Away from the Unnecessary
(Originally published in September 2011)
Over the years Sasu Ripatti, better known as Vladislav Delay (among other aliases and monikers) has out-shined many other names that have since faded from the electronica/techno scene in general. He has recorded for some of the most respected seminal labels in the genre (Chain Reaction, Mille Plateaux, Staubgold and Leaf) and is about to announce a new relationship with Raster-Noton. Collaborations have included those with the Moritz Von Oswald Trio, Craig Armstrong and his partner Antye Greie (AGF). One thing that has his work standing the test of time is an endless sense of definition-proof direction, not at all scattered, masterful in a worldly sense of musicality and overall breadth of style. TJ Norris had the chance to catch up with him on the cusp of releasing a few new exciting projects.
TJ Norris / Igloo Magazine :: Many greetings as it’s been a while since we connected and I am sure you have been real busy. Where are you?
Vladislav Delay :: I’m back home, on the island of Hailuoto, Northern Finland near the Arctic Circle. I’m just back from Berlin, we had a release party for the new Luomo album at the club Watergate.
TJN :: What is going on these days?
Delay :: What’s going on these days? Difficult to say. Struggling between being a no-compromise artist and avoiding too much travels and publicity but trying to pay my bills. Trying to focus and dedicate time on new music at least as much as ever while hardly making a living with it anymore. But I think I’m fortunate enough, I still can do this after quite many years. It’s a hard call these days. Luckily I’m so far away from all the music business and scene nonsense and all that, it definitely helps to keep my own focus and mind. Also dedicating time for my daughter who’s growing older every day and not wanting to miss any of it.
Questioning the world more than ever I guess. Spending quite a bit of time reading and thinking about life, culture, social things, politics. Horrified by lots of stuff. Being in the middle of nowhere, wilderness, a paradise basically, and at the same time having satellite TV and watching the news all over the world feels so absurd — sometimes it’s hard to believe it’s actually true.
Above all, trying to stay focused on music with lots of ideas and plans.
TJN :: Very much appreciated in these, agreed, times of uncertainty. Speaking of the focus being on your music – after seeing the video for “Latoma [Echocord]” I’m curious about what is was like working with the great Czech claymation filmmaker Jan Švankmajer and how that came about?
Delay :: Actually I have no idea. My great assistant in Berlin managed it. I wasn’t involved at all in it, I just saw it one day. It was the second or third time when I have seen a really properly done video for my track just appearing. It’s quite amazing. I have a feeling a few people have been making videos because they were inspired by the music but I’m not 100% sure if Latoma came about like that. It’s possible that the label had something to do with that but if so I wasn’t kept in the loop, quite odd.
TJN :: It’s certainly unexpected, but a fit fusion of sound and image.
You have so many various monikers to record under (Sistol, Luomo, etc). Do you have a certain ethic or sound to come across that serves each of these particular projects? Have their been any projects you have disbanded and why?
Delay :: Usually it’s just a vision to do something, and usually there’s already an existing moniker or project where it fits. Or like in Luomo’s case it’s just so that I need to do that kind of music every now and then, there’s a very strong vision about what Luomo is musically and I just push that further and try to get closer to the core of it.
It’s all about just trying to stay challenged, to find interesting stuff to do. And juggle between a wide range of music to not get stuck on something or keep repeating myself, within reason of course. I hardly even have single tracks unfinished or released. I don’t try stuff out for the sake of it, even though I feel like I would like to do that sometime again. But the last 10 years has been about having a vision and going for that and making sure I finish as satisfied and close to that vision as possible. Not that the end result is the same as the earlier vision or idea, often times actually not, but the inner feeling of it and standing behind it usually is there.
Then again, I never listen to my stuff once it’s finished unless I play that material in concerts, I just leave it behind and go further. Almost all the monikers and projects have certain fundamentals and the concept to exercise but then again I try to find something new every time within this context.
TJN :: Since you mentioned your live concert performance I recall seeing you perform once, I remember the elaborate set-up and that I found you to be a dramatic live performer. Will you tour soon to support any new works, and what do you think of performing live in general?
Delay :: Back to location. I try to travel less and less, out of my own interest and also to spend more time with my family and in the studio. So no touring, though still I travel a fair amount with all these active projects.
I think it’s essential to perform live to stay in touch with the outside world, especially for someone like me who’s very private and not that social. It is also the true test for me to see how I feel about my productions when I play in front of 10 or 1000 people. When you make the music by yourself for yourself you can easily become just stuck and not see the forest from the trees. Especially in the field of electronic music with all the tools around making music becomes easily doing just stuff for no reason, like a dog who just licks its balls only because it can. To get out and play in public makes you see those trees very fast again.
I like to travel and see different places and people. But having to do that for a living, and do it constantly is terrible at the same time. I have tried to change since moving up north. It’s just too heavy to travel all the time, I fly most often the whole day with 6 flights just for one show and back.
TJN :: Your honesty is fresh, and much appreciated – if more artists were feeling instead of repeating we might be a better overall voice for change and understanding. I’m hearing that when one travels you would imagine that you should sensitively take in the place, the people. Working to play a one-off show can often overshadow the purpose of the actual organic experience overall.
