Album releases from Stroboscopic Artefact’s have always proved worthy of our attention. The label approaches the format with care and consideration, always seeking to release work pushing the borders of Techno, blurring the lines between club music and home listening. The latest in the series comes from a new project, ‘Zeitgeiber’, made up of Stroboscopic label boss Luca Mortellaro, & all round Techno veteran Jochem Paap, better known as Speedy J.
With the self-titled album receiving glowing review since its release on the 10th, we were graced with the rare opportunity of catching up with the pair to discuss amongst other things, Zeitgeber and its origins.
SL: So first off how did you both meet, and at what point did you decide to start working together?
J: Before we met in person we knew of each other obviously. With Electric Deluxe we run events around the world, but our residency club is in Amsterdam. So at some point we asked Luca to play for us and what I sometimes do, and also did in this case was to ask some of the performers to stay for an extra day or two, or come a little bit early so we can hang out and maybe hit the studio. So that was what we did. We played Queens night I believe two years ago at The Milky Way in Amsterdam, and he stayed a few extra days, came back with me to Rotterdam and we decided to do some work in the studio. When you put two people in the studio who don’t really know each other that well, anything can happen. Anything from awkward silences and polite conversation to something that ends up being really productive. That’s exactly what happened with Luca – basically we shut the door in the studio and a couple of hours after that we had a couple of ideas for tracks! Everything went really fast. We didn’t talk that much we just hit it off really well in the studio and we had a really fast workflow, so decided to not just stick with one idea but meet again afterwards to put everything into a larger structure, and actually do an album.
SL: I guess one of the benefits of not having met up before is that if your meeting up in the studio thats what your there for, so theres nothing else distracting you.
J: Well you know, I’ve done a lot of collaborations and there’s no real way to predict what is going to happen. Sometimes it looks good on paper and it turns out really crap and other times you have no expectations and things go really fast you know! Any variety in between those extremes can also happen but in this case it went really well.
L: I mean very often it can happen when people collaborate for something, they collaborate with a specific purpose – ‘I am doing this, you are doing that so lets do this…’
J: And then it will be a hit!
L: With Jochem this never happened you know, I literally got from Amsterdam to Rotterdam into the studio – not much talk, ‘Hi, how are you? Lets have a coffee and stuff, show me the machines and stuff’, and then we started doing the album. It was completely spontaneous.
SL: So did you know you wanted the project to be an album before you started work on it?
L: Not at the beginning. As Jochem said this is something he very often does with artists that play for his events – inviting them to the studio to have some fun with no pre-planned ideas. At the beginning after we had been working for two hours we said yeah this can work, we have a very fast workflow together and the ideas were coming into a sound shape very nicely, so after I think just the second day we realised that we were composing such a palette of sounds that an EP would not be enough for it, so we started challenging ourselves with the album architecture. Challenging is a bad word for this since it was a very effortless album! It came very naturally, and from the feedback we’ve got from many people, it’s something that you can clearly listen how effortless it was - as much as a flow of consciousness if you know what I mean. When we had enough for us, we said enough and started closing the tracks one after the other and then when it was over it was over we just said the album is done.
J: The other thing, I think really early on in the process, the first three tracks were so much apart from each other we though ok if we can span such a range doing music together we should really do more, because otherwise its going to end up sounding really detached. By doing more tracks we also found out where our common ground eventually was, and because the first three were the most apart from each other of all the tracks we’ve done together, we kind of filled the gaps afterwards you know. Not without a plan, but it was still very spontaneous and really natural. It didn’t feel like a complete body of work when we did the first session.
L: I think I would like to add something because of course when you collaborate, you sometimes have different perceptions of the thing. For me those three tracks that Jochem is mentioning, they were very different from each other but for me going in the album direction was because I was feeling not so much about filling the gaps as Jochem says, but mostly because I was feeling they were the three extreme points of something bigger - so it was the completing of a drawing you know.
SL: So was all the work done in the studio together or did you spend time sending ideas between each other?
