Interview: Elena Savlokhova
Photo: George Nebieridze
Minimal Violence is the music duo of Ash Luk and Lida P.
DESTROY ---> [physical] REALITY [psychic] <--- TRUST Get the 'Phase One' record here Out via Tresor Records
What drew you to music? What’s the thrill of music for you?
We first discussed wanting to have a creative project together around seven months into dating. Initially, it was supposed to be a mixture of music and art, but it gradually just drifted towards mainly music, although we’re trying to rediscover that balance in the coming future. Music was the most natural choice since we were both interested in it, and Ash had a history of playing in punk bands and had their own solo darkwave project. Lida grew up playing the piano and the flute. In 2014 we had both started to get more into techno, although there wasn’t much of a scene for it in Vancouver at that time. We didn’t set out with any goals in mind, or any notion of what we wanted to sound like, and we’ve come a long way in five years. Sometimes we listen back to our previous releases and are surprised by how much some of it still resonates.
And the thrill?
Ash: I thrive on the exchange of energy between us and the crowd when playing live, the intensity, the volume – all of that together is the thrill for me. Imagining that something we are creating is vibrating through all their bodies and causing such a somatic reflex – that drives me. I think that is why our music perpetually gets harder. We want people to break a sweat, to feel something visceral. Those parties that feel more like a punk show than a rave, those are my favorites.
Lida: I love how powerful it can feel playing our live sets – hearing our music loud, knowing that we made it, feeling the vibrations, and the relentless rhythm of the kick. Also, the moments when Ash and I are playing off one another without communicating, just by reading each other’s energy. Sometimes it feels like telepathy. I love parties like the S.M.I.L.E. event we played in Autumn 2018 with Hitmaker Chinx at 333 in Vancouver (R.I.P. 333). Hitmaker Chinx played a crazy set, the crowd was awesome, and at some point, during our performance, the bass was so intense that the subs started to move back out from under the table so we were having to climb over them to reach our machines. It was so fun – those are the kind of shows that we both live for.
What have you learned through Minimal Violence both professionally and personally?
Ash: I’ve learned the power of focusing my energy, and taking the time to learn rather than just plowing forward blindly. I think Minimal Violence forced me to take a step back from the world I was used to – playing guitar is just so natural to me, and it was never something I thought much about, but when you start producing electronic music you suddenly have to stop every few minutes, read a manual or watch a tutorial. I didn’t even know what MIDI was when we started, and only had the most basic knowledge of a DAW. I feel like since we started this project I have become so much more self-sufficient. With my band, we write songs and then go to a studio where someone else records, mixes, and engineers the tracks. That process was always something totally separate to me, but with Minimal Violence, we have control every step of the way, so it forced me to learn recording techniques, mixing, different production techniques required to finish a project from start to finish.
Lida: I’ve learned to be more confident. I’m definitely not naturally outgoing, but I am much more strong while performing now than five years ago. I probably used to look petrified, and honestly, I was. My hands would shake anytime we played. It still makes me anxious sometimes, but I can move past it. I’ve learned not to tolerate bullshit from people.
The past five years have taught me a lot about my limits, led me to reassess unhealthy habits, and driven me to consider what I really want in life. I think Minimal Violence has ultimately made me a tougher person.
What is your current state of mind given the paused state of the world?
Ash: I drift between being completely calm and actually taking the time to «work on myself» to having an existential crisis every few days wondering what we will do if everything doesn’t go back to normal. Fitness has kept us both grounded, and focused, given us some routine to our days. Productivity comes and goes, at the beginning of quarantine we were working on a ton of new music every day, but lately, nothing has really been coming. I’m learning to let inspiration come rather than to force it through. Trying to take moments of paused creativity to learn new skills related to music that I’ve always wanted to learn, such as working with a tracker DAW.
Lida: Surprisingly calm. We have no idea when we’ll be able to work again, but we know it’s out of our control, and that tons of other people are out of work as well. We’ve been trying to make the most of our time by staying productive, thinking of new projects or pursuits, the things we’ve always wanted to find the time to do, and also focusing on being as healthy as we can under the circumstances.
You’ve just released the Phase One EP of your Tresor Records 3-part series called DESTROY —> [physical] REALITY [psychic] <— TRUST?. What is the ideology of this work what kind of questions were you asking yourself when working on this release?
The records with Tresor are a continuation of our ‘InDreams’ album with Technicolour from 2019. We wanted to continue working with the idea of a fictional corporation that sells you the life you desire through a dream-state. As we finished Phase One for Tresor, COVID-19 was just starting to hit Europe, and we felt that urgency of people struggling to adjust to having their lives dissolve. Recently Lida discovered (through Dan Fox’s book ‘Limbo’) that there was a Twilight Zone episode in 1985 called Dreams For Sale that could very well be aligned with InDreams Inc. so it is by no means a new idea.
