I love a lot of modern-day minimal-wave, synth-pop, electro-goth, what-have-you, but even so, it can be hard to really feel impressed – the style is so codified and the standards so rigid that it can be less like appreciating an artistic statement than a finely-calibrated machine. That’s why Keluar’s debut struck such a chord with me – they hit a variety of synth-wave signifiers but transcend any specific genre or easy reference point. Their songs are deep without being cavernous, poppy without being corny, technical without being nerdy, and most importantly, uniquely their own, thanks in no small part to the vocals of Zoè Zanias, previously of the short-lived (and fantastic) Linea Aspera. Who needs obscure reissues when there are groups like this today?
When did Keluar begin? Was there any overlap with Linea Aspera?
Zoè (vocals): We met at Linea Aspera’s show in Leipzig in May, 2012, and it was in the following months that Linea Aspera recorded the last of its material. As one ended, the other began.
How is the music written – is it a collaborative process, or are the vocals and music fairly separate entities in the creation process?
Zoè: A mix of both. The first drafts of the instrumentals come into existence in Sid’s studio, but are then altered depending on what direction the vocal melodies take. We usually work separately in the physical sense, and drafts will be sent back and forth a number of times before the song is complete. I will sometimes join Sid in the instrumental composition process, but the vocals are always written alone.
So should I assume neither of you live in close proximity? Or is it just easier for both of you to focus on your respective roles privately?
Zoè: We started out when I was in London and Sid was in Berlin. I’ve since moved to Berlin, but we live in different parts of the city and just happen to work separately a lot of the time.
I feel like Keluar, overall, is a bit ‘warmer’ than Linea Aspera… is that something intentional? Or is my interpretation incorrect?
Zoè: Depends on the songs, but yes, in Keluar we use a lot less reverb, which leads to a warmer sound in general. The production deliberately evokes a smaller space, both in the instrumentals and vocals.
Is that something that was intentional, the warmer, “smaller” sound? So often synth- and electronic-based groups sound cold, but often that’s part of the appeal.
Zoè: The intention is to have a clear sound that is more direct and powerful. The sound itself isn’t smaller, but the rooms we use are. Whether it’s cold or warm is merely a side effect, and also depends upon the atmosphere we’re aiming to create in each individual song. We do not strive for either ‘temperature’, as it were, in the way some current bands seem to do.
Visually, and from your song titles and lyrical allusions, I get the impression that science and the natural world are a big influence, or muse, maybe. Is that something you’ve personally studied?
Zoè: I grew up in the rainforests of Southeast Asia assisting my mother, who is a tropical aquatic biologist. A fascination with the natural world is in my blood, and I find scientific language a particularly beautiful one. My educational background is actually in archaeology, with a focus on human evolution, but in the future I envision myself working more closely with living primates rather than dead ones. Lyrically, my most influential ecosystems are probably oceanic ones. There’s something about vast expanses of water that both enraptures and terrifies me.
That seems like a good way to describe Keluar in a way, both enrapturing and terrifying.
Zoè: That’s actually a very nice compliment! Thank you!
I’ve seen Keluar described as a more “experimental” group than Linea Aspera, and I thought that was interesting, if not something I necessarily agreed with. Is there anything you were trying or “experimenting” with Keluar, that you hadn’t before?
Zoè: Sid’s better at answering questions on the instrumentals…
Sid (synths, programming): I don’t really know what exactly “experimental” means in that comparison. The way I compose is always an experiment. “What happens if I plug this into that?”, or “What happens if I add this note to that note?”, or “What happens if swap this part with that part?”. If your question points to the genre “Experimental”, you need to tell me what this can be defined as, so I can try to answer.
Honestly, I don’t know what is meant by “experimental” when people use it either, because all music is kind of an experiment in that regard, and the idea of “experimental” as a genre seems ill-fitting – how can there be so many similar-sounding experiments? Is there any particular genre you’d file Keluar in?
Sid: It seems to be paradox. Nevertheless, I have an idea of what it sounds like when people consider something “Experimental” – and that is not what Keluar sounds like. But I guess the term “Experimental” is actually misleading, as you pointed out.
Zoè: Perhaps what people are detecting is the fact that Keluar has a few more sounds that are a bit unexpected, and that’s something people tend to associate with something being “experimental”. I’d agree we don’t fit into it as a genre title though.
Was there anything you particularly wanted to avoid aesthetically with Keluar?
