City Centre Offices: The final transmission

 

Countless hours have been spent exploring and collecting the music to be found on the infamous City Centre Offices label. Should you have missed it, even the ASIP name is a rip of an album by one of CCO's most successful artists. The label's impact and inspiration on the music here at ASIP, is second to none. 

CCO pushed a style of music that was relatively new at the time and the label went on to host many of the names that have graced the blog pages and even the releases here on ASIP including, Ulrich Schnauss, Arovane, Herrmann & Kleine, Christian Kleine, Bitstream, Miwon, Casino Versus Japan, Xela, Marsen Jules, The Gentlemen Losers... I could keep going.

These names were brought together by a group of friends between two thriving music cities of the late '90s; Berlin and Manchester, in what was perhaps the worlds first truly international, independent (DIY) electronica label. But at the time, they didn't know of the impact they would eventually have on the music world.

Unfortunately, the end of CCO is here. You may have already thought that CCO was long gone, and it was, until label co-founder, Thaddeus Herrmann decided to release just one more record under its mighty guise this year. That record, a sublime slice of electronica by Boy Robot titled Final Transmission, echoes CCO in its purest, and arrives March 24th 2017.

Now felt like a good time to look back on the label and celebrate its success and last hurrah, with label co-founder Thaddeus Herrmann.  From his home in Berlin, in between many emails and his work on DasFilter, the CCO mastermind took the time to respond in depth to a few questions we sent his way, looking back on the might of electronica's finest, City Centre Offices

As one of CCO's biggest fans, I pulled together some of my favorite tracks from (& associated with) the label in this Spotify playlist, to accompany your read and remind us all how brilliant, timeless and pioneering their catalog truly is.  

Did you know at the time that the sound of CCO was so unique and forward-thinking? 

Thaddi: First and foremost: It’s great to hear that what we did or tried to achieve over the years left such a positive impression with people. Musically, there was no master plan. We had a clear idea though which got the label started: We wanted to try to marry the 7" format with electronic pop music.

If you think back to the late 1990s, electronica was very popular, “PowerBook” music as I call it, I’m aware this may be oversimplifying, but you get the idea. At the same time, there was a renaissance of the 7" format. Many new labels and imprints were curating this exact type of electronica I was describing.

The 7" fascinated both Shlom Sviri, my label partner, and myself. We’d grown up with that format when we were kids. You’d hear a song on the radio, go to the shop and pick up the 7". It was both cheap and a cheap thrill, so to speak. Two tracks, hardly ever taking more than ten minutes of your time. A moment of excitement, a little something, a treat, a way to escape from whatever it was you were doing. This was exactly what we wanted to resurrect - the excitement.

We both felt this was somehow missing in the electronica and 7" scene at the time. We thought that maybe we could contribute something to the mix. It was not supposed to be a serious operation, let alone a business. We just wanted to put out 7"s and not lose money.

I hardly ever go back to the CCO catalogue these days, but I do hope that at least some of the releases stand the test of time and don’t sound dated. If that’s the case, I guess we’ve achieved something - something which might have been triggered by our original approach: pop music on the 7" format.

From what I know, CCO was conceived between a few friends in Berlin who simply wanted to release music. In your own words, how did the label come about?

Thaddi: This is gonna be a long story, but I'll share it anyways, because it has a recurring theme to it which has always been very important to us since we started the label: friendship.

A very good friend of mine, who I’d known since the 80s here in Berlin (and who I was also in a band with), went to Manchester in the mid-90s to study for a year.  There, he met another German guy, Oliver, who was also at University. As far as I remember, Oliver knew Shlom Sviri (CCO co-founder) somehow, probably through a room mate. A couple of years later, my mate was back in Berlin and had a garden party – a yearly tradition. Shlom and Oliver came over, and this is how I met them. Shlom had just finished Uni and was about to open Pelicanneck (a record shop in Manchester). He had the insane idea of booking my band to play the opening party of the shop. Of course we went, and stayed with him for a couple of days. We were talking about music all the time and the idea of the label came up. It was one of those "what if"-moments, one which is usually followed by something like: fuck it, let’s give it a try. So we did.

Oliver was the third guy, taking care of the design. Being a student of architecture, he had a brilliant approach, making the 7"s look and feel very precise, technical and bleak, yet personal at the same time. We couldn’t have done that individually. It was a team approach, again, it was all about friendship. Every 7" was assembled by hand, which was quite common in those days, yet I believe we went the extra mile; sourcing the black sleeves from one company, the large stickers from another, the small stickers from yet another. Even my mom chipped in, putting stickers on black sleeves in front of the TV.

Did you have a goal for the label when setting out?

Thaddi: It was clear from day one that it could be anything. We just needed to like the tracks. What sounded like a big promise in the early days, really transpired later on, I guess, when we were working with bands like the Florida-based hip hop group Cyne (a story for another interview), or Italy’s best indie band Giardini Di Miro. We moved on soon enough, while other labels were still stuck with that electronica sound. I don’t mean this in a disrespectful way, we just felt the urge to move on. Or maybe we were just always interested in other things musically as well.

How did the label name originate?

Thaddi: It took us some time to come up with the name City Centre Offices, and I don’t remember who’s idea it was in the end, but it fitted quite well. It was an international label from day one, run from two countries, UK and Germany, from two cities, Manchester and Berlin. We had this crazy idea that if the label lived on for more than one release, each artist would open up a new city centre office in his or her home town, creating a network of like-minded people. Years later, we did a website based on this idea and also had t-shirts made with an abstract map of the world, our CCO world.

Until the very end, we never had offices, btw.

As it turned out, the label did live on for more than one release. Not just that, people really seemed to like it. We started to receive demos and quite early on, we decided to give up our 7"-only policy and look into other, more established formats. 12"s and albums. This was when things started to get more serious.

Suddenly, we needed of think of designs on a whole different level, about promotion, royalty statements and serious distribution. Basically, we needed to put much more money into a release, deciding how to spend it in the most efficient way. We hardly knew anything about how these things were done, let alone how to do them properly. We didn’t care, we just wanted to release the great music which was piling up on our desks. And, yet again because of friendship – we were able to cope with the initially overwhelming tasks. Until the very end, we never had offices, btw.

Did you have to balance CCO duties with other jobs? 

Thaddi: I’m a journalist by trade. During University, I was already working for the radio and later on, I joined De:Bug, a monthly print magazine for electronic music and culture, as an editor. This was my main job. CCO took up more and more time, but I never wanted to do it full-time. It just didn't feel right, and I still think that was the best decision.

What was Berlin like back then for starting a label? Was it hard?

Thaddi: It was surprisingly easy, mainly because I was lucky enough to have a lot of contacts and friends who were happy to help. If you decide to start a label, you need basically three things sorted: mastering, pressing and distribution. Distro was the easiest, since Shlom had his record shop and took care of the UK side of things. But what about other countries? What about Berlin? I was friendly with the guys at Hardwax over here and as well as being a regular customer, I had interviewed some of them about their own music whilst working for a music well respected music magazine based in Berlin at the time, and somehow this opened a door.

Reviewing early Arovane records on DIN, a label operated by two guys working at Hardwax, helped, too. They were up to distribute our 7"s, which really helped. Their reputation pushed the label from day one. If you ask me about who to trust in this industry, they are among the very few people who I’d mention. A couple of years ago, I started working with them again for the label I run on my own these days, and they're still the best. So trustworthy, so on point. Without the support of Hardwax in the early days and Thomas Morr of Morr Music coming in a little bit later, CCO probably would not have survived that long.

In order to get heard, you need to be everywhere, first and foremost: online. If vinyl is right for you, look into your options. Make it special somehow. And try to offer it as cheap as possible. Make it accessible.

Thaddi: But how to press up a record? And fucking where? I remember calling a pressing plant in Germany, asking for a quote. The agent on the phone literally hang up on me. We emailed a pressing plant in the Czech Republic, infamous for everything. Their vinyl was poor quality and it was a somewhat dodgy business in general. They'd press up anything if you paid in advance. And they didn’t care about collecting societies, mechanicals to be paid etc. Bootlegs? Check. Nazi scum shit? Why not. Electronica 7"s? Of course! Stefan Betke aka Pole was kind enough to master the first three 7"s before we sent off the masters to the Czech Republic. We hoped for the best and were disappointed rather quickly. Things needed to change...

I had a friend who had just started a label and in the process stumbled across a woman who’d just started a manufacturing broker service called "Handle With Care". A company which is blossoming today, taking care of big productions for both major and indie labels. Back in the day, she was just starting up on a very small scale. I was her third or fourth customer. She took care of our records from then on, putting them through proper pressing plants, giving us more options and quality control. The pressing plant in the Czech Republic is still there. Universal Music is one of their biggest clients. I wonder if they know their history, but mainly I wonder how they survived.  

Running a label myself, I’m interested in how the vinyl process happened back then and how you come to work with Loop-O?

Thaddi: As I mentioned before, the first three releases had been manufactured in the Czech Republic – a quick and dirty job, but at least we had records. With the fourth release, we were facing a problem. It was a 7" by .snd. Shlom was very friendly with them, great guys who somehow felt a similar vibe between the early 12"s on their own label and CCO. They had this idea for a 7" consisting of a regular track on one side and some loops on the other. Loops need to be perfect. Endless. So, obviously the plant in the Czech Republic was no option.

The problem was that back in the day, they could only handle DMM – Direct Metal Mastering. They could not process regular master discs, cut on dubplates. Therefore, they took care of the cuts themselves and I couldn't trust them with the loops, let alone anything else. I was aware of D&M, the cutting room established by Mark Ernestus and Moritz von Oswald – both of Basic Channel fame – here in Berlin and the engineers working there: Mark & Moritz themselves, Monolake, Pole and Rashad. It was legendary, because up to this point, people had been raving about cutting rooms and engineers far, far away, in the UK or the USA. However, Germany was not on this list.

