My music is popular here, yes.

You said before that the music has changed over time –

Yes, the music is different, very different from Torodi, but I’m still using the same piano. Since I don’t have the piano in front of me, I can’t really show you the difference. I can’t play the piano with my mouth. I’m actually working on an album right now, but people have been making good music for a long time, for years, and hoping that it will change something. But we don’t know what will happen in life, what fate is reserved for each person.

 

Interview: Nuearth Kitchen

24 Mar 2015 — Evelyn Malinowski

Split between Seattle and Los Angeles, Nuearth Kitchen appeals to a special type of joviality. Jeremy Grant and Cody Morrison combine their acutely complementary tastes to inform a discography that inspires harmless wildness, urban flare, and a well-rounded thirst for rhythm. As their seedling label Nuearth Conservatory prepares for blossoming, NEK is likewise gearing up for further ripening with the third solo release from Jon McMillion, polished off with remixes from Orson Wells and Fred P.

Submitting to the housey yet devoutly underground charms of NEK, I got in touch with Cody and Jeremy to try and understand where they are coming from a little better. Here's how it went.

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You are forthright about being split between Seattle and Los Angeles. Were you guys ever in the same place?

Cody: Yes, when the label was started we were both in Seattle. Jeremy had a job opportunity in Los Angeles a couple years ago so we've been doing the long distance thing since. We can certainly make it work while living in separate cities, but we're both looking forward to running the label while living in the same city again.

Jeremy: Yes, we've lived within only a couple of miles of each other for most of the time we've known each other. We're both originally Seattle dudes. Living in Los Angeles has only been a thing of the past couple years, and we've been able to make things work quite fluidly since.

Do your respective locations, or a combination thereof, inform the label's aesthetic at all?

Cody: Great question. Sorry for being too broad or vague, but I feel like our aesthetic is informed by everything around us. So yes, I would say our locations do inform our aesthetic. We travel quite a bit as well, so our travels, and most importantly the experiences of the artists we feature, factor most prominently into our aesthetic.

Jeremy: There's a good amount of that to a certain extent, but both of us get exposed to a lot beyond the cities we live in, so most of the decisions we get to make are a culmination of more than that.

What more can you expose about the NEK style?

Cody: We're intrigued by interesting music and sound and the way that those can open themselves up to you differently depending on the environment where you're listening.

Jeremy: The whole gist is just to provide a versatile selection of upbeat and left-field dance music.

Funk and world music can be sensed in some of these releases. What are your earliest influences, and do they include George Clinton at all?

Cody: I was a product of the '70s, so my folks were really into groups like Crosby, Stills and Nash, Steely Dan, Santana, Black Sabbath, Traffic, JJ Cale, The Cars, Fleetwood Mac, The Doobie Brothers, etc...When I was old enough to start buying music on my own I got infatuated with what I was seeing on shows like Yo! MTV Raps, Headbangers Ball and 120 Minutes on MTV. I was raised in a very rural part of Washington State, so most of those sounds and that culture was brand new to me. I was hooked instantly. Buying Straight Out of Compton without a parental guardian at the local record store was a crowning achievement in my middle school years. Once I got deeper into hip hop, it was natural for me to explore where all the samples came from...and that's certainly where George Clinton, P-Funk, James Brown, and many other funky artists come in.

Jeremy: Not George Clinton specifically. There's no aim to go after a particular sound. It's more what cool sounds are being made by artists we respect and like working with end up being the foundation of the label catalog.

What contemporary labels and artists excite you?

Cody: There are so many labels and artists that excite me right now it's hard to answer that. I go through phases where I'll be infatuated with certain genres and listen to nothing but that. For dance music, I recently went through a big NYC house and techno kick and I've been really loving what Joey Anderson, Levon Vincent, DJ Qu, Jus-Ed, and Anthony Parasole continue to put out. Those cats are so consistent and they're great in the studio as producers or DJ'ing at the club, which isn't easy. This isn't a recent development but I really dig the stuff coming out of the Comeme label, especially people like Christian S, DJs Pareja, and Lena Williikens. Also really feeling the Mood Hut crew up in Vancouver lately as well. We also have a sister label to Nuearth Kitchen called Nuearth Conservatory that focuses on Balearic and New Age-ish type stuff. We've gotten some material from Tommy Awards that we're going to be putting out later this year that is stellar. Really excited about that one.

Jeremy: Aficionado, Honest Jons, Into the Light, Emotional Response/Rescue, Deek, the Test Pressing podcasts, Music From Memory, Anthony Naples, Migos, Rae Sremmurd, Ruffmercy, and Trilogy Tapes for the art direction, et al.

Glad you brought up Nuearth Conservatory. Can you tell me more about the imprint? Why do you guys feel that Balearic and ambient material needs to be released on a sibling label, in other words categorized differently?

Cody: We wanted both of the entities to be unique to each other and the type of music represented on each label. Even though there are certainly songs on Nuearth Kitchen that contain some ambient or at least non-dance music, I think it's nice for each label to have its own focus.

Jeremy: Nuearth Conservatory is simply another vehicle, one where the music vibrates at a different frequency. NEK has one message, and NEC, the other. They're both planets in the same universe, but I think it's much more effective to allow people to experience the differing music on different platforms, rather than putting it all in the same place.

Do you ever host NEK showcases?

Cody: We hosted a NEK showcase a few years ago, and I'm open to doing it again if the stars align. I am very active as a promoter here in Seattle and we've hosted many artists that have contributed to NEK over the years (DJ Sprinkles, Fred-P, Juju & Jordash, Jon McMillion) and we'll continue to do so, but we're long overdue for another proper label night.

Jeremy: We used to do things like this, but it's a lot more fun and interesting to be able to throw shows that aren't tied to any specific theme or musical end.

What do your own personal artistries look like?

Cody: I haven't gone down the production rabbit hole yet, so I'm just continuing to play records with my friends. I'm opening for Joey Anderson and Oliver Hafenbauer while they're here in Seattle in April, so I'm excited about that.

Jeremy: I'm a graphic designer (I wouldn't say an artist), and with that world comes an immense amount of exploration and experimentation. I'm ingesting and creating stuff all the time. I collect music and DJ quite a bit, but not out in public anymore. I make a lot of mixtapes for all sorts of projects that end up being housed online, like the Origin Peoples project I do with my friend Shawn.

What's the future of NEK looking like?

Cody: It's hard for me to say what the future looks like for us. We've never really discussed goals or big picture plans. As long as the releases are sustainable while still being interesting, I'm content. We both have day jobs, so the label is nice creative escape for us that we'd like to keep rolling for a while.

Jeremy: No particular agenda. A few more releases are coming out this summer on NEK's sister label Nuearth Conservatory, but after that we're just taking things as they come.

 

Interview: Jlin

16 Mar 2015 — Anaïs Duplan

Dark Energy is not for the faint of heart. While it would be possible to place the album in the context of legendary footwork producers such as RP Boo and the late DJ Rashad, it would be more accurate to say that Jlin, an up-and-coming producer from Gary, Indiana, has blown apart the foundations of footwork in order to make space for her own uniquely relentless sound. Each of the eleven tracks on Dark Energy subverts expectation at every turn, toggling back and forth between percussion-heavy urgency and equally urgent periods of spacious subtlety. Jlin’s quick transitions are both inescapable and unpredictable, making Dark Energy exemplary of the most controlled and skillful form of pure pandemonium.

