The article/interview that was published in the MCD magazine earlier this month, is, of course, a shortened version of a very (very!) long interview I gave. Laurent Diouf, the wonderful chief editor of MCD, and I decided that it would be a waste to just trash the whole thing, and thus we decided to publish it here.
The full french article can be read here, in a more reader friendly PDF: MCD 59 – Glitterbug Interview
And here is the full interview (be prepared for a long read):
01_ first, can you describe your background, influences, and also why you choose the name “glitterbug”…?
My love for electronic music, and thus my first influences and exposure to it, stem from the late 80s rave and acid scene, at least when speaking about electronic dance music. I was a very vivid party goer already in my early youth in 1986/87, and was also making music at that time (my instruments then were the flute and drums, but I was mostly playing in jazz bands and the school big band). Back then I didn’t have these different musical worlds connected, nor did I realize they could even meet. I was sort of living in three different musical worlds that never ever really overlapped: I had my band/jazz life as a very young musician, my love for acid music and raves, and in addition was listening to and admiring totally different music: 80s wave, experimental music, contemporary composition, experimental indie rock, things like that, but always with a focus on the more touching, emotional and melancholic things.
After the late 80s and three years of heavy raving, my interest in electronic dance music became smaller until it was sparked again in 1994 during a performance by not-so-famous-yet Jeff Mills, who gave a show in a legendary Cologne Club called ‘42’- in front of maybe 40 people… this is where my ongoing and deep love for Techno comes from. This was also the point where I bought my first two Technics turntables and started buying DJ vinyl. Two years later, in 1996, I was DJing at my first parties. During the 90s, the scene here wasn’t yet so ‘specialized’ or narrow: the experimental-music people went to techno parties, there were “chill out rooms” in which abstract and eclectic music was played, and everybody was hanging out with everybody. This very special breeding ground in those years, with an approach that “anything goes”, was very important for my later baby steps into producing music myself.
In the early 90s I also started basic freelance work for public radio stations in Germany, mostly in the field of ‘sound design’ (well, the term didn’t exist back then) for radio plays, later working on experimental radio plays of my own, which eventually led to my first equipment purchases in the mid/late 90’s. The stuff I was working on back then was mostly more abstract and very experimental, toying around with cheap broken equipment (which was the only stuff that I could afford).
This is, btw, one of the sources for my artist name: I had a really old half broken EMU EMAX sampler during those years, and it would never do what it was supposed to do, but rather spit out random, strange and really beautiful sounds, it had a very glittery bug (until it finally broke down completely). I also was a huge Derek Jarman fan, and he came out with this wonderful, touching and very personal movie called “Glitterbug”, with music by Brian Eno and Jah Wobble. I loved the approach, I loved Derek Jarman, I loved this wonderful record by Brian Eno (which is called ‘Spinner’), and due to the fact that I started discovering Detroit techno in 1994, ‘Glitterbug’ became my name for my DJ alter ego. So, it comes from a wonderful experimental movie and from the acknowledgement that wonderful things can (but do not have to) happen if stuff goes wrong…
02_ how did you planed and composed your new album, “privilege” ? can we say that it is less “dub”, more ambient or introspective than “supershelter” ?
Well, the plan changed over the course of time. All together I worked for something like a year on this album. At first, I wanted to make a totally abstract ambient album, and I started drafting first tracks, but at the same I was working on more techno (and/or house) tracks. After a couple of months, I started to listen to the tracks that I made and realized that my concept didn’t work at all: the tracks, regardless of their ‘genre’, were all related to one another, were following a similar mood and atmosphere, and so I realized that it’s pointless to try to separate them. I already had a lot of material, which could have been enough for an album, but I felt it wasn’t quite there.
So the second idea was to continue working, and to try to take my creative process out of the studio and to continue working more “on the road”, knowing that I would be touring a lot. Since currently I mostly perform live, using a lot of outboard equipment, I had a very basic studio on me all the time… I had a 2 months long “world” tour in 2009, which brought me to places like China, India, Norway, Poland to name just a few. Some of the tracks on the album were drafted during this tour and have quite a few field recordings from those places in them.
So the second approach was to do a double CD album with one studio part and one “on the road” part. This concept I also threw overboard once I started to seriously compile the album. The tracks were not only related, they also told a stringent story regardless of the period in which they were made; so I compiled them accordingly, with my heart and intuition rather than by categorizing them according to when and where I made them.
