You can’t deny a certain movement in electronic dance music that likes to include more soul, feeling and musicality into its recipe. Less BPM and more substance. A strange but effective counter movement to the ever euphoric American EDM-movement. Spanish producer Aitor Etxebarria and his alter ego EL_TXEF_A are experts on this territory. In the past years his acclaimed tracks and reworks gained him more and more attention. And 2012′s debut album Slow Dancing In A Burning Room was an acclaimed way of combining grooving beats with a gentle musical environment. The follow-up We Walked Home Together takes the idea one step further.
One thing becomes clear on the record: Etxebarria is not standing still and he’s certainly not interested in sticking to just one genre. We Walked Home Together takes the idea of EL_TXEF_A even further away from the dancefloor. It’s a brave and ambitious combination of slow grooving beats, down tempo, ambient-like electronic landscapes and other experiments. But just like on Slow Dancing In A Burning Room, Etxebarria managed to create a homogeneous record that is more driven by its coherent feeling than specific hits. It’s an atmosphere of melancholia and longing, that goes hand in hand with certain introspection.
One of the key factors of this construct remains the gentle piano play of the producer. Opener A Heart For Two is relaxing entrance into the world of EL_TXEF_A. The following title-track puts the piano on top of a smooth beat and combines everything with tender and almost Thom Yorke-like vocals. There’s a lot to discover on We Walked Home Together. BOARDS OF CANADA-like ambient structures (0730), bubbling electronica with cryptic spoken word messages (Every Day Is Blue Monday, a collaboration with MEGGY from Berlin-based label SUOL) and tender guitar play (You Left Us In The Physical World). A dancefloor-focussed groove comes into play from time to time but mostly remains subtle. The hypnotic Chaim Of Planet Earth marks a well-placed exception here, reminding a bit of THE FIELD.
Your first interactions with music, rifling through your stepdad’s record collection at a young age, has been spoken of a lot, but was there a point at which you decided you definitely wanted to have a career in music, and who were the biggest inspirations for you at the time?
Yes, my love for music started very early on when I was just choosing records based on interesting artwork but I didn’t actually start picking up instruments until I was 10. At first I had weird fantasies of playing at City Hall and by the time I finished school I definitely knew there was nothing else I wanted to do. When I was in my early teens, I think I was just taking the turn from ACDC to The Police and maybe Grandmaster Flash – but that’s just a quick sum up. The big moment for me in my relationship with music was really when I was younger, as you said, and discovering The Beatles. They are still a huge reference and inspiration for me.
And how did your relationship with the techno side of things come about?
It wasn’t until the late 80s, early 90s that a friend of mine started putting on acid house parties and I got sucked into the scene. It was huge. One of the really appealing things about techno was that it was so underground. People would just do records, press them up and sell them as white labels with no extra help - that was really intriguing.
From this early involvement and fascination for the techno scene, how has it changed from your perspective and how have you navigated these changes within the industry?
Well it always keeps changing. In the beginning it was an underground thing; big clubs hadn’t heard about it and it mainly happened in warehouses. It wasn’t a money thing - more of a do it yourself thing, all about the decoration and the people. But then it got super commercialized with all the sponsorship of huge events with expensive tickets. Because of this it was easy for me to drift away from the mainstream scene. From ‘93 on, every year in the German press they kept announcing the death of techno and I was pretty disillusioned with it all.
But then new trends kicked in all over again - it always goes in a cycle. England especially was a big inspiration; going out in London where the DJs were playing breakbeat, which you normally wouldn’t hear in Germany. After another dip when the UK was listening to the same boring shit as everyone else, now 10 years later there is so much happening there again. I really think it’s where all the interesting imports come from. In fact it’s always been about London and the UK.
You said earlier you were intrigued about the underground aspect of techno, but now there is so much hype around it, even the mainstream media is fascinated with ‘deep house’. How has this affected the scene?
I think when techno's popularity dipped dramatically it actually made the scene healthy again. Parties started getting smaller and it didn’t have to be DJs like Ricardo or Sven Vath for a party to take off. Now, I think it’s grown in a healthier way and all the attention it's receiving in the press is well deserved. It’s still the type of music that evolves most quickly and has the most impact, not in comparison to the superstardom of Madonna maybe, but it is cutting edge and avant-garde.
