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Interview with Minilogue

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For years fans of electronic music have been worshipping the works of Swedish duo Minilogue. After releases on Traum, Crosstown Rebels and Wagon Repair, the musicians moved on to Cocoon Recordings (label of legendary Sven Vath, Germany) with a new album. “Animals” tracks include variety of styles – from uncompromising techno to deep ambient. If you want to listen it all – you will have to buy a double CD, since the vinyl release includes mostly dance stuff. “Animals” is not a compilation of individual tracks. It’s a journey into the world of sounds which must be done from start to finish, in a smooth harmonious flow.

Sebastian kindly agreed for an interview, and I decided not to miss a chance to communicate with this undoubtedly interesting artist. After listening to some background noises for two minutes, I finally get Sebastian pause his tasks and get on the phone, and so we start.

DM – Denis Mysenko of SpicyBass
Sebastian – Sebastian Mullaert of Minilogue

DM: Hi, Sebastian! You and Marcus recently released an album on the Sven Vath’s imprint (Cocoon). What do your friends and colleagues say about it?
Sebastian: There’s both good and bad reviews. In general, many are happy with what we do, that album includes such a variety of genres – there are many different feelings in the tracks. People like variety. When a critic does not like a certain style – then we know what reviews to expect.

DM: Another Swede, Agaric moved from Malmö to Berlin to get closer to the scene. He believes that it’s very hard to do music in Sweden because of the many bureaucratic restrictions from the government. And you decided to stay in Malmo forever?
Sebastian: It depends on what do you want to do with your life. If you want to be in the center of parties and nightlife, then Sweden, of course, is not the best choice – Berlin is much better. Me and Marcus go on tour every week so we have enough gigs in our life. When we have a free weekend – we are happy to relax here. I love to stay in calmness, to chill out in Malmo. The main difference between Berlin and Malmo is that life in Berlin is more intense. As for me, it’s too much stress – everyone wants to become somebody special, people fight with each other for career, for social status.

DM: On April 4th this year you played at Sven Vath’s club in Frankfurt – “Cocoon”. On the very next day there was one of the world’s biggest techno raves – Time Warp, held in Mannheim, just around Frankfurt. Did you stay for the gig?
Sebastian: I didn’t but Marcus stayed. I had other plans. There were many good artists but the event itself – it’s not my taste. Crowded, impossible to move around. I prefer gigs in small clubs. Once you visit plenty of raves, you values and preferences change.

DM: In July you are performing in Germany at “Love Family Park” – a techno open-air from the organizers of Time Warp. The line-up is full of biggest stars of the genre – Hawtin, Villalobos, Loco Dice, Marco Carola, Magda, etc. It’s not so easy to “shine” in such a company! How are you going to surprise the audience, to make your set distinguishable?
Sebastian: Interesting question. In the beginning of musical career you just do what you like. And then, once you become famous, you actually get influenced by people. You begin to doubt your own work, to compare yourself with others. I think it is a common phenomenon. And we with Marcus were not an exception, and therefore there was a risk of losing our own face, our own style. When we started playing at major events, we realized that even though we are under influence, we love what we do. We do not need as much attention as goes to Richie Hawtin or Villalobos – we have our own personal mission. We are trying to develop something unique. When we go to a party with such heavy line-up and the audience doesn’t enjoy our music – we consider that we do not fit the event as artists, our music doesn’t fit. Our live sets are quite powerful with a lot of improvisation. You won’t hear individual tracks, and we use heaps of different devices. Everything happens spontaneously – new tracks are born on the stage. I believe people who love deep sounds in house and techno find our performances very interesting – our sets develop together with dance floor, in harmony.

DM: This summer you are playing in Ibiza – Sven Vath’s “Disco Invaders” party at Amnesia. Is this gonna be your debut on Spanish island?
Sebastian: Yes, this will be our first time in Ibiza. I’m glad we’re playing at the end of the season, because in July and August there are too many people. We play together with Ricardo and other highly respected artists.

DM: Tell me about your worst and your best parties?
Sebastian: Ha-ha! One of favourite festivals is “Labyrinth” in Japan. We play there almost every year. German “Fusion” is really great also. Regarding club gigs – we had too many great parties to name one particular. And the worst – that was in Greece, a terrible event, terrible promoters. Also there waas a festival in Sweden back in 1999, we performed as Son Kite. Festival featured plenty of different styles. We played five minutes and left the stage.

