Anstam: Yes, I do. It’s a good question because I think I want to do two things: make music to listen to on headphones at home, with subtle elements, but it has to work also in a club because I really like the impact, the raw reaction you get when you play your music. So I guess those are two different things which are equally important for me.
Jacek Plewicki: But are there, basically, two types of music that you make? The one you publish and the one you played today [at Poznan’s Outerspaces Fest]?
There are connections between those two formats because there is always some kind of core. You always recognize Anstam music in a club, but you are right… For me those are two different things I work with and find both of them equally interesting.
PT: But even when you do this ‘dance’ music, you are giving dancers a hard time. All those rhythms… I think you work a lot on percussion sounds, their arrangements, and those sounds themselves are unique.
Yeah, but that’s really interesting thing because it’s not like I had decided that now I’ll make dance music, which is really hard to dance to. That’s the way I feel dance music should be, because I do it for quite a long time now and I’m a fan of a drum, as an instrument; for me, in dance music there is a lack of, let’s say, madness. That’s a good term to describe it. That’s what I want to bring to the club, a kind of ‘drama’ and weirdness – that you stop to think and just wonder ‘what does it do to me’. And that’s important, that it happens to you.
PT: So it’s also important for you to see yourself as a part of dance music tradition, as its next step?
I guess it’s a kind of trick that I make because of the decision that I made about how to distribute my music. Firstly, it was through Hard Wax store which stands for pure tradition of techno and dance music made in Berlin… I also worked with 50Weapons which is a label curated by guys from Modeselektor which is also a landmark in the world of dance music. But both of them, they always try to do more than simply club music and some dance tune that you can play on a techno party. It’s always like we’re really musicians who make music but we were so influenced by going to clubs that it has to be involved in our music. In my case, with composing and writing music, I’m influenced by other types of music but by the way it sounds and reacts with you could describe it as club music. I really like it and I think it’s quite a modern way to look at it, to be aware that the best way to experience music is to be in a club. Because it’s loud, you have people there, the frequencies can affect you – that’s very important. But also in terms of composing – you have different formats: there are concerts in clubs and there are releases which people can listen at home. They can work in different ways, you can play around with it, that’s really interesting for me.
JP: Nowadays, do you party, go to clubs?
Not really, I’m always the guy who plays music at parties [laughs]. The time of parties is gone.
I’ve studied contemporary art and it’s interesting for me to think how art is accessed by the people. You have a situation when you go to a gallery and there is silence…and there is a club, where people scream… and for me, as an artist, it’s much more interesting way to bring my art to the people. That’s why a club moment is important to me, it’s a best way to get some reactions.
JP: I’d go back to this question about drums because I think your approach is quite different than most of, let’s say, techno producers. Normally a drum is an instrument that works in a certain tradition, in a kind of tribal way and mostly there are these simple patterns. Your music seems in a way cracked, you always look for some kind of continuation but it never really happens. You have to be conscious to listen to your music, you have to listen – you can’t just move your feet around. That makes it different.
It’s the thing about how you want to compose your music. Because even when I started to do music with electronic setup I had never been interested in the machine thing, in drum machines. I wanted to do music with computer because it gives me so much freedom as a composer, but I wanted to achieve that it sounds like I played it myself. I wanted this human thing inside. In terms of influence, there was this important time, from 1995 to 2000, when this approach was there. It was Squarepusher, Aphex Twin, Autechre, they all did the same thing, they used electronic equipment but they wanted to achieve kind of a ghost thing that is inside the music, which is more than a machine. That influenced me and as a musician… I think electronic music could be more than some disco patterns. We had this Warp phase in electronic music, when people had this approach, they wanted to bring instruments into electronic music.
JP: So do you think you’re revolutionary in some way?
Oh, no, no, no, I’m too polite to think such a thing.
