Interview: Axel Boman
Interview by Pablo Roman-Alcala
Some important people have taken notice of Axel Boman. His first big release was on DJ Koze’s Pampa label, Innervisions contacted him to distribute his limited edition loop 12”, Jesse Rose tapped him for an EP on Play it Down and the number of DJs who have played his music keeps growing. I doubt he cares much about that. Boman’s music is imbued with subtlety, a sense of humour, wit, and verve, sampling the obscure and the obvious in equal turns but converting them to shards of music that are his own. Deep house may be the flavor of the day, but what you normally hear tastes very different when it comes from Axel. He is the sweet mixed with umami to the the bland, unseasoned sounds around. I had a messy Skype chat with him to find out about art school, nuclear physics and family relations.
So, you graduated from art school, correct?
Yes, I’m a Master of Fine Arts.
What was the the best thing you did in Art School? Was it going to Watergate on a class trip and buying Ecstasy for all your classmates?
Well, that was definitely up there. It’s up in the Top 5 at least, but the number one has to be a life-size sculpture I made. Instead of a head, he had a TV connected to a DVD player in his body and I showed films on his head. Everybody freaked out when they came in the room because it looked so real. Everybody hated it. As soon as the exhibition was over, I left the statue in the exhibition hall, and there was a big party afterwards. At the party – I wasn’t there – it got completely trashed. It was screwed to the cement floor, and it was just destroyed. People hated it so much. And it was super, super good. So lifelike.
Why did they hate it so much?
I don’t know. I guess, a potential scenario could be: people are really drunk, they go back to the exhibition hall to check some of the art at night when it’s dark, they can fuck, I don’t know… enjoy stuff in a better mood. And the guy with a TV head is there, and they get super scared and start karate kicking it, and it just gets out of hand, and people destroy it. I was devastated for a while because it was the best shit I had ever done. That, and the huge purple fountain I made. I had 120 UV lights in the room, so it was like going into a solarium. It was called “Purple Drank”.
How did you meet Jesse [Rose]?
He saw me play at Sonar and was like “wow, I like this guy”. I didn’t know he was there, but then my Swedish actor friends started hanging out with him in L.A., and they were telling me “Hey, Jesse Rose loves you”, and I just thought ‘ok, cool’. So, when I went to L.A. I got in touch with him and of course, in very Jesse Rose style, his assistant came and picked me up in a nice car and took me to his really nice house. Jamie Anderson was staying there, and he had this whole studio setup, and this huge view of L.A. It was a very big contrast to the way my friend, who I was visiting, was living . A weird contrast. He asked me to play him some stuff I was working on and I did, and he wanted to release it. And I said yes, because they were party tracks that fit the whole Made To Play sound. So that’s how we met. He’s been getting me some really good gigs, he’s a super generous guy. He can come off to some people as being a bit arrogant, but he’s really generous. He hooked me up with playing Panorama Bar, and Social Club in Paris and there’s a few big things coming up. He’s one of those guys who really makes stuff happen – he isn’t waiting around for anything.
And he introduced you to Damian Lazarus?
No, I really like the Lazpod, I’ve been listening to it a lot. I asked Annabelle, my booking agent, if she knew him because I knew he was living in L.A., and I sent a few tracks to him when I was in town. And he ended up putting one of my tracks on the Lazpod! He took me out to sit in the owners box of, I don’t remember, some club where we saw Godspeed You! Black Emperor. He’s a really nice guy, a special character.
You have a collaborative project with your cousin, right?
[hesitant] Yeah, but maybe it would be nicer if it was just him, and the project had nothing to do with me. I can’t tell you too much, but I can tell you that the song “Holy Love”, which was on my EP for Pampa, is one of the tracks that was originally produced for this project. It is very pop, very naïve – a beautiful sound world. And he is a very beautiful, eccentric person who really needs to be on a stage. I think he feeds on it, he doesn’t need any other nutrition. I mean, he eats food now, but as soon as he gets a little light on him, he becomes this monster who I would love to unleash on the world. I see him growing far beyond me some day, but it’s nice to be a part of the beginning of that, that… enigma. His name is Johan Jonasson, and he is an amazing singer.
You do a lot of interesting collaborations that are a little away from the stuff that you are rapidly getting known for. I have heard some of the songs with Johan besides “Holy Love” and some other more out there collaborations. You did a collaboration with some Swedish nuclear physicists, even.
