It goes without saying the pandemic was hard on everyone. The music industry undoubtedly went through likely the tightest ringer in terms of affecting both the way things are run and the mental and emotional health of its participants. There were a few silver linings, however, as adapting and changing quickly became more important than ever. Online systems got much more sophisticated and efficient and multimedia and creative innovation became key if artists wanted to stay in the game. It was a lot of pressure but it produced some serious gems in terms of high-quality, interesting and passionate work from artists who were not only trying to entertain but to save their own sanity.
At the juncture of all this and coming to grips with the real possibility of system collapse on many fronts, artists like Phace took it as an opportunity to not only create new and interesting music but to purge all the stress and emotional chaos of the time and make a statement about all these societal systems whish turned out to be much more fragile than anyone thought. His upcoming mini-album, System Irrelevant, is that statement.
Full of apparently complex and chaotic drum structures, eerie sound design and nasty synths that sound more like a warning than a threat, System Irrelevant is a sign of the times but for Phace it’s more expansive and more personal than that. It’s a reflection on things we were all forced to think about, the feelings we didn’t want to have to manage and the way it’s not so easy to pull the wool over the collective eye anymore. Existential and visceral, System Irrelevant challenges all of us to sit with all of this and decide what’s become irrelevant in our own lives and what really matters. We had a chat with Phace about the way in which he got there: creating.
*Premiere appears at end of interview*
You decided to make System Irrelevant a multimedia project with the crazy UKF video stream and now the mini album. What made you want to incorporate all the different media?
I always wanted to create a dedicated audio-visual experience for Phace and it made perfect sense to me to develop a bigger visual dimension for this release. Visuals do help to transfer the message of music and let it shine in its own light so to speak. For this project they also helped to separate it clearly from styles of my past works. I like the streaming, or should I say online video format in general. You can do so many cool and creative things with it.
Going with a more standard stream, one or two cams straight into your face while playing music at some special location, just doesn’t really do it for me. I find those streams not really entertaining or catchy, somewhat pointless. You can`t beat the live experience when it comes to such a scenario. Using accompanying visuals in an interesting way, introducing a story or journey with it, that to me does make a stream more worthwhile watching throughout; it becomes more like a movie. Also, all the actual release artworks derived from the stream visuals. I wanted both the stream and the mini album to have a strong visual connection.
How was it putting together the video as your first time doing that sort of editing on your own?
Getting it all put together did take a few months and was quite a mission. Not because it was super complex but just because it was all a pretty new field for me to work out. I didn’t rush it but wanted it to be as good and creative it could be. I also saw the whole process as a possibility to learn new things from. I now feel more comfortable and confident when it is coming to the visual end of Phace. I want to do such multimedia things more often.
I wanted it to look contemporary but not too polished or overly thought-out. With mapping things to the green screen it was quite a performance-consuming task. A close friend helped me with his super pro video system for the post-production of the material. The most intensive part to me was to cut and sync the visuals. When I went to bed after a day of cutting I could still see flashing frames even with my eyes shut. It turned out quite trippy.
Video or no, it seems you really wanted fans to have a visceral experience of the music, both in terms of perception and the emotions you were trying to convey. Why was that important to you on this release?
Honestly it just felt like the right thing to do. I always use music as an outlet to channel and process my emotions. To pair this with a visual mood makes it even stronger. I always like to progress within what I do. I sort of push myself to it. While working on the mini album and A/V set I personally found myself in quite a challenging and emotionally unstable situation. Things weren’t easy the past 2 years… I wanted the project to somewhat reflect my situation. My music is personal. I wanted it to be as authentic it could be and not just a music business product.
It seems in digital music, especially with the pandemic, got a bit more intense that was as well.
The music business can be quite cold and unemotional these days. It’s become a very content-driven and calculated market. To me personally working in music never was about anything else then the music itself. Of course I am rational enough to understand I have to be organized and follow parts of the market to be able to live from art. I didn’t get into it to reach defined goals of figures, to become famous, showing around how cool I am, how many plays my music has or how quickly I sold out a venue. Those values don’t really mean a lot to me and come along automatically when your music is appreciated. There is no need to be loud about such things constantly just to have something to say on social media.
These values also actually do not tell a lot about sustainability or accomplishment in my opinion. Especially the play count of music is a vicious game. It is aggressively driven by platforms such as Spotify and YouTube, multi-billion companies with shareholders. Play count seen as a proxy for value is toxic when it comes to art. Also, social media became such a tool and mainly feels like it is nothing else than an illusory world or an ad-space these days. I think the real avantgarde in art moved away from those platforms a while ago already. I thus tried to put a lot of effort into the visual “clothing” of the project so its media communication is pretty much solely based around pieces of digital art directly related to the project.
Speaking of visceral, let’s talk tech: you’re always very focused on your drums, but it seems this time, especially with tracks like “Altona” and “Useless,” you really wanted to make the drums the star of the show. How did you envision all those layers of drums working and how was it to actually screw them together so that they created the sound and structure you wanted?