L: No, mainly we met in person at the real production stage we were working all the time together either in Jochem’s studio in Rotterdam, or my own studio in Berlin. After, when it was about mixdowns and mastering – all the post-production things we of course were sending over .wav files. One thing that for me was also pretty important was to avoid lets say, ‘internet production’ while we were producing the sounds in the album. Even the way our production system works, it wouldn’t have been possible. It was too much of a, in an earlier interview Jochem said, like a battle you know. It was so interactive that at that distance, via the internet, a different album would have come out.
J: It would have killed it. The actual writing of the tracks - basically the entire structure, sound design, content and everything was created really quickly actually. I think we didn’t spend more time actually laying down the tracks than a week you know. We did two or three days in my studio and two or three days in Luca’s studio, and we saved all the stuff as it came out and worried about labelling and the mixdowns and technical stuff later. We didn’t do any technical stuff when we were together, we were just bouncing ideas off each other.
L: I think the reason for this was not because we said ‘lets do it like this for example’, it was because again the way we find each other producing together was telling us that the time between an idea going from your mind to the sound was so fast with Jochem, it would have been a shame to loose that kind of energy. The main constitutional energy lets say. First, lets use this very productive flow we have together, lets put all the ideas down and whatever comes, lets just record record record and then we think about the quality of sound – compressions and stuff like this, mixdowns and mastering after. First off, lets sort out the heart of the thing.
SL: Being in the studio together did you get to use a lot of hardware on the album? I know Luca you’ve recently set up ‘Philsynth’, so is that something that tied in?
L: I mean yeah, Philsynth is something much more recent – in fact when this synthesiser shop thing came about the album was already finished. We were already in the mastering process, but of course I do have a very strong love for hardware machines you know. The album I think was very hybrid. There was a lot of recording from very nice machines. For me, I still remember when I first got into Jochem’s studio I was like ‘wow this is kind of your playground’ you know? So it was pretty interesting because some of the machines that Jochem has in the studio, it the first time I had a chance to touch them. That was very important because when you touch them for the first time you have a different approach to when you know them well. You fuck around with stuff much more. I think that even the palette of sound was very hybrid; part of it was very digital based, part of it was from hardware sources, so I think mainly the arrangement and things like this came from digital workstations, like Ableton Live and things like this. But lets say 50% of the sound palette was coming from hardware and 50% from digital I guess.
J: I think that’s about right.
SL: So do you think its the sort of thing you could adapt to a live show? I know you did Boiler Room as Zeitgeber recently.
L: Actually that was a back to back DJ set. For a live thing we’ve been thinking about it, but the problem is living in two different cities makes it very hard to do it properly. The last thing we want is a ‘push play and go’ kind of live act you know, but if we were doing this we were about to bring machines on stage and things to make a real performance. Time wise – both me and Jochem are very busy and mainly living in two different cities makes it almost impossible, so we decided to select just a few venues for our sets, when the circumstances are really right to do these back to back DJ sets.
J: Yeah I mean we both agreed that if we were going to do a live show we would do it in the mood and according to the nature of the project, which was very much based on doing things on the fly instead of pre-programming everything. As Luca said it would have been a monstrous job to put a show like that together for just a couple of gigs. We both have a very full calender and have other projects running, so we needed to decided you know, if we’re going to do a tour with this we’ll have enough arsenal of stuff that we would never play as individual DJs, but we will cover the common ground that we have in Zeitgeber. So we decided to base our gigs on more of a DJ kind of thing, which is going to be different from what we do as individual performers anyway, so we have a lot of things to figure out and play around with and also the stuff that we use. We both use Traktor with four decks and other machines and controllers and things. There’s still a lot of room to move around, to be very spontaneous and to improvise on the fly which I think is quite essential to the collaboration.
L: We did that Boiler Room because there was no preparation, or tests at all. Even technical wise we had half an hour of sound check over there, but we never prepared anything for it so everything is pretty nicely tied up together. I think there is a very good harmony, and I had no doubts about it because it is very usual for us to spend time in the studio that way, so why not play?