Hypnotic and delightful, good till the last drop, Souleyman's foundational music depends on repetition and primitive electronics that remind you that rhythm is really the mother of all inventions. Perhaps this release will convince the wider public that there is more in the Middle East than war.
On Wenu, Wenu, Souleyman and Sa'id take traditional Syrian folk music and run 1000 volts through it, creating an infectious style that has affectionately (and accurately) called 'Syrian Techno'. Listening to title track 'Wenu Wenu', you could almost imagine a joyous street party erupting as the pair perform - the handclap-driven percussion being evocative of a vibrant, dancing crowd, and the squiggly synth lines re-purposed from more traditional instrumentation. Indeed, Hebden's main duty as producer seems to have been to make sure the duo's live energy is preserved in these recordings, and he's succeeded admirably.
There's barely time to pause for breath after the mammoth seven minutes of the title track before 'Ya Yumma' kicks in, ramping up the album's already relentless pace even further as Sa'id outdoes himself with an outlandish synth solo. It's not until the record's mid-point that the pace drops a little, with 'Khattaba' featuring a smoother, more sultry feel and some dramatic string flourishes, as well as the record's only snatches of English - listen carefully and you can hear Souleyman namedrop Paris and London (perhaps as exotic destinations to transport his beloved to?).
Fortunately, language doesn't really seem to be a barrier here - given Souleyman's background, it'd would be safe to assume that these are all songs about love, passion and dedication, even if you don't have any sort of translation available. Indeed, Souleyman's positivity is granted additional poignancy given recent events in Syria - his music reminding us of the human side to these distant conflicts. Actually understanding the words isn't really necessary as long as you appreciate the intent behind them - for example, reading the translated lyrics in the video for 'Wenu Wenu' is useful to provide context, but trying to apply them directly to the song would simply diminish the effect. Similarly, the press release accompanying the album states that 'Mawal Jamar' is about being willing to walk over hot coals for the one you love, which provides more than enough meaning to the song's aching, impassioned vocals.
However, in Wenu Wenu the results are both surprising and enormously respectful. While its association to Four Tet is obviously going to be pushed rabidly by Western press, PR and sales, this record is entirely about the original artists. Four Tet’s production role seems to mean exactly that – studio production – and Sa’id is happily in full force alongside Souleyman, their sound now efficiently cleaned up and boosted. Four Tet carefully mixes and maximises their raucous output to levels of finesse that can easily match the polished pop from Syria’s more expensive studios, while remaining very genuine to the original music.
It’s huge fun and sounds just as big. Souleyman’s voice is as rough, earnest and wonderfully relatable as ever, a normal yet extraordinary man belting it out for all his worth. Sa’id’s instrumentals are the familiar mix of inspiring drum machine and doumbek flurries, beloved Middle Eastern keyboard staples – Muzak piano, Mediterranean parallel strings, synth brass stabs – and writhing streams of nasal, portamento leads, all effortlessly ranging from 89 to 140 bpm. Excellent business as usual then.
If Four Tet has had any input – and he may well have done – it is so fully integrated into Sa’id’s dabke style as to be unrecognisable. You could maybe point to some details: the flute samples in ‘Nahy’ may be Four Tet’s; ‘Warni Warni’’s small, acerbic zaps give an extra acid tinge; the loping cycles during the finale of ‘Yagbuni’ and the pumped up last third of ‘Wenu Wenu’ could both point towards house influence. But ultimately it’s a pointless exercise, as listening to any past Souleyman material, especially that of higher quality, will showcase all kinds of moments such as these.
It’s kind of nice to think that we’re past the point where something needs to be patronisingly sold as exotic “world music” and is instead picked up because people are blown away with the sounds – as has happened with the insanely funky keyboard-playing and hectic electronic folk grooves of Omar Souleyman’s Syrian wedding music. Given extra boost and crispness by the supportive production of Kieran ‘Four Tet’ Hebden, those grooves sound better than ever here. Mind you, it’s hard not to think of context too, and the horrors of Souleyman’s home country throw extra layers of sadness and hope into the mix. But whatever you read into it, this is powerful, living dance music, above all else.
Q-What were your childhood experiences with music growing up in East Germany during the ‘80s?
I was quite young but when I first started taking a keen interest in
music it was just before the wall came down. As far as I can remember it
was really difficult to get the music I liked. It was barely available
in the music stores but somehow I managed to get the music. As
an example, back in the days during my summer vacation, a radio station
named DT64 did a broadcast of a Depeche Mode concert taking place in
the western part of Berlin. They split it into four parts and broadcast
one part each week. So I recorded all parts over the four weeks and used
the remaining weeks to listen to the whole concert...
