Watch: Kvien & Sommer “Kwan” (exclusive)

24 Jun 2015 — Henning Lahmann

Kvien & Sommer is the collaborative project of two highly acclaimed Norwegian musicians, vocalist and improviser Mari Kvien Brunvoll and composer/multi-instrumentalist Espen Sommer Eide. We're not sure if Weathering, the duo's four-track mini album, is a one-off affair or even the result of a set of spontaneous creative impulses. But it certainly reaffirms Karelia-based imprint Full of Nothing's position as one of the most adventurous and forward-minded cassette labels out there. Described as containing "four broken suites for voice, modular synthesizers, bagpipe and various sound objects", Weathing is an unassuming yet subtly bold collection of contemporary exerimental music. Of all tracks, "Kwan" is the easiest to access upon first listen, a quiet, pensive movement focused on a fractured rhythm pattern, with melodic fragments merely insinuated at most. The piece only reveals its hidden marvels when taken together with the accompanying video by Piotr Pajchel, an equally abstract series of circles and grainy waveforms in black and white. Watch it below.

Weathering is out now on Full of Nothing. Get the cassette over here.

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Interview: LYKANTHEA

23 Jun 2015 — Henry Schiller

In her video for "Parturition" ambient artist Lykanthea walks slowly from an ancient Etruscan burial ground before settling in the sea. The mythic, almost otherworldy video is fitting: The Rome-based Chicagoan, whose real name is Lakshmi Ramgopal, wrote much of the EP Migration while studying ancient ruins on the remote Greek island of Delos.

Last week I spoke with Lykanthea over email about her time spent on Delos, the Sumerian mythology that inspired her EP, and the difficulties of pursuing a music career and a PhD at the same time. Check out the video for "Parturtion" below, and read my interview with Lykanthea after the jump.

 

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To start things off, I’d be interested in learning a little more about how Migration came together in Delos. Was there some point in your time there when you decided to record the EP, or was it something you had been thinking about beforehand?

When I went to Delos, I was in the early stages of researching my dissertation and needed to visit the island to study and photograph some of its archaeological ruins. I had decided even before I left the States that I wanted to start writing my record while I was traveling, so I brought a tiny Akai midi controller with me to Greece. I would get up at 3am in the morning, thanks to jetlag, and fiddle with the controller while I sang into my laptop until the sun came up.

How much of the EP would you say was recorded on Delos? How much of it was put together when you got back to Chicago?

The record was written and recorded all over the place - on Delos, in Athens, in Chicago. "Telos," which I wrote almost in its entirety on Delos, remained the least changed throughout the writing, recording and mixing process. I spent a lot more time agonizing over "Aphonia" and "Hand and Eye," since I spent months rearranging and rerecording them in Chicago. In the end, everything came together at different times and places. For instance, I didn't touch many of the low-fi vocal takes I recorded with my laptop mic for the demo of "Telos," since they included quirky little ambient sounds that the mic picked up from the chair I was sitting in while recording. But I replaced the original vocal parts in other songs with studio retakes in Chicago. That's also where I added guitar and live drums.

How did the experience of being in such an isolated place influence the songwriting? Did it push the record in a direction that your music may not have been going in before?

I'm sure it did. I didn't consciously set out to write a dreamy, inward looking album, especially since my old band wrote electronic dancepop. Initiating my first solo record while living alone on this rocky, raw, mostly uninhabited island put me in a mindset that helped me go deeply inward in a way I hadn't experienced in songwriting before. That mindset stayed with me for a long time after I left. I think it's what made the album's world feel so complete in the end, at least to me. And maybe even a little solipsistic. I'm speaking to myself in it because I'm alone.

In addition to being almost uninhabited, Delos is pretty famous is Greek mythology as the birthplace of Artemis and Apollo - I was also curious as to what kind of influence mythology might have had on the record.

The Sumerian story of the goddess Inanna is the original inspiration for a lot of the ideas contained in Migration. Inanna is described as a terrifying force of creation and destruction who voluntarily makes her way to the underworld and is then involuntarily held there against her will. The process of entering and finally leaving the underworld changes her, since it forces her to confront her weaknesses, her dark sides. I was immediately drawn to the Sumerian myths that frame these ideas of birth and death, of claiming yourself despite yourself. I wanted to build on their narrative structures and symbolic language to make myths of my own.

Is an interest in mythology what lead you to graduate work in Classics?

