Interview: Elena Savlokhova
Photography: Zbigniew Kotkiewicz
Get the latest EP XV Signs of Doomsday here.
What do you sacrifice for your calling?
In the past I have sacrificed my career as a software engineer. At the time, my management asked me to choose between playing gigs on the weekends and pursuing a corporate career, which left me with a very easy choice. Nowadays I mostly sacrifice part of my social life. Sometimes I avoid going out with my friends in order to preserve myself and to find time to work on my music, as I still have a day job that drains me of time and energy.
How do you think your life would turn out if you pursued that software engineer career?
I would probably be richer and I would probably be close to a burn out. I like to create something from my mind and programming software and composing are very close in that regard. But apart from that I hated everything about the job: the pressure, the hierarchy, the fake coolness…
Looking back at your music journey, is there a specific time you reminisce about the most?
I started making music in 1997 after some friends introduced me to the legendary FastTracker2 software. A year later I joined an underground sound system inspired by the Spiral Tribe. We were throwing illegal free parties. My personal goal at the time was to create the most violent techno music ever. Those were amazing times, we were playing hide and seek with the police, everything felt new to me and the whole scene was completely crazy.
Why the most violent? Was it a reflection of a personal matter or was it a way to rebel against something grander?
As a listener, since middle school I went from classic heavy metal to the most vicious black metal. I was always looking for music that was more extreme so when I finally had the opportunity to make my own I naturally tried to create something even more brutal. As to why, I guess it might be some form of curiosity. I was a only child that lived far away from his friends, I was often bored and that must have been one of my escape routes.
During the times when I was producing hardcore stuff I had one project (among others) that was a duo with a friend. One day on the train, as we were coming back from a gig, my friend asked me: “What drives you to make music and play it live?”. I answered: “I want to shock people, I want them to be astonished – floored by an unexpectable violence that I throw at them. I want them to be surprised”. I asked him the same thing and he replied: “I want them to have a good time and go crazy on the dancefloor”. Up until that moment I think I didn’t realize that music could be made to please an audience – having everyone enjoy the night was a not a bad goal to have. Back then I had the naive idea that nothing good art-wise could be made to please a large group of individuals, so I tried to make something that I was sure would never become mainstream. I made it as hard as I could manage. That conversation we had made me change my perspective a bit.
Nowadays, when I play live, I am clearly not in the same mindset but I still have a tendency to go harder than expected. I am now observing the reaction of the public, and I try to adapt more, rather than impose, in order for us all to reach our goals for the night.
Do you embrace your dark thoughts or avoid them?
I am very pessimistic about the future of humankind. Most of my work as Crystal Geometry is infused by that. I discovered some years ago that being depressed had a positive impact on my productivity. My darkest moments are related to some of my favorite pieces of work.
Do you think it’s a case for most creative people – a certain growth through suffering? For instance, David Lynch believes the notion that ‘negativity is the enemy of creativity’ and how it blocks the flow of creative thought as well as drain one of energy. What are your thoughts on that?
I can only speak for myself here, negativity surely drains a lot of energy but being in a bad mental state is something that can be turned into music. I’ve had the urge to destroy something out of anger a couple of times in my life and now I can exorcise that feeling through the creation of music. This is how I’ve made the track ‘Social Injustice’ [Sonic Groove] in a day at the end of last summer. It was out of anger.
Do you have to force yourself into the element of creativity?
Usually I don’t need to, but there were times when I was not productive for months. I don’t really force myself to work when it happens, as I’ve never achieved anything good by doing so. I am inspired by art, the pulse of the world, and sometimes by what happens to me on a personal level; discovering work by some artist, or reading geopolitical papers, are things that most of the time are enough to get my creativity going.
Is there a most memorable art piece in any medium you’ve witnessed or experienced?
I think the 8th episode of the 3rd season of Twin Peaks. It should be considered a work of art. It really did touch something in me. Everybody with internet access can easily experience it and should do so! In my opinion, it could be featured in a museum alongside the work of Bill Viola and nobody would raise an eyebrow. I am quite obsessed with atomic disasters. I grew up during the end the cold war, Chernobyl happened when I was eight, I have been to Hiroshima and I endured the Memorial museum. It has been a recurring theme of the teenage culture of the early 90’s. I saw Akira and Terminator, with its impressive nuclear apocalypse scene when I was 13.
What is the best gig you’ve ever performed? Could you describe it?
The best gig I’ve performed was during my hardcore days as DEADFACE when I played on the last Techno Parade truck in Paris in 2003. I was 25, the weather was beautiful and I was there with my friends blasting 200 bpm hardcore to the largest crowd I’ve ever seen – it blew my mind.
As Crystal Geometry, I would say my best gig was probably the Kontaktor Festival in Riga last June. I was closing the festival, it was early in the morning, the sun was starting to illuminate the soviet era industrial factory where the event was held. I was almost fainting because the prior travelling had been really long, there were 2 delayed flights, so when I started playing I had been up for 27 hours straight. But as soon as I pressed the play button, the energy came back and the crowd was really responsive. By the end of the set everybody went crazy.
Why did you choose the theme of an apocalypse for your latest EP ‘XV Signs of Doomsday’ for Tripalium Corp? Do you think it’s an ever-relevant topic for the current state of the world?
The end of the world, political and social revolutions are what Crystal Geometry is about. The whole project revolves around those concepts.They are linked to a feeling I had since my teenage years – that I would live to see some sort of global collapse. I think that the challenges humanity is facing today won’t be overcome and that disasters will happen. So much should’ve been done already on the ecological front, we clearly have reached a point of no return, in my opinion. Our political system is not providing results I wish for, the distribution of wealth is terrible, millions live in war torn countries. I don’t see it ending well.