Q-Who were your earliest inspirations?
It was my fathers record collection consisting of five records:
Isao Tomita – 'Pictures of an exhibition' Jean-Michel Jarre - 'Musik Aus Zeit Und Raum' Vangelis - 'Spiral' Whitesnake Bergweihnacht
I didn’t like the last two at all…
Q-At the beginning of 2010, your most famous project, Wighnomy Brothers, ended. What are you enjoying about going solo?
The Wighnomy Brothers along with Sören was just a DJ project. All
music productions that were released were all made by myself, so it was
not such a big difference. I only had to get used to playing records
alone and no longer as a duo – but I fairly enjoy it by now.
Q-From last year, you've been doing increasingly more DJ sets - is this out of personal preference or a career choice?
I really like playing as a DJ! The only annoying thing is travelling,
which is part of the job so I have to come to terms with it.
Q-Do you remember the first time you ever DJed? What’s your memory of that moment?
It was at a friends place who managed to get two 1210s. That was a crazy experience. It
is still an awesome sight: two 1210s and a mixer between them! To me,
it’s always magic to see this constellation and I’m addicted to getting
my hands on it. White and black keys have the same effect on me....
Q-From what I’ve read, your ‘The Olgamikks’ album was
your third remix album – you chose some really interesting and exciting
artists to remix again, why these ones in particular?
Each single remix is important to me and I enjoy them too, but on the
other hand you part with lots of your own new ideas. So it is important
for me to do a collection of the remixes from time to time. In the case
of 'The Olgamikks', I had to arrange a DJ mix so this explains the
selection of those tracks...
Te has tomado con calma la producción de este disco... Muchos de los temas que aparecen en el álbum son antiguos,
algunos de ellos tienen más de dos años. Cuando empecé el proyecto
comencé a grabar muchos cortes. De hecho tenía alrededor de cuarenta o
¡Son muchos! ¡Es que yo hago mucha música! Con Komatssu tengo un
procedimiento diferente, no es igual que cuando hago techno, que el
proceso es más mecánico. Cuando a Valentín y a mi nos llega un encargo o
afrontamos la producción de un nueva referencia, trabajamos rápido y de
forma sincronizada. Con Komatssu, cuando me siento delante del
ordenador o cuando enciendo los sintes, simplemente me dejo llevar. Dejo
que las canciones surjan e intento hacerlas crecer, les doy el cuerpo
para que puedan sonar en un club, aunque no haga material de pista.
¿Eres más mental o emocional cuando trabajas en tus temas? Creo que soy una persona muy pasional. A veces intento ser
mental y me sale todo lo contrario. Lo que me gusta es dejarme llevar. A
veces me sale algo para Komatssu, a veces para Exium, y a veces algo
que no encaja en ninguno de mis proyectos. Pero siempre acabo los temas.
Aunque sepa que no vaya a hacer nada con ellos, los acabo...
Eso es muy raro. Puedo tener más de trescientas canciones en el ordenador... A
veces recupero proyectos y me sirven para comenzar nuevas ideas. Me guío
mucho por las sensaciones. Puedo escuchar un tema bien veinte veces,
pero como lo escuche sólo una vez mal y no me guste, ya lo descarto.
Tengo que tener los tracks redondos para que les dé salida. Pero a veces
es algo que se escapa de tu control... Las canciones están ahí, tienen
vida propia, has de moldearlas, y ellas escogen su propio camino. Por
eso me gusta terminarlas.
Dices que este álbum es una retrospectiva de todo lo que te ha
gustado durante los últimos veinte años. Personalmente encuentro que hay
muchos guiños (intencionados o no) a grandes artistas de la IDM. Un
tema te recuerda a Clark, otro a Autechre y Plaid, luego aparecen formas
a lo Raster-Noton... Sí, son influencias... Escucho mucha música, soy el típico que
se empapa de todas las novedades pero que también le gusta descubrir
música antigua continuamente. Cuando escuchas Komatssu puedes pensar:
'Se nota que a este tío le gusta a Aphex Twin y le gusta Warp; ahora
este corte suena un poco a Raster Noton, en este tema hay una suciedad
que recuerda a Ben Frost...'. Yo lo que intento es expresarme y, claro,
las influencias siempre salen a la superficie de manera inconsciente y
condicionan tu trabajo. Pero no es porque quiera copiar, simplemente
hago la música que me gusta escuchar. De creadores natos, gente que ha
sacado cosas de la nada, hay muy pocos: Krafterk, Juan Atkins...
