- Zilka Grogan
A chat with Avancera (Dorisburg and Kalawila)
Friends for over a decade, the bond between Alexander Berg and Robin Jonsson is clear from the moment our conversation begins. Yet the two artists – best known by their monikers Dorisburg and Kalawila, and each prolific in their own right as both DJs and producers – have only recently started making music together. Theirs is an artistic collaboration rooted in a very deep friendship, a foundation that allows them to explore imaginative worlds only they can envision.
Until now, Alex and Robin have often shared the DJ booth, but back-to-back only under the guise of Dorisburg and Kalawila. At Patterns of Perception this Friday, June 28, they debut their new joint project Avancera. We recently caught up with them to discuss how working together in the studio has helped each rediscover the playful side of creating music.
How did you guys first meet? Robin: We’ve known each other now for like 10 years I think, or a bit more.
Alex: Yeah I think so, through a common friend first.
Robin: I went to high school with a guy called Jens, and he and Alex had a band together. I was doing photography at the time and Jens asked if I wanted to take pictures for a record they were releasing in Japan. We spent the whole day outside trying to fly a kite and install a laser in Alex’s backyard at his parents’ house. That was really fun. Sounds so cool, but not so much to do with music to begin with? Robin: But then after that, we both moved to Berlin together with mutual friends.
Alex: And that was actually 10 years ago now, I think we moved to Berlin 2009. Then we were roommates in this weird apartment, with no furniture and only a drum kit.
Robin: (Laughs) Yeah, and that was like the first time that we went to a few Berlin clubs. We went to Berghain once or twice, obviously got denied a couple of times and went back. Then we both left Berlin after awhile, Alex and his friends were doing the Aniara open air parties (in Gothenburg). I had never been to those kinds of parties – there was no fighting, people didn’t get stupid drunk and aggressive. It was just a really nice, awesome vibe. So I asked if I could help out, doing bartending and carrying stuff. At least for me, that’s how I got into the techno/house scene.
Alex: That summer we did so many open air parties in Gothenburg, and the summer after that too. It wasn’t until a bit later that we started to really inspire each other’s musical tastes as well, sharing music and stuff.
Robin: For me, one of the key moments that I remember, was listening to the Cassy Panorama Bar mix. I think that was the first one they did right? We had a couple of listening sessions and I was just amazed that music could be that cool.
It sounds like you started to really influence each other musically at this point? Alex: Yeah, I had been playing for a couple of years by then but when we were roommates for a second time (in Berlin in 2012) we started to really inspire each other musically by listening to mixes and sharing music.
Robin: I feel like that was the point where we started to integrate music into some sort of weird world building. We would build up a sense of humour that revolves around music and visualise it into places. We would listen to a song and be like, ‘this sounds exactly like you’re at an ATM on Mars’ or something that is kind of cross-disciplinary.
Alex: We would always make stories about what we were listening to, and imagine worlds and situations with sound.
Robin: I have never lived in a place like that since and probably will not again. The apartment that we had, had a really cool adventurous spirit. Everything was allowed. For instance, we were going to a festival and we had this pop up tent. We wanted to see how it worked so we put it up in our living room, but then we couldn’t get it down again. So we just had it in our living room for the whole summer and that became the hangout spot. It was a really inspiring living situation.
Alex: And very playful.
Robin: After a while these worlds that we were creating were so synchronised that it could be really mundane scenarios but in very exciting places. That would make it very funny and very vivid. And very creative as well? Robin: Yeah, when we started making music together, having that shared imaginative space really helped. We had our different methods for making music separately, but that made it fairly easy to combine the two. We would start with a fictitious scenario and try to make a song that sounds like that scenario, rather than just breaking out two instruments and starting to play. So making music somehow starts off more conceptually for you? Alex: Yeah, every time we made music we had this scenario or image and then we’d try to paint that with sound to explain that idea.
