Swedish techno DJ and producer Rivet talked to us about his debut Asia tour, his new label Kess Kill – and how, for him, labels are platforms to nurture the next generation.
Nice to talk to you again, Rivet – and congrats on completing your debut Asia tour! Where did the tour take you – and what were your impressions of each country?
I started out the tour in Shanghai.. and to be honest, it was quite a culture shock! The city was multi-dimensional and immense, unlike any other I’ve been to; it was quite mind-boggling looking out the car window and seeing three layers of city below – like Bladerunner! As for the club I played in – the Shelter – the vibe was actually very similar to that of many Eastern European venues I used to play during the early 2000s: stripped-back and rustic. The crowd was an attentive mix with equal parts local and expat.
I followed this up with a week in Thailand, which began with some island-hopping to get some sun and beach. However, that was cut real short after just a day in the sun, as my snow white complexion took a real battering… I spent the rest of week in Bangkok, a huge city – but with a vibe far friendlier than any big city I’ve visited before. I ended the week playing the super intimate Light Room with _COSM for a small, but vivid, crowd – even the bartenders were jumping about!
On the Saturday, I was off to Singapore – and it was yet another completely different experience. It felt visiting a movie set: I’ve never seen a place so clean and tidy before. The club was also really high-end. I honestly expected quite an uptight crowd – but was proven very wrong as I experienced two hours of hands in the air, and came back to hotel with blood-soaked socks and eyes red from sweat..
Sounds like your tour was a great way to sample the diversity of Asia. Glad to hear it was such a rich experience for you.
Before we get to talking on your new label, Kess Kill – we know you have a long history with labels. Can you tell us a little about how they all came about?
I started my first label, Emergence, in 2000 with my friend Benny (Luka Baumann later took his place as co-runner). At that time (00/01), techno labels could press 4 digit issues! The risks were a lot lower; today, you’d be lucky if you sell 300. The label worked well, and we had the honour to collaborate with some of our strongest peers, such as Regis, Surgeon, Christian Wünsch, Makaton, Inigo Kennedy and Oscar Mulero. We also signed the debut release of Spanish producer Reeko – he kind of exploded after that, and is pretty big now.
Later on, I launched sub-label Pohjola focusing on the slightly more archaic side of techno. Emergence Records was more about long,suggestive tracks, with a lot of things happening. For Pohjola, I was focused on finding new names, such as Stanislav Tolkachev, who’s also doing really well now. Doing those things, signing other people and seeing them grow – that’s the best part of working in music for me. I felt better seeing Stanislav succeed than I did about my own success. Label running is also about building platforms for the next generation.
However, I closed those labels in 2010 as, by that time, I felt techno was getting kind of stale; it seemed as though no one had anything new to say anymore. Me included. I didn’t have a label for 4 years after that.
You mention techno getting ‘stale’. In your view what is being ‘stale’?
When there’s big money involved, there will always be people getting into it for the wrong reasons. These people tend to just repeat proven formulas rather then finding an own tongue.
Or, maybe I was just burnt out; I’ve always been going back and forth with techno – bouncing between feeling deeply connected, and then sometimes totally disconnected.
So you closed these labels, and then you eventually opened another one. What led you to that decision?
I had the idea for quite a long time because there was this movement in the early 80s that always really intrigued me. It quickly transformed into something else like EBM, electro or trance. I think it took the wrong direction – well, not exactly “wrong” – but a way that didn’t really speak to me. The punk feel was lost and replaced with the rigid and robotic. Which also made it lose most of its charm. However, that original sound has really still got so much potential, and another direction to head that’s not really been tapped yet.
There is this one album Liaisons Dangereuses made, it’s from 1981 – and I honestly think it’s the best techno record ever made. It came out almost 10 years before the Detroit guys emerged. I’d always wanted to do something related to that, to continue that kind of movement – but there wasn’t anything to release because no one made that kind of music. It’s been in my mind for 10 years at least – and then, 2 years ago, I started seeing a few artists doing something similar; it was at this point that I realised maybe there is potential to do something after all.
