Occupation: Producer, DJ
Current Release: VONDA7's new album Let Go is out via art | werk.
The Courage To Be Happy – Ichiro Kishimi and Fumitake Koga
21 Lessons for the 21st Century – Yuval Noah Harari
Art Of Loving – Erich Fromm
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When did you start writing/producing music - and what or who were your early passions and influences? What was it about music and/or sound that drew you to it?
I started DJing before I was writing / producing. Back then, I was influenced by French house but also deep house like Matthew Herbert, Luomo and electronica like Air, Royksopp.
My first attempt as a songwriter / producer was in a live act I created with my brother and we were inspired by artists like The Knife, Booka Shade, Max Cooper, Nathan Fake. I later developed a love for many other genres from indietronica and bands like Cut Copy, MGMT, Empire Of The Sun, through to new disco with Prins Thomas and Lindstrøm, then towards deep house with artists like Guy Gerber, early Jamie Jones, Moodymann … so many early influences, it’s hard to track back all of them sometimes. (laughs)
I just love music and so many different genres.
For most artists, originality is preceded by a phase of learning and, often, emulating others. What was this like for you: How would you describe your own development as an artist and the transition towards your own voice?
I think emulating others is the greatest compliment to that artist. And with me it was no different. I used to emulate people whom I respected and looked up to – Guy Gerber, Âme, Sebastian Mullaert, The Knife and probably all the influences in the first answer. It’s a long path until you learn how to make things sound the way you want them to. To learn all these technical aspects. I think I have now got to a place where I can present my sound the way I wish to, but I never stop learning and experimenting.
I still find inspiration in other people’s music from time to time. But it will never sound the same. There’s only a certain aspect of it. I hope my music can make people feel inspired too.
With the new album Let Go, I feel like I incorporated my diverse taste in music into something more compact and consistent. From all these synthesizer melodies and indietronica influences to ‘90s house and beyond. My vocals help to tie it all together, too.
How do you feel your sense of identity influences your creativity?
To me it’s inseparable. Making music is my emotional outlet and I make it based on how I feel, what inspires me, or how events around me have influenced me.
What were your main creative challenges in the beginning and how have they changed over time?
In the beginning, it was about learning the production techniques to make things sound the way they sounded in the music I loved. There are sooo many ways to make music that it can feel overwhelming at first. I took a course at the SAE Amsterdam and watched 100s of YouTube tutorials.
I come from a bit more of an indie background, but then I met people in Berlin who only make music with samples of other songs, some using royalty-free sample packs. Some only sample from nature, others make everything from scratch and there are also those who make a song with one drum machine and a vocal snippet and it still works.
I have tried many ways, but I feel best when I can combine programming sounds and have them visually laid out in the DAW with some live element, like recording synth lines and automating them by hand. And of course, often some of my live vocals processed into various effects, drums or just as a classic vocal lead part.
As creative goals and technical abilities change, so does the need for different tools of expression, be it instruments, software tools or recording equipment. Can you describe this path for you, starting from your first studio/first instrument? What motivated some of the choices you made in terms of instruments/tools/equipment over the years?
Technology always pushes things forward and the plugins available today are way more powerful than the ones available 10 years ago when I was starting out. In the beginning, I was making everything in Logic, then Ableton. Then I got into buying hardware.
My first hardware synthesizer was the Little Phatty Stage II by Moog. I still have it. It has that bass sound that I fell in love with and still like to use in my tracks. It’s a classic. I also make a lot of my music with my Prophet 6. It’s my favourite synthesizer. I try to keep my setup compact though and I sold most of my hardware. I believe in less is more and also, as mentioned, the technology is incredible these days and it’s fascinating what you can create with it.
Have there been technologies or instruments which have profoundly changed or even questioned the way you make music?
My favourite plugin now is XO Drums which organises neatly all my “one samples” of all the drums. I can create drum patterns based on patterns I already created with similar sounds from my library. It makes my work flow a lot faster and a lot easier and it definitely influenced how I create my drums now.
I also love a good reverb. My favourite is the Roland Space Echo by UAD and Magnetic by Surreal Machines. Dub Machines by the same developer is great for echo effects, too.
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?
Collaborations are just like human relationships, they either work or they don’t. Some people are better collaborators than others, I think if you’re open-minded, that’s a good first step. As with everything, it gets easier with experience. I used to feel a bit shy when doing collaborations in person but now I prefer it as you can feel the energy and create faster. You also learn from each other more.
