It’s fair to say the work of Fluxion, aka Kostas Soublis, has had a fairly large impact on my thinking about electronic music. I first encountered the Greek artist through his Vibrant Forms LP a few years ago, around the time it was reissued on Type. Before the U.S. based label saw fit to reissue the LP, copies of the assorted 12”s that make up the Chain Reactions original would have been considered Discogs gold-dust.
Considering how uncharted the release felt to me just a few years ago, it’s difficult to comprehend it’s impact back in the late ’90s when it was first released. These days at least, it is considered a milestone of the dub-techno genre. Furthermore, Soublis followed up with Vibrant Forms II just a few years later. Despite the demise of Chain Reaction in the early 2000s, he has maintained a steady string of 12”s and LPs over the years, setting up his own label ‘Vibrant Music’ for a spell and becoming a regular on Kenneth Christiansen’s Echocord.
Recently things have come full circle however, with the release of Vibrant Forms III. Soublis has previously noted this marks “the last chapter of [the] trilogy”, so we felt it would be a fitting time to catch up with him. As well as discussing the new album, we talked Ennio Morricone, Philip Glass and the influence of politics on electronic music in Greece.
Vibrant Forms III was recently released. Did the creative process differ from the first and second editions?
It hasn’t really changed. I was in the same frame of mind when I recorded Vibrant Forms III. The concept of all those releases, was about creative process - where this can lead to. How open can I be, while being strict at the same time? How can an incident give birth to a whole new perspective, one that you may want to dedicate a whole piece to? Due to the fact that the music is quite improvisational, the sense of adventure was really strong on those recordings.
Vibrant Forms I & II were reissued in the last few years on Type and Subwax respectively. Did the reissuing have an influence on you releasing this final version? How did Type first approach the subject of putting the original Vibrant Forms out again?
When I was first contacted by Type, I was really positive. I wanted listeners to have the opportunity to hear a remastered version after 15 years or so. As far as I know the Chain Reaction back catalogue was unavailable for many years. So when Type offered to re-issue it and I was very happy with the idea.
With Subwax it was the same - they were interested, and we decided to have it re-issued. While I was discussing it with Jimi [Subwax’s co-owner], I let him know that I had another Vibrant Forms album I wanted to release. He was really enthusiastic, and offered to release it. With all the Vibrant Forms releases from Type and Subwax, I was really fortunate to work with people that allow me to decide on various aspects of the process.
What was your first contact with Chain Reaction in the late ’90s? Did they approach you or were you submitting demo tapes?
I first heard Chain Reactions and Basic Channel in 1995 or so, while studying in the UK. I can’t say I prefer one release over the others. If you try to mix all those records together, you have some various pages or chapters that form a story - one of those stories that no-one can quite describe it’s ingredients. I think I bought the whole catalogue. I really liked the organic aspect of the productions, and the faceless approach. I was making some ambient excursions (long improvisational mixes) at the time.
I was traveling and staying in Berlin often between 1995-1998, and on one of my visits I went to Hardwax. I asked the guys in there to pass my demo to the owners. It worked, and when they got in touch, we started working on those releases. It was a nice period working with them on the Chain Reaction releases. I was able to be there for all the mastering and editing sessions. I haven’t seen Mark or Moritz in ages, but I follow their works with interest.
Fluxion live at Mutek, 2014.
What was it you were studying in the UK and how long were you over here? Did it have an impact on the music you make?
I did an art course which focused on photography and film, and then another one in music technology. I stayed in London for three years. It most definitely played a part in my development as a musician. It was a very strong period musically and a lot of things were happening in the UK music scene, but also in Berlin and the U.S. I was trying to shape something up - it was at a very primal stage of what it was going to be Vibrant Forms.
Athens seems to have quite a healthy electronic music scene these days but I wanted to ask about your early experiences. What was it like when you were growing up though? Was there much of a clubbing/gigging scene for example?
When I started releasing music we must have had only ten people making electronic music in Greece. A close friend from that era I still see often is Savvas Ysatis. He has an amazing sense of humor. I’m sure he’s uncertain of the number of projects and releases he has produced as there’s been so many. We always have interesting discussions about music. With small exceptions, the live electronic music scene of the ’90s was non-existent. There were some good DJ’s though.
There are a lot of options now. This turbulence caused by the Greek crisis (which is not only a financial one, but an existential one as far as I am concerned), has made a lot of people cut to the chase - looking for substance that matters. It’s like this situation has matured a generation of musicians faster than normal. I consider this an upside of the pressure people feel.
Can you think of any examples of overtly political electronic music coming out of Greece at the moment?
Not really, but I see a lot more underground acts. It feels like people’s interests have shifted a bit. I see younger people needing to feel more alive in their music and art nowadays. You have a generation who feels numb. They are facing a very uncertain future and need to have their voices heard. Voices that don’t have ‘parental guidance’ as they have every right to feel that all the previous political & economic models have produced negative results. So to me it feels that in times of turbulence, one starts to question more. This can lead to creativity.
In another interview you mentioned an interest in film scores - is this a field you have ever tried working in? Tell us a bit about some of your favourite soundtracks, and why you think they work so effectively.
I have worked in advertising for many years, producing music and sound design. I’ve never worked on a feature film, although I would love to try it out. I like film scores because when they don’t fall into clichés, it can be very interesting. It doesn’t always have a set form, as the music follows a story, or creates a sub-story. So when you hear it outside its natural environment - without watching the film - it can feel very unpredictable. Emotions change more rapidly, like in real life. The pieces don’t aim for the functionality that the music industry requires from a release, so one can say that it’s free of certain burdens as a listening experience outside the cinema.
I grew up with Morricone soundtracks. Nearly everything that this composer touched was incredible, but favourites were the Sergio Leone movies for the rawness and The Thing soundtrack for being so cold, suspended and otherworldly. I love Maurice Jarre’s Jacob’s Ladder soundtrack. It has this decaying motion, a feeling of falling. Philip Glass’ Koyaanisqatsi was an introduction to how repetitive motifs and film work together. Those had a long lasting impact, but there are many others.
I was lucky enough to see you play at Culture Box in Copenhagen for an Echocord showcase a few years ago with Kenneth Christiansen. Is gigging something you enjoy? Do you feel restricted ever using a much more condensed version of your home studio?
Performing live is an essential aspect of what I do. It’s a two way connection I need to have with my audience, and something that leads to new ideas that I bring back to the studio.
I think this is always an issue, but it’s down to what you need to do on stage. If you need to bring a whole modular cabinet because it’s essential to the performance, then you should. If not, I don’t see the point. On my upcoming Vibrant Forms audio-visual performance, I will use a lot more analogue equipment from my studio, as it is essential to bring this gear along to be able to reproduce the sounds from the albums.
Tell us a bit more about the audiovisual show - do you have a visual artist joining you on stage? Who did you work on it with?
The ‘Vibrant Forms - Live’ performance is a study on impression. It reflects amorphous shapes and worlds that are constantly evolving and do not have a static, fixed definition, allowing the audience to engage freely.
I collaborated with the photographer/cinematographer Lucas Zimmermann. After researching visual forms and impressions, he came up with the idea of creating unidentifiable forms and shapes. Shapes that change and transform into others, in an organic non-artificial way.
It’s sound and images interacting in a unique space we created for them… In such an environment, nothing is absolute.