In Conversation: Something Happening Somewhere
Something is always happening, somewhere… A young music fan has just discovered house music for the first time. A producer is screaming at their DAW because they can’t quite nail their mixdown. You are reading this interview.
Something happened earlier, too… Three key friends from Nunos Dos Santos’ perennially on-point label Something Happening, Somewhere collided for a unique three-way discussion on production, careers, Soundcloud, cassettes, awkward moments and many other of life’s foibles.
Each artist is connected through vocation, vision and their place in the SoHaSo catalogue: Long-standing electronica professor Love Over Entropy had the honour of the 001 release on the label back in 2013; Berlin new age chillsmith Sigward has appeared on the label several times since his ‘Black Mambo’ label debut in 2014; Yield founder Kaap represents the label’s new breed thanks to the blissful unhurried synth odyssey ‘Sunset Vertigo’ on SoHaSo’s new ‘Somewhere III’ album that we just premiered…
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Each artist adding to the SoHaSo story, each artist with something to say. This is what happens when three passionate kindred spirits collide somewhere…
L = Michel aka Love over Entropy
K = Robbert aka Kaap
S = Sjoerd aka Sigward
S: Hi Michel, I don’t believe we’ve actually met in person but I’ve read a couple of your interviews so in that way I came to know a little bit about your story. One of the things I came to know was that you’re a teacher in electronic music. So, my first question is: Do you feel that your own production style has changed a lot since you started teaching? I have no idea what kind of lessons you teach but I can image that you might learn something from your students as well as teaching them.
L: I teach a full Ableton Live curriculum with synthesis, music theory, mixing, mastering, composition, the whole shebang. I also do private lessons, where I sometimes also look deep into people’s process. That’s always great fun. I wouldn’t really say that my production style has changed, but of course I learn from my students and fellow teachers. New tricks, new synths, new ways of working, etc. And the lessons I used to teach at the Rockacademie made me more serious about producing. A lot of the students there were so dedicated, that I felt I had to step up my game as a producer. Still, I would say that my time in the studio changes my lessons more than the other way around.
K: Michel, we’ve known each other for a while already. The first time we met was probably when you were the substitute teacher at the Rockacademie for Julien Chaptal’s classes, teaching music production. I can recall the awkwardness when nobody understood your sense of humor. I can also recall you showed me your music and asked me “how long do you think I took for this track?” and you answered “a month”. What took you so long and are you still busy with making tracks for months sculpting/overthinking it to death?
L: Good to hear I was able to create some awkward moments; they reveal the inherent strangeness of being human. It must be roughly ten years since we met, and I think I took so long back then because of two reasons: Not only did I still have to develop a lot of my skills, so it was a lot of trial and error, but I also deliberately took the long road. When I for instance found out how to achieve certain typical sounds, I would usually try to do it differently. I still do, but nowadays I’m far more skilled. I feel I can almost decide how long to work on a track. For instance, the Ortygia remix was done in six hours, Sea in two days, Tonii took more than a month. Which one is best? While I appreciate other’s opinions, the only thing that really matters to me is my own feeling about a track. And I’ve discovered that that feeling is usually closely tied to the amount of challenges I had to overcome during the creative process.
For me, creating a track is like a dialogue. I lay down the first idea and then look at it from a distance. What’s in there? Where can I take it? With some tracks, those questions are quickly answered. But with some, like Tonii, it just gets ever more exciting. The very first version of Tonii was something like 6 minutes. A perfectly fine track. But I thought I could get more out of it, so I pushed it further. I wouldn’t call that ‘overthinking it to death’. Brain Eno has said that children learn through play and that adults play through art. So I’d like to think that I was being playful.
I feel that in electronic dance music working on tracks longer than one or two days is often frowned upon. “Your first idea is your best idea” is what I hear often. I would counter that your first idea is usually somebody else’s. It feels best because it’s familiar. But is that your best idea? What I also hear a lot is: “If you keep working on your first idea, you’ll kill it”. With this I can agree, having ruined many ideas in the past. But it’s something you can learn to avoid, even though it takes practice. You have to become aware of what makes an idea good, and how you can add to it or even transform it without killing it. As a result, nowadays I hardly ever feel I ruin an idea anymore.