Take us through a day in your life, from a possible morning routine through to your work, please. 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?
Running your own label means you are involved in all aspects of its business and speaking to many different people you work with daily. So, you need to be disciplined. Now with the album release, it has been a very busy period. We have also just released the music video for the lead single. I have been working every day, sometimes 12 hours a day.
In general, I like to wake up early, eat healthy and lead a balanced life. I had my party phase in my life, and I have no regrets but it’s not sustainable for me and I think it was a cover up for a lot of other things I wasn’t ready to face. But then again, it’s good to let loose and get a bit wild sometimes. It’s all about balance. Living a more mindful life gives me more energy to create. I also like to design and would like to work in that field more again. It keeps me grounded.
Can you talk about a breakthrough work, event or performance in your career? Why does it feel special to you? When, why and how did you start working on it, what were some of the motivations and ideas behind it?
I think a certain break-through happened when I signed my EP to Last Night On Earth and Sasha gave me his stamp of approval. (laughs) I felt that I am maturing as a producer even though I think I was still very junior back then.
My break-through performance is still to come but I really enjoyed performing at WHP in Manchester for the Last Night On Earth party just before the pandemic started and my performance at the old chapel in France for Wyld Festival.
There are many descriptions of the ideal state of mind for being creative. What is it like for you? What supports this ideal state of mind and what are distractions? Are there strategies to enter into this state more easily?
Hmm, good question. I find it easiest to start new ideas on a Sunday. Partially because of no other distractions like emails. But when I need to finish something or work on an arrangement of a track, I like to do it early in the morning, any day. At those moments, I have this mindset of “getting things” done which drives me towards finishing things.
Music and sounds can heal, but they can also hurt. Do you personally have experiences with either or both of these? Where do you personally see the biggest need and potential for music as a tool for healing?
I think music mostly heals or enriches you. I believe we gravitate towards the sounds we connect with. If we feel more melancholic, we crave chords and melodies that will cater to that. If it hurts, then perhaps it touches an emotional wound that needs healing. Unless it’s a really badly produced track or aggressive sounds you’re not a fan of, then ok, perhaps it can hurt. (laughs)
There are ongoing studies on how AI could read our mood with sensors and then adapt music to comfort us. Something like a musical therapy. I think it’s a beautiful idea and I see this happening already with the meditation apps where we listen to certain sounds to help us relax. I think there’s a big need for that with the aftermath of the pandemic coming and the toll it took on our mental health.
There is a fine line between cultural exchange and appropriation. What are your thoughts on the limits of copying, using cultural signs and symbols and the cultural/social/gender specificity of art?
It’s an ongoing discussion. I think a lot of producers appropriate thinking they appreciate but now more than ever, we are becoming aware of cultural appropriation and how it feels for those who are appropriated. And I am also personally constantly learning how to go about it and be respectful. How to be inspired but without copying in general. It is indeed a fine line and learning how not to cross it, comes with maturity and experience.
I once worked with a gospel singer, but I fully credited her on the track. I think this way, it’s like a fair exchange and we create something new together that combines our cultures and influences.
Our sense of hearing shares intriguing connections to other senses. From your experience, what are some of the most inspiring overlaps between different senses - and what do they tell us about the way our senses work?
For me it’s definitely the visual sense. I love connecting music with pictures, that’s why I try to make music videos or at least a short visualiser. One of the best examples is Jamie XX – "Gosh". The song is great on its own but with the video, it’s just epic. That scene when the people run towards the Eiffel Tower in the rhythm of the vocal sample gives me goosebumps. Also, Aphex Twin – "Windowlicker". No comment needed, it’s a classic.
I feel like certain sounds have colours and share their meaning. There’s a reason why many techno people wear only black. (laughs)
Art can be a purpose in its own right, but it can also directly feed back into everyday life, take on a social and political role and lead to more engagement. Can you describe your approach to art and being an artist?
Human connection is at the core of most if not all of my music. And that’s what I wish to represent and encourage. Less prejudice, more understanding and coming together. Whether in one-on-one relationships or in a society as a whole.
What can music express about life and death which words alone may not?
I think as with topics that we are sometimes not ready to talk about because we are so deep in a state of grief for example, music can respond to our emotions and comfort us in a metaphysical way. Music has a great power of lifting our mood too.