Jlin’s debut album will be released on 23 March by Planet Mu. In the meantime, I sat down with the producer and together, we delved into Dark Energy.

Read the interview after the break. 

(Photo by Matthew Avignone)

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Let's start from the beginning of the album, with "Black Ballet."

That was actually the very last song that I finished. I knew that I wanted one of the songs to be ballet-related. So for two or three weeks, I was watching Black Swan, which is one of my favorite movies, but I was drawing absolutely nothing. It was actually making it worse because I wasn't getting anything. And then something told me: Alvin Ailey. Immediately I started watching a lot of Alvin Ailey Youtube videos and it was like this spark came over me.

What made you feel that spark?

There was a connection. I totally understood the movement of their bodies, rhythm-wise. It was like a conversation almost. A silent conversation. That's how "Black Ballet" came into play. At first I was nervous because I was like, "This is far out." But I was really pleased with it.

The track itself felt far out?

It felt far out to me because I had never done something like that before. It was unfamiliar to me, and so was "Erotic Heat." But "Black Ballet" was uncharted territory. You're in there but you don't know what to expect. But I didn't shy away from it and go, "Oh no, I'm not gonna put that out because that's not what people expect of me." Usually what is far out or crazy is what I'll throw out there. I'll see how far it can go.

What other tracks felt far out or uncomfortable? You mentioned "Erotic Heat."

"Infrared," for sure.

Why's that?

I had to go back and play that over and over just to make sure I was hearing it. The sounds. It was just heavy all the way around. The percussion, the synths.

I think you’re quite skillful in controlling the momentum. The whole album is high-energy but there are certain moments when you manage to create space. It gets drawn out.

Right, exactly. Impact is a tool for me. For me, impact is more important than the sound itself. I'm trying to channel the momentum and to be able to be in control of it. Sometimes there are highs, very intense, and there are lows. I wanted it to be an adrenaline rush all the way through, so that you had to go back and listen to it two or three times because it was just so much to take in at once. Sometimes I'll listen to a track of mine before I go to sleep and then I have to go and listen to another track and another – and the next I thing I know, here I am, up for two hours. Then I'll go from my stuff to Sade's to Rachelle Ferrell's. I listen to so many different genres, but there are specific people that I really take note of – not to mimic but just to respect.

Who are those people for you?

I listen to Rachelle Ferrell a lot. My mom put me on to her at a very young age. Sade too. We used to listen to all kinds of artists when I was younger because everybody liked different things in the house.

It sounds like you grew up around a lot of music.

I did, but it was all older music. It wasn't my generation, at all. I had to come into my generation on my own and through my friends. But yeah, I know a lot of jazz. Different things too. The Art of Noise, Elton John. I become like a sponge, not just for music, but for the things that I see and feel – that's where the impact is. Now it's just a matter of channeling that impact into a frequency and a vibration and a sound. Putting it into the atmosphere. I'll never grow tired of that.

What is the process, for you, of translating something you've seen into a sound?

I have to become the thing that I saw. I got that concept from a Bruce Lee saying, "Be water, my friend." When you pour water into the cup, you take the shape of the cup. It's the same process. Sometimes it can be very uncomfortable. A lot of times I have to go places in my mind that I really don't want to, but that, to me, is the realest sound. That's why a lot of times I find myself running from myself. I'm sure you've read that I create from an unhappy place. To create from a happy place just doesn't do it for me. If you create from trauma, there are so many things that can come out. Darkness and blackness – they're not bad things at all. The word 'black' has such a negative connotation and it's so not true. If that were the case, I don't believe the stars would come from darkness. People have gained most of their momentum from low spots. Blackness and darkness produce beautiful things. Like a diamond. It's a piece of coal but when you put pressure on it, what happens? 

There's something about Sun Ra that comes up for me in that reference to stars coming from darkness.

Right, exactly. It's poetic. The process itself is beautiful even though it may be hard. It's beautiful. If you've ever looked at a puddle of oil on the ground, look at all the colors inside it. What I put out splashes so many colors because every color originates from black.

There is blackness in the context of the color spectrum, but then there's also the experience of blackness, of being a person of color. Does that come into play in the album for you?

Of course. It amazes me, the negative connotation that black has. Black is the original color of original colors. And as far as being a person of color goes, I'm just one of those people who doesn't accept everything that's out in the atmosphere. I just don't. The atmosphere that we're in now – we're in trouble.

Say more about that.

Look at the state of world. We're in trouble. Look around you. I feel like I have to put it out there that it's my responsibility to put a certain vibration and frequency back into the atmosphere. There's so much love lacking. People are so accustomed to whatever being thrown into the atmosphere and they just adapt. But it shouldn't be like that all the time, because not everything you put out is a good thing.

In some ways, this is the perfect time for this album to come out.

Exactly. A lot of people are afraid. They're afraid to talk about certain things. The media can immediately shift what you've said and turn it into something else. One day you were being praised and the next day you're being hated. That's how powerful the media is. Because you may have been addressing something that's real, but if you violate a certain terrain, it's like you blackball yourself. In a way, with this album, I probably touch on a lot of subjects silently. I say it without saying it.

In my experience of the album, there's so much of black history there. Like the track, "Mansa Musa."

Absolutely. If you think this one is something, wait 'til the next one.

Oh yeah? Is there a next one?

Hah, you're the first person I've said that to. But yeah, I think it's my responsibility. That's why it's taken my whole life to get through this album. I had to go through so much. It was less about the music and more about my experiences. What I had to go through and what I had to learn, first about me as a person and then about what came before me as a person. I'm still learning.

What were some of the things you felt like you needed to learn before you were ready to produce Dark Energy?

I needed to be honest with myself. That's a hard thing to do. I'm still grasping that. A friend told me, "The truth doesn't hurt. It only hurts when you try to fight it." That's probably one of the realest statements I've heard in my life. Failing is very important. Failing is more important than your success, and I still fail. I'm in a wreck right now musically, but that's another story for another day. And being transparent publicly is hard. It takes a lot of energy because you're vulnerable and you have people who are waiting to eat you alive as soon as you step out. I went in telling myself, "Not everyone is gonna like your music." And you know what? I would be pissed if everybody did like my music. I would feel so unaccomplished.

You want that agitation.

Yeah, exactly. It would be like being in a happy state all the time. No trauma, no drama. What is that?

You spoke about how hard it is to be publicly transparent –

It is. That's the hardest part. The fun part is the creating and the producing, because you can just put your message in a bottle and send it out. But then you remember that once you send it out, it's gonna find people. Interviews are fine, but then you have to remember this interview is not just between you and the person you’re interviewing. It's about to go out into the world. It's like, "Oh, do I sound silly? I wonder if I sound stupid there." There are people just waiting for you to fail and to devour you. To say, "I don't like this. This is whack. She's not going anywhere." You have to be ready to face that. It's kind of like being thrown into the middle of a jungle full of vultures who haven't eaten in months, and here are you, fresh meat. But that kind of thing also gives me an adrenaline rush. You have to know how to use that force against itself.

