Good vibrations: An interview with Efterklang

Prior to their much talked about set at Electronic Beats Festival Zagreb, Lucia Udvardyova landed face time with the 4AD-signed Danish masters of atmosphere. Away from the tyranny of promotion, the band instead expound on the subjective nature of sound, the essence of creativity, and a certain Mr X.  Photo by Matej Grgic. Head here to watch highlights of Efterklang’s performance from the festival.

 

Hailing from Denmark, Efterklang is a 4AD-signed indie pop band established in 2001. Over the more than a decade of their existence, they’ve recorded several well-received albums, toured the world, and collaborated with filmmakers and symphony orchestras. Their latest, fourth LP, is Piramida, recorded in the desolate environs of Pyramiden, a Russian settlement in Norway. Fittingly, merciless cold engulfs Zagreb on November 8th, the date of the city’s Electronic Beats festival. Housed in a reminder of what was once a sprawling display of Croatian industry, the Zagrebački Velesajam, I meet the trio of Casper Clausen, Mads Christian Brauer, and Rasmus Stolberg in an impromptu interview room, a small white non-descript box of a room inside a large industrial hall, where the ensuing conversation turns to creativity, collaboration, and self-expression.

 

 

I wanted to ask about your name Efterklang. Apparently it means something like reverberation or remembrance. 

Mads Christian Brauer: It’s a word that resonated with us. It refers to reverberation and remembrance, a very technical word but it also has some poetry to it; the decay, what comes after something.

After sound.

MCB: Literally. ‘Efter’ means ‘After’. Klang is timbre, the sound.

What comes after sound?

MCB: That’s when something resonates within the structure, in a building or guitar. When the waves bounce around.

In a way it’s some sort of arbitrary thing, something uncontrollable, the echoes and delays. 

MCB: But it’s not a repetition like an echo. Often it’s completely different to the sound, like a freeze frame of it.

Are you interested in sound as a medium? You also do field recordings, but you put them in a musical context. 

MCB: Sound is a fascinating thing because it’s the same as light, except that we hear it. Sometimes it’s very fascinating how this world of sound affects us—and how we relate to it—because it’s just air that’s being pushed around but it can move you and talk to you. You can be attracted to any little silly sound and not know why you like it or don’t like it.

It is very physical and subjective.

MCB: Our sight is more alike but hearing is different for everyone. We don’t have a red for sound.

Casper Clausen: The first time I remember someone recording me was when I went on a school trip and they filmed us on this video camera. I heard myself on the videotape and I was like, “Wow, do I really sound like that?” You hear yourself through your mouth and your head one way, and when it comes out it’s different.

Peter Cusack, a field recording artist from Britain, recorded an album called Sounds From Dangerous Places in Chernobyl as a cautious reminder of the catastrophe of nuclear power as such. I wanted to ask whether Piramida is a purely musical piece or if it had an activist slant as well?

MCB: It wasn’t intentionally activist. We were fascinated by these pictures [of Pyramiden] that we saw. Of course, the communist aesthetics really affect the place. When you’re there you think a lot about the ideology. It used to be the “pearl of the Soviet Union” and in a way it was the perfect communist society because you couldn’t escape it. You were forced to make it work. It was a group of a thousand people in the middle of nowhere in the Arctic sea.

A utopian place?

MCB: Yes, and they were showing off to the Norwegians, so they built a swimming pool and a big cultural palace with an auditorium and a dancehall. It was like going to the moon, “See what we can do? We can create this little world where humans shouldn’t be.”

It’s a place loaded with atmosphere. 

MCB: Of course it affects you. We were there for nine days and then we went to Berlin and recorded the album over the next nine months. It became this memory. The more distant the place became, time-wise, the more it became what you thought it was rather than what it actually was.

How can a studio, which is such a neutral space, inspire you compared to a place that is totally suggestive? How can you conjure a certain mood at such a place?

MCB: We made a lot of field recordings and based the album around those so we always had the sound to connect it to. The studio is something you have to get used to. It’s clinical, almost like a laboratory, but you get used to working there. It’s not like all music has to be recorded with candle lights and a very good atmosphere.

CC: I think it depends on who you are. Mads feels much more at home in the studio than I do. I’d rather try to escape it to be honest! For my part it’s a pressure to be in a studio whereas if I’m at home I just have to open my computer if I want to do something. But that’s something beautiful about these times, you can be creative in many places.

 

 

Nowadays, the way artists work has changed. It’s more distracted, people often do art in between other things and time is a diminishing commodity. In a way this has also affected the art that’s produced.

Rasmus Stolberg: I don’t think that’s anything new. Music has forever been used as a part-time pleasure. You may have been working hard during the day and at night you sing songs; some people develop a special talent and they may start doing it for living. It’s brilliant that these days people can have a job and make music on the side. It means they’re not always doing it to make money—it’s a creative outlet. I think there are lot of things coming out that are original and special because people are doing it for their own pleasure.

Without compromise?