Pero ellos crearon sobre un territorio virgen. Ahora estamos expuestos a mucha información... ¡O Stockhausen! Que lo escuchas y dices, ¿y este tío de dónde
coño sacó esto? El 99% de los músicos no somos genios. Clark, por
ejemplo, es cojonudo, es buenísimo; pero realmente no ha inventado nada.
Aphex Twin sí que es un puto genio. O los Autechre de los 90...
hicieron cosas extraordinarias. Pusieron un discurso muy innovador
encima de la mesa. Ahora lo vemos todo muy cotidiano, pero lo cierto es
que sus obras forman parte de la cultura popular de ahí en adelante, y
eso es lo grande de estos creadores. El factor tiempo es importante para
valorar las cosas con serenidad y criterio. El tiempo es clave.
¿Qué utilizas para producir los temas de Komatssu? Uso mucho software, aunque empiezo muchas canciones con sonidos
que grabo por ahí. Siempre llevo conmigo un reproductor mp3 que graba
sonidos y lo uso mucho cuando voy de viaje. Suelo utilizar atmósferas y
sonidos y construyo cosas encimas. Para este disco he utilizado también
bastante un Access Virus, pero no soy de los que tiene mucho equipo. La
tecnología es importante, pero creo más en el talento, no vas a ser
mejor por tener más equipo. El tío que tiene talento te hace música con
Hi Xhin! What have you been keeping yourself busy with lately? “I’ve
mostly been touring, I just came back for Christmas. I’ll be a having a
small gig over here in Singapore, which is quite rare. Unfortunately,
the general support here is not good enough – not from the people
themselves, but from the big boys behind events, which is why I don’t
play here very often. After that I’ll be heading over to Europe to tour
again in January and February. I currently also need to work on some
releases and remixes that need to be done within this year.”
What can you tell us about your
creative process? What does it look like, do you follow the same type of
pattern each time or does it differ each time? “I would say eighty
percent of my creative process depends on my mood. I like to work with
things that occur in my everyday lifestyle, so if I’m happy today I’ll
probably work on some stuff that’s quite energetic or if I’m very
emotional I’ll probably do something along those lines. There is a
certain pattern that recurs of course, but parts of it are also very
random. I try to keep the same sort of progression throughout my work,
not necessarily the same style. I think it’s good for an artist to be
like that, not to change things too often. I think as an artist I’m
quite stubborn, I like to create things that I can call my own and that I
am proud of.”
You’ve mentioned before that you
usually embark on creating a body of work with a certain idea behind it
beforehand. What type of ideas would you identify with respects to one
EP or album? “For each release I try to create some sort of a story,
so that people can relate to something in it. They don’t have to relate
to what I was thinking exactly throughout creating the whole thing, I
think the point is to let people decide. I try to infuse whatever
emotions I want to convey by means of things like a title, certain
sounds or frequencies. I like the darker side of fairy tales. I like
everything that falls within a dark atmosphere actually; forests, trees,
elements that are very organic. I like to create music that relate to
those kinds of atmospheres. That is for now at least, maybe in the
future things will change.” I think many would agree that your music sound very organic. Does nature play an important role as a creative inspiration? “Yeah,
pretty much. For example, last year I went for a gig in a city in
Germany and I visited a dark forest that surrounded it, I loved being
there. There were times that I almost felt like there was something out
there chasing me. I think in that respect I’m a very dark person and
draw inspiration from that.”
I understand you’re interested in
watching films and documentaries on historical people and war. What is
it about these that you find fascinating? “I find that hard to
explain. I suppose it’s just life and death. Nostalgia of people, the
way they live, the way that we use things.” Do you think that there
is a link between the creativity behind both film and music, is the
storytelling element you describe in your music something similar to
that of films and documentaries? “No, I wouldn’t say so. I just get
some ideas and inspirations from films and documentaries, but in the end
I just describe myself in the story of my music. You could say that I
am the lead character. So maybe it’s about friendships, family,
relationships within my life and I try to bring that back in my
production. I want my audience to know that electronic music has soul.
It’s not just about music for the dancefloor, you can listen to it at
home and reflect on things from your past or your own emotions.”