Speaking of differences and similarities to ‘Supershelter’ and the general musical direction I took with ‘Privilege’, I can say that it is much more serious in many ways, less cheerful, more restrained and certainly moodier than ‘Supershelter’. But I disagree that it is more “Ambient” then pervious things I have done, since there are quite a few tracks on there which speak a very clear, direct and loud club language (well, we’re still speaking Glitterbug here, right?). The effect of feeling that ‘Privilege’ is more ambient than its predecessor comes mostly from the fact that it is long and that I finally had the chance to span my ideas and tracks over such a long playtime. Nothing is rushed on this album, and I had the freedom to leave plenty 8 or 9 minute long tracks unshortened… This was an amazing new artistic freedom that I could achieve in this project.
‘Privilege’ also is definitely much more introspective, that’s true. It’s quite a pensive album, which also reflects on the circumstances of its own existence. During my last international tour I played in places which confronted me with the obscene wealth of opportunities I have in life, and the fact that I can choose to be an artist, a musician, composer or producer (or whatever you might call what I do) is pretty unbelievable. I played in places like Mumbai/ India, where the level of poverty is simply unimaginable. To be invited to Mumbai to play in a fancy club, driving through never-ending slums on the way from the hotel to the venue with equipment in the trunk that is worth enough to feed a small town in India for months is something that left a huge dent in my reception of reality. So yes, ‘Privilege’ is quite a serious album, but also has very hopeful moments. It’s charting new territories in a way; for me, it is like my approach to find new worlds, places and habitats in and through music.
03_ generally speaking, how do you define dub music and more especially how do you describe the connection between dub and minimal-techno/ambient, and also the evolution of this connection/emulation ?
I guess this would be better answered by a special edition of MCD, analyzing various streams and developments in electronic music today! (If you do that special 200 page edition, could you please also publish it in English??!?!!??)
But seriously: this is a tough question for me to answer. My approach to music and also to making music is different from any analytical approach. I don’t analyze what I do categorically, as I have a very emotional access to my art and music. The same with my record collection spanning through quite a few thousand vinyls (and a considerable amount of CDs and hard drives): it’s all not so much filed under musical categories, but rather moods and atmospheres. This is also how I put together my DJ materials for sets: less by a certain musical category, but more by the feel of the tracks.
04_ as the previous, “privilege” is available on c.sides. please, can you tell us about this structure ? if i well understand, you co-run s.sides with ronni shendar. so this “plateform for electronic music and new media art” is also a kind of arc / bridge between israel (+ palestine) and german ‘s projects / musicians, artists, etc. ?
c.sides is a lot of things, and all of them carry a very personal signature. I started it (and continued it until today) together with Ronni Shendar, an Israeli photographer and video artist. We met in early 2003 in a German-Israeli artist exchange, and shortly after I came to Israel for my first DJ gigs. The electronic music scene there was under total isolation back then (due to the 2nd Intifada which was at its peak in those days), and we started a process of bringing more international artists, mainly (but not only) from Germany, to Israel and also inviting artists to Germany.
From the beginning, the informal exchange was solely based on mutual interest, on reflecting the different backgrounds, histories, realities and contexts. Obviously, confronting a lot of issues of the 3rd generation after the Holocaust for both the German and the Israeli side, and the realities of the Occupation, the vast social complexities in Israel, questions of art production in periods of war and unrest, and the different socio-economic-political issues both sides had to confront.
Before we even came up with the idea of establishing a more of a formal platform for exchange, something like 15-20 artists from both countries went through these different visits- and Ronni and I realized that there is so much mutual interest that we need to create something bigger, that allows for more people to join.
c.sides is a totally non-commercial platform, and was built from the beginning (2004) as a mixture between an electronic music and media arts festival and sort of an educational program for participating artists.
All artists that we invited over the years came for at least a week to participate in educational tours, lectures and exchanges that we organized for them. We wanted to make sure they can grasp as many perspectives as possible of a complicated place with intertwined struggles. The goal is to send everybody back home with more questions than they came with, and to portray the situation in the Middle East as complex and multi layered as it is for the many different communities that live there.
