He's one of the most innovative, hard-working and consistent producers working in techno today, but Legowelt is also - maybe necessarily - one of the oddest, too. He runs a cyberpunk e-zine, owns so many synths that his Hague home is fit to bursting with them, and his new album Crystal Cult 2080 is inspired (in part) by 9th century Medieval ritual chanting and polyphonic rhythms. No big deal.
We absolutely love Crystal Cult 2080 at THUMP, so we caught up with the Dutch producer to chat about his influences, practises, and if techno can still be a rebellious sound.
THUMP: Your music as Legowelt has always had an active interest in mysticism and the occult, and it's probably it's most overt on Crystal Cult 2080. What about it all is attractive to you as a producer?
Legowelt: Music itself is, of course, very mystic. It has always been used in mystic rites. If you look at house and techno music, it's a kind of occult - from a certain perspective. People try to get entranced or take certain substances to get into a higher dimension.
How does this work for you in practise though?
Legowelt: Musical notes and certain frequencies work on your brain in a certain way. It's occult because people don't really know what's really going on, but they're compelled by it. As you can hear on the album, there are strong influences from Medieval music. In the Western world - around the 9th century I believe – they started using polyphonic music in Christian churches. That music came from the east, and was used to influence you to the point of being in a trance-like state.
Conveying this then, do you think the trance-like state your techno works towards in quite an inward experience? It doesn't sound like you're aiming for much of a collective, dance floor vibe.
Legowelt: It's inwards, definitely. This album should be an inward experience.
How do you think you've translated these ancient ideas into modern techno?
Legowelt: The drums are a more stylistic translation that I put into the music, but Medieval music was also very simple in rhythm. It was just one drum playing the same pattern all the time, so it's not that difficult to make a transition to a more modern-sounding thing. They're very similar. Techno music is a little bit faster, and it's made with electronic instruments, but in the end, it's pretty much the same. Techno should be simple.
And the chanting on the album too. Lines like "Drink from the chalice, and you will be reborn".
Legowelt: In certain tracks, definitely. That's a Medieval kind of chanting. That "Drink from the chalice" line is a sample from the Excalibur movie. That's a nice old-school rave style sample; if you hear it in the club, you cam drink from the chalice and be reborn through techno music.
How did you find the sample? Are you a fan of the film?
Legowelt: I was talking with TLR (the owner of the Crème Organization label), joking around about music, and we said it would be cool to take a sample from that movie.
Do you discuss your music with friends as you're making it; take suggestions, play material to them?
Legowelt: Occasionally, but not on a very intense level. Sometimes an idea is born when talking or hanging out, like "Oh, it would be funny to make a track about this and that". It's more for details like track selection and order. There's always an element of influence by other people, however. Ideas and concepts often sneak into the music subconsciously.
I know you named the album after the digital synth that you used to make it. You flit between analogue and digital synths a lot these days. What attracted you to that particular synth for this album?
Legowelt: That's difficult to say. I like when music is very.... unclear. It's nice when you walk down the street and it's foggy. Your imagination works differently because you cannot see things clearly; only shadows and outlines. If you use a lot of misty, foggy effects - like old delays, reverbs and filters - the music becomes more shadowy. You can still hear the melodies, but they're a little more buried - and you can start to pick out how the counter-melodies interact with other melodies. I would hope it makes it more exciting to listen to. The listener can discover secret melodies, and their imagination can be tested.
For me, it really doesn't matter what you use to make music because inside the hardware there's a computer chip too. That whole hardware vs software, digital vs analogue thing, it's completely not important for me. The way I see it? They're all instruments. I think purism is a very bad thing, because then you confine yourself too much. Purism can be a dead end.
What have you been influenced by musically in the making of Crystal Cult 2080?
Legowelt: Well, a lot of Detroit stuff, definitely. My track 'Experiential Awakening' is very much influenced by the Detroit sounds of DJ Stingray. I listen to a lot of Actress. I enjoy how he uses melodies. It's very weird. He also has this foggy, misty vibe to his music. There are a lot of influences from Aphex Twin's old sound, too. If you listen to certain tracks - especially his early 90s tracks, where he used break beats and the R8 Roland drum machine - you can hear those influences in my music quite well, I think. His melodies are really good. They seem quite fragmental. Huerco S also has that same vibe where he has fragmentary melodies. It just stops and starts - then disappears. Some of the tracks seem very harmonic in the way the melodies go. I find all of them very interesting.
How do you think the new album differentiates itself from your last one, The Paranormal Soul?
Legowelt: The tracks are more detailed. As the melodies go, they're a bit more advanced. The last album was mainly just a dance floor album, and this one goes a little deeper. The production is also a bit, woolier.
I know you made most of the album in different places across an extended period of time. The album does sound very cohesive though. What's your routine like, when you have an idea for a track?
Legowelt: When it's recorded somewhere else, I just make a sketch. The end stage was done here in my home studio, which explains why it all sounds coherent. How the melodies work, and the certain vibe of a track, I can still do that in a hotel room, on a computer, with one machine.
Is that quite typical of your work then, grabbing ideas and laying them down in the moment?
Legowelt: I enjoy doing that because I always have this urge. When I'm chilling in the hotel room, I just get the machines out and start jamming.
For you live show too, are you going to focus on the synth you used to produce the album, or switch it up between analogue and digital again?
Legowelt: That depends on where I play, and if I can bring a synthesiser. Sometimes I take an analogue synth with me, sometimes a digital synth, and sometimes it's just the laptop with the controller. It all depends on how I feel, and what the club situation is.
Do you think that the aesthetics and sounds of the occult is a way of putting across techno as a rebellious or counter-cultural kind of music still, after it's become a more commercial genre?
Legowelt: Of course it existed already in the 80s, with Psychic TV. They also had a very mystical culture around their music, which is very interesting. They had the Temple of Psychic Youth. I guess that influenced this whole mystical, occult vibe around it, and that was very counter-cultural back then. I think that if any kind of music has a culture around it, then it's mysterious. I don't think of it being a counter-culture or a rebellious thing. It's just the music that I make. I can imagine how it would be rebellious, because it's against the normal pedestrian ways of thinking. I guess that's what I've always been, to a certain degree.
What do you think techno needs to do to keep pushing forward?
Legowelt: There should always be people that push it further, or do stuff that other people don't do. Who just do their own stuff, and not be influence by peer pressure from the outside. I guess that's the main thing of being rebellious. Do something you want yourself - that comes from within yourself - and don't pay too much attention to what others think about it and say. You should just, do it.
You always seem to treat music as a labour of love. Your output is crazy, and you must work constantly. What do you think the climate of electronic music production is like right now, particularly with the immense ease and access within software and social networks?
Legowelt: It's a very good thing, because if you want to make music now you can start within a week because everything is on the internet. There's video manuals, how to operate a synthesiser, how to sequence music – you can train yourself within a week. You've got so many connections with social media and forums, there's a place for everybody where they can just hang out and grow. I guess almost every artist that's come out in the last 15 years. Their career started on the Internet.
Do you think that's overly positive?
Legowelt: I don't see why it wouldn't it positive. There's not much of another way. There are labels that only press on vinyl and only sell in records stores, but it's through the internet that people know about it. It's just an essential part of everybody's life right now. I wouldn't see any other way.
You can follow Lauren Martin on Twitter here: @codeinedrums