Ernestus and von Oswald, based on their Basic Channel fame, created a safe haven for electronic music, located conveniently on the same floor as the Hardwax record shop. At the music magazine I was working at the time, there was a guy in charge of marketing who'd just moved in with a guy called Andreas Lubich who’d just started working at D&M. He introduced me to him. “Can you cut loops? I really need some loops to be cut“, I asked him. “Of course I can“, he said. This is how I met Loop-O, someone who shaped the CCO sound tremendously from that moment in time onwards.

Every single release since that infamous .snd 7" has been cut and mastered by him. I consider this to be very important. To have a go-to guy, someone you can trust, someone you know understands the musical output of a label, its history, its vision. I attended every session. It’s very time-consuming, but it’s time well-spent. It’s that moment when you get to know the music you’re about to release in a completely new way, you’re living with it. You witness how it changes, how it is being processed and then cut to vinyl. Also – bonus! – Loop-O has the best handwriting ever, which has always been crucial for CCO releases. Ever since the first-ever 7", we always included messages in the run-out grooves and those need to look good.

Talking about looking good – we also switched to a pressing plant over here in Germany at the same time. It’s the best. I love the way their vinyl feels. Those edges are special. Comfy. And the metal works and actual pressings are special, too. They are real experts. They’ve been around for ever. I still have stuff pressed up there to this very day. Over the course of years, Loop-O has become a dear friend of mine. I trust his work and judgement way more than anything else. He left D&M years ago, yet I still put every release I work on through him and his new home, Calyx. I still attend those mastering sessions too!

So CCO really was a family operation? I feel like it’s this human, manual, delicate process that makes pressing vinyl so rewarding. What piece of advice would you give to anyone looking to follow in the footsteps of CCO as a label?

Thaddi: First of all, to just give it a go on a small scale. You can burn a couple of hundred $ and might end up with 300 records in your bedroom, but that’s not the end of the world. I guess the most important question today would be, if vinyl is actually the right and best format for whatever you want to release. Pressing vinyl just for the sake of it, is definitely the wrong approach. In order to get heard, you need to be everywhere, first and foremost: online. If vinyl is right for you, look into your options. Make it special somehow. And try to offer it as cheap as possible. Make it accessible. That’s a tough thing to do, I know, because you want quality mastering, the best cut and great vinyl. 

The moment Coca-Cola calls you to license a track for a TV commercial, you realize that you’ve accomplished … well, something.

What would change if you started CCO today?

Thaddi: Actually, nothing at all. Some years ago, I might have said starting a label is the worst idea ever, but today, I would probably do everything as we’ve done it almost 20 years ago.

What’s the story behind the infamous CCO stickers?

Thaddi: Yeah, the stickers. Being based out of two cities, we wanted to represent that somehow and the stickers were an obvious solution. With each 7", there is a set of two, one from Manchester, one from Berlin, based on whatever theme we could come up with: kebab shops, mini cab services (that’s before Uber, kids!), record shops, general sights, obscurities, hidden gems. Come to think of it, it was quite a European idea, long before Brexit, the refugee "crisis", or even Trump. Raising interest in weirdness or simply weird company names, trying to get people to dig a little deeper. It’s something which has never been more important than today.

Was it important for you to add this new dimension to releases?

Thaddi: We didn’t do it consciously. Adding small things to the actual vinyl, like sticker or inserts was a very common thing, stressing the DIY style of both the releases and the way labels were run in these days. That was all. One could argue that both Berlin, with its techno culture and love for anonymity, and Manchester with labels like Skam had an air of mystery around them and we were to break this bullshit with little stickers displaying names of local supermarkets, but that would just add more BS to the mix.

How was the first release with Arovane formed?

Thaddi: I’d first met Uwe before his first releases on DIN. For a couple of years, I was co-hosting a drum and bass radio show on KISS FM Berlin. He was really into that sound and also producing tracks, so he sent over a tape for us to play on the show. We did, and at some point I went to his house to meet him. He’d just moved to Berlin and did not really know many people yet. He played me all these amazing tracks in all sorts of styles and I picked some to give them to Sascha and Torsten who were running DIN. They called him straight away, as far as I remember. Uwe and I really got to know each other very well, so when CCO was about to become something real, I asked him if he’d want to do the first release.

 Xela (back) and Ulrich Schnauss Birmingham 2005, and Ulrich in Manchester 2005. 

Xela (back) and Ulrich Schnauss Birmingham 2005, and Ulrich in Manchester 2005. 

How many were pressed and was it a big risk for you at the time?

Thaddi: We started with 500 copies. I honestly do not remember how much the production was, it somehow must have been ok. The tricky thing back then was that with the pressing plant being located in the Czech Republic, had all kind of import duties, because the country had not yet joined the EU. Whoever calculated these, was high and drunk all the time. But we did ok. We soon repressed the 7” as well, something I’m sure we would not have done if we’d been in the red already.

For some time, the 7”s did really well for both the label and the artists. I guess we were just there with the right product at the right moment in time. Deciding on how many copies to press up for a release is always risky business. You either hit the sweet spot, or you under/over-press. Back in the early 2000’s it was much easier though to repress quickly. Pressing plants had a lot of free time on their hands. Making this decision in 2017 is a completely different story. If you have to wait for 3 months to get another 200 copies, you do not actually know if you’ll be able to sell those, because people might look for something completely different 90 days ahead.

Did you ever expect Arovane’s final release on CCO to be as defining and classic as it’s become?

Thaddi: Of course I did! Kidding. Putting out music, you always hope for the best. It’s as easy as that. We were pretty sure that it would do well, that people would like it, especially because it once again showed “the other side” of his work, not too technical but more free-flowing. Nobody can compare any track off Lilies with Autechre, for example. I think what makes his two albums for CCO so special is the fact that those were real special projects for him as well. Both albums were done in a really short period of time, there was an urge in him to get it finished, you could really feel that by just talking to him. Working with the Japanese singer Kazumi on the vocals was something very close to his heart. She was his biggest fan, and probably still is. Listening back to Lilies today, I feel that it is one of the records in the CCO catalogue still sounding fresh and valid today. If people consider it to be a classic: I’m all for it, but could not possibly comment.

It’s pop music in the best sense of the word. And CCO always was about pop music. So … there it was, the perfect album.

Tell us about Ulrich Schnauss and how his classic albums came about on CCO. At what point did you realize these albums would be as popular as they are today?

Thaddi: Ulrich is another one of our artists who I’d met through the radio show on KISS FM. He would also send in tracks for us to play. At the time, he was already an established producer, very versatile. At some point he played some tracks which would end up on his first album for CCO, “Far away trains passing by”. I was blown away instantly, so was Shlom. It took some time to put the album together though. Ulrich might very well disagree with me on this, but as far as I remember, he needed some convincing that it was a good idea to actually release these tracks. The album did do very well, something we all had hoped for, but still came as a surprise. People started talking about Ulrich Schnauss. Who is this guy? What’s with this music?

I consider his first album to be the absolute peak of electronica. Not just because it’s produced so beautifully, but mainly because the album opened so many doors. It is a defining album, bridging a lot of gaps, bringing things together. It appealed to all sorts of people, humble and bold at the same time, accessible yet complex. It’s pop music in the best sense of the word. And CCO always was about pop music. So … there it was, the perfect album.

You mentioned that you never really had any expectations of the label, but what do you think was the defining point of the label? The point at which you realized it was making an impact?

Thaddi: I think the label received a lot more attention as soon as we started to do albums. Back then it was still the format people were actually paying attention to. Releasing albums also changes your infrastructure by design. You need to hire PR to promote the releases, you need to manufacture promo CDs for press and radio, you need to sort bigger-scale distribution. All kinds of things change. Do we need barcodes? How do we get barcodes? What’s this little 5-digit number on the back of albums. What does it do? How do we get one? You realize that things just got a lot more serious. Suddenly many things become very bureaucratic. Applying for a US tax-ID, so that Apple could pay your royalties in full. Our accountant learned a lot, so did we.

After the first couple of albums, people got in touch. Other labels wanting tracks from our artists, or to sign them straight away. At some point, there were so many 7” labels out there, just swapping artists back and forth. It nearly killed the scene. You need to talk to your artists, advising them that maybe it is not a good idea to do a release with label x. Not because you want to keep them exclusively, but because it is doing an artist harm if they release ten tracks on eight labels within two months.

After having released Ulrich’s first album, followed by Static’s debut, things really changed. We realized that we were probably in it for the long-run. You start to think about certain things in a new way. Artists come back to you with their follow-ups. You realize that you might actually work with some of them for longer, which was great fun. Put simply: The moment Coca-Cola calls you to license a track for a TV commercial, you realize that you’ve accomplished … well, something.

I remember mix CD’s by Sasha and Nick Warren (to name a few) that included CCO tracks and undoubtedly helped spread word on the label. Which was your favorite mix inclusion?

Thaddi: I couldn’t really name my favorite one, simply because there were a lot. We always let the artists decide whether they were ok with it. If they weren’t, we would need to turn the offer down. I remember Nick Warren being a big deal at the time and I’m sure it had a positive effect in the end, but frankly, we did not care too much. Because Sasha and Nick Warren weren’t “our people”. Whenever someone we liked and respected – like Andrew Weatherall – wanted to include a CCO track for a project, we were really proud, though. It’s funny you ask about these compilations, because I still get licensing requests for Ulrich’s “Knuddelmaus” on a regular basis.

How did your relationship with Christian Kleine come about? And why did it end?!

Thaddi: Christian was another one of the people I met through the radio show on KISS FM. Only difference was that he did not send a tape, he just knocked on the studio door. Thank God we heard him. He lived down the road from the radio station, so quite often, I would hang out before the show at his place. I was looking for musical direction with my own music at the time. I had done some releases, but I wanted a fresh start. I couldn’t really get it off the ground. So we developed this habit of meeting on Sundays in Christian’s studio to just jam. It was difficult in the beginning, because he was working in a different setup, but maybe this was key. We found our roles quite easily.

