Gesloten Cirkel: Murder He Wrote
Richard Brophy interviews Gesloten Cirkel, the mysterious producer behind one of this year’s best albums.
Gesloten Cirkel is an enigma wrapped up in a mystery. Named after a quote from I-F during an interview in the documentary, When I Sold My Soul To The Machine, this artist has only put out a handful of records in the past five years. Despite this, his recently released debut album Submit X was one of the most anticipated – and is also one of the most acclaimed – works of 2014. The reason he is held in such high regard is because while there are references to other styles, artists and communities in his music, what he makes is highly distinctive, with that rare ability to make people sit up and listen.
Gesloten Cirkel’s self-titled debut record appeared on I-F’s Murder Capital in 2009, the first release on that label in seven years. The screeching strings and shriek of a rooster on the driving techno of the title track sounded like a rude wake-up in an age of digital sterility, while “Twisted Balloon” was just as head-turning, consisting of grainy beats, grimy acid and slow-motion sirens. Following this debut, there was a two-year wait until the next Gesloten Cirkel release, Moustache Techno Series 001. That release kick-started David Vunk’s Moustache Techno sub-label and featured the eerie, bassy electro of “Yamagic” and the wonky, offbeat house of “Insummer”.
Like its predecessor, Series 001 became a sought-after release, with copies now on offer for nearly €80 (£65) online. Following the release of Series 001, there was another period of radio silence – with the exception of a short, high-tempo ghetto mix for Juno Plus – until 2013, when Gesloten put out the reduced electro drums and menacing bass of Hole on Berceuse Heroique. Earlier this year, he announced that he was putting out an album, Submit X, also on Murder Capital.
Was he surprised by the reaction to his first few records and why has he only put out such a small amount of music in the past five years? “Yeah, I was surprised, but also I am not sure a lot of copies were pressed,” he says about these records. “Music is mostly a hobby for me and I don’t want to make worthless releases. I do it to enjoy it, but I have to be confident in the package to release it with a price tag. That being said, I pump out recordings pretty often and post them online on Intergalactic FM.”
Although we have not yet reached the halfway mark of this year, Submit X is easily a contender for album of 2014. Like previous releases by this artist, it is rooted in grimy acid, techno and electro. Grainy drums are pushed to the point of distortion, acid spews out like bile and there are even some vocals on “Stakan”, “Feat Liette” and the over the top robo-electro of “Zombiemachine”.
However, Submit X is just as varied as his singles. It rages from the dirgeful Goth intro of “Stakapella” and its follow-up, the long-slung electro bass and wavy vocals of “Stakan”, to “Vader”, a nasty, distorted sewer techno banger. “Stakans” is almost catchy and sounds like it could be a big track – would Gesloten Cirkel be happy if his music became known by a wider audience? “I don’t care! I am happy if one person almost enjoyed it. “Stakan” was a stab at Emo wave,” he explains. “It used to have a few more lines of vocals that were really silly, but I didn’t record them so the track stayed pretty dark.”
He explains that “Stakan” was also the track that provided the idea for Gesloten Cirkel to record an album in the first place. “I played it live in 2010 in The Hague after the first EP was released and got nice feedback at the show. I actually made it in the same week as “Twisted Balloon”, so I think I mixed the two together at the live show. I accidentally deleted those files during some MPC maintenance,” he adds.
“Later, I put that track in a mega mix that was for a contest on IFM. The Murder Capital boss (I-F) liked it and I sent him some versions. I didn’t like them too much so it didn’t drive me to finish a release. Then work took all my time. I sent a demo version of “Feat. Liette” after I returned to working on a release for Murder Capital and that got some airplay. It was pretty rough and the vocals were clashing in some parts, but I think I-F still plays that version. So with two tracks kind of done, I said I am going to do an album. Most of the compilation and polishing was done in December 2013 when I had time and then I procrastinated with artwork for a bit.”
