There is no such thing as talent. Interview with Bogdan Raczynski

Piotr Tkacz-Bielewicz / 7 cze 2023

Bogdan Raczynski is one of those peculiar musicians that I like to put in the category of “Little Masters” (with a nod to the term from art history describing printmakers from the 16th century). Those musicians never attain much fame or press, they work at the margins and/or in the shadows, their music might sometimes come off as difficult to grasp – but they are pretty damn good at what they do. Raczynski, born in Poland in 1977, has been forging his path amidst IDM, jungle, drum’n’bass, and emotronica since 1994. Being first involved in the tracker community and netlabel scene, he was later released by Rephlex (Aphex Twin citing him as inspiration), Disciples (sublabel of Warp), and on Planet Mu. Those albums usually fell under the radar and his rare moments in the spotlight happened because of the remixes for Björk, Autechre, and Ulver. In November 2021 an acclaimed Polish label Mondoj reissued his little masterpiece (tiny even – the whole thing clocks under 14 minutes) Muzyka dla imigrantów (“Music for Immigrants”) in the context of the humanitarian crisis on the Polish-Belarusian border. Those six melancholic foggy miniatures, unusual by Raczynski standards as they are played on acoustic instruments only, attained new meanings and resonances in the current situation (as did his liner notes which I recommend reading now.)

Piotr Tkacz-Bielewicz: First of all, I need to say how deeply moved I was by your liner notes to Muzyka dla imigrantów. And though I don’t want to make this interview all about your past and personal life and politics – I feel it’d be an important starting point. Do you want to reveal any details? How could we approach this topic?

Bogdan Raczynski: In my opinion, it’s impossible to separate politics from life. My experience, although stunting for me, has been relatively fortunate. Leaving Poland when I was 5 means that my ability to speak Polish has deteriorated to the point that I can’t recall a time when I could effectively communicate my thoughts and feelings to my parents. Practically all my extended family is in Poland; family in name only. We flew on a plane across the ocean, not a deadly boat on the sea. There was an American family to meet us on the other side, not dogs and police. When we arrived, there was food and shelter, not hunger and cold freezing nights in the forest. I know that the rest of my family is alive and well in Poland, they are not imprisoned in camps or prisons or disappeared. My parents struggled, of course, their story is not to be diminished, nor is it mine to tell.

Polish hypocrisy on the border crisis is upsetting but not surprising. The same hands that raise at the sight of Jesus on Sunday turn to fists on Monday at images of cold and hungry migrants looking for a safer life. This bald-faced lie plays out in more countries than it doesn’t. And let’s talk about greed. How many Poles have benefited from the privilege of residence? Have you forgotten so quickly your shame at cleaning toilets and bins and getting mocked upon arriving in England and beyond, looking for nothing but opportunity and money to send home to your family? The height of our collective Western culture seems to be hoarding. We hoard resources, language, land, and access. Acceptance of those that are different from us is far more difficult. Contrary to popular optimism we are not all the same. We are not born the same. Access to privileges afforded by health, food, shelter, clean water, and education differ vastly from village to country. My dad used to tell me stories of his conscription in the military. What if we had a different form of service; how would our views on refugees change if we all had to spend a year in a distant land where our skin color and culture were vastly different? Being 'the other’ bends you. When you come from a place of privilege, there is great value in becoming the other. It is useful to be stared and pointed at by little kids who aren’t familiar with your type of hair or the color of your skin. It forces you to consider your value and your place in this new land. Hopefully, it leaves a mark so deep you never forget it, so that when you return home, if you have the privilege of being able to, you have the capacity to accept the other. It’s not possible to not be impacted by existing in this type of adjacency. But it is also freeing. When you accept that you’re never going to be the same as others, you have no qualms about tearing up the creative rules, it comes naturally because it’s your day-to-day.

PTB: Thank you for writing that, it’s impressive, I really relate to that. Do you have any memories from Poland, especially music- or sound-related?