JP: But when you mentioned Autechre or Squarepusher… their music is aggressive, compulsive, you feel confronted. You work with rhythmic patterns that alone are quite simple but you combine them together. So, for me, it’s a kind of complicated music made from simple elements which, I think, make you somehow unique.
The problem with this is that’s really not a decision you make and it wasn’t a decision Squarepusher made that he is a kind of revolutionary. He was interested in an issue he worked on: why not play bass to electronic music. That’s the same for me, I’ve some things in my mind and I think ‘I’ve to do it’. So I do it, but that’s not really conscious, conceptual, tactical thing. In regard to what you say about rhythmic patterns, the thing I’m most influenced by are drummers of Frank Zappa. They have really interesting style of playing, they never played the same pattern for say 40 minutes, there is always like a drum roll. That’s what I like, also Brazilian kind of music, it’s not like German Marschmusik, it’s elegant, funky and that’s what I’m interested in.
PT: Do you record drum sounds yourself?
I did this for the new EP I’ve just released [First Sprout on 50weapons], on the first track [Intuit] the whole cymbal line is recorded by myself. But the problem is as follows… I work on the topic to make the computer drums sound like real drums. I had become so good at it that it’s now so much less complicated than to record it with good microphones and good sound. I’ve become quite lazy…
JP: Yeah, but you’re polite [laugh]. I see that, for example when I think about Raster-Noton or things that are really in your face, where you can see all the experiments shown on the visuals. I mean, it’s experimental but it’s also safe, because you know what’s going to happen, the sounds are roughly the same. With your music – you are not prepared for it. My question would be: do you find any music surprising nowadays and back then, when you started?
I was born and raised in Berlin, as a kid I didn’t go to techno parties, I was going to jungle parties – that was drum’n’bass before it was called that, but it had amen breaks, drum rolls, it was purely rhythmic . I had this experience of being in the club and some English guy comes and plays this really hard, amen breaks jungle track and I had a big grin on my face and I thought ‘yeah, that’s what I want’. I was raised in that kind of tradition to go to clubs to hear new things, vinyls you could buy half year later and then go to Hard Wax to see what could it be. In terms of jungle and drum’n’bass I experience it in music of Source Direct, Photek, all those people who do it in another way than ordinary scene people do it. That was always interesting for me and that’s why I carry this tradition on – to make it a little bit different. That’s the funny definition thing: what for me is interesting, for other people might be difficult. That’s the problem, because for me, as a musician, you have to perform something, if you do what hundreds did before you, well, it’s ok, you can live with that. But for me, it’s important to make original or unique things – but I’d be too polite to say ‘unique’ [laughs]. I want to make my music.
JP: Do you change your music when you hear something new?
Of course, also because I’m a competitive guy. When I hear a gabba track by accident I think ok, what I can do differently, what’s my take on gabba music and that’s what happens with any kind of music. It keeps me going and that’s a funny thing because now I’m really obsessed with vocals… I’m quite influenced by music that I hear but also I do my music for a long time so there is always this basic Anstam thing. I guess if I’d make a rock album you could link somehow recognize it as my music.
PT: When you said ‘rock album’ I was reminded about Black Tapes tracks which were published on AQF blog… there was a percussion, a guitar… what was that?
Ah, yes, that’s a thing many artists believe, that when they publish something on the Internet, it’ll be great because all people can have it and do something with it. Which is completely wrong – nobody was interested in it. That was simply music I did before Anstam and I was looking for platform to publish that. What’s funny is that people think – ok, there is Anstam and he’s this guy who makes music for two years now – which isn’t true but there is so much music I made but hadn’t released on big labels, people just aren’t aware of it.
PT: So what’s the relation between AQF and Anstam?
When we started Anstam there was a strict concept and I wanted to create another platform to release music, much more ‘musical’ music if you can say so. But it didn’t work so now I try to smuggle some AQF to Anstam and it works well because that’s just the other facet.
JP: I’m kind of ashamed asking this question but it has to be pointed out somehow: how do you find yourself in relation to dubstep?