You've really mastered how to channel difficult emotions –

There are those moments when it is so intense that I can't hear anything. But once I get my hearing back, that's when I create. But when I can't hear anything and I can't rationalize the sound, I don't create.

So there's this element of constructing the tracks that is very emotionally internal for you, and then there’s the fact that you don’t use samples, which means that every sound has to come from you.

Right. That goes back to sometimes having to go places you don't want to go mentally. And as far as sampling goes, I used to sample and I still know how to – I just chose to get away from it. Sampling is such a heavy thing in Chicago footwork. All the stuff on Dark Energy took time and it wasn't so much the music as having to learn myself, having to trust myself, having to forgive myself. It's more personal than it is musical.

I want to backtrack to something you said about footwork. Have you felt constrained at all by that label? You’ve mentioned that you don't like to name genres.

Yes. If I feel boxed-in or restrained, I have a tendency to react a certain way musically. Did you notice the name of one of those songs is "Abnormal Restriction"?

I was thinking of that track exactly.

That's where that feeling comes from. When I feel restrained, I lash out. I lash out in a way that you can hear in my music.

I don't know if this is appropriate to say, but I worry that people will react to Dark Energy by saying, "Look at this great new black female footwork producer" and take only that away from it.

You brought up something that I was worried about. This is predominantly male field – before we even touch the black aspect. I don't want to be known because I'm a female producer. My gender and my race have nothing to do with what I can do as a person, though melanin is very important to me. But I don't want to become a stereotype. You get seen for being the first of this or the first of that but not for your work or your craft. I should be able to stand toe-to-toe with anybody who comes before me or after me. It shouldn't matter that I'm a black woman who produces. Though, again, melanin is very important.

Have you had a lot of people talk to you about what they take away from the music?

Not a lot. Most people just give you their reactions to it. They don't go into detail about it. Certain people do. A lot of people just really like the way it comes across, the way it's presented. I’ve heard people say, “Man, I listened to this one track like six times in a row!” That makes me happy, though I'm never satisfied.

No?

I have happy moments but then those moments die very quickly. I'll make a track and be satisfied with it for one to two days max, and then I'm like, "What's after that?" I'm never satisfied. I have to keep creating. That's my heartbeat, my constant heartbeat.

Is there something you think it's important for people to know before listening to Dark Energy?

No. I never want to dictate to a person what they should feel. It's just a message in a bottle. However you take it is however you take it, whether it be good, bad, or indifferent. Who am I to tell you what you should get from the album? I feel differently about it every other day. So if I feel like that, who I am to tell you what you should feel?

Interview: Susanne Sundfør

04 Mar 2015 — Andrew Darley

For her fifth studio album, Susanne Sundfør vowed to put herself to the test. After building a repertoire of producing for herself and others, as well as collaborations with Röyksopp and M83, she committed herself to self-producing and arranging a body of work. This autonomous approach conceived a frenetic collection of songs, comprising several stories and characters as she embarks on a crusade of love. Ten Love Songs expands on her signature brand of dramatic pop that interweaves classical and electronic elements as she hops between menacing electronics, sweeping synthpop and organ ballads. The initial assault of her diverse palette soon gives way to lyrics of complexities of love; obsession, unfulfillment, vengeance and trust. Her voice is both the anchor and the vehicle of the music as she brings these stories to life in the way she heard and imagined them. I spoke with Susanne about the intent of the record’s literal title, the learning curve of her career so far and the confidence she has developed to carry her music.

Read the interview after the break.

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The last time we spoke in 2013 for Polari Magazine, your back catalogue had just been given a UK release. How do you feel you have progressed since then?

I feel that I have made a lot of progress working in the studio, especially different boxes involved! I have learnt so much about production; from how to use new synths to writing string arrangements. It’s been a very exciting album to make. It was a lot of hard work but it was fun as well.

You recorded, orchestrated and produced Ten Love Songs predominately on your own. What made it feel like the right time?

I produced an album for a band called Bow To Each Other two years ago so I learnt a lot from that. That project gave me the confidence to produce my own music. Also, I co-produced my previous album, The Silicone Veil. It’s been a step-by-step process where I’ve just picked up more and more skills as I’ve done it. I had a lot of ideas about how I wanted the songs arranged and things to sound so I figured it would be best to do a lot of it myself. It was both a wish to have independence in the studio but also a necessity because I had so many ideas. It would have been pointless to tell another person to do what I could do myself.

Do you feel that you are able to execute ideas you hear in your head more effectively now?

Definitely! On my two first albums, which I’m very happy with, it was difficult for me to communicate in the studio because I didn’t have the language or didn’t know the names of things. I might’ve had a vague idea of how I wanted things to sound but I had no idea how to express it to someone else.

The name of this album is Ten Love Songs and the songs feature diverse musical styles and moods. Did the title of record give you the freedom to write ten very individual songs which worked as a whole too?

It was the title that made the most sense because they’re all different worlds. They have quite different sounds so Ten Love Songs was a name that bound them together.

You obviously were not afraid of not being cohesive?

Yeah, it’s a bit schizo for sure! I just had so many different ideas and I was listening to lots of diverse music and that’s probably why my songs came out that way too.

There’s always been electronic dance elements in your music but possibly not as direct like "Accelerate" or "Kamikaze". Did you want to make people dance with this record?

I think if that’s what I directly wanted, I would’ve made it quite different. Like in "Accelerate" there’s a long part of just an organ solo and "Kamikaze" ends with a harpsichord solo. I think I wanted to use the dance elements in music just because it’s an interesting sound. It’s quite instant. It’s not like jazz, you can pretty much get it after a few listens. It doesn’t mean it’s bad but there’s something more immediate about it – it’s like candy almost.

There are several voices and characters throughout this album. The character in "Delirious" really stood out for me in the way they describe his or her desire to hurt, even kill, their partner.  It’s quite a viscous tale. Do you enjoy creating characters like that?

I think it’s interesting to put yourself in someone else’s mindset. I’ve seen these things happen to people – these misunderstandings in love when one is just playing and the other one gets hurt. It’s so classic. I thought it would be more interesting to frame it as a murder ballad.

This theme of violence also has roots in The Brothel and The Silicone Veil. What is it about it that fascinates you?

Extreme things fascinate me a lot – these extreme emotions. Taboos as well. I think the biggest taboo of this album is that it’s called Ten Love Songs. It might even be more controversial than the violent references because a lot of stuff happening in the public or in media, it’s usually about sex or violence. It’s generally never about love or feeling vulnerable. Love is kind of corny to talk about today. That was also a reason why I believed it to be an interesting title.

As you say that, I can see that the album and single artwork is quite different as well. It almost doesn’t match the music.

That’s one of the reasons why I really like it. I completely trusted Grady McFerrin and told him to do whatever he wanted based on what he had done before. He came up with this drawing concept, which I thought brought an interesting element to the record. I love when artists bring their own take on the music and conjure another world or dimension.

Moving on to performing, I’ve watched your shows online for this album and it looks like you’re becoming more comfortable fronting your music in a live setting?

