Kramnik: Finding Dark Matters in Uncharted Territory
Emerging Spanish producer, Kramnik has seemingly come from nowhere to deliver a truly original and distinctive album in 2012. A relative new comer to production, the Berlin / Madrid based artist threw himself into an album project, piecing together an LP whilst simultaneously attending a production course. The result is a mind-bending, trippy mix of dark electronic textures and deep, driving grooves. His unique approach yields an even more distinctive sound, which he looks set to develop more in 2013. DT caught up with the man himself to try and unmask the talent behind this mysterious producer.
You only started producing music two years ago. What made you dive straight into an album project? I think this is probably for two reasons. On the one hand I felt I should have started production some years before, so there was a sense of urgency in coming out with an LP, as opposed to just random EPs. And on the other hand, it seemed like a good way to learn production skills because that would mean learning different techniques for different tracks, as the album was conceived as a mix. This, of course, made the process more challenging, but I think I’ve learned a lot from it. One of the problems with this approach is that not all the tracks will have the same production quality for release… Which means I had to go back and tweak the first ones when the album was finished, because they reflected bad sound quality for the album-mix. Basically, this album is the result of two years of hard work and going to production school to resolve technical issues. I don’t believe in any sort of inspiration in making this type of music because it’s not improvised like a guitar. Anyone can have the ideas you come across in the album, but it’s up to many hours of hard work in the studio to make them happen. Have you been pleased with the way ‘Dark Matters’ has turned out?I’m more pleased with the individual tracks than the mix itself, because the mix would have required too many changes to most of the tracks. And this meant re-mastering many of them, which would have delayed the release even more. So, at the end of the day, you come to a compromise. In retrospect, the best way would have been to make a one hour-long Logic project before mastering the tracks, but I guess this is something that I can do in the future. For example, there are places within the set where I can’t take off the kick drum because they are part of the original track, even though it doesn’t work in the mix… So I’m not at all happy with things like that, but I guess at some point you just have to move one to new projects. Another problem with the actual mix, as with any mix, is that you don’t hear the long, drawn-out buildups at the beginning of my tracks, which sometimes are the best part of the track.
How would you describe the album in your own words?Everything about this album was experimental because of my lack of knowledge when the project started. So, in retrospect, I think that was probably a good thing, as it involved a lot of investigation into all the new synthesizers, drum machines, Logic, effects, etc. Like a child with a new toy, I think the album reflects what I was learning along the way, or the new sounds I was discovering. It’s also an exploration into what I consider uncharted territory within electronic music, of course. Because I didn’t want to just make a couple of techno or progressive tracks without adding anything new (even though it’s a combination of the two). My idea was to create an album with different moods; so many of the tracks were never conceived as dancefloor sensations. That was actually never a priority in making the album. ‘Dlython’ and ‘Pangea’ are good examples of this, as they have more of a soundtrack feeling to them. I also wanted to have natural sounds in there, so you have violins, a harmonica played by me, bagpipes generating warped sounds, Mongolian throat singing, whale sounds, etc. What would you say were your biggest influences at the time of making the album?To be honest, I don’t know of almost any albums in this category that are conceived as mixes, so in that sense I can’t say that I had many influences (since that was the challenge). I know Sasha has two albums in this category, but they’re not mixed live. I don’t really know of many other examples, even though I’d love to hear them! The problem with making music is that you don’t have time to follow other people. I miss having all that time to go through other mixes… Why did you include a live version of the album?Because no one does it! My ‘Invisible Radio Show’ is also live because they just come out better (which doesn’t mean perfect). In my opinion, there’s no feeling in a software mix, just like the ‘sync’ button takes feeling away from a live performance. As I’ve said before, my personal challenge was in making an album that would work as tracks and mix at the same time. As for the tracklist, I don’t think you can create a compelling story-telling mix with just 10 straight techno or minimal tracks, so that’s why the album is somewhere between techno and progressive. Because with progressive you can have more layers and more melody, which helps in creating moods for a set. I don’t know of any albums in this category that work as tracks and a mix at the same time, so my personal challenge in making the album was to go in that direction. Please can you talk us through the process of making the live album?One thing I’ve learned in making the album is that, if you want to go for an album mix, make sure the tracks are harmonically compatible before you master them. I found myself going back and tweaking the notes of certain tracks just for the mix, but some of the issues could not be resolved unless you re-mastered the track, or the incompatibility issues were too big, so there are still unresolved issues left in the final mix, unfortunately… I guess this is a good lesson for the future, but that involves an idea about the tracklist before you start the album (which was not the case). Just like I do with the radio show, I record the mix in Traktor with the S4 controller and I usually do it three times. I’m usually happy with the third go, but in the case of the album I had to record it a couple more times because of the new tracks I had to tweak. We heard you have been on a recent trip to Cuba to try to develop a new musical style that merges electronic music with local Cuban musicianship. Please can you tell us a little more about this?Very few places in the world have such a level of music talent per capita, or such a rich