We are a political festival- but without a political agenda… we oppose easy answers and put our bet on discussing complexities of gray zones in which people actually live and confront rather than simplistic black/white thinking. Besides our major productions in Israel (in the beginning in Jerusalem, these days in Tel Aviv), we have also had various projects and show cases in Europe, and have more cooking up for the future.
c.sides as a festival also had the horrible disadvantage of taking place twice during a war: once in 2006 directly after the 2nd Lebanon war, and the 2nd time during the war in Gaza in 2009. Having to face such horrible atrocities which take place only 200km away from the festival grounds, certainly has a huge impact on a project like ours, and having to ask yourself several times a day if it makes sense to produce and carry out a festival like ours during such times and to also discuss these issues with fellow artists participating in the production automatically leads to different questions and issues than, let’s say, a beer shortage in a club in Ibiza…
To curate and produce a festival like ours is a very challenging subject matter. The current situation in Israel, especially the news of today with the stormed flotilla that was supposed to bring humanitarian aid to Gaza, always pushes us over the cliff when we try to think of how to continue the c.sides festival. But as grief as the situation is, and as horrible and awful, we are still trying to organize something that raises awareness, that questions the status quo of art production, and that widens the perceptional horizons of artists and audiences alike.
The c.sides label exists since 2006, but is just as amorphous of a project as the festival. It became the major platform for my music, but that wasn’t really the plan in the beginning. From the label’s mission statement:
“The ‘c.sides label’ is supposed to be a label with music meant to bring heart and beauty back to electronic dance music and to give space to the more experimental and content oriented sides of club electronics. We want to break hearts on the dance floors worldwide and make our audience shed tears and have twinkley smiles. We want to add an exciting new flow to the crowded label universe – we want to prove that bulky, sentimental, heart breaking and brain wrenching formats can work quite well to rock the floor.”
I guess that describes quite well what we are trying to do. The description would also work for the festival I think…
05_ what about the c.sides festival ? will you do an edition this year (i don’t see infos) ? or in 2011 ? or is it in stand by ?
Well, since c.sides is ran by exactly 2 people (and that is, surprise surprise, Ronni Shendar and me), we can decide on every aspect of what c.sides is and where c.sides is heading. We started the festival as an annual project, but realized already in 2006 that this would not leave any room to breathe for any of our other projects and our individual artistic work.
Since there never was a plan to become festival directors (and nor do we enjoy producing something so crazy as a festival), but rather having a festival that developed out of a need for something like that (there was no such thing in Israel when we started, and by now we are by far the largest festival of its kind in Israel), we try to balance our time between the festival and our other projects, and thus it’s a loosely bi-annual project. We are cooking up something for late 2011, but it’s way too early to speak about it.
In addition, we do have all the issues that most other festivals internationally are facing these days: lack of funding. The financial crisis hit arts and culture hard, and our festival is sadly no exception being a non-commercial initiative. We try to create something that confronts the context it takes place in, and Israel is a fast changing place, currently with a very right-winged government. This of course has a great effect on our production, specifically making it more and more difficult (or rather virtually impossible) to work with Palestinians in the West Bank or other cooperations we have tried with artists from Egypt or Lebanon. We sadly have to keep the two paths separately for now.
06_ generally speaking, how do you consider the (rare) musical intitiatives relative to some socio/political situations and/or events ? i mean, do you think that the electronic scene has a socio-political consciousness ? and do you think it could be really efficient ?
Well, if I wouldn’t believe in some possible artistic contribution to make the world a better place, I probably wouldn’t co-run a festival like c.sides. I talked about a few of these things above.
Generally speaking, I think that the electronic music scene has to reclaim some of its roots. Especially playing a lot of festivals and club events as an artist myself, I meet a lot of colleagues that seem to have forgotten that we once were part of a movement, of a culture, and that there is (and should be!) more to what we do than just the party itself, the Champaign brand the promoter chooses, and the quality of drugs available. We live in a very very VERY privileged situation, and well, yes, I do think that this comes with certain obligations.
I am not a friend of over exposing content where there is none. I am also not a big fan of hollow slogans and simple answers. But in my reception, electronic music should always carry the liberating elements that House Music was born with, and for me, my artistic process of creating music always also has to do with creating parallel universes, additional habitats, and somewhat of trying to create a better world. In tiny pieces, and tiny contributions, but at least we should try to make our privileges as artist beneficial for others too.
07_ by the way, can you tell us about the electronic music scene in israel — we only know the trance-goa movement but (almost) not the minimal and experimental scene — and also in cologne nowadays ?
Uf! You want me to write a book??
I am and have been only present in small parts of the electronic music scene in Israel, and it has been changing a lot in the past few years.
In a nutshell, when I first came to Israel in 2003, there was a very small, dedicated (and isolated) experimental electronica scene in Jerusalem, and a very commercial house scene in Tel Aviv. The techno that was played was of the tough fast industrial kind, and when I first played in Israel, the strange, slow, melodic and more minimal music that I played during peak time in clubs was totally unknown, and people were very confused by it in the beginning.