Totally! The first time I was ever on stage, I completely forgot the lyrics but I was 12 then. It’s taken me a long time to just be comfortable on stage and feel like it’s my place. For many artists, going on stage can be a bit alienating especially if you work a lot in the studio – an audience is pretty much watching what you do in the studio on stage. It’s much easier for me now to be in the music when doing shows.

Are there any musicians that you admired in terms of carrying the music over to a live stage?

When I started music high school that we have in Norway, I began listening to a lot of my Dad’s old records. Before that I would only listen to pop music or whatever was in the charts. I listened to Carly Simon, Cat Stevens, John Lennon and George Harrison – all these ‘60s and ‘70s classics. Both their songwriting aesthetic and the way they performed as musicians really inspired me. These artists really influenced how I view and create my own music.

Have you learned anything about approaching music from the contemporary artists you’ve worked with recently, such as M83 or Röyksopp?

Oh definitely! I’m a huge fan of both, so to work with them was such an honour and an education. I learnt so much about the various microphones, different equipment to how they compose music.

Back to your music, "Insects" closes the album in an intense, almost anxious way. Why did you want to close out the record in this way?

When I made the tracklisting for the album, it was more about the mood than the lyrics for me. There also had to be a flow to the songs and "Insescts" was so intense that it wouldn’t really fit in anywhere else. That is the main reason why it’s the last one but it’s also quite open and experimental. It doesn’t end with a statement or something clear – it’s a cliffhanger.

Looking forward, what would you like to achieve with Ten Love Songs?

I just want to have an open mind about it. I am ambitious but I prefer not to make business plans. My only goal with this album, apart from that I wanted it to be good, is that I want to play more shows. Maybe that can happen and maybe not. We’ll see!

My final question I’d like to ask you, given the content of this album, is what are some of your favourite love stories?

The Brontë sisters are the first people who come to mind. They’re probably my number ones.

Ten Love Songs is out now. 

The Spacesuits: Finding Paradise with Karneef

20 Feb 2015 — Anaïs Duplan

Sun Ra and his Arkestra were known, amongst other things, for their elaborate space garb – the sequins, the ancient Egyptian symbolism, the face-paint, the full-length capes. These were spacesuits the band wore to accompany them on their mission to ‘travel the spaceways.’ So when I first began the project I called The Spacesuits, the plan was to construct a series of costumes, modeled after the garments of the Saturnalian people from which Mr. Blount claimed to have descended. I drew inspiration from the early ILC Dover spacesuit prototypes, crafted in the mid-sixties. I also drew inspiration from artist and Afrofuturist Nick Cave, known for his Soundsuits, large wearable sculptures whose bedazzling feathers and contours are meant to obscure the race, class, and gender of its inhabitants.

The Spacesuits, however, quickly became more about the music than about the costumery. The Arkestra’s outfits, after all, were only subsidiary elements of a larger mission; namely, that to restore race relations by re-imagining a future for blacks that quite literally transcended space and time. Sun Ra’s music was, above all, paradise music. It was music, which by the process of “telemolecularization” (a word coined and used often by Sun Ra), would transport its listeners to another dimension.

Thus began my own search for Sonny Blount’s contemporary musical descendants. The Spacesuits became a collective of musicians in whose work I heard elements of new utopias. I studied their bodies of work and searched for themes like apocalypse, reincarnation, the afterlife, etc. To each musician, I provided five ‘calls to action.’ I gave them prompts like, “Create a short book on how to communicate with stars. Do not use words,” (a prompt given to Stasia Irons of THEESatisfaction) and “Imagine the instant the world began. Create the corresponding soundscape,” (a prompt for Bryce Hample of REIGHNBEAU). The responses produced by the musicians in The Spacesuits collective will form the basis of a series of 8+ multimedia installations over the course of The Spacesuits summer tour, which begins on April 24th at Mengi in Reykjavík, Iceland and then travels across North America. (See the full schedule here.)

When Portals did a micro-feature of Montreal-based musician Karneef in April 2014, I knew I’d want him in The Spacesuits crew. The feature was succinct, if humorous. It read:

Montreal’s Karneef is a man that really, really loves his bass. The video for his new single “Swimming” finds him in some weird situations, most of which involve him in his underwear. Karneef keeps it cool with a lot of smooth strumming and awkward dance moves; occasionally hiding behind paintings so he can scope out a cute girl in the studio. She seems to be in her own world for most of the video, walking around aimlessly and dancing while Karneef serenades her in different parts of the studio.

It is true that Philip Antoine Karneef does indeed love his bass. But he’s also up to much more. Karneef’s 2013 album Love Between Us is, for me, an exercise in paradise music. It is, of course, tongue-in-cheek, but its sincerity is just as unmistakeable. In fact, over time, it has become clear to me that paradise music always plays on that tension between irony and sincerity. One of my favorite moments in A Joyful Noise, Robert Mugge’s 1980 documentary, is when that very subtle smile appears on Sun Ra’s visage as he advocates for governments to give constitutional rights to angels. The smile isn’t signaling that Sun Ra is, in fact, joking around. Instead, the smile says, “There’s a lot more going on here than you think.”

Read Anaïs Duplan's interview with Philip Karneef after the break. 

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You’ve mentioned collaborating with Pascale Mercier, who has done some work under the name Mathematique, on a new project, and also with Slim Williams. Could you elaborate on that? How you see those projects relating to your other work?

Pascale has played drums for the Karneef band on and off, mostly on, for three years. I saw her live show at this terrifying house party. Terrifying because the house was very scary and dark. I can't remember if it was summer or winter but I'm pretty sure she was wearing a backpack – one of those green canvas ones that you take to school. And she had a baseball cap on. Anyway, I mixed her last EP and I recorded vocals. I’m preparing to mix her first full-length album PASCALE PROJECT which seems to be lots of robust composition with elegant, searing vocals. Simple but not easy.

We've been singing up at Slim William’s mind-blowing recording spot in the Laurentians. I have no idea how I ended up being encouraged to do stuff there, but it's really paradise. It's Slim’s and Phoebe Greenberg’s place, a very beautiful duo. I help out however I can, with equipment or media-based stuff (archival or social media), or with helping set gear up at Slim's live shows. I give him tutorials on software, etc., and I get to use the studio to work with others, like Pascale, Asaël from Bataille Solaire, Dylan III. These are some really beautiful artists and I'm so lucky to have met them, incredible humans!

Will you tell me about your video work? How did the video for "Space," for example, come about and how did that experience compare with making your other music videos? I'm thinking in particular of the videos for "Bring You Back" and "Swimming."

"Space" was just unreal. That song was chosen to have a video made, and produced by the PHI Centre team including Phoebe Greenberg, the director. That took two full days, lots of costume stuff, a great camera and technical crew. And my body-double and dear old high school friend Matthew, who played the sax in the video. The VFX stuff and images are all stunning and engaging, and to be directed in all those scenarios was a great deal of fun. I just write the songs! I enjoy seeing how people want to have them visualized. I did a music video myself once for another band and it took too long. I'm not terribly preoccupied with the visual world.