DM: In the world of minimal techno there is a lot of hype recently around the Romanian stars – Raresh, Rhadoo, etc. Who does impress you nowadays?
Sebastian: Actually I also like what they do. Anyway, it’s Marcus who buys dance records. I myself mostly buy non-dancing stuff. I believe that musical genres suffer from, they get harmed by low quality plagiarism and copies. But Villalobos, for example, is doing something new all the time.

DM: What equipment do you use for live performances? And what software do you use in your studio in Malmo?
Sebastian: We both have our own sets of equipment. The core ingredient is Ableton Live and a Allen & Heath 3D mixer. Then we add drum machines, various effectors, midi controllers, filters – just 3D is not enough for us. We use Ableton Live exclusively to play audio clips which gives us a possibility to start any piece at any time, layer something on top, loop, etc – even create a new track. In the studio we use Logic simply because we are used to it. We are not cool enough in Ableton Live to produce in it. We have a lot of equipment in the studio since we do not use software synthesizers. Our computers play role of samplers only, and even if we use computers – there is always a MIDI keyboard attached. Then, Logic plays role of audio recorder – we record a 10-20 minute session, and then crop it – trying to find something interesting inside. You can say any software is good for us.

DM: How did you come up with Minilogue name? Moreover, your other project Son Kite has an album with the same title – “Minilogue”. What is Minilogue? Monologue misspelled?
Sebastian: Minilogue is minimal + dialogue. It means, we are having a dialogue with people through our minimal music.

DM: You’ve got many great producers in Sweden – Adam Beyer, Joel Mull, Cari Lekebusch to name a few. Do you stay in contact with any of your Swedish colleagues? I noticed you never remixed tracks of Swedish artists.
Sebastian: The techno scene of Sweden is divided into cities – we have artists from Stockholm and we have artists from Malmo. There is no conflict or fight between the cities, but both parts are clearly isolated. I think that in Malmö creative people are closer in spirit to Copenhagen and Berlin rather than to Stockholm. We do not have friendly relations with any Swedish producer except Headroom (Patrik Skoog or “Agaric”).

DM: How do you usually write a new track – first an idea appears in your head and then you jump to your computer and try to reproduce it?
Sebastian: We love to jam because in this case both sides of the brain work. People mostly use only one side of the brain – the one responsible for logic, for rational thinking, and that’s how they lose sensuality and emotions. If you take a good look at modern music – you will see that most of electronic tunes are made logically with the rational thought being the basis. Producers were kind of counting the meters (bars). Here we go – a 32th bar, so something has to be inserted, something has to happen! We are trying to avoid rational composing. Our method is to prepare the track elements and samples first, then turn off your brains and arrange/play these elements without any thinking. We assign different audio clips to different MIDI controllers so that we can use knobs, play live. We dance in our studio and we feel when the right moment comes! And when you sit near your PC and think while writing a track – you’re losing this special feeling, you’re losing connection with music.

DM: And how do you develop the left side of your brain?
Sebastian: I read a lot on this subject. One good way is to learn to feel the art, actively feel the music. Dance is a perfect method for that – you dance and interpret the music with your brain simultaneously. Or simply take a book and let your brain generate some pictures in your mind. Or just listen to music. I’d love to try meditation or yoga but I’ve got troubles with time. I think it’s especially important in modern days since the society around us is constantly storming us with signals and pulses – so it would be so great stay alone with own thoughts from time to time.

DM: When you still did trance, you had a couple of your own labels. Once you moved to techno you released only one LP on your own label “Visual” (which closed long time ago anyway). Why so? You don’t want to distract yourself from music with financial and organizational issues?
Sebastian: Yes, exactly. However, we do have a little label of our own – it’s useful because your own label grants you more freedom. For instance, you wish to make a an experimental tune and you give it to another label – the label owners will be afraid to release it since it’s not clear whether the sales are gonna be good. Therefore, if you do not demand big bucks and you do want more creativity – your own label would be very useful. Our little Minilogue imprint has already released two 10-inch vinyls, both in limited edition. We are releasing only our own music, because, as you mentioned, if we start releasing other producers – there will be financial and organizational issues. When it’s your own music – you do not risk to spoil somebody’s label or business.

DM: I’m sure you know that vinyl record sales are going down around the world. Are you still buying records yourself?
Sebastian: Yes, we buy a lot! I mostly go for jazz and dub. Marcus gets mostly club music.

