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Cristian Vogel/Jamie Lidell/Super Collider
(interviewed April 29, 1999)
by Andrew Duke
1999 is shaping up to be a busy year for Britain's Cristian Vogel. Not only is he continuing his work in the No Future Collective and with his own Mosquito label, he's also just released his sixth album on the German Tresor imprint. If that's not enough, he's just unveiled the debut full length from his Super Collider project with Jamie Lidell.
News to many is that "Busca Invisibles" (the title is Spanish) will be Vogel's last Tresor album. "When I first started out, I struggled hard to maintain my individuality in everything and I didn't want to be branded or owned by a label," Vogel explains over the phone from his home in Brighton. "And it seems that as time went on, people associated my name with Tresor, just because I worked with them a lot. So what I didn't want to happen happened." The next solo album Vogel releases will come out on his own Mosquito label, but he still has a good relationship with Tresor. In fact, the first single from this new album will be available through the British Loaded imprint, an agreement with which he's quite pleased. "It was good to have it as a domestic release cos all the stuff on Tresor comes in on import to the UK, so it's a lot more expensive to buy my stuff [when released on Tresor] for UK residents, which probably explains why, in this country, I don't sell as much as in Europe. So with the Loaded thing, we'll see how it works out, basically. It should be beneficial." He's also just remixed "Never Tempt Me" from Juan Atkins' Infiniti for Tresor.
Themes are important for Vogel when putting together an album. "I look at it as a body of work," he says, "so I try and work with just this one thing in mind. I want it to gel together through the music; and then when you put [the tracks] together, you get a larger feel than just a lot of tracks put together, which is what a lot of techno albums are like; they feel like compilations." But, the question begs answer, with six albums now in his discography, and plenty of singles and other projects, how does he keep a fresh outlook when producing new music? "I don't make tracks all the time like I used to. I only work when I'm commissioned to work, and everything in between is just experimenting towards new ideas and going towards when somebody commissions something. It's not like it used to be." In essence, Vogel admits that perhaps he's become a bit wiser to the business part of the music industry as he's gotten older, plus he finds he now has so many more demands on his time. "I've got a lot of things going on in my life so I can't just sit around making music all day; I'd love to, but I can't, so it has to be worthwhile, I have to be doing it for a reason. I can't be doing music if it's just going to sit on a DAT tape. I put too much energy into it to do that now."
Whereas many song titles in techno seem to pass without notice, Vogel injects his names with a certain degree of flair. "A lot of the titles," he relates, "come from a piece of artwork by Matt Consume at No Future which I've got on my wall in the office. I look at it everyday and it's lots of words and those are sort of excerpts from this big string of words. Some of the titles, like 'Sarcastically Tempered Powers', are from his piece. When I recontextualized them and attached them to songs, then they began these new meanings. I always name my tracks after I've written them. The other ones are more personal thoughts, markers of time for me, like 'They Bought You A Party' was about sometimes how I feel like when I'm a DJ. Sometimes I feel like I'm some kind of object that some people have paid for." Vogel is originally from Chile and the title 'General Arrepientese' has particular meaning. "The 'General' is kind of a marker of what was going on when they caught Pinochet here, and it marks that time for me. It was important for my family; it happened on my doorstep that they caught the guy, so that's really good. I just wanted to mark that moment in time because it was kind of special."
Like his contemporary Neil Landstrumm, Vogel is not afraid to unveil his true feelings about the present state of techno. "There's definitely a lack of innovation. It's in danger of becoming a lost form, I think, it's not happening. Maybe that's just because me and Neil [Landstrumm] are getting old and we sorted it out the first time. It's all about cycles, anyway. Younger kids are getting back into this loop sound that has been around and happened a while ago, and they're getting back into it because it's good, it's powerful. It's easy to understand, it's simple. But personally, I don't find hardly any techno I listen to exciting anymore. There's the odd bits and bobs, but not like it used to be where I'd pick up a tune and it would be 'Wow! Wow! Wow!' It doesn't really excite me anymore. I dunno whether that's me or the form."