DESTROY —> [physical] REALITY [psychic] <— TRUST is really an extension of thoughts brought up with InDreams. We are seeing where we can take this idea and allow it to glide naturally into a new form, with every part of this project we connect with new collaborators who help shape and expand the idea. It is continuously morphing.
Some of the initial ideas behind this series are as follows:
PHASE ONE – Destruction of Physical Reality
The abandonment of waking life. One could argue that with the current pandemic that we are already in this state. As bodily movement is restricted, one can choose to venture inwards. InDreams Inc. resonates here with the idea that “the body is meat – the mind is unlimited”.
PHASE TWO – Evaluation of Desire and Structuring of New Reality
What do you want out of your new reality? Now that the physical is eliminated, we are free to evaluate our inner desires and what we feel has always been lacking. In collaboration with InDream Inc. we can construct new architectures, basic tenets, and personal freedoms.
PHASE THREE – Transcendence —> Reaching a State of Pure Psychic Reality
Now that we have eliminated the obstacles of the physical, and assessed the inner ambitions we have long suppressed in waking life, we can realize the state of higher consciousness achieved by building our own reality within the InDreams platform.
How these phases take shape is still to be determined, in our most recent collaboration with Maurice Andresen he brought up the idea of creating a device that would theoretically be used in the development of these dream states. This was introduced in the Ravebomb video as our Phase One device, shifting potential towards looking into the speculative technological aspects of the theoretical corporation.
Maybe something we ask ourselves is why? The answer is most often that this gives a broader scope to the project, where we can continuously be working without always being directly working on music, creating a world within a world…it’s like with graphic design when you create a poster for a movie that doesn’t exist just for the sake of making a piece of art. The world of InDreams provides us with a reason to expand upon creative ideas and to use this framework as a means to process the world around us.
Do you see music and the night culture in general as a way of escapism or is it more of a self-discovery experience?
Ash: I feel like it can be both. Actually, for me, it has been both…I used to have a lot of issues with social anxiety to which I used drugs and alcohol as a coping mechanism. I would go out to parties or punk shows and end up blackout on the regular, and it got to a point where I knew I had to make a change. Lida and I both stopped drinking for close to two years, and during this point, I had to relearn how to exist in a public space without substance assistance.
Raves actually became a learning space for me. Dancing gave me purpose and an escape from social anxiety, it also overtime taught me how to coexist with that part of my personality.
I was gradually able to reintroduce alcohol (in moderation) into my life without relying on it as a coping mechanism, and I have techno to thank for this…I still always gravitate towards the darkest corners of the dancefloor though.
Lida: It really depends on the person – everybody approaches it differently. Personally, I’ve always really disliked drugs and haven’t done any in a long time. I find the increasing presence of harder, faster music has helped create atmospheres that almost replicate a high simply by requiring you to move your body at a more rapid pace almost like you are working out. It’s a natural endorphin rush. When Vancouver was at its peak Canadian Riviera phase it was so incredibly boring – I didn’t connect with that music at all, so I drank more in order to have a good time. I think the dance floor is equal parts escapism and self-discovery. It really depends on the party, the crowd, and the venue. Over the past year, I’ve been gradually coming to a point where I am able to recognize my relationship to alcohol both at the club, and at home, as really unhealthy again and am currently not drinking. I know this will be more complicated once clubs are open and we’re performing again, because honestly, it can be a very difficult environment to be sober in.
What do you appreciate the most in each other?
Ash: Lida keeps me grounded. I can be a little impulsive, and often overambitious. Lida is much more careful and planned, she tries to make sure I only bite off as much as I can chew (because often I end up overloading the excess onto her anyways!), also she reminds us to take breaks and step away sometimes. This is likely a key aspect of what keeps Minimal Violence moving forward, as opposed to just having me overload us with projects and collapsing into an anxious mess. She is also one of the most thoughtful people I have ever known. She knows everything about me, and how to cheer me up or calm me down, she also reminds me of the emails that have been sitting unread in my inbox for weeks on end.
Lida: Ash is constantly pushing me to do things. To begin with, I never imagined performing live as something I was capable of doing. Ash is constantly telling me to work on the things I say I want to do but try to find excuses not to out of fear. They are incredibly supportive of me despite my flaws. I really appreciate that we are so different from one another, but can make each other laugh so hard, and that we encourage each other to do things independently as well as together.
How do you see each other’s personalities as traumas and as blessings?