BR: Interestingly, I have no recollection of music until I was about 8. Either my memory was terrible (it still is) or the sound had made no discernible mark on me whatsoever. In fact, I feel like I got into music not because of any aesthetic appreciation of the characteristics of sound but because of the power it seemed to possess. I distinctly remember listening to a humor-themed hip-hop tape and it dawned on me that music had more than one face. Perhaps up until this point, music was completely trivial, like paying attention to grass on the ground. When I realized it could be a tool, it piqued my curiosity. I’m an incredibly introverted hermit, and in the way that kids slowly come to desire individuality, this discovery of music’s duality intersected with my urge to be my own person, on my own terms.


PTB: Could you tell me more about this power?

BR: I was always incredibly introverted and shy. Immigration exacerbated that. On top of all this, I was bullied in school and didn’t have the skills to stand up for myself. Music gave me the power to create my own world. It empowered me to value myself by having a craft I could hone without judgment. Interestingly, I found that rather than try to use music as a way to fit in, I quite naturally veered towards pushing against the flow. It was sometimes very juvenile, but I took pride in doing it on my terms. With my music I was untouchable.

PTB: How did it start: piano? guitar? drums? synthesizer?

BR: I tried guitar and trumpet for several years, but neither sparked any kind of joy. They were far too limited and required you to be reliant on others. It wasn’t until I discovered trackers that things took off. It wasn’t electronic music that I cared about as much as the fact that I could create entirely on my own.

PTB: What were your points of reference? What were you listening to? 

BR: To my ears, the instruments and music are inconsequential. If I lived elsewhere, I’d be listening to different music. The names of the bands and shapes of the instruments are irrelevant. What impressed upon me more than anything was spoken language. Coming to an English-speaking country without knowing a single word of English, coupled with my intensely introverted personality meant that I was constantly listening to sounds, words, intonation, inflection, and the emotion behind these sounds. To this day I can listen to people talk for hours. I sometimes put on podcasts and videos and just listen to the medium of talk and being spoken to without necessarily honing in on the content. The tools came to carry importance only because they allowed me the capacity to dictate the sounds.

PTB: Interesting, so you wouldn’t agree that the tools somehow dictate or shape the process and/or the outcome? I also wonder what changes, if any, have computers brought for you?

BR: The tools shape the process in the same way that a tennis player plays differently than a basketball player. It’s more useful to look at the circumstantial conditions and contexts. For example, your skin color, your environment, what era you were born in, where you were born, whether you have any disabilities, and so on. Most music discourse stops at only surface-level examination of how these factors help or blunt creativity. Instead, we bestow words like ‘talent’ upon people, not stopping to consider alternatives such as skill, privilege, and simply being born at the right time and the right place. There is no such thing as talent, it’s a word that robs people of being recognized for hard work or having the financial and other supportive means to even consider following their craft. And there truly are real social and political barriers and advantages that shape musicians and their music. We chalk things up to the talent. But what about the privilege inherent in being white? Or how about the differences in the availability of technology or music programs in a school? Talent is a lazy concept devoid of positive use. Chalking up one’s abilities to a genetic lottery sounds like petty high school jealousy. It strips the owner of any credit but more importantly, it strips YOU of your potential. There is so much to explore at this intersection, it’s almost better left off as a conversation between friends or groups.

So no, I think talking about computers or trumpets is completely missing the point. Unless of course, you’re only interested in that surface-level discussion. 

PTB: Why did you decide to go to Japan?

 BR: I was there to do research on underground Ramen clubs called 'black foot clubs’. They are called so because they were located in long dark tunnels (subways, caves, etc) and you had to take your shoes off to approach them (if they could hear you, you wouldn’t be allowed in).

PTB: Oh wow, please tell me more!

 BR: That’s as much as I can share for now.

 PTB: I see…are you working on something big around this topic?

 BR: Yes, very slowly, as in decades.

PTB: Sometimes it takes time… What else happened in Japan?

 BR: In Japan, my privilege hit me like a bag of bricks. That’s to say, the white privilege which was invisible to me all those years outside of Japan, was completely gone. It was humbling, crushing, and I crumpled up like a 1-ply sheet of toilet paper. In hindsight, I wish I had stuck it out and not been such a coward. It was a massively diverging fork in the road, and life would have been vastly different if I had stayed. But to this day I regret not mastering the language and spending more time there. On the upside, I met my partner with whom I’ve been together for decades. And while I was there, I made a few albums worth of material, most of which were far more experimental, fast, and palatable than anything I put out on Rephlex. But that too will likely go forever unreleased. To even have all these opportunities and choices in one lifetime is an absurd amount of privilege and opportunity. Whatever forks I’ve taken, I am so fortunate.