The video for “Bring You Back” was the first video I'd ever done for my own music. It was directed by Thom Gillies, who has a band called Vesuvio Solo, and it's just me dancing around in my neighborhood, which has a lot of interesting people in it. They really didn't mind the camera and seemed to enjoy watching me dance. It was edited by our friend Adam Wilcox, who is very enthusiastic about cinema, so he put a lot of effort into it and I think it shows. The cuts are all very natural and rhythmic, etc.

The "Swimming" video was just as impromptu, but it was more about objects and fabric colours. But actually now that I think about it, the two videos are very similar in that they’re just kind of weird, with me jerking around and such. But the costumes are really neat and the director, Renata Morales is, of course, a very fun person, and Antoine Bordeleau, who shot and edited it, made it look really cool on the web.

On your website you've released a set of tracks called the Midas EP. In many ways, it's quite different from Love Between Us, but I also think the Midas EP is recognizably yours. What are your thoughts on that? When you go back and listen to your work, do you hear it and recognize yourself? Are there concepts or themes that you seem to revisit?

Midas was actually written before Love Between Us, but I sat on it for a while. I would say that it's recognizably mine because, yes, I tend to oscillate between a few themes. I don't realize they’re there until I listen back and say, "Oh damnit, those are really similar ideas." There are a lot of themes that come about by adding only one instrument at a time, and that instrument is playing only one note at a time. But then, harmonically, something very striking comes out. I don't tend to hear all the voicing in my head as it happens. I hear bits of it and I add it all up. Somehow, though, I have heard from other people that there is something recognizable in my music from one thing to another, even when stylistically it’s very different, and that makes me feel nice because I like to recognize artists too. It makes me feel like I ‘know’ them. We have this understanding.

When I was looking for musicians to participate in The Spacesuits, I spent a lot of time listening in search of what I was calling 'paradise music.' When I heard Love Between Us, I was absolutely certain that I'd found it. That being said, I know how strange it is to have other people characterize your own work. What relation do you think the concept of paradise has to your music? 

A lot of people recognize, when I sing about technology in my music, that it's a really important part of my life. And when I dream, often technology creeps in there, because I know a lot about what might be possible with technology. So it's natural that those ideas enter my dreams, and of course paradise pops up in dreams – or, our projections of paradise maybe. Like being in a pilot-seat of an airplane or in a bed on a beach somewhere. I think I'm often trying to conjure up paradise in my lyrics, and just hoping that other people can relate to those silly ideas all strung together. Those shifting harmonies can really make a person feel like everything’s gonna be okay. I think when you're exposed to jazz, those rules change very drastically and ‘what’s okay’ changes. There are lots of different, faster, and smaller micro-emotions in jazz, and as I go further into the orchestral or instrumental music domain, I really question why I need to use lyric in the first place. I have to save that stuff, make it really count.

You mentioned hoping that people could relate to the “silly ideas all strung together” in your music, and I think that might actually be part of what makes your work all the more utopian. Paradise is a scary topic, or at least, it can cause discomfort – but somehow you manage to make it okay to fantasize about. What is it about shifting harmonies that makes people feel at ease? And more generally, how would you characterize what ‘paradise music’ is?

Lately I've been thinking about a lot of words in French that we use in English too, but mean something different. Like “sensible.” That's the French word for "sensitive.” Isn't that weird? How did that happen?

Anyway, paradise is everywhere these days, if you want it. I'm the worst. I'll just spend a couple bucks at the store and get a chocolate bar, and I'll be in paradise until it's done. Then maybe I'll go on Netflix, or take a bath. Winter on this planet is just devastating. I can't believe we just sit in our heated houses and go out and buy olives or work in a restaurant, or talk to your mother on Skype, who is on the other side of the Earth. Soon people will be so used to being apart and there will be crazy relationships that are born and die online. Probably already a million of those happened. I can sit alone in my apartment, reading a book on how to be a better person or how to drive a boat, or order pizza. Or look at naked people screaming with pleasure. We are doomed.

You talked about being exposed to those faster and smaller micro-emotions in jazz. Give me an example of a track that does that for you.

Well I'd like to offer any track where Wayne Shorter and Joe Zawinul play the theme together, because the phrases are so long and the notes that are sustained are usually beautiful harmonies interrupted by staccato chirping, a big glowing synthesizer and honking reed instrument blending together. The synthesizer is being strained to sound natural and the sax is played with such exactness and precision that it could be programmed. That's paradise, mechanical and silicone, participating while singing to you. There's no words in that music so you can listen while trying to imagine that words don’t exist at all in life, just melodic themes.

Can you say more about your relationship with technology? How does it open up possibilities for you in your music?

I'm just a freak when it comes to using and fixing stuff. I can't stand that feeling of not knowing about how some very useful device was developed, where it comes from, or how to change it. Lately I've been very scared of the consequences of piracy and received some very scary letters from my ISP. I'm very bad at earning money, so of course, like most composers, I use software that I didn’t pay for and that has been really eating at me. I decided the next big film gig I get, which might never happen, because who knows really, I'm going to pay for this very advanced, thoroughly researched world which I step into each day, staring at their colors and boxes for things that I hear and share with others. What a tragedy.

Something I might like to do when I have some ability to develop my own ideas would be more intuitive percussive interfaces, or just different ones – some things that allow for very natural movement in faking hand percussion, or maybe a mallet-based instrument that does something different than emulate a drum-kit or marimba and uses physical modeling. Or portable 3D sound that seems to be nowhere close. Where are the worn donuts that have 360 degrees of sound? Maybe it exists and I haven't seen it. I think 3D records will be a thing soon. Like easily, through iTunes. Can’t you see a donut-shaped Apple device you wear on your head? It's wireless. 10 or 12 channels. Imagine!

Karneef's newest album, Musique Impossible, will be released in April, in collaboration with the new Montréal-based composers' collective, Géocité, which includes Pascale Project, Bataille Solaire, and Dylan III.

The Spacesuits is sponsored in part by The Afrofuturist Affair, a community for Afrofuturists in Philadelphia, as well as by Pushdot Studio, a fine art printing studio in Portland, Oregon.

CTM Interview: Jesse Osborne-Lanthier

28 Jan 2015 — Henning Lahmann

The first time I consciously encountered the work of Montréalais Jesse Osborne-Lanthier was in the summer of 2013 when he curated a couple of nights of the Foreign Affairs festival at Haus der Festspiele in the pretty, curiously bourgois western side of town (where no one from the Kreuzberg/Neukölln expat bubble ever seems to go), together with his friends and NFOP regulars Alex Zhang Hungtai aka Dirty Beaches and Bernardino Femminielli. The same year, a new project popped up, immediately grabbing our attention: Femminielli Noir, Osborne-Lanthier's stupendous proto-techno collaboration with his fellow Montreal mate. By now, the artist has settled in Berlin's not-Neukölln-but-close-enough formerly eastern neighbourhood of Alt-Treptow, where I visited him the other night to talk about his new and old hometowns, upcoming projects, and his involvement in the NFOP-presented Berlin Current, CTM Festival's platform for emerging experimental music by artists living within the city limits. Read the interview below.