I think it’s a good question and an interesting one, also we’re talking after that gig [Anstam was playing between Biome and Content]. For me dubstep doesn’t really describe the music but it’s a musical phase, a really, really important phase and I’m talking about the music from 2006 to 2009 when electronic music really exploded in terms of variation and creativity. It’s similar to what I was talking about before, the early Warp days. I was always interested in the people who make music with 140 bpm but with their own twist. In 2006 and 2007 there was so much music which was crazy, innovative, between techno and dubstep. I was playing in Spain with Jamie Vex’d and he told me he didn’t see the duo [Vex’d] as a dubstep act – there was some kind of music out there which was challenging and they did something with it. For me, with Anstam, it’s totally the same. So dubstep as a phase is really important because all the variations you have now in electronic music, guys like Shackleton, Untold ,even Modeselektor are so much influenced by this phase…
JP: You think so?
Yeah, I know it.
JP: There is so much polarity, I mean, people hate dubstep…
But what is now called ‘dubstep’ is the opposite of what dubstep was in the beginning. It was a reaction to all put your hands in the air dance music – no, no, we go inside ourselves. It’s minimal, dark, intense, you have a dark room, nobody sees a thing, but there is that vibe, that what it was all about – experience and innovation. Now it’s all about party, so I guess that’s my problem with calling myself dubstep musician. Because what is now called dubstep has nothing to do with what I do. That’s really a problem, dubstep now is really omnipresent and if there is some kid who thinks yeah, I like it, it’s really weird and then he goes to Anstam concert I guess he will be disappointed [laughs]. I really like the term post-dubstep, that’s a strange description but I think dubstep is a mother who gave birth to many kids, many of which died. I think it had given so much to the electronic music.
PT: Do you mind talking a little bit about previous form of Anstam? I think you were aware of the impact the first three singles made, people were talking about who Anstam is and about music… and then you stopped. Could you give some insight?
It’s quite the same as the view from the outside. I started with my brother, we had a connection with Torsten [Pröfrock AKA T++] because he was going to school with my brother and there was an opportunity to release music trough Hard Wax. So we started to think what it could be like. It was 2006-2007, this dubstep phase, and there was a good link to Hard Wax, because even they, all the techno heads, were so influenced by that thing coming from UK, even euphoric about it. So we decided to do a series of vinyls which relates to this thing. But even if you listen to the first release, the A side is nearly UK funky track… if played now, it would still sound really modern and then it had nothing to do with dubstep. It was really important for us to make our own twist of it. It was the idea and we achieved three vinyls and after that we simply thought that’s enough. It was a good thing that we weren’t a label or anything that had to last and we made three vinyls- three is always a good series. Then there was a connection to Modeselektor and they asked us if we want to do Anstam for 50Weapons. We thought about it and it was clear that it has to be different than Hard Wax thing – a new project. I was very interesting because working with Modeselektor guys gives you new opportunities. Anstam is now more musical and more ‘pop’ but that’s OK for me because I can do more things now.
JP: Were you influenced by the way your records were produced or mastered?
The first three 12” were mastered by Rashad [Becker] and I have to admit, I never was there when it was done. My brother was going there, for me as a musician it was something I didn’t want to have anything to do with. So I don’t think it had a big impact, no, it’s a kind of not my business, you know.
JP: It makes music somehow different.
Yeah, but they make music sound different. The thing which was important for me was there and was not changeable.
JP: But your record for 50Weapons, I can’t imagine it being played in a set. It uses different vibes, it’s a deep recording with frequencies that aren’t common, it’s raw. There are sounds like that of making adjustments to a drum and, in a way, it’s not a desirable thing… but you make it sound somehow beautiful.
I know what you mean but it’s also not conscious decision. I do electronic music like I play an instrument – if I like the sound, I can’t get away from it. Even if I’d make a pop song, it would have this raw thing. But there are so many types of music which had that: old jungle, Detroit techno. I carry on this tradition, I look for sounds that have texture, are organic.