The first e.p. was done in just a couple of weeks, people liked it. When Thomas Morr approached us to release a record on his label, I was really happy. Not just because I really liked him and his label - he was helping with distribution for CCO as well, but mainly because I was not comfortable with the idea of releasing my own music on my label. I did not want to waste resources we could have used for other artists.

I really enjoyed working with Christian, he had in parts a very different musical background. He knew all about hip hop, I did not. He had an MPC, I had not. He was into US indie stuff, I liked UK indie stuff. But things got complicated, purely because of me. I had personal issues at the time, which I tried to channel through the music. It worked quite well, but everything else didn't. It was difficult for me to be around other people. Having released the e.p. On Morr Music and the album afterwards seems like a miracle to me now. We – I – drifted apart.  We got to see the world though, played many great shows.

One of my favorite tracks of yours is with Christian, “Leaving You Behind”. Why didn't this make its own release? And how did the Japanese train station samples come about?

Thaddi: This might very well be our last ever track released. I still like it a lot. When we were touring Japan, I was fascinated by the fact that everything just talks to you all the time. So much noise! I had found the recordings earlier though – we’d used some of them in our live shows. I remember opening our gig in Osaka with one of the samples from Osaka main station – people loved it. It would have been great to have this track on a 12”, giving it a bit more dynamics and loudness. Ah well, there is another project.

Most people thought CCO had gone into permanent hibernation. Was your plan to always release one more? And why is the Boy Robot record the last one?

Thaddi: I never intended to release another CCO record. CCO is no more. I still handle digital for some of our former artists, but whenever one of them wants to exploit his back catalogue himself, I hand over all rights in a heartbeat. The new Boy Robot just happened.

Michael Zorn and myself started to work on some tracks years ago. The original plan had been to do an album, but that never really happened. I was never a member of Boy Robot either, I still do not know who put my name up on Discogs! Michael and Hans Möller met originally at work. Some years later, Hans went back to Sweden, so I was supposed to replace him in a way. It seemed like a nice idea, because Michael and me had done music together before for another label. Anyways, we had the tracks ready and we decided to do it. CCO seemed appropriate, so we went with it.

This e.p. is definitely the last ever record on the label. The music industry is such a different place these days and I don’t want any part of it. I have been running a small label for a couple of years now with 13 releases as of today, but I kind of went full-circle, back to the beginning of CCO. Vinyl only, small editions, putting them through Hardwax. That I can handle. Everything else? No, thanks.

So what’s next for Thaddi?

Thaddi: You never know, right? These days, I still mainly work as a journalist. For my own online magazine (dasfilter.com) which I co-founded with some dear friends of mine in 2014. We do a lot of work for external clients as well, some are music-related, some not. I like that my relationship to music has gotten more and more abstract over the last couple of years, since I’m not running the label anymore and also left the music magazine. I don’t have to listen to everything anymore. I do miss the radio though. For the last 7 years, I was lucky enough to have a bi-weekly show on a great radio station here in Berlin. That job just ended. And I miss it already. What’s next? Maybe even less music and more books? I don’t know.  

~

Final Transmission, by Boy Robot will be available on 12", March 24th, on City Centre Offices.

Thank you to Thaddi for taking the time  to entertain us, both here, and over the many years behind the wheel of CCO. 

 

Portals: Music For Sleeping

 

The easiest way to describe ambient music to somebody who isn't aware of it, is often to explain it as background music, or music that puts you to sleep. I find myself in that situation regularly, be it with taxi drivers asking about the show I'm heading off to ("so you don't dance - you just listen?!") family members asking about the music I put on the label, or pretty much anyone who only listens to nothing but pop music and think this stuff doesn't exist... However, when you explain it as "music for sleeping", it doesn't do the genre any justice whatsoever. Just take a look on Youtube, or Google "music for sleeping"; it's packed full of generic new-age type material that probably does the job for the many mums out there, but isn't a true reflection of some of the amazing coma-inducing music available. Let's open this world up a little more.

Music for sleeping doesn't necessarily mean music with the least obtrusive manner, or the most unnoticeable of noise. In my experience, you can probably fall asleep to any music you personally enjoy, feel comfort in, and can zone out to - be it full-on techno, subtle field recordings, ancient chanting or never-ending guitar loops. I think I've fallen asleep to all of the above at some point. 

During this exploration, I found several themes or styles of music that I enjoy falling asleep to. So instead of listing out individual tracks in a random order,  I've separated out the music by the five stages of the sleep cycle and given them each a theme / style of music that matches. 

Sleep cycles are apparently 90-minutes long, so you'll find two mixes accompanying this feature, (two cycles each consisting of 90-minutes) with each mix made up of the five sleep stages. The selection includes some of my favorites, as well as suggestions from a few readers via Facebook and Twitter. Thank you to all who suggested albums, and made compiling this feature a new journey for me in many instances. 
 

Stage 1 "Fragmented Visuals" 

Light sleep; we drift in and out of sleep and can be awakened easily. Our eyes move very slowly and muscle activity slows. People awakened from stage 1 sleep often remember fragmented visual images. Many also experience sudden muscle contractions called hypnic myoclonia, often preceded by a sensation of starting to fall

For stage one, I've chosen music that creates detailed and immersive textures. Music that's been crafted with pictures in mind, often including field recordings, giving you the sense of something happening, painting the world you're about to enter. These tracks have just enough detail for you to tune into whilst awake, but enough texture and unknown space to zone out to.

These types of tracks are often in the purest of ambient form consisting of simple textures made famous by many of the early ambient pioneers, such as Brian Eno, Aphex Twin, The KLF and Biosphere

To help keep things interesting in this stage, the veterans sit alongside some more recent ambient/experimental artists such as Robert Rich, Gallery Six and Sage Taylor (Textural Being's more ambient guise). 
 

Stage 2 "Slowly floating"

When we enter stage 2 sleep, our eye movements stop and our brain waves (fluctuations of electrical activity that can be measured by electrodes) become slower, with occasional bursts of rapid waves called sleep spindles.

By now, I start to drift off and for this stage I've chosen the purest of ambient music focused on soft melodies and colorful textures - the easiest type of ambient music to fall asleep to due to its cloud-like feelings. It can range from simple synthesizer music, to orchestral scores, all uplifting and comforting in tone and texture; nothing too dark, and all very welcoming. 

This type of music ranges in style, from a more electronic feel to more instrumental. Kompakt's Pop Ambient Series is a great place to start (pretty much any of their stuff) and Pass Into Silence feature here alongside more soft electronic processing from Altus,  Home Normal'sChronovalve, the widely regarded Disintegration Loops from William Basinski, one of my favourite tracks from Helios and perhaps my most played album at bedtime by Jonas Munk's Billow Observatory project. 

Some of the more instrumental pieces that offer gentle, drifting lullabies include Hammock's inviting guitar drones, or beautiful soundtracks from Jon Hopkins and Stars Of The Lid's, Brian McBride - each a delicate balance between comforting melodies and a poignant attention-grabbing movie score. 
 

Stage 3 "Rhythmic waves"

In stage 3, extremely slow brain waves called delta waves begin to appear, interspersed with smaller, faster waves.

After drifting, comes the gentle trance-like repetition. For this stage I've chosen tracks with subtle rhythm, ambient pulses, or the gentle enveloping warmth of beats. It's hard to find music that doesn't disrupt within this style (an art it seems). Some will find this style too busy, whilst some will find the repetition soothing and comforting. 

This stage includes my personal favourite bedtime album from Yagya, the undercurrent of Wolfgang Voigt's, Gas project and fellow german Markus Guentner's pulsing ambient, the ethereal, angelic progression of bvdub and one of Loscil's finest ambient projects to date, Fern & Robin, taken from his album Endless Falls


Stage 4 "Into The Deep"

By stage 4, the brain produces delta waves almost exclusively. It is very difficult to wake someone during stages 3 and 4, which together are called deep sleep. There is no eye movement or muscle activity

The second stage of deep sleep requires indulging atmospheres, so the theme of this stage suited more intense sounds, erring on the side of drone music in many instances. These are the washes of sound that remove the finer details and blanket you with color and texture to confirm your paralyses. 

This stage includes the deep electronic experiments of Alva NotoLine's Tu 'M, and Thomas Koner, alongside the drone gods of Rafael Anton Irisarri and the infamous Stars Of The Lid 


Stage 5 (REM) "The Other Worlds"

 

When we switch into REM sleep, our breathing becomes more rapid, irregular, and shallow, our eyes jerk rapidly in various directions, and our limb muscles become temporarily paralyzed. Our heart rate increases and our blood pressure rises. When people awaken during REM sleep, they often describe bizarre and illogical tales – dreams.

By now, you're starting to dream, which calls for new worlds and vivid landscapes. This is perhaps one of the more popular styles of sleep music looking back at what's out there already. The psychedelic worlds and space-like ambient music is often the stereotype for escapism and outer-world experiences and along with meditation and relaxation. 

For this stage I've chosen the space-like sounds of Global Communication, Biosphere, Neel, Carbon Based Lifeforms, Solar Fields and Stellardrone, alongside the eery melody of Aphex Twin's Blue Calx - potentially the softest-ever travel pillow.

~

The list, and the mixes could have gone on forever but I had to stop somewhere, so maybe there will be a time for future sleep cycles if you enjoy them. For now, here's two to see you through a couple of horizontal sessions. 

As described previously, the mixes are split into the above sleep stages in a hope they mirror the overall sleep cycle. I'm no doctor or expert in sleep, so this is by no way mean't to actually be a prescriptive sleep session! It was just a nice way to structure the approach, and you never know, it might work for you. 

Once you've listened, feel free to comment below with your experience and if the mixes did the job. Of course, you probably wouldn't know if they did... 

