Monolake – Interview (Bloc 2012)

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This years Bloc is only a mere few days away. The Weekend tickets have sold out and the Pleasure Gardens is being transformed. The last in our interview series is we’re very proud to say with Monolake, an absolute legend of the scene and undoubtedly one of the highlights of the weekend. As one of the inventors of the groundbreaking Ableton Live software he’s responsible for revolutionising live electronic music as well as releasing some truly awe inspiring music. His latest release Ghosts is a powerhouse of an album and his show at Bloc promises to deliver all the subversive textures Mr Robert Henke is known for. We caught up with him before his set on Saturday to talk about the scene he’s been involved in for years and who he’s looking forward to seeing next weekend in the London Pleasure Gardens.


I’m really excited to see you perform at Bloc, It’ll be your first time back since 2008. What can people expect from it?

It is an audiovisual show, based on the material of the recent album ‘Ghosts’ plus highly immersive real time computer animations from the dutch artist Tarik Barri. Also, the sound will be surround, and this adds to an experience that cannot be compared to listening to my music at home. In a way it is the most ‘concpetual‘ Monolake live set so far. There is still a lot of room for improvisation, though. And this is always an important aspect for me; I need to have the freedom to do shape my music in a spontaneous way or it is not very exciting for me as a performer. I believe this also translates to how the audience receives a show.

What was it that initially interested you in producing electronic music?

A general interest for abstract modern art plus a family background in engineering suddenly started to make a lot of sense to me when I discovered that electronics and computers can be used to create sounds. I was and I am still very much interested in the mutual relationship between tools and artistic outcome. There is a lot of artistic freedom in engineering and there is a lot of engineering and logical thinking in art. The connections between music and mathematics are obvious and well understood, and a lot of great composers, musicians or conductors were also scientists and vice versa. The biggest challenge of the last years for me was to liberate myself a bit more from the technical side and to focus on artistic questions.

 How do you think the scene has changed since you first got involved?

In the early 1990s producing electronic music in a club context felt like a big journey into unknown territories, the genres were young and highly dynamic. Also the scenes were much more defined locally, artists were exchanging ideas when meeting at the same records stores or parties. And, the topic of sales or marketing was not so prominent since – at least in the environment I felt comfortable – we all did not expect and aim for a bigger commercial success. I don’t really know how it is for emerging artists in their twenties, but after being in business for two decades I do not feel so much a sensation of novelty anymore, it is more about refinement. On the other side, whenever I felt things do not move anymore, suddenly something new shows up, either in my own development or in another step of musical evolution.
I’d like to see myself as an artist, not as an entertainer. I will certainly not come up with the next big thing in electronic music; instead I might be able to deliver a convincing up to date version of what I am working on since I started: combining sounds and grooves in a way that touches people. It does not have to be new it just needs to be good.

You’re very well known as being one of the creators of Ableton. What was the initial plan when setting it up? Are you still involved with the design of it?

Former Monolake member and Ableton founder Gerhard Behles and I always used computers as instruments that we could operate in real time, with the ability to change musical structures on the fly. This works of course very well on stage, but also made sense to us as a general working style in the studio: improvise and edit later. When Ableton started, the focus of all commercial music software was recording. We decided that there must be a market for a tool that works more like an instrument and obviously we were right. Currently I try hard to be not involved much with the company anymore since it takes a lot of energy away from making music and focusing on art. On the other hand the last ten years at Ableton gave me a very different and unique insight into areas I had no ideas of before, like how a company works, how building a large scale software project looks like etc. I learned a lot and I met amazingly intelligent and interesting people.

You just released Ghosts in February of this year which is I think your darkest offering yet. How do you think it compares to your other releases? Are you happy with the response to it? 

I am quite happy with the response: it is mostly very enthusiastic and if it is negative it is also very negative. To me this implies I do touch people with what I did. As far as my own perception goes: I have no real opinion yet, I always need a lot of distance to my own work. In five years I will know if I consider it a good release. For those who have problems with the cold darkness I have a message of hope: I believe the next release will be much ‘warmer’.

Any producers that have really impressed you lately?

I am so often impressed by other peoples work that it would almost be unfair to mention a specific one. However, I recently saw Anstam performing live and I really liked what he did.


How do you think your sound has evolved throughout the years?

I know much more what I want and how to achieve it and this is actually a great feeling of liberation. The interpretation of how my work evolved I leave to others.

What’s your biggest tip with regard production?

Limit yourself. The basic idea of a track must be recognizable even when only three or four elements are present. Do not put any EQ or compressors in the master.  Bypass all effects and check if each of it is really necessary. Learn to master a few tools instead of getting new ones all the time. Sounding different than other people is good, not bad.

What’s your least favourite thing about the music industry?

I guess the first the question is what is music industry? Sony? Universal? My little label? HMV? The Hardwax record store? YouTube? Things are changing rapidly these days, it is hard to come up with simple answers here.

Any acts you really want to catch at Bloc 2012?

ALL of them. This will not possible but I’ll try! The lineup is absolutely mindblowing!

Big up to Monolake for the interview!! Catch him at Bloc on Saturday 7th July. While weekend tickets have sold out, there are still a limited number of day tickets available.

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