Ash: Hmmm…a trauma? Well maybe not that dramatic, but Lida likes to go to bed early. This can be a problem when we’re playing shows at 4am. Admittedly she’s rubbed off on me over the years and I find it hard to stay up as well. My ideal set times are morning ones, 6 or 7am, where we can actually just sleep after soundcheck then wakeup, dance for an hour before our set (crucial for getting in the zone!) and then play while fresh on coffee and walk out to a sunny day after not feeling like complete garbage. And a blessing….well I think the fact that I found someone who puts up with me after all these years is a blessing in itself.
Lida: Ash is really driven and ambitious, and has always wanted to solely do music. I’ve always admired that dedication. I remember before we ever actually hung out together, in 2012, when we were still just coworkers and closing the café where we worked together, Ash asked me if I thought ambition was a bad quality. Nearly eight years later, and into our seventh year together, I can see how that ambitious streak Ash has is both a blessing and a hindrance at times. Ash is always coming up with ideas and schemes, sometimes not fully thinking things through before starting to move forward with the plan. They have such a singular vision that they aren’t always great at working with other people, despite having the desire to collaborate with others. I also think that Ash is so incredibly talented that they don’t ever need to doubt themself, but they do.
In your work, you’ve explored the concept of psychic realities becoming commodities and how VR might well become a catalyst for that in the future. Is that a technological advancement you personally anticipate? How far would you want technology to evolve overall?
Ash: I feel now more than ever the importance of VR and AR are becoming clear. If this is our new reality and physical distancing is something that we must learn to coexist with, then the quality of our interactions with others will largely depend on the authenticity of the virtual experience. The more authentic these experiences are, the less we feel we are missing from our lives. That being said I’m a bit of a hypocrite because although I find online virtual communication fascinating I have trouble engaging with them myself when it is used in place of a real face to face interactions, I have a lot of anxiety about being screen to screen with real people, like online Zoom raves…it just feels too weird. This is likely why I find VR in combination with AI so much more appealing, the knowledge that I’m engaging with an AI feels infinitely more comfortable… lucid dreaming for example, when you are aware you are in a dream state but in control, you feel the freedom to do anything. I feel that VR, once fully advanced, has the potential to unlock that freedom.
Lida: I have to admit that Ash is more interested in current VR and AI developments than I am. I’m wary of them. That being said, I’ve never actually put on VR goggles so I don’t know what I’m missing. I’m more interested in old technology, although not in any nostalgic sense. I don’t think the past was better, but I’m interested in the progression of human curiosity and how that materialized. For instance, I love how in the 1995 film ‘Hackers’, the internet is visualized as a city of skyscrapers with information traveling like bursts through a circuit board. Or going further back, I’m interested in automatons – objects like Vaucanson’s ‘Digesting Duck’ from the 1700s or early telewriting. I think Siegfried Zielinski’s book ‘Deep Time of the Media’ is a good summary of my interests in technological developments.
Recently Ash showed me a song that was entirely produced by AI, but I didn’t really see the value of it. There’s more than enough generic pop music out there that is produced by humans – I don’t find the fact that this particular song was created by AI impressive. A more generous, and productive, use of AI can be found in Canadian musician David Usher’s work developing interactive AI to help Alzheimer’s patients. That actually serves a purpose that aids humanity.
What storyline goes on in your mind when you’re performing? How would you describe the state you’re in?
Ash: I’m a daydreamer. It’s easy for me to disassociate. I can’t tell you how many times I’ve been mid-set playing guitar in my band thinking about a grocery list for the next day and then suddenly realized that there were a hundred people standing in front of me and I’m in the middle of a complex guitar line. I guess it’s good that I can go on autopilot but also dangerous if I’m not 100% on what I’m doing. With Minimal Violence there are often parts of tracks where I have to use all 10 of my fingers to simultaneously trigger buttons across machines and that’s when it becomes really important to stay present. Also, a lot of what me and Lida do is dependant on communication rather than muscle memory so that helps keep me in the present.
Lida: I’m usually so focused on what I’m doing that I never notice anything happening. This means I usually miss great things like people voguing on stage during one of our sets at a Vancouver Pride event. I usually start out super anxious and uncomfortable every performance, but get into it after a few minutes. Our live sets are an hour, and I’m constantly surprised by how fast the time passes. It is as if my body takes over automatically, and I’m just in a dream state. Still, sometimes I snap out of it and can’t help but laugh mid-set at how into it all Ash gets – thrashing about on the MPC like they are possessed.
Was your creative bond strong from the very beginning or did it take time and effort to develop it?
We’re still working on a balance all the time. A creative relationship is a process and goes through stages. Each person learns at a different pace, has individual interests, and both of us bring something different to the table. Over time we are getting to know and accept our strengths and weaknesses more and use that to build an even stronger foundation. We’ve both also learned to be slightly less stubborn, and just accept it when one person’s idea is better.
Do you require chaos or order to be most creative?