Now available in its final version, “Feat Liette” is an insistent, pulsing affair. Like a dark, slowed down EBM riposte to Alden Tyrell’s “La Voix”, it features an unnamed vocalist wittering away in an unidentifiable tongue. On “Zombiemachine Acid” and “Zombiemachine” the artist delivers more vocals. This time, they are accompanied by murderous basslines, grainy kicks and epic, soaring synth lines. The vocal element comprises a pitched down robotic tones ordering listeners to “follow the leader”. It sounds like Gesloten Cirkel is having a laugh. Does he not take things too seriously and like to inject some humour into his music?
“Funny? You think I’m funny”, comes the all-caps response by email. “I guess it is sort of a formula. I like tracks to have character – be it a sound or melody or solo but yes, life is one big joke.”
But there are things that this producer won’t discuss. “Zombiemachine” sounds similar to the grainy, acid-fuelled electro-techno that Hague labels like Panzerkreuz and Bunker release. Is he inspired by them?
What about the vocals on the album; who is the vocalist on “Stakan” and what language is the unidentified woman signing in on “Feat Liette”?
Fair enough, let’s steer it back towards the music. There are exceptions to Gesloten Cirkel’s bombastic electro-techno sound, and the most notable one here is the upbeat, warbling, lo-fi synths on “Chatters”. It sounds more melodic than the rest of Submit X – is this an area Gesloten Cirkel is keen to explore? “That track was a keyboard jam that I’ve set up to sound like some chiptunes – I don’t think it is that deep. I am more psyched that it was all in one take,” he says. “I definitely want to play live melodies more, but it takes a lot of practice.”
Would he ever consider making a soundtrack/home listening album à la DJ Overdose or like one of Danny Wolfers’ side projects? “I do make a bunch of ambient and sometimes a chill track, but I don’t plan on putting those out. I would rather score a film or do some sound design than make a home listening release,” he replies.
There is an argument that he should stick to what he knows best, and the title track sees Gesloten Cirkel channel a similar type of electro funk as “Yamagic” but with looped vocal stutters replacing the ethereal, dreamy textures. “Vader” is a banging, straight down the line techno track, while “Arrested Development” is inspired by Hague electro. However, it veers unexpectedly into a spiralling guitar solo before ending with Gesloten Cirkel spitting acid-soaked nails all over the arrangement. Did he sample a hard rock guitar for “Arrested Development”?
Thankfully, he is slightly more forthcoming when asked about the influence of industrial music on Submit X. “Yes, I am sure it was inspired by it. I don’t listen to IFM radio often, but I know it influences my taste in sound. Mostly I tune into Murder Capital radio and it plays all sorts of dark and industrial and minimal sounds – especially on Black Mondays.”
So while Gesloten Cirkel’s music operates in its own world, The Hague’s electro and techno sound and the community that centres around I-F’s Intergalactic FM radio station seem like his spiritual home. A sign of how close Gesloten Cirkel is to this community is evidenced by the fact that his debut release relaunched I-F’s Murder Capital label and the follow-up provided the kick-start for David Vunk’s Moustache Techno sub-label. Speaking to this writer, Gesloten Cirkel says that he feels most affinity with artists from this milieu.
“Most of my contact with artists is through online chat on IFM,” he says. “There is an obvious connection since we discuss all sorts of things, including music production and the IFM radio site. I haven’t been participating in production of various media involved with the radio, TV or website code all that much in the past years due to my day job, but still – that is my main contact and reason for contact,” he adds.
The scant amount of information that is available about this producer suggest that he is Russian or based in Russia, which would explain his interest in developing relationships with like-minded artists online. As he is based away from the Dutch west coast nerve centre, he also places importance on face-to-face contact with his peers.
“When it is possible, I try to meet artists I’ve met in chat or forums before their gigs and just shoot the shit. On the rare occasion that I do play, I am with like-minded people who are on the bill or are putting on the show. It is really good to just talk with people who are moving through time alongside you, instead of getting too carried away or attached to things you can’t influence or be influenced by directly,” he believes.
