A chat with Kalawila
Kalawila is a techno star on the rise. An up-and-comer from Sweden, his list of credits so far include a recent release on Johanna Schneider’s Bossmusik, a close friendship and collaboration with Dorisburg, and a series of high quality productions on his own label, Mountain Explosion Device.
In this interview, he tells us about his early influences, gives us a glimpse of the Swedish scene and explains why melancholy is essential for producing good techno. You can catch Kalawila at OHM Berlin for Patterns of Perception on March 10.
Tell us the Kalawila story: how did you get into electronic music? What inspired you to start DJing and producing yourself?
I guess I really started taking an interest in dance music when I organised parties in Gothenburg together with the guys from Aniara, but I didn’t play records back then. It wasn’t until I moved to Berlin that I started buying records of my own, and then one day I just asked my roommate if he could teach me how to play them, and he did!
When it comes to producing, I was going out dancing a lot and I just really needed an outlet for those hours when I got back from an inspiring club experience, where I could channel what I had just taken in. So my friends installed Logic on my computer, showed me the basics, and then I just tried to focus on learning a few aspects of it really well, like delays. Software like that can be a bit daunting if you try to learn everything at once. Baby steps are key, I think. I’ve done almost all my tracks at home with just the basic Logic package. You can do tons, even if you don’t have access to a studio and/or expensive analogue equipment.
How would you describe your current sound to those who haven’t heard of you before? What are your main influences?
Electro-magnetic reptile? Haha, I’m not sure how to describe it. I’m really bad at categorising music properly. I had seven snakes growing up, and would sometimes sleep with them in my bed. I just try to picture what they would enjoy if they had ear drums. Also, I like having the feeling that whatever you’re listening to at the moment always has another gear to kick into. Kind of like a closed pressure valve that just keeps building up tension, but never releasing it. I try to go for that feeling when I play. A lot of people seem to be highly influenced by space, but I’d say most of my influences can be found here on Earth (which is also in space, I guess). Things like amphibians, Butoh dancing, Skynet, or Monolake. All great influences.
We are all really good friends. Stockholm is small so we see each other quite often. I like that Johanna keeps Bossmusik a family affair, even though she’s probably been approached with some killer demos from random people. I’ve known Alex (Dorisburg) for a long time. We are both from Gothenburg, and we moved to Berlin together the first time in 2009, then we did the same thing again in 2012. The second time we basically spent every waking hour together, playing video games, going out dancing, and listening to Shackleton. I know every angle and wrinkle of him. Best guy ever.
Tell us a bit about your 2016 two-track debut on the label, Krokodil Når Västerås / Bhati Dilwan. How did you approach this release?
Krokodil når Västerås is actually a newspaper headline that I read once. The article was about the drug Krokodil now popping up in the small town of Västerås in Sweden, but I misread and thought it was about a crocodile that had swam all the way from Egypt, and had now finally arrived in the small town of Västerås. I thought my misinterpretation would be a funny scenario to try and paint with sound. All of my records are named after newspaper headlines that I read: Slagsmål utbröt på Mount Everest (A Brawl Broke Out On Mount Everest); Ensam Kamphund Tog Pendeltåget (Lonely Fighter Dog Rode the Commuter Train); and my next one is Lönnmördare Fick Betalt i Frimärken (Assassin Got Paid In Stamps).
Most of my B-sides are named after gruesome and shitty scenarios. Like Bhati Dilwan is a town in Pakistan, where Nestlé built a factory for bottled water, and contaminated the natural water source. So now the citizens of Bhati Dilwan have to buy their clean water from Nestlé.
Virunga is a national park in Uganda where oil companies are paying locals to kill gorillas, since the area is full of oil, but it also has gorillas. If the gorillas are gone, there is no need for the government to protect the area anymore, thus the oil will be up for grabs. The B-side on my upcoming record is Dadaab, which is the world’s largest refugee camp. It’s in Kenya towards the Somali border, and it has over 300,000 people. They are trying to shut it down, though. None of the b-sides are funny scenarios to paint, but they had a big impact on me.
I don’t have a background in music, and I don’t really play an instrument, so I try to come at it from a different angle. I don’t really “jam” – I usually start with a scenario that I want to describe, then I take a sample or field recording that I twist and turn inside out on my computer until I feel it fits in my musical universe. The main reason why I make music is so I can spend time in that place.
Johanna Schneider said in an interview late last year that “the lack of vitamin D makes everything (in Sweden) sound like that light-in-the-tunnel-kind-of-vibe”. Would you agree? How would you describe the sound that’s coming out of Sweden at the moment?
I think I know what she means, but where she sees light in the tunnel, I think I see melancholy. We have plenty of that to go around. A lot of things up here just have a kind of beige aura. But I like that aspect when translated into something feral, like techno. That’s why I always try to look for at least a sliver of melancholy when I listen to techno; if the music is hard just for the sake of being hard, I have a tendency to tune out. The qualities I look for in music are basically the same ones that I look for in a person: curiosity, finesse and quiet dignity.
Are there other Swedish DJs or producers that you’re following particularly closely at the moment?
I always follow Fjäder, Jin Mustafa and Johanna Knutsson with great suspense, they’re always really on point. Oh, and Jana Sleep! Definitely one of my favourite producers. She really taps into something beautiful when she produces and performs.
You recently recorded a mix for Patterns of Perception. Did you have a particular concept in mind for this mix?
I always try to picture a very specific person listening to the mix in a very specific situation, and then keep that vibe in mind when I’m recording it. The actual recording session is not very romantic. I don’t have record players at home, so I write down tracks that I really like at the moment on my phone, in the order that I think they will work. Then I go over to my friends’ house and record it. Surprisingly, I rarely stray from what I wrote down before starting the session. Imagining how the tracks will work together is almost more fun than actually hearing them together for me. Recording a mix works pretty much the opposite of playing in a club for me. One happens in my head, and the other happens in my gut.
How do you prepare for your DJ sets? Can we expect anything in particular from your set at Patterns of Perception?
I usually plan my sets pretty meticulously and I try to group tracks after which colour they represent in my head. So maybe I’ll play turquoise for the first 30 minutes, then purple, then red, etc. But if I show up at the club and notice the vibe isn’t turquoise at all, I just shift the colour blocks around a bit. Sounds ridiculous, I know, but I have to visualise it like that for it to make sense to me. Oh, and lately I’ve been really into some more downtempo techno, like 112-113 BPM stuff. It’s really cool, so maybe I’ll bust out some of that!
What else does 2017 have in store for you?
Tons of fun stuff! I wrote a radio theatre piece called Sagor Från Medelklassen (Fairy tales from the middle class) that aired on Swedish Public Radio in February. Also, my fourth EP is coming soon, entitled Lönnmördare Fick Betalt i Frimärken. I also decided to start releasing tracks by friends, so there will be releases by Dorisburg and Birds ov Paradise on my label Mountain Explosion Device. Oh, and I want to move to Mexico City!
Image credits: Johanna Schneider