JP: People say that what made this Detroit sound was the specifics of the machines which weren’t working properly, there were those important errors. Nowadays you can do everything perfectly and for me the fact is that you do something new because you aren’t doing something properly [laughs].
Yeah, I know what you mean. You can describe it with analogy to film: nowadays you can do a film with some high definition camera but you can always do it in black and white with very bad texturing. The thing is: do you want to catch the reality, do you want to film exactly as it looks or do you want to do something mystic, artificial in innovative, lyrical way? Like when I’m making a film, I always turn to B&W, which is extraordinary. With music it’s the same – I’m not interested in clean drum sounds. You speak of errors and it may be that you’re surprised by your own machines, which is totally cool and I like it. I think that’s what Autechre did in a digital, very clean way, they programmed their own software and then they push the button and they say – yeah, computer, that’s really great what you did!
JP: Your non-musical works, installations, videos – what’s it like?
I stopped making fine art few years ago. But what I did was similar to music I make – it was a kind of trick. I always had this problem that I didn’t have enough money or power to make big, revolutionary things because at that time media art and conceptual art really worked on that: that you go to a gallery and you see a thing which is ‘wow!’, totally mad and you think how much it costs. I had a problem with that, I was always interested in concepts and had problems with materializing them, how to put them in a room. So I started to make art in the world of computer games, which is now a normal thing, to search for computer games where you have freedom to go somewhere with your character and do things. Then I started to do really big and mad art in computer games, like stealing cars and making a sculpture with 100 cars. It’s the same I do in music, I try to make music with digital help which wouldn’t be possible in real world, because I can’t play all the instruments in the same time. I have this approach: to tell the story and make it as fascinating as it gets.
JP: Lately guys from Autechre went separate ways, started collaborative projects and also do improvised music, do you see yourself someday playing live with other musicians, computer or instrumentalists?
The thing is I had played in a band so I know how it is to play music with other people and there is a lack of this when I produce. But I’m so deep in my own kind of visionary thing that goes through my mind that it would be hard to work with other people. It could only work if we had separate things, like: I do the drums, you do the melodies. But to share my world – that wouldn’t work. On the other hand, why not? That’s always the thing, I can’t tell what will happen in next year, there are so many things I’m interested in.
PT: You said you’re interested in vocals, so maybe you’d like to work with a vocalist?
That’s the problem, I have to be my own vocalist and I have to train myself, not in a way to sing right, but I want to add an instrument to my music – which is my voice so I have to do some experiments.
JP: Today we had listened to your track Born and Raised” and first thing in my mind: what a cool metal track [laughs].
Yeah, that’s the funny thing, there are roots, influences and when people say ‘that Anstam stuff sounds like black metal’ and I’m like ‘no, no, it has nothing to do with black metal’ while it has really much to do with black metal because I had a long and strong metal phase. It was at the time when electronic music wasn’t so interesting anymore. There were all those Norwegian bands, whole Relapse Records, The Dillinger Escape Plan, whole math-rock which you can still hear in my tracks. I don’t want to admit it [laughs] but it’s there.
JP: There is this “new metal” with one-man bands, without guitars, and the way it develops is somehow similar to what you do…
It’s quite normal, it’s always about composition. It’s my missionary thing I’m always trying to share, if someone asks ‘are you electronic? analogue? rock?’, I say ‘no, that’s totally bullshit, I’m a composer’. Now, I want to work with electronic medium but when I’ll like to work with instruments, I’m gonna do it. But there’ll be always this compositional thing which will sound the same. It’s a funny thing when Korn says “we did dubstep before there was dubstep”, yeah, of course, but maybe there was a drummer in 1920. who did 140 bpm and halfstep, you know what I mean. In the end there is some truth in it because there are always notes on the sheet of paper and you can do different things with them.