But even with new projects like Super Collider taking on new prominence in his life, Vogel is not about to give up on the realm of techno; he's hoping that others don't let techno die a slow death, but he's also got some ideas of his own, specifically when it comes to the use of vinyl. "I'm looking towards saying 'well, if all these records sound the same and they're all quite straightforward, why don't we just move away from the vinyl, which techno should always have done anyway. Why waste a whole side of vinyl with the one loop when you can put one loop on a PowerBook or whatever and just mix it? Go from records to loops back to records. I don't necessarily have a problem with it, I know that it works, I just think maybe it's not suited to the vinyl anymore. Maybe get away from that for this looping stuff, and vinyl should be kept for real unique moments." He's investigating the possibilities of putting his own loops and such on MiniDisc and using that when playing out. Maybe, Vogel says, techno DJs just aren't making the best use of their tools. "Look at the art of the DJ going to its ultimate form with people like Mixmaster Mike and Q-Bert and that, who are using turntables like instruments, whereas techno DJs just use turntables to make this loop last longer," Vogel says. "There's other ways of making a loop last longer which are less taxing on the world's resources; why waste stacks of vinyl on a few loops carved into a record?"
Super Collider is a group Vogel has formed with fellow Brit Jamie Lidell. One of the biggest splashes made in 1998 was their first single, "Darn (Cold Way O' Lovin')", pairing vocals from Lidell with a new twist on funk at a house tempo. With the "Head On" full length dropping, Vogel is keen to set the record straight on the facts behind the effort. "We work on it together; some people think the simple and obvious-that I make the backing tracks and he sings on them, but, as you might suspect from how we work and what we make, it's a lot more complicated than that. It's very collaborative." Vogel is quick to praise his musical partner. "Jamie's very talented technically as well; he works in a different way to me, but he knows as much as me about all this new stuff, so we challenge overselves with new technology and new techniques, but we're never flummoxing each other, we know what's going on. So he's as much to do with the sounds of it as well. He sings, so he probably does more in it than I do because he has to write and sing too."
Working with Lidell on "Head On" was an invigorating experience for Vogel. "He's introduced me to lots of the old ways that I've missed out on," Vogel says of Lidell. "But similarly, we absolutely adore brand spanking new exciting hard music. He's much more into the proper old school, the jazz and that. But the last few years I've been sort of the same way, listening back to everything because I was sick of my record collection full of techno and listening back to some records that I could actually get into and pay attention to and listen to properly, so I've been doing that as well myself."
Though 'Darn', complete with a remix from DJ Harvey, was lauded by critics and DJs alike as one of the better singles of last year, Vogel takes care to maintain a level head about the situation. "It's a great track and I'm glad that people enjoyed it, but I was a bit concerned because what we went on to do was nothing like that single. I was concerned that people wouldn't appreciate what we did after that, which, for us, was perhaps more progressive and innovative and challenging for the way we work. That track is quite orthodox I think." Heck, even Armand Van Helden was on the phone asking about doing a remix right after he heard the track for the first time. "['Darn'] will always have a special place in my heart. I heard some people say some incredible things to me personally and I got some compliments that I'll remember forever. No one has ever liked anything I've been involved with that much, it was great, very warming and really inspired me to pay attention to my work and remember that it can have impact." Vogel says working with Loaded's philosophy that everything has to have remixes can be a bit of an annoyance. "Half the people [they want to do remixes], we don't even know let alone care about. But Harvey was cool. We tend to meet on a middle ground basically, and I like some of Harvey's tripped out disco stuff and they liked him because he's from the house scene." No Future artists Landstrumm and Si Begg have done remixes on "It Won't Be Long" and "Take Me Home", respectively, "so in return they got one of their Skint artists [Midfield General] to do a remix. But hitting head on with things is what this project is all about. It's about us being surprised as much as them, but," he laughs, "they haven't surprised us yet."
