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Feature: Actitect [Interview]

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As the founder of Symbiotic Sessions, musician and designer Actitect utilizes music to perfectly balance performance and technology. And although he directs his productions at the global techno-genre, he explores the perimeters of this style with conceptual, contextual and narrative elements. His work can be described as saturated and harmonious, as well as melancholic, rude and synthetic. With his ever-evolving live set, Actitect will move your feet, shake your soul and twist your brain. We had a chance to catch up with Actitect on the cusp of a new release for Lessismore. Enjoy!

Hi Joris, thanks for joining us today, tell where in the world you are and what your plans for the week are?

Hi there! Currently, I’m in Haarlem, The Netherlands. My plans for this week are actually to go on a trip to London.

How did you discover electronic music and what led you down the path of wanting to be a producer and live act?

Ha, well, probably by endlessly playing Commodore 64 games as a kid in the ’80s (especially the ones with music by British composer Rob Hubbard). Also, my father, being a technician, created some little sound and light noodling boxes for me and my brothers to play with, which essentially were very basic synthesizers. My older brother was very much into house, rave and acid music and started creating it as well on his Amiga 500 very early on. He sometimes needed my piano skills for melodies and such, so this way I got introduced in electronic music production as a kid somewhere late 80’s.

Name five tracks that were most important in your musical development and why are these pieces so significant for you.

Giorgio Moroder – Chase (Theme from Midnight Express)

[Cassablanca] [1978] Although a composition originally from 1978, I started listening to this and many other synthesizer music on a cassette tape I got in 1989 called ‘Synthesizer Greatest’, a compilation of synthesizer classics synthesized by Dutch composer Ed Starink. The rich and storytelling sound of

this and many other tracks by the likes of Jean-Michel Jarre, Vangelis, Kraftwerk, Jan Hammer, and Harold Faltermeyer were an inspiration to me and today I still like to hear or play this kinda stuff. Also, a lot of this music is linked to typical movies, video games and tv-shows of that era, which brings back a very complete picture of that time.

The Prodigy – Break and Enter [XL Recordings] [1994]

All three albums (and videos) the Prodigy released in the ’90s had an enormous impact on me. Listening to these tunes as a young boy I just couldn’t wait to be old enough to start clubbing and raving. Trying to play these and other hooks and stabs on my keyboards helped me develop a very electronic-oriented piano-playing style. It took me till 2005 to see The Prodigy live but it was worth the wait, It still is the best concert experience I ever had. So much energy, perfect sound and productions and such an immersive experience; inspiration overload.

John Starlight – Blood Angels (Original Mix)

[Superstar Recordings] [2002] So weird, yet so great. This track shows that everything is possible and you can be very creative and original, even in techno (something I do not encounter very often anymore at the big stages). The sounds, vocals, beats, positioning of drums, edits and fills are all unconventional and raw but so spot on. Love it.

Gaiser – Some Slip [M_nus] [2011]

Every now and then there is an act that stands out from the rest, and Gaiser surely is one of them. So effective yet so original, so groovy, so punchy and loud but with a minimalistic approach, just brilliant. It’s also a great example of a single-artist live-act which surpassed the effect of any deejay set in that era if you ask me.

GoGo Penguin – All Res [Blue Note] [2016]

A trio (piano, double bass & drums) from Manchester playing a style somewhere in the middle between jazz, electronic and classical music. These guys remind me that with instrument skills and great compositions you don’t need much technology to create amazing music that sounds like today.

Furthermore I’m probably also inspired and influenced by artists like Alex Under, Secret Cinema, Gui Boratto, Richie Hawtin, Sasha, Drexciya, Johannes Heil, Roland Klinkenberg, Heiko Laux, Peter Horrevorts, Sinisa Tamamovic, Alexander Kowalski and Underworld.

Tell us about growing up and living in the Netherlands, how has it affected your musical taste and the music you make?

I had the privilege of being a teenager in the ’90s in a country going through the beautiful, naive and yet booming spring of the European electronic music scene. A time and place pre-smartphone where it felt like everything was allowed and anything was possible. As an avid raver, I was right in the middle of the gabber/hardcore eruption, followed up by the trance ‘reaction’, UK hardhouse, the rise of the global techno scene and the minimal-revolution. It was raves, parties, club nights and festivals almost every weekend for a very long period of time. The rest of the time I tried to create as much music as I could. For me, electronic music has always been my native language. And being surrounded by soundwaves, on the dancefloor or in the studio, is the places I feel the most at home.

