Name: AKKAN is BeGun and Ocellot
Current Release: AKKAN on Foehn Records
Recommendation: Two movies that really inspired us, especially when producing this album were The Holy Mountain by Alejandro Jodorowsky and AKIRA by Katsuhiro OTOMO and the amazing soundtrack by Geinoh Yamashirogumi, a classic that will never die.
AKKAN have a Bandcamp and Facebook page where you can keep up to date with their music and events.
When did you start writing/producing music - and what or who were your early passions and influences? What is it about music and/or sound that drew you to it?
Gunsal: We both started quite early. In my case, I come from a classical conservatory background since the age of 5. I played a few instruments then started getting involved in music production via DAW when I was around 16 years old. This was an absolute game-changer for me, I started to explore Reason, Cubase, the initial versions of Ableton, the world of analogue synths and drum machines... all of a sudden, I could just convert a violin solo-melody into a full orchestration, add hundreds of different layers, real recordings, being capable to edit everything in real time. I remember feeling like: ‘ok, here the limit is your own musical fantasy...awesome’. So, at that time, I had a few solo projects during high school and later at university until I started with beGun and a few years later, AKKAN. And in terms of influences: I’d say one of my most inspiring figures ever is Aphex Twin. I started listening to electronic music after ‘Ambient Works’.
Marc: I started taking music seriously when I joined a HC band as a teenager. Loved the loud volume and the sweaty concerts. Then I started experimenting with effect pedals and loop stations. So, there I discovered a different version of myself. I used to record loops in different pedals, ambient noises and mess around. Then a friend gave a SP 505 sample machine and everything took shape. I guess the psychedelic aspect of music is what I love the most and giving it a defined shape is my challenge. I was absolutely addicted to many Japanese electronic albums while growing up and I still am. Mariah’s album UTAKATA NO HIBI would be one of them.
For most artists, originality is first preceded by a phase of learning and, often, emulating others. How would you describe your own development as an artist and the transition towards your own voice? What is the relationship between copying, learning and your own creativity?
G: It’s true that your own originality and music identity comes from a continuous learning from different genres, artists, even life experiences... but I’ve never felt it comes from emulating others. I’ve been always pretty obsessed with finding my own sound and my own music ‘hashtag’ not by copying but by active listening to other artists’ music, just trying to understand why did they structure the songs like this or why they chose those chords, those sounds, etc.
I think we’ve all grown in a music business where the question “what does it sound like?” is too common, as if we need to mentally link a new sound with something we already know, something in our internal music database. Particularly, in electronic music, when someone brings a new sound (which at the end is just a reinterpretation of a few old sounds fused together), then you have thousands of music producers trying to physically emulate and/or follow it. It’s all about that wrong philosophy where “if I use a successful formula, then I’ll automatically succeed”. We strongly believe that the more you listen to yourself, the more original you will sound, this is actually our formula.
M: Well in a certain way we all copy. Our taste evolves depending what you listen to. Your subconscious mind takes all the ingredients and mixes them for you. Not only music but books, movies, video games, art exhibitions, etc. All that influences me in the same way. That feeling that motivates you and draws you in a direction where your taste becomes defined.
What were your main compositional- and production-challenges in the beginning and how have they changed over time?
G: Time gives you a greater perspective on how the music works and that gives you a wider experience when approaching a track or an album. For example, in these last years I have noticed a big difference when composing a track especially with Akkan, the way we do it responds to a common understanding of the ‘game’. I remember spending days with beGun on little details that no one will notice when the song is finished. Now, with Marc we literally get straight to the point, we have a slight idea about the direction we want to take but fundamentally this is a project based on live performance and improvisation. By playing live and getting lost in the studio we came up with our own sound, in a very spontaneous way. When we wanted to get into a more club-oriented field, we did it and when the aim was to explore some psychedelic sounds, we just went for them as well. We’re living in a music industry where everything is too artificial and phony and we really don’t care much about the wrapping; we just make music like we have nothing to lose.
What was your first studio like? How and for what reasons has your set-up evolved over the years and what are currently some of the most important pieces of gear for you?
G: At the very beginning, I started with real instruments and I recorded myself with an old 80s cassette recorder playing the violin, then piano, then some flutes and on top, a few improvised drums with (literally) kitchen stuff. After discovering Reason and Cubase, I began to build a real studio with a 2-octave keyboard and a few midi controllers. Now, the evolution has brought me to have a proper studio with proper equipment, including synths like a DSI Prophet, a Korg Minilogue, the Elektron Analog Four and Monomachine, a MS-20, a Waldorf Blofeld plus many Eventide crazy digital effects, guitar pedals and a bunch of midi controllers.
