Interview, photo: Polina Belehhova
OAKE performs live as a duo.
OAKE also DJs as single person.
[In conversation with Eric]
How to survive in the nightlife?
Seba and my friends bought me a blender to make myself smoothies. I can just put all the vegetables and fruits that I have in there and drink a big shake every morning. It makes me feel great – you’ve done something good for your body. I think eating healthy is really important.
Do you prefer to stay alone after a night out or would you rather spend time with friends?
I like to wind down, sleep in, sit on the couch and do something completely useless. Friends are always welcome.
What excites you the most in what you do?
The travel part. When I play with Seba, my partner, we always talk about how amazing it is to see so many different parts of the world, to be invited by people that you don’t know and then to meet them, to make new connections, new friendships.
How often do you actually get to explore these new places?
We try to take a few days on top of the gig if we can, if work allows it. It’s not possible all the time, but when it is – it’s really worth it.
What is the essence of OAKE and its metaphysical reality?
The thing with OAKE, we never started it as a serious thing. It was always about simply doing what we wanted to do without thinking about pleasing an audience. We record sounds that turn into tracks that might be released if we like them. We don’t really give a shit about what others think of what we are doing. It was a big surprise when this whole thing started, because we initially did it for fun, as a little side project. A friend of mine, who I work with, was together with Regis, she was his girlfriend, and I always asked her for his records. At one point she asked if I was doing music as well, so I showed her some stuff, she forwarded it to him, and he loved it. It was all very experimental at the start and then it just became something we could take more serious. The essence of OAKE is just a very private way of making music for ourselves.
You say that you don’t hold an objective of pleasing people, so is there an element of displeasing people?
That’s a good question, because our first live shows were always about trying to figure out how can we make an experience sort of like a ‘car crash’ that you have to look at, but you don’t want to look at. The best compliment that we’ve got after a gig was from a friend who said: “Your bass made me sick, I had to vomit, it was too much for me”. For me, the world opened up at that moment, when he said that. It was exactly what we wanted to do – to put people into uncomfortable places.
A sadistic approach.
Yes. A little bit haha.
Your music has a very powerful psychological effect on people. What psychological state are you in when you create it?
Usually, time in the studio is very valuable, because we both have full time jobs. When you enter the studio, you close the door to the outside world and it’s really nice to do so. I think I wrote all the music that we put out during the wintertime, when Berlin gets really grey and really depressing. I wouldn’t call it a depressed state of mind, but it’s definitely not a happy place. It’s just something to cope with when nothing is happening outside: nothing is colourful, nice, or appealing to you. You go into the studio and you take the surrounding negative energy and you try to use it as much as you can. But you’re not trying to transform it into something good, it’s more like taking that dark energy and trying to channel the good parts of it. The last EP [Sentiment Of Callousness], that’s coming out now, was a long time thing for me, it was personal, and I was in a no good state at all. I think you can hear it in the sound, but it’s never been a state where I thought I’m really dark – I’m not like the music we make. People always get surprised when they meet us and find us to be actually quite fun. We’re not so serious and we don’t want to be. The more serious the music is – the more relaxed you can be as a person. It works as a filter: all the negativity comes out of you naturally, you become free as a person.
Do you get back into that state when you listen to your music?
No. I am the one who mainly produces the music in the studio, and once I have the ideas, I show them to Seba and ask her what else can we do. She is my consultant in that phase. Afterwards we get together to record her. In this consultancy phase, where everything is in a draft state, I listen to the music so many times. When I leave the studio, I put the music on an SD card that I can listen to in the car, then I listen to it at home, at work, at home again – I listen to it constantly. Before a track is released I probably had listened to it 200-300 times outside of the studio, so you kind of become numb to the initial state you were in when you made it. You take mental notes about what can be changed, whether you like it or not, and it sort of becomes a disconnection from the space, time and mood when it originated. Sometimes I begin to hate it and just trash it. Or you end up recycling it and just strip it down for parts that you like and start something new. A song usually has 10-20 versions before it’s final, and each version is completely different.
What are some of the obstacles you face in the process of creating music?
Time is the biggest obstacle. I work for Native Instruments – a software company in Berlin for synthesizers, effects etc. It takes a lot of time and of course on the weekends you want to see your family and friends. In the past few months I’ve been to the studio 3 times working on one remix. I keep getting asked when I’m going to finish it but I simply don’t have enough time to go into the studio. It puts you under pressure when you’re in the studio, you should value the time that you’re in there, but if time is so rare then you feel as if you lack the freedom to try stuff out and to improvise. All you think about is the final result, yet this ‘result’ way of thinking can be an obstacle.
What affects your creativity the most?
Just sound itself. When we make music I sometimes have an idea in my head but it’s usually not until I play my first note, until i patch up my first synthesizer, until I get to the first kick drum – only then that I get inspired and creative. As soon as I hear something, the creativity just starts flowing, I start to hear other things on top of it. The more complex it gets – the more I hear. The biggest part about being creative is just to try things, not to overthink and not to wait for anything to happen on its own. But it’s also about patience. It’s not like I have a recipe where I drink 5 beers and smoke 4 joints to get creative. But this might help haha.