Actually, no. I've never been that interested in Greek and Roman gods. I headed to a grad program in Classics because I'm a historian at heart. I want to know what people did and why, I want to know how they come to understand themselves. Mythology definitely plays a part in self understanding. But for me, it's the people, not the gods, who pull me in.

There have been a couple of other artists who have balanced very interesting recording projects with academic commitments. Do you think there’s anything about the academic lifestyle that contributes – positively or negatively – to your work as a recording artist?

I'd say there's plenty of good and bad. Being a grad student has given me lots of freedom to decide when and where I do my work. I've been able to spend a lot of time on writing music and touring in addition to being a researcher and teacher. It's amazing to be able to do that. Plus, my academic field allows me to travel, and that travel changes me and gives my music a lot of texture.

But it's also hard being an academic and a musician. Plenty of academics think that peers who use their time for serious, non-academic work are unserious about their academic work. I've received comments about this throughout graduate school. That's really hard, to feel like you can't be yourself in a community you're part of, to feel like you have to hide an essential part of yourself.

Do you have a community of artists – removed from the graduate community that you’re a part of -  that you work with frequently?

I do! Musicians and designers and artists, many in Chicago and the rest scattered around the world. I know a lot of them through social media networks, and those relationships have yielded a lot of amazing collaborations, like the capsule collection with Hvnter Gvtherer and the video with Krist Mort. These relationships have been so creatively nourishing. They've pushed me to keep raising my standards and also defy any instinct to fit into any particular genre, musical or otherwise. It's important to work with other people, otherwise you get stuck in your head and develop an ossified way of thinking about things.

Speaking of your work with Krist Mort: the video for “Parturition” was shot in an Etruscan burial site at Orvieto – how did the two of you decide on that particular location?

I've been drawn to the textures and gloomy interiors of Etruscan tombs since I first visited them in college. They have a weird, alien quality, maybe because they're architecturally less familiar to people than, say, Roman ruins. They immediately came to mind when Kristina and I decided to shoot the video. Since Migration deals partly with the idea that we emerge from phases in life as new people, I wanted to shoot at a necropolis, which literally means "city of the dead." Our original plan to apply for a permit to shoot at a site at a town called Cerveteri. The permit was rejected by the division of the Italian archaeological commission that runs that site, probably because the video has nothing to do with Etruscan archaeology. So then we applied to shoot at Orvieto. Amazingly, the request went through.

You just played a spate of shows around Europe – what kinds of recording software and audio devices are part of your live repertoire?

My live shows are mostly improvised versions of songs from my album. I do a lot of singing, which I loop heavily and run through a mix of EHX and other pedals. I also play synth parts with a midi controller hooked up to my laptop, use backing tracks and play a guitar with a cello bow. In the past I've performed with choruses, clarinetists and violinists onstage, and I'm hoping to make that a more permanent thing. Having more people onstage makes the music bigger, more texture, more energized.

 

Watch: Katapulto “Blue Eyes” (exclusive)

22 Jun 2015 — Henning Lahmann

There are basically two ways to do an Elton John cover. You can either make an attempt to out-romance the master himself, in which case you should ensure that your video involves tiny cats and Super-8 videography. Or you try something else, like going all meta for instance. Enter Bristol-via-Poland artist Wojtek Rusin, whose work as Katapulto has been described as "kinda like a brighter, ostensibly straighter adjunct to Autre Ne Veut", a comparison not necessarily obvious (or convincing) if the two didn't happen to be championed by Olde English Spelling Bee, still one of the most important underground labels of the last five years. For "Blue Eyes", a song taken from his recently released full-length Powerflex, Rusin not only reinterprets the original itself, turning it into the greasy synth anthem John actually should have come up with in 1982. Almost carrying the joke too far, on top of that he encroaches on the video, extracting the original's overblown white grand piano and presenting it in glaring high definition, before rather literally deconstructing this ultimate symbol of decaying pop grandeur.

Powerflex is out on Olde English Spelling Bee. Get it over here.

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Watch: Jannick Schou “Skov II”

12 Jun 2015 — Henry Schiller

“Skov II” seems to be hiding something. On the latest from Danish noisemaker Jannick Schou, wallops of percussion and melody flex into the expanse of noise by which “Skov II” seems, initially, to be defined. What’s going on under the rug? Sure, samples of neighing horses inflict the track with a sense of doom and gloom, but Schou seems more keen on making your head shake than scaring you away.

