Lucy’s debut album ‘Wordplay for Working Bees’ is leading the way for a new era (dare we say revolution?) in techno, questioning every aspect of its politics – from the “perfect” digital sound to its album format, in line with Warp records ‘Artificial Intelligence’ or ‘Geogaddi’. If you have touched upon 1950s electronic art-music before, you know what we’re talking about when declaring John Cage’s upcoming gig at Berlin’s Berghain a sign that something extraordinary is going on. Berlin has always been the place to look for future developments in electronic music, the latest being a peculiar experimentalism in its purest form. It is coming on strongly from its underground scene and is interconnected in unexplained ways. Although Lucy’s music could be described as merging dub and IDM - it is moods, rather than definitions that are shaping his style, reflecting the increasingly vague definitions in the field of dance music.
Your debut album ‘Wordplay for working bees’ has just been released. Could you explain the title briefly and what you’re hoping to achieve with it?
The title is a hopeful message, or a first direction to the listener, as in any piece of art. There is also a wordplay hidden in the artwork of the album. Basically, what I mean with “Working bees” is: waking up in the morning going to your workplace to earn some money, to live, to eat, to survive. This automaton process of our civilization is making me anxious. But when you work [as an artist] you are being a bit outside this process of what is possible, it is not like working in an office or in a fabric.
Kind of outside the system?
Yes, you are not completely outside, but you are someplace else than the typical, professional and moderate life, so with this outsider perspective it is an advantage because sometimes you see how things really are. These working bees and structure are necessary, they tell us, but they didn’t show us any contract for this - we didn’t sign up for it. So coming back to the album, it is a message for those people who never ask themselves “why”. It was when I started to ask myself those questions; what is happening around me? I’m waking up, making this and that, eating surviving and waking up again and suddenly you’re 70 years old. Not that it’s anything wrong in that, you can find happiness and fulfillment in a lot of little things in life, if you know how to put value in them. It is just about asking why you are doing those things.
It sounds like you have a very poetic view of life. Did you study anything related to philosophical subjects? I read that you are a published writer!
I studied philosophy, literature and linguistics at university, and now I decided to use that as a treasure, in music and art in general. But I don’t see philosophy and sociological topics as independent from our everyday life, it is completely wrong to think that these subjects are merely intellectual discussions. When you are expressing yourself in music or art it is impossible not to include these things, considering the worrying political time and place that we are in – you have to deal with it. Before making music I was writing for a living, but I started to express myself more and more in music; the way I was approaching writing was really structured but in music I feel more honest and sincere. The music I make is more about moods, it’s not structured and precise like language, but is suggesting something [through moods] hopefully awakening something in the listener. I really see the album as an open process. My music doesn’t fall into a particular genre, giving the listener a role in the creation of the album, it’s not just me in my studio making music and that’s it. I see it as an open product, if you want to call it a product?
Artifact perhaps? It is quite obvious that you are inspired by early art-electronic music ...your manifesto is Stockhausen’s; “Whenever we hear a sound we are changed, no longer the same”. How was that interpreted on the album?
I use a speech of Stockhausen that was recorded from one of his lectures at a university.
If you continue listen to that sentence on first track he speaks about sounds in general, noises and the chaos around us. It is linked to the fieldwork I was doing on the album- they were a treasure and key production for my album. I spent three months recording stuff around my flat, parks, clubs, in the toilet...just recording noises and using them as a big sound bank. So what Stockhausen says about field recording makes sense to me, it is a really honest way of taking a little piece of the world around us and putting it into the music - like stealing a little piece of reality and putting it into your imaginary world!
This field-work technique was used by many artists of 1950s-60s electronic music, for example Musique concrète- any other influences within this genre?
Yes, it is not an innovative process, but it is about applying them in a new way. I felt that there was a need for bringing something new to the techno community; not in an intellectual way but in a democratic, really open expression, very readable from a listener’s point of view. I hope that I can bring a kind of music that you can just listen to without thinking about what genre it belongs to. What I really don’t like in a lot of dance music is this complete clean, digital sound that is not real, without any kind of mistakes or imperfections. When you hear things in everyday life or go to a concert you hear it as being disturbed by a lot of other elements around you - reality is not clean or digital, so why this obsession to be perfect and having a complete control of the process? I was using techniques used in dub and roots dub music from Jamaica in the 1970s- 80s - that was also a huge reference for me, which brings us back to where my idea for the field work technique came from. One of the biggest brains in electronic music were King Tubby and Lee Perry, it is just incredible how they use it- the sound is so imperfect, when you hear an album like ‘Revolution Dub’ - it is just alive! It’s breathing, it’s a living creature...it’s just a matter of being honest about the world, importing this chaos we have around us – noises, not a structured piece of music. I was making my album with some ideas in mind but of course the result came out differently- some of it were surprises to me! It is not an automated process like being in an office making an album!
It is the first solo album under your label Stroboscopic Artefacts...what plans do you have in store for it in the future?
This is the first [album] in a series of albums; Xhin and Dadub are already working on albums and we’ve been discussing what we need to do and what an album is, you know? I’m really old-fashioned in my way of thinking; an album needs a story, a life, it can’t just be a medium for your agent to get you more gigs. That’s the difference with an EP – you have a huge space to structure an expression of yourself. Finally you are free from being constricted to putting your concept into 13 minutes. My inspiration for this album was some of Warp Records earlier stuff.