We as c.sides take some pride in helping establish a certain music in Clubs in Israel, but that would not work if there would have not been people around us picking up on the idea fast and walking this long path with us. Our dear friends from Pacotek ( www.pacotek.com ) were there from the very first moment, and hosted my first DJ gig in Israel, even before the collective had this name. There was a very funny moment which changed a whole lot of things: a friend and incredibly talented DJ who was back then also part of the Pacotek universe, Dani Zherzhevski, was playing at a bar in Jerusalem, and he had the pitch (of already super fast techno) at plus 8, and I asked him if I can do something: he said yes, and I pulled the pitch down to minus 8, which left him in awe since he never even tried to do something like that. From then on, he started to play his stuff slow and gentle…
Today Tel Aviv hosts two wonderful clubs for techno, house and wider scopes of electronic dance music (The Block and Barzilay), in addition to smaller independent lines that take place in obscure and changing locations and aside to countless mainstream clubs. The scene has developed and grown quickly! By now every weekend there is at least one leading international act playing at one of these clubs, with a strong connection to Berlin, New York and Detroit.
There are definitely more and more Israelis producing music and also part of the international techno/house scene.
08_ relative to your live-mixes / dj-sets, are you still playing with 3 turntables or/and are you also using digital sources ?
My live performances are based on a hybrid setup with analogue gear and synthesizers, and a computer running the same software as most other computers you find on stage these days, with a vast amount of controllers. I do not touch the computer during the show, but use my controller setup to navigate.
When I DJ, I am always asking for three turntables, but sadly most club setups don’t have space for a third turntable in the DJ booth these days. I have been using a hybrid between digital vinyl control systems (in the beginning, I used a MAX/MSP patch for vinyl control called Ms. Pinky, today it’s a product of one of the key players in vinyl controlled playback, due to reliability issues) together with vinyl for something like 9 years now, and I enjoy the opportunities I have as a DJ in a setup like that.
09_ you did also some radio shows and/or mix for web-radio (if i’m not wrong). i think radio-shows are may be a sound-universe — a “blind” universe because we don’t see the audience — between live-mix and studio work… so, how do you plan/manage your selection for radio ?
Preparing DJ sets for podcasts or for radio shows is allowing for totally different approaches than a DJ set in club. I can allow myself to be less of an entertainer, and can play more with atmosphere. I also have to bear in mind that radio shows are often more of an audible backdrop more than something that is listened to consciously, so try to create something that is emotionally dense yet not too challenging on the ear.
My music has often been described as “visual club music”, and I am quite happy with that category. I try to create music that has a certain depth to it, music that takes the listener someplace. I work with a lot of imagination, and creating music in the studio is always a very lonely and isolated task. So standing in a radio studio and playing and mixing music for unknown people in unknown situations out there, to be present in their homes and daily life through the medium of radio is something very magical to me.
10_ i saw that you’re also doing performances av (with ronni shendar), installations, b.o./soundtracks, etc. and you also work as curator. so, a few sentences about your “side” projects ?
I am involved in many different things, my club alter ego Glitterbug is only one of them. I am currently working on an abstract score for a more philosophical documentary movie about jails, have been doing collaborations with other visual artists for installations, have been active as a curator for more than a decade… I don’t necessarily do these things all the time, but if an interesting project pops up, I am always happy to take the challenge.
Ronni (Shendar) and I have been working together since almost 8 years now, and for us it was just a logical step from curating the festival which deals both with audible and visual digital art, and creating platforms and structures for other artists to translate these philosophies into our own project and art forms – an audio-visual live performance.
Ronni adds a totally new perspective to my live performance. She works only with her own footage, materials and photographs that she manipulates very minimalistically through various programs. She creates a very cinematic language that corresponds with my visual music and that unfolds layers, textures and landscapes of her concurrent world. We try to create a dialogue between our ‘worlds’, it’s really a very joint performance, in some parts inseparable.
From the press sheet regarding our joint show: “In creating their new live performance, Shendar followed on the album’s base concepts and themes, drawing upon to explore its desolate landscapes, its uninhibited territories and blurry distant dolor, a further interpretation to her photographs that comprise the album’s artwork.
Their new live performance takes the concept of audio-visual shows to a whole different level. Every bit and piece of it is built and customized from scratch and both the audio and the visual component are linked to one another, creating an unforgettably intense, wholesome experience for the audience that is unmatched. Their previous show, that left promoters and audiences internationally in awe, already pushed the border of what can be done in club and festival contexts. Their new show takes this approach not only one step, but is a whole new evolutionary step in their work, incorporating also all their live experience they could gain in their successful year of 2009.”