HJÖRDIS-BRITT ÅSTRÖM

tIn this period I am working on the new Pandemia compilation and I am checking quite a lot of projects and labels, trying to find the best of the underground music is out for the genre I decided to pick up (which is a surprise until I will close the list of artists that will participate). During this research I stumbled on a Russian-based dreampop/indie/shoegaze/ambient called Hjördis-Britt Åström. I had the change to ask few questions to his found, Dmitry Gruber.

Hi Dmitry, thank you for being here on Pandemia. Can you tell us a little bit more about the story of your label? Is there a specific meaning behind the name?

Some years ago I was joking that my label is like my audio diary. But now — it’s a Grimoire. And it’s not so fun anymore, for different reasons.

The story began in 2013 when I met my soulmate Marianna Diakova. I heard her solo project Diakova at Soundcloud and I fell in love with those songs and her voice (for me it’s still one of the best sounds in the world). I offered her to make music together and we recorded a lot of great songs. She was the vocalist and I was making the music.  I hate to work with somebody and I’m not a team-player, but we understood each other perfectly. I’m still missing this time. It’s ridiculous, but I never see her in real life, only in Skype. For years we were sending music files each other for making songs, and fantazising about to meet and to get drunk together, but we never had the chance! But one day this will happen.

Sometime later we released our first works at different labels but after that I decided to make and run my own. It was supposed to be a home for our music. After a little more time I started to release the project of my friend Mike, called Fortune 600. And over time, I began to invent and produce my side-projects/aliases with other vocalists such as Galatée, Hectana, Mostly Unknown etc.

Hjördis-Britt Åström is the name of a Great Spirit, the Goddess of mystical hazy lands and strangest dreams. I found it in my imagination, so why not?

Hjördis-Britt Åström collects artists that goes from raw-ambient to indie-dreampop, flowing through 80s-synthetic vibes. Is there a common line between the artists you decided to take into consideration?

I’m the author of most projects (except where specified otherwise, for example: Camille Paulette-Odell) and I don’t know which is the connection point between them. I just can say that all the music at the label is from similar worlds, we have a similar attitude.

You define yourself as a Music artist. How your creativity is deployed, or in general connected, with the scope of the label?

Label is the home for my music. I can do everything I want and sharing it with people who love it. My music projects have different names because are different, but they are  single parts of the main concept.

Which is your personal process to scout bands/projects?

I’m not looking for talents, I’m not searching for music or musicians, I’m not the part of any music scene, I’m not connected with any music cultures (but relate to some of them). My label is absolutely a self-centered system. Sometimes I receive demos from another artists and every time I don’t know what to say to them. I don’t want to criticize, but their works are their works, it’s not a part of my story, it’s not a part of my music world. Moreover I don’t know how I can help them. I’m not a famous person and my label isn’t famous (or I don’t know about it, haha).

I don’t know how some one can join the label. It will happen only if it will happen. There’s no common logic.

Do you also support your artists in other ways (for ex., organizing gigs, promotion work,…)?

I never do any promo. Maybe it’s my biggest mistake. Almost everyone says to me that I need to promote music everywhere. I don’t want to do that. People who are looking for such music – they will find it.

Regarding gigs, I have no activity at the moment. Diakova stopped her project and as I know she doesn’t want to do concerts, but she’s interested in making music for theater/cinema/fashion shows. Fortune 600 playing sets sometimes. Galatée is my the most troubled project, in many ways. Maybe I need a help with music touring/booking and management, but I can’t ask for this.

How is the relationship with your public/label network? They do interact with you and the artists often, participating actively to the development of the label, or is more a one-way ‘relationship’?

If you’re asking about the audience, I communicate with some my listeners, we chat about non-music themes. I’m not very happy to talk about music, for many reasons. Also, I don’t want to do posts about my life or share my super-important opinions about super-important events. And I never do photo-sessions with gear and other stupid things. I have a lot of stories that I would like to tell. I do it in music, not in posts. So, maybe it’s more a one-way relationship. Or I just need a SMM-specialist, haha.