CC: But there’s a big part that you are missing. If you’re doing art, if you want to say something and there is something inside you that you want to come out with, it’s a call and you can’t just ignore it. Any artist I know has given up a lot. These days everyone, as Rasmus was saying, can do things and create, which is beautiful. However, being an artist takes more than just loading up a GarageBand. It requires the artist to take themselves out of their comfort zone, to experience something new. And that is an scary thing to do and will forever be that way.

RS: There are a lot of different artists, some artists are more proactive about reaching an audience but there are also a lot of people who sit at home doing really amazing things but they don’t have the ability to share it.

Back in the day, a lot of artists were only discovered after their death. These days everybody wants to have success right now. 

CC: But there is too much focus on success. Everyone wants record deals, everyone wants everything. They want limelight all the time. People want to be everywhere all the time, including ourselves [laughs]. It’s a time of stupidity—a little bit—and we have to figure out what to do and focus on the right things.

RS: I think the focus is on creating. There are so many different ways of doing it. We have a friend in Berlin, a Swedish guy called Erik, and he’s been working on an album for seven years. He has a plan with it. And then there are bands like us who put out records every third year. You can’t say what is better and what is worse. I think there’s a whole problem with how music works these days, it’s about hits on YouTube, how big your name is on a festival poster… And while I totally understand that system, it has nothing to do with the quality of music. It’s just a system for marketing. You have to go out and find music somewhere else.

Where?

RS: Sometimes the unique things are harder to find. As a music listener you have to invest a little time in finding these things that are around because there are so many.

These days everyone is a filter. 

RS: You have to use other filters or be your own filter. The output of music is insane—a crazy cacophonic world. It is extremely important that, as an artist, you are able to ignore that and focus on creating.

But once you put it out it’s in the public domain, it doesn’t belong to you anymore. 

RS: If you make something that you believe in and that you think is really good, you want to share it with people. And you hope that other people will also have joy with it.  If you make something that you believe in then you should focus on that. Maybe in twenty years someone will understand that, or maybe you will be the only one who understood and that is cool as well.

You are quite open in that you cooperate with lot of other artists. There’s a community around your music, which is also important. 

CC: Ideally, if I describe what we want to do it’s to make something that is not necessarily finished. The best art is not complete. A certain percentage is left to the audience to carry on, and I think we play a little bit with that. Efterklang is three of us, but there is also a fourth member, Mr X, who is always there. That can be a lot of things, different musicians we work with, filmmakers, the audience. The three of us always need that fourth thing: the tension. ~

 

Efterklang’s Piramida is out now on 4AD.

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Random Access Memories: MS MR

In our new regular feature, we ask artists to delve deep into their memory banks to surface with some of the tracks that have defined their lives. For this edition, we speak with Brooklyn art-poppers MS MR.

 

In 2012, only a few people really knew who MS MR were. Fostering an air of mystique, their press shots were faceless, their names withheld, they left it up to the music to win over people’s overtaxed attention. And it did: tracks like “Hurricane” quickly garnered numerous blog plaudits and the ear of Pitchfork with the help of the ace Tumblr-referencing video. Now, with a successful debut under their belts, MS MR have thoroughly outgrown the internet sounding—and looking—every inch the arty popstars they always aspired to be. The time seemed apt to ask the band, who rocked Zagreb instalment of Electronic Beats Festival last month, to give us the soundtrack to their lives. These are the results. Warning: contains Eiffel 65.

 

1) What song makes the dancefloor go crazy?

 

2) What was the last song you bought?

 

3) Which song do you never want to play again?

 

4) What was the first song you ever danced to?

 

5) Which song would make you leave the dancefloor?

 

6) What song is your guilty pleasure?

 

7) Which song do you play to impress someone you like?

 

8) What’s your favorite song to play when you’re getting intimate with someone you like?

 

9) Which song do you know all the lyrics to?

 

10) What song do you want played at your funeral?

 

Random Access Memories was inspired by Mit Vergnügen’s Musik Mittwoch feature. Read more Random Access Memories here.

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Live Report: Electronic Beats Festival Zagreb 2013

EB lands in the Croatian capital for a night to remember with DENA, MS MR, Efterklang, and Fritz Kalkbrenner. All photos by Matej Grgic.

 

Hidden in the maze of a decaying industrial legacy, an amazing complex of dozens of concrete pavilions, the Zagreb Fair, or the Zagrebački Velesajam, is situated in the outskirts of Novi Zagreb and was the host of this year’s Croatian edition of the Electronic Beats festival.

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DENA

Defying the stark machine-like atmospherics, it was down to the Bulgarian-born songstress DENA to bring the spacious hall, which anticipated its sold-out crowd of around two thousand, to life. Denitza Todorova, backed by the feisty Caramel Brown on keyboards and electronics, resembled a twenty-first century female interpretation of Robert Palmer, inverting the old-school scenario on its head with a breath of girl power. DENA performed her most well-known songs in rapid succession; there’s your “Thin Rope, “Guest List”, “Cash, Diamond Rings, Swimming Pools”, and a brand new song never performed before—a surprisingly subdued and mellow number. Similar to her video presence, in her live renditions she and her vocals takes center stage, only reinforcing her pop potential.

