Ladies and gentlemen, John Talabot.
The Barcelona-based producer has had a charmed few years: he earned shedloads of acclaim for eldritch 2012 LP fIN, has developed into a dependable touring proposition, and (honour of honours) has turned out a fine FACT mix to boot. His latest venture is a rite-of-passage mix CD for !K7’s long-running DJ-Kicks series. Talabot’s is a classy set, mixing driving 4×4 (Motor City Drum Ensemble, DJ Jus-Ed) with weird, warped fare (Pye Corner Audio, Madteo). Not so far away from his own output, then. Bjorn Schaeffner sat down the producer, DJ and label boss to talk virtual kidnappings and making music for the silver screen.
You’ve just cancelled your Mexico gigs. Apparently, there was a kidnapping threat. What was the trouble?
We were en route to Mexico. The manager of Delorean called, informing us that the band had become a victim of a so-called “virtual kidnapping”, which is a common extortion practice in Mexico. We cancelled our gigs, after being told that this had happened four times to Spanish people in the last 48 hours and were advised not to travel until things got better with Delorean. Not so much out of fear of getting kidnapped ourselves, but because we were worrying for our dear friends. And since the advice was unmistakable, we took that hard decision. We couldn’t imagine performing under these conditions.
What about Delorean?
Well, this man called, instructing them very aggressively to leave the hotel, or else they would get shot. It’s called virtual kidnapping, but the threat is actually very real. Delorean went through a terrible time.
How did people react to your cancelling the show?
Many of our Mexican fans were angry. Also, to people in Mexico this seems quite normal, at least from the comments I read. Some were along the line of, “Oh, really? That‘s why you cancelled the tour?” Anyway, we will be back in Mexico soon. I’m really looking forward to visiting my friends and bringing them the presents we packed.
Some records, some books. And some Spanish food. You know, what people usually ask from people in Spain. “Can you bring some jamon?” [laughs]
And now you’re in Barcelona, safe at home?
Yeah, it feels good to be here and catch up with stuff. I’ve been working on a new version of the Talaboman track, the one which is on the CD mix for DJ-Kicks. And I’ve been getting some new gear.
Are you a gear nerd?
Sure, I like getting new stuff. But it’s very time-consuming. Getting to know your synths is even more intense than making music! [laughs]
Since the release of your album fIN, you’ve been constantly touring with Pional. Aren’t you feeling exhausted?
It’s extremely exhausting! And it’s our first proper tour, which wasn’t planned like this at all. We thought the live show would be something for exceptional occasions, maybe a handful of festivals, not more than ten times a year. But the liveshow worked really well, and we unexpectedly morped into some sort of band. And then came this amazing offer from The xx to tour with them. We couldn’t say no to that. It was a once-in-a-lifetime chance. So that’s been quite a change. And I’ve learnt a lot since I’ve been on tour.
What have you learnt?
Well, you meet professionals and bands that have been touring for 20 years. You ask these guys, how should we do this and that? You learn loads about gear and stage production. Stuff you just don’t take into consideration when you just DJ. But above all, you learn how to translate the music to a stage – the music that you’ve produced all alone in your studio. When I did the album, I never imagined I would ever perform on a stage, let alone sing.
How did you and Pional put the liveshow together?
Miguel (Pional) is a more skilled musician than me, he’s well versed with the guitar. And he’s more into indie stuff. I’m more electronic, more abstract, maybe less musical in the traditional way. In the end, we had to combine both our skills, and try not to lose the feeling of the album. I don’t want to become an indie band, I don’t want to go where I can’t do my best. I know my limits. And so we were trying to bring it to the stage and make it sound interesting. Which may look easy, but it’s not so easy.
What’s been the most challenging part?
Playing and singing. I wasn’t used to playing any instruments. Hey, I’m not a real musician! Even my music, it’s not real music, based on keys and scales. It’s more about the feelings I want to convey through sound.
There’s that Talabot melancholy…
Yeah, melancholy is my favourite sentiment. I’m always missing something: food, my home, my sister, my sofa, my synthesizer. I’m always feeling a bit incomplete. It’s something I can’t control, it’s just part of me. Sometimes it’s a bit sad, but I still find this feeling quite rewarding. Sometimes I even miss my old job.
You mean the film production company you had with friends?
You know, I believed I would have this job until retirement! Considering how things went with my career, it looks like you can’t control everything in life. I had this business with friends and it just felt good. When we had to give it up, I was really sad. It felt like something in me was leaving.
Did you never want to do a video for your album, what with your background in video?
I never felt there was the necessity of a video. I want my music to work for itself, be self-sufficient. It took me a very long time to finalize the order of the album. I wanted it to be perfect, always bearing in mind those listening to the the full album.
Film scores, like Popul Vuh’s work for Werner Herzog’s film Aguirre, have been an influence on your album. Have you ever considered doing a score yourself?
It’s something I wanted to do for a long time. I’m sure I could do it quite well, because I know both worlds, film and music.
What film would you want to score?
It would probably be a documentary with a more contemplative sound, less narrative-driven, suspense-like as in feature films. I really like to immerse myself in sound design. And I love to work conceptually. Before pressing any key, I need to investigate. Think about it.
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Did you put a lot of thought into your DJ-Kicks CD?
Yes. I’m always thinking about what I’m doing. Quite obsessively, actually. I thought about this: what’s the difference between my DJ-Kicks mix and all the others? What’s the difference between a CD mix and a podcast? Why should people actually listen to my CD mix? It doesn’t work if you don’t have the map laid out, knowing, right, let’s head in this direction.
So why should people listen to your DJ-Kicks mix?
I tried to create a very attractive tracklist. There’s unreleased stuff in there, lost vinyl gems. Above all, my mix is a personal story, featuring tracks that have shaped me as a DJ. It was a good opportunity to tell people where I come from and what I like.
The Max Mohr track struck me, hearing it again after a long while. It seems logical that this one should be an influence, considering your own style.
Yes, I thought the same thing! That track was very important for me at the time. I don’t play it often in a club because it’s quite strange how it sounds there. But it’s brilliant, and I even included it knowing that Superpitcher already used it in an older compilation [2006’s Today mix for Kompakt].
The mix feels very homogenous.
Absolutely. It’s homogenous, I guess, because that’s my taste! I wanted to include a lot of stuff – 26 tracks in 72 minutes. I tried not to be too hectic, I wanted it to be smooth and easygoing, with nice blends to the ear. And at the same time, the mix shouldn’t turn out into something you would listen in a hotel bar in the background.
How was it to be approached by !K7?
I was like: really? I can’t believe it. Probably all my favourite producers are in that series, like Carl Craig. Doing a DJ-Kicks, if you have followed the electronic scene since the early Nineties, is an honour. It somehow means that these guys think that my selection prowess or mixing skills are worth their while. I gladly tried to make my contribution.
There’s one track from Talaboman on the mix, together with Stockholm’s own Axel Boman. Another one is by your Swedish friends from Genius of Time. What draws you the north?
Perhaps my favourite producers are from there. I’m not sure. But I think these Swedes have a good sense for crafting melodies and creating vibes – a pop sensibility, even though they’re not doing pop music. That kind of thing.
A Skype signal beeps.
Ha, Axel Boman just sent me a message! [He reads aloud what he types] “I’m in an interview. We were just talking about you!”
Axel must have felt our Skyping presence…
Probably! These Swedish guys – they really make me feel comfortable. Artistically, they have this impulse to push things forward. Let’s say we’ve worked on a pattern together, and it’s really good. Then they’re like, “come on, let’s tweak it a bit further.” I’m the guy who usually goes for the first takes. I’m super thankful for stuff like that! In general, I like to work with other people, because it’s a way of learning, a way of sharing. It’s how you connect dots with other people. Did you realize that the name of the Talaboman track is ‘Sideral’?
You mean the DJ? Never heard him play, but I know his name from Sónar line-ups of earlier years.
You should know that Sideral was an important, important figure for people my age in Barcelona. He was a character – a tall, thin guy who had this enormous presence as a DJ. His style was very eclectic, from house to techno, pop to indie music. So, once I was working late with Axel in the studio, and he told me that he used to live in Barcelona when he was in his early twenties, for maybe two or three years. It turned out he went to the same clubs at the same time as I did, because he was really into the music Sideral was playing. Like me! So, I found this amazing that we both share this influence. No wonder we get along so well! So, ‘Sideral’ is about this: the nights in Barcelona when Axel and I went to the same club to dance to the same DJ. When we crossed but never knew that we crossed.
What has Sideral taught you as a DJ?
Perhaps this: not being afraid of playing what you like even though it doesn’t have a connection with the track before. You don’t have to worry about whether one track fits after the other when you have a vision of the night. Basically, everything is allowed. And people will remember that exact moment when you surprised them, that moment when you went from techno to indie music in your set.
Did you witness many good DJ performances back when you were a resident DJ in Barcelona?
In my years as a warmup DJ at Razzmatazz, I could count the occasions with the fingers on my hand when an international guest DJ impressed me. They may have played a perfect set, but there was that lack of life to that set. They weren’t taking any risks, just playing safe. It was the cusp of the minimal movement and I was getting a bit bored by it. And I don’t know: after being a warm-up DJ for such a long time, I felt the urge to experiment more. And it’s especially that fun that I share when playing with Axel back-to-back. He could play an ’80s track, I will counter with a house track, he will put on an Afro- track and so on. It doesn’t make much sense, but it’s a lot of fun! [laughs]
What about your label Hivern Discs: is it still a lot of fun?
Since we have a label manager, it costs me less time, and I’m happy about that. Yeah, I love doing the label. Sometimes when I’m producing music, I realize I would rather release stuff on my label. You hear this amazing track, and you feel this impulse: I want to put this one out immediately! At Hivern Discs, we would like to help our artists to develop their career. Where does he or she want to go? We try to help the artist release his music in the best possible way we can.
What’s in the making at Hivern Discs?
Soon an EP by Round will be released, plus the album by Mistakes Are OK. We’re gonna release an EP with Young Turks with remixes from Hivern artists for The xx. And we have another release coming by Marc Pinol & Capablanca, complete with a Barnt remix, and an amazing release by Michael & Mattis with a Genius of Time remix. As I’ve said, I can’t wait to put out all the music!
I read that you plan on working on your new album early next year?
With the last album, my mind was set to do it, and I felt I had something to say. You need to have that feeling. Just doing an album for the sake of accelerating your career or getting more gigs…no, I need to feel the need. I want to bring enough new production skills to my new album and show people what I’ve learned. I don’t want to start before I exactly know what this album should be about. And when I’m ready, I will do it.