Robin: To give an example, we’d been in Taiwan for a few years in a row for a festival. One year we passed by this really cool deserted factory building that was totally overgrown. You could tell it used to be super high-tech but now nature reclaimed it. So we created this fictitious scenario where say, you wake up in this building and you have no idea how you got there. You have to explore every room. All the tracks would be a different room in that factory. It was about what kind of sounds would fit into that scenario and how you would visually walk through the building, but with sound. At what point did you start actually making music together? Alex: We didn’t really make music together until quite recently but we shared ideas. Actually making songs is a more recent thing. Did you collaborate in other ways during this period, outside of music? Robin: Yeah for sure. Almost since we got to know each other we’ve tried to find ways to work together. For instance, I made a photobook a long time ago and then Alex made the music to go along with it. So you would get the photobook and then you also got a 7-inch vinyl, and Alex made two tracks that you were supposed to listen to as you flipped through the book. It was really cool to have a unique soundtrack for the book.
Alex: I’ve also released a record on your label, too. And also, I’ve always been asking Robin about the tracks I’ve made. It’s always been nice to hear his ideas and I really trust his taste, so we’ve always been sending tracks back and forth and helping each other in that way.
Robin: When you get to know each other this well, you can also read each other quite well. I just know when I ask him for something, even if the feedback is short, I can extrapolate a lot of information from what he says. How much does your process as collaborators rest on your friendship, then? Is it more about the personal connection you share, rather than a purely artistic one? Alex: It’s totally that.
Robin: That’s definitely what defines it, I think.
Alex: Even though we didn’t make music together until recently, I feel like we’re now just manifesting a really long friendship and shared ideas into music, which is pretty cool.
Tell us a bit about Avancera then - what made you start this project? Robin: I was releasing a remix by Josef Gaard on my label and we wanted to try and make something that’s not typically a dance music track. Alex has made some slow music before but I hadn’t really done it before. So we thought it would be fun to start the project by doing something that neither of us knows how to do that well.
Alex: I mean, that’s the only track at this point that’s released. The other things we have are still unreleased. But with a lot of the tracks that we have, we have been avoiding the standard tempos and doing either much faster or much slower. Just trying different tempos. So is Avancera partially about experimentation too? Alex: I don’t think it’s so much about experimenting. We are more experimenting with the concepts and ideas, and then we are pretty straight forward when we try to create the music itself. I think our process is not so experimental when it comes to actually making the music, it’s more experimental in getting the right ideas and then trying to execute that.
Robin: Almost all the songs that we’ve made, we’ve made them quite fast. Let’s say we would take a long walk before and talk and then we’d have a very clear image in our heads about what it would sound like. When we actually get into the studio and start fiddling with synths or the computer or something, I at least feel that I instantly know what would fit into the song. So in fact, all the songs that we’ve made have not been so labour intensive.
Is there a particular sound that you’re going after here, or are you not restricting yourselves by the sound or the style so much? Robin: We both have a preference of what kinds of sounds we like to listen to. But I think it’s also been for me a lot about trying to find sounds that would combine our styles, so that it’s not me and Alex trying to make an Alex track, or me and Alex trying to make a Robin track. We have different styles when we play or make music separately, so a lot of it has to do with finding something that’s right in between.
Alex: I think we’re pretty specific in what we’re trying to make. We don’t have a huge palette of styles. We’re both more interested in zooming into something very specific and direct, rather than zooming out and being more eclectic. Do you agree?
Robin: For sure, there are some artists that we really have a shared admiration for. Someone like Monolake or Shackleton. Those are artists who made, like, 500 songs each that all exist in the exact same universe. That’s something we would want to do as well. Even though the specific sounds might be different within the songs, they all take place within the same space. Where does the name Avancera come from? Alex: It’s a Swedish word but it came from the French originally. I guess it means to put your position forward, to advance.
Robin: I liked that when you told me about it, you said it sounds like someone was trying to say ‘advanced era’ but can’t really do it. That’s what caught my imagination.
Tell me a little bit about how you work together. What is your process like when you start making music together? Robin: Maybe we can pick one of the tracks we recently made and use that as an example. We were doing a remix of Yuka which is coming out pretty soon. She had sent some of the elements and parts, and we thought it would be fun to make a dance track using office supplies. We took like a holepunch, strips of paper, rubber bands, plastic film from the kitchen. One of the instruments is actually me taking our cutlery from the dishwasher, which we recorded with a really good microphone and then fed it into the computer, trying to fiddle around with that and make it an instrument.
Alex: It’s basically about using really boring stuff for jamming. We even got some bass sounds out of the rubber bands.
