Where are you currently based?
You have some shows coming up in Australia on the 1st of December at the Federation Bells LP launch at Birrarung Marr, Melbourne (playing live with the Federation Bells) and then the 15th of December at the Geist Rave at a secret location in Sydney (playing live + a DJ set) How do you prepare for each live show?
I rehearse in a shared studio space in the Berlin neighbourhood of Lichtenberg. It’s in a delightfully post-apocalyptic looking 80s office block, covered in brown reflective glass with a few smashed out windows. Once I’m on the road I mainly just try to remain calm and not think about gigs too much until I’m doing them. I also avoid smoke to preserve the organ I rely on for most of my performance.
How did these shows come about?
The gig at Birrarung Marr is entirely down to Miles Brown curating the Cling Clang compilation (a collection of tracks composed using a midi-controlled emulation of the Federation Bells) and asking all the artists involved to perform for the release party. It was an honour to be on the compilation and it’s a stroke of luck that I’ll happen to be in Australia on the date of the release party. I don’t come back very often.
The Geist Rave is also down to the luck of the promoter, myself and Forces all being in Australia at the same time, since we’ve all been Berlin-based this past year.
What equipment and programs do you use live?
I’ve stripped my live set back to be as minimal as possible to ensure I can fit everything into a normal economy luggage allowance and focus as much as possible on my vocal performance. For these shows I’ll be using Ableton Live with a midi keyboard, drum pads and a vocal effects processor. And my own mic… I always bring my own mic.
How did you start DJing and playing music?
It was something I kept coming back to over a number of years. Though born in Australia I grew up in Southeast Asia, mostly in Malaysia, where I never quite felt at home or connected with my peers, so I used the internet and the music I found on it as an escape. An exceptionally cool aunt who lived in London in the 80s helped facilitate my gravitation towards darker sounds from that era (a compilation she gave me with the Cure, Psychedelic Furs and Sisters of Mercy on it had me off to a good start), and my obsession grew to the point of desperately wanting to make some myself. I started out learning the guitar around the age of 14, and at some point acquired a microphone and a crappy Yamaha keyboard and started recording songs into Audacity. I had no idea how to sequence anything so nothing had any drums, and all the vocals were dry since I didn’t know what effects were – it was hilariously bad. But it was a dream I clung to all through my teenage years, I told people “one day I’m moving to London and I’m starting a band – just wait and see”, until it seemed so disappointingly and undeniably unobtainable that I put it aside and focused on school.
When I was 17 I moved to Melbourne and felt like I’d reached some kind of promised land just because there were a few other people who’d heard of Anorexic Dread and the Sex Gang Children. The moment I could legally get into clubs I started going to goth parties, and it wasn’t long until I started DJing at them too. It was very much a hobby though, and I still couldn’t find any potential bandmates, or anyone I really connected with for that matter. The dream was dormant.
I left Melbourne after just 2 years to study archaeology and anthropology in London. Coldwave, minimal synth and EBM were just making their comeback when I arrived, and within a few years I found myself collecting vinyl and running a party called Never Come Back. In Melbourne barely any underground bands existed, let alone played shows, so life in London was an enormous awakening for me in terms of appreciating live music. Seeing the likes Zola Jesus, Grimes, HTRK, Xeno & Oaklander and the Soft Moon play filled me with so much inspiration I decided once again at 21 that I had to bloody well make something!
Serendipity stepped in this time and it was almost exactly around that time that I met Ryan Ambridge, and within a few weeks we were making music as Linea Aspera. Everything moved quite fast. We’d shred out songs in a day or two, upload them to Soundcloud, then receive such an overwhelmingly positive response that it almost felt too easy. The flicker of a dream from my teenage years ignited again. It was at our gig at Gothic Pogo Festival that I met Sid from Schwefelgelb, who I would end up forming Keluar with after Ryan decided to lay Linea Aspera to rest. At that time I was academically very successful and truly believed I was going to become an anthropologist, then somewhere along the way I just couldn’t focus on studying anymore. Writing music and singing felt so much more natural and made me feel alive in a way I hadn’t known before. It wasn’t the easiest decision to make, and I’ve certainly looked back on it with tentative regret at times, but I ended up dropping out of my Evolution & Human Behaviour masters program and swapping a crumbling matchbox with no heating in Finsbury Park for a crumbling but enormous and well-heated room in west Berlin.
You’re back to Berlin in January with two DJ sets at your two event series, Fleisch on the 12th of January and Häxan on the 26th. How do the shows in Berlin compare to playing other shows in the rest of the world?
DJing in Berlin is what got me serious about it in the first place. Until then it was always just for fun. That feeling of being surrounded by friends sharing the music we love generates a special kind of natural high, and I get these great moments of wonder and amusement at the fact that we’re experiencing that high as bipedal apes rhythmically thrusting our bodies around to the same beat in a poorly lit room full of smoke. It’s one of the weirdest and seemingly useless things humans do, and yet it feels so powerful – and I believe it really is. DJing and dancing is what brought my Berlin family together, and now I secretly just run parties to get all the people I love in one room. So in that sense, Berlin gives me everything I didn’t even know I wanted from playing music for people. Other cities do it too of course, since music is a communication that crosses boundaries with greater efficiency than any other, but Berlin is always the most intense.