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MS MR

By the time the Brooklyn band with a deceptively simple name, MS MR, hits the stage, the place has filled up, just in time for the New Yorkers’ vigorous live show. The self-proclaimed “wannabe art kids” make likeable indie pop—changing up the night. Sometimes compared to the grande dames of indie pop such as Bat for Lashes or Florence & The Machine, one can easily draw parallels between those strong, confident musical personas and singer Lizzy Plapinger’s  charismatic and animated stage presence. Instead of Florence’s orange mane, Lizzy’s hair is neon green tonight. Undaunted by the huge festival stage, they fill it with larger-than-life power pop to a receptive audience. As their set comes to a close, MR starts dancing like a lion unleashed. When the set closes with “Hurricane”, their 2010 single, the crowd has well and truly been converted.

Efterklang

Efterklang

A rather unconventional choice for a Friday evening, Efterklang brought a Danish dose of nonchalance and musicality to Zagrebački Velesajam. They have been touring for a year-and-a half with their Piramida album, an amalgam of field recordings assembled on a remote dystopian Soviet settlement in Norway. It feels as though a certain homeliness engulfed the cool industrial hall; Casper Clausen dressed to the nines, adorned with a bowtie, drink in hand. Songs off the aforementioned record, including “Monument”, are played, imbued with a dream-like, fragile atmospherics that has difficulty connecting with the party-hungry crowd. They are bold enough to include some psychedelic jamming towards the end of their set, offering the audience sips of Slovenian wine. Prior to their concert, they spoke to us about artistic integrity and creation as an unfinished process, a baton that is passed onto the listener to process in their own way.

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Fritz Kalkbrenner

Fritz Kalkbrenner, in a way, was like the antithesis of Efterklang. His stomping set interspersed with vocals was delivered to waves of jubilant party-goers, whisking them off to his sonic universe—exactly where they wanted to be—culminating with the evergreen “Sky and Sand”. As the concluding tones of his biggest hit draw to a close, the room is ecstatic in communal unison. The evening is over, and Pavilion number nine of the Zagrebački Velesajam is now taking a well-deserved rest. Until next time, Zagreb! ~

 

Miss Zagreb? Head to one our other fall festivals, and stay tuned for live video footage from this event soon.

EBF-ZAGREB-2013

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Random Access Memories: DENA

In our new regular feature, we ask artists to delve deep into their memory banks to surface with some of the tracks that have defined their lives. For this edition, we speak with the Berlin-based, modern pop up-and-comer DENA. DENA performs at Electronic Beats Festival Zagreb this Friday, November 8th—for full details, head here. Photo: Emma Svensson

 

Based in Berlin since 2005, the Bulgarian-born DENA (née Denitza Todorova) has created a stir since her appearance on albums by The Whitest Boy Alive. 2013 was the year that the beatmaker and vocalist stepped out of the shadows to quite a bit of acclaim, presenting her own fresh take on R&B and electronic-influenced pop music. Her contemporary productions and wry lyrics observing rituals of modern life have been some of the funnest tracks filling our office recently, and her set at the EB Festival Zagreb is sure to be one of the highlights of the season.

 

1) What song makes the dancefloor go crazy?
Most difficult question ever. You never know! But for example:

 

2) What was the last song you bought?

 

3) What was the first song you ever danced to?

 

4) Which song would make you leave the dancefloor?

 

5) What song is your guilty pleasure?
I just discovered this song with a five year delay and love everything about it.

 

6) Which song do you play to impress someone you like?

 

7) Which song do you know all the lyrics to?

 

8) What song do you want played at your funeral?
Definitely Outkast’s “SpottieOttieDopaliscious” ~

 

DENA performs at Electronic Beats Festival Zagreb on Friday, November 8th. Random Access Memories was inspired by Mit Vergnügen’s Musik Mittwoch feature.

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Electronics Beats Festival Zagreb: Bigger venue, same killer line-up

 

We love doing music festivals for you. It’s always wonderful knowing that people are excited to come see a live show, and getting to bring people that kind of experience is half of the fun of this job. That’s why we’re so excited that our upcoming November 8th, Zagreb festival featuring EfterklangFritz KalkbrennerDena, and MS MR has received such a positive response that we’ve had to change to even larger venue, the Zagrebački Velesajam in Croatia’s capital city. And even though all of the regular tickets have now sold out, we’re not only offering a special discount for tickets, we’re also giving you a chance to get your hands on the last remaining tickets—five pairs, in fact.

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In the meantime, we have a few things we think will make you pretty excited for the show (if you aren’t already). The first is the banging DENA remix by another EB Festival fave, Coma. The second is a new slice of A/V from 4AD’s icy orchestral popstars Efterklang, taken from their fourth album Pirimida. “Black Summer”, which you can view below, and its release companion “Between The Walls” focus on the themes of restless love and bloody sport, respectively, so there’s some obvious emotional tie-ins going on between the two. Check them both out below along with a bonus track from Fritz’s latest album and new MS MR remix, and we’ll hopefully see you in Zagreb! ~

 

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