I do like drums. I do like the technical side of music production in general. Just listening to music in its entirety it is a less important side to me. Or should I better say I practiced technical things so often they became somewhat normal to me. Music production from a technical perspective is solving problems and cleaning up or creating space. This can surely lead to cool creative ideas of course. But one can get lost very easily in that room and forget about the more fun side to get lost in; the emotion, idea and vibe.
So how do you balance the tech and the emotion?
I don’t want to get lost that much on the technical side to have more creative capacity to focus on the rest, but to me that doesn`t imply neglecting the technical side. I still love cutting edge sound-design and it is a sort of a never ending fascination to me. Balancing is the key here for me. While I was working on the album tracks I actually felt I focused on the drums the least. They are quite basic and functional, nothing to fancy if you ask me. I did focus more on vibes and progressions. There aren’t many layers of the drums involved here either, they all are indeed pretty simple and straightforward but the do the right job to support the musical idea and groove rather than competing with the rest of the track.
You’ve said that System Irrelevant is a reflection of your feelings about how things were declining and society was breaking down during the pandemic and, ostensibly, late-stage capitalism and democracy. Your work always takes a bit of a sideways glance at dystopia but do you think the composition here was meant to reflect the fact that we were staring down the barrel of it?
The mini album is a reflection of my feelings, that is correct. But to avoid any misunderstanding, I did not aim to make this mini album a pandemic-related concept or a political statement or such. Music is music and foremost this release is about my music. I do believe it is important to stand in for certain values when you think it is the right time and context; to use your voice to maybe even help others and share your beliefs.
I am against discrimination of any form. Like one tiny pixel is an essential part of an image; we are all essential parts of the system, so everyone should have the right to be treated equally. It simply felt good to me to connect my music to this point of view without being overly intellectual. The past years have proven we are still living in very challenging and twisted times with so many hurdles for our societies to be equal. Generally I am quite an optimistic and funny character. I always have been. For this release though, it is the first time I actually felt depressed and anxious when writing. So you could say that the music on the release reflects part of my inner chaos, thoughts or conflicts of that time.
The mini album seems to have a bit of a progression in terms of that whole decline of civilization vibe. Did you place the tracks in that way to tell that story in your own beats, so to speak?
I didn`t aim for a defined progression or let’s say drama in the music per se; it again somewhat just happened. Every track changed into a bit of a journey while working on it, but overall things developed organically. At the end I felt the music sounded coherent and complete. So I decided to release this as a mini album and call it done after 6 tracks. I felt the story was told. I am no friend of overthinking things too much or trying to fill this project with more tracks to make it a long-play. To me at least, in a creative process driven by personal emotions, things will eventually fall into place and will in the end come to a personal conclusion.
Some of the tracks were written in order, which might increase the dramatic progression of the album. In the end I had to position two tracks differently though, to make the album flow more optimally to my ears. But all that wasn’t planned or laid out before.
What’s one thing you’ve learned and you hope other artists have learned through the experience of the pandemic? What should we be cautious about and what gave you cause for hope?
As an artist I think an important lesson could be to become even more independent and also to diversify. Today you do not really need a big label, a big distribution or manager to get your music out. Looking back at the crisis today, my outlook is somewhat more positive, even though in its early stages things felt pretty hard and negative to me. Over time I realized any crisis is a chance for change and for the better, so actually a lot of things gave me cause for hope, especially to see how the younger generations accepted circumstances. It pretty much shaped a new internet-based scene and style of music. The crisis brought out more “real” and authentic music again and less music products, in my opinion at least. I find that exciting and refreshing. I am glad to see artists found new ways to express their creations. I think diversification and change go hand in hand and the past two years speed it up all in all.
System Irrelevant is your first solo multi-track effort since you’ve been focusing more on the Linked series. How did you enjoy going back to that format? Do you have any plans to release more multi-tracks? Perhaps a series around the System Irrelevant concept?
Writing solo music always is the thing I enjoy most. When I do not have to compromise and can fully sink into a creative process to translate my personal mood or preferences. For System Irrelevant I see this as a closed project with the six tracks on the mini album. I also do not yet have very concrete plans for future releases at the moment. There are a few things in work but it is pretty much all still undefined. Oddly enough this year has been very busy for me in terms of releasing music. I had a lot of time being locked in the studio I guess. Now I need to reflect on all of that and also recover mentally.
Of course there will be new solo material in the future, and also more Linked bits. I especially would like to spend more time working on different genres too. I have quite a few layouts and ideas of different vibes laying around but do not yet feel fully comfortable with these. I have always been a fan of electronica, techno and house music, acoustic stuff as well. I am looking forward to spending more time working on slower tempo music as well.
System Irrelevant will release in full on December 1 on Phace’s Neosignal imprint. To buy or stream “Useless,” click here. Check out the stream and video for the first single “Altona” here. Premium Phace space is on Patreon.