The three members of the Aniara gang – Alexander Berg, Nils Krogh and Fabian Bruhn – have created something special with their record label, party and production collective. They’ve caught the ears of some very respected artists who might have dismissed Sweden as belonging to the staid, manly sounds of Techno with a capital ‘T’. The austere yet psychedelic music of Genius of Time and Dorisburg combine an understanding of the past with a yearning for something new and space age. It’s for these reasons that we singled out the Gothenburg-based imprint to be the first in a new feature focusing on our favourite record labels. And while the guys can seem reserved or shy at first, a few drinks in, they can party with the best of them – just as Berlin-based Juno Plus scribe Pablo Roman-Alcalá found out. (Scroll down to the bottom of the article to hear a stream of the recent Genius Of Time set at Swiss club Dachstock.)
Firstly, I wanted to talk about the fact that every time you guys come to Berlin I end up getting sick. The last time we were DJing together I had to run to the bathroom five times while I was playing.
Alexander Berg (AB): Yeah, that’s unlucky (All laugh)
But to be fair, this time I didn’t actually get sick – I just dropped my phone in the canal.
AB: It’s funny because just after sound checking at Watergate we had an hour before dinner, so we went to CDV and were talking about how the gaps are just the size to drop something…
…like a phone.
OK, why don’t you tell me how long you guys have known each other and how you came to start a label.
AB: Me and Nils have known each other for about six years – since high school. I’m not sure exactly when I met Fabian, we had common friends, he was living in Uppsalla at the time, or maybe he was back in Gothenburg for the summer. I mean, Gothenburg is not that big – if you have similar interests you eventually get to know each other. Nils and I had been making music together for a while but not really putting anything out, because every half a year we would end up going in a different direction. We made “Same Old Place” in 2009 here in Berlin, actually. I guess that was the first Genius of Time song…
Nils Krogh (NK): No, we did three before!
Fabian Bruhn (FB): Yeah, because I remember Alex sending me some tracks, when we were talking online, and the names of the tracks were, Track 1, Track 2, Track 3, Track 4… and “Same Old Place” was track four.
AB: Oh yeah, that’s correct. Although, those other songs didn’t really get finished completely. Anyway, it felt at that time like this was what we wanted to do – we found our style a bit during 2009 and Fabian was talking about starting his label, although we weren’t really involved with that part.
FB: I was trying to figure out what to do for the first release, and I wanted to put out “Same Old Place”, obviously. But we hadn’t figured out what to do for the B-Side, and in the end they ended up doing a new song in the time between Christmas and New Years. And that ended up being “Tight Genes”, which just started as a sample, but evolved into something else.
AB: That’s what happens most times, really.
FB Yeah, so there wasn’t a big plan. I was getting involved with music more, I was DJing more and I thought it would be nice to start a label, and it all just came together. It’s been evolving all the time.
But there’s something missing. Tell me the story of how you financed the first release…
FB: Well, I was studying at the time, so money wasn’t in great supply. I was living in a University town called Uppsala, and the hospital there does research and stuff, so a friend told me about these trials that he’d done, and with the money I was living on then it was unbelievable what you could earn in a couple of weeks. The trial was for schizophrenia medication – three weeks in the hospital with MRIs and scans, blood pressure, blood samples and so forth. I couldn’t leave the hospital at any time. We received a dose every morning.
Did you ever find out whether you were in the control group or the real medication group?
FB: Oh yeah, I sure did, because the thing is, this medication was a form of amphetamine, and the first day I couldn’t believe what was happening…I was tripping! It was like a mix of MDMA and speed. So, I was in the hospital for three weeks, and the first week I was really tripping. Every day (laughs). I took the medication at 8am, I was high at about 10am and then I wouldn’t be able to fall asleep until 1am the next morning. They measured the pupils of the clients once a day. Yeah, it was weird. But it’s still the easiest money I ever made.
Sacrificing your body for house/techno. And you guys are running parties in Gothenburg too, right? Were you doing that together before the label?
NK: No, I think it started with the label.
AB: Yeah, the first release was in April (2010) and then the first party took place in May, because we decided we wanted to stay in Gothenburg. It’s a nice place to be based when it comes to making music, but nothing was going on party-wise, so we decided to do something. I mean, that was the first thing, just to be able to stay there and have some sort of fun. Then we realized that no venues would be right to do something with because you can’t just have a bar in Sweden without a kitchen. So there aren’t really any people running music venues who are interested in music, it’s just business people running restaurants. We really wanted to do something that felt right – you know, nice sound, nice vibe. So we just figured out we would have to do outdoor parties, or illegal parties, and we started to build our own sound system. As such Aniara got to be a bit more of a collective than simply a label. From that point we all started to get more involved in the label and parties, and we all started to blend more into each other.
