In today's race to further the electronic music conversation, Daniela Auer, Alexander Hengl and Lukas Lehner bring together their collection of approaches, arts and sounds as theclosing. A listen to their recent single “box” destroys any cubicle conventions with baritone bell samples, abstract but addictive beats in a structure styled in 3 movements. In our correspondence with the Viennese trio we break down the barriers and semantics of genre, Austrian hip-hop, and dive deep into the process of making some of the world's best new grooves.
I would like to hear how the three of you go about gathering your samples both found, studio made and from field recordings.
Daniela: There are many different sources. I do a lot of field recording. That can be the sound of a forest or even a dishwasher, I don´t make any limitations, everything that sounds interesting gets recorded. I also like to cut samples from very old vinyls or cassetes, for example many of the sounds in “diktnoise” or “andilied” where old loops that Alex recorded on a bad dictaphone when he was 16 years old. Also we like to record improvised sessions where we play around with both analogue and digital instruments, and sometimes invite friends to join us, and then we take the result and cut out our favourite passages and samples.
Luki: I think the samples we use pretty much define theclosing's sound. A lot of artists nowadays use sounds from field recordings but in a kind of polished, chopped up way. We like raw sounds, often times when I make a beat I use for example a whole loop of fire crackling without slicing it. This is what defines the rhythm and then I add base kick and snare to emphasize the overall groove. So as Daniela said, we are always looking for unusual sounds from any kind of source and try to mix them with “classic” sounds.
As evident on the single “box,” as a trio do you see yourselves as part of contemporary movement to push the notions on the constructs of dance, ambient, EDM, IDM , electro, techno, house or whichever genre signifier you prefer to transcend?
Alex: We never wanted to do music that's easily classified so there's not really a genre we try to transcend. But I guess you can hear that we are inspired by artists with a certain background. We definitely like music that pushes the limits of genres or combines different styles when it happens naturally. For me our music is still hip hop based but i guess that's not important in the end.
Luki: We always did music that was most appealing to us and not thinking too much about genres or what kind of music we want people to associate us with. We have so many different influences and genres we like that it came quite naturally doing a mix of styles and trying to combine them via overall sound and not certain rhythm types or techniques.
How relevant do you feel are constructs of genre if but to provide description and how do you feel the genre construct has or can restrict music?
Alex: I think genres are problematic when people start to restrict their potential just to fit in. Maybe it's possible to make good music when you feel completely confident in a genre. But for us i think it's important to not think about genres at all to make honest and heartfelt songs. At the same time it's not a problem for us when you can hear influences. We don't want to set us any limitations. If a track turns out to be a classical hip hop or techno beat or whatever it won't be a problem for us as long as it feels right.
Luki: I think genres are more for consumers than for producers. It's good to have genres but as a musician, if you restrict yourself by thinking “ok, i'll make a classic hip hop beat now using old vinyl samples and this funk drum loop” you're kind of stuck and not open minded to what can happen when you let things just flow. Also, I think it's hard to evolve as a musician and keep people excited about your music if you dedicate yourself too much to a genre.
If you could assign a descriptive made up genre/sub-genre from tracks like “rrroar” and “andilied” what would or could it be called?
Alex: Hmm. I don't think I could make up something serious here. And as you can see we are not able to concentrate on a certain sound too much. So maybe it wouldn't be very useful to have a name for it. We just call them beats as long as there's a rhythm.
I am curious to hear your thoughts, notes and response on the organic, minimalist production elements from the now classic Neptunes produced Snoop Dogg hit, “Drop it Like It’s Hot.”
Alex: That's a funny question, haha. This track definitely had an influence on me. Although I never understood the attitude of these guys, i would lie if i said that I don't like the vibe and the style of that beat.
Luki: Yeah I think the irony of this track is quite nice. It's good to see that even “established” producers can free themselves from certain restrictions and come up with something fresh.
Who are some of the music producers that you all enjoy?
Alex: Our tastes in music are not very equal and we all listened to different stuff when we started theclosing. But our tastes met when we discovered clouddead and anticon. Artists like odd nosdam, alias or themselves had a great impact on us. Other artists i think we all enjoy are Sigur Rós, Cars & Trains, Restiform Bodies and their soloprojects, Audio88, Björk, Radiohead, Triune Gods and their solo projects…
Luki: Anticon kind of helped us to mature in musical taste and opened our minds in a lot of ways. I can still remember the first time I heard “live trap” by themselves. By that time I didn't listen to hip hop at all. I was stuck on skate-punk, Korn, Deftones, I listened a little bit to Squarepusher and Aphex Twin but these were the only “electronic” artists that I liked but when I heard this track it just blew my mind. Nowadays I like artists like Boards Of Canada, Kid Koala, Flying Lotus, Deru, the opus, I love the new Shlohmo album and I always come back to RJD2's Deadringer, it's like an addiction, I have to listen to it at least once a month and I think it's one of the best albums ever made.