Jesse Osborne-Lanthier will perform alongside Wilhelm Bras, Ketev, RSS B0ys, Kucharczyk, and Olle Holmberg at CTM Festival's Beta II night at Yaam III on Saturday, January 31. For more infos go here.

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Tell me a little bit about your background, where you come from musically, because I saw that you also have a background in visual arts, not only in music?

Yeah, I used to do a lot more visual arts, in fact I’m trying to find a way to reincorporate that in my work. I think the concept of being a "musician" is far less interesting to me than being the kind of person who can re-contextualize moments or experiences in life onto any certain medium. Music is the way I express myself best, now, I’m trying to loop it back around and junction here and then, to see if some of that old way of translating experience onto creation still holds true to me. I’m working with Grischa Lichtenberger on some A/V stuff at the moment, the tinkering and conceptualizing parts are super stimulating. There’s this aspect of detachment towards being a musician – someone being related to an instrument / machine that I don’t really enjoy that much. For instance, that’s why the stuff with Femminielli Noir is mainly derived from concepts, jokes, toilet philosophy and a cynical attitude towards the world.

How long have the two of you been working together?

I think like four years now? It’s been kind of a series of sporadic events. The stuff happens and is made really fast and then we tour it out or release it and move on.

How did you get to know Francesco De Gallo and the whole Hobo Cult community?

Frank is a really good friend. I had heard his material around because he saturates the Montreal experimental music market so much, it’s basically impossible not to come across his work.  Everything he does, he records and puts out. I used to work at a synth shop in Montreal, so I met him when he came to the store once with a couple of friends and we hit it off right away. The next week we were jamming together, shirtless, in 40 degrees celcius heat. I consider Frank close to a brother now. I’m actually trying to get him to come to Berlin and hang out for a while, see if he can break the static of staying/melting in Montreal. Money is an issue though, of course.

So you did not go to Montreal for the music, you just accidentally became part of the scene?

Well I had a few music projects. I went to France with a collective of artists in 2009 or something to to do visual and music stuff. When I came back to Ottawa that fall I had no real place to stay and I had a friend staying in Montreal who could offer me a job so I went. I was always associated with music and art acts from that corner so it was kind of an easy thing to go there. Because in Canada, where are you gonna go? It’s either Toronto, Vancouver, or Montreal, the latter being closest geographically.

Do you have a formal education in music?

No, I’m actually pretty dissociated from the whole academic value of music. I’d rather learn everything by myself. I’ve always had this anti-authoritarian way of thinking about education and felt like it was best for me to just invest the money I would invest in school in buying gear, experimenting and then learning with books, online or tutorials on Youtube which I’m very addicted to. So there’s no formal education at all.

You seem to be very much into hardware – on your bandcamp I saw lists of gear used.

I think that list is more of a joke for myself (to remember), relating to the fact that I had a phase for it and to the ridiculous amount of money that went into the production of a small-run tape. Right now I’m not so obsessed with hardware. I’ve downsized the studio when moving to Berlin and basically purged most of my possessions. It seems that this entire masturbatory geek hardware way of approaching art or music is kind of disengaging. I see these things as tools, some of which are essential to "making music", but they’re not permanent and have little to do with what I want to achieve for myself or what I’m looking for. My surroundings have changed and gear is just not where I want to focus or waste energy on. I admire Grischa for instance who does everything on the computer but can translate a clear engaging narrative that is actually way more interesting than that of a lot of people who use a ton of hardware to say nothing at all.

I really love his music. How did you get to know Grischa?

I sent him an email cause I was really interested in his work and in Raster-Noton in general at the time. I was coming to Berlin for a few shows and I just asked if he wanted to meet up and talk. So we met and hung out. I later booked him for that Berliner Festspiele weekend that I helped curate, we got along really well, connected on many levels and started an imaginative, abstract project that later came to life when I invited him to Montreal to play Mutek with me.

Is there a plan to do things more permanently with him?

Yeah, it’s a permanent project now. We’re working on different performances and installation concepts, an LP is also in the works.

Is that the main thing you want to do right now? Because it seems like you are very much a collaboration person. There are all those different projects with other people.

I really like the aspect of collaboration – when it works. There are other collaborative efforts where it just doesn’t seem to stick or I feel like I’m kind of judgmental towards the other person, which is not how you want it to be when working with someone. The reason why there’s more collaboration stuff is that at the moment creating alone doesn’t come as easy. I also like that working with other people lets me exercise other ideas and methods. With Bernardino for example creation has become a world of its own, it has a tongue-in-cheeky, jokey political aspect, it's nonchalant; we make fun of stuff, make each other laugh, it’s quite laid back. This way of working is not something I would really integrate into my solo approach.

How did that happen?

It started from conversations about the disdain of the Montreal local scene. We wanted to start this somewhat provocative project that kind of hinted at the sluggishness of our surroundings. From there it took on different shapes, from performances to recordings and actions. We grew really close and the philosophy of the whole project has evolved quite well. – When working alone I look at it more like I’m documenting stages of my life – It takes on this personal archival scope, like Athenaeum Of Unedited Superannuated Incomplete Unreleased Intimate Works 2011-2011 and Otherwise Insignificant Psyche Debris – there’s no real concept behind them, rather a documentation of a way of seeing things and experiences I lived within a selected time-frame.

Let me come back to Montreal for a second. For the outside world it seems like this creative heaven, that’s the perception everyone had for the last couple of years. But the way you’re describing it – what would you say is lacking, what should be happening but is not?

Well one of the reasons I left is that I felt like I wasn’t advancing that fast anymore. I was playing these three same festivals every year, contributing to the biggest kind of platforms that were available for me in Montreal, on a loop, I had to get out of this cycle. I feel like although Montreal is a creative hub for artists where you will meet amazing people and will work non-stop on music and art and get gigs all the time if you put your mind to it, there is a certain redundancy and sadness in the fact that for the most part it doesn’t really leave Montreal. There’s not much focus on the city being a monolithically established cultural area where people can exchange with people internationally, like other cities can be… the possibility is just ignored more often then not. The exchange often only happens within Montreal itself – this closely knit feeling can be nice but it leads to problems when you’re trying to gain momentum and get noticed and respected on a bigger scale. I feel like in the fields of electronic music, Quebec is generally recognized for what it did in the earlier, safe, academic electro-acoustic era, which is boring. Very few people in the province make it out elsewhere and succeed in reaching bigger spheres and publics. There’s also no venues right now. There’s no space to actually do anything interesting without having to save up your 9-to-5 pays for a year to rent a sound-system and space. There are these pricey or unavailable standard places that the festivals use, but most lofts, small clubs and venues that host, the entire underground after-hour show scene have been pummelled by gentrification… people with "power" are coming in, deciding that this is not happening anymore. There was this whole debate thing last year – finally we had this hope that the city would allow bars, clubs, venues and cultural spaces to be open until 6am, which is not something that is regular for Canadian or even Quebec cities. The bars that the elected representatives did decide to give these permits to were all these really corporate, douchy, dead-inside kind of spaces on the two scummiest streets in Montreal… then the bill got refused altogether, so in the end nothing happened. But the suggested plan had no relationship to culture, music, arts, or night-life. There are no conscious decisions to bring forth cultivable opportunities for people to have fun past 3am or whatever. Of course, you can always do what people have been doing for the past 15 years; go catch a shitty 10pm noise or indie show at Casa Del Popolo, where the stage is built on top of a broken sub woofer, most sound-guys are deaf and you hear the conversation of the people next to you more than the music. Of course, I say this all in good fun, there are amazing things about Montreal.