Cycle 1 (90 mins) Download

Tracklist:
Stage 1.1 Brian Eno - Drift (Apollo A&S
Stage 1.2 Aphex Twin - Rhubarb (SAW II)
Stage 1.3 Sage Taylor - Raintime Ten (Raintime)
Stage 1.4 Gallery Six - The Frozen Lake (The Fogbound Island)
Stage 2.1 Pass Into Silence - Iceblink (Pop Ambient 2006)
Stage 2.2 Chronovalve - The Gravity Of Dreams (Trace of Light)
Stage 2.3 Billow Observatory - Pankalia (Billow Observatory)
Stage 3.1 Gas - Pop 3 (Pop)
Stage 3.2 Yagya - Rigning tiu (Rigning)  
Stage 4.1 Tu M’ - Monochrome #01 (Monochrome Vol.1)
Stage 4.2 Alva Noto - Xerrox Radieuse (Xerrox Vol.3)
Stage 5.1 Carbon Based Lifeforms - Somewhere in Russia (Twentythree)
Stage 5.2 Global Communication - 9.39 (76.14)
Stage 5.3 Neel - The Secret Revealed (Phobos)
Stage 5.4 Biosphere - Kobresia (Substrata
 

Cycle 2 (90 mins) Download

Tracklist:
Stage 1.1 Biosphere - ’t Schop (The Hilvarenbeek Recordings)
Stage 1.2 Robert Rich - Summer Thunder (Echo Of Small Things)
Stage 1.3 The KLF - Six Hours to Louisiana, Black (Chill Out)
Stage 2.1 William Basinski - The Disintegration Loops 3 (The Disintegration Loops)
Stage 2.2 Helios - Vargtimme (Eingya)
Stage 2.3 Brian McBride - Girl Nap (The Effective Disconnect
Stage 2.4 Jon Hopkins - Campfire (Monsters OST)
Stage 2.5 Hammock - Maybe They Will Sing For Us Tomorrow (Maybe They Will Sing For Us Tomorrow)
Stage 2.6 Altus - Sodium Glow (Black Trees Among Amber Skies)
Stage 3.1 Markus Guentner - Dockside (Talking Clouds EP)
Stage 3.2 bvdub - I Would Have Waited (Songs For A Friend I Left Behind)
Stage 3.3 Loscil - Fern & Robin (Endless Falls)
Stage 4.1 Rafael Anton Irisarri - Persistence (Unsaid EP)
Stage 4.2 Thomas Koner - Nuuk Air (Nuuk)
Stage 4.3 Stars Of The Lid - The Artificial Pine Arch Song (The Ballasted Orchestra)
Stage 5.1 Solar Fields - Silent Walking (Origin #1)
Stage 5.2 Stellardrone - Nightscape (Echoes)
Stage 5.3 Aphex Twin - Blue Calx (SAW II)

Spotify playlist featuring a majority of music from this post:

Feature image by Dorian DenesT-shirts with the Music For Sleeping design are now available on his website.

If you're new to ambient music or would like more of the same, try our in-depth feature, Neither Scene Nor Heard : a journey through ambient music

 

Neither scene nor heard: a journey through ambient music

 
 

I’ve seen a few articles over the past few years detailing the best ambient albums, the state of ambient or the return of ambient, and whilst they’re often very positive for the genre, the artists and every other person involved in making this type of music, I can’t help but feel a bit empty after reading them.

These articles rarely scrape the surface of a genre that has never gone away, and will probably never “make a comeback” but instead, the genre continues to evolve. Ambient music will always remain a sub-culture of many popular music styles out there, or more to the point of this article, be the hidden undercurrent that’s helped inspire many other styles of music.

Whilst I’m not opposed to the genre getting any more popular (hell, I might get more traffic to the site or sell more records), I can’t help but feel a little annoyed when it’s not represented well, especially when some people have been involved for years and so, so, so, so many styles, producers and labels are consistently overlooked.

It’s a big reason why I created this site back in 2008, and it’s why I’m writing now.

Since the inception of this blog, I’ve focused on those who don’t really get the exposure they deserve and the many hidden talents of not only ambient music, but electronica and to a lesser extent, techno. Why stop now? Whilst this article will dive into the early days and influences on the genre, it will also hopefully offer a different perspective from the more popular journalism outlets and instead, focus on the many styles of ambient music and it particular, the producers and labels that have accompanied me on my journey over the years.

Heads-up, it’s long. So take the time to explore the artists and labels featured and pay it a few visits once you’ve hopped off onto Discogs and Youtube. Every album and artist links out to further information, and there’s a full Youtube playlist at the bottom if you can’t wait. For anyone that really wants to dig into ambient music, I’m hoping here might be a good place to start.

Shit. Where the hell do I start?

Let me make an attempt to cover my own ass from the thousands of very opinionated music-heads first. I got into ambient music late. Very late. And I wouldn’t consider myself an expert, but I do spend much of my life listening to and writing about it, so I think it gives me a little bit of authorisation to talk on the subject.

Secondly, I haven’t listened to every ambient record out there. Like every piece of journalism ever written, this will be a subjective take, based on my own biased experiences. The last thing I want is for this to sound like a Wikipedia article on ambient. We’ll get the background done sharp, talk about how ambient music developed for me in the 90’s and then get into the many styles I experience today as a result of exploring the genre further and further. By the end of this, I hope I’ve done it justice, introduced newbies to an ever expanding landscape of music, and helped the veterans of ambient find some new pieces to enjoy.


BACKGROUND FOR BACKGROUND 

What is ambient music? (No I’m not joking). Seeing as many of my friends don’t even know what it is, this could prove a very helpful entry point. And to take a quote directly from ambient music pioneer, Brian Eno’s ‘Music For Airports’ (1978) liner notes:

“Ambient Music must be able to accommodate many levels of listening attention without enforcing one in particular; it must be as ignorable as it is interesting”. 

Which to most people means, it’s background music. But to dive deeper, a more interesting quote reads:

 
An ambience is defined as an atmosphere, or a surrounding influence: a tint. My (Brian Eno) intention is to produce original pieces ostensibly (but not exclusively) for particular times and situations with a view to building up a small but versatile catalogue of environmental music suited to a wide variety of moods and atmospheres
— Brian Eno
 
 

This is where it gets very interesting for me. I’m a big believer in music for different moods, for different times, and different feelings, and this is just one of the reasons why my site/label is inspired by Ulrich Schnauss album A Strangely Isolated PlaceThis type of music transports me to wherever I want to be. It enables me to escape; helps me picture myself somewhere else entirely. And this is often the strength of ambient music – its atmospheres, emotion and the clear intention of depicting different environments.

I listen to ambient music to help me relax and escape. And I’ve now reached a point where I can respect the power of it so much, that I pay attention to the many differences, techniques and subtleties of productions. And that’s why I do what I do, listening to so much, writing about what I love and helping musicians get their own passion of producing this music, out there.


I HEAR 1978?

Well that’s when Brian Eno coined the phrase ambient. I don’t want to dwell too much on the evolution of ambient music, as this is where many other people could tell a better story. It’s my experience. Plus, I wasn’t around in 1978 and wasn’t even listening to music properly until a good fifteen years later.

To give it some context, and in the shortest of summaries, the likes of Tangerine DreamVangelisJean Michel JarreSteve RoachHarold Budd, Erik SatieWendy Carlosand of course Brian Eno are just a few of the many musicians often attributed as defining the approach we know today, through synthesiser-oriented styles during the 1970’s and 1980’s. And it wasn’t until the late 80’s and early 1990’s that the more electronic styles we associate with today came into play – the style that sparked my love for the genre.

The UK is often seen as the driving force for early electronic ambient music. The Orb will always be referenced for their pioneering work on The Orb’s Adventures Beyond The Ultraworld (1991) helping spur a new approach by combining samples with innovative production techniques, depicting lengthy journeys, often with no defined beginning, middle or end.

The KLF did it one year before in 1990 (with the help of the Orb’s Alex Paterson), and their album Chill Out is often referenced as the best of its kind. I wouldn’t argue. Hang on, so what’s ‘chill out’ music? Not to diverge too much, but the term was used for the more drug-induced clubbing culture who created ‘chill-out rooms’ and without trying to rile up the genre fanatics, we’re still within the loose term of ambient music – you’ll just notice, as with most genres, there’s plenty more ways to describe styles and send you around in circles.

Back on track (like the Brownsville Turnaround on the Tex-Mex Border), and a beginning wouldn’t be a beginning without Aphex Twin. Richard D James gained much of his respect through his Selected Ambient Works – his debut album (as Aphex Twin) released in 1992, documenting many of his productions from ’85 to ’92. This album is one of the most accessible and enjoyable places to start if you’re trying to understand electronic ambient music. This album was followed by Selected Ambient Works Volume II in 1994, and again continued to define much of the electronic ambient music we here today.

SHEEP LEAD TO BLEEPS

The 90’s are often cited as the good years of both electronic and ambient music, and with this growth came a multitude of takes on the style. Electronic equipment became more accessible and an underground electronic music culture began to grow.

Alongside Aphex Twin, the likes of Autechre and µ-Ziq (Mike Paradinas) pushed the electronic (and in particular) “IDM” sound to new places. Whilst neither are strictly ambient artists, both played their part in creating some of the best ambient music during this period and shouldn’t be overlooked. This recent dedication to Mike Paradinas’ ambient work as µ-Ziq, is a great place to start, and Autechre’sAmber, whilst not often highly praised, will lead you down some seriously dark rabbit holes to explore. Autechre’s VLetrmx21 remains one of my favourite pieces to date - a dramatic, poignant and thought provoking piece. Needless to say, record labels such as Rephlex and Warp 
played a big part during this period.

Another innovator pushing the boundaries of ambient music and introducing more urban influences during this time, were The Future Sound of London. The Manchester pair are often overlooked unless you dive deep into their discography, but much like The Orb and The KLF, Lifeforms can be seen as one of those all-encompassing electronic ambient journeys.