Zoè: We’re more about aims than avoidance, but too much consonance is one thing we veer away from.
I understand you just finished up a tour… how did it go? Any particularly memorable shows? What constitutes a really great show for you?
Zoè: Finished up a large portion of it, with a few dates left in Stockholm, Copenhagen and Brussels. So far it’s surpassed our expectations in most ways. Almost every show felt like ‘the best so far’, and every audience made us feel welcome and appreciated. Really our main concern is having good sound on stage, without which its easy to lose focus and confidence. We were mostly pretty lucky. London and Athens stand out as my personal favourites, mainly because the audiences consisted of some of my favourite people on Earth, and I was proud to share the stage with some amazing performers those nights as well – Ashkelon (London) and Hawk Haven of Flesh United (Athens), for example.
Do people dance to Keluar? What artists would you want to hear if you were going out dancing?
Zoè: Of course. Isn’t that what gigs are for? Sometimes I’m proud to hold a crowd still for a moment – it often happens during the first chorus of one of our new songs, and can be my favourite moment of a gig.
Sid: We have songs that aim for making people dance, others don’t. I know it from myself: on a good concert, the fascination of the performance can make you stand still. And some sounds move the mind rather than the body. So body motion is not an important indicator for me. When I want to go dancing, I’m hoping to hear EBM-related techno. I can enjoy dancing to minimal wave, but it’s too soft for serious action.
Zoè: Dancing is the main aim when I go out, and depending on the mood I can be inclined to move to anything from minimal techno to EBM, new beat, post-punk and minimal wave.
What’s next for Keluar?
Zoè: We’re currently working on a new EP, with an LP in our sights for 2014.
Next time someone asks me to recommend some non-techno electronic music that still has a groove (I swear it’s more often than you might think!), I’m gonna answer with Heatsick! It’s the moniker Steven Warwick has chosen for his solo material, and through numerous small-scale releases, and now a good handful of “higher profile” vinyl slabs, it’s all out there for you to enjoy. I could see Heatsick getting along well with Americans like Blues Control and Peaking Lights, while still hobnobbing with European slicksters like Sebastian Tellier and Richard Schneider, Jr. His music is both bouncy and broken, pleasant and peculiar, and best of all, I never have the foggiest idea what his next record will do. For best results, open an additional browser, type “Youtube Heatsick” into your Google search bar, and let it rip while you read Mr. Warwick’s thoughts below.
From what I have gathered, you got started making music as Birds of Delay with Luke Younger, who does Helm… what led to you eventually focusing on your solo projects?
Birds of Delay still exist. It’s more difficult to configure, as we live in different countries and also are active with our respective projects. We’re still in regular contact though. When we started, it just happened really… we wanted to do it and we did it. We were self releasing our music and playing a lot, so it was quite immediate, and had a snowball effect. We would improvise a lot together, whether that would be live or at home, and record it all. Not all of it would be released, but I guess we were “learning” on the spot, so to speak.
I always felt that with Birds, there was an intersection between say, Alice Coltrane and Hermann Nitsch. Something very bright and ascending, but with a dark edge to it. I guess that’s the nature of Birds of Delay really. We have strange chemistry, in that we have very different approaches, yet it somehow gels and comes together, which I think is a good thing.
What was it you wanted to do, exactly? Start a noise group? Improvise music? Was there any aesthetic discussion?
When we started, (in the UK) there were no other bands our age (late teens/early 20s) who were doing what we were doing. Everyone else we met had been active from the ’80s and ’90s, so I guess they were excited to see someone young doing something. We didn’t have a manifesto, it was more a result of us knowing each other as friends and that reflected in how we could play music together, intuitively.
What made you want to do what you were doing, then? Were there older artists you looked up to, or people you knew who helped you figure things out at first?
It’s easier for me to talk about my take in Birds, as I dont want to speak for Luke? I grew up listening to all sorts. A chance encounter at sixteen, of this friend of a friend needing a place to crash, got me into modern classical, John Cage, Messiaen and Steve Reich, so I was pretty lucky in that regard, as I had never thought of classical being interesting at that point. Also, making trips to Nottingham and London you’d get cheap reissues of Sun Ra and Ornette Coleman, etc., or hear Masonna or Fushitsusha on John Peel.