AB: Well, I never would have thought, a few years ago back at art school, that I would work with the darkest forces in the world. One being nuclear power, and the second being mentioned on Fox News, who did a report on the whole project. But I like it. I like it in the same way that Lars von Trier got his fun in film school provoking his fellow left wing students. He’s only called Lars Trier in real life. Anyway, I got hooked up with them because the Swedish government has to inform its citizens what radiation is, because we have nuclear power in Sweden. So every year they make a film that is shown in schools and wherever to inform people. One of the nuclear scientists who was part of making sure they were getting the information right had this idea that you could make music with it. That was essentially the starting point of the project. The guy in charge of the production company knew about me, so he called me up and asked if I wanted to be a part of it, and I said yes because it sounded funny. They called another guy who builds synthesizers or VSTs and we all got together and started to discuss what we could do with it. There were shitloads of meetings… and then he came up with prototypes of two new kinds of synthesizers that would make sounds in different ways based on different isotopes. The information from each isotope created these sounds, loops, harmonies. So we started recording. Of course we ended up recording so much – I mean I was supposed to just make one song for this short film, and it turned out to be six songs. Now it’s a much bigger project and the record is going to be released. It turned into this big thing and got a lot of attention, and now they want to perform it live, so I guess we haven’t seen the end of it yet. It’s not pro- or anti-radiation, it’s just something that, legally, the government has to do to inform the citizens, and it ended up being a really interesting way to learn about it.
So the record, is that state sponsored or are you [Barnhus] putting it out…
Well, the whole thing is state sponsored, but it will be going through our channels, because we have contacts with distributors, and we have done this before, so it’s going through us. It’s all being done on a small scale, but it’s a way to make the music that we made very accessible. All they cared about was that it was on Spotify and iTunes, because they don’t care about digital vs vinyl culture, so (releasing the music on vinyl) was our suggestion. We want to do it like this because then it shows we are more serious. We thought, if we are going to have it on Spotify and iTunes, then we should do a proper release, and I guess for them it’s not shitloads of money. Putting a few vinyls out isn’t such a big deal. Whenever you put stuff on vinyl it exists – it’s there.
It gives weight to the art and creativity that’s part of it.
And they liked it, the scientists were holding onto the vinyl – they can hold it and have it at home. They wanted a big pile to hand out to everyone who worked at the nuclear research center in Sweden. They really liked having it in a physical form, even if it just ends up being a decorative Christmas present. Although they don’t care about vinyl. I mean, them explaining isotopes to me was like me trying to explain DJ culture or techno to them. It was like, “you seem to know what you are talking about, so whatever.”
That whole project seems to go along with how eclectic in a way the Studio Barnhus output has been so far, what is the mission statement for Barnhus, are you consciously choosing to go all over the place?
So far, nothing has been a conscious decision to go in any direction. Us sitting here in this room – our studio was an accident. If you compare it to… I mean, I don’t want to compare it to anyone, but if you took Warp, for example, they seem to have everything from really weird experimental stuff all the way to back-to-basics house music. I would love if eight years from now Studio Barnhus still exists and we only release dancehall and 7”s; that would be an excellent development. If every release was a bit of a surprise, I would love that. You wouldn’t dare to expect.
Going back, what do you mean about it being an accident that you came together.
We all needed studios and this one was too big and too expensive for one person to share. Kornel (Kovács) talked to Petter (Nordkvist) and I, and we just moved in. We weren’t really good friends before that, I mean Petter and I knew each other, but I didn’t really know Kornel. It wasn’t even us who started calling it Studio Barnhus. I mean it’s located on Barhusgatan, and people started booking us all together and we were like, OK, fine. One thing you should know, being in a room with Kornel, he’s like a strange force of nature that stuff happens around. People are drawn to him like moths. People that do stuff want Kornel, so when you are around him things starts to happen. That’s why things aren’t happening for Petter and I right now, because Kornel isn’t around because he has a new job. We are just waiting for him to come back and give us purpose in life again.
You three have a weird family relationship, different personalities. What role do each of you fall into?
Kornel is the Pep Guardiola of Studio Barnhus. The manager of Barcelona, best football team in the world. Petter is Mexico – a strange little country with lots of sex and drugs. I am the slut of Barnhus!