The video for “Skov II” highlights the track’s balance of graveyard ambience and late night fun. We’re driven through a world of twisting lines and chattering digital shapes; assaulted by video artifacts and occasionally by obfuscated “real world” images like that of an eye opening and closing (at least I think that’s what it was). Though you might be hard-pressed to come up with a way to categorize “Skov II” (is it the night out or the nightmare?), it’s more than likely you’ll be pulled into its rhythm.

“Skov II” is the second video to be released for Schou’s album Fabrik, which came out Tuesday on Experimedia.

 

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Watch: Asa 808 “Ignorance” (exclusive)

07 May 2015 — Henning Lahmann

As is often the case with words derived from Latin and employed in different European languages, the connotations of ‘ignorance’ in modern English and ‘Ignoranz’ in German are not exactly congruent. The difference is subtle: While ‘ignorance’ denotes the lack of knowledge in a principally neutral manner, ‘Ignoranz’ is decidedly derogatory, a reprehensible quality most commonly understood primarily as a lack of the will to know. When thinking about the accustomed perception of post-reunification Germany especially among my non-German peers, my native tongue’s meaning seems  more appropriate.

In recent years, marked by important publications such as Denk and von Thülen’s brilliant “The Sound of Family – Berlin, Techno and the Reunification”, it has become habitual to take Berlin, that “big playground filled with infinite possibilities”, as the focal point for narratives about the country prior to and following the fall of the wall in 1989. In the deserted wastelands of Mitte, techno culture was able to bloom mainly due to a historically unique lack of authoritative structures, leaving big parts of the city unregulated and free to be occupied by counter-cultural currents. For contemporary witnesses, the anarchic conditions promised an underground paradise, and the appeal of that time still resonates not least as a cliché reference point for every club night in town. It still is one of the main reason why so many young people want to move to Berlin today.

“Ignorance”, the lead track on local producer ASA 808’s new 12” on London/Berlin imprint ManMakeMusic, in a way echoes this legendary era of classic Berlin techno. It is raw, straightforward, and dark, evoking images of unrestrained nights in abandoned warehouses. It’s not a joyful track but one made for ecstatic oblivion, to relive the feeling of freedom the city once embodied some 25 years ago.

The thing is, if you let Germans play anarchy, the most likely outcome is not techno but a pogrom.

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Just in time for the 70th anniversary of Germany’s unconditional surrender on May 8th, 1945, the video for “Ignorance”, premiered above, is a necessary reminder of this. Depicting the events in Rostock Lichtenhagen in the summer of 1992, it shows the other side of the breakdown of public structures. Over the course of three days, a vitriolic mob was able to express the people’s hate and frustration by attacking the shelter of the most vulnerable members of society, refugees and so-called ‘guest workers’ (it would take Germans another 15 years to slowly become comfortable using the word ‘immigrant’). The reaction of the authorities was reluctant and insufficient at first, and catastrophic in the aftermath. The incidents in Rostock represent the shameful counter-narrative of the reunification years. As it happens, it’s also the one that we forget to tell often enough.

When people want to show how admirable the New Germany really is, they like to point out that as opposed to so many other European countries, right-wing populist parties like those haunting France, the Netherlands, Denmark, Hungary, and others usually don’t stand a chance in federal elections. Sure enough. The reason for that, however, is not so much that we’re all such reasonable people. There’s simply no real need to vote for upstart populists if their positions are already comfortably covered by the main parties in the parliament, usually by Angela Merkel’s Christian Democrats. But make no mistake, the Social Democrats won’t hesitate a second if morally outrageous standpoints benefit their electoral campaigns, in particular if the victims of ensuing parliamentary decisions are not considered part of the body politic. What happened in 1992 is a case in point: the political reaction to the Rostock pogroms (and other violent xenophobic incidents in the early 90s) was not to strengthen the protection of refugees but to effectively abolish the constitutional right to asylum, all in order to appease the incensed electorate. The two-thirds majority necessary for the change of the constitution was eagerly provided by the oppositional Social Democrats under Oskar Lafontaine (who of course remains highly esteemed among the pseudo-communists at Jacobin), a decision he should be reminded of every morning at breakfast until the end of his days.

30 years ago on May 8th, 1985, the late former Federal President Richard von Weizsäcker managed to reinterpret history by postulating that just like Auschwitz or Buchenwald, just like Denmark or Poland, the Germans were ‘liberated’ by the Allied Forces in 1945, as if the Nazis had been something alien, an irresistible force that had somehow overpowered the poor, ignorant German populace in 1933. Similar words will be spoken tomorrow, generic drivel about the hardships of war, and about how we have ‘learned’ our lesson so that we’re now entitled to tell other nations in Europe and beyond when and where they err, and how they should behave in order to become as wise and dignified as we ourselves are today, all because of what ‘happened to us’ during National Socialist rule. Dialectic can be so ironic.

