It’s almost four decades to the day since Laraaji was first discovered busking on the streets of the Big Apple with his zither. Over the years, the New Age icon has built a musical legacy around otherworldly, eclectic sounds and vibrations that transcend listeners to a soft state of pure, collective bliss, one that he’ll be recreating this Saturday at SSFB – Utrecht. But before that, Angela Donskaia caught up with the man himself for an indepth chat.
For the #27th entry of our Mix Series, we called upon French producer December aka Tomas More, who turns in a profound selection worthy of the cold days ahead in more ways than one.
Salut Tomas, surviving the cold autumn days?
Hey! Yes I really like autumn. I find it to be a very poetic and relaxing season, especially when there are revolutions in Paris. Hehe.
In an earlier interview you mentioned being attracted more to dark and cold atmospheres. This reminded us of dystopia – which seems quite contradictory because it just so happens that the term utopia was coined by a certain Sir Thomas More (with a H). What’s life to you – utopia, dystopia, or heterotopia?
Very interesting question that nobody asks me about. Thank you for that.
Actually I’m not sure being attracted and frankly quite obsessed by “dark and cold atmospheres” necessarily means being dystopian. And dystopia itself is pretty much wrongly used and interpreted these days, I think. I am obviously very much seduced by dystopian influences, be it in music, films or books. I am not pessimistic at all. And too often we describe “dystopian” as everything that speaks of a fascistic, technological future. Like the cyberpunk culture obviously.
I think that most of these films, records or books – or at least the ones that I like – describe a threatening evolution of human societies without being literally dystopian, which basically means that society will evolve in a bad way, or even collapse in the foreseeable future. They always have as main characters people trying to resist and often succeeding in doing so. That is slightly different and makes it more of an utopia in my opinion. The main idea of utopism is that it is always possible to create a better society somewhere even in unlikely circumstances.
That precision is very important for me. I’m not a cynical or pessimistic person and I think being so is the best anyone can offer to our society to help maintain the violent and unfair capitalistic system we live in.
Speaking of films, though it is one of my main influences – and actually the “field” I work in for a day job a few months a year just so I won’t die of anxiety from being a year-long DJ – I actually don’t come from a “genre” films background. I don’t know Sci-Fi or horror films very well. I have a more classical “auteurs” film background.
It’s only been a few years that I’ve taken an interest to Sci-Fi and horror films, and I can say that even within that category most of the films I like may look dystopian but are pretty much utopian in the end, depending on how one looks at them. Carpenter for instance, always builds his plots around people fighting the collapse of civilization, using brotherhood, and they almost always succeed in doing so. Plus, Carpenter’s point of view is absolutely not cynical in the way he describes humanity. In his films, most of these groups fighting against the mysterious evil forces represent a diverse group of individuals slowly revealing their best sides and fighting against the same enemy. Sometimes, even the enemy is humanized, which is to me the opposite of being cynical (cynical being something that easily goes with dystopia). I mean, even the barbarian Martians in Ghosts Of Mars are given a legitimate reason to commit their monstrosities; they are viewed by one of the characters as people resisting a colonial invasion. Plus they look damn hot, which obviously was done on purpose by Carpenter.
It was a running gag in our office that we were going to release your mix in December, but we are actually curious: why did you pick this artist name?
Haha, like pretty much everyone. I get the joke all the time. But I guess I deserved it by picking this name.
It’s always a bit embarrassing and cheesy to explain the “back story” of an alias, as if it was some kind of hidden secret or the smart concept of something that is frequently not that interesting in the end.
To answer your question, I suppose there is some kind of story behind it. I had another production alias before. However, gradually I started feeling bored and out of place with what I was doing so I decided to stop producing for a while to think about this situation.
I messed around for a bit and made music just for fun; also to kind of find my musical self again. It lasted pretty long, something like a year, or a year and a half. I wasn’t really happy about the sounds coming out of my studio. And then, one day, I felt all of this was finally going in the right direction and heading towards something that was a bit more interesting and personal. That day was the first day of December.
Let’s talk about your early career days in London. If you could have done something different what would that be?
