I met Satori on one of those lovely early spring days in his hometown Nijmegen. We sat down and he spoke very freely about inspiration, spontaneity and about romanticism in music. Everything comes together on his new album In Between Worlds. It’s not quite clear which genre it is, but he himself calls it electronic world music.
It’s been a while since we’ve been talking about your album but it is finally here. How is it been going?
Great! It’s been recently released and the positive feedback has been flowing in since. It has also been getting a lot of attention on different blogs, so I’m very pleased with that. Releasing new stuff is always exciting because you’re not sure how people are going to react. Oh, and booking requests from all over the country and abroad are coming in so that makes it even better!
So you are going to travel around the world?
Yes, or at least Europe, but outside of Europe as well actually. But I’m noticing that a lot of people are mainly into my live sets. Albums are mostly not the reason why clubs are booking me. They probably like the album, but just by listening to it you still don’t know what to expect on stage. If I’d be playing my album as its released in a club it would kill the vibe. It’s a nice album for on the road, but not particularly for clubs. So the live sets are very important to bridge the gap between the album and my performances on stage.
While I was working on the album that was not something I was really thinking about, but at a certain point it did start to frighten me a bit. I was wondering how the hell was I going to make a live set out of the album!? Luckily Acid Pauli gave me the right inspiration to do so. He gave me ideas on how to mix different genres and tempos together. And on how to make the composition, take risk and go in depth within my sets. Naturally, when I heard his sets I was absolutely sold. Great inspiration. So that’s why Acid Pauli is one of my heroes and a great example for me on how to improve my performance.
So what’s one of the tricks you’ve learned to make the transition from the album to your live set?
Well, for example, I like making edits. They’re in between what people actually know and what they recognize but are not really able to name. The dance floor normally responds very well to this. And sometimes it’s a really nice bridge between my own tracks so to make it flow better. My sets could get pretty intense when I first started out and required a lot of attention from the listeners. There is a lot of improvisation and risk involved and they’re all my own tracks so there’s not a lot of recognition. They’re constantly surprised and by using edits it creates tranquillity and sort of a gripe for the audience.
What’s striking about your sets to me is that you can hear that you have a history as a DJ. Your sets can have a DJ set feel to them because you really let two tracks work with each other.
My history with El Mundo & Satori certainly shaped me as a live performer. Before that I was a singer songwriter who made country music. El Mundo & Satori introduced my to the electronic music scene and taught me a lot on how things work on a dance floor, on how to make electronic beats and what the people in the scene in general are like.
But at a certain point it all started to feel a bit monotonous and I started to get bored. Because we were together I’d mix a track in and then I had to wait for Pim to do the next one and because we were doing so every weekend I started to long for something different. So to cope with that, we would drink a lot of beers and bullshit around all the time. We had and amazing time, don’t get me wrong, but I wasn’t musically challenged enough. As a live performer I can put in a lot more spontaneous action and surprise people a lot more by using Live on stage. When no one is really paying attention you can turn down the tempo to create some sort of awareness with the crowd and to get their attention again. You can create a lot more hooks in that way to make it more exciting, for me and the crowd.
Besides, it was a nice way to get a feel for the scene together. It’s like going to live in a new city with your best buddy. After a while you get to know the place and you start doing things your own way. Something like that…
You’ve been collaborating with a lot of other artists on your new album. Can you explain why that is?
Yes, and it’s something I’ll keep on doing in the future. I’m not quite sure when I realized this but somewhere in the process there was a moment I thought it was something I really had to do. The documentary Bad25 confirmed that. It’s about how to out do a fantastic album like Thriller. The answer was collaboration. They invited the best musicians and producers to work on Bad and the ended up with something that was even better than Thriller. It’s a misconception that we download Ableton, buy some headphones and seclude ourselves from the world to become purist artist. It can happen like that, but collaborating with others is works way better and actually is a very traditional way of making music. It goes back to when we, as a species, started making music.
Are there artist on your wishlist to make music with?
I do actually have a wishlist now that I’m thinking about it. I would really love to give a big concert with a big African ensemble. Or to work with Toumani Diabaté, a famous Kora player form Mali. If I could make a track with him, that would be awesome. He’s a real African hero of mine.