Global Communication. 1994. Tom Middleton and Mark Pritchard76:14 still remains one of the most ‘underground’ ambient albums despite The Guardian listing it within their 1,000 Albums To Hear Before You Die list. With tracks titled according to length, 76:14, continued to expand on the entire listening experience album we grew to love – not just a set of individual tracks.  I couldn’t tell you the title of a particular track, because I nearly always listen to it from start to finish – the way it should be. Global Communication went on to release several other records, but none came close to the prowess of 76:14. For those who’ve dug around Tom Middleton and Mark Pritchard, their work on The Keongaku EP prior to this release is as close as you’ll get to the 76:14 experience.

Biosphere (Geir Jenssen's) 1997 album Substrata is perhaps the modern-day Brian Eno experience, focusing on intimate listening and the very definition of background ambient music. More genre terms come into play with Biosphere (ambient techno for example) but Geir is a true pioneer of ambient music and to this day can be found sampling in the plains of Norway, playing rare live performances and sometimes putting together an eclectic DJ mix. Geir remains an elusive character within my knowledge of ambient music, but is no doubt one of the most respected.

It was bands like Slowdive and Seefeel that started to put a spanner in the works. Whilst primarily seen as experimental or shoegaze, Slowdive released records such as the 5 EP in 1993, which focused on synthesised sounds – a first for Slowdive and a style that was very similar to that of Global Communication. In fact, Reload’s remix of Slowdive’s In Mind epitomised the ever-expanding ambient music of 1993 and its impact of styles outside of straight-up electronic. I love the comment on the 5 EP’s Discogs page – “The burgeoning ambient techno scene in 1993 was too much for them to resist…”!

Similarly, Seefeel’s 1993 release Quiqe is a perfect example of the genre expanding beyond it’s existing limitations, with steadfast ambient tracks like Signals and more experimental tracks such as Climatic Phase 3.

The late Pete Namlook and his German Label FAX were also a significant driver of ambient music during the early 1990’s. This is an area which I still need more time to explore, but if you read any best of ambient albums you’ll be sure to find a FAX release in there somewhere. As of August 2005, Namlook and company had released 135 albums –  experience some of them through this tribute mix.

Moving towards the second-half of the 90’s, ’96 witnessed the debut of one of the most instrumental characters in the ambient scene today, Wolfgang Voigt. His self-titled album as GAS, triggered a whole new world of dubby, atmospheric ambient music. Wolfgang is undoubtedly the reason why ambient music still has its place on one of the biggest techno labels of our time (as co-owner of Kompakt) and as a result, a big reason why the genre continues to evolve and make an impact on producers today. Released on the influential label Mille Plateaux label, GAS' releases remain some of the rarest LP’s on Discogs.

The late 90’s were pretty much reserved for one special duo, Boards of CanadaIconic releases in ’95, ’96, ’97 and ’98 saw ambient music meld effortlessly with electronica, offering a vintage, warm sound that felt like it had been around for years. The elusive Scottish pairing are solely responsible for the biggest cult of fans within the ambient & electronica genres (second to Aphex Twin maybe). Much like their music, their unique, mysterious ways are still going strong to this day and although many purists would argue until they are white in the face that they aren’t ambient, there’s no doubt they’ve played a massive part in inspiring and making the ambient sound more appealing to others.

Alongside BoC, the late 90’s witnessed Stars of The Lid progress the beautiful drone soundscapes which are so popular in today’s ambient music. Brian McBride and Adam Wiltzie are often included amongst the best-of ambient lists and their pedigree shows to this day with Adam Wiltzie going strong as part of Winged Victory For The Sullen. The Stars of The Lid sound would end up becoming a big influence on the many guitar manipulations we hear in much of today’s ambient and experimental music.


TRANCE AND THE AMBIENT REMIX

This is where I risk a major drop-off in readers, but the late ’90s Trance era played a big part in my addiction to ambient and chill-out music, so I feel it’s important I cover it here. Perhaps this train of thought is new to many, or some don’t want to be associated with a genre which is now quite frankly, an embarrassment and laughing stock to anyone over 18 years of age. But the true Trance era (say pre-2002) was undoubtedly an offshoot of some of the best psychedelic ambient productions, and helped define the true meaning of chill out before it was commercialised by the likes of Ministry of Sound and Hed-Kandi, and ultimately generalised into EDM.

Rabbit In The MoonHumateBTWilliam OrbitThe Art of Tranceeven Tiesto (yes, just listen to his late ’90’s work as Kamaya Painters and Gouryella) and labels such as HoojPlatipusLost Language, and Bonzai were responsible for some of my favourite trance music in the 1990’s and in particular, a trend which emerged to be most relevant to this article; the ambient remix. Whilst this may send shudders down many ambient fans spine, I have no shame in admitting how much I enjoyed some of the remixes to emerge from trance music in the late 1990’s and early 2000’s. The ambient remix of Pete Lazonby’s Sacred Cycles (sampling Genesis no-less) and Energy 52’s Cafe Del Mar, remixed by Michael Woods (2000) come straight to the top of the pile and this compilation by Solar Stone (2001) encapsulates some the best remixes to emerge (ironically including Tangerine Dream’s Love On A Real Train).

I won’t dwell on it here, as you’ll know by now I’m a closet Trance fan, but I still visit the likes of Salt TanksSargasso Sea; Chicane’s, Far From The Maddening Crowds and Way Out West’s debut album on a regular basis. And if you still need persuading on the impact of ambient music on trance, Orion & J.Shore’s isolatedmix does a perfect job elaborating on some of the brilliant music being made in this vein today.

I’M STILL IN A TRANCE

Something that’s along the same lines but perhaps more familiar with ambient fans, is the term space ambient or psy-ambient and for me, there’s pretty much just one label responsible for this sound recently: Ultimae Records.

Established in France in 2001 and still churning out quality to this day, Ultimae has become the go-to label for this type of electronic ambient music. Space-ambient is often reserved for similarly trance-like tracks, but can more often be recognised by the expansive pads, washes, atmospheres and futuristic samples each track contains. Whilst I’d be a fool to pigeon-hole Ultimae into this sound, they’ve produced some of my favourite artists in this style, including Carbon Based LifeformsAes Dana (Ultimae co-owner) and Solar Fields.

Perhaps more obvious in design, but another great artist that pioneers this sound, is Lithuania’s Stellardrone (remind me to write an article on Lithuania’s ambient/electronica scene – it’s ridiculous) and randomly, this compilation by an old record store in London called Ambient Soho manages to traverse the ambient-space sound, in particular Innersphere’s Out Of Body, and b12’s VOID/Comm.

Spanning the more trance-inducing side of ambient and hailing from one of my favourite labels growing up, Global Underground’s Electric Calm series is also a well-respected and under-celebrated bunch of mixes and exclusive material that manages to transport you into the ether. Mixed by The Forth, they’re as formulaic as mixes come, but are packed full of great, fairly unknown material.

More recently, the likes of Petar Dundov is pushing the trance-like-ambient sound forward, invoking the spirit of synthesised ambient productions from the likes of Klaus Schulze and Tangerine Dream. And even beat-less reissues from the likes of Hiroshi Watanabe aka Kaito (Kompakt) draw parallels, with epic strings and countless moments of euphoria.

This may also be a good place to introduce Brock Van Wey aka bvdub. Whilst I definitely wouldn’t describe his music as trance, it’s certainly an original take on trance-inducing productions. His pieces are often over ten-minutes long and are a lesson in progressive atmospheres, peppered with techno undertones and more recently, garage-esque beats. He is a pioneer of the modern-day ambient sound and a must for anyone new to the genre, with an outstanding work ethic and an unparalleled output. I’d recommend starting at his 2011 release, Songs For A Friend I Left Behind, and in particular I Would Have Waited. Or, for that truly euphoric effect, try 2012’s, Don’t Say You Know.

AMBIENT ELECTRONICA AND THE BIRTH OF THE SWEET SPOT

Earyl 00's and some of my favourite labels are setting up shop, evolving the electronic sound. Electronica is a largely debated genre and in my eyes can represent a wide range of electronic music which isn’t necessarily meant for dancing, but more for listening. From glitchy IDM based analogue music, to downtempo and ambient drones infused with sparse beats and heavy melodies. This is where I truly fell in love with music. Ambient electronica managed to combine the escapism and relaxation of ambient music, alongside more interesting and complex electronic production techniques. And none can be more responsible for inspiring me more than City Centre Offices.

Beginning with ArovaneHerrmann & KleineBitstream and Casino Versus Japan, it was 2002’s release of Far Away Trains Passing By, from Ulrich Schnauss that really blew me away. Two years later, and A Strangely Isolated Place followed suite, and finally Arovane’s Goodbye Forever on Lillies presented the power of the piano on a largely IDM focused album. Admittedly, these releases were a far stretch from the beat-less soundscapes of ambient purists such as Brian Eno, but for me, they were just as powerful in emotion and escapism.

It was the early 2000’s that unwittingly birthed one of today’s biggest stars of the genre, Jon Hopkins. Released on British Label Just Music, (also home to Echaskech and Honeyroot – two more gems that need more listens) Jon Hopkins began his career with a sublime style of ambient electronica on Opalescent. Both Cold Out There, and Private Universe are essential ambient tracks that epitomised the promising career Jon had ahead of him scoring films (Monsters); being nominated for a Mercury Music Prize; making head-rattling electronica onImmunity and my favourite; sampling the London Olympic Games opening ceremony fireworks on Abandon Window.

Fast-forward to today, and this style has evolved so much it would be impossible to capture the hundreds of brilliant artists making this type of music. Ghostly International is however a decent place to start.

The birth of Tycho’s Sunrise Projector in 2004 was the beginning of his more recent dominance within the Ghostly family; his blissful sun-drenched guitars and live percussion are the closest you’ll come to Ulrich Schnauss’ early work. And whilst the likes of Ghostly’s Lusine and Recondite can hold any dance-floor, their music remains within the realm of escapism and hits home with many of todays ambient fans who need that up-tempo edge every now-and-then.

Dive further into Ghostly’s catalogue and you’ll find the purest of ambient and experimental music sat alongside the more popular electronic functions it’s now famous for. With artists such as LoscilThe Sight BelowHeathered PearlsChristopher Willits and KILNFor a true round-up of Ghostly’s amazing contribution to modern ambient music, head to their SMM Series.