SL: When I watched it it took me a while to work out that you were doing a DJ set rather than a live performance, so that’s probably a good sign!
L: Yeah it was very very multilayered, so thats why most of it you can’t really recognise the tracks. It was more taking something from here and something from there, and for me its good when you see how nice the flow is. That was a really nice gig, i’m still very satisfied with it.
SL: I think as you say the sound palette you were working with really fits in with what you’re produced for the album.
L: Yeah, in a more club-oriented way, but yes. The Boiler Room Berlin its a party you know. You have a lot of people dancing, you have a Funktion One soundsystem, the place is a club you know! We kind of naturally adapted what we did with the album to that ambience.
SL: Both being label owners, do you think you give yourselves very high standards to reach? Do you exercise a lot of quality control when releasing your own work?
J: I don’t think its necessarily related to running a label you know. In this case - at least in my case, when I do music the only standard for me is whether I like it or not you know. I don’t really have any targets I feel I need to achieve in terms of quality, or sound design you know, its just whatever sounds good to me at the time that I produce it, that makes it onto the label you know. The label wasn’t really a criteria because we didn’t have a plan to do an album in the first place, and then when we finished the album we didn’t have any idea where to release it. We’ve also thought about releasing it on a third party label because we didn’t want to deal with all the label stuff basically. But in the end Luca decided he was interested in doing it on Stroboscopic, so that’s why we decided to do it there.
L: I totally agree with what Jochem said about the story, but there is one thing in general about the label arrangement that I think we are very different, because Jochem was saying ‘my standard is whether I like it or not’. For me I have to confess that sometimes I release things that are not pleasant to my ears. I have this vision that I don’t always want to please people, sometimes something is very disturbing and for me that’s the point you know what I mean.
J: Oh yeah there is enough pleasant music around you know. The world needs more unpleasant music.
L: Sometimes you need to disturb people to wake them up.
J: Yeah all those fucking crowd pleasers!
SL: Could I ask you both what your plans are with Stroboscopic and Electric Deluxe? What can people expect for the rest of the year from both the labels?
J: For me, Electric Deluxe is a label but we also have an event series. We host stages at festivals and we do club events basically around the world, and that’s pretty much always tied into what we do with the label. The people that are releasing on our label are usually also part of the bill when we do events. We’ve got quite a few new people coming to the label in the next couple of months, and we’ve basically already scheduled up everything – all the releases up until the end of the year. We’ll do a stage at Mysteryland again, we’ll have a really nice thing going on at ADE again this year. I’m not going to reveal who’s signed to the label in terms of new releases, but there’s some new younger guys who are doing interesting stuff from Germany as well as the UK so i’m looking forward to getting them out on the label. So yeah, we’re pretty full, it’s pretty hectic.
L: Jochem I’m still enjoying that Alva Noto remix on Electric Deluxe that he did recently!
J: Oh thankyou Luca!
L: Regarding Stroboscopic actually we are focussing very much on developing the Monad series this summer, there are quite a few interesting new entries. I can reveal the first one which is not really a new entry because we introduced them to the label through a remix that they did for Dadub’s album, which is Lakker. Then there will be another two Monad releases and then after the summer a few EPs. I’m also actually preparing my next solo album after my own 2011 Wordplay For Worker Bees which is taking a while already. I was even producing stuff for this while we were working on Zeitgeber and so it’s quite a long process but I’m almost there I think, so maybe end of this year maybe the beginning of next. Then there are some follow ups from Dadub after their album, so yeah that’s how we roll it!
SL: Cool! I guess this album’s only just come out so you might not be thinking about it yet, but do you have plans to produce more together in the future?
L: I think you said it right we haven’t talked about it yet! It’s still to fresh and as a process the mood of the album was to not pre-plan anything - that’s how we’re going to continue our relationship I guess. We don’t want to structure it to much, so if at the point we really feel we want to sit down again in the studio because we have something else to say, we’re going to do it for sure, otherwise not. Jochem do you agree?
J: Yeah nothing planned, so yeah we’ll see!