 

COMMON EIDER KING EIDER

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During the last edition of the Doom Over Lepzig I had the pleasure to interview an interesting ambient project from the US. I had a nice chat with Rob Fisk and Andee Connors in a cloudy and cold afternoon, in a bar not so far from the UT Connewitz in which the festival was going on, and I had the chance to discover more about this collective, the ideas of the musicians about music and society and how much they are entangled together.

In the description of your Facebook page is written that you are “the opposite of Trump administration”. I found it quite funny since the project has some time right now and Trump is not so long at the government.

Rob: His administration stands on everything we are against: they are misogynist, racists, extreme capitalist, homophobic, transphobic, climate change deniers. Since arrived in the oval office, he made everything in his power to phase off the environmental protection agency and slow down internationally the fight against climate change. He already started to work on laws that target trans, gays, to attack our friends. He already bombed Syria, threatened North Korea building the root of WWIII, and he is an horrible person. I still can’t believe he became president.

Andee: We are embarrassed about this fact. None of us believed he could have any chance, we were pretty comfortable: ” He will never win”. And then he won. We were devastated.

Rob: But anyway that is why we decided to write this statement in our Facebook page. Politics is kind of a grey area and we would like to be pretty clear about what we stand for.

It is strange to hear from you guys that you thought for sure he was about not to be elected. After some months, do you have an idea why he made it?

Andee: The popular argument is, there was this huge chunk of American people that felt removed from the entire political system. Obama, Clinton spoke with them in a language they did not understand. Trump was a popular figure so appealing to people of the lower class struggling with unemployment. But the more I think about it the more I don’t believe in this argument. A lot of these people quickly realized they made a mistake. A lot of Trump electors are suddenly felt the effect of this politics: they quickly lost the health insurance, they cannot afford renting housing anymore. It is hard not be cynic, I mean is difficult not to see since the beginning that this guy was a sexist, homophobic asshole that pursues its own interested and also, is a billionaire. Then I don’t get why these people did not see it before voting. American felt enough comfortable to trust him, even if his propaganda was not consistent. For example, he is so strange that is against immigration but all his stuffs are made in other countries, but he has country clubs and hotels in Mexico.

It is interesting to see your view about politics, but does it reflect also in your music? Is there a social and political message attached to it, or is just a tool that you use for a second purpose (like for example, donating the outcome of sales to indigenous community, as you did for one of your old release)?

Rob: We released three records in order to help Alaska rescue organizations to stop gold mines proliferation, since it will have a huge environmental impact. There is also the concern about a lot of outsiders that will come in this area to work and live, destroying local traditions with their western culture. This is an important topic for us, and that is why we released two records last year talking about extinction, not just “biological” but also cultural. We are active in multiple ways, we are energetic conscious human beings and artists, and  we are politically oriented supporting community and traditions.

Andee: For us music is a sort of meditation but also it motivates people to do something. We like to inspire with our music but doesn’t mean we can do more with it.

 

How did you develop this awareness about how important is the natural life, not just considered as environment related but also as preservation of millennial cultures?

Rob: We are lucky to leave in a beautiful part of world and me myself I travel often to Alaska. Since 2000 I spent some time there, for considerable long periods. This for sure raised our awareness, but we also realized it in a more philosophic way.

If you think about one of the main religion in the world, maybe you can have a better idea about what we talk. In history, Christianity worked very hard to separate men from nature. People used to have a relationship with the landscape, but this religion broke this bond, and also demonized wild nature. Actually it demonized everything that could not be completely controlled, and that is why there is a parallel between wilderness in our body/sexuality and the nature. Even if we are not so in contact with religion in these days, we are under the influence of its believes: that is why always a deep dark forest is normally considered scary. For us nature, wild nature regains its original essence, the one we used to associate before human over structures modified it.

Andee: People are instinctual to nature, it doesn’t matter if they are looking at few trees or a deep ocean, and everyone has this kind of awareness. I believe you can always feels something when you are in contact with nature, but is true that in the current time we don’t value, and sometimes we forget, to raise this awareness in ourselves. There are people that have lost the connection with the reality around them.

How the people can find back this connection?

Rob: It is not difficult. For example, we were just coming here and we noticed a bunch of birds doing these amazing symphonies. Then you realize that nature is there, just hearing these songs you feel connected with it. But is also true that is not so simple for everyone. With our music we try to make this connection, but is the single person that has to make it deeply inside itself.