What is the enemy of creativity?
I think the enemy is just a thought. Actually, there are two things in making music, for me. In the creative process, the enemy is the thought, when you think too much into it and get too scientific and surgical about it. It ends up destroying the entire creative process. If you work on a track and get lost in six hours tweaking one kick-drum – that most likely will need loads of retouching when the other bits of the track are coming together anyways. The creativity was being killed by your internal scientific approach of making one isolated thing sound amazing, putting you in a state of mind where creativity can not flow. I really try to avoid this. But then there is this second stage, where you actually analyze what you’ve done. It’s a creative process in itself, because you think about the tools that you’re going to use, where you want to take it, but it’s a different approach. I think in that sense, the energy changes in that second part, I don’t know what it changes into though. So to summarize, the first enemy is the thought and the second enemy would be… What could be the enemy there?
That’s a good one, yes. Or maybe laziness.
What topics or things fascinate you the most currently?
I think it’s this whole debate about women and how they are treated, about this whole #metoo campaign, all these women speaking up. I think ‘fascinate’ is actually the right word. Since this whole thing came up I’ve been talking to Seba about it and I’ve been thinking about it myself, looking at myself, how I behaved in the past, how I behaved with friends. I’ve been talking to my guy friends as well and we realised that we’ve never discussed this issue at all. It’s been so normal to ignore it. When you think about it, it’s so sad. You actually have friends, that were maybe drunk in a club and might have approached a girl and grabbed her ass or something, but you’re just ‘ah, he’s just drunk’. You make excuses for this behaviour, you normalize it, you don’t think about what is done, you don’t think about the woman, whose personal space was invaded. It just fascinates me how this whole thought process is getting started right now and how people that I meet are talking about it and are really open to talk about it now. I hope it’s not just a topic that will exist for a short period of time: it’s always been there but no one spoke about it. It’s like at first people said the Earth is flat and now it’s round. Of course, it’s round. Sorry to all the ‘Earth is flat’ guys. For me, both things are so obvious, but it wasn’t there until somebody pointed it out on a bigger scale. Now it’s finally being intact somehow and I hope this will start an actual change. Another thing what fascinates me is just what is going on in the world: this whole nationalism thing. I don’t know why people want to split apart from one another, we’re supposed to be one, we’re supposed to come together. Even with my parents we have these discussions, we really get into big fights about this sometimes.
Maybe it’s a matter of education and there is not enough light on the matter.
Also experience. My parents grew up in the GDR, they couldn’t travel the way we do today when they were younger, they couldn’t meet other people from all around the world as easily as we can today, they couldn’t do what I’m doing, what you’re doing – playing in London and then in Paris, followed by Georgia. I think being robbed of this experience, not having that, living in a smaller more defined world, can invite thoughts of separation much quicker into your life.
What film, existing or non-existing, do you associate your music with?
It’s funny because people always say: “Oh you should make film music”.
Would you agree? Do you feel inclined to the idea?
Yes, every song is only done when I have a story in my head, when I play an idea to Seba, I always say ‘let’s do something on it’. For our first EP I had an idea of this girl just running through the woods, seeing all these faces in the trees, and hearing these noises – a Blair Witch Project kind of vibe. Only if I see a story like this happening in a track I know it’s done. But to say what film it would fit… I don’t know. It could be any film, I think it should be the film that happens in your head when you listen to the music. I hope when somebody listens to it, they see something, and that’s their film right there.
It wouldn’t be something like “American Pie”, right?
No, it definitely wouldn’t be a comedy. Maybe and art house movie, a thriller, a drama, a horror flick, sometimes an action film even. I believe there’s enough room for different genres. The question should be what film I don’t associate with our music. Then the answer would be “American Pie”.
What was the last film you’ve watched that impressed you?
I watched so many films lately. I watched ‘Blindness’ (2008) just a few days ago with Julianne Moore. It’s about people who are just getting blind, instead of everything being black, everything is white, and since this blindness is contagious, these people are locked up somewhere. It was really uncomfortable to watch, it showed humanity in a really nasty way. I also watched a German movie called “Toni Erdmann” and I always make fun of German actors, that they’re not good, but Sandra Hüller played her role so amazingly well. She played a consultant that works for a company like McKinsey and her father is and old hippie type of dude, a quiet strange character actually, that doesn’t really see to know much about her. His dog dies and he decides to visits her in Bucharest, where she works – after an awkward few days both part ways in a very strange way, but her father doesn’t leave town and comes back as Toni Erdmann, who enters her business world. He basically makes her life very hard, but also helps her and himself to get closer together again. The film looked very simplistic: no special effects, nothing fancy, just a camera showing human interaction. It was really powerful to see it. I was impressed for it being a German movie, usually I don’t like German movies much.
What is something you think everyone should do at least once in their lives?
Jump out of a plane.
With or without a parachute?
