Interview: Elena Savlokhova
Photo: Jonas Fransson
Describe the world you are trying to create during your performance.
I want to re-create the sort of space I find myself in when my mind’s been cracked open by certain psychoactive substances. One in which everything feels significant yet blissfully meaningless, in which we can face our greatest fears and know them for what they really are. There’s a reason I titled my debut EP ‘To the Core’. Every performance is a stripping back of emotions, layer by layer, deeper and deeper… and when it’s done in the presence of a moving crowd we can finally all experience the fact that we are not alone. We all suffer in the same ways, and it’s ok to feel things.
What do you sacrifice for your calling?
I live a long way from my family, who I’m very close to, and the places that make me feel most comfortable and healthy. I gave up studying anthropology years ago, and have delayed returning to university. If I did return I’d like to study neuroscience. Perhaps I never will, but I do feel split in two over it sometimes. I wish I had more than one life to live.
What is your favourite memory from the time you lived in Malaysia?
The time I spent trekking through rain-forests, which I did a lot thanks to my mother’s profession as a tropical biologist. The sense of total wilderness and everything around you being so alive, so diverse, so ancient and so green. There aren’t many places like that left in the world, and sadly even the ones I frequented as a child in Malaysia have mostly been destroyed, all due to greed and stupidity.
What were you crazy and passionate about as a kid?
I think most people who knew me back then would agree that I had two primary obsessions: ancient civilisations… and sharks. The sharks came first, I think around the age of 7. I got to them via dolphins and whales, deeming them the underdogs of marine conservation and therefore more worthy of my attention. I read everything I could about them, waited an hour for grainy photos of them to load on dial-up internet then printed them out and stuck them to my bedroom wall, watched documentaries on them, drew them, swam with them when possible, and even added shark features to my first signature (I really should bring it back for signing records…). It was then that I discovered the over-fishing of the oceans and immediately stopped consuming anything that came from the sea, something I continue to this day.
The ancient civilisations thing started with ancient Greece via the TV show ‘Hercules: The Legendary Journeys’. It was not, however, Kevin Sorbo in very tight leather pants that fascinated me at the time, but the Greek mythology touched upon in the earlier episodes. In reading more about the stories of gods, cyclopes and centaurs (and learning how horrifically inaccurate a low budget television series could be in its renditions of ancient myths and legends) this fascination worked its way back in time to Egypt and Mesopotamia. For some reason my passion for these historical times eventually expressed itself as an insatiable urge to build detailed models of my own fictional settlements based loosely on Thebes and Alexandria, Babylon and Ur. My favourite phase was the planning phase, where I’d lay out the floor plans of every house, street, market, temple and palace, imagining how they’d function best and keep society moving. I’d spread out all over the living room floor with cardboard, plaster, paints and glue, perfecting the best methods of re-creating the look of mud brick, running water and miniature fields of crops. I never finished any of them because I was always far too ambitious with their size and intricacy, but I still get a little jolt of excitement when I see large quantities of pristine, un-used cardboard… the possibilities!
What was the last thing you’ve done or experienced for the very first time?
The most major thing was that I recently had to make the decision to end the life of something I loved for the sake of ending its suffering. It wasn’t my first major loss by any stretch, but it was the first time I was truly present at a moment of death and the first time I experienced the peace of knowing it was for the best, since I held him as it happened. It was also the first time I utilised the digging skills acquired from my archaeology bachelor’s degree since I graduated 5 years ago – as I carefully dug his grave.
What’s the best compliment you’ve received?
I have appreciated the times I’ve been told that something I’ve said or done has been able to help someone experiencing emotional distress. Alleviating suffering is the most valuable talent anyone can have, so I’m humbled if I’m ever able to do that in a noticeable way.
What did you learn from Ryan Ambridge and Sid Lamar? (not necessarily work-related)
It was from Ryan that I first learned of the EBM and new beat that got me hooked on that sound, so I think we could safely say that without his influence Fleisch Records would not be quite the same.