K: From all the classes you taught me about music production (at the Rockacademie), you gave me this one legendary music producing tip which I still use every day. Can you recall which it was?
L: Let me guess… ‘Always be yourself’? Or was it… ‘If you want, you can do it’? Or maybe… ‘Embrace the now’? Or was it the equally sappy… ‘The only rule is that there are no rules’? Maybe the more practical… ‘Turn on your gear before you use it’? No? I think I’d better ask you…
L: You told me I once gave you a legendary production tip. Please tell me about it.
K: Greaaaaaat… backfiring the question to me haha! Anyway, I recall we were working on a track of mine. I had trouble with the sounds; making them fit in the mix and how to make them “pop out” or at least “make them work”. I remember I was mixing my sounds extremely loud and compressed just to get it out there. Eventually you had some weird anecdote about drum ’n bass music. About how it was produced so loud and aggressive although if you listen “carefully” it’s really well done and extremely controlled. And here comes the thing you said: The sounds don’t need to be loud, distorted, compressed or whatsoever, they simply need to hit the bullseye. This could mean the sounds don’t have to be that loud to “act” loud. Anyway, now when I’m stuck in the making process I always ask myself “do these elements hit the bullseye?”. If they don’t, even though they might come close, I instantly delete it and it gives me shitloads of room and space to make better elements and better sounding music. Thanks for the tip!
S: I also read about a cool little technique that you use to liven up (otherwise boring) percussion loops. If I remember correctly, you use the Soundtoys (awesome company!) Phase Mistress to be triggered by input levels. I used this trick a couple of times (even in a much less subtle way) and I really like it. Do you have more tricks like this that you want to share with us?
L: Maybe I can suggest a different approach to jamming. Saints de Glace, the track that I did with Ripperton for the recent SoHaSo compilation, started as a jam in his studio. But instead of trying to jam out a track, we just fooled around with some synths and effects, and recorded everything to a stereo track. There was no structure, no plan. Just some sounds, melodies and rhythms. Later, in my own studio, I built a track out of those recordings. I noticed I had to use a whole different set of skills than I normally do. And that the result is like nothing I’ve ever done. Very refreshing.
L: Sigward, I see on your Soundcloud that besides tracks you also have some ‘unreleased experiments’. What is the difference between a track and an experiment for you? Do you allow yourself things in experiments you don’t allow yourself in tracks?
S: Yes, definitely. When I’m experimenting I don’t really make music with a purpose. I just mess around and see what comes out in the end. This helps me come up with new ideas. Sometimes I really like what comes out of it, so I share it.
L: How do you see your music career? You have a steady stream of releases, gigs every now and then, your own label and of course a boatload of Soundcloud followers (about which you might want to tell the story) Do you have the ambition to do music full-time, or are you perhaps already doing that?
S: I would love to do music full-time, but I also don’t want to rush into it. I work part-time as a graphic designer now, which is something I still enjoy very much and it also helps to pay the bills. I feel that when you’re forced to make money with music it often damages the quality of the music because you feel like you have to make something that a lot of people like in order to get more gigs. I’ve seen this happen many times: a producer finds a certain success formula (or at least he/she thinks so…) and keeps on making the same kind of tracks until there’s no magic left. For me it’s more important to make good, forward thinking music than to become successful in a short period of time.
About the soundcloud thing; I’ve been asked this question many times but I don’t mind answering it again. The answer is very simple. Soundcloud promoted my profile a couple of years ago by putting it on “who to follow” lists. This is how I got this obscene amount of followers.
L: To me, your music brings together some quite diverse influences in a very cool and unique way. I can hear some disco, new wave, techno, ethnic and ambient in there. What are the things that fascinate you musically, and where do you think that comes from?
S: I think you’re right. I listen to a lot of very different styles of music at home and I’m sure they all influence me in a way. What I tend to look for in music that I play is a sort of hypnotic aspect that can put people in a trance. It doesn’t really matter that much what kind of genre it is as long as it has that quality.
S: Kaap, I discovered through Souncloud that you’re running the YIELD label. Cool sound! Some of the releases come from (for me) unknown artists. Do you try and discover these artists yourself, or did they approach you with demo’s?