It’s lovely, this benign new Germany, isn’t it. Most of my expat friends in our Kreuzberg/Neukölln bubble sure think so. Why should we, they ask, not have the ‘right’ to mourn those civilians who died in Dresden and all the other bombed-out cities, why shouldn’t we have the ‘right’ to point out the ‘injustices’ of the post-war expulsions of Germans from Eastern and Central Europe?

Yes, why shouldn’t we. Perhaps because it was us who started it. Or perhaps because there is an uninterrupted, coherent narrative line running from November 9th, 1938, to the events in Rostock in the summer of 1992 and all the way to Tröglitz in April of 2015. That’s why. For those who don’t want to see, ignorance becomes an excuse.

After all, 70 years is a fucking short amount of time.

Those who agree that Germany’s unconditional surrender on May 8th, 1945, is an unconditional reason to be cheerful should celebrate at SchwuZ tomorrow night together with our friends at Jungle World. More info on the event over here.

The Ignorance 12" is out on ManMakeMusic.

Watch: Sayth “Rare Candy”

07 May 2015 — Johanne Swanson

Full disclosure, Eric Wells is my friend. Better known as Sayth, Eric is the only queer rapper in my hometown of Eau Claire, Wisconsin. Things you should know about him: He is, more or less, a living beam of light. Passing through town, chances are you’ll run into him hanging up flyers for a house show or helping a local band screenprint t-shirts. His mom is his biggest fan.

Sayth released a video for “Rare Candy” this week. To date, the track is his magnum opus, a call to action for community and statement of rejecting the commodification of art, “Raised in a culture that values art as an audience/A corpse and a bunch of vultures seeking dominance.” The video is all things summertime in Eau Claire, a sleepy place with a constantly rotating group of kids reappropriating space and making cool shit. The current cast of young local movers in those quiet Midwestern places is shown-- hang down by the river with the boys of Glassworks improv or girl-gang around the mall with Hemma and Adelyn Rose. Watch “Rare Candy” below.

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Watch: GABI “Falling”

17 Apr 2015 — Ethan Jacobs

The tracks on Sympathy, Gabrielle Herbst’s official debut as GABI, are not songs but full fledged compositions. Herbst’s crystalline vocals are at the epicenter of every piece’s distinct atmosphere – other interwoven echoes and instrumentation ripple outward into oblivion. Every detail is calculated and adds texture, and every track is consuming. The spacious quality in GABI’s music demands to be bolstered by visuals that explain more of the story. In her video for "Falling", her aesthetic proclivities give us a clearer picture of the mastermind behind this music. GABI and a few other beautiful people, who appear to have survived the apocalypse, traverse a blank landscape, intermittently breaking out into interpretive dance. The energy that flows throughout "Falling" encounters chirpy highs and distilled, empty lows, and the dance routines gain fire and crumble away as the song's drama continuously climbs and falls. The last line of the song is 'Love as debris', which echoes three times as the sky lights up pink above GABI and her surviving clan. The various working parts of the track gradually dismantle until all that’s left is the debris of the place GABI created.

Sympathy is out now on Software.

GABI is playing at Berlin's ACUD as part of a Torstraßenfestival Warm-Up on May 20. More infos here.

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Watch: IAN “If You’re Cryin”

30 Mar 2015 — Ethan Jacobs

For the Boston/LA-based fuzz rock trio IAN, this past year has been nothing short of action-packed. They went on three tours, played SXSW, released a self-titled cassette on Boston’s Bufu Records, and relocated to LA. To commemorate their journey to where they are now, they released a video for “If You’re Cryin”, a mixture of intimate footage from their live shows and beguiling scenes of being goofy over the last year. The track, a heart-felt upbeat pop gem about the inevitability of taking on the pain of the person you love, is a perfect showcase of IAN’s ability to craft impassioned and sincere pop music that still maintains a certain lightness. Even though the video celebrates the full year the band has been together, IAN’s future is more promising than their past is charming: they’ll be doing a few more shows in LA before they return to Boston to record an album and tour some more. If the year ahead turns out to be anything like the last one, you’ll definitely be hearing more about them soon.

IAN’s self-titled EP is available for streaming on bandcamp.

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