You get pretty quickly into Japanese noise, British Industrial, but I guess John Peel was formative, really. There was no distinction between hearing early Warp, drum n’ bass, weird outrock, early rave, acid-house being in the charts, some Earache, Russell Haswell and Aphex Twin, or the guy from Add N To (X) doing a harsh noise night in Soho. When I was growing up, especially in the countryside, one of my best friends would do raves at his parents’ house in a barn. I remember kids coming into school with those multipacks of rave tapes.
So at what point did Heatsick become a thing, something you shared with the public?
Pretty much immediately. I still stand by those releases.
I assume you’re referring to the early CDrs and tapes you released. Were those formats crucial to the development of Heatsick? Looking back, how do you view those early releases?
What I like about the nature of CDrs and tapes is the immediacy. The distinction between a document and a piece collapsed. It was okay to release a live performance as a piece in itself. There was a bleed… also, the fact that you could do them in low runs meant that you didn’t have to be so special about them, in terms of agonizing over its temporality. It happened, and now it’s out. At the same time, due to its low run I could also hand-make and paint the artwork. They functioned for the most part more as presents for friends. I’ve always been equally as interested in the visual aspect as the aural aspect.
Have you considered reissuing any of those early releases in a larger edition? Or are you just looking to move forward?
I did think about it for a while, but then I wondered on its relevance to now. Whilst all the works make sense with each other (which is also why I kept the name), I feel I would rather keep developing my ideas.
In the Heatsick releases I’ve heard, the sounds and instrumentation vary really greatly, which is one thing I’ve enjoyed. Is there any sort of instrument that could NEVER be on a Heatsick track? Is anything off limits?
I’ve not really thought about what I don’t want to use! If it makes sense, I’ll use it…
Are there any visual artists that have influenced the output of Heatsick?
Definitely. I’m interested in visual art often, as well as books, films etc. I’m influenced and interested in people like Dan Graham, Hanne Darboven, Dieter Roth, Sturtevant, Josephine Pryde, Sabine Reitmaier, Gili Tal, Ed Lehan, Georgie Nettell, Isa Genzken, Jack Smith, Ernie Gehr, Katja Novitskova, Hélio Oiticica, Marcel Broodthaers, to name a few,
Where did the name come from? Does it have any particular meaning, or does it just sound good and fitting for the music you make under it?
I guess a bit of both. I wanted a name that sounded liminal, inbetween definitions, and heatstroke, a bit flat or quaint. I thought Heatsick sounded onomatopoeically better. I thought that having sick in a title was also nice; it’s a bit revolting…
I have to say, the song “C’était Un Rendez-vous” was one of my favorite tracks of last year. Who is that singing? Is that you?
Thanks, that’s me singing.
is there any track that you would say is the definitive Heatsick track? If you had to just play one of your songs to a stranger, to get them to understand what it’s all about?
I’m not really bothered about having to pick just one, maybe “Ice Cream On Concrete” or maybe a new song. I’m happy with it all…
Titles like “Pre-Cum Fog Ballet” and “Solipsistic Pillow” seem, at least to a guy like me, to be mostly just beautiful nonsense… is there some sort of meaning that I am missing in the titles of your releases, or are they meant more as colorful introductions to your music?
“Pre-Cum Fog Ballet” was made at the same time as “Total Afternoon Sundae”; they function together as a pre- and post- if you will. With my later releases, there’s a preoccupation with disco and the extended edit drawing out some anticipatory hedonistic impulse that I think is inherent in disco. “Solipsistic Pillow” was a bit of a joke on music being made around the time, where people were referencing sleeping states, and I thought that this solipsism was also a bit dull. Obviously it’s a play on The Jefferson Airplane and their artwork. I think it’s important to have a sense of humour. I think “be realistic, demand the impossible” is still a nicer message then merely “live in your head”.
Can you recall the last time you were laughing so hard you were nearly crying? What was so funny?
It was when I was with my friend Lawrence. We have a similar sense of humour, and we were recounting the absurdity of when we’d shared a bill together at some noise gig years ago and how the promoter and her boyfriend were being really weird with some punks and threw some cake at them backstage, and we were laughing at the absurdity of being annoyed at a guy who was a complete caricature, wearing an anarchy 666 patch over tartan bondage trousers, that we just cracked up so much we couldn’t stop laughing, and then we sent each other off to the point that we fell on the floor crying. I actually found it hard to breathe at one point, and I started laughing about that? It’s not that the story was that funny in itself, more that Lawrence is a genuinely funny person, for me anyway…