It’s within this style of music that you also start see the massive impact Boards of Canada have on the evolution of the warm, nostalgic sound. Relatively unknown but highly recommend artists such as Horizon FireNorthcapeFreeschaSarin Sunday (Com Truise in his early days) and even ASIP’s Parks do a great job at capturing this beautiful matrimony of synth-laden electronics and blissful euphoria.

Diving deeper and one of my favourite labels, n5MD has been responsible for some of the most interesting ambient electronica of recent years. LoessCrisopa(ghost)Ocoeur, and Preghost are just some of the artists coming from this brilliant label. n5MD has also played host to more ‘IDM’ style artists such as Arovane and Proem and the more recent ambient crossover with shoegaze & post-rock (see further below) via port-royalLights Out Asia and Bitcrush

POP AMBIENT

Whilst his very own Kompakt Records grew synonymous with the emerging minimal techno scene hailing from Germany in the early 2000’s, Wolfgang Voigt (GAS) quietly coined his own style of ambient music – labelling it Pop Ambient. This yearly series is now synonymous with a very certain production style and ethos, challenging the very meaning of ambient music, but always rooted in layered drones, cyclical sculptures and often traditional instrumentation.

Since its first release in 2001, Pop Ambient has established some of the most respected artists in the genre and similarly, re-established some favourites who would have otherwise been lost amongst a myriad of other guises or musical styles on the label. Markus Guentner has been a staple since the very first release and to this day pushes his unique ambient washes and faint melodies far and wide, including releases here on ASIP and Moodgadget (owned by Heathered Pearls).

Marsen Jules, whilst originally releasing on the aforementioned City Centre Offices, also makes regular appearances on Pop Ambient with his intense poems in sound. As does Argentina’s Leandro Fresco, another master of beautifully composed, richly coloured ambient music.  2015’s edition sees Kompakt continue to push into new realms, bringing regulars such as bvdubUlf LohmannGustavo Lamas and Leandro Fresco back into the fold alongside newcomers like Thore Pfeiffer.

AMBIENT INTELLIGENCE

As techno music grew and evolved in the 2000’s, ambient music was treated to some of its most defining and innovative moments. Ambient techno is an area so rich, that I still discover new (old) titles every week, but it was the likes of Mille Plateaux introducing us to GAS that kickstarted this evolution. 

More recently, German labels such as Traum Schallplatten and Raster-Noton gathered pace in the 00’s (see my tribute mix to Traum’s ambient output here) alongside the likes of Mule Musiq/Mule Electronicartists such as KossMinilogue, (Sebastian Mullaert is releasing a new ambient album with Eitan Reiter on 18th October) and Lawrence with his ambient LP A Day In The Life.

One of my favourite releases to define the ambient techno genre of late, was the Composure Ambient Techno for Japan compilation. Put together to raise funds after the Japanese Tsunami in 2011, this compilation includes some of the finest music to grace the term ambient, techno or indeed ambient techno. From here, if you dig further, your world opens up into the multitude of amazing artists included. From following Donato Dozzy, you’ll find his 2010 release ‘K’  and perhaps stray into the sublime ambient techno world of Voices From The Lake.

The Sandwell District, a couple of techno artists who (unfortunately) came together for just one album, will lead you to Feed Forward - another classic approach to ambient techno. And finally, one of my favourite producers, Donnacha Costello – I’ve done all the hard work for you here and highlighted some of his finest pieces to date.

And perhaps one of the most respected and innovative producers in this area, is Germany’s Carsten Nikolai aka Alva Noto. In 2009 Carsten released Xerrox Vol.2, and with it, Monophaser 2This video does a great job in capturing the sparse, yet emotive composition that sets Carsten apart from the rest.

AIN’T TALKIN ‘BOUT DUB

Given techno is such a wide all-encompassing genre, you can’t blame me for digging even deeper into its ambient half and exploring one of the most recent styles to emerge. Ambient-dub, or dub-techno whilst very similar to the likes of the artists listed above, has seen a particular focus recently, with several producers creating a very unique, deep and bubbly style. It’s often bashed by many as being very boring and repetitive, but when done correctly, it can be as dreamy as the very best beat-less ambient masterpiece.

You can’t mention dub or techno without Echospace and Deepchord. More recently home to the previously mentioned bvdub but more prominently known for releases by Model 500 (Juan Atkins), cv313 and Deepchord himself, the label is a favourite for die-hard techno fans and an innovative outlet for the more atmospheric techno productions that fall into this more ambient style.

Sharpening the ambient side of dub-techno even further, Iceland’s Yagya pioneered his unique style on his widely praised album, Rigning. It came some seven years after his first release in 2002 (Rhythm of Snow), and I can pretty much guarantee that any new fans of Yagya are working their way backwards through his catalogue, especially after his most recent release on Delsin. Despite having earlier albums, it was the sound of rain on your roof, the clap of thunder, emotional, rising pads and a driving dub-techno beat in Rigning that hit home for many. 

It seems as though this style is a thoroughly independent practice at the moment, with most of what I listen to released by the artists direct through the likes of Bandcamp. Finding dub-techno on vinyl is a nearly impossible affair, yet labels such as Dewtone Recordings, and Silent Seasontwo of my favourites, do their very best in pushing this type of independent music forward. Whilst neither are strictly focused on dub-techno, (or vinyl) both have a rich roster of artists that span this style, alongside straight-up ambient and more experimental sounds. ASCEdanticonfPurlAlveolSegueMartin Nonstatic and Adam Michalak come highly recommended. The below track by Textural Being epitomises the slow burning melodies and atmospheres of dub-techno I have grown to love.

#DRONELIFE

Whilst dub-techno added rolling beats to ambient music, there are those stripping away the more obvious mechanics and focusing purely on mood, atmosphere and repeated layers of sound. Drone is one of the more reserved and less accessible styles of ambient music, yet is probably the closest to the genres original conception, and arguably pre-dates Brian Eno through the 1960’s minimalist movement. BUT, they didn’t have a hashtag back in the 60’s.

I remain less familiar with drone music due to the intricacies of its design and origins, mainly because of the appreciation needed for the instruments used in the making of this music. But attending a workshop with Rafael Anton Irisarri aka The Sight Below, (or his Substrata Festival) you begin to see the complexity involved in sound design and the meticulous detail that goes into this style of music. What can seem like one single sound, is often a series of instruments, processors, loops, delays, vocals, samples and hours of hard work. And then sometimes, it’s just a plain and simple improv between the biggest music geeks in the world.

Approaches can vary from the very light and melodic ambient tones of Loscil, through to the legendary tape-loops of William Basinski’s 2002 Disintegration Loops. And further along the spectrum, the haunting wall of noise coming from Tim Hecker.

Any mention of drone or experimental music usually throws up one of the best labels in the business – Kranky. Not only home to Tim Hecker, this label has also pioneered a wide range of ambient, drone and experimental styles from the likes of Stars Of The LidLoscilGrouperWindy & Carl, and Pan American. Kranky can also hold part responsibility for the more recent emergence of the modern-classical sound, with A Winged Victory For The Sullen and Christina Vantzou.

THE TANGIBLE EXPRESSIONISTS

Compositions and performances are often meant to be heard, studied and to a large 
extent, watched – the opposite to how we defined ambient music at the start of this article. But recent years have seen such an emergence of brilliant artists that could be considered ambient via their modern-classical success. 

Composers such as Ryuichi Sakamoto played a large part in integrating modern classical into the ambient or techno genres, partnering with the previously mentioned Alva Noto for example, alongside the well-known re-interpretations from Max Richter or the lesser-known (but hugely respected) Murcof. But more recently there’s just one label that’s heavily influenced me: Erased Tapes.

Their unbelievably talented German wizard Nils Frahm has consistently released beautiful piano compositions on the label since the very beginning, but has only recently seen his greatest acclaim with Spaces. And rightly so, this was my favourite album of last year, hands-down and his recent Boiler Room set captures his magic perfectly.

Often alongside Nils is Ólafur Arnalds, the Icelandic multi-instrumentalist. Likewise, Ólafur is a genius with the piano and together the pair have propelled the modern classical genre forward in recent years, simultaneously restoring my faith in the live performance at the same time – spellbinding, magical and utterly breath-taking every time. Expanding even further into the Nordic realm, and Otto A Totland’s Pino, (hailing from the brilliant duo Deaf Center) is another great composer (Pino boasts a beautifully packaged CD to boot).

I’ve also seen a resurgence of young talented composers. The likes of ASIP’s very own Levi Patel and Halo, both under 25 and creating masterpieces that wouldn’t sound out of place in-front of an expectant crowd of hundreds. Their talent never fails to baffle me.

Young emerging label Serein recently presented us with Brambles. And Luke Howard’s Sun, Cloud remains a gorgeous yet powerful dose of theatre. New Zealand’s Rhian Sheehan continues to release some of the most spellbinding work I’ve ever heard, often traversing into an ambient guise on releases such as Seven Tales Of The North Wind.

Once I’m down this route, I often find myself leaning towards some of the masters of post-rock too. Balancing the emotion of the modern classical composition; with the raw power of guitars and drums; signed off with subtle ambient undercurrents; this style of music is yet another rabbit-hole of wonders.

The American Dollar, while specialising in post-rock, have recorded several ambient versions of their releases, highlighting the close melodic ties between the two styles. Similarly, Hammock are the true masters in this approach, producing some of the most emotional and climatic pieces of ambient, drone and post-rock you’ll come across. And should you need to dive in any further, I’ve long appreciated Stray Theories and Good Weather For An Airstrike – doing their own independent thing and definitely deserving of more ears.

And lastly, where instruments add depth and character, there are those that use them with subtlety, adding colour to an otherwise calm ambient drone. Keith Kenniff, (or Helios to many), is a great example of this approach, alongside 36 - an independent musician from the UK releasing some of the most powerful, tear-jerking, melancholic music possible. As are the many, many artists that seem to hail from Japan like Arc of DovesEx ConfusionNobuto Suda and the Home Normal collective.