M: I was living in the Pyrenees in a very old house. On top of the house was a cold attic with stone walls. I set up my Twin reverb amplifier, two loop pedals, microphones, delays and a tambourine with a four-track cassette recorder. That’s where I recorded there the first tunes that really felt like mine. I used those tracks to start a band with Elaine (my wife) called Ocellot. I always enjoyed the chaos of machines linked together, adjusting tempo while playing trying to use the computer only to record tracks. Right now, I am very into my TR 8S which combines the use of samples with drum machines.
How do you make use of technology? In terms of the feedback mechanism between technology and creativity, what do humans excel at, what do machines excel at?
The way we understand composition is through our hands, never a mouse or a screen. We always start with a real recording or a chord progression on a piano or eventually a drum groove played live. Once this preliminary idea is on the table, then it’s time to dive into technology: to search for the right sounds, to add some analogue effects, to look for random digital errors, etc. Both fields are perfectly compatible and we believe AKKAN is a good example of that: this fusion between real folkloric instruments and electronica allows us to take the best of both worlds and create something new from scratch. Basically, this is a music project based on live performance and improvisation... by listening to tones of rare music, by playing live and by getting lost in the studio we came up with our own sound, in a very spontaneous way.
Production tools, from instruments to complex software environments, contribute to the compositional process. How does this manifest itself in your work? Can you describe the co- authorship between yourself and your tools?
In our music, there’s a percentage of production tool and complex software environments, obviously. I’m not capable to say what percentage but it’s clearly not zero. However, we both believe in the personal experiences as the framework of our music, the tools are important but the environment is the key. This new EP and the forthcoming album is a real musical journey and it’s composed as such. We did the first embryo of it in Ireland, in Marc's studio, literally in the middle of the Irish countryside surrounded by sheep and horses. Then, we recorded the rest of the synth lines and drums in Gunsal’s studio, north of Barcelona, near the beach, good food, sunny days, nice vibes. We also took a few real recordings from the street in Essaouira (Morocco), we improvised a jam session in Delhi (India) with some local sitar players, we also recorded some stuff during our Mexico tour and the same in Iceland, where we made the whole ring road with all the equipment and set up sound-systems in the awesome places where we stopped to sleep. So, at the end, what we have is an album born in several places around the world, inspired by hundreds of different moods and feelings and mixed and mastered without any pressure or rush. It is as eclectic as it is sincere.
Collaborations can take on many forms. What role do they play in your approach and what are your preferred ways of engaging with other creatives through, for example, file sharing, jamming or just talking about ideas?
There’re many ways to collaborate with other musicians or creatives. When it’s about making music, collaborating with friends makes things much easier, but it doesn’t mean the opposite is not feasible. Over the years, we’ve had the chance (and luck) to partner with many awesome music producers and solo performers and there has not been one single moment when we’ve regretted in any way, any of these collaborations. In the end, to collaborate with someone is to learn from him/her and it doesn’t depend on the workflow at all, the more natural it flows, the more effective the collaboration will sound.
In our album, apart from those random street jams, we chose some music producers that we respect and we had a different approach for each featuring. For instance, Arnau Obiols made this distorted kalimba at Magnolia, which is one of the most complete and at the same time simplest songs on the album. Then, we sent Chancha some stems and in just 24 hours he did magic... this is one of our favourite featuring tracks, no doubt. Huaira gave us this sweet & hypnotic vocal melody for Anima and suddenly the track became much more interesting. And El Buho was the author of the trippy flute line at Amores, simple and effective, so much talent there.
Could you take us through a day in your life, from a possible morning routine through to your work? Do you have a fixed schedule? How do music and other aspects of your life feed back into each other - do you separate them or instead try to make them blend seamlessly?
G: In my case, my daily routine turns around music: apart from Akkan, I’m also a composer for TV, films and advertising campaigns and I have several music projects at digital platforms. I’m also publishing manager at Foehn Records, I have a radio show at Primavera Sound Radio and I’m an Ableton trainer and so when I’m not in the studio, music is still there in my daily life. I don’t have a fixed schedule and this is actually what I like best about dedicating myself to this crazy music world: this feeling of continuous challenge for survival. There is no day like the one before.
M: I live in the Irish country side. In the morning, I wake up at 5:30 and go to work with plants in the morning. That is my morning job. Helps me to relax and gain perspective and financial security. Then after lunch I enter my studio and the party begins. After the studio, I usually do some exercise to calm down. Those are my main ingredients. I try to have a very mindful existence from Monday to Friday. We used to travel during the weekends to play gigs but that is another story.