When it comes to scanning the already bulging calendar of European festivals, you'd be forgiven for wanting to collapse in a heap, overwhelmed by the sheer quantity of sun-kissed spectaculars, each bigger, brasher, and crammed with more B2Bs than the last. In an entertainment economy built on constant, exponential growth, the scale of events on offer can become exhausting. Which is why, this summer, we're particularly excited about Terraforma—a small experimental festival, tucked away Milan. With a handful of great acts—Andrew Weatherall, Objekt and Wolfgang Voigt's GAS are already on the bill—it's shaping up to be one of the best-picked weekends of music out there this summer.
Yet this care in curation isn't only reflected in the lineup. Terraforma sets it stall out as an "experimental and sustainable" music festival. Built into idyllic environs of Villa Arconati, a rural palace and gardens North of the city, Terraforma consider the setting an investment in itself, and not just something to be used for the duration of the weekend and then abandoned. They are even restoring from scratch a historic labyrinth, a relic of villa's gardens from the 18th century, a project that the festival have been a part of for three years. It's rare that a festival leaves the existing land in usable condition, let alone replaces with something for the future.
The Labyrinth will also provide an inimitable setting for some site-specific performances. Ahead of the event, we caught up with two of the artists who will be taking advantage of this incredible space. N.M.O. are Norwegian composer Morten J Olsen, and Spanish electronic producer Rubén Patiño. According to their Soundcloud, they make "military space music," a frenetic, percussive outsider techno that found a fitting home on Powell's Diagonal label when they released their debut album Nordic Mediterranean Organization / Numerous Miscommunications Occur in 2016. Earlier this year they followed that album up with an EP on the Vinyl Factory. At Terraforma the pair will be one of two site-specific performances taking place in the Labyrinth, the other coming from vocalist Stine Janvin. In anticipation of them taking to the space, we talked to Rubén and Morten about their plans and getting festival performances right.
THUMP: So guys, a quick introduction. Where did you both meet?
Rubén Patiño: We met in Berlin basically.
Morten Olsen: We hung out in a lot of the same venues in Berlin in the early 2000s. We became friends and at some point decided to make music together. We had a chemistry.
R: The idea was to make this simplified, military techno. That's where it originated. We then started combining elements of performance.
Morten, your background is in percussion, and Rubén yours in electronic production. Was there an element of this project being a perfect synergy of those facets?
M: Yeah in many ways. Although I thought about recently, was that many of my early influences were early electronic music. Even if I was a percussionist from an early-age, I was maybe more into electronic music than anything else. We've talked about how I would find Autechre too straight, and I would prefer Stockhausen. Ruben would maybe come from the other side.
R: Yeah, I would come from happy hardcore and euro-dance stuff, to Autechre, and then from Autechre to Stockhausen.
Who were your earliest influences?
M: I started playing drums aged 10, or something like that. I suppose I was heavily influenced by practice, by being with the instrument everyday. Developing your relationship with an instrument is something that influences your musical tastes; discovering new ways of playing. Then, starting to play with people. When I was younger I think I was was more inspired by people, and the act of playing, than I was by external music.
Ruben, I guess as an electronic producer your background was perhaps more solitary?
R: Yeah, for me it was the arrival of chip computers. I'd never thought of myself as a musician, I was more of a visual person. In the late 1980s in Spain, there was a lot of electronic music on commercial radio, so I was into this really popular kind of cheap dance music. But it wasn't until years later I was able to make some music with my computer. I started going into sequencing things, using this Sony software called SoundForge. I started to listen to more music. I would go to a library with internet access, listen to CDs, and refine my taste.
M: The library was quite important for me too. In fact, The Early Gurus of Electronic Music, that was something I ripped from the library maybe in the very early-2000s. I think that boxset in itself was a main influence for me in my early twenties.
That energy you mention is definitely present, even in your recorded material. Do you like to record in the same place, or is your collaboration long-distance?
M: Definitely, I find it way more interesting to have this physical interaction, as opposed to sending files to each-other over the internet.
R: It's a live recording basically.
M: We might send certain parts to each-other to shape the sound of it, but the raw material is recorded together.
Do you consider the music you make "dance music?"
R: I think it's more of an attitude. Club music has evolved, I think a lot of things that never used to be considered dance music now are. I'd said we are making contemporary club music.
M: It's more playful.
Is experimental music too self-serious?
R: Yes, definitely. That's what we try and escape from. We met in quite a serious background, in Berlin, we have both tried to escape from that. We've played in Berghain, so now we have that stamp of approval from the techno crowd but it's weird, because promoters always give us that experimental tag. They put us on at the beginning of the night, then when they see the energy we create they say, oh, we would have put you on at the later, but we didn't know.
When it comes to playing a festival like Terraforma, how important is understanding the space?
R: We try to adapt to different contexts. That's why we move around the space. I think space, is a very important thing for us. To physically be in the space.
M: We'll be there two days early to check out the space and to shape the material we have into the Labyrinth we'll be performing in.
R: I think that's it. It's all about adapting to the space. It's why we tend to play on the floor.
Actually, on the floor?
R: We play offstage, unless it's a huge festival with no people there!
M: Our general set-up is in the middle of the crowd.
R: It's to connect more with people. Move around the space, create tension and activate the space.
M: To dance with the audience.
R: We go in the middle and shake everything.
Will you actually change your sound for the setting?
R: Yes! We're going to prepare what we call an outdoor set. Something less dark, something livelier. Tropical in a way!
Do you think festival performances deserve more consideration in general?
M: If the context allows of course, I think more people would be interested in doing it, but if they can only do a five minute soundcheck, then how are you supposed to adapt to the space? I think it's also a responsibility of the festival curator, to adapt to the space and to consider what kind of music the room asks for. Artists are able to bring different things to the space.
Terraforma 2017 takes place in late June —head here for tickets and information.