THE NEXT CHAPTER

As I’ve already mentioned with the strength of recent modern classical music, I’m hoping we see plenty more prodigies like Nils Frahm shine. If a young pianist needs any inspiration they needn’t look any further than his Spaces album, or any of his live shows.

There’s a lot of love for what Burial started a few years back and I’m enjoying seeing this type of music evolve, (especially as I absorbed plenty of UK Garage when I was younger!) Artists such as Borealis and Sven Weisemann’s Desolate project nail the fine-line between this urban approach to electronica and the subtleties of ambient atmospheres. It’s hard to come across this type of stuff on a regular basis without it feeling too repetitive, but news of a new Desolate album is sure to keep it moving along nicely.

Similarly, the blissful sparse beats coming from the likes of Kiyoko push a new style forward, along with James Clements’ more ambient focused work as ASC and his label Auxiliary. With drum’n bass influences, productions range from industrial ambient to 170 BPM electronica (the Autonomic sound).

Recently we’ve seen a few artists start to integrate ambient textures and in particular modern classical elements into house and techno music. Max Cooper has been doing this brilliantly for the past few years, mainly through his remixes, and now Erased Tapes’ Kiasmos (Ólafur Arnalds and Janus Rasmussen) are set to show what it truly means to integrate a piano composition into dance-floor-oriented music.

~

There’s no doubt that ambient music is at one of its strongest points for a long time (as FACT Mag politely pointed out recently – and to answer the question I don’t think we’ll ever beat the 90’s!) It would be easy for me to list some releases that are coming up this year which excite me, but that’s one of the main reasons my site exists. Ambient music, drone and modern classical in its purest form, will undoubtedly remain the same, as they aren’t scenes revolving around a place, a movement or a bunch of people. But I’m always excited by the producers, labels and artists that are looking to push this type of music further.

 I’m guessing ambient music will always be in the background, like Eno meant it to be. It will continue to take many forms, add different perspectives to more popular styles, and appear in places you probably wouldn’t expect it (hell, Zain Lowe may even launch Apple Music with an ambient track).

But that’s the magic of it for me; the modest, fluid, and intimate nature of ambient music demands attention, and if it’s given, you’ll be rewarded with some of the best music out there.  

I started this article to help dive a little deeper into ambient music, but upon reflection I’ve still only scratched the surface. There’s no doubt some subjective inconsistencies, a whole heap of brilliant artists and labels missing, and I’ve probably riled the genre police in every paragraph.

Hopefully I’ve either introduced you to a new genre, style, artist or label and from there, you’ll never know where you end up. You may even be inspired to set up a blog, site or record label after your favourite album…

Below is a Spotify playlist featuring some of my favourite tracks mentioned in this article. It should keep you going for a very, very long time. And lastly, always remember to support the many artists featured in this article, doing their own thing and making our lives much more pleasurable. Thank you for reading this far.

An edited version of this article was featured in the final Substrata 2015 festival program.

 

Interview: Nils Frahm and Ólafur Arnalds talking performances, Decibel, toilet-brushes and socks

 
 

My Decibel Festival experience hadn’t even kicked into full swing and I was off to meet two of my musical heroes; Nils Frahm and Ólafur Arnalds. They arrived in Seattle the previous night and were busy preparing for their performances as part of the Erased Tapes Optical Showcases – just two shows out of the many they’ve been stunning the word with in recent months.

With Ólafur’s album ‘For Now I am Winter’ still gracing many of our stereos and Nils’ upcoming album ‘Spaces’ (read a review of the album here) due soon, the duo had a wealth of material, experience and performances under their belts ready to stun the festival’s modern classical crowd. But before their amazing performances (read the Decibel X festival review here), I was lucky enough to have a very informal chat with them both in the lobby of the W Hotel in Seattle. It was Wednesday, midday. Ólafur looked tired and Nils looked alive. I had nothing prepared apart from a microphone and years of fan-boy admiration for two of the most talented musicians I was ever about to meet. I was just happy having a chat. Luckily for me, that’s exactly what I got.

Nils, can you tell us a bit about your new album, Spaces? It felt like I had just sat down to watch you perform when I first listened to it.

Nils: The idea was that it feels like one performance in the end. I wanted to basically make it feel like I had one good performance over the 30+ shows we did.

So you were cherry-picking the best tracks from the tour?

NilsExactly, I was spoiled!

Did you have your album in mind when you started the tour?

NilsNo, no. I was just recording to see if it could end up being an album.  It was recorded over two years, so the first performance sounded much different to the last performance I recorded, and the last one I recorded was St Johns, so two tracks from that show made it on to the album. And yeah it changed over time. Some improvised bits, more worked out songs…

And how did your improvised pieces effect the overall recording?

NilsThe material developed on tour basically, it’s funny because I only have the setup you see when i’m on stage, I don’t have it at home so I can’t rehearse my live set-up, so every concert is a rehearsal in a way. Every sound-check is a chance to come up with new stuff.

How much do you two get to play together?

NilsWe’ve played around 30-40 shows together.
ÓlafurYeah quite a lot! We met when Robert (Raths) asked if Nils could open up for me in 2010, he just joined our tour bus and after that we played a lot of shows.
NilsYeah, the Erased Tapes tour last year.
ÓlafurAnd of course in the studio as well.

Some of my favourite moments from you guys are of course, your improvisations (and there’s a few online) Are they planned AT ALL?

NilsThe one you’ve seen was probably not planned at all.
ÓlafurYeah, initially they are not planned but then they tend to develop over time. There’s that one on youtube that’s quite popular, that one wasn’t planned at all. it was part of an improvisational tour I was doing and i’d always invite friends to join me on stage – it was the first time we had played together. And then after that, we’d often go back to that original idea, develop and build on it. So in the end they become planned but not consciously.

 
 

Is that how ‘Stare’ came together originally? 

ÓlafurNooooo it was more like ‘hey I’m in Berlin, lets cook and have some whiskey! Then suddenly it’s 6am and we’ve done an album!’
NilsYeah that wasn’t planned. It just happened. When we were half-way through the material we got a little bit more ambitious and excited and decided to meet up again to make some more.

Nils you seem to enjoy remixes (for example the Screws project) but how did you decide on Max Cooper remixing Stare?

NilsHe basically just wrote us.
ÓlafurYeah, he just did it! He sent us four remixes, he’s so enthusiastic, a big fan and he really wanted to do it. I love his music.
NilsSo nice of him.

Are you planning to see his show on Friday (at Decibel?)

NilsWe will definitely plan to meet, I’m not sure if i’ll have time to see his show though.

I’m interested in how much you feed off the audience. You mention it in your album and you say how much this influences you, but when I watch you live it’s almost as if you are in your own little world, head down..

NilsWell in the middle of the album (Spaces) there’s this track called Hammers, and a cell-phone rings. I was improvising something and all of a sudden you here ‘ring-ring’ and I have to laugh, you know! It definitely changes your playing because everyone is laughing and giggling. So you can’t deny that you don’t create music for the people at a concert, it would be silly to assume that you only do it for yourself. I serve something to the people because they have paid to see it and I’m happy to deliver. And I value that – i’m happy that people come to the shows and I like to make them feel that they change the performance in some way.

If they’re really quiet, then I can play really quiet so they can hear everything. When the audience give a big applause excitedly at the end of the song, like a DJ, you remember ‘that track was good’, so they help me develop my material based on their response.

So how does this impact your playing style in the middle of a set?

NilsIf they are quiet, then you play more quiet, and if they are loud, then you play loud. So if you put it into perspective, the dynamic aspect of it changes. A piano can only go so loud, but a synthesiser can go really loud, open up the space, and it may make the piece after appear even quieter. It becomes a psychological thing.
ÓlafurI don’t think it’s about conscious decisions, it’s more about confidence. When I feel like the audience is enjoying what I’m doing, I’m more confident and experiment or try something new, but if the audience is a bit dry I might play it more on the safe side.

Do you have any pieces that you know will almost certainly get the audience on your side?

Nils: It’s important to structure your set list. You might have 12 songs and the order of these songs is what you may end up changing. When you know you have one track that people like the most you have to work out where to put it in the set.
ÓlafurI’ve changed in the middle of a set. I’ve just thought ‘well this one doesn’t fit here, I’m going to play this one instead’ even though I had a set-list. I expected the room to be different and prepared the wrong set list.
NilsLike a DJ with the wrong records, you have to change it at the last minute and make it work.
Ólafur: [Laughs] It’s very bad for my string players when I do that, because I don’t normally announce my songs, I just start playing and you see them trying to find the correct sheet!

I think I remember seeing that! How much do you practice with your string players?

ÓlafurNot really at all. I mean they are professionals, I give them song sheets, I tell them to listen to the record, learn the songs, and then usually we just do a sound-check and a quick run-through.

Wow, so how do you choose your string-players?! Do you choose them?

ÓlafurYeah I choose them.
NilsI don’t have to choose them because i’m all alone…!

Ah but did you choose the toilet brush?

Ólafur: [laughs] How did you choose that one…?
NilsI just didn’t have the money to buy proper drum-sticks.
ÓlafurToilet brushes are probably more expensive.
NilsThey were two bucks from Ikea – two bucks for two.
ÓlafurOh really. I bought one the other day for like $20,
NilsI know, there’s a toilet brush for $500.
ÓlafurYeah but you can change the ‘thing’ on it.
NilsOh realllly…
ÓlafurI just want to throw it away, but now i just have to go and buy another ‘thing’. You keep the stick, because it’s made of some fancy material. You can’t throw away the stick!
NilsSustainable…
ÓlafurAnyway, Viktor, who is my lead violinist and who I have worked with for a long time, we met in music school, and we just kind of wing it, between a regular group of around ten who we normally pick from.

Did you grow up with a lot of people you still play with now?

ÓlafurYeah, to begin with most of my players were just friends from school.

And were you classically trained at this time?

ÓlafurNot really, I did one year in classical composition.

So are you mostly self-taught?

ÓlafurMostly, yeah. I had education in percussion, but that was more like Jazz style, not really classical.

Ah, so can you play the drums as well then?

Ólafur: [laughs]
NilsWell he is the better drummer. But piano is all about rhythm too.

 
 

[laughs] I have no co-ordination. When you’re playing two pianos up there on stage it blows my mind.

NilsIt works in our favour because we come from a background where we learn instruments. A lot of music these days doesn’t require people to learn instruments. They work with a laptop, they add things together and it might be really tasteful, really amazing, but people get used to the idea that there’s somebody on stage delivering what they pieced together in a studio. So when people today see musicians actually play an instrument it’s more of an experience.
ÓlafurI was recommending this band the other day and said ‘..and yet they are actually playing it’ [laughs] it’s amazing! When did this become a thing? They actually play the synthesizers! In just, five years this has suddenly become something weird. They don’t just press play on the laptop!

I think that’s a big reason why I really enjoy your shows, as my background is more electronic and I really respect what you guys do up there.

NilsYeah and that’s good [being from an electronic background]. It’s liberalisation of music. People who are 25 can still think ‘i can do it’ but it’s very different from learning music from an early age.

So what do you like to listen to at home?

NilsThere are no bad genres, there are just bad albums of a genre.
ÓlafurJazz, classical, techno, rock. A big part of what I listen to is electronic music. Probably 30/40% of everything I guess.
NilsI listen to a lot of jazz and old records. There’s always times for different material. Sometimes I’ll only listen to classical musical for a couple of weeks!

What are you looking forward to at Decibel this year?

NilsLast year was really amazing. We had some bad technical issues in my performance but this year we are in a really great performance hall.

Anything different planned from last years Erased Tapes tour?

NilsFor me I’m still on the Spaces thing, so it’s similar to what you know from the record, and people over here don’t know it yet. This is the first time I’ll bring a synthesiser and the more electronic parts to American audience.
ÓlafurI’m bringing my vocalist which is pretty special, we’ll be playing stuff off the new album.

 
 

Talking of Arnor (Ólafur’s vocalist), were the vocal additions to ‘For Now I am Winter’ a conscious decision beforehand, as it was a different approach for you?

ÓlafurYeah, it was more just a need to do something new. I was looking for something to do different on this album. I know the singer, he is a good friend of mine and we’ve always wanted to do something together. He is classically trained but has played in rock-bands his whole life – kind of the opposite to me, I’m pop trained but I’m doing more classical. I thought it’d be a great fit. We wrote the lines together but he wrote the lyrics.

Are you a perfectionist?

ÓlafurIn a way. We’ve talked about this before. Perfection doesn’t have to be something with no mistakes.
NilsIt’s a perfect feeling about something.
ÓlafurYou’re conscious about everything. We’re just very conscious about what we do.

Nils, that must’ve been a big step for you with ‘Spaces’, having to go through the hundreds of recordings and pick out the ones with no mistakes so to speak?

NilsWhen I have one show, 90 minutes of material, there’s a small chance I’m going to perform it to my satisfaction. A lot of people would be really happy with the show and not notice the small things that really bother me, but I’m not happy with that, so I have to record thirty shows and take the best ones!

That’s probably the best way to do it, instead of being in the studio all day long.

NilsYeah it’s something you can capture on stage which you can’t in the studio. Like the PA system is loud, the synthesisers are loud, and we have room mic’s and the sub-bass is recorded on the mic’s – it sounds so different to when you just pluck the synthesizer on your computer. All these little things, plus the atmosphere, and the sweat – it’s a good experience!

And your well-esteemed labels. What do you look for and enjoy about Erased Tapes, and label manager Robert?

ÓlafurApart from being a good person and all that obvious stuff, I look for someone who is just an enthusiastic fan of the music. I’m on a different label now, and I wouldn’t have gone there unless I could clearly see that they are huge fans and want to do what i do, instead of telling me what to do.

So you still see a role for the conventional record label? With so many artists doing it themselves nowadays?

NilsI don’t like the whole concept [of not being on a label]. I see why people do it, and there’s a place for that too, but I think an artist should be concerned about making music, and the label concerned about promoting it. And then you share the money! There’s so many musicians, Facebook addicted, whatever, who spend five hours a day promoting music and only spend one hour playing the guitar. It should be the other way around. Play more instead of twittering!
ÓlafurBut it’s great that it’s possible. Because It’s not possible for everyone to be on a label. I love those tools that we have and I’ve used them a lot, especially before working with Erased Tapes, I love the capabilities they have today. I can be in the UK and sell 500 records on the other side of the world.
NilsI think it’s really nice that the fans can get closer to the artist. But sometimes I see the disadvantage. I get lots of random emails asking ‘hey Nils what headphones do you use?’ And there’s always a time and space to answer those questions. But on the other hand, it’s kind of nice to think that the artist is in a different sphere – makes it mysterious if you’re not totally accessible all the time. It depends…. I mean you can’t really write to Daft Punk and ask them what kind of headphones they would use? You wouldn’t get an answer!
ÓlafurAnd that’s kind of cool!
MeThey don’t have headphones, they have helmets!
ÓlafurThey are built in! Custom made!

What’s the best place you’ve played in terms of setting and arena? When I was talking to Robert (Raths) earlier we were saying how great Hackney was but how surprisingly intimate it was for such a big place.

ÓlafurOh yeah, that was a great place. But there’s two things to it. The room – atmosphere, closeness and feeling, and there’s also the technical aspect of the production. And very often those things are not found in the same place. Usually, technical places loses intimacy, and usually if it’s really intimate, it’s a small place that’s not very technical.
NilsIt really depends. The most exciting shows are the ones where you have a really bad feeling at soundcheck. You come into a room and think ‘this is going to be horrible’, and then there’s a good chance you’ll be surprised. Likewise if you think everything is perfect, then the performance might lose a bit of excitement because you expected it to be good. And then your mood, it depends if you’re tired.

Your audience are probably quite knowledgeable of what to expect from you guys right?

NilsIt’s funny, for me, people often think that we are, or maybe I am, just a classical ‘hat’ and people need to be respectful, and he’s a piano virtuoso and they have this image of a really serious guy who will try to bite you…
ÓlafurI think we both consciously try to break that. With my talking between songs, Nils drumming his piano.
NilsOr me just wearing some ridiculous socks. [Laughter]
ÓlafurHe’s wearing his happy socks.
NilsNo, these are not my happy socks, but for my style they are quite normal.
ÓlafurI like how you always wear happy socks on stage, and a hoody.
NilsNot always!
ÓlafurI was thinking about starting to wear death-metal t-shirts on stage.
MeI’ve been waiting for you to wear your bright yellow and black top we always see in your instagram photos.
NilsWe’ve just got to not wear a suit or be proper classical.
ÓlafurI don’t mean like a Slayer t-shirt… I’m talking about [Ólafur announces a load of bands I have no idea how to pronounce]
NilsBut they are kinda expensive huh?
Ólafur: Cult things
NilsLike you buy them on ebay for $200
ÓlafurIs that too much? [laughs]
NilsAh whatever works!

That’s obviously your next venture…

Ólafur: I know what we do, we start a merchandising thing and we have our names, but in death-metal letters [laughs] with like these unreadable logos!
NilsMy new album, ‘Man Eater’ [laughs].

Don’t forget your socks.

NilsI’ll get death-metal socks, whatever!
ÓlafurDeath-metal happy socks!

 
 

ASIP - Traumbient

 
 

There was a time when I was hunting down every single release on this label. ‘T’ for techno. ‘Minimal’. ‘German Techno’. ‘Kompakt & similar’. ‘Electronic’… Find the box, find Traum. Find the LP’s. Find the EP’s. Find them all.

Beginning with some of the first outputs from Phillipe Cam, Miss Dinky and Process, Traum Schallplatten went on to introduce me to Fairmont, Jesse Somfay, Nathan Fake, Minilogue and Dominik Eulberg. Responsible for the introduction of many of these artists to a wider audience, Traum still stays true to it’s original ethos today and continues to deliver hypnotic, melodic and defining techno.

Looking through Traum’s extensive ten year catalogue, you’ll find big hitters such as Minilogue’s ‘Certain Things’Nathan Fake’s ‘Dinamo’,and Dominik Eulberg’s ‘Der Buchdrucker’, to name just a few of my favourites. Dig a little further and you’ll also stumble across a more gentle side of melodic techno tucked away in the Traum vaults.

For this mix, i’ve put the dance-floor orientated tracks to one side and focused on some of the more ambient outputs in a hope to reflect a treasured yet sometimes overlooked side of Cologne’s finest export. I’ve included releases that reflect the deep, atmospheric, gentle but unexpected sounds I’ve come to associate with this great label; from 1999’s Fantasias Animadas, to Max Coopers ‘Sea of Sound’, set to be released this month.

Here’s my own little dedication to a defining techno label.

 
 

Download.

01. Iquinn – Fall [TRAUMCD08]
02. Broker-Dealer – Stormy [TRAUMCD07]
03. Miss Dinky – Nora [TRAUMV11]
04. Fantasias Animadas – Mike’s Road [TRAUMCD01]
05. Waki – Baikamo [TRAUMCD06]
06. Kubikov & Milutenko – Structure [TRAUM13]
07. Process – Room [TRAUMCD13]
08. Kubikov & Milutenko – Special Communication [TRAUM13]
09. Gustavo Lamas – Dulces [TRAUMCD02]
10. Leandro Fresco – Recordable [TRAUMCD01]
11. Yuxtapose – Sciex Elan [TRAUMCD01]
12. Oxtongue – Elba Life [TRAUMCD07]
13. Darmush – Rarpa [TRAUMCD11]
14. Max Cooper – Sea Of Sound (Ambient rework) [TRAUMV131]