FB: I had done a lot of parties before, in the same way, in Gothenburg. It kind of felt like the natural way to come together with music, because it’s also fun to hear each other play records. That’s kind of the way your sound develops to gel together, to find common ground.
Was part of it also a feeling that since there were no venues that were interested, that you thought instead of leaving this place and going somewhere that’s already ‘happening’, you could grow and make your home better?
AB: Definitely, I think for me that was the really important thing. For example, if we moved to Berlin, of course we could have some parties, but it wouldn’t really have such an impact. When we do things in Gothenburg we can immediately feel that – for some people at least – it makes a big difference.
Are there other artists in Gothenburg that you think are part of your group or community?
AB: I think maybe it’s too early to tell. When I was getting old enough to go to clubs I thought there was this crew of kind of older deep house DJs who were doing parties both at venues but also private, more underground stuff. I just remember being 18 and going to these things and being really inspired. I hope that younger people see us in the same way and kind of get to know different music than what they hear in normal Swedish clubs.
FB: There are some other artists in our town who I really respect and inspire me. One of them is Göran, and he did a release that’s connected to our label. It’s called “Slobban”. Also Cazuma is a guy I live with who I’ve been doing parties with for a long time. He’s also a really good DJ and I enjoy the music he makes.
NK: They are also pretty close friends of ours.
AB: We also have much less attention in Sweden than we do elsewhere. There might be a lot of people at this point who know about our parties, but I don’t think many of them know there’s a label. It’s hard to tell, since at this point it’s only been going for a year.
FB: It’s definitely true that there’s more interest in the label outside of Sweden. I don’t know why, I mean, there’s this whole blog scene going on and I feel like maybe we aren’t part of that. I guess it’s more centered around Stockholm.
But you guys were thinking of doing a Swedish compilation, right? With Studio Barnhus and some other people?
FB: Yeah we talked about that a while ago, but it hasn’t really happened yet. We have some ideas for it, but everyone is kind of doing their own thing right now.
Do you feel a connection to those guys, though?
FB: I do, yeah. I really like what they are doing, and I really like the way there’s a “Swedish” thing happening now. I like the fact that it’s not a streamlined sound, though. That it’s really different. Barnhus are doing their own thing, that’s totally different from us. I mean, there are connections. Also, Skudge, who have gotten a lot of attention, they are also doing something that’s different from both us and Barnhus. I love that there are different directions and everyone is trying to do their own thing.
NK: Also there is Geography Recordings, which Shakarchi & Straneus released on, and then they released on Studio Barnhus after that. So sometimes it all overlaps.
Adam Lundberg and Oskar in Malmo run Geography, right?
FB: Yeah, they have a new release coming out soon by a friend of ours, Esther Dujin.
AB: I think it feels like fun times now, with all these things coming out of Sweden and to be a part of that. It’s really cool. It just keeps getting better and better.
One thing I noticed about all these different groups of people coming out of Sweden is that you each have a very particular aesthetic for your label, for the music, for the art. I was just watching the video for “Gliese 581”. It all ties together. Same for Geography, or Barnhus. Even if Barnhus is a kind of a purposely varied sound, it’s all pieces of a puzzle. What is the inspiration for your slightly oblique, science fiction aesthetic?
AB: We care a lot about the quality of the mixdowns and mastering. I think we just want to make a product that feels very genuine. That’s how we feel about the music, and we want others to feel the same way. With the artwork, I don’t know, when we decide on the art it just sort of feels right. When you look at them I think they fit together.
FB: We really want it to feel like it was made with care, that there’s heart put into it, affection. We want the vinyl to be good quality. With the artwork, it’s the same view I have with music in general. I want everything to be thought through, but then you need to have some surprises as well. I think with the artwork, it should be something you can react to, perhaps because it’s unexpected. I really didn’t want the records to all look the same – there needs to be some coherence, but there also needs to be character to it. The same principle applies to the music itself.
A little birdie once told me, and they meant this with affection, that “part of what’s cool about Fabian, and part of what’s annoying, is he’s a House Music Nazi”.
FB: What does that mean, House Music Nazi?
Well that’s why I said it – I want to know what you think, your reaction.
