Last month Loose Lips caught up with Dara Smith, half of Lakker, at his flat in Berlin. We talked about their new concept album ‘Struggle & Emerge, sampling, influences and Dara’s solo project.
We both love the new album on R&S and were intrigued by the documentary; why was dutch water control the basis of the project?
A guy called Gregory Markus got in touch with us, from the Sight & Sound Dutch archive. He was thinking of people who use a lot of samples, found sound and the alike. Once we had a chat back and forward, we were really excited about doing the project. They told us how much data they have - a huge archive in a measurement I’ve never even heard of!
Sight and Sound Dutch Archive - http://www.beeldengeluid.nl/
They have collected all this data, and most likely are doing nothing with it really…
Exactly, that was part of the thing behind the project. So yeah, they have a huge amount of archive material from anything that’s ever gone out on Dutch radio or Dutch television, so there was days and weeks of audio and video. So we needed some kind of way of whittling it down in terms of a theme. It was being from an island nation ourselves, Ireland, and the theme of water - how it affects everything and connects everybody - that really interested us. The Dutch have such a unique relationship with water and we just thought this seems like a good topic. And then they sent us some samples; the things they sent were amazing - clips of video, different sound recordings… there were one or two particular sounds we heard and we were like, that’s it! This is the project...this is the theme that we’ll go with.
Struggle and Emerge documentary - https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=w-G_xArLoYk
This is the first concept album that you’ve done together…do you think there are boundaries between what you consider to be a concept album, and a normal album with ‘an idea’?
Yeah, that was something that challenged us at the start. When we started to write it you can take the idea of a concept album and do a very literal thing, where you stick to a set of parameters and rules. Or, what we found worked better for us, was to take in all the information and to research and immerse ourselves in it and then afterwards just go, okay, now let’s just write music. Everything you have been influenced by comes out in the music.
Did you find that it was the sample you found and chose that spurred the ideas behind the track, ambient or aggressive etc?
Yeah, I think there were two main influences. First was the samples themselves - for example there was footage of the huge construction works they were doing, and there were two old tugboats, blowing their horns at two slightly different pitches and there was the noise of water churning out… so there’s basically this sound which is like a typical jungle bass sound... like a really dystopian sound with loads of beat frequencies and loads of noise in it - and this was one of the first things we listened to, and it was a full track straight away, so we just sampled it. Sometimes, like this, tracks write themselves. The second influence was emotional - by watching footage and speaking to people to create a picture of the Dutch environment, you then write music in that spirit.
Grab the Struggle and Emerge album here - lakker.bandcamp.com/album/struggle-emerge.
The background and story to it is key…
Exactly, and there was a lot of really interesting people to tell this story - we got to meet several experts in their field. There was an engineer from Delft University of Technology, who basically knew loads about all the water management systems - that was a really good technical thing we got to see - their research department with wave machines. And then there was a lot of cultural things, like we got to meet professors from Aquaculture...just a huge number of people who are really knowledgeable in their own field.
This is a topic which crosses many disciplines…
We thought that in some ways we were narrowing it down, and then we realised, in fact, we had done the opposite. But it was really interesting for us to see how water affected everything and everybody really.
Were a lot of people interested in the project at the time you were there?
People where wandering why two Irish guys were here! People were interested and told us some amazing things. One of the things I really liked was how they jump across the ditches that have been made and it’s now almost like a sport. That’s the enjoyable part of any creative project, the funny little things you find that you hadn’t expected to find at the start. You can magnify them and they become an integral part of the work.
When you have these personal things that have inspired you within the concept album, does that motivate you to have a story behind all of your productions, as opposed to just sitting in a studio?
I think we’ve been really happy with the way things have gone so far, but I think we both felt a need to give ourselves a blank space, or a white piece of paper. We’ve been writing a lot to deadlines and been doing a lot of remix production albums and EPs - it’s all been very close together. It’s amazing because as an artist you want to be busy, but I think now we’re looking forward to a space where we can experiment with sounds, to write music with no aim and pressure. I think that’s an important thing for an artist - to give yourself a space where you can have that. Because otherwise it becomes at times almost like a factory reproduction line, so we’re just looking for that space to write music and experiment and find where our next interest is. The one constant for us has been the want or need for change… I don’t know what we’ll do next, but it may be very different!
The interesting thing with field recording is that you realise that when you stop and think and look deeper, there’s all this rich material you didn’t notice at first…
I think in the way we work, we often describe it as using a magnifying glass. So we get a lot of this footage and we work in a way where I had seen all the footage (visual and audio together) and Ian just had the audio, so it gives us two ways of working and different perspectives. Through things like EQ and compression, you can hear sounds you wouldn’t have thought about - our ears tend to filter out so much stuff - and we found lots of background noises that weren’t really related. We were really interested in a lot of things in the background, they gave us a lot of interesting results.