In terms of playing live, as much as I appreciate my friends at those gigs too, Berlin isn’t so ideal. People primarily just want to dance, so both venues and parties are geared towards making that happen as efficiently as possible (it is Germany after all). I think maybe my live shows require a bit too much standing still, so I usually come away feeling a little underwhelmed. It’s strange how cities can differ like that.
How has the music scene changed since you started?
I’m not sure how much is the scene and how much is just my own perception and experience, but the biggest difference between now and five years ago is definitely the position of techno in the hearts of minds of me and my contemporaries. I walked past Berghain for the first time on my way to Drop Dead Festival in 2011. I saw this ridiculously long queue and the lights of Panorama Bar flashing through the iconic windows, heard the 4/4 pounding from the concrete walls and thought “fuck that, I’m never going in there!”. Then we all discovered Silent Servant or something and nothing was ever the same again.
Do you have a favourite venue or event to play?
I always love returning to the Fleisch homegrounds of Urban Spree, and outside Berlin I never miss a chance to play Kalabalik Festival in Alvesta, Sweden. The surreal setting and energy just blow me away every time. Everyone involved and attending are there for the right reasons and it shows.
I also can’t not mention Centro de Salud in Mexico City – that was the gig that stopped me from giving up on music completely earlier this year.
We hear that you’re currently working on a full length album, co-produced with Alex Akers of Forces, what sound/vibe can we expect from this album?
It’s my first full-length as Zanias so I’m definitely taking advantage of the format to flow deeper into unchartered territory and express a side of myself that hasn’t been heard before. On EPs I always feel this pressure to make every track a hit, but with this I’m allowing more evolution and experimentation. If it all goes as planned it’ll certainly be a trip.
Where will you be recording?
I record most vocals and synths in my living room in Friedrichshain, usually at night. I just have to make sure my dog stays quiet, though I’ll probably sample him in something eventually. He does some great vocalisations.
How did the colab with Alex come about and why did you choose to work with Alex?
I’ve always been a massive fan of Forces and then after we met he happened to become one of my favourite people so I asked him if he could help me write a few beats for some tracks, and it turned into an EP. I feel extremely fortunate to be able to work with him, and am continually in awe at his musical output in Forces as well as all his production for other artists.
You’re also start a new collaboration with Lynette Cerezo of the band Bestial Mouths, what will this collab entail?
We’ll be holing ourselves up in the studio in January and seeing what happens. We have a lot in common both as artists and as people, so it feels like a natural fit.
You also have another track on the next Skin of Their Light compilation coming out early 2018, what influenced the sound of this track and what programs and equipment did you use to produce?
The Skin of Their Light tracks are directly influenced by the video art of Diane Drubay. They’re all made in Ableton and I use samples that I’ve collected from all over the place and a whole lot of layers of vocals.
Recently you contributed vocals to tracks from Dax J’s upcoming album as well as one from the new Aktion Mutante release (a new project with Unhuman and Violet Poison). How did you starting singing and how do these types of collaborations come about?
I’ve been singing for as long as I can remember, I think even before I could talk. It’s just something I’ve done for fun and for stress relief – it made me feel alive when nothing else could. My first time singing on recordings that are available for people to hear was with Linea Aspera, and I still distinctly remember the first time I sang what I’d written for our first track, ‘Preservation Bias’, with my bandmate and a friend in the room. I was trembling with nerves and had no idea if it was awful or not. Apparently it wasn’t.
The collaborations came about the way most collabs do: mutual admiration of each other’s music and the offer of exchanging remixes and vocals. Dax J originally reached out via email after hearing the promo for ‘To the Core’. Unhuman is a very old friend and we’ve been supporting each other’s music since the beginning, so it wasn’t our first collaboration and unlikely to be the last.
Meanwhile you also run Fleisch Records, How and why did Fleisch Records start?
Fleisch was originally a collective, formed of seven black-clad expat musicians and designers who happened to move to Berlin around the same time and lived in close proximity to one another. In 2014 we started throwing free parties in the Urban Spree basement, about 20 square metres of raw concrete that we’d fill with smoke and EBM. After a few years we realised a certain sound had developed amongst our extended family of DJs and producers, one that didn’t seem to have an outlet anywhere else, so we took matters into our own hands and started releasing it ourselves. Body music is our base and probably the best descriptor of everything we’re about, but our artists come at it from all different directions, be it techno, acid or coldwave. It’s really about the vibe more than the genre.
What are the greatest challenges of running a record label?
Just keeping up with it really. It’s a lot of busywork without as much of a visible payoff as making your own music. Every artist added to the roster is another person or group of people who have to be communicated with and cared for, and every release is an ongoing project that never really ends for as long as the record is being sold. It’s a bit like being the matriarch of a very eccentric and ever-expanding family of creative geniuses, but I wouldn’t have it any other way.
You have been curating a string of hard-hitting EBM releases for 2018, that might include a remix or a track from you as well, what do you think is most important when curating?
For Fleisch it’s all about maintaining that specific feeling that makes our events so special. If I can’t imagine playing a track at 5am in a smoke-filled concrete box then it doesn’t belong on the label.
When and where are you playing next?
That’ll be Birrarung Marr in Melbourne.
Favourite food and place to hangout?
One specific food is too hard to choose, but I’ve always been obsessed with Italian food and subsist largely on that and Indonesian, which is what I grew up with. If I’m going to sit still and hang around in any kind of place it would ideally be somewhere by the ocean.
Zanias ‘To The Core Remixes’ EP on Noiztank is out now!