Do you think it’s even possible that the ‘flaws’ of human nature and the complexity of the current system will ever allow humanity to prosper towards the slightest sense of utopia?
I am pretty sure we are doomed because society has globally made us into egoistic pieces of shit and too few are willing to let go of personal profit for the greater good. Maybe the survivors of our time will learn from our mistakes, but we have already done so much wrongdoings to the planet that an utopia now seems more distant than ever.
What’s the most challenging aspect of working with a modular system for you?
For me there are three most challenging aspects. Firstly, trying not to change every module between two gigs as there are so many possibilities I’m always thinking about ways to improve my ‘live case’ and constantly tuning something. Secondly, finding the best amount of improvisation enabled by the system. For some gigs I have used modular setups based upon probability and randomness, where all the elements of the music were generated on the fly. For certain others some sequences were written in the studio beforehand, or some parts were sampled. I try to improvise at least a third of the music on the fly when playing live. Thirdly, funding the whole thing. Modules are pricey and money doesn’t grow on trees.
I’ve started my modular journey after years of thinking what the ultimate live techno machine would be, and that’s exactly what my goal is here – building it in the Eurorack modular format.
What disappoints you the most in your field of activity? Is there something you would like to change in the industry?
Because of the rise and affordability of software anybody can make music nowadays. To get noticed therefore became harder. That is why social networks are so important. For some, it is a way to break through, as fame can now be earned online. It can get you paid gigs. Just like talent. I find it a bit sad that uninspired music can be balanced out by a great social game on Instagram. I guess those new ‘techno stars’ fill clubs where people probably spend more time on their phones taking selfies than actually raving. I wish the public would trust the promoters of events to be real taste makers and I wish people would show up to parties with no big names.
How do you want your work to echo in the culture?
I am often inspired by the work of artists from fields other than mine. After a Lynch movie I always want to make music. I wish my work would have the same effect on someone at some point.
What topic fascinates you the most currently?
For the last five years I’ve been having a growing interest in psychedelics and the alternate state of consciousness. I only had a few experiences but they all had been intense.
Could you describe those intense experiences and what impact they’ve had on you?
I rather not, but to stay generic, the sense of unity, of imbrication, is an epiphany that everyone should have at least once in a lifetime: to witness the ability of the mind to be able to work at a far greater number of levels, and to be able to simultaneously multitask thoughts and feelings is pretty amazing too.
There’s this film by Yorgos Lanthimos ‘The Lobster’, where single people are meant to find a partner in 45 days, and if they don’t, they must choose an animal to transform into. What animal would you choose?
If I wanted to be happy then I would probably choose to be a dog, but maybe I would rather try something totally different in order to explore another plane of consciousness: like being a reptile or an insect. I would then choose to be a sea crocodile. I don’t feel good in water, so that would be quite a change for me. Crocodiles have the best immune system, are predators and live longer than most humans.
It’s fascinating how you went from one of the most loving creatures to one of the most vicious predators out there that had outlived dinosaurs. How would you explain such a contrasting shift? And how would you say the symbolism of the crocodile reflects your personality?
As I said, my intention would be to explore something that seems to be the most alien to me. I dislike reptiles, particularly snakes. I am certainly closer to a dog. The only thing I share with the crocodile is that I’ve been resiliently lurking in the shadows of the scene, I’ve been there for quite a while but never under the direct light for too long. On internet forums I am definitely a lurker too – on social platforms I read more than I talk.
What can you not compromise on in music production? In life?
I was never asked to make any compromise while producing, and I don’t see it happening anytime soon. Anyway, I am making music for myself in the first place. Probably because I simply need to. Whatever happens I will keep making tracks: some are liked by others, some are released, some have been on my hard drives for years without anyone ever listening to them.
I’ve never been able to live solely from music, but I would not keep a job that would get in its way. I quit being a software engineer a long time ago because of this, and last year I had a fight at my current job over a gig at Tresor, for which I had to take a day off. Sooner or later I will probably have to make hard choices again in order to continue pursuing my passion. But music is the only thing that I have never lost interest for. Year after year it only becomes more important to me.
What technology do you most anticipate and why?
When I was In high school in the 90s I read William Gibson’s books and ever since I’ve been waiting for a computer-brain interface: a device that could let us control a computer with our minds. It would be perfect for so many art forms.
As someone who has a pessimistic view on the future of mankind, don’t you think that it would end up as a destructive or even a tyrannical tool for those in power?
It certainly would, as mankind continuously has proven its ability to corrupt good things for profit. It would also pose all kind of problems. Who would want to be an addict to a cyber drug or to have one’s brain hacked? This is the essence of body modification in cyberpunk literature and it tells the story of a very dark world, where a lot of oppression is happening, and where few stay free at great costs. But still, what a fantastic tool it would be for music production!
Are there any other books you could recommend?
If you want to see what world I was expecting to be in right now twenty years ago, then anything by Bruce Sterling or William Gibson would work. ‘Neuromancer’ is Gibson’s most influential work.
What question would you like to be asked at an interview and what would your answer be?
I would like to be asked how old am I and I would like to answer 25, but that wouldn’t be the truth haha.
And are you still ‘waiting for the end of the world to come’?
I am expecting it more than waiting for it, and I hope I’ll have to wait long as it probably will be painful!
Special thanks to Grey Area Agency Photos taken at KAOS London 13.10.18