The churn of the electronic music business can seem endless at times. Every day we we are flooded with more and more releases, yet taking any one year past at random, we would find a lifetimes worth of innovative music to sift through. Jakub Mikołajczyk of Monotype Records and Aleksandra Grünholz, the musician behind We Will Fail recently began a new venture which swims against the tide somewhat.
The pair’s “slow label”, Refined Recordings, has been two years in the making, seeing its first release out this week. ‘Schadenfreude’ is a four track EP comprised of two originals from Grünholz, backed with remixes from Irish technoise favourite Eomac, and Planet Mu’s Ziúr. The duo intend to continue taking the label game at their own pace, giving each release the time and attention it deserves, rather than rushing to get wax in stores.
Previous work from the Warsaw-based Grünholz has pursued fractured sound design and coarse, off-kilter rhythms sitting somewhere between techno and the outsider-dance realms of acts like Kyoka or Senking. There is something more affront about this latest work however. ‘Night’ for example, blasts forth with obstinate intensity, devilish arpeggios penetrated by thunderous static oscillations, and trap-indebted percussive manoeuvres.
With the recent release of ‘Schadenfreude’, and a further EP on the horizon including more original work from Grünholz backed by remixes with Peder Mannerfelt, Kangding Ray and M.E.S.H, we decided to catch with her to discuss the new label, her work as a graphic designer and baroque visions of hell…
I wanted to start off by asking how Refined Recordings came to be - I saw you and Jakub had another project called Refined Pleasures a few years ago… Was this a bit of a precursor to the label?
Refined Pleasures was a project me and Jakub started working on two years ago or so. But we had the concept from the beginning to start a label. We were just thinking about a name one day, and ‘refined’ was the best way to describe what we wanted to do…
We have also been making music together from the beginning, but are waiting to do something with that at a later stage. Even before Refined Pleasures we worked together on different stuff.
The label is defined as a ‘slow label’ - how would you best explain what this means practically?
Preparing to get to the stage we are at now took around two years. We didn’t want to go too fast, we wanted to be able to give a lot of attention to all our releases. We wanted to focus on quality, and take the time to make sure everything was as it should be.
Jakub runs Monotype Records, and he was sometimes releasing ten or twenty records a year. He was frustrated, because he couldn’t give proper attention to each release. You make so many things, but you can’t focus on them or give them proper attention. We wanted to do things slowly this time, working with just one or two titles at a time. We plan to make four releases a year at the most.
I think it’s a bit like being a shepherd; you can guide the sheep a bit one way or another, but they’re living organisms and can do what they want at the end of the day!
I guess you can get into bad habits where you feel a need to release as much or more releases than you did the year previously…
You have that kind of pressure but I don’t think it’s necessary in our times, especially because there’s so many releases coming out every day. Are you up to date with everything? It’s impossible. Even if there was no more new music made, there’s probably enough already! We could listen and still be amazed by sounds and find something new just from past material. We tried to take a step back and produce less, with more time to have fun with what we do.
I was interested in your Verstörung LPs, in which you’ve approach the same materials twice, in effect giving an update as the tracks have been altered through live renditions. With ‘digital music’ it often feels like things are never finished - it’s tempting to keep revisiting things.
It’s funny because I often do that with tracks. I don’t release them a second time, but for my live shows I often do reworks. Like you said, when the track is finished and you’ve listened to it loads of times you start thinking: “hmm, let’s try it a different way”. Why not!
The first two Refined Recordings EPs are a couple of your original tracks backed by remixes. How did you go about selecting people for the EPs? They’re quite varied in some ways.
We were searching for experimental remixers, but they all have their own unique style. The first criteria was to find people whose music we love - I’m a fan of each of them.
I asked them not to make typical dance tracks because for me it didn’t make any sense as there are already so many good dance tracks out there. I was interested in what they could hear in the tracks I made. I think the effect is really nice and as you say they’re really varied. Each track sounds different from each other, and they differ a lot from the originals. I have to admit, sometimes I think they sound even better than the originals!
It’s always nice when you get something back and it’s not what you were expecting.
Exactly, when I heard the Eomac remix I didn’t recognise that it was made from one of my tracks. I really really like it!
The Peder Mannerfelt one is really cool too because you can hear the original clearly but he’s managed to turn it into that super raw, club type track he has been producing lately.
It’s funny because he also makes lots of experimental stuff like the Controlling Body album, I really admire it. At the same time he can make these kind of aggressive dance tracks. You can tell how the two Peders influence each other…
The visual aspect to the label is all done by you right?
Yeah. Each release will be different, but in this series they are all going to have this same theme of ‘the last judgement’. These are all collages and I think they correspond well with modern electronic music.
