Wojtek Rusin is one of those cosmopolitan artists who pursues his dreams as an émigrée, reaping artistic inspiration from the transient nature of such an existence. Originally from Poland, he currently resides in Bristol, UK after stints in Barcelona and Germany. Under his moniker Katapulto, Wojtek has produced a diverse array of music ranging from conceptual pieces to camp, experimental endeavors reminiscent of Felix Kubin, only to arrive at catchy synth-based songs. After a brilliant conceptual tape for Sangoplasmo where he used recordings in several languages about animals, Rusin returns with his latest album Bad Tourist—named so because “it could be a title of a theatre play”—out now on AMDISCS. We caught up with him to talk about subversion, angry markets and the power of high-definition.
Bad Tourist brings to mind some of those good, hit-loaded synthpop albums from the eighties in the vein of Depeche Mode, etc.
I was definitely looking for something like this. Sometimes you have these albums where three four songs are really good and with the rest couldn’t work on their own and are just there to fill up the product. I didn’t want that. I love the early Depeche Mode albums, where every song is a song in its own right. My record somehow refers to the eighties because of the synth sounds, but I guess the production has a modern twist. I didn’t want to go for lo-fi aesthetics. There are also these two songs—“Stories from Beyond the Sun”—where the computer talks about melodramatic stories taken from the tabloids. I also used some nineties loops found on some obscure blogs about obsolete music technology. It’s sometimes inspiring to work with found lyrics and sound.
How did the album come about?
The whole album is a selection of songs that I recorded over the last two years. I had been living in Barcelona, Poland and Bristol during that time. It’s a bit like a diary; impressions of different places and situations. I was definitely going for diversity rather than consistency throughout the whole thing. Every track posed a different challenge.
Have the geographical differences left a mark on the songs?
For example I went to this exhibition about television at the MACBA in Barcelona, and there was this BBC TV series from the seventies called Ways of Seeing. I included some things from it into my lyrics. Right now I’m doing a course on teaching children music and had to go through these online tests. I ended up making a song inspired by this called “Children Protection”. The album is more free form and not as concept-heavy as the Animalia cassette, that had this pseudo-educational vibe and was sonically more about the sound design and creating some kind of fake folk music. On the other hand, on the new record every song has this single, independent character. It tells a story by itself.
Do you approach your music from a conceptual standpoint?
In those two tracks mentioned before I really enjoyed the tension between the found lyrics and muzak-like elevator sounds. The rest are songs with hopefully nice melodies and well-programmed drums. Animalia was a conceptual album, and so is the music I make for theater. The last play involved me amplifying various domestic objects with contact mics and improvising around the lines of the actors. I did quite strange music years ago, the first albums are perhaps unlistenable but I think they’re quite interesting. It’s a way of finding a balance between an intriguing, original sound and putting it in a frame of a pop song. I think the record is quite contemporary with songs, conceptual pieces… It’s a bit eighties and nineties feeling but not in a retro-nostalgic way. It’s natural to quote and refer to the past. What is the contemporary sound anyway? There is this very contemporary sounding artist called Shackleton who is so futuristic that it somehow escapes the past, it’s truly music from another planet. I saw him at a festival recently and was amazed. James Ferraro on the other hand refers to muzak, ringtones, midi kitsch, sound design. Everything is happening at the same time, the references are all there because of the internet—it’s hard to escape. Hype Williams are an interesting example of filtering the last 20 years of electronic, hedonistic rave music through their lo-fi aesthetic.
The aesthetic criteria have changed too…
The lo-fi post punk aesthetic doesn’t work for me anymore. The methods that were relevant in the past with the lo-fi, rough sound have been worn out. Some musicians are going for cleaner, more futuristic sounds in order to make subversive music. It’s also a more natural method for me since I’ve always used computers rather than synths but there are still labels out there which are fascinated and a bit nostalgic about dirty synthesizers and drum machines. I can imagine that by using this stuff you can have a very consistent sound throughout the whole record which is sometimes quite tempting but it’s actually more fascinating and challenging to use the new technologies. Then you are using the same weapons as the mainstream. I’m fascinated by HD, After Effects and sound design. I did a song with a 22-year-old and she thinks the dirty punk thing is very retro. The subversive language has changed and we have to attack with HD rather than some sort of nostalgic noise and feedback.
You work with digital technologies?
Almost everything is computer VSTs. Recently I had a chance to play with a fantastic modular synth that my friend built and it was great, magical, but I didn’t have a clue what do to with it! Somehow I managed to slip into self-referential retro. But some people can use these machines in a very creative way.
What constitutes futurism in music for you nowadays?
We are getting into a phase where the differences are very subtle and the old methods of analysis have changed. You listen to something and have to spend more time to detect some radical novelty. When I was younger and listened to a new record, it was a totally new world, you didn’t recognize the references. In a gig environment I like it when I get lost and don’t know the references, it feels like being 18 again and listening to a tape by Squarepusher and wondering what the hell that is. Thing is, you can’t expect such massive shift in sound like fifteen years ago. I guess everyone is referring somehow to the musical past, it’s about filtering, an art of intelligent quoting, or maybe I’m totally wrong and we’ll be blown away in a few years with some sort of a totally new thing that doesn’t sound like anything else. Is this still possible?
Talking about subversion, you did a video for your song Angry Markets, deconstructing sterile stock images. You worked at a design agency so you have personal experience with the world of commercial imagery, right?
This is an aesthetic used in a corporate world. You have groups of photographs arranged under keywords like happy people, where everyone is very young with blue stripy shirts, happy and smiling. This represents a certain economic and political direction, and it’s quite interesting to use this aesthetic in a music video. The lyrics “Angry markets, profit warnings” came from the BBC’s financial news and I found this ultra-capitalist language of the angry markets rather scary. In a way it is a political song. It’s also about truth. When you look at these photographs, are these happy people? Do we believe their smiles? I don’t know who believes in this anymore. They are monsters fabricated by ideology.
But you are also influenced by other media outside of music?
I’m a big fan of Ryan Trecartin who makes these flamboyant films with pitch-shifted voices and stories about internet characters. It’s very futuristic and the sound design is brilliant because he mixes everything in such a nonchalant way. I’m very inspired by visual art. I also love the art of Joe Evans who made a large sculpture for the cover of the album. I want to make more videos, to add different dimensions to my music.
You have lived both in the east and the west of Europe. What is your view of the east/west divide, especially in terms of music?
I moved to Britain in 2004 but I was brought up in Poland and lived in Germany for a bit. With the UK, I certainly moved into a country of a very diverse culture and very advanced capitalism. I’m a bit trapped in a channel of Anglo-American music here. It’s a natural process but you have to be aware of it. When I was living in Poland I was listening to a lot of German music because Germany is Poland’s neighbor with a very strong tradition of electronic music. When I came to England, I realized they haven’t heard about certain things which were well known to me, like the Scape label, Pole, etc. I did a mixtape for a US blog recently, and I looked at my itunes and realized that most of the tracks are featured on every cool blog and how could I surprise anybody with that. I had to dig deeper into my library and find, for instance, German new wave hero Holger Hiller. I’m certainly aware that there are interesting things happening in Central and Eastern Europe and hopefully they will become louder.
Stream Katapulto’s album Bad Tourist in full: