All photos by Karolina Urbaniak
Hailing from Göteborg, Sweden, Thomas Martin Ekelund of Trepaneringsritualen (aka. T × R × P) is the Jacques Cousteau of “death industrial." He explores the darkness that lies within–and beyond–the human psyche with searing lashes of percussive noise and yawning chasms of sub-bass that echo with the invocations of their creator. Active since 2008, T × R × P is utterly scathing in it’s sound, dire in its aesthetic and uncompromising in its efforts to shatter the orthodox.
Ekelund’s recent solo work is as dark and unrepentant as ever. His latest album, 2014's Perfection & Permanence (which is now available from Cold Spring and Bandcamp) crystallized his many years of sonic exploration into his most accessible recording yet, illuminating the contrast between caustic intensity and polished execution. For all of its bombast (and a perceptible rise in sonic fidelity), the album's refinements are subtle, alluding to inspiration that lies beyond blasphemy and the divine.
In addition to his own work, Ekelund frequently collaborates with like-minded projects (most recently seen on One Hundred Year Storm, an ethereal, brooding collaboration with Sutekh Hexen) also curates Beläten, a record label dealing in “post avantgarde pop for a pre-apocalyptic world.” Since its inception in 2012, the label has worked with established artists such as Author & Punisher and the aforementioned Sutekh Hexen, delivered a number of inspired pairings (such as the one between the iconic Mika Vaino and Swedish savant Joachim Nordwall), and unearthed hidden treasures from artists such as Æther, Michael Idehall and Veil Of Light.
Having just returned from a whirlwind tour of the States, Ekelund spoke with Noisey about his dark and wildly prolific past, which includes some interesting—and rather unexpected—influences.
Let's start at the beginning: What are some of your earliest memories of music as a child?
We had this music box in the shape of a church that my mother always put out around Yule. I was of course too young to realize how offensive that is, but I clearly remember it playing "Silent Night, Holy Night" with a very crystalline, brittle sound. I was fascinated by how it played slower and slower, creating a increasingly surreal atmosphere, until finally it stopped completely leaving the room entirely silent.
How about your earlier work such as Teeth and Dead Letters Spell Out Words?
They all have their place. It’s impossible to ignore them, and their implications. Dead Letters was a major part of my life for 10 years, and a yoke I am very relieved to have cast off. But nonetheless, I wouldn’t be the man I am today without it and it is a body of work I am still immensely proud of. Teeth wasn’t really me, it was my first experiences of channeling something outside of myself, a very heavy, negative specter that I feel was out to destroy me. But it also lead me down the path I am walking now, as it made me realize that there are more things in existence than reason can fathom. Without those psychic attacks, Trepaneringsritualen would never have appeared. I’ve also realized that my view of them both differ quite a lot from how the general public perceives them. To me Dead Letters is the heavier entity, almost entirely negative and very, very dark, where as Trepaneringsritualen/T × R × P has an essentially positive message.
How were you first exposed to electronic music? What caught your interest?
I don’t really make the distinction between electronic and other kinds of music. I am only concerned with the emotions any piece of music will trigger and that isn’t dependent on instrumentation. I would have to say that Crass is probably the single most important artist for me. They taught me the importance of irreverence of form, and that music isn’t confined to the guitar-bass-drums paradigm. They made me realize that showcasing a broad spectrum of moods and emotions is not only possible, but also makes them all individually more powerful.
It’s interesting that Crass had an intense focus on criticizing the status quo, changing people’s awareness and promoting “positive” change. On the other hand, T × R × P explores some very dark psychological and spiritual territory.
It might seem like an odd reference point, but at the very core I think I am treading similar territory. It all boils down to the concept of the individual as sovereign, the anarch as Jünger put it. Crass may focus more on the sociopolitical ramifications of this sort of thinking, where as my interests are on a metaphysical level. I obviously don’t come to the same conclusions, but the basic processes at work are the same. There is no authority but yourself.
Even prior to Trepaneringsritualen, your work has always had a powerful and consistent visual aesthetic. Can you tell us a bit about your development of that visual aspect?
This is another aspect that I picked up from Crass. That was long before I had any thought of becoming a graphic designer, but their strict visual profile really made a strong impression on me. It shows how important presentation is. I’ve never made a distinction between the auditory and visual aspects of any work, both are equally important. Art is an alchemical process, and disregarding any part of the process will ultimately lead to failure.
T × R × P is obviously rooted in the esoteric and the occult. How does this inform your work?
My experiences with Teeth made me question my staunch non-spiritual worldview. I have always considered myself an atheist, albeit with a passing interest in esoterica, but my experience with Teeth, as well as a series of other experiences, made me realize that this is not the case. It certainly hasn’t been painless to adjust to this fundamental change in worldview, and at times it has been a terrifying journey, but I am now at a point where I am comfortable with the uncertainty that comes with the exploration of the abyss, and I am looking forward to where this journey will take me. My path has been long, crooked and often walked in a delirious state so it’s difficult to single out any particular texts that have left an especially strong impression. I have mostly focused on the European traditions, but I am in no way limited to any one current, nor do I exclude non-European sources. The past couple of years I’ve been very much drawn to the Germanic runes. They began appearing to me in various contexts, but it took me awhile to acknowledge them.
There is a strong ritual component to T × R × P, but I assume that the process of experimentation is a part of your songwriting process.
There’s very little deliberation in T × R × P at all. I never question my creativity and I’ve come to realize that often times I am not even consciously part of it. I am a vehicle for something that lies without the bounds of just one man. I am still not fully aware of just what the purpose of T × R × P is, but I am confident that I will understand in due time.
It's clear that sound can have a very profound influence on human consciousness. Does T x R x P have any particular goals when it comes to its effect on the listener?
I am convinced there is a reason for the emergence of T × R × P, but I am not fully aware of what it is. T × R × P is very much a mystical experience for me, and I think that’s true for the audience as well. The modus seems to have evolved from the early, more somber ritualistic workings to the more recent ecstatic reveries, but as to why this has happened, your guess is as good as mine.