Another cheesy answer but to be perfectly honest, nothing. I’m very happy with where I am now and with the people surrounding me. And I think I wouldn’t be doing what I do now if things have gone down a different path. I don’t really like this idea of a perfect past, where we would celebrate only the good moments and regret the bad ones. Everything hasn’t been always great but it is what I am.
And actually, before I get carried away, London was great. I lived in a small town in the south of France where nothing was going on and especially not in the music scene, something that I was already obsessed with at the time (I was reading music magazines and listening to records all the time). I went abroad one year for my studies and all of a sudden I find myself in a huge city with techno clubs everywhere (at that time). I got to meet plenty of people who were actually involved in the scene and making music. So yes, it was great, and on almost every level.
How do you think the electronic music scene in Paris differs from that in London?
Oh, in a lot of ways.
Firstly, France has no real history of club culture, only a few posh and worldly disco clubs in Paris. Not so much of a rave culture either. There have been raves in the 90s of course but they never got as big as in the UK or became a real movement. Secondly, French elites and media have – to this day – always despised and mocked this music. Except in rare cases where electronic music is coming from an “intellectual” perspective (musique concrète, electro acoustique) it is never taken seriously and viewed as art or culture. Finally, I would say that England, with their purely economical and political tradition of monetizing everything, electronic music quickly became a professional industry. Press, PR, artist management and booking agencies, and (to a lesser extent) publishers are mainly located in London. As it became big business there, the scene also grew, even though for years now London has had a deep problem with musical venues shutting down one by one due to gentrification and lack of support from the city administration. Which is pretty paradoxical to what I had said earlier but it’s a London specificity.
With regard to France and Paris, things have been changing. For three or four years now, a lot of new clubs and raves especially, have sprung up. These days, the younger generation listen to way more electronic music and much better stuff than what we did at their age. They aren’t fascinated by that Parisian “rock attitude disco-electro” sound that had been the dominant style for the past 10 years anymore. And I think that’s great. It’s a really good moment for electronic music in Paris and more generally in France.
You collaborated once with Brazilian techno and noise producer INNSYTER; are there any other artists you would like to work with? And why?
Yes, we have this project called A Brutal Game with Fernando, who is one of the sweetest and most talented guy in the scene in my opinion. It’s been very spontaneous and fun; there’s no ambition behind it other than to make music together. Actually I’m just making the vocals; he makes the beats.
Of course there are many music producers I admire that I would be happy to collaborate with but it’s not an easy thing to make music with someone, especially when you’ve always done it alone for years, like me. It doesn’t just require artistic respect and common tastes but also friendship and connection. Otherwise it can be a real pain.
We’ve been talking to my friend DJ Richard about trying to make something together someday and I’d be very curious to see what comes out of it. I really admire and am moved by his music, his attitude and his whole artistic personality. It is modest and naive, yet elegant and deep. Pretty pure and rare. It could be really interesting to work with someone doing something very different to myself and try to find a common ground. I’ve also spoken about this with other friends like Maoupa Mazzochetti from Brussels and Eszaid from Paris; we’ll see if the right time comes.
The mix you made for SSFB is a melting pot of electroacoustics, soundtracks, industrial and downbeat techno and the spoken word. What are your objectives when selecting music?
I had two ideas in mind when I began my selection. I wanted it to be something poetic and suitable for home-listening during these autumn and winter days.
I also wanted to include mainly recent and “hi-fi” tracks. What I meant by that is that there is a tendency in the wave / industrial / dark electronics scene (call it whatever you like; I can’t stand these words anymore) to play “vintage” music and create lo-fi sounding productions. I love it too but I think it’s important to involve the present as well as there are a ton of crazy music coming out every month with very original takes to this “dark” sound. Like The Modern Institute for example, two of their tracks are featured in this mix and I adore the way they combine different styles in a very minimalistic and hi-fi way that’s almost “digital” sounding. I think that’s pretty unique.
How would you like your audience to experience this mix?
I really hope it offers the audience more clues about my musical identity and help them understand what I try to do with my productions and my DJ mixes. In short: I hope it sounds like me.