Robin: Yeah, wasn’t it the holepunch that we ran through a Buchla synth? Just to see what happens when you take a really boring sound and run it through a machine that makes a really cool sound. It ended up sounding really nice. Where did the concept for this track come from, to work with stationary and to work with boring office supplies? Robin: I think that was just what was around. I remember when we were making the song there was nobody in the building, I think because it was a holiday. So we just left the studio and walked around in this big house, and it was just us there. We were just trying to see what was around.
Alex: It was sort of like, what the abandoned office would sound like when nobody listens to it. You’ve talked a little bit about finding the middle point between you. Can you define what your differences are, and how you bring those together? Robin: Alex is really talented (laughs). Have you thought about that, Alex?
Alex: What I find more interesting is that we have a tendency to help focus each other’s energy. Because we have two spheres of things we like, we tend to focus what we’re doing into what’s common for both of us, which I think is nice. If I make music by myself, I would easily get distracted from my original idea and destroy the music I’m working on. But I think we help each other to stay on track with what we want to do.
Robin: Alex has been making music for a really long time but I’m doing a lot of photography and I work with radio, so I have a completely different background. I think that makes it fun when we do things together. I would look at a song more of how I would look at a picture, whereas Alex has more of a musical approach. It’s kind of cross disciplinary, even though we’re making music. Do you find inspiration in the differences between you? Robin: I do for sure. We have this constant flow of stuff that we send to each other, but that doesn’t necessarily have to be music. I can send a picture to Alex and he would know what that sounds like.
Alex: Also, a lot of things we share can just be looking at a random clip and noticing that the one minute extra silence between two parts was funny and nobody else will find it funny. I can send it to Robin and I know that he will think it’s funny, too.
Robin: Even though our backgrounds are totally different, our imagination is totally in sync. You can apply that to pretty much anything. You can look at a picture and that can make a song. Or you can listen to a song and that becomes a picture in our imaginative world. It’s a very special connection to have with someone, where you can just be totally in sync with those things. You must have learnt a lot from each other along the way. Is there one main lesson you’ve each taken away from collaborating with the other? Alex: For me, a lot of the instruments and methods of making music that we use I have been working with for a very long time, so I know the tools very well. But when I make music with Robin, I feel like it’s easier to go back to a playful state where you do it for the first time again somehow. That’s one thing I really like.
Robin: I was going to say something kinda similar. It’s nice to rediscover that you can still be five years old, even though you’re 32 years old. Let’s say we’re making music and there’s a sound that pops up, and then both of us get really excited about that sound, then it feels like I’m five years old again. And I really like that feeling.
Alex: We usually laugh when that happens.
Robin: Yeah exactly. If we tap into something that both of us get really excited about, both of us will spontaneously start laughing because it’s just funny that things can just be that awesome. That’s a spontaneous reaction. That’s when we know that it’s really working and we’ve tapped into something that could become a song. I like that your responses are not so far apart – you both found this playfulness through your collaboration. Robin: Yeah, because a lot of other stuff you have to do, like paying bills and stuff, is really cynical and boring. And this is just a really naive state that I, at least, find to be so refreshing. Your set for Patterns of Perception will be the first time that you perform as Avancera. What can we expect? Robin: We’ve played together before but as Kalawila and Dorisburg, which I think is different. We want to actively try and create a performance that’s different from when we would play as Kalawila and Dorisburg.
Alex: The other times we’ve played were more back to back, without thinking so much about it. This time it will be more thought out, in terms of what we want to express as a group.
Robin: Before when we played back to back, it would be Alex playing his tracks and me playing my tracks, obviously being inspired by what the other one is playing. But before the gig I wouldn’t necessarily be looking for music in the mindset that I’m playing with Alex. This time, I feel that we’ve both purposely for awhile now been collecting tracks for this specific performance, to do something different.
What sort of music are you looking for when you’re digging for Avancera? Robin: Maybe we shouldn’t spoil too much, but we definitely have been trying to explore more tempos. When I play by myself or Alex plays by himself, it’s not linear but it’s still maybe three hours of the same kind of music. Now we want to mix it up and make it more unpredictable.
Catch Avancera at OHM Berlin on Friday, June 28 for Patterns of Perception.
Photo credit: Daniel Nilsson