What have you been listening these days, material that is on repeat?
Delay :: I’m pretty frustrated with music these days to be honest. I follow a lot, I even subscribed to damn Spotify so I can keep up with all the releases as they just aren’t worth buying physically anymore. Both musically and technically speaking I think we are living very sad times. But I feel like I’m the only one thinking like that so I’m not sure how much I should open my soul.
The last 10 years has been about having a vision and going for that and making sure I finish as satisfied and close to that vision as possible. Not that the end result is the same as the earlier vision or idea, often times actually not, but the inner feeling of it and standing behind it usually is there.
While the film industry, for example, is all about hi-def and blu-ray and whatnot, the maximum experience and highest possible realization and end result, the music field is going crazy for the shittiest possible quality of music. Low-res mp3s, tiny earpods, millions of tracks and not knowing who made what. As long as it’s loud and there’s a ton of it it’s seemingly fine. It’s amazing. While actually the music making technology allows for better quality than ever before.
It doesn’t end with the end users either. It begins already in the studios, or more and more in laptops. And it doesn’t matter if it’s Kanye West’s last album (which I think is musically quite brilliant and the best album in a long time) or some guy raping his laptop with illegal software, it way too often sounds terrible to me in regards to mixing and loudness. It just kills the ears and you can’t listen to it for more than but a few little moments.
So I find myself listening to old stuff when it’s about actually listening to music for enjoyment. Jazz, Jamaican stuff.
I also listen lots of hip-hop for entertainment but it’s very much on the surface only. And it drives me crazy that those guys who definitely could afford to do it properly just don’t give a fuck, it just sounds unforgivably bad and done without much care. And nobody seems to care about that beside a few mastering engineers whining about it in specialist forums. The new generation of producers in all kinds of electronic music and often in mainstream music like hip-hop are in principle capable of doing things unimaginable in the past and are extremely creative at times, but at the same time for me it sounds and feels they lack foundation in music and technology to actually back up that search for new things. or it’s not worth caring about anymore, which would be much more terrible situation. The new generation of people who buy and listen to that stuff are growing up with such shitty sounding music it’s unbelievable. Maybe it’s good that they listen it via low-res systems, at least you don’t hear how bad it actually sounds.
TJN :: LOL, very true, go on….
Delay :: I can’t listen in the studio, to most of the stuff released today. Why all the gear? Why spend time writing the music and then doing the fuck all in the end in regards to sound? Then again, bottom line: good music should sound good on even the shittiest of systems. So, go figure. I’m not smiling though.
TJN :: There are still some of us audiophiles out here who do find respite in quality – and not listening to everything through the cheapest of built-in computer speakers! Hearing the music itself is paramount. Now, can you say something about how your techno/dance records influence your other moreso restrained/minimal efforts and vice-versa if at all?
Delay :: I keep them quite separated anyway, I don’t feel much influence from my semi-club productions when doing what might be more considered experimental, and the other way around as well.
TJN :: It’s exciting to hear your teaming up with the team of Raster-Noton for their 15th anniversary of the label to release Vantaa. It’s release has been announced to be out in November. Have you joined their regular roster and how would you describe the alignment of this new record with their output? Of course this also brings to mind visuals as well, will the release include anything special in terms of its physical release?
Delay :: We agreed to try a long-term collaboration, they wanted even exclusivity for VD stuff which is fine for me. I have known these guys for a long time and like them a lot. The album was done before I even approached them or even thought of them.
I played the same album to several labels actually. So there’s no RN influence whatsoever, and I don’t think there will be in the future either. I’m quite very far away from a specific RN sound if there is one. I think it’s good and they are also happy to expand their sound offerings.
Only thing where the RN aesthetics come to play is the artwork, which is always done by them and they were very insistent on that, which is also fine by me. I don’t plan to have any specific visuals tied in to VD sets when playing live but my partner Antye will, for example, do visuals for me when we embark to tour in Japan soon. But other times I’ll be playing without visuals, or possibly also with other visual artists, like Lillevan.
TJN :: After my first listen it’s got something of a worn, tribal/percussive feel on one hand and then again reminds me of a lullaby as well. There is a hazy sensibility, strings, some dispatched drone…is this a welcome nod to the days of Chain Reaction but something of a document or soundtrack for our times?
Delay :: This is quite accurate I guess. I wanted to go back to those feelings and structures I was working on in the early days but of course not to repeat them. I felt quite free to go explore the electronic side of things with this album since I had started the Quartet and could try out the acoustics, drums, improvisation and all that with the group.
Vladislav Delay Quartet line-up: Delay (drums and percussions), Mika Vainio (electronics), Lucio Capece (bass clarinet and soprano sax) and Derek Shirley (double bass)
A document or soundtrack of our times, not intentionally, at least. But of course it is inspired and also it maybe reflects back on the times and movements I witness around me. Overall I think it’s possibly the best album I have done as Vladislav Delay.
TJN :: You have something else coming right up, the first new Luomo record since 2008’s Convivial is just about out and your first on Moodmusic. What are we in for?