You play live as opposed to DJing generally, what does your setup consist of? And why do you prefer this type of live performance over traditional DJing?

It is kinda funny that deejaying is mentioned as the ‘traditional’ thing here and that I am the one who has to explain my choice to create and perform music live. For me it just feels deeply inappropriate and wrong to play someone else’s music in the center of a stage and receiving cheers doing it. While when creating music and when playing live you have the power to incorporate the moment, the environment, the people, the atmosphere, and put it all inside the music, creating something unique and tailor-made for the occasion.

Of course, it is not easy at all to create a dependable and effective live setup and it also takes a lot of practice and preparation to master. But this is how it should be in my opinion and is one of the reasons I like it. It’s about skill, about knowledge and it is always in development.

My current full setup consists of an 88 key stage piano/organ/synth, some foot-pedals, a small electronic drumkit and three cases with various synthesizers, drum machines, effects, and mixers built in.

Despite it’s quite a large setup (my studio setup ís my live setup), most of it is carefully built into cases, is relatively easily transported and can be set up in about 30 minutes if needed. And some of my gear-cases are designed in such a way that for small gigs I can also use a selected part of the setup for a more simple but effective approach.

You have a new release out now on Lessismore entitled ‘Late at Light’. Tell us about the release and your inspiration behind it.

This release is the first child of my current live-production philosophy and setup. The tracks are essentially optimized live-takes, they were written and recorded without the use of DAW’s. The initial idea for ‘Late at Light’ was to create music inspired by the feeling you get when experiencing the sunrise at the end of your day, like in the morning on an all-night festival.

Why did Lessismore feel like the right home for this one?

About 15 years ago, I was also working on a release for Lessismore. It eventually didn’t come to a release at that time but it did mark a new era for me as an artist. Now I also feel like I am at some turning point again, so there is a nice parallel there.

Also, the phrase ‘less is more‘ originally has an architectural and design origin of course, which again links to my other profession and my artist name.

Tell us about Symbiotic Sessions.

A Symbiotic Session is a collaborative live performance by artists from various backgrounds and with the use of a mixture of tools, instruments, media and technologies. You could call it ‘high tech jazz’.

With the help of some fellow artists, I created Symbiotic Sessions as a platform for facilitating events, recordings, and jam sessions with this approach. To create insights, discover techniques, share knowledge and create resources, tips and tools for electronic live performance. With Symbiotic Sessions I like to contribute to a future where electronic music is played live everywhere. And thanks to the current and upcoming advancements in technology, the potential of this new dawn in music is almost infinite.

How much of an influence does music outside of the electronic spectrum have on you?

Quite a lot, actually. I regularly visit jazz, blues, and other live-events and sessions, listen to all kinds of music and play various music styles on the piano. One of my main aims is to take electronic music to new levels, with new ideas based on science and technology but also by rediscovering and reinterpreting ‘old’ ideas.

There are a lot of factors which affect the perception of an artist other than his music these days, social media for one, how much emphasis do you put on stuff like this?

As a rather conceptually schooled designer, I always look at the big picture and the truth and relevance behind things. People that worked with me know that I think out, plan and design every aspect into detail, maybe even much too far. But, probably because this is where a lot of my skills and interests come together, this is what I seem to enjoy most.

Even my artist-name is based on this substance; the name Actitect means something like ‘designer of doings’.

And as I’m rolling out some new ideas and plans this year I had to actively rethink these non-music factors and decide how I can communicate my message and my music in the best possible way. The thing with social media is that if you don’t have a plan you could end up spending way too much time on it, pulling your attention all day. So also to prevent myself from this, I thought about what I want to accomplish and find the best approach, the best tools, techniques, and media to make it happen.

Apart from music, what makes you happiest?

Enjoying beautiful and clever creations of any sort: food, movies, design, art, books, architecture, nature, etc.

What can we expect from you as 2020 move forward? Any releases or special dates we should be looking out for?

Two rather big new projects get launched this year:

In the second half of the year, a collaborative project with drummer Jeroen Hagen will be introduced. We’ve been working on this for quite some time now and I’m very much looking forward to the upcoming releases and playing the tracks live on stage. You can stay informed by checking out ‘Subwalkers.com’.

In the first half of this year, I release a new Actitect youtube channel where I will regularly place various kinds of live performances. I’ve planned and worked towards this for a long time and have a lot of innovative and fun ideas, so keep an eye on my socials, website or newsletter, you don’t want to miss it.

‘Late At Light’ is out soon on Lessismore, you can purchase the release here: https://bit.ly/3cbRDfd

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