Interview: Elena Savlokhova
Photo: Marie Staggat
Get 'Recon Mission' here.
Every person has a void deep inside. How would you describe yours?
Not so deep as it used to be. I’m quite content with where I’m at in life and the trial tribulations that got me to be where I’m at. I’m near a half a century old in three years. Though I still feel very young at heart and am always eager to push my sound forward, I still feel completely satisfied to have had a great career doing what I love.
What is the best compliment you’ve ever received?
I can’t narrow it down to one or even ten. Anytime someone supports my music and comments about it positively – that is a great compliment to me.
You’ve mentioned in your recent interviews how throughout the decades you’ve observed the issue of people going to parties for the sake of parties, of how the public was not necessarily present for the music itself. How do you perceive the situation nowadays, in the era of instant gratification, over saturation, and exaggerated hype?
Well it’s the same as always, a party will always be a party and there will always be people at the party there just to party, who are not necessarily there for the artists playing. It’s unescapable but I find it more of an issue at events that aren’t well curated. When an event is curated well and the artists fit altogether, you’ll find it much more full with the true music.
You’ve said that you stay up to date with current affairs and that you see the overall tendency as ‘grim’. How do you think society fails itself and do you think anything could ever be done about it?
Society fails itself because of human nature. As long as hate is a human emotion we will never live in a utopian society. Mix hate with the power obsessive who want to control others and there you have every war ever started since the beginning of mankind.
Is there something you don’t like about yourself?
Yes, as someone once put it, I’m always in a rush to be nowhere quick. With being prompt comes the anxiety of being on time, which makes a very stress me. Haha. The upside to that is I’ve never missed a flight in 28 years of flying!
You say that you enjoy the feeling of the post-apocalyptic – the scenery of industrial ruins and the aspect of loneliness associated with it. Is it a space for you to escape yourself, or on the contrary – to discover yourself?
I grew up in NYC in the 80’s when the city was very dystopian. When wide spread areas looked like Berlin 1945 after Russia and the Allies nearly blew Berlin off the map. As a youth I loved to venture solo into these areas on the elevated subway while looking for graffiti art on trains to photograph. I’m part nostalgic with my lure to it but I also find such places spiritual in a reflective way.
What is the most valuable lesson your parents have taught you?
Stand up for yourself, and don’t take shit from no one. Do unto others as you want done unto yourself.
Your commitment to your vision and not breaking under the pressure of the industry during the minimal techno phase is admiring. Were you ever on the verge of compromising and giving up, or was sticking to your beliefs and staying true to yourself always easy for you?
I’m not a quitter when I believe in something very strongly, so no I never thought about giving up or compromising. Staying true to my beliefs is easy as counting 1,2,3 and I’ll never sell my soul for money or fame.
What’s the best thing about getting older?
Becoming wiser from the many life experiences I’ve had.
What were some of the most bizarre rumors you’ve heard about yourself?
I honestly can’t think of any rumors off the top of my head let alone bizarre one’s.
Could you share more about your photography? Were you only documenting graffiti when you were actively involved and were drawing personally, or is it something you’ve always been doing? Did you ever consider publishing or exhibiting your photo collection?
I’m still heavily photographing graffiti on trains in Berlin and other cities around the globe I travel to where I know it’s existing. I am not much into shooting photography of graffiti on walls. Walls bore me, graffiti is most alive when its on trains. It’s all about the moment with paintings on a train, you have seconds to make a perfect shot with a nice landscape in the background. If you screw it up you will normally wait hours for it to return and by then the lighting will not be as good or maybe the train itself never returns as paintings often get cleaned within of hours of it being done.
I do plan to make not one but two books. My vision is to make one book purely as a coffee table photography book and the second more in written form, an autobiography of the many train painting, exploration & reconnaissance missions I’ve gone on dating back to my inception to this subculture in 1984.
Following up on your times as a graffiti artist and as an ‘adrenaline junkie’, could you share the most memorable and bizarre story from those times?
One time many years ago we were deep in a train tunnel checking out a parked subway in an attempt to paint it. Suddenly a cop jumped out from behind a wall in the tunnel pointing a loaded gun at us telling us to “Freeze”. We didn’t comply and instead ran under the parked trains, climbing unto a catwalk and then running down it through a labyrinth of tunnels. After a several minute run we exited out of the network of tunnels running over the Manhattan Bridge in -20centigrade temperature into Brooklyn. It was quite an exhilarating chase to say the least.
What is the best gig you’ve ever attended as part of an audience? Could you describe the experience?
My top experience was at Energy Rave 1993 inside a soccer stadium in Zurich, Switzerland. I had just finished djing , Aphex Twin came on after me and the 20,000 person stadium darkened as Aphex opened up with the still unreleased “Garden Of Liminiri”. It was the first time I had been to a techno event that was around 5,000 people and that in itself was overwhelming. Then the screeching early industrial sound of Aphex Twin ignited the arena on fire leaving an unforgettable and very cherished music moment in all my years.
In your opinion, why are some artists so against the digitization process? Why is technology often seen as ‘lazy’ and taken for granted, instead of being celebrated as a marvel of the 21st century? What is your own take on the digital?
For starters, I love digital. I have fully embraced working digitally in production since 2005. I was an analog hardware head for the previous 14 years. I found working with a program like Ableton opened the door to a much more infinite world of sound design. Last decade when many were transitioning to all digital setups a few refused to switch. I found that most were just afraid of the learning curve that came with learning new technology. Kind of like the old proverb “You can’t teach and old dog, new tricks”. The only downside to digital for me is that most people in this age consume music without owning it as a physical product. As an artist I have a desire to have my music be acquired with visual artwork to be held in hand. At the same time I’m hypocritical because I love djing music digitally. It’s nice to be able to travel free of heavy luggage to play gigs and also to be able to find the next song you choose to play in a second.
Your first solo record ‘Listen’ was released in 1991, and for someone who was born the same year – it still sounds soul-stirring and relevant. Putting modesty aside, how do you perceive the input you’ve made in the scene over the course of your career? Is there something you feel most proud of?
I’m most proud of being one of being one of the main pioneers in combining EBM and Industrial music with techno nearly a decade before the sound took off in techno. I would like to be most remembered musically in my career for this. Along with that I take a lot of pride in introducing the techno scene to the people of NYC along.
Out of all the artists you’ve met or worked with, who struck you the most in terms of personality?
I can’t narrow it down to one person. I am very close friends with Orphx, Rhys Fulber, Monolith, Blush Response, Henning Baer, Ron Morelli, Antennes. I won’t choose one over the other. They’re all my close people.
What is your personal mission with the new album Recon Mission and what message do you want to unravel to humanity?
The personal mission is to step up my game in sound design and production and to bring techno further into the future.
What was the most challenging part in the process of creating the album?
The running order and making a cohesive album that flows from start to finish. I ran into a problem at the end of recording and that was finding the right running order. I wound up cutting one song off the release and recording a new one because I felt it was impeding the flow of the album.
Why is the concept of dystopia at times so paradoxically alluring?
I make music a lot of the time that fits my surroundings, current events and situations I grew up around that molded me into the person I am today. I don’t sit and think to make something dystopic. I grew up in NYC prior to this century when it was very bleak and dystopian. So clearly that has had an effect on me as an artist but my music is also very science fiction-oriented among other themes.