Delay :: It’s a continuity of what Luomo was for me since the beginning. I felt quite more open regarding what gear to use and how. I have always restricted myself in the Luomo productions in the way I use synths and drum machines et al, and this time I really kind of almost pushed myself to use things I’d not normally use. Or forced myself to be less restrictive. So, I guess it sounds maybe a bit more open and maybe also a touch more old school house as lots of gear I worked with were used in the past as well.
I have some quite serious problems with the dance/club scene though and I actually never have felt much any connection to it. And definitely less connected to it nowadays than maybe ever before. It’s just so lacking imagination and creativity IMO. It’s hard to relate to it as it’s so homogenous and based on the DJ-as-a-business culture – no risks.
I was just at Watergate to play the record release party. The sound technician was very concerned during the sound check that my bass drum sounds were different from track to track.
That probably says enough. It’s just unbelievable! If you have the same fucking kick drum for 12 hours everybody will be happy and not disturbed by any changes… it’s ugly, man.
TJN :: Bloody hell.
Delay :: So it’s a conflict in a way that I chose that medium out of necessity to do my kind of pop music alone without typical mainstream needs or sacrifices. It’s about pop music for me, not serving faceless club music – but I wouldn’t want to make pop music in a band sorta way, staged way, never. So it’s the best option, but it’s hardly a great medium after all and a massive sacrifice as well. So mainly it’s a private thing to do, making that music by myself as I really do enjoy making it. And the rest is hazardous to say the least. I try to see the good side to it. And it also makes me happy to see some people really enjoying it. Like the group of 8 people who traveled from Ireland just for the show in Berlin and who seemingly enjoyed it.
TJN :: I’ve enjoyed your more lofty projects like The Dolls and Explode (both 2005) on your own label, Huume. There was a significant amount of output on the imprint between 2004-08, are you still continuing to release material? And since both of those projects included AGF, what is it like working creatively with your wife and how do your aesthetics differ and merge?
Delay :: I stopped the label when I moved away from Berlin, more than 3 years ago. It was always just the output for my own stuff, and I kept at it while the music business was still somewhat healthy and I could just release music and sell few copies without unnecessary demands and compromises. When it started seriously changing, the mood went sour and I just closed the shop.
Since then I have been ping-ponging between labels for various projects. We also did another Agf/Delay for BPitch Control, though that second album was quite different from Explode.
It’s all about just trying to stay challenged, to find interesting stuff to do. And juggle between a wide range of music to not get stuck on something or keep repeating myself, within reason of course. I hardly even have single tracks unfinished or released. I don’t try stuff out for the sake of it, even though I feel like I would like to do that sometime again.
Working with your partner is always a massive challenge of course but we have kept cool about it I think, and grown a lot since we started. We almost broke up in the beginning but since then it’s been going quite all right, even though I think we both agree we have been quite careful when working together. We agree on some things but quite heavily disagree on others, and we both are very hardheaded when it comes to the creative process. We are just starting something new which I’m quite curious how that will run. Time will tell.
TJN :: Something to watch and wait for I’m sure. Speaking of working with artists – anyone out there who you would really like to collaborate with?
Delay :: Not really. Living here on the island I have become a hermit and a self- sufficient one. I don’t think collaborations hardly ever reach the true potential but very much the opposite. Part of me would love to produce all kinds of pop acts from Brandy to Justin Timberlake and also various hip-hop guys but it’s just not possible if I wanted to do what I thought was the coolest thing around. My interest in not creating mega sellers but interesting music. That’s obviously not most of pop or mainstream music.
TJN :: How does the place affect the music, are you partly isolated, or is it freeing to be just floating out there? Are you an island castaway?
Delay :: For me it was exactly the thing I needed to do and I’m so happy I went through all the terror of moving my family and studio to another country, and also risking to try out this island without any previous experiences there or security of any kind.
But I knew I had to get away from Berlin, both for private life reasons and also how being there just violated my creativity as well. I can fully understand how the city is great for many producers but we are all individuals. I never went there for the music as the current worldwide exodus seems to be happening. And while living there I realized it’s just not good for my music, too much unnecessary traffic and disturbance of all kinds.
So I had to look for something that works for me, not as easy as it sounds. The same thing, relates very much to the music making as well. It’s way easier to just join some hype or movement or just do what your neighbor is and I understand the capitalistic idea behind it, it’s about making a living and paying your bills (or some people really enjoy the popularity). But in the more deeper sense of creativity and art and all that, I saw quite many people turn to electronic music from totally different fields, be it an advertising agency person or promoter or whatever… shoe salesman. Some of them for sure are happier, and maybe closer to what they should have been doing all along – then again many are not. When they chose music it’s about Ableton Live, which I think is the worst thing to happen in music making, ever. That just brings this superficial feel to it. I don’t judge people’s choices or opinions, it’s just the results and the effects they have. For myself, I worked quite hard for several years, trying to find a place where I’d feel good to begin with and I knew then the work would feel good as well. In this island life being very far away from a lot of unnecessary stuff is just absolutely amazing. I can concentrate on what I do when I do it.
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Photo credits: Ari Pekka Auvinen & Emanuele Sason.