musical tradition. You have live music on almost every corner, and practically everyone plays an instrument. Most people would associate Cuba with salsa or merengue, but Son is actually quite different. It’s usually played by the older generation, much slower and minimalist than salsa, and actually closer to jazz than to other genres. So I went there this summer and recorded tons of bands (by channels, of course, with a potable Olympus recorder). I would just meet the bands playing on the street and offer to pay them for a brief recording session in their practice studio, which is usually their home. The idea is to mix Son with electronic, so right now I’m working on a remix of a very famous song called ‘Lagrimas Negras’, in which I use some of the recordings I brought back this summer. We’ll see how the final track looks like, but it will be similar to my very first track, before the album, called ‘BPM Blues’ (a remix of a blues recording by Howlin’ Wolf in 1954). This is similar to how you made album track ‘Mongolium’ right?I had always wanted to go to Mongolia, and it turns out a friend was going with someone from there. So I was on the next plane out there, going through Moscow, only to get deported when I landed in Ulaan Baator (and back on a 6-hour flight!). Probably one of the worst experiences in my life, because of a missing invitation letter… But I was so interested in going that I returned the next day and then, finally, in nomad’s land. Mongolia is the only country in the world where almost everyone is a real nomad. Humans used to be nomads about 7.000 years ago, so it’s quite fascinating to see what that was like in today’s day and age. It makes you think about our way of life, so disconnected from nature, because they move around several times a year depending on the weather (they can pack the tent in just a few hours). They may not have internet, power, or running water, but they have quite another level of freedom that we clearly don’t have. And their religion is, of course, shamanistic. In their ceremonies, they play a type of violin you find in Asia, while they sing with their throats like nothing you’ve heard before. At least I hadn’t, and couldn’t help trying it with some beats! So ‘Mongolium’ is the result of that experiment, which came out a bit dark because of the voices, but I think the track pays respect to this amazing shamanic singing. The track was later remixed by Timo Maas and Nick Warren as part of the ‘Dark Matters’ remixes Vol 2. What is it that attracts you to this sort of experimentation with indigenous music in your work do you think?I guess that fact that you can be more original that way. And also because you never know what it’s going to sound like when you start working on the track. It’s not like making 8 minutes of techno, where you know more or less what it’s going to sound like before you start. When you go for these types of sounds, you don’t really know what’s going to happen, and that keeps things interesting in the studio. They’re also good production exercises because mixing these ideas is not easy. Eventually I’d like to come back to the idea behind my first ever track, ‘BPM Blues’, where I mix blues and electronic music. I think there’s a lot of potential there. What is coming up for you after the album release?In addition to the ‘Lagrimas Negras’ remix, which is completely different from ‘Dark Matters’, I’ve also started production on some new EPs, closer to the album in terms of style. But, for some reason, it seems that now the tracks branch off in very different directions as soon as I start tweaking them. I guess with an improved technique comes more choices, and I think I’m just going to freestyle it on those different versions! But the main thing brewing in the studio right now is, of course, the latest studio investment: the Roland TD-30KV (V-Drums). I’ve had my mind on this little dream gadget controller for some time and then, about a month ago, I decided to just go for it. As we all know, one of the problems with electronic music might be the lack of human feeling, so with these V-Drums I hope to make the beats more natural. I’m also hoping to speed up the production process this way, but it’s too early to tell because I’m still mapping the bloody thing to Maschine (which requires a Phd in cartography…). But so far, the analogue sounds that come with it are working well in the new EP, and I’m actually thinking of calling these tracks ‘Roland’s Baby’! These drums have reached such a point of perfection that you simply wouldn’t tell the difference with a regular set. And the neighbours find them amazing because you can play them with headphones… With this new addition to the studio, which I can hook up to the Mackie HD1531, I think I may finally have my dream set up for a long time… You can see my studio over on this link.Why did you want to set up your own label?Because I have more flexibility. When you have your own label you can be more experimental and you can change release dates as much as you like. And you keep more of the profits, of course… Personally, I’d rather have that sense of freedom than the fame that comes with releasing under a big label, because I’m more interested in the quality of the productions than in fame. But even if you stay true to your own sound, you appreciate the recognition of media because it helps you to keep going in that direction. What is the long-term aim for Kram Records?Considering that the label was established in late 2011, I couldn’t be happier with 2012. I never expected to see people like Gabriel Ananda, Ben Sims, Hernan Cattaneo, Nick Warren or Timo Maas to release on Kram Records within the first year. But it’s happened! So I couldn’t be happier with how things are going, or the prospects for 2013. This is going to be a big year for the label. In addition to the Cuban-flavoured ‘Lagrimas Negras’ remix to release in the first half of the year, we’re also putting together Vol 3 and Vol 4 ‘Dark Matters’ Remixes, and have some big names already on board (we’re also going to release Vol 5 and 6 towards the end of 2013). In addition to all this, I’m also working on some new underground EPs. So there’s a very busy year at Kram Records for sure. I also plan on releasing some new artists that have sent some great demos through the SoundCloud Drop Box, and we encourage anyone to send us their unreleased material to www.soundcloud.com/kram-records/dropbox. I personally go through all of them. You can pick up Kramnik’s ‘Dark Matters’ and it’s remixes over on Beatport.You can stay updated with his material and shows on Facebook and Soundcloud.