As far I can understand, the project is full of meanings and ideas. I believe this is also reflecting in its name. Which is the meaning of Common Eider King Eider and how was born?

Rob: I found the project in 2006, deciding it would have been the last music project in my life. I was tired to start bands. The normal loop was to start something with a bunch of people and see them leave after six months. They were always busy. I was tired to rely on other people and the idea to commit to just one idea. First I started solo but from the third release the band started to be an open collective, so everyone could put the efforts and time they wanted. For example for this tour, I arranged everything by myself and then I sent an email to the others asking who wanted to join.

Andee: Last time we had a six weeks tour, the first two weeks we were in three, the second one in five and then we came back to two. The music is different depending to who is involved of course, but is also fascinating how it can change and the whole structure is flexible and suitable for the needs of everyone.

Rob: The name is the opposition between the words common and king: something should be “less important” respect to the other according with these two meanings, but both of the animals, the eiders associates with them, are just beautiful creatures. It is strange that someone labeled them with these kind of values, but actually it happens also with people, so…

 

Let’s talk about your last release Shrines for the Unwanted, Respite for the Cast Aside“.  What is behind?

Rob: Last summer we were in tour and we were thinking about extinction and we were concerned about politics and the consequences it would have in our society. We started to interrogate about our intentions to do music and how to inspire trough vocals and give energy during the performances.  We started to use sticks and rocks on the mics, round them together to create certain sounds, and we really like it. During the performance these objects started to acquire significance, and after every show we decided to built a shrine with them.

Andee: We took pictures about the places in which we toured and we built these shrines, we created a book of images and we created a set together with some sticks to create its own shrine.

VOLA

During the Complexity Fest I had the wish to interview Asger Mygind about his project VOLA – an interesting progressive voice of epic crescendo atmospheres embellished in perfect musical structures. Since a lot is coming for the danish band – among the others, the Euroblast in October – I wanted to know more about the VOLA‘s philosophy, a little bit of the band history and his thoughts about the future.

First question is the thing I like to ask to all bands; which is the meaning of VOLA?

Well, the word itself means “to fly” in Italian, and that is why we took it. It is short, is easy to remember, and it sounds pretty neutral – you can’t guess from it which genre we play. In the chorus of our songs we try to create an atmosphere of elevation and make it as big as possible. This is something we want to share with the public not just with our name, but also with our music. We consider success if the public feels it.

I found a really nice statement in the Bio of VOLA website that is quite connected to what you have just said. ” […] is that the music can change the physical state you’re in. It’s not just sound reaching your ears. It’s a force of a larger scale. There is nothing like a big chorus that suddenly opens up and elevates your body to the point where it almost feels like you levitate from the floor”. You were talking about share something with the audience, but what is the most important for you: give them this feeling or prove it yourself while playing your music?

The main reason why we play is that we are the best in what we do; I grew up playing drums and then guitar, and it feels pretty natural to me writing my own songs. I was always surrounded by music, I listened a lot of The Beatles, from which I took the “pop-ish” melodies that you can listen in the VOLA style, and this is also why I am attracted to catchy choruses, and also I was really into Swedish bands as Messuggah, Soilwork and In Flames during my teens, from which the heaviness of our music is coming from. I put all these different influences of myself in my music, making VOLA capable to marry melodic and heavy stuffs, creating a balance that makes me feel right.

L'immagine può contenere: una o più persone e scarpe

Well, actually is pretty obvious for your fanbase that you guys are inspired by Messuggah, but is nice to hear from you that you took from such a classic as The Beatles are…

Yes, The Beatles is the main influence in this sense, but I also like Porcupine Tree, Pink Floyd and King Crimson, from a progressive point of view.

In 2018 you will release the new album. Can you give us some insights?

Last March we started to write the songs for the album and it will be recorded  in September. We liked the idea of having a more rock sound and bit less complex structures, and the rhythm is less Messuggah style. Guitars have less gain and drums are more organic, more natural, songs are a bit shorter…I need to say that there would be some important changes in this album respect to what we did in the past.

Why songs are shorter?