What would you describe as the most important influence on your creative process aside from your own mood? “My
friends. Within the conversations that I have with them, within the
situations that I share with them, I am inspired by that a lot. It’s
very hard to describe but I think when I’m inspired by that, the music
and frequencies that I create reflect on what I’ve shared with them.”
Do you ever worry about the
intentions behind your music being lost in translation to the listeners,
or possible misinterpretations? ”No, I don’t really care about
that. It’s up to them whether they want to enter my world or not. Maybe
some people can actually describe you through your songs, but some
people don’t have that capacity and that’s okay too. As long as I have
songs to deliver that can trigger people to think about the music and
form their own interpretations.”
Basic and funky in a latin jungle way, Zundel takes our south of the border beats and reformats them into the 21st century electro mode. And goes into rap and rythms of universal appeal with head and hip shaking finality. Back and forth, disonant as my mother. More, more, more. Let's see who recognizes these hometown beats!
Amazonico Gravitante plays like an audiobook that details the
history and prominent musical genres in Argentina. Zundel blends
together a variety of influences including chacarera, huayno
and Argentinian folklore music. When all meshed together, it creates
these lively, powerful sounds that pulse with Argentinian culture.
Zundel’s favorite genre to pick from seems to be cumbia,
a Latin American genre that was originally used for courtship dances
but has since expanded. Despite the influences, each song carries a
modern sensibility with it. Zundel has a love for dance and electronic
music, and that’s what gives him that modern edge. Throughout the album,
Zundel utilizes synthesizers and drum beats that would seem right at
home in a dance club. This sensibility is apparent in “Aero Tinku,” a
song that finds a way to make Andean pan flutes blend effortlessly with
an upbeat electronic soundtrack. Zundel isn’t a one trick pony, though.
While his more energetic songs will most likely stick with you the most,
Zundel also knows how to dial it down with strong, guitar-driven
melodies, like in “La Montaña En El Medio Del Mundo.”
Only a few tracks on the album feature Zundel’s voice, but it’s always a
welcome addition. He’s capable of many ranges, at one point serving as
the head of the party, the next as a more intimate vocalist. It might
seem like Amazonico Gravitante is a concept album of sorts, but
it’s really more of a love letter to Zundel’s musical upbringing. Zundel
doesn’t just imitate his influences; he injects his individual style
into them. The end result is an extremely original debut from an artist
who knows exactly where he came from.
Imagine a journey through Latin America; picture the people you would
meet, the places you would go and the music you would hear. The
indigenous rhythms that have shaped a continent and its culture for
generations. Now imagine that music with a bolt of cosmopolitan Buenos
Aires electricity through it.
Originally from a small provincial town half way between Buenos Aires and the seaside resort of Mar de la Plata, Argentine Mati Zundel has been on many people’s radar for a good few years, though many people may know him better as ‘Lagartijeando’.
The electronic, experimental, nu-Cumbia style heard on his early mixtapes captured many people’s attention, making Amazonico Gravitante
the perfect first co-release between Waxploitation and ZZK Records.
Waxploitation are the LA-based label responsible for acts such as
Gnarles Barkley and Danger Mouse. Throughout 2012 they will be
co-releasing a number of new albums from Argentina’s ZZK Records, the
digital Cumbia label that was home to many of Zundel’s releases as
It appears that Zundel’s travels across Latin America broadened his
musical horizons beyond his hard rock and metal beginnings – as a
teenager he played bass in several local rock and metal bands –
resulting in a fantastic mix of eclectic experimentation, traditional
folkloric rhythms and psychedelic soundscapes from across the continent.
Amazonico Gravitante, translated into ‘Gravitating Amazonian’, is the
title of Mati Zundel’s aka Lagartijeando’s newest album. Released on the
psico-infamous cumbia-digital label, ZZK Records, there is no reason to
doubt that this album signifies a digital, humanistic shift in rhythm
that is happening worldwide. Mati mixes his influences from the
high-altitude folkloric sounds of the Andes deep down into the
underground Latino-Caribe bass-ment. The album is filled with recorded
samples of birds and jungle animals, tribal shamans blowing mapacho, and
the sound of river water interweaving the album into a homemade raft of
digital cumbia moving down the Amazon river telling stories of each
landmark passed. Once again, ZZK delivers another master piece in the
outer-space-cumbia-jungle-bubble that is South America 2012.