Everyone can decide for themselves haha. I did it myself and it felt amazing. It felt as if I was on drugs three days afterwards because of the adrenaline rush. I gave it as a birthday gift to Seba. She’s afraid of heights, hence I wasn’t sure how the present would go down, so I didn’t tell her anything. I woke up at 6 in the morning on her birthday and just told her we had to go somewhere. We came to the airfield and I told her that she’s going to jump out of the plane. She was completely shocked. She also told me that if I would’ve told her before, she wouldn’t have done it, but since she was already there on the spot, she had to. She also said that it was the most amazing thing for her.
What book would you recommend and why?
Robert Lanza “Biocentrism: How Life and Consciousness are the Keys to Understanding the True Nature of the Universe”. He’s one of the leading scientists in the field of cloning. In this book, he describes his idea of the universe, where he explains why the Big Bang is not an answer to our question of where we came from. He also explains why religion is not really an answer to the questions that we have. He discusses these questions from the perspective of you, as an observer, you are the one who creates everything around you – consciousness is the creator of the universe. The universe can only exist with consciousness. I didn’t really understand everything, because I read it in english, and there are two books, I read them both really quickly, I have to read them again. They definitely sparked some thoughts within myself that I didn’t have before: looking at life, looking at religion, looking at science, in a different way. I can’t say I completely agree with it, but it’s definitely a really good notch for you as a human being, both for your views and your life as a whole.
What is fucked about the world of today?
Too many things – it’s just how we treat the world as human beings. It’s like humanity is some sort of virus that is killing its host: just how we exploit this planet that we’re living on, how we’re killing species, how we’re putting the human race above everything else. It’s saddening to see. The worst part is that when I say this, I know I’m one of these people that are contributing to this destruction: I’m driving a car, I’m flying in planes, sometimes I eat meat. But to take this for granted and not to think about what we’re actually doing to our planet is really concerning me. This is fucked up and we need to develop a better understanding of what we could do and should be able to do. I still think there is a lot of hope. It’s a stupid example regarding politicians, but take for instance how Donald Trump, being president, can deny climate change – things like these that we keep ignoring. There were a lot of bad storms in Berlin in the past few months, storms that have never been that strong. You can’t tell me that it’s just a coincidence, because it’s not. It’s all man-made and it’s all born from the ignorance of how we treat this world, and even the people of this world. We’re so stuck in the system that if you would want to live a clean conscious life, then you would have to give up on so many things that you’re accustomed to, it seems almost impossible, even in terms of your career. The system is such, that we exploit the world and we exploit others.
Do you think we are witnessing the loneliest generation this world has ever seen?
I don’t think so. I immediately thought of the social media issue – people are more connected to others via their phone. They are alone but they access others through this little device in their hand. Could it be a part of loneliness? I’m not sure. I don’t think we are lonely, it’s not different than how things were a long time ago. Yet I think it’s easier to have meaningless relationships nowadays, which then could lead to that. Maybe you don’t feel lonely, you just don’t feel whole.
Is there a duality in you?
I’m full of contradictions. I can think one thing and then do the complete opposite in the following minute. I don’t think I can call this duality, but there are more sides to things. There are a lot of things that don’t make sense that I still have to figure out for myself.
Do these contradictions fight each other or they work together in harmony?
It’s both ways. Sometimes I really want to do something that I don’t end up doing because I simply failed to do so. It happens to me quite regularly, I realize that it’s happening, which is a good thing I guess, but I still don’t know why. I follow impulses in the end. For example, you want to save some money, but then you come to Paris and spend 16 euros on a pizza that is really shit haha.
What absurd and useless piece of information can you share with us?
My dog really loves dental sticks before she goes to bed. Her name is Alaska. She’s a mix of a Pinscher, Jack Russell and dachshund, the sausage dog. Every time when we sit at home at night and just move a tiny bit on the couch, she will take off and just run to the bed and do all sorts of tricks because she’s expecting to get her good night Dentastix.
If falling in love would be something you can see, what would it look like?
Are you serious? Haha.
Show us your romantic side.
When I thought about it, I saw a round pink sphere that was really soft, like a really nice cashmere sweater, really fluffy, really warm. When you touch it, your hand just goes inside and you have this warmth that you feel, you immediately want to put your face on it as well: just this round ball of amazingness. You can fall into it, you can hug it, you can lay on it. If it gets annoying you can just put it in the corner, to discover it again when you need it.
What do you hope never changes?
I can think of it in two ways. One is what I hope never changes about me, as a person, it’s a very egocentric answer, which is really easy – that I feel an easygoingness that I don’t want to lose, and that I don’t want to be too serious. But I’m not satisfied with this answer, I’d rather give an answer that is more whole, which is tricky because I don’t want to say something stupid, like some esoteric ‘I hope the world will never stop turning and fish will always be in the ocean’, you know. Yet, I’ll go into this direction – I hope there will always be some beauty to find somewhere and something to appreciate. I hope you will always be able to find beauty that touches you.
Our bodies are prisons for our souls. Our skin and blood, the iron bars of confinement. But, fear not. All flesh decays. Death turns all to ash. And thus, death frees every soul. [The Fountain]