K: Thanks! That means a lot. The artists are pretty unknown indeed. It’s funny… cause actually one of my best pals Olaf Stuut shared me the sounds of Central, who did the first YIELD release. Back then he was producing under a different moniker, but Olaf shared me his music like “dude, this is totally up your alley”. He was absolutely right and I was blown away by ‘9000’. I asked for the tracks that were on Central’s Soundcloud page to play out. He messaged me back with the tracks and we shared some words. It was a year later I noticed myself still playing those tunes and got the idea to release them as I believe this was the sound that actually adds to the spectrum of House and Techno music. It was sounding extremely fresh to my ears, so it had to hit the stores to make it available for who wants to enjoy.
I struggled with the high costs of vinyl as I didn’t have the finances to make that work out. Eventually Central came with the idea to release it on cassette as he also did this with his own imprint, Help Recordings. That made total sense to me as I was a cassette geek throughout my life and actually created my sound with the use of cassette within my own productions. So, long story short. I got some money, fabricated and recorded the cassettes myself and tried to sell them to shops like Rush Hour, Clone, OYE, Halcyon and the Bandcamp page. It started off slow, but somehow it got some attention because of the tapes that were sold in the shops. In the meantime I went on a trip to Aarhus to visit Central and meet his whole crew, family and friends. That’s how I got to know DJ Sports, his little brother, C.K. of 2 Bit Crew, Manmade Deejay, and others who were just crazy talented and super friendly. On that trip DJ Sports showed me some music and I asked him if he was up of doing a tape as well. After that trip I came back home and got a message from Central to say that he’d got a mail from Casper at Dekmantel. That’s where it really lifted off for them and also for YIELD.
Other artists like 300 Degrees and others that followed, I found them by “scouting” Soundcloud and Bandcamp. There’s a shitload of talent on the web and as long as you’re taking your job seriously as label owner, the artists will be serious as well. I give them all the time to make their EP’s and that’s why our frequency of releasing might not be the industry standard, which I don’t care for. The music needs to sound great and everybody has to be happy with the results. The artist and the label owner. Anyway, I think I’m drifting away too much from answering the question ….?
S: Now for a little nerdy question: I see that you release on cassette with YIELD. Now and then I use a Nakamichi BX-1 to record tracks, but the quality of this machine is often not good enough to record full tracks onto. What kind of recorder do you use for the releases and are the tracks directly recorded onto cassette or do you mix them in the box first?
K: I use a Nakamichi CR3 recorder. It’s pretty hi-end for cassette, but I managed to buy it for steal when I started YIELD. I can imagine not every tape player is suitable for the certain quality we’re looking for, but this works out pretty well in my opinion.
The tracks are mixed by the artists themselves. I’m their 2nd set of ears, so if there’s something that sounds off or could be better, I try to help them out with suggestions. When that’s a wrap, I ask for the premasters and master the audio myself. I might not have the gear of a mastering engineer, but I’m confident in my skills for hearing. So far everybody has been super happy about the results. Obviously the mastering by me has to be approved by the artist as well. When that’s done, I record the tapes with the Nakamichi CR3. It’s real time recording, so with 100 tapes each release takes a while as you can imagine. Most releases are around 30 to 40 minutes. 100 times 40 minutes, divided in hours is like… 66 hours to record? but this is the way to manage quality control. So far I can do this on my own, I’ll continue doing this. But maybe later when the time is right, I might find ways to bulk record it somewhere.
L: From what I know, you have done tape-only releases, where you hand-copied each and every tape. Also you recently started a new label. I don’t know whether it is vinyl-only, but I wouldn’t be surprised. What are your reasons to release on these formats and why do you think vinyl, and to a lesser degree tape, still have such appeal? (Apart from the ‘hipsters gonna hip’ argument)
K: That’s true. YIELD so far has only released tapes and with Working Titles for now it’s vinyl-only. It has multiple reasons, but the main one would be ‘owning the music’.
Next to supporting the artist and label by actually buying it, people are collectors by nature. In our primal age we started to collect to survive like food and material to make tools to hunt and simply not die. In our current age, this is obviously not that necessary anymore to a certain degree. So I guess people still have this primal feel for collecting, but with stuff they enjoy. When people collect they create a certain “ownership” feeling. Next to that you’ve the “treasure hunting” feel, getting rewarded when you find this new music that’s nowhere to be found except in your hands. You won’t have that feeling by scouting for torrents on the web.