The relationship with Loaded, probably best known for releasing more commercial material, was initially a matter of geography. "Their office is down the road from our office," Vogel explains. "We were hanging out with them, drinking at the same bars and things, and we'd made the 'Darn (Cold Way O' Lovin')' track and we were a bit confused as to what it was and where it could go and what genre it was and everything-as everyone else was. So we thought 'who can we play it to?' So we played it to them cos they were down the road and they got all flustered about it, got all hot under the collar; Tim [Jeffrey at Loaded] was saying things like 'wow, I've given up on music and this has just reinspired me to…'" Vogel's chuckles cuts off his sentence. "Basically", he says, "there were all these gigantic reactions to it. So they picked it up and they were the first people to hear it basically. We didn't demo it to them or anything, we just wanted an opinion. So they made an offer and we thought it was fair." It's potentially a five album deal and they're already working on the follow up to "Head On".
"I was singing in the studio doing a track which turned out to be 'Under My Nose'." Jamie Lidell is the fasttalking extroverted ying to Vogel's more introspective yang. From Ridley Scott Associates in London where he's just finished working on the video for "It Won't Be Long", their second single, Lidell explains how it all began. "I was getting really into the vocal, I was giving it loads of screaming and shit and my girlfriend at the time," sitting beside him in the studio, "was like 'well, you really don't need to do that stuff, you know, why don't you just relax a little bit here?' Marvin Gaye was always saying his best vocals were when he got out of that trying too hard, busting blood vessels [style]; he was just singing really naturally, so I tried to do some of that, just scatting along really and just responding to the track. So I cut that up and made it into a little groove. Cris comes in and goes 'you've got a track there'." A bit of editing and the first Super Collider track was born. "'Darn' stayed for ages as a piece of instrumental music and they one night I went in and added a vocal that I had done for a live show at Cristian's club in Brighton called Defunkt. I had a done a little live set there about a year before we wrote 'Darn'; I just used exactly the same vocal on top of this track that we'd done."
Lidell liberally peppers the conversation with numerous references to food, and his explanation of how they went about recording the album after the incredible response to the 'Darn' single is no exception. "It was a really interesting and really quite painful process," he says. Moving on from the songs 'Under My Nose' and 'Darn'was "like a cook cooking two meals for a potential client and then them having to decide, on the basis of those two meals, whether they want to come to this restaurant again and try all the dishes on a menu-a menu which we hadn't created yet; maybe involving vegetables which have to be genetically engineered. We might have to synthesize certain vegetables before we can even come up with certain recipes. For us, things like 'Darn' were really commercial tracks and we did them for a bit of fun. Not to belittle them as tracks, but we had quite a wide spectrum of potential material which could arise from our kitchen to go back to the original metaphor. So were we to continue in making a kind of variant on house music, which 'Darn' fits into that kind of category loosely, then possibly we wouldn't have been very happy with the outcome. But as it was we didn't do that; we decided that we wanted to explore things because we wouldn't be happy to do an like an album's worth of 'Darn's. As you can imagine, given that you're signed on the basis of a couple of tracks, there's a slight risk to sign someone having only that and not having heard their potential range of sounds. At the time, I don't think the record company understood the album was going to be so diverse, but over time it proved to be something which became more interesting and more rewarding for us all, the record company and me and Cris as creators." Though with today's electronic sounds, the album is shot through with echoes from funk past. Along with names like Miles Davis and John Coltrane, probably Lidell's biggest inspiration is Sly Stone. "That music moves me. In a Desert Island sort of test, I'd always take Sly Stone above any electronic music. He's one of my favorite artists, just because he seemed to have almost the perfect balance between fun-he even wrote a song called 'Fun'-and music and community and so much shit there in the mix. Obviously we would never compare anything we do to anyone like that…but those influences are so strong and I listen to that shit so much, it's not a question of imitating that shit," though Lidell is certainly aiming for that sort of balance. "I have a yearning for melody," he says, "but without the trappings of having to make traditional songs… Everything goes, within reason, and yet what ends up being the thing which makes an album like this take so long to create is the sheer amount of editing which needs to be done because of how many ideas end up being generated from two heads. Under the influence of a bit of cannabis and a good couple of record collections, you get a serious list of potential recipes."