AB: We don’t want to do just retro music. That’s not super interesting. When playing live though, we can really go classic at times, jamming with the machines and stuff.
NK: We all have quite specific ideas of what we think is good. We also all have kind of similar tastes.
FB: With the whole Nazi thing, I’m very particular; I think we all are. There are things we like and there are things we don’t like. I think also very uncompromising. Which could be interpreted as a bit Nazi (laughs), but in a good way. I am very uncompromising when it comes to music, but I don’t think that means purist. I really don’t like the word purist and I don’t really want to be classic. I want things to sound modern and I enjoy people who play new stuff. I can be really bored when people play just Chicago, classic, oh ‘this is the real house sound’ or whatever. It’s more that I don’t have time for boring. (All laugh)
I think that’s an excellent mission statement for a label. We don’t have time for boring.
FB: My worst scenario isn’t hearing someone trainwreck a mix, it’s when you are on a dance floor and you think to yourself, ‘yeah, this isn’t bad, but why should I listen to it?’ I really want to hear something that has its own personality. We saw Pearson Sound at Panorama Bar a while ago and it was really refreshing. It really felt like he was doing his own thing and it really felt modern. I really liked that.
Have you heard his new alias, that’s basically Chicago tool tracks?
FB: Maurice Donovan. Yeah, I don’t mind if you do that. If it was someone just doing that, it would be boring to me, but it’s just one part of what he is doing. Also in a set, I don’t mind if you play a really classic track, but if you only play stuff that sounds like it was made 20 years ago, that’s boring. If you play it alongside something that sounds like it was made yesterday, that’s interesting to me.
Who are some other artists in that sort of garage/2-step bastardization scene who you think are doing stuff that like Pearson Sound/Ramadanman, that takes classic sounds but makes it new and something with personality?
AB: I don’t know that mostly UK scene so well, but stuff on Aus and Hessle Audio, you can find some really good ideas in there.
NK: I haven’t heard too many tracks yet, but I guess Julio Bashmore.
FB: Yeah, totally. Also, I think Mosca too. It’s hit and miss sometimes, but I like that its hit and miss. I like hearing people trying out stuff rather than repeating things.
AB: To go back to the classic sound thing. I think for example Sinai Hypnosis has some classic qualities to it because there aren’t so many production trends put into it. You can’t say exactly what year it was made. There’s no white noise breakdown.
The techno steam…
FB: When we make music, every track has its own qualities. With just a few elements, I try to make as much impact as possible. I guess that is a kind of classic approach, that you don’t put a bunch of things on top of it just to make it sound more “fat” or whatever. One thing I don’t like about a lot of new music coming is when there are already a bunch of tracks that essentially do the same thing. If that’s the case, there’s not really a point in making a new one. It’s been done.
NK: I think we all have a certain way we like to create a track. The songs don’t ever really start out with someone saying “OK, we are going to make a track and it sounds like this”, it’s more that it grows through the entire process and the process is always different.
I know this is something that gets brought up way too often, but do you think that working with outboard equipment is important to get that feeling or message that you want?
AB: For me, it’s about the creative process – how you work. When it comes to the finished product, I don’t care what has been used, whether it was a plug-in or a super cool analogue thing. However I think we all are more comfortable working with outboard equipment – it just gets us where we want to go. I don’t think it’s a necessity to do it, sound wise. The ideas are the most important part.
NK: The only thing I have to say about it is that sometimes when you are working with analogue or outboard things, things happen by mistake. And that can turn into gold – or it can turn into shit as well.
You guys did this Clone Royal Oak record relatively recently. That record grew out of the “Houston, We Have A Problem” track?
AB: I initially just did that edit just for playing out. I didn’t think about releasing it at all. The first time I heard that Whitney Houston song I thought ‘I have to do an edit of this’. I didn’t do it for some time and then one day I said, I have to do it, because I had in my head how it had to be – all about the drop of that vocal. So I did it, and I just uploaded and sent it to some people. To anyone who wanted it.
FB: We were in contact with Serge (from Clone), because he’s doing the distribution for the Aniara records. So I was just emailing with him and it wasn’t really thought through at all. I sent him that one and “Juxtapose”, which was not originally intended to be a Genius of Time song at all. And he liked it, so I sent “Drifting Back”, which Alex and Nils made a long time ago.
NK: A track we did quite early as well.
AB: He was very much turned on, by Whitney Houston in particular (laughs), and even though releasing it wasn’t the original plan, it was like yeah, maybe we should do that. So we got together in the studio and did a proper mixdown. Then all of a sudden it felt like a proper release and it came together nicely.