Speaking of heroes: People often compare you to Nicolaas Jaar. What’s your view on that?
Well… Actually I don’t really like that. My big inspirations are Acid Pauli and N U, so… I think editors do it to generate more attention. I think he’s great, but I just see him as an artist I really enjoy. Just like James Blake and Bonobo. In my opinion they are great artists, but to compare me to Nicolaas Jaar is a bit exaggerated.
People recognize all sorts of artists in my music and live sets such as David August, Nicolaas Jaar, Acid Pauli and Bonobo, but most of all they hear Satori. And I guess that’s something people naturally do to get a grip on new music they encounter. People often have very crude divisions of music genres. If an artist does something that’s a bit deep that artist may end up representing everything that’s deep in music. That’s something you have to work out for your self, but it’s not something you can actually work with.
What’s your opinion on the contemporary music scene?
I think we’re in an extraordinary period with the music scene. We’re coming from a period predominated by a lot of techhouse. Especially in Amsterdam there were a lot of techhouse events and from there we took of to very melodic, melancholic and dramatic. It felt like a pretty abrupt transition. Tale of Us, Dixon, Manou le Though, Nicolaas Jaar and Acid Pauli all contributed to that.
The transition itself fascinated me as well. How come we went from this super energetic techhouse to a more deep, melancholic and dramatic sound? I decided to dig a bit deeper into the subject and took other transitions in musical history as an example. I found something very interesting. In the nineteenth century there was the romantic era represented by composers like Beethoven, Wagner and Chopin who started making music in opposition to the restraint and formality of classical models of making music that were common before. It was a clear reaction against the logic that had led music making in previous times.
That transition resembles in my opinion the change we see now moving from techno and techhouse to music that has more feeling, emotion and drama. We want to tell stories with our music and that’s super romantic. I really believe that electronic music is in the midst of a revolution and that we’re entering that romantic era. It doesn’t matter any more what genre you as an artist represent or on what label you are releasing. In stead, it’s about how much emotion and expression you as a person can put into your music. How can your productions represent you as a person? That, to me, is very romantic. The guys I just mentioned all have a very clear musical identity. If you ask them what their style of music is they’re all unable to give you a straightforward predefined answer. If you’d ask a DJ 20 years ago he’d know exactly. Everything was clearly positioned. This is what I do. This is who we are. These are the rules. That’s all been let go off and the sky seems to be the limit. We’re becoming musical identities that really are an expression of who we are as a person…
And thus we’re unable to think in labels and genres because it’s becoming to complicated for the variety of music that is out there?
Yes, only Beatport still does so…
What do you think drives this change?
If you look at the influence social media and the Internet have on society it’s obvious that everything is much more connected than, say, 20 years ago. What this does is that it enables people to construct a more divers identity. Music becomes some sort of a mood board of who you are as a person. When I listen to a set I don’t hear techno or whatever genre, but I can hear who you are. I can hear who inspires you, what countries you’ve visited, what movies you have seen. The current technology enables that. I can start off a live set with a speech of John Cage and then continue with a soundscape of a Tarantino movie while adding my own piano play underneath. I can use whatever inspires me and combine that all on stage. Who we are as a person is more clearly defined and thus who we are as an artist as well and that transcends the music genres that we have.
I think the Internet can cause a lot of problems as well, but if you overcome those, you can really benefit from it. And Internet also has… well, that’s the beauty of it. That’s why I think SoundCloud and it’s success is so interesting. Everyone can be inspired by an endless amount of music and can really find out what their musical taste is. I mean: you really can go in depth on that. That’s the phase I think we’re entering right now. It’s just more about who you are as a person, about your authentic self.
That search for the self and authenticity is something that seems to be reviving. The name of the album In Between Worlds refers to the fact that music is always a combination of influences. Not just one. I don’t represent one world. My dad is from Serbia. My mom is from South Africa. I’m born in the Netherlands, so in that respect I’m in between worlds as well and so is my music. And it’s a reference to that transition to the romantic era.