But do you feel like now that you’re in Berlin and you have been here before, do you feel like there’s more energy here, that things are different? Because some of the things you just described, I can actually relate to.

Yeah. Well Berlin for me is, hm – like, for example, although I really like Paris, I wouldn’t move there,  cause for me, it feels too "fast". Here there’s instead a slow thing going on, like, if you want to go out or find something interesting to do on any day, you can probably just go on social media and find something, which is interesting… I feel it’s what I’m looking for at the moment; I can take it slow, be a hermit and work on stuff at home, but if I do feel like getting wild and funky, the opportunity for me to do so is at hand whenever. I never really wanted to move to Berlin permanently, it’s a place I fell in love with easily when I came here the first couple of times, and then it was like okay, the Montreal routine is driving me into the ground and so, I must leave, I must find somewhere else, where I’ll feel stimulated, and this seemed like the most logical place to come – I’d already been coming to Europe every year anyway. In my six months here I’ve been in contact with people that I find really interesting and respect, collaborating with actors that I thought were way out of reach within the spectrum of electronic music, I realized that everything is so closely knit, that there are possibilities to engage with some of these artists really easily. There’s also the other attractive point of Europe, that if you want to use music or art as something to make a bit of money and travel, you can easily go to any other country which has its own culture, language, food and so on, and you can gain a few hundred Euros of doing that and then can come back here as your home base – in Canada, you’re gonna play Toronto for a hundred bucks but spend a hundred on gasoline going back and forth, and then you’re gonna be stuck in this room with thirty people, half of them friends... how about trying Vancouver which is five days of driving away...?

How did you get in touch with the people at Berlin Current, how did all that come about?

I met Oliver Baurhenn of CTM through Nathalie Bachand of Elektra. I had a meeting with him but that didn’t really pan out to anything, I thought it was more of a greeting thing cause I wanted to meet people here, and Elektra kind of opened the door to that. Later on through Olle Holmberg [Moon Wheel] and Yair Elazar Glotman [Ketev] who were playing this night, we decided that it would be interesting to maybe start a project together so we had this little meeting, and I think Olle sent Jan Rohlf [co-founder of CTM] some of my stuff and he was really into it and just emailed me the next day and asked if I wanted to play this lineup.

What’s your live setup gonna be like?

Oh, I have no idea yet.

Is it going to be improvisation?

No, most of it will be pre-planned stuff. For me improvisation is more of a way to make things stick together, building a narrative with the pieces that I have. Each show is different because I tend contextualize stuff in a certain section of time. So it will depend on the next two weeks really. I think I might play some stuff I played on the mini-tour that I did in France about a month ago. But other than that I have no idea. It always really changes. I don’t know if it’s gonna be experimental or more dancey – it will most likely be more clubby because of the context.

It’s probably gonna be the night for that, as it’s on the final club night of CTM.

Some of my expat musician friends in Berlin keep telling me that they love Berlin, they love coming here because they sort of find the freedom they were looking for, but at the same time they feel isolated from the "scene", whatever that might be in Berlin, but you seem to not have experienced that.

Well maybe I haven’t been here long enough to actually integrate myself that much and see that manifest itself. For me the only isolation comes from not knowing that many people and feeling like I don’t have as many close friends here as I do for instance in Montreal and so, I feel alone in that sense. I don’t necessarily attach myself to any particular scene. I kind of move around and experience all of them differently, I’d been doing that in Montreal as well, It helps to get less sick of surroundings.

And it seems like you have met the right people, like Olle or Grischa.

Oh yeah I think it’s working well. Maybe I have a different output, I don’t know where the other people are coming from but for me it just seems like it’s totally up to yourself, it’s open to what you want, there’s not much money here, and I feel like somehow, because of that there is a sense of teamwork that makes shit happen. With or without funds a lot of people will be like, ‘’hey, you wanna do this? Let’s do it! And then it’ll happen – but then again this might just be my experience of previously living in a city that’s not so happening. So coming here is quite exciting. The winter is still kind of dead, but there’s something still brewing and in comparison Montreal winters are the death of fun.

It’s interesting to see how differently people experience coming to Berlin as artists.

When I came here two summers ago and went to Urban Spree for the first time, I felt like all the people I was running into outside in the food court area before the show were all from different countries, from different backgrounds, yet a lot of them still relatable, that was a pretty great feeling.

Right. I love the space just for that actually.

So what’s coming up next for you?

Yeah, there’s the Femminielli Noir LP 12" coming out on Mind Records which is our mother label and has really helped in getting some of the Montreal people on the map in Europe, there’s great stuff on the horizon for MIND, I highly recommend checking it out. We’re doing this Germany/France mini-tour in February with the founder of the label, Abraham Toledano (Moyō) and our friend Shub’s (ex member of Dirty Beaches) new solo project Night Musik (who is also releasing his LP on MIND, which I helped produce). There’s another Femminielli Noir EP 12" on this Montreal-based record label called "NEW". Then there’s a solo release on Where To Now? I’m working on and a 7" and 5" again on MIND, plus I’m supposed to possibly compile something for Entr’acte at some point. There’s a collaboration tape with Robert Lippok [Raster Noton, To Rococo Rot] on Geographic North who are doing great things. Grischa and I are putting the final touches on our record which is scheduled for release in summer 2015 but I can’t really say more about that yet. I’ll be doing a few more solo shows in Switzerland and Denmark in March before heading to the EMS studio in Stockholm, Sweden for a two week residency.

But that’s all more or less finished already.

Right. I also would really really enjoy getting more into the conceptual art game thing with my solo work. I have different ideas and plans that I want to establish but I’ve yet to put everything together.

So this is where the visual stuff comes back into your work?

Yeah, well, it doesn’t necessarily even need to be visual but I want to examine other potentials in general.

I feel like this is a direction that’s been happening in the underground scene as of late, more drifting towards the art world.

I think that’s really interesting. The lines have become really blurred in the past few years, and they’re getting more blurry. We are seeing this entire emergence of pop culture leaking into experimental ideals and vice-versa. But I’ve been saying this for years, I’m really interested in all those hybrids of hybrids of hybrids. Although all of these possibilities are opening up new worlds to engage with, this is also contributing to the fact that we are producing way too much material, and in turn contributing to one of the main "problems". Still exciting though.

I agree though, it’s too much. Trying to keep up can get really frustrating sometimes.

I agree. I have a lot of problems with that.

But for me this seems to be like something that Berlin is really good for. This merging of the art scenes and pop and the experimental scenes. Everyone seems to be here at least for a while and is willing to further blur those lines. There’s a certain kind of open-mindedness.