Yeah, it seems like a proper hit, it’s been charted by big names etc. How do you feel about the resurgence of edit culture and the sort of over saturation of the trend in the market now?
AB: That’s what I thought first, because all of our other material is more of our own songs – I guess that’s why I didn’t think of releasing it. I have no problem with edits; I think it can be fun. There’s a line where you can call it your own song and where you shouldn’t take credit for it anymore. I don’t really know where that line is. There are some grey areas.
NK: I would say, when I heard the first version, I couldn’t put my finger on which song it was because it’s so different to the original. Also, on the original the bassline is sampled from Loleatta Holloway. So it’s a sample of a song that sampled.
FB: There’s definitely personality to it. It isn’t just a kick under a loop from the song.
AB: It’s a song we are proud of, but maybe we don’t take 100 per cent credit for. I mean we used Whitney’s screaming. A little. (all laugh)
Switching gears, do you want to talk about Dorisburg a little, Fabian?
FB: The next release will be a Dorisburg release. The last record was kind of collaboration between Alex and me. But for the next one there are tracks that Alex did himself. So we kind of changed the constellation there. I was just involved in the last finishing touches, more just bouncing some ideas. It was more Alex’s thing. I’m really happy with those tracks I am really looking forward to putting them out. I don’t know, after that we will see what happens. We had a release on Kann Records, a song called “Emotion”.
FB: Yeah, it’s guys from the label and some of their friends. They contacted us a while ago, they liked the Sinai Hypnosis release and I’m really happy how it turned out. It’s a really beautiful double 12-inch. Then we will see what happens. Alex is trying to put together a live set for Dorisburg.
AB: Yeah, that would be the next step. I think there are a lot of unfinished tracks too, that could be done quite soon. But I’m really excited about putting a live set together for Dorisburg; I just need to figure out how it’s going to work. I think Genius of Time is a bit more organic, and more housey, body-ish, than the idea of what Dorisburg is. At the moment, I am interested in the genre of trance. I don’t really like trance productions, more like the hypnotic qualities of trance music. Of what trance means. If you can get into an actual trance with music, that’s pretty awesome. Especially the next record, which is our take on a trance song.
Like in the way that repetitive music can be very hypnotic and trance-inducing, as opposed to the genre of trance? Like Nyabingi, or heavy dub, or I don’t know, what are the most repetitive electronic genres?
AB: Yeah, I don’t really know much about trance either, so maybe trance people will think this… sucks. They may think it’s fake, but I think it’s fun to take on a style and try to do it… it doesn’t sound like trance in the end, it’s more the idea, the starting point.
FB: With trance there’s a kind of cheesy melodic thing that you associate with it. And I can enjoy that part – that it’s unafraid of being cheesy. Sometimes that can be quite cool. I think it’s a bit inspirational in the kind of melodies it uses. It isn’t just repetition, it’s what you choose to repeat.
So can we expect that the next Aniara release will have a massive melodic hook in it?
FB: For sure. (Laughs) And there’s also something kind of mystic in trance tracks, and I can enjoy that if it’s done in the right way.
With subtlety and substance.
FB: Exactly. (Laughs)
So, there have been some constellation changes, but the core artists of the label are you three guys. Do you have any plans of working with other people?
FB: Well, we don’t really have any plans further than the next release. We communicate without it being too official or anything like that. With all the releases we have decided quite late what would be on it. If we get more people involved with the label, it will be people we know, people we have some kind of relationship with.
AB: Of course there are lots of artists that we love – famous artists and whatnot – but I think it’s better to use Aniara to push newer, lesser known talent.
It goes back to you guys organically growing your community.
AB: It feels good to represent a local scene. There are a lot of nice people making good music in our community, but we have never had a sit down talk about anything.
That’s amazing that something so strong has grown so organically and wasn’t thought out with some kind of Machiavellian war plan. If you look at what the formula is these days for most new labels who are just starting, it’s to pick a particular niche that they can make successful records in, and do everything in advance to make sure they have exposure and are well known. It is kind of rare to see something grow like you did and thrive while taking risks.
AB: I don’t think any of us knew what it would be like to run a record label. It was all things we had to learn on the way. When we did the first record, it was like ‘we are super happy about this music, but how do we get people to recognize it?’ We hoped people would pick it up and spread the word about it. It’s really hard to know if that will happen, if record stores don’t buy it, people wont find it. What are the factors that make a good record? I’m not sure myself. Now it feels like after a few releases, at least we have the distribution and if we make good music people will find it. That feels really good. I’ve had other releases that didn’t get out there.