So are these artists new, young artists – or artists from that era?
Young ones, yeah. Active artists, but ones that are still quite unacknowledged.
One of the things you mentioned earlier in the conversation is that you enjoy finding and nurturing new artists. What’s your process in finding these artists?
I receive a lot of demos – but 90 percent of it is just spam; like, I’ve already received 10 techno demos for a label [Kess Kill] that’s specifically not a techno label. It’s very rare to get a demo you like, unless the label is already very well established, then people know what to send.
The first artist on the label I just found from an LP on Dark Entries, so quite an easy find – and the second is a reissue from 1981 that I found on Youtube or something. I spend hours a day just going through old, new, all kinds of music – so I just stumble across stuff. And because I’ve been on this quest for so long, I’ve just found bits here and there.
So far, I’ve finalised 3 releases – for the 4th I still have no idea. It’s quite hard because it’s about music that has something that’s not naturally there in electronic music – the human element. People don’t often make music like that these days – they don’t have live drums, they don’t play the keys – they programme everything. So, it’s like a paradox: trying to find new music that has the vibe of 30+ years ago. It’s possible though!
Related to your searching and digging for music – you have a blog, Rivet Selections, which you’ve been writing since May 2015. Tell us about that – why did you start it, and what does it feature?
I think I started the blog for the same reason I started to DJ: when you find really good music, you just want to share it. In fact, I think it’s your responsibility to share it. You can’t just find something good and say ‘oh, this is just for me.’ I’ve always felt a really strong urge to share, and this is just a way to do this. I mean, I did the selections for years before the blog, just to share to friends by email – like, ‘these are some really good records, I really like them because blah blah blah..’ So the blog is set up just to be able to reach some more friends. I can’t really see if anyone checks it or anything, so I have no idea if anyone but my friends read it… Which is fine.
So when was it exactly that you knew that techno/electronic music was the music for you?
It was really early on. My mum was into Jean-Michel Jarre, Kraftwerk, Bronski Beat, Peter Gabriel, Kate Bush (pop, but it was also sort of electronic somehow…) Basically, it was the 80s, when there was a lot of electronic, housy stuff around. My mum listened to it, so I remember listening to those records long before even starting school..
Later, I transitioned to proper techno, but I don’t remember the exact turning point. I grew apart from electronic stuff as I was getting into my teens, and more into punk rock because of the energy. Then I heard Prodigy – during a Dungeons and Dragons (SS: Oh you’re one of *those* kinds of guys.. :P). The Dungeon Master was an older guy, and he put on a Prodigy CD while we were playing.. and I was like, ‘F-k this game, what’s this music?’ [laughs]. The track was basically the electronic stuff I really loved – but it had the energy of punk.
So, your love of techno started at a D&D game [SS laughs].
Well it sure evolved there at least!
Through that, I discovered break beats, drum and bass, jungle – all that kind of stuff. My interest in proper techno developed quite late. The first time I heard techno, I felt it was too simple – there wasn’t enough there. But then I started going to Copenhagen where I heard Jeff Mills, Dave Clarke and others; there was also a record shop that was really good, where the owner (Kenneth Christiansen of Echocord/Culture Box) just kept giving me all these Downwards records. At the beginning, it felt just so harsh and dissonant. But slowly I started getting it – and that was when I realised that techno could be more than just “party music”.
Finally: what do you think creates that experience of going from really dissonant to really resonant? Do you have a theory for it? I know, it’s a difficult and weird question…
It’s like some kind of primal thing. It reaches beyond.. it’s not cognitive music, its somatic. It cuts through the cognitive like tribal music.. there’s something there that no other music captures.
Fully agree – and couldn’t have put it better myself. And what a great reflection with which to end our conversation.
Thank you so much for taking the time to speak with us – and all the best with Kess Kill and your upcoming gigs back in Europe. We already miss your music – and look forward to seeing you back in Asia soon!