Let me put it like this… Let’s say IKEA is the Spotify of furniture. They’ve everything you probably need, everybody has it, it’s super easy to maintain and it’s cheap. The only thing is that this has no appeal. It’ll never feel personal and it’ll never be “yours”. It’ll never identify as you or your (music) taste. Imagine you find that old chair and side table that got dumped on the street and looks like it travelled with a time machine from the 80’s. You bring it home, get rid of the dust and you give it a nice spot in your apartment. Next day a friend comes to visit you and notices your 80’s furniture and he tells you; “Wow, those look so nice!” or “Where did you find those, I would like them too!” or even “Did you know these furniture pieces are like more than 1000 bucks on Furniturecogs.com?”.
L: Nowadays, lo-fi productions seem to be all the rage. I understand the punk attitude and that a polished sound sometimes just doesn’t fit a production. Still, I think that many producers are just being lazy or simply unable to do better than a lo-fi sound. On the other hand, there are also producers who go to great lengths to achieve their own flavor of lo-fi sound, like Boards of Canada. And I remember you as being in that second category as well. How would you describe your current sound and how do you achieve it?
K: I must say I’m not a very big fan of the lo-fi scene nowadays. At the start of it, it felt fresh to have these gritty, saturated and overdriven sounds again. Labels like Opal Tapes, 1080p and Cong Burn Waves. To me, it got used as part of a recipe for the whole music piece that an artist produced. But very quickly this part of the recipe translated itself into an ordinary Macaroni & Cheese kind of thing. First it felt inspired, later on it felt abused. They figured out the ‘recipe’ however they couldn’t / can’t cook a proper meal. I guess this happens with all the new things that see a big audience / interest on the horizon. It gets ‘figured out’ and overly produced. I believe the kings of lo-fi like Boards Of Canda and others are not intending to sound like this on purpose. It’s the way of working and the appeal of it, as to why they end up with so called lo-fi. At the moment it’s just a piece of the puzzle that has a big appeal and got focused upon too much.
I would describe my sound today as inspired by playing music and recording it the old fashioned way. As a kid from the 90’s I was born and raised with computers, although I had a cassette player when I was young. So probably the nostalgia played a big part in the appeal, but also the curiosity of how artists made music before me. Before using any programs on a PC. It’s pretty mind bending to read about records that were made on a 4-track cassette recorder for example. How did they do that and how did they make such complex sounds and structures with just 4 tracks to record on. I wanted to experience the same and this brought me back into this sound as well. So I started buying hardware gear. Not high end at all. Just stuff that had a lot of appeal to me. The collection of machines increases and there you have it; your sound. The tricks, licks, mixes, melodies, compositions, arrangements all are influenced by this setup. You’re continuously developing and changing again.
This way of working has/had a massive impact on my creativity. The limitations and choices I meet in the making process are totally different when I sit behind a PC. To me this worked out pretty well, as I shut down when I’ve too much choice or endless possibilities. I would recommend everybody who’s making music to buy a 4 track recorder, a small sampler and couple of pocket synths, to just experience this vibe and way of thinking. These small setups have the nature to expand your way of thinking, listening and experiencing. At least it did for me.
K: Sjoerd, we’ve met briefly at one of the SoHaSo ADE parties on the Thursday evening, but I also did a little research recently. I wasn’t aware, until now, that you’re living in Berlin. Curious to hear how this environment is working out for you. As I’m completely in this “Dutch bubble”, how do you experience the Dutch House/Techno scene from abroad? I can imagine you have plenty of contacts and with the help of social media to experience it’s still vibrating, but is it really that alive and flourishing as we Dutchies might think and how does that reflect to you?
S: I think us Dutchies are very lucky when it comes to electronic music. I still feel there’s a thriving scene and a lot of talent coming from The Netherlands. I also feel there is a lot more freedom to experiment musically as a DJ nowadays. There might be a bit too many festivals but there’s also some really cool new ones popping up here and there that really try to make a difference.
K: Do you experience a difference in audience and artists experiencing and expressing music within the scenes of Germany in comparison to the Netherlands?