Daniela: When I first listened to Clouddead a new world opened for me and I still listen to both of their albums quite often. It`s like I can still learn so much about making music every time I listen to it. And themselves had a similar big impact on me, also Doseone´s artwork impressed me a lot. Also very important for me are: K-The-I??? (synesthesia,Wow!), Subtle, Dälek, Zavoloka, Busdriver, Loden,…too many to mention.
Tracks like “feldlied” and “diktnois” have some some hip-hop oriented beat progressions that are done using sampled found organic percussion with melodic things buzzing within a haze of sound. Do you all have any favorite hip-hop artists?
Alex: Most of the artists we mentioned before are hip hop related. I think especially experimental and underground hip hop is the genre where all our music tastes come together.
Luki: I think I'm the one in our trio that listens the most to “classic” hip hop. I enjoy Slum Village, Madlib, Lootpack and these kind of artists a lot.
Does Vienna have a hip-hop scene?
Alex: Yes, there is a small one but we don't feel very related to it. There are some exceptions like Aas Der Basis or Parkwächter Harlekin who strike out and come up with great stuff but I generally miss the willing to try something new and outside the borders in austrian hip hop.
What has the Viennese response been to the music of theclosing?
Alex: We are still waiting for it. There's a small group of people you could call our fans. But hopefully this album will change things.
Luki: Yeah, we were kind of under the radar for a long time, we haven't played a lot of live shows and weren't that present for people but this will change in the near future.
Daniela: We try to make a lot of promotion now in Austria, let´s see how it works out.
“Tictac” sounds like the industrial underground of Harlem and the follow up “bergelied” breathes like some kind of next gen NYC underground groove. Do you all feel a connection to any NYC based artists, movements, etc?
Alex: Since we never really were interested in genres or scenes we unfortunately don't know much about them. So I can't say much about that. But it's cool to hear that you can sense a city that's so foreign to us in our sound. Dälek are from NYC though, right? We like them very much.
“Andilied” seems to be an example of taking vocal utterances, snippets from an acoustic guitar, fielded out percussion samples and environmental sounds. Could you share what the process of sound assembly is like when working within this kind of disparate eclecticism?
Alex: Hmm. Not easy to answer that. We collect all kinds of sounds over a long period of time and we use the same archive for all of them. And when we are working on a song we choose them very randomly. I think it's kind of a blind trust that all the sounds we pic up, in that certain mood we're in when we start with a song, will somehow fit together in the end.
Luki: We have built up a huge sound library from many different sources. When it comes to making a beat we try out different samples, loops and layers until we feel there's something interesting in the composition. There's always this moment where it all just makes sense in a natural way and from there on the track evolves and builds up.
Daniela: “Andilied” (translated: Andysong) is called like that because we used a lot of samples from a recording session with our good friend Andreas Laser in his home studio. And it´s his voice you can hear in the beginning of the song.
Tracks like “nyejreska” feel right at home in today's climate of visceral, ambient centered music for the unconscious. Why do you all think that so much of new music exists more and more into this heady, inner-frontal lobe space?
Alex: Maybe more and more people slowly recognize that it's interesting when you dig a little and don't try to control everything too much.
Luki: I think people like these kind of monotone beats because they are very relaxing and still interesting to listen to. I always loved “the opus” for making beats that don't change that much and put you in a certain state of mind. The beats are like mantras that repeat over and over but the hook is so good that it doesn't get boring listening to pretty much the same loop for 5 minutes. We like this idea a lot and I think it resembles on our album where on a lot of the tracks the beat doesn't change that much or even has a lot of breaks, rhythm changes etc.
With the organic liquid percussion on “neeu,” is this in any way an homage to sound pioneers, Neu! ?
Alex: Funny. That song is spelled 'neu' on the album cover because we changed the title without telling tom, our very lovely labelboss who had to deal with too many confused emails from me. But we don't know that band 'Neu! ?'. I will definitely check them out. If that song is an homage then it's an homage to that Snoop Dogg song you mentioned before. But without any intention. It's like our version of this laid back hip hop style the Neptunes created back then, just without all that posing.