In spite of this back story, not everything adds up. All of the topical questions that this writer sent to Gesloten Cirkel about Russia via email – his views on its incursion into Ukraine; its treatment of homosexuals and even questions about the development of electronic music in his home country – are unanswered. Of course it’s not unusual for some artists to dodge unrelated topics and to instead focus on talking about their new release or recent records. But then there is another strange twist – in the midst of preparing a new set of questions to send him by email, Gesloten Cirkel puts out a tweet stating that all of the proceeds from sales of Submit X will go directly to IFM, which recently announced it had been hit with a large fine for filing its tax reports late in 2010 and 2011.
It seems like such a selfless act for a producer who does not own the station that it immediately raises suspicions that Gesloten Cirkel may not be who he seems. Why has he decided to do this?
“Because IFM is the place – doesn’t everyone support what they like? Nothing is for granted. Everything is taxed and everyone needs a break sometime. The amount of work that goes into IFM, I know first hand – so I know where my earnings end up,” he answers obtusely.
It sounds like a very altruistic move, but Gesloten Cirkel would probably argue that it is money well spent and arguably, the producer’s debut album is shaped and influenced by I-F’s multi-channel digital broadcasting empire. “They are all very talented, self-driven, creative and reachable,” he says of the IFM community, justifying his donation.
“There is such a huge amount of material that I hear from these people and the IFM radio that I can hardly keep up with my influences anymore. Obviously there are tracks I don’t even remember that influence my melody or synth patches. That’s another thing, if I hear some old Paul Johnson or Armani record, these artists feel really far away and from another planet, so I can’t just go, ‘hey do you have more tracks like that or, hey how is that bass even made?’ So I kind of get inspired by them to make my own versions. But if I hear some Legowelt or Mark Du Mosch or I-F, I almost don’t want to know how they made that because I can just ask. And also, what’s the point of me jacking their production values or patterns? I guess it happens anyway whether I want to or not.”
This kind of interaction was impossible before the internet and it is one of the main reasons why an artist like Gesloten Cirkel is able to source and soak up all of these sounds on IFM, communicate with some of the artists who made the music and then deliver a unique interpretation of what he has absorbed.
It’s a different situation to the ’90s, as he recalls. “I was really blown away by Live at the Liquid Rooms by Jeff Mills in the late ’90s. He was already a superstar by then and obviously I couldn’t just talk to him or other acts like Ciccone Youth or Nirvana about what was on my mind. I probably liked it (Live at the Liquid Rooms) because it was marketed to me and my friends also liked it.”
“Richard D James’ album also blew me away and lots of Future Sound Of London stuff. I couldn’t talk to them or people that were involved with them. I could talk to other fans and hope that some synth magazine somewhere would reveal just a few bits or techniques that they used. So, after a while I really got tired of that and just did my thing and talked to other like-minded people. So now I am happy to be around the exact people you see me on the bill with,” he adds.
Possibly the other reason why the artist is comfortable giving the money to IFM is because he works full-time and has the financial wherewithal not to be reliant on touring or releasing records. On the subject of whether he will play live to promote Submit X, he says that he has “no tour and no gigs planned due to work”.
At the same time, he believes it is “very hard” to mix full-time work with music-making. “You have to be very mindful of funds, promotions, investments of time. It is basically running your own business that is powered by your creativity. You can sit at a desk and use 1/10th of that creativity per month. That is, until you get promoted. Then you are fucked,” he believes. Nonetheless, he can always slip back into his Gesloten Cirkel alter ego. Apart from his own releases, he has also remixed Mark Du Mosch and Conforce. Is it something he enjoys and does he approach it differently to making his own music?
“Not really. I just make my own track and put their name on it usually. Sometimes it turns out really bad because I can’t make it my own enough. I should probably approach it differently, and then I would enjoy it more,” he explains.
As a parting shot, I ask him if he has any other releases planned apart from his debut album.
“I don’t know. I don’t want to think about it,” he replies curtly, before signing off for good. With a debut album like Submit X to his credit, it’s no wonder that he’s reluctant to set the studio wheels in motion for some time.
Interview by Richard Brophy