They remind me of Heironymus Bosch or someone like that…
It’s made from renaissance pieces of art. I like the connection between music and the visuals. Especially when the two seem like they are from different worlds. The music is modern and the visuals aren’t… I was focusing on the last judgement; demons, punishment and hell. It was funny doing the research.
There are a lot of crazy images out there, but so many of them are similar. It looks like the artists are almost copying each other. It’s hard to find a really original vision of hell. There is a canon for this kind of stuff - a lot of demons eating people, they have people in their asses and so on but it repeats in so many variations.
You designed some of Unsound’s 2017 ‘Flower Power’ theme right? I thought it was a great choice for the event, as the greyscale, brutalist carpark aesthetic of so many electronic music festivals has become such a cliche now.
The curators said the same thing - they were tired of everything being dark, sad and grey. We were searching for something crazy and colourful to add a lot of energy. We felt it reflected the event more as it should be a fun experience - the saddest moment of Unsound should be when you have to go home!
I noticed flowers (or botanical explosions as I’ve read you put it) crop up quite a lot in your artwork, and even press shots. How does this relate to the music behind We Will Fail and do you have an interest in botany more generally?
I really like these kind of botanical images and I think it’s similar to the renaissance images we mentioned before. Do you know the phrase ‘horror vacui’ from the baroque-era? It means to be afraid of emptiness. In baroque there were so many motifs and every space was filled; I really like these structures where you have this thickness to the image. Flowers and botanical images worked well with this kind of idea - adding lots of life to the image. I think that’s why I was using it a lot. I like the intensity of having so much colour, and so much life.
Are you working with field recordings much these days? What do you look for in found-sounds?
I started my adventures in music by working with samples so it’s a familiar space. I was doing some workshops and found it very interesting. I bought by first recorder about ten years ago and was recording a lot then, gathering sounds from the environments and cities. People ask me a lot about field recordings, but for two or three years I haven’t done it very much. I’ve been using synthesisers more and focusing on working with samples. It’s a tool that’s good to use when it’s right, but it’s not everything.
How long have you had the studio you’re in now for?
We started to develop it a couple of years ago. I started with a computer and the sound recorder and that was all the equipment I had. It’s a different way of working now I have some synthesisers and so on. I think the biggest problem is finding time. As I am getting older I have less and less time. Having a studio and working there is really nice because you can experiment a lot and learn a lot. There is a space for music aside from your living space.
That said, I often still work just with the computer, in my bedroom or something. When you have an idea and can access the computer you can realise it quickly. If you always have to go to the studio and plug in everything… It’s a different way of working.
You mentioned in another interview not wanting to be reliant on visuals at live shows, and I’ve also read you’re a big Autechre fan… How do you feel about the lights out policy they follow when playing live?
Yes I am! I really like their live shows. The music is so rich and has such a wide spectrum of everything, it means you don’t need anything accompanying the sound. In their case it works well.
In my own, I’m still thinking about it. I might say I don’t like visuals, but there are so many artists who are doing it really well. I think there is a right way to do it. You have to do it smartly; it’s good when the two aspects correspond.
You put quite a lot of effort into the artwork which accompanies your music, so it would almost make sense in your case to link them at live shows.
I like the connection between illustrative images which look like they’re from a fairytale or something, contrasted with modern sounding music. I’m not really sure about doing it live during a concert. It’s something I’m working on right now; connecting the two for the live shows. I’m developing ideas about how connect them as I don’t know if complex sounds and complex images work well together. They may end up fighting against each other, so I have to work out what is more important and what gives a stronger narrative.
Right now I’m thinking of having the whole live set in the dark, and just having images show up at key moments. When you don’t have everything all the time it’s dosed a bit better. It can emphasise or change the sound for a moment.
Do you find it stressful working on graphic design as your day job and also needing to do that work for your music?
It’s funny and sad at the same time because everything is work in some ways! Working on my own projects is the most pleasant part though. Stress… I don’t know. I was stressed before the covers came from the print house for the latest EP. Regarding design though; I know what I want to achieve so it’s not stressful for me. It’s just a pleasure. I have such little time but this little part of my life; making music and running the label, I just want to enjoy it and have fun.
It’s another aspect of the slow-label idea. Everything around us is moving so fast, I don’t want to be stressed with another thing. I just want to do things I love. It’s funny though because you don’t have control even with running a label. So many things happen that you can’t avoid. I think it’s a bit like being a shepherd; you can guide the sheep a bit one way or another, but they’re living organisms and can do what they want at the end of the day!
Keep up to speed with Refined Productions over at their Bandcamp.