DM: Once upon a time in an interview you said that you spend 8-9 hours a day making music. What’s the situation with other hobbies and interests?
Sebastian: In our spare time we listen to music, haha. Or read music magazines. Work hours – we write music. So it seems even our free time goes to music, just a different activity. We don’t have any time left for any hobbies. Sometimes we watch movies or read books though. I like David Lynch – his films are strange, with subtle messages. When I first saw “Malholland Drive”, I was so inspired – I ran to studio to write some music. I can even explain what happened – it just triggered something inside me. “Princess Mononoke” – a very interesting manga. “Adaptation”. “Eternal Sunshine of the Spotless Mind”. I don’t watch TV at all – it’s all nonsense, silly waste of time. If you do not want to create anything – that’s your perfect way to waste the whole day.

DM: How do you divide the work while making music? Surely, you have developed a certain approach, how to distribute tasks?
Sebastian: We have been working together since a very long time ago, and we learned from each other a lot. Marcus found many of our best sounds. If I were in his place, I would reject those sounds since they don’t sound proper. It’s like spending time with children: sometimes you see there are other approaches, not only the way you’re used to. When you write music with other people, it is very interesting to see how they are doing apparently incredible things.

DM: Vinyl market had a fairly simple structure, it was centralized – a small number of large distributors, small number of online stores. Internet market will be much more decentralized, oversaturated with labels and music – nowadays anyone can open an online record label in 5 minutes. Don’t you think it’s gonna be harder for popular artists to maintain their big names in such informational storm?
Sebastian: No. Online distribution is a very interesting approach, and I fully support the idea. Indeed – why spend a fortune on printing and distribution when the client can get their product cheaper. With vinyl production, people who have no relation to music earn money. Also, do not forget about the environment – about the harm caused by production. MP3 is much greener, and in the future I am sure I’ll be buying digital only. It’s against the nature – the production and transportation of physical records when it’s not necessary at all. Regarding the dangers of the new era – I think that the centralization of the market will become even greater. Many people complained in the past that customers are going to buy MP3 and immediately start distributing them free of charge, but I do not see that happening in reality. Today there are several serious online shops in the market with sophisticated engines providing comfort and extremely useful features, so it becomes more convenient for clients to buy music rather than to download illegally. If the same album of Minilogue is already on LimeWire – why should I pay for it at Juno? It’s the same files, they are identical. When you buy a blank CD and burn some pirate music to it, the difference with a legal copy is the beautiful cover, print on the CD, etc. In case of MP3 – both products are equivalent. Then why waste your money? But no, it’s not as simple as that. Take for instance BeatPort that focuses on dance music for DJs. What does BeatPort provide, that is not available with pirate sources? BeatPort provides automatic notification about new releases, convenient search, latest news, plenty of charts – this is exactly the value-adding service of the online shop. And these features help to maintain the client, not the product (music) itself. The only problem here is that it’s very expensive. I doubt that many sites can afford a platform like BeatPort. In dance music certainly no one can compete with them.

BeatPort is, of course, open to all labels – anyone can just upload a file and start selling it  immediately. And join an army of another 1000 labels from around the world – while the number of customers remains the same, with the same amount of money. Therefore, there will always be people who help the customer decide what he wants to buy. At BeatPort, for example, this function is implemented through advertising and charts. No one knows how the charts work actually – there is a possibility that administrators adjust them to stimulate sales of certain releases. As for the distribution market, in case of traditional record stores, despite the bankruptcy of many, there is still plenty of open shops and they open their doors to hundreds of buyers, while in Internet it’s only one outlet – BeatPort, there are no competitors.
Online sales is a good thing in general, you don’t have to be a millionaire to run a cool label. There are no risks, you can produce something quite strange. Yet sometimes it’s useful to make you wonder: Why am I releasing this track – to make money or to show the audience interesting music? Many people do ask themselves this question, because of their love for music, but I’m afraid soon producers will stop doing that.

DM: So how will people choose music to buy?
Sebastian: Somebody will help people to choose. Previously it was done by distributors and stores – they played role of the filters on the way to the counter. When you see thousands of different releases in front of you, the media gets a much higher role – stores and media will have to unite. For example, you create create an online magazine and there is a section of music reviews. It’s very logical to put an “Add to cart” link near each review. So it seems that all the power will be in hands of media!

DM: Describe your perfect party.
Sebastian: It’s an open-air. A lot of greenery around, a small lake, beautiful trees, audience – somewhere between 700 and 1000, different people – young and old, including families. Music should range from no-beat ambient to techno, and then back to ambient.

DM: What disc would you take on a desert island?
Sebastian: It can be only one release – Shank “Do”.

Note: Interview was taken back in 2008 but was never published in English.

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