Warp’s 1992 album Artificial Intelligence?
Yes that one but especially Geogaddi– it is one of the best records that have been produced in the last 20 years in electronic music. Also, Aphex Twin – the Mozart of modern electronic music – was able to do the most industrial track as the most ambient drawing at the same time, and people liked it because of that. In didn’t take into account so much the politics of the music business that says “this must be the A-side” and “this must be the B-side”, or this and that is not strong enough for the dance floor. Risking things are good for underground music; it’s the secret, the base. Try new things and present them right to the public but you can’t just drop the bomb. Making your public ready to accept the music, then appreciate it and also giving them the right instrument to read an album.
I didn’t want to do the typical techno album format, but to open the box for something else. On my album there are things that could be interpretable as danceable techno, but most of it is really different, that you couldn’t play in clubs - maybe in my utopian perfect club sound track- but I understand that it can be interpreted as something else.
Have you ever played any of your IDM tracks (non 4/4 beat) in a club? How is that received, what was the reaction?
For me it is about knowing how to mix- how to transform the tracks you are mixing every time. I’m working really good with Traktor, because it gives me the possibility to not just present tracks one after the other, but implement them; I like to have a wide range when I play – there are so many layers within each track.
Do you think people are becoming more open-minded to more experimental club music?
Yes, not in general but I think that there are some scenes that are getting more interested, so my label has the right timing. Techno is both an old thing and a new thing - people are waiting for something with a fuller meaning, with a concept behind things. It’s not about dance floor or not, I think the situation right now is going in such a positive direction – the underground community is becoming so strong. The huge crisis that destroyed many main record labels was a renaissance for the underground. I will give you a little story to show you what I mean. Tommy Four Seven is a really good friend of mine, he’s also one of the best producers in techno for me, that’s why I chose him do one of the remixes of my album. For six months we were so busy that we didn’t have time to speak – we were both working on our albums, his album Primate (CLR) is coming at the end of March. But when we met up to discuss the progress of our albums to get feedback of each other – it turned out we were moving in the same direction! They are still very different, but there are a lot of processes in common that come from abstract music. This means that the underground community is working - fully alive and active! When things are moving like this, it creates movements, where ideas and messages pass between artists without having to speak about them. It is a community that makes sense of itself.
So is there a revolution going on here in techno music?
Yes, absolutely. What I’m seeing in techno at the moment is that it has a huge hype around it. But the good thing is that producers and labels that I’m interested in are not sitting down riding this hype but they are totally experimenting.
Is it coming only from Berlin or do you think it is spreading elsewhere?
I can only speak from my experience as I live in Berlin. But one of the artists on my label – Xhin, lives in Singapore, a unique artist for what he does, or other producers around from Japan - all these things are in some way connected. It is an underground statement, ushering these messages. We’re also living in a time where everything is so fast as well; Facebook, Twitter – whoever’s interested is able to give food to his interest, it is a really good time for this music. In any kind of cultural or artistic movement, it is so different when it is supported by a lot of things happening around. It gives social strength to the thing- to make things public and educate the listener.
Who else is important in this movement?
I have a lot of respect for people like Chris Liebing, who were really in the center and could easily have sat down, but he didn’t. He kept experimenting and releasing things that were really innovative. Also, Tommy Four Seven’s album that is just coming out. It is not what you expect, but somehow it is what you want, without knowing that it is what you wanted – that is key to innovation in music. Techno can really go wide in terms of this, if labels stop sitting down and continue doing what they’re good at, keep experimenting and opening the borders. London and Berlin of course have advantage as their club communities are really strong – there is a concentration of people of labels and people. But it goes beyond that- my album is now on sale and seeing from where people are buying it; Ukraine, China, India – you know what I mean? It means that opening the border is useful, through the medium of the more open album, can consequently get people more interested in the pure, dark techno. That is how it worked for me – I went through things that were more open to getting into more extreme things. For example, one of my biggest introductions to electronic music was “homework” like Daft Punk, but through that I discovered more extreme, darker things like Squarepusher. I have been strongly identified with this pure, dark techno scene, and for me it is a scene that is not gendered, it more a feeling, a way of seeing the world.
The names of your tracks are interesting; “Gas, Lav, Els.....” what do they mean?!
I don’t want to tell you because I want you to find out for yourself. That’s where the wordplay is, so if I tell you the solution it is not fun anymore!
So you have to get the album to find out the secret?
Yes. You will get find the message of the working bees in the track listing if you get the album.
Aha! Also an innovative promotion technique...Finally, what is your reaction to that John Cage is going to DJ at Berghain in Berlin (March 10th, 2011)?
Haha...that is exactly what I was talking about before! Berhain together with Corsica studios in London are very forward thinking clubs, and that someone like John cage is playing there is a sign that something is happening. Together with a few other clubs they are a step ahead and things happen there that don’t happen anywhere else. It is very fearless – I really appreciate this stimulus. I see how things are getting so cross- pollinated, for example a great album like ‘Kangding Ray’, where there is a Ben Frost remix – that is what I mean with cross-pollinated.
Lucy’s ‘Wordplay for working Bees’ is out now on Stroboscopic Artefacts. He will play at Corsica studios (‘Ear to ground’) in London on April 2nd.