That slipped through the cracks?
AB: Yeah, and I’m happy that hasn’t happened with Aniara. There can be other factors besides music involved. I don’t know how much of that we can control.
FB: I’m really happy; from the first release we did the distro through Clone. I think that’s been a big part of how we have been able to reach out a bit. Our records have been in record stores all over the world. And as you said before, they have their own look. Things are thrown at you all the time and there are so many places to get music, so you are quite happy to discover something yourself that not everyone knows about, and I think it had that kind of feeling.
Do you think the way that Clone decides on which labels to distro and how small and tight knit they keep it has something to do with why the records they distribute tend to be relatively successful?
FB: I’m not really sure. I enjoy the view that Serge has. He’s eclectic but uncompromising. I think that shines through a lot. But I don’t know which other labels he’s doing besides his own labels but I am guessing it’s good stuff.
Well, for one Studio Barnhus. And I thought maybe Geography too.
AB: I think they use Diamonds and Pearls.
Oh, right, but the Clone distro was carrying them too. So it goes back to a big community circle…
AB: It had been already decided that we were going to release the first record before Clone got involved. It could have ended up that we were going to the record shops on our own…
FB: We are really glad to see which DJs have picked up the record and have been in contact with us about the label and who are enjoying it. I wouldn’t have dared to think that would happen, but it has. A lot of them have said they listened to it in the record shop, and that’s valuable to me. Not because of promotion.
And what made you guys decide on a vinyl only label. What makes it so important that it’s physical?
AB: Mainly, we all all enjoy playing vinyl as DJs. It wouldn’t make sense for us to do a digital label.
NK: It goes both ways, since we like to play vinyl; we want to put out our music on vinyl. And if we are putting our music out on vinyl, we would expect others are going to buy it on vinyl. The whole thing of how you have to pick out records before your gig and you have some sort of relationship to every cover and you only bring a certain amount and you don’t have 3,000 tracks to choose from.
AB: We would also like our music to have a life span. I am no analyst, but sometimes it feels like with digital music it’s a hit for a few months and then everyone is tired of it. We have never really had that ambition of making a hit and then it’s everywhere and then it disappears. With vinyl I think it lasts a bit longer. I’m not sure if that’s true, but it feels a bit like that.
FB: I think it’s important to say it’s not an anti-digital statement. Alex said before: we play vinyl so it’s the natural thing to do. It isn’t like “this digital thing is bad and we need to counter it”. I also enjoy vinyl. There’s something romantic about it. I think it’s important in music to have this, I don’t want to say the word but, magic (laughs). There’s something bigger than just it being a track, there’s love and a nice feeling to it.
AB: The obvious downside of vinyl-only is that the people who don’t own a turntable or aren’t DJs but enjoy the music, it would be good to make the music available to those people. Usually if people want it they contact us and we send it to them… maybe that’s not a good thing to put in the text (all laugh)
FB: Just send an email, and you can have the whole back catalogue! We have been thinking about going digital. That’s a funny expression, “going digital”. To take the leap into the 21st century, into the future. But we want to make it available to people in like, I don’t know, Argentina, where it’s not really convenient to buy vinyl from Europe. A lot of young people aren’t using vinyl, and I don’t want to force them to use it, that’s not the point. So, we might do that in a while, it just hasn’t been a priority.
Is there anything you want to talk about, in terms of what you’ve got coming up?
AB: Well, we will continue doing our open-air parties in Gothenburg. That’s what we do during the summer season. We have more gigs coming up in Germany in August.
FB: Yeah, in Leipzig with Kann Records, and with Smallville in Hamburg. I like those guys a lot and I’m looking forward to it. One thing is our last open air we had this guy Stereociti from Japan, who is releasing on Mojuba and that was really, really nice. You asked before if we are going to release things with other artists, and there’s a not plan really, but we did talk a bit about doing remixes.
You haven’t had any remixes on the label so far…
FB: It’s the same thing, it hasn’t been a priority. I think a lot of the time it’s used not because it’s interesting music-wise, but to maximize the exposure of a release. Rather than someone asking for a remix because they think the result will be interesting or inspiring. It’s more of a tactical move, and I don’t want to do that. I think it’s more interesting with a label to have original material. I think it will happen, though, that we will have some remixes of what we have done so far by people who we really respect and appreciate musically.
(This mix has now been archived. You can still stream it via the Mixcloud player above)