I don’ t know…even if I was influenced by Pink Floyd, that did exactly the opposite, sometimes I really appreciate the shortness. It is true that a long song can be seen as a long journey, however I like the idea to have shorter ones and more focused to one specific point.

VOLA was officially born in 2008. In these 10 years you have released 2 EPs and 1 album. Why your production is so small even if you really put efforts in making music?

VOLA is my main project but I also do some mixing and producing. I work for television and cinema and if I get the chance I would like be more involved in these businesses, but my biggest goal is to success with VOLA. We developed so much since the beginning, finding sound that points specific to us but at the same time is exploring new ways, making every album particular as itself. We still have a lot to experiment, and we can’t wait to do it.

ØKAPI

Økapi

In the pages of this webzine I sometimes struggle to define what music or art is. It is difficult to decide if a new idea to do music – completely different from the others that are already shared into the world – is just a ridiculous way to release something that can make people to talk about and raise interests, or is actually a new consistent  way to express one of the dimension in which we live. Still, there is not a right answer, and this is not the same for every one.

I follow the Filippo Paolini‘s Økapi project since 2014, and I admit I was admired about how he mixes sounds to create new concepts and sonority. With the release of his new album, Pardonne-moi, Olivier! I asked him to talk about his idea of music, trying to understand also how he sees his work. Because Filippo is a plagiarist, someone that puts samples together to creates new songs. If someone thinks that too easy to call him “artist” because is simply working as a “recording studio” dj, he has to read which frame of thoughts is behind the project, understanding how much is built behind his collection of sounds.

Hi Filippo, thanks a lot for your time here. One of the thing I liked since the beginning is the name you chose for the project, Økapi, a strange animal that lives in the forest and it looks like a weird zebra. I read from your bio that these animals use to clean their ears with the tongue, giving the clear message about producing and sharing “high quality music”, which is something we don’t see a lot in these years. I found the all story really interesting, but I would like to know how did you come up with this animal….are you a zoophilist?

I am not. The truth is every life being fascinates me – but I do not have any specific scientific study behind. Økapi is an artistic nickname that I have since from almost 20 years, but I do not remember exactly why I chose it nor the right moment in which I started to use it. The reason is probably the similarity with my music, and then the reason the animal was so interesting to me was the fact is a collage-animal: okapi is a mammal, not so good-looking, that belongs to the family of the giraffes, with the face of a mouflon, long tongue and big ears, with half horse-half zebra body. It seems a mythological creature, mainly loved because is getting more rare, and it is going to be extincted soon in the wild world. And I would like to remark this.

Still remaining of “cleaning ears” topic, how do you see the actual music panorama? And how to handle the zillion of projects available in internet, promoted by social media?

I was always an omnivore, musically speaking. I have always the music on, at my place or at work, and I am always searching new sounds that can surprise me and I can use. Still now I do not put so much effort on it. I do not agree with you, I believe we have a lot of “quality music”, especially around new generations that use just internet to share it. How find it then? Simply loosing into the different flows of this “ocean” of genres and sub-genres of sound creation, electronic or not. Internet modified the search and use of contents, creating an exponential and unrestrainable cultural fragmentation. I believe I improved my research method during the time but I recognize I have continuously to develop it.

pardon

The Aldo Kapi Orchestra is one of your projects and you are recently released Pardonne-moi, Olivier! How this album was born?

The Aldo Kapi Orchestra released the first double vinyl Love Him (by Illegal Art) and I had the pleasure to lead it as a real orchestra also in the full-length Opera Riparata. Tributo a Bruno Munari in 2012. I could not involve it also for the post-classic project Pardonne-moi, Olivier! 16 oiseaux pour Oliver Messiaen. With this project I manipulated the imaginary and poetic sound of Olivier Messiaen, french composer from the 20th Century, focusing on the ornithological-sound related part, so important for the artist. His “Bird’s catalogues” were the ideas to work on. Messiaen is well known because he wrote down different bird’s songs on music sheet. I often say it was a real challenge mainly because we have many stylistic differences. Messiaen was an hermetic and experimental composer, and personally I feel there is something emotionally imploded in his work, and quite difficult to understand. He composed music sometimes very spiritual, often painful and complex,  giving so little to the listener. Using my language, less thoughtful and with a “pop” simplicity, I tried to reflect and understand what makes the composition of this artist (that I have always admired) so valuable, amplifying some thematic and stylistic aspects. I don’t know if I have managed but I believe I gave my tribute to a character that deserves to be highlighted!