PTB: Thanks for sharing that! Besides, how long have you been in Japan?

BR: I was in Japan for just under a year. 

PTB: Why didn’t you want to release the albums you had made there? Is it more a question of finding an appropriate label or a proper timeframe/mindset? 

BR: I think it’s a good idea to be selective with what you release. This way, you can blow people’s minds by putting out something you did 20 years ago, and it still sounds mind-bending; like wine, but without the sulphates and diabetes after-effects.

PTB: So, there is still a chance that some of those recordings will be released?

BR: These are the kinds of things that might happen when I’m very old and looking to remind everyone that I’m still alive. You know, one of those „Celebrating 50 Years of Bogdan Raczynski” compilations.

PTB: Nowadays we operate in a state of constant newness, this ungraspable flow of new music. At the same time, we have the awareness and availability of old(er) music and we constantly rewrite music history (by reissuing labels for instance). What do you think about that phenomenon and what does it mean for you both as an artist and listener?

BR: I cover this exact topic in great detail in a book I’m writing, but I’ll lay it out briefly here. The perspective you describe is a part of the old paradigm. Its structure is a pyramid, a little different from a pyramid scheme where only the top members earn the lion’s share of the earnings. It’s a layout based on the gatekeeping, control, and greed of a very small number of people, generally white. The new paradigm has few rules. Anyone can be a gatekeeper, or rather, anyone can make the rules. The layout is flat. You yourself can start a scene of 2 people in your town where you all share something creative. Or perhaps an online chat group. Funding is up to you, and just as importantly, your measure of „success.” The other important thing to note here is that it is impossible to know about every artist or piece of art in the world. Just enjoy what you want or what you can or whatever you deem to be a relevant measure. This may seem idealistic, and my book covers the important topic of how this new way of looking at creativity can be achieved in terms of financial subsistence.

PTB: You founded which is “an inclusive and diverse safe space for makers of interesting sounds, livecode, noise, software, visuals, and more” – how did it come about? Are you satisfied, or maybe also surprised with how it’s going on?


BR: There are people who yearn for human interaction. They seek out others, mill around comfortably from group to group, introduce themselves, navigate conversations with ease, and establish relationships and rapport with abundant skill.

On the other side of the scale, there are people like me; at the sight of a potential human interaction the palms get sweaty, the stomach begins to churn with a mix of anxiety and acid, and a low-grade fight or flight response activates.

This latter cohort goes to the greatest of lengths, even to the point of absurdity, literally falling over themselves in an attempt to escape having to talk to someone else. For us, online is absolute solace. It isn’t just a place where those animal fears don’t come out, it’s also a place where we thrive. Our true spirit comes out. We’re able to develop relationships, laugh and think clearly and thoughtfully, and still have the capacity and energy to consider others and not hate ourselves when the conversation is done. is my effort to provide a home not just for introverts and recluses like myself, it is not just for weirdos and geeks and queers, nor is it just for those who make sounds that don’t fit into any known sphere; it is for all of us, normies too. It is also my attempt to swing the balance, however micro, against moronic assholes like Musk, who tear down and destroy. My efforts and our community don’t need to be measured by analytics, and that is why there are none. It’s futile to compare our size to other communities because I am not competing.

PTB: I am not sure if such a term could (should?) be applied here, but what do you think are the biggest achievements of this community so far?

BR:’s biggest achievement is ironically that it has none. Our target is not capitalism but the other „c-word” – community. I was born in a time before the Internet, and I saw it rise slowly from the mud. Those who gave it life and home were creatives and weirdos, not bankers and investors. Naively or foolishly, I cling to the belief that sites can be communities that are sincere homes for others first. I believe that the best way to achieve this is not through analytics, encouraging viral posts, monetization, or other sly methods that mainly enrich a select few. Achievement, in the context of, means sharing your creative work safely and having others consume it. Whether there’s feedback, collaboration, or the birth of new scenes and styles is a foregone conclusion.