I feel like that’s one of the things people think about when they think about Berlin stereotypically. You know, this impact that the war amongst other things had on this place, if you think about that and then what came after regarding music, arts, design, culture, etc, I can see why a lot of people think of this city as one of the capitals of cultural weirdness, forward-thinking open-mindedness that blurs the lines. It’s a melting pot in that sense, everyone seems to be here for something related to arts, there’s less of a sense of competition here rather than team effort. I really appreciate that.

FIJI “Fave Hours (Ft. Hood Joplin)” + Manicure Records Feature (exclusive)

31 Oct 2014 — Andi Wilson

Today we speak to label boss Tom Mike (aka Ghibli) regarding the background, aesthetics, and future on one of the most forward-thinking & online-based pop labels we know, Manicure Records. Along with the interview, NFOP exclusively premieres a mega-catchy single by their newest signee FIJI, titled “Fave Hours (Ft. Hood Joplin)”.

Take us back to when Ghibli started (which was a pretty house-y project at that time). Did you ever expect it to somewhat grow into running your own label?

I started Ghibli around 2010 and was just figuring out how to use samples and trying to combine my love of beat music and choral compositions. I rediscovered my love of disco along the way and spent the next few years trying to figure out how to blend these disparate pools of influence into one big ocean. After eventually getting tired of sending out submissions to people and not getting any traction with other labels, I started my own little corner of the internet for me and my friends. I absolutely did not expect the amount of support and recognition that we’ve received in the past ten months.

The sounds of Manicure vary from electronic hyper-pop, trance, club, to most recently twisting heavily-commercial pop hits. For example reworking Ariana Grande's "One Last Time" and tagging tracks as '#manicured'. Not to mention creating your own blends of singles by producers that I only assume heavily influence Manicure, like Sophie's "Bipp". Now we're seeing very young, emerging producers come into the fold such as Guy Akimoto, lilangelboi, and ponibbi. Did most of the relationships that consist of Manicure's roster evolve from the web or is everyone from the same (somewhat underground) community in Edmonton, Canada? Who is currently involved?

Below is who’s currently involved based on chronologically going through the Manicure Souncloud:

Jasmine, who’s based in the UK, was someone that I had been emailing back and forth for a few years before Manicure became a vehicle for us/her. We bonded over Jam City mixes and she’s been really important in expanding the aesthetic of the label.

My good friend Kara sent over some lilangelboi tracks last summer and I became obsessed with nightcore. After starting Manicure we got him up to do shows in Edmonton (he was originally based in Calgary). Eventually he moved here where he’s been thriving since.

DJ Cashinout (formerly DJ Debussey Turnpike) is from the states and we linked up through submissions that he sent to me after I started the label. He is really young and has a lot of potential. I’m excited to see what he has in store.

ponibbi came up to me at a party last winter and stole a joint out of my hand while I was talking to someone else and walked away with it. We’ve been close friends ever since and he’s become an indispensable part and a rising star of the label.

I heard of KLSLWSK through Tielsie’s Soundcloud likes and became obsessed with his production style. We signed him just before the JACK댄스 world tour and he played his first live show at the Vancouver stop with us.

I met Guy Akimoto when Simon Whybray (founder of JACK) brought him on the Canadian edition of the JACK tour. He was both incredibly kind and talented, a really rare combination. We all became super down after seeing him live and we signed him a short while afterwards.

As for FIJI, Beaux Maris is the single strongest/smartest/nicest woman I know in the world, and Hood Joplin is the turn up queen and adds a lot of depth and character to the crew.
I’m incredibly lucky to know both of them.

Beaux/ponibbi/HJ are all from Edmonton. Every other relationship has been built online.

Read more →

Have these projects been producing under the same techniques for a while or did they start based on the label and what you want to provide for your listeners?

I think everyone was just doing a more general or broader approach in terms of their content creation and personal aesthetic before they joined us. Since signing, I’ve been trying to refine or double down on certain elements in order for the songs to be the very best that they can be. I don’t think we care about other listeners outside of our group at all. We make music for ourselves first, for our friends second, and for everyone else last.

You also previously mentioned to me how some of the releases and even artists are built completely around aesthetic, such as the project FIJI. Are these new releases technically side projects of everyone running Manicure to keep releases as cohesive as possible? Or is it more of an idea to challenge the typical structure of how most labels release music?

FIJI is like Halley’s Comet. Something that happens at a certain time and place and fades away afterwards, hopefully making an impact. A lot of producers from the label teaming up and providing an aesthetic that doesn’t have a lot of coverage right now. It will mark the debut of two new stars on the label, Beaux and HJ and would be unfair to call a side project. It’s more of a one-off intense focus thing than anything else. Single-collab tracks are just made for fun. Usually because one producer has something the other one could use, or one person hears something more and wants to capitalize on it.

When you first announced Manicure with a somewhat interactive site, it was the first time I had seen any of my internet peers break out and really start their own brand. What influenced your design and philosophies behind the label? Even down to the 'Turn up!' tags. Everything is so on point.

It would be a lie to say that PC Music wasn’t hugely influential on Manicure. After following A. G. Cook and the other releases from last summer onwards, I knew I wanted to do something similar. Where the majority of things on PC Music stem very much from pure original content from Cook or his collaborators, I’ve always found inspiration from outside sources and trying to mimic them in my own way (poorly). This results in bizarro versions of the original and I feel like we’ve been assembling a team of people who do very similar things with the culture surrounding them. Everyone on the label has very strongly established aesthetics already. Thankfully they all mesh pretty well with one another.

As for the vernacular, Beaux and I for a literal decade, now joined by our other friends, have always had our own specific euphemisms. We tend to go through phases of abusing one word in lots of different, usually unconventional situations (e.g. ‘sus’). I have problems dividing the line between URL and IRL anyway, so eventually these mannerisms begin to leak out and affect the label. People seem to be down however, so thats a plus.

Soundcloud & Twitter seem to be the main domains for Manicure at the moment, pushing your artists to reach new audiences with not only growing fan-bases but also collaborations between the producers themselves. As the internet changes and becomes more saturated every day, how does the label plan to adapt to new online platforms & experiences?

Things are under wraps right now but we're expanding on the universe with additional interactive visual platforms. These things are tricky and they have to be perfect for launch so that’s why I’m being extremely vague about it.

We also just started an Instagram where we can post pictures of our painted nails so that’s tite.

Some of your artists (including yourself) are beginning to surface from the PC-realm to IRL performances. I saw you recently collaborated with the JACK댄스 party for their worldwide tour and you are beginning to plan events of your own. How do these collaborations happen? It reads and seems to be working as a beautiful way to bring cyberspace to reality.

With JACK it was very much a situation where I kept thinking and talking about it and eventually against the odds the collaboration happened. People who are leaving the internet to come to the parties seem to be having a good time. The trouble is convincing people who are out already and aren’t aware of the aesthetic or trends on Soundcloud. The internet can easily trick us into thinking things have way more weight in the real world than they do online. It’s important to balance out these extreme online aesthetics with real world tangibility and cohesion.

What does Manicure Records 2015 have in store for us?

More songs / more performances / more artists / more turn ups!

Keep your eyes and ears peeled for the FIJI mixtape in early December. Check out some other highlight tracks from Manicure Records below.