In Pardonne-moi, Olivier! the music is strictly connected to visual art, as live performances show. The main theme of the album is the ornithology and accordingly the flight. I would like to ask: did you choose this concept because you already had in mind to develop different art level at the same time, or during the analysis of Messiaen’s ideas you realized you needed a visual support in order to complete the experience?

My projects are born first on a sound level, but always with the urge to find a visual dimension. Once the sound composition is finished I searched in the moving images of Simone Memè the same direction. Something that could amplify and magnify the idea I talked before. The match with images was lucky. Simone was really a “partner in crime” for this part of the project. Who saw the live show can confirm.

Pardonne-moi, Olivier! was recorded with a “virtual” orchestra. Can you explain this concept, what does it mean for you and your music?

In every project I realized I involved the Aldo Kapi Orchestra, a virtual orchestra that is composed by musicians, more or less well known, from who I stole small samples and I shuffled them in new compositions. The Aldo Kapi Orchestra is an elegant way to quote them in the “credits” of an album or a show. I believe it is necessary and compulsory to do it, considering the fact that, when I composed, I actually steal something from them. I like also the idea that some names go out from the normal circuits of genre.

Pardonne-moi, Olivier!, in particular, counts the participation of two extraordinary musicians, involved specifically for the occasion: Mike Cooper and Geoff Leigh, that record their jam sessions on my tracks, as sound living-beings that I could manipulate and integrate in the overall context.

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“Plagiarist” is the term that is used to define you when you work under the Økapi project, that makes sense considering the fact that your music is made by putting samples together. How did you start this copy-and-paste idea to make music? Which value added you see respect to the original tracks?

I collect sounds since I started to do music, almost 30 years ago. From my side I did not generate one sound. It is funny for me to think that the artists that I plagiarized made for me easier the way I compose, as there was always someone working with me and for me! I do not think that this attitude is a value added to what I create. For sure I can tell you that this gave to my sound universe a particular color and a shape.

Looking the last releases, you shift from lounge music of Pruffoli to the experimental classic music of Pardonne-moi, Oliver! to the down-tempo of Happily Reversed. Your sound quickly evolves, but do you have a favorite sonority? How the inspiration starts for a new album, how does it influence you to evolve toward a genre?

When I start a project I don’t use a specific idea, even if sometimes happens to use a particular “concept” as starting point. For sure I don’t think at the beginning towards which public an album will be created for. The composition  will contextualize itself during its creation; this because I don’t choose samples in advance (except some rare cases, related to particular thematic) and then will be the mood of the period to drive me, with more or less awareness on what I do. In this way I obtain some open projects that shape themselves in very long periods. Every day, if I can, I choose what I want to work on respect to what I have in my head, especially when I don’t write music. The only thing remains always constant is my pleasure to mix styles, timbers and sound temperaments, to research the unheard!

 

UNSIGNED

Unsigned is an independent music label based in Budapest.

In featured image: Don’t Trump / Chillary – The Remixes EP available @ Unsigned Shop!
unsigned
Unsigned is an independent music label based in Budapest. Its Bandcamp platform contains about 50 proposals, and it is still massively growing to give a comprehensive overview of music that is worth to be listened. The label’s founder, Kálmán Pongrácz, is in fact working with the best sonority in the panorama, and becoming an important junction of the experimental Hungarian music.
How did you come up with the idea of creating an experimental music label?

I have been working with experimental music since 2002, as musician and organizer, running noise gigs in Budapest under the name Havizaj. On one hand, I needed to have an archive for the recordings I made here and, on the other hand, I was looking for a platform for my own music, so I did not have to give up on the rights that come with them.

Why such confusing name as Unsigned?

The Unsigned is a DIY [do it yourself] label, unofficial. It never wanted to be anything else, that is something I’m proud of.  It reflects its name.