Ash: Chaos. All you need to do is take one look at my desktop.
Lida: Order. I like organization, systems, and having a plan of action. Sometimes even the rat’s nest formed by the cords in our studio drives me crazy.
What book or books would you recommend and why?
Ash: Although a recent discovery, I’m very locked into Mark Fisher’s writing. I just read ‘Ghosts of My Life’ and feel that it really resonated with the current situation we are in. The way he writes about Hauntological qualities in music strikes up an image of empty dance floors haunted with the memories of a culture currently trapped in limbo. On the other side of things sometimes we need a complete escape; in this I would lean towards Chris Kraus, one of my favourites. Her book ‘Summer of Hate’ for instance, reading this I can almost feel the heat of the New Mexico desert as I indulge in a light fetishisation of a vast American landscape.
Lida: Primo Levi’s ‘The Periodic Table’ is a book I’ve loved for a long time for the way he uses the elements of the periodic table to recall moments of his life, as well as tell fictional stories. Álvaro Mutis’ ‘The ‘Adventures and Misadventures of Maqroll’ is a collection of incredible novellas taking place all over the world about a drifter and his friends. There are a couple of paragraphs that I’ve carried close for years now, including one about the stray cats of Istanbul. Anything by Fleur Jaeggy or Barbara Comyns is amazing – I love how simple both of their stories are on the surface, but so subtly intense and then suddenly violent. I recently finished ‘Flights’ by Olga Tokarczuk and can’t wait to read more by her. ‘Flights’ is about anatomy and travel. But honestly, it kind of made me never want to get on an airplane ever again, and I already hated flying.
What does it take to be a musician?
You need to be in it for the right reasons, not to be the next top DJ or write the next hit single. You need to do it because you know you love it and you couldn’t imagine doing anything else with your life.
I tattooed Rock Star on my wrists when I was 20…probably my most embarrassing tattoo and definitely a bit misguided but the sentiment was there. I knew that music was all I ever wanted in life, whether I’m successful in it or not it will always be an part of my life in some shape or form whether that means I’m writing club tracks or composing piano ballads.
Lida: I agree with Ash’s statement about dedication. Also would add: not seeking to perfectly replicate something that already exists, but having a personal quality to contribute that makes the music distinct. It is extremely rare that anything is completely original anymore.
Things you can’t unthink (things that are constantly on your mind)
Ash: Breaks….seriously. Truly masterfully chopped breakbeats like early Source Direct, I’m always thinking about how to create those kind of beautiful arrangements. Something about them is so enchanting and mysterious. Jungle was one of the earliest forms of electronic music I was exposed to as a young raver, and I was always in awe of the hardcore junglist dancers that would be at all the shows. I loved to dance too, but never quite at that level. They would blend in elements of breakdancing as well, it was nuts. I guess when I look at it all together, movement is also constantly on my mind in different, yet connected, ways. Most recently with the discovery of Animal Flow…right now for the first time, I’m imagining those moves flowing alongside some darkside jungle and it seems all pretty perfectly connected to me.
Lida: I don’t mean this to be depressing, but the sensation of jumping feet first into deep and dark water. I think about this several times a day, it’s almost meditative. I’ve been thinking a lot about the peaked roof at the house my family lived in together in Victoria, BC, until I moved out when I turned sixteen. My sister and I used to meet out on the roof at night to get stoned and star gaze together. I used to have bad insomnia in my early teens and would sometimes climb off the roof to go running in the middle of the night. One night it snowed and I went out for a walk, and actually slipped and fell off the roof backwards while attempting to climb back up. Still, I never got caught.
What do you realise as you get older?
Ash: There is no reason to not chase your dreams.
Lida: Think about what makes you really happy and do it. Also, learn practical skills, take care of your body, don’t worry about what other people think of you or expect of you.
What question would you like to be asked in an interview and what would your answer be?
“Songs that sum up your childhood?”
Ash: Mötley Crüe Too Fast For Love, Chris Isaak Wicked Game, Elvis Presley Can’t Help Falling in Love. My mom was a Mötley Crüe groupie so I was exposed very young…the Chris Isaak is also thanks to mom — Elvis I think I can blame on my best friend’s dad. He was an antique dealer and specialized in Elvis memorabilia and vintage Coca-Cola, this somehow rubbed off with a young obsession with The King.
Lida: Patsy Cline Walkin’ After Midnight, Dead Can Dance Black Sun, Leonard Cohen Famous Blue Raincoat, France Gall Poupee De Circe, Poupee De Son. All these songs used to get played in the car when driving with my parents. I actually used to hate Patsy Cline and Leonard Cohen when I was young, but grew to love them. The Dead Can Dance track frightened me a bit, but I was obsessed with it. And France Gall was always just fun to listen to.