S: The biggest difference that I experience here is that there’s a lot more variety than, for instance, Amsterdam. I’m sure this has to do with the huge difference in size of the two cities. The thing I find here that I didn’t really find in The Hague or Amsterdam is smaller venues that book interesting unknown artists. In Holland there’s a bit too much of the same ‘big names’ that get booked all the time. This is really boring and uninspiring to me.
K: Do you think city locations are vital to the development of a career and how does that express itself?
S: I don’t think it’s really that important when you live in any of the bigger cities in Europe. I guess it would be a completely different story when you live somewhere in Asia or Africa because most of the electronic dance scene is centered around Western Europe. I was personally just looking for an interesting new place to live that had a lot to offer music-wise.
S: If I remember correctly, you have worked for some time with Bobby (The Planty Herbs) and shared a house/studio. Could you tell a little bit about that period? Do you guys still make music together?
K: Absolutely true. We met each other in 2007 if I recall correctly. Bobby had a background in House/Techno and I was more the Hiphop/Triphop-kid. We shared some inspirations and producing techniques and eventually ended up in a smoke-a-t(h)on that developed into producing shitloads of music together. I showed Bobby my ways of sampling and he tought me his ways of using synthesizers and effect programming. We decided to make an album which has never been released (yet). Over the years our interests crossed and developed further. 10 years later, I’m doing more Electronic music and Bobby dived into Disco/Soul/Jazz. We don’t really make music together at the moment. After approximately 10 years of collaborating it feels fresh to do your own thing again or get inspired by new collaborations. For example, At the moment I’m working together with Scott Franka to perform fully improvised live sets on stage with our label ‘Working Titles’. Next to that I’m focussing on making tunes myself and keeping myself busy with the cassette imprint ‘YIELD’. There’ll be music released that Bobby and I made together. Our archive that hasn’t seen the broad daylight is still pretty huge. It’ll just be a matter of time
S: Michel, this might be a simple question but I’d like to know the answer nonetheless: How long have you been producing and what kind of styles of music did you produce before you started the Love Over Entropy project?
L: I started producing in 1993, and had my first release in 2001. That was as Roy Cordu and it was what you would nowadays call Electronica. Believe it or not, but it was released on Rushhour, RH-007. This was of course way before Rushhour blew up in the way that it did. After that I started to produce more dance floor oriented music, and in 2007 I released my first record as Minz on Ripperton’s Perspectiv. The project was off to a good start, but after a few releases it petered out. When Nuno approached me in 2013 to release on Something Happening Somewhere, I asked him whether we should do it as Minz or come up with a new project. I went for a new name and fooled everybody into thinking I was the new kid on the block.
K: You might’ve noticed the whole fuss about one of the Giegling members, Konstantin. What he might’ve said, or at least what has been written. We both probably can agree that it wasn’t very clever for the artist or label. This phenomenon isn’t new to the world of music, although I guess the internet and all the social media networks help to escalate and explode these sort of s(h)ituations. Has there ever been a point in your music-career that you experienced or noticed similar situations that may have had a similar impact?
L: I had no clue what you were talking about, but I asked some friends who are into Giegling and they told me Konstantin had his own little Ten Walls moment. Nothing new here, I think. When you become somewhat of a public figure, you have to be at least a little media savvy. If you for instance do an interview, be aware that interviewers, however nice they are, are always looking for a story. So if you say something controversial, the world will know. This is especially true nowadays, when so much of our culture is celebrity-driven and social media can amplify words or deeds with dazzling speed.
I’ve never been in such a situation, but then again I’m not that much of a public figure. Still, when I’m interviewed, I carefully weigh my words. Not only because I don’t know where they might end up, but also because I’ve learned that having an opinion should be the result of thought, not a replacement for it. Somebody asking me questions during an interview might seem like the perfect opportunity to finally enlighten the world with all the wonderful opinions that bounce around in my head. But the fact is that most of those opinions will crumble under scrutiny. So any private opinions that I feel are worthy of becoming public, I will first test out in conversations with people around me.
Wise words indeed and a perfect piece of advice to conclude our interesting conversation between three of Something Happening Somewhere’s core family of artists.
The ‘Somewhere III’ compilation is on sale now …..