Are there any concept albums you really love in particular?
One that really stands out is (The User) – Symphony #2 For Dot Matrix Printer. So they fed typing into the printer and it produces all these harmonics and rhythms, and it’s an amazingly sound designed album that’s really listenable; they’ve found the musical elements to bring into it as well. I think in some ways it’s the easiest thing to forget about in a concept album - to forget about the music part itself - you can get so tied up in the details. At the end of the day, we wanted a listener who came along and just picked up the record to listen to it to enjoy the music. If they wanted to look at the concept afterwards, then great because they both complement each other, but they both can stand on their own. Also, we felt it’s important never to write stuff whereby the musical element had been compromised by the album, forcing an idea onto it.
Symphony #2 for Dot Matrix Printers [The User]
This album was motivated by the conceptual side of your productions - is that motivating you more than the rave/club side of your productions?
I think we still love both - we will always write some form of ‘electronic dance music’. DJing is great from that point of view - when you’re DJing, it really awakens that desire to write big, physical music. Also, touring to meet people, and seeing the support acts play really interesting music is a fantastic element of that club-orientated side of our work. However, one thing we always wanted to do was release albums that were albums, in terms of a full listening experience; you listen to it through as a journey...I always wanted that element. I think it’s also important to have someone’s opinion you trust when picking the tracks for an album - sometimes your best track might not fit on he album, so don’t put it on there if it doesn’t fit!
Are there any things you are particularly excited by in the electronic music scene or the techno scene at the moment?
I suppose for us, we never really consider ourselves as techno, we just see ourselves as electronic music - although we have done loads of releases on techno-led labels like Blueprint and Stroboscopic Artefacts. It’s important to us because we’re equally influenced by grime, old dubstep, uk bass, whatever it is, we don’t want to restrain ourselves. But I also think it’s great how quickly mutations happen now; I’m excited by local scenes such as Glasgow’s LuckyMe crowd, or South African Guam music - the bizarre mutations where people do their own thing.
LuckyMe Records - https://soundcloud.com/luckyme
Do you consciously try to make your music diverse? Or does it just naturally happen?
Our taste in music has always been really diverse. My Dad used to listen classic rock, Jimmy Hendrix and my Mum was into Laurie Anderson…we were into traditional Irish music, metal, rave, uk hardcore, the jungle scene, and then the Birmingham techno scene - a good mixture of sounds. We’ve been doing this for a long time, and Lakker has in some ways mutated - from glitchy hip hop to breakcore to techno. We’ve written all these different types of music and we’ve been interested in the types of production techniques for all of them - it’s super interesting!
Your personal project, Arad - you’ve just had your second release right?
I just did a mini-ablum with Electric Deluxe. When I was young, I used to buy loads of Birmingham and European techno. I was a big fan of Speedy J, James Ruskin and Surgeon. I used to spend my lunch money on these releases, and now years later, to be involved in their kind of second wave of releases is a privilege. I’ve just done releases so far but I’m working on a live show.
How would you define the difference between Arad and Lakker?
Lakker has kind of taken on its own sound, but for my solo project, I don’t know where the project is going to go...it could be very loose, it could be grime, contemporary music, whatever… I’m just finding my own sound.
On a separate note...Rommek, I loved your Konstruct concept piece that you wrote recently! Can you tell me about that?
First of all, I wanted to go to steelworks or car factories, but it was difficult to find somewhere that would let us record. Then I found this guy that my mother knows well, and I spent a couple of days recording in his metal workshop - it was a wicked experience. We had this idea of wanting the track to be made solely of field recordings, based on a product life-cycle – introduction, growth maturity and decline – so that immediately to me gave a real clear aesthetic to the sound, each section being 2 minutes.
I used to work in my uncle’s metal factory and the sounds are great. There’s something so unusual about the sound of hitting metal. It’s so loud and your ear compresses it to get really interesting sounds.
Yeah, the unexpected things or an unexpected sound has the potential to be great. He had hammers and manual equipment, and then machines, like a press hammer. The machines would create natural rhythms. It all came together - natural sounds directly from the source at times, and then at other times the sounds were manipulated. For example, playing around with the volume, time and compression - and the sound would be completely unknown to its origins. It was really rewarding because I’ve never done anything like that before.
Rommek - Konstruct - https://vimeo.com/171909086
Interview conducted by Frederick Sugden & Romek Boyer.