Sid taught me an awful lot about both music and life, for better or worse. Perhaps the most valuable lessons were in the importance of focus and sacrifice for the sake of one’s work, and to trust your own opinion ahead of others’. Not only in making music but in every aspect of life you’ll never feel safe if you don’t trust yourself.
What is the best gig you’ve ever attended as a spectator?
Dead Can Dance at the Royal Albert Hall in 2012. It felt like I didn’t even breathe for the whole duration. A lot of tears were shed.
Do you have any rituals when writing music, something that helps you get the creativity flowing?
I utilise the cognitive enhancement of certain substances, but only in very small doses (one might call them… microdoses).
What film would you recommend and why?
I’m actually a terrible film-viewer and rarely finish or remember them anymore. Most of the ones I do love were ones I watched as a child, so I’d pathetically recommend Beetlejuice or the Princess Bride because they’re probably some of the last films I watched with total attention and adoration. I do love a good television series though, and I feel like they’re getting better and better. Top of the Lake is one I think more people should see. It’s bleak and beautiful and didn’t let me down.
What’s it like to be you?
I’d imagine it’s lot better than being most other sentient beings. I must be one of the luckiest 0.01% of living creatures in the entire universe, since I’m a human (I don’t know… is that lucky?) who’s always enjoyed safety, shelter, food and wonderful parents who never made me feel guilty for existing. But if I had to prepare someone about to be multi-sensorially integrated into my phenomenological mind-and-body experience via some kind of deeply immersive virtual reality, I’d have to warn them that they may experience ridiculous levels of anxiety for someone so fortunate, as well as an extreme sensitivity to cold, a very difficult time sleeping under any circumstances, and the inability to not interact with every non-human mammal that comes into their field of view.
What is the most fascinating thing you’ve learned in the fields of archaeology and anthropology?
Our interpretations of everything from past peoples and other cultures to entirely different species are all so heavily influenced by our biases, expectations and above all else our egos. It was a vital piece of critical thinking that I wish they taught in schools, because it’s what reinforces negative stereotypes and the conveying of false information. Almost everything we’re told has been cast through the lens of someone else’s agenda, and that can be an agenda as simple as not wanting to be proven wrong or to get a paper published, and all information can be spun in any direction. Pure knowledge doesn’t come from memorising things that other people said but from processing the data in our own minds, filtering out the noise and thinking for ourselves.
We’re all taught that the Maya and Aztecs committed human sacrifice, but look a little closer and they were perhaps conducting a more ritualised (even more civilised?) form of warfare than the Spanish, who had a lot of reasons to paint the inhabitants of the ‘New World’ (think about that name for a second) in colours of barbarism and horror. For hundreds of years after the invasion of Mesoamerica we are still told a story through a distorted perspective. How many other ‘facts’ of history and reality are merely based on unbalanced evaluations?
What is your personal advice on where not to go and what not to do in Berlin for someone who has never been there before?
Don’t go up the TV tower and don’t fall in love with the nightlife and decide to move here.
Do you have any favorite music videos?
I found this question really hard to answer, maybe because I’m really not impressed by many music videos anymore! Underground artists these days lack the budget and are just trying to fill up space on Youtube before someone else does it with a slideshow of bad photos of them. However thinking back to the 90s / early 2000s and the days before MTV turned into one long reality TV show, some old favourites were Placebo’s ‘Nancy Boy’, ‘The Nobodies’ by Marilyn Manson, and ‘Ava Adore’ by the Smashing Pumpkins. I’ve often joked that Madonna’s ‘Frozen’ inspired everything I do, and perhaps that isn’t really a joke.
What moment in your life do you reminisce the most about?
When I’m feeling bored with adult life I reminisce about the time when I was capable of entertaining myself so deeply and fully through imagination alone. Pretending to be otters in the pool could keep me and my best friend entertained for hours. Or just digging a huge hole for no reason, or setting fire to stuff (actually, still really fun), or walking in the rain-forest and finding a stream. Simple explorations of the physical world could turn into fantastical adventures. I wish I could switch that feeling back on.
You’ve mentioned in one of your recent interviews that there was a point when you thought of giving up music completely. What is your way of rising up, when you feel like falling?
I remind myself that it really doesn’t matter. I’m just one tiny human on a tiny rock passing through space, so I should relax and do what feels right because one day I won’t exist anymore to worry about it. With that in mind there’s no reason to give up, natural senescence ensures no one struggles forever.
What is the most unusual thing about running Fleisch Records for you?
The music released on Fleisch is certainly headed in a different direction from where my own music is going, and I think it’s unusual from the outsider’s perspective. I worry it’ll cause cognitive dissonance and turn people away from both Zanias and the label, as if them not quite fitting together will somehow diminish their power. Fleisch Records was spawned of a collective, a child of seven parents. It’s where I express the part of me that connects with those friends I founded it with, it’s social and fun, it likes to get messy, dance all night and it doesn’t give a fuck. Meanwhile the music I produce is where the depths of my personal explorations end up, the ones I don’t bring up in casual conversation – the uncomfortable, the difficult, the terrifying. They are separate worlds within me that do indeed touch on many levels, and I hope that my DJ sets will always be able to demonstrate that as a I weave them together. Fleisch as a space is the setting where we work through the emotions expressed directly in the songs I write. The release to the tension.
Tell us more about your dog. What do you love the most about him?
Renly is half dachshund, half terrier, and has resisted training with stubborn vigour. Apparently dachshunds are the most aggressive breed, since they’re expected to fight to the death with vicious badgers while trespassing in their burrows. Knowing Renly I can certainly imagine this to be true.
My favourite thing about him is the way he reminds me every day of what’s really important. When I’m stressed out and panicking over life’s miscellanea he can still make me laugh and fill me with a love untainted by expectations or words. He speaks the universal mammalian language of eye contact and snuggles, with a few hilarious vocalisations thrown in for good measure. Love can be so simple.
Who is or was your biggest teacher?
Ayahuasca, LSD… and my mother of course. She taught me how to use the toilet and brush my teeth, so without her I’d be pretty lost (or just really unpopular?).
What question would you want to be asked at an interview and what would your answer be?
I’ve always wanted to be asked why I think music is such a vital element to our existence, because it often feels a little trivialised by those outside the underground culture – like something done as a hobby, or ‘just for fun’, or even more horrifyingly, an ‘industry’. But it’s obviously so much more than that. One thing I’ve been exploring very deeply these last few years is how to bleed some semblance of meaning from this evolutionary accident our conscious minds have been born into, and the thing I keep stumbling back on again and again is this sense of togetherness we’re capable of generating as social organisms. When I’m in an altered state I can almost see it with my own eyes, pluming from dancefloors like blood pouring from a wound underwater. When we dance together we experience the dissolution of borders, the transcendence from self, the meta-organism. It feels so right because it is the enacting of our humanity – we are the most socially connected animal on the planet, that’s how we feel most comfortable and that’s why we are so successful. Social connection is a powerful force, the most rewarding thing to seek, and it just so happens that specific sequences of sound frequencies are one of the most efficient methods of achieving it, so intrinsic that they require no prior knowledge or shared language. Through the advent of recording these sequences we’ve developed a way to convey emotion and even physical movement across time and space. It’s pretty insane when you think about it. Listen to a recorded song and all these feelings and urges get implanted into your brain through your ears by someone you’ll probably never meet, someone who might already be dead. Even before we recorded tracks, songs and rhythms were being written, learned and passed down for thousands of years, in every human culture that has ever existed. Chimpanzees have successfully been taught how to hold tea parties and gorillas can be taught sign language but you’d never invite a chimp or gorilla to a rave. Music is Homo sapiens‘ most unique achievement and the clearest division between us and other animals. Even as someone who generally prefers other animals and has never been one to anthropocentrically glorify our species I can’t deny I find that quite enthralling. I consider what my peers and I do to be both an exploration and utilisation of the core of what it is to be human.