Luki: We're really bad with naming our tracks. For a long time we didn't name them at all but it got complicated when talking about the tracks. At a point it was just annoying talking about “this track with that sample we recorded 2 months ago, you remember?” so we gave them at least working titles. A lot of these working titles ended up being the final titles since we're not very creative in this way. So no, there's no homage of any sort.
We haven’t talked much about narrative within your music but “zombielied” actually works like any Walking Dead, Night of the Living Dead type of horror fiction with the sparse moans and sound that almost mimics a zombie’s walk. A similar type of beast is created with the dragged out “sandmannklan.” How do these audio characters emerge from your collaborations?
Alex: We never really try to create a special atmosphere or to tell a story but we are glad that our songs are able to inspire people to make up their own stories while listening to them. I think the narrative and most of the other elements in our music come from our subconsciousness. Somehow we made it that our songs are a bit like messages from our inner selves. Maybe because of that for me our album is very motivating and transports something strong and positive. When i listen to our album it always reminds me of all the things that are really important to me in life. I hope it also works like that for other people.
Luki: I think since we use a lot of “real” sounds the music becomes very vivid. We all like music that breathes and creates pictures in your head and by using sounds taken out of everyday situations it comes quite naturally associating these with certain emotions/pictures.
Just as “feldlied” is the perfect opener as it takes the listener out of their listening spaces and directly positions them into the world of theclosing; “m4” makes for the perfect tranquil closer that lets you down slowly with subtle keys and sparse electro percussion bubbling all the while. How much thought to the self-titled as a complete piece was there, given that each song already works as individually designed machine on its own?
Alex: I'm glad that you noticed that. All these songs tell their own story and it took such a long time till all of them were done, but i think you can sense that they fit together and are stronger as a complete piece. We are really into albums you want to listen from the first to the last track and i hope we made one of them although it's a long one. It was also one of the main reasons why we wanted to release it on cd. Some of our friends were disappointed that we didn't make a vinyl release but we'll see what the future brings.
Luki: Alex put a lot of thought into the song picks and track orders and since he's a perfectionist I think the album works out pretty well as a whole. It was no easy task because the tracks were created over a pretty long time span but in the end it just felt right. This is also an interesting thing about our album because the tracks are very different given the time they were created in but I think the overall vibe is the same so it feels like one piece and not 14 “best of” tracks that were compiled together.
I was also wondering what the story behind Daniela’s painting of the mysterious moose haired caricature that appears on both the album cover and on the disc. Mascot for theclosing?
Daniela: It is kind of my alter ego, called “Nela”, I created it 7 years ago, and back then it was very present in my work as an artist. Somehow Nela disappeared from my paintings and we started to use her as a mascot for theclosing. She represents special qualities such as living with nature, sovereignty, self-confidence, playfulness, a certain simplicity, creativity, warmness, the ability to contemplate, etc.. qualities that mean a lot to us, and are slowly disappearing from this achievement-oriented-society we live in. She tries to concentrate on the positive side of life, just like we always try to transport something positive through our music.
Did the music come before the mixed media of other worldly album art with the conceptual looking continents or vice versa?
Daniela: Since our album emerged during a long period of time, I had many different ideas for the concept of the artwork and we talked a lot about it and there were some things we agreed upon before the record was finished, but the final artwork was done when the album was already finished, so it was definitely the music that inspired the artwork, not vice versa.
Being that all three of you work in a variety of mediums, I was wondering what are some of the band's outside art projects?
Alex: I made up these creatures. I call them 'brats'. I did hundreds of plastics and a lot of drawings, paintings, photos and silkscreen prints of them. I guess I am pretty obsessed. They kind of represent what i like to see in every human being. Little innocent brats.
Daniela: I work with a lot of different mediums like drawing, painting, sculpture, photography, video and sound. The underlying theme of everything is nature, an artistic research for the underlying structures and forms in nature. That is also the concept that you see in my artwork for the album. You can view a lot of my work as an artist on myhomepage, via www.danielaauer.com. Alex and I are also co-founders of “Lichenisierung”, a group of 9 like-minded artists ( many of them also make music). As a group we organise group exhibitions and also create little zines together. (www.lichenisierung.net)
Luki: I do a lot of art with the kids in my school, haha! We draw pictures of flowers and make pretty cards for mother's day and such 😉 (Lukas is becoming an elementary school teacher)
theclosing's self-title album is out now from Circle Into Square.