One of the common line in the different artists’ music of your label is the complete abandon of the classic concept of composition or song. What do you think is so fascinating about it, and why do you think it fascinates also a public that, even small, is growing…

This sentence is a compliment for me. In fact, this question is often raised, and this is the reason why the I needed this kind of independent music channel. It is true that a moderate version of experimentation is penetrating into the mainstream pop culture today, but this approaching was never interesting for me.

How do you discover new sonority and which is the decision process you use in order to choose the best artists for your roster?

Although the label is a fully open channel, our motto is: if your band sounds like a lot of other bands, then please save you and us some time and do not get in touch with us. Luckily we often have a lot of interesting requests that we can take in consideration.

Your main sharing platform are Bandcamp and Facebook. Do you translate your online activity in something more concrete, as organizing events or going in different places to sell your music?

Yes, we are organizing concerts and we would like to present our label next year at the DIY trade fair in Budapest.

Unsigned is an Hungarian label. How is the scene in East Europe? Did it grow inside other extreme genres or it was born as a separate artistic culture?

This is a good question. Today I still don’t know exactly how unique the experimental music is in a country or even in a region. It was impossible to have such knowledge 20 years ago, but today it getting easier to get in contact with other realities, as the cyberspace breaks down the walls in between individualism.  And that’s good.

 

CRYO CHAMBER

We are always curious about how the artists realize their music, what they think about it or – more in general – how they see the world around us, and why they decide to express it. The point is, they are not the only that do this job. We always forget about the  people that, with their passion, search the best music projects around, they support them and they share it in the best way they can, often without receive anything back. These people work as booking agents but also as owner of distribution channels or labels.

Let’s start then with a series of interviews of some of these people, to see which is their point of view and why they put efforts and space on their channel for music they believe should be share with the rest of the world. First one on the list is Cryo Chamber, a label found by Simon Heath, mind of the dark ambient project Atrium Carceri.

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Let’s start from the beginning. It was 2011 and the label of your solo project, Atrium Carceri, was not able to support you anymore and you had the idea of Cryo Chamber. Creating something like this requires some efforts, so I would like to ask if you searched an alternative label before, or did you just feel the urgency to have a label that reflected exactly the purpose of your music?

I was a bit tired of the shock value focus that was so common in my scene, so I searched for a creative space with like minded artists where we could focus on the atmospheric instead. The answer was to start it myself, a label where artists could work together by helping each other with creative and technological hurdles and to interweave parts of our mythoses between projects.

You describe your label as Cinematic Dark Ambient. Can you explain what means to you this definition, and which role you believe has this type of music in the industry? Which meaning, or message, has for its public?

It’s based on an idea of soundtracks to unwritten movies. The concept and narrative has center stage in this music, unlike other genres we aren’t expressing ourselves so much as creating soundscapes that are meant to move the listeners by it’s immersive quality and atmospheric focus alone. We plan in advance a lot on how to structure scenes and write the narrative for the scenes within the music so we end up more as directors than actors, or composers more than instrumentalists. Questions that arise in the studio makes this separation obvious. What do the sounds represent in the sonic space? What is a passage telling us about the environment? What is the narrative within a scene?

“We believe it to be the future of not only our scene, but the music industry as a Whole”. In particular, which kind of dynamics do you see in the music industry for the future, especially for the underground one?

I think that depends a lot on how the economy of the internet moves forward and if we lose net neutrality. Big media networks will always strive for a monopoly, the music industry is no different.

We are in the digitization Era and Internet heavily modified our music fruition. Does it make any sense to put energy in an old-fashioned institution as a label, especially when profit are limited?

For most creative work profits as a bonus instead of as a primary goal tends to work out better in the long run.

The music of your label is quite epic and ritualistic, and influences from soundtracks are easily found. What do you really like about this sound?  Do you think that in the future can be abandoned by your label in favor of other proposals/genres , or it will be simple integrated in a bigger picture?

Most of us artists on the label are huge movie buffs and avid OST collectors and listeners, so influences from soundtracks are definitely big. Personally I like the idea of building other worlds brick by brick, I’ve been doing it all my life. Scribbling in notebooks, building mythoses, writing down lucid dreams or psychedelic trip reports. The label sound has kept growing towards the fringes for awhile so stay tuned to see what’s around the next corner.