"My background in architecture has always played a significant role in how I make music"
While genre typification and classification has gained an increasingly important place in the listener's understanding of electronic music, various figures have maintained a more genuine approach to disc publishing and mixing. One of them is the artist Articulat. This dj and producer from Romania, based in the Netherlands, manages to take us to another dimension with his tracks. We had a chance to talk to him, so enjoy your reading and check out his latest releases.
Hi Ovidiu! Where can we find you right now? How did you start off your day?
Hi, I’m in Rotterdam at the moment, at home, perfecting Groundhog Day.
How did you first get into electronic music? Was it your first real musical love or were you a keen listener of all sounds when you were younger?
I think I had several pushes that got me into electronic music. It progressively attracted me as I got more exposed and it took many years to get actually involved in it.
Up until the end of high school the majority of my friends (and school colleagues) were listening to rock, punk-rock, pop-rock, alternative rock, metal, heavy-metal. I had little contact with electronic music created for the club, for the dance floor. But there was that summer (still in high school) and that guy who had a Faithless CD and a portable CD player. It was the first major trigger.
Moving to the big city (Bucharest) for the university studies and sleepless nights, I started to experience the dancefloors, from vaulted basements to industrial sites, to shiny glam clubs. I was fascinated by all of them, but my place was in the basement. It’s dark, close and intimate.
Many times I simply crossed paths with the right people. Just like the CD guy in highschool, during university there was a DVD guy (breakbeat enlightenment) and a HDD guy (trip hop and downtempo).
But it was years later, after I moved to The Netherlands, that I actually got to understand electronic music better and started fiddling with it myself. A friend of mine (will call him P.), with whom I started the Dutch adventure, brought his CDJs and mixer with him to the new country. They looked terrifying to me at the beginning - a maze of knobs and buttons only to tame two tracks together. It took me another 5 years to actually touch them. But I learned an easier and (for that time) more crafty tool from my friend - Mixmeister. A simple and efficient program which I still use to this day. It opened the possibility to link together a series of tracks into one story. That was my pre-DJing experience. And I guess I retained that approach because this is still what I like to do - whether a set or a production piece, I try to build a story.
What were your first experiences as a DJ?
The first time I played was at a house party during the graduation year at TU Delft. Some friends used to organize Post P parties - the graduation project would have 5 parts, P1 to P5 - and they were quite epic. All-nighters with 40 to 80 people of different nationalities. I played together with my friend P. and two other DJs. First time I had to play for a crowd and the first time I played in a “line-up”. It was impressive to see how you could mold the energy of the room by playing the right track at the right time and how you need to build the audience's trust in order to throw in an oddity.
How did you start experimenting with electronic music?
It began when I moved to Rotterdam. I had a new job in an architectural visualization studio which allowed me to put the headphones on, play music and dive into the visual environment for many hours, every day. I must’ve listened to all the sessions of Boiler Room (it was still in its infancy), all the Redbull Music Academy interviews and endless mixes on SoundCloud. I sponged in so much music and personal stories that it started to itch. I needed to try something myself. And P. was there again, showing me the first steps in Ableton. I experimented at first with some atmospheric compositions (trying to find an idea to chase), then I tried some edits (I had a stack of old records with Romanian folklore music) which pushed me to really listen and be sensitive to the original piece. But I was not really comfortable with sampling and wanted to create everything from scratch. I made some guilty bleepy techno, the kind that I used to get hypnotized by in the late club hours of BAR. Also tried to make some Italo (failed completely but I got to like the arpeggiator), acid (realized I could not listen to more than 2 consecutive acid tracks), house with totally unfitting vocals… and more techno.
How did Articulat come to be (the name and the project)?
For Articulat to take shape, I had to meet the right people again. In 2016 I started to organize a monthly music event in Panenka Bar, Rotterdam. It was called Vinyl Sessions and I was inviting two or three people to play records together, from their personal collections. It was not a dance party, but more of a listening session. The guests could play anything they wanted, chilling on a chesterfield couch and being surrounded by people and crates full of records. It was a chance to get close and personal in a very friendly and easy going environment. We had many guests who brought (crazy rare and expensive) records with film soundtracks and we had collectors who put out jazz or hip-hop evenings. There was music from all over the world. And if you had the interest to listen, it would certainly fascinate you. Around that time I discovered Afrobot (Roeland Otten) during a festival. I was impressed by the diversity of the music in his set - samples from all over the world knitted into disco, electro, house, techno... you name it. It was like chewing a whole bag of Skittles at the same time. Didn’t get bored for a second. So I invited him to do a vinyl session together with a friend. (This was the session - Afrobot & Marli Blu)
As I had the occasion to talk with him and listen to a piece of his collection I felt that he would be the right person to listen and understand my own production. I had three new tracks that I wanted to put out as my first release but I didn’t know which doors to knock at. They were not of a specific genre or fitting a specific label sound, but they were rhythmic and with a good dose of weird. Roeland (AM Records) really loved one track, entitled Articulat and wanted to release it. I invited him over and we listened to almost everything I’d made. I had built up quite a collection of personal work, with themes ranging from Steam Punk to Romanian folklore, under the moniker Manikin. He proposed to honor Manikin with a Best of, leave the old name behind and launch the first release as Articulat. New name, new beginnings.
How much and in what way did the Netherlands have an impact on your music?
In the Netherlands, and particularly in a city like Rotterdam, you are permanently exposed to some music related event. On top of that, you have an incredible cultural diversity (Rotterdam has more than 170 nationalities) which reflects in a rich music community - producers of all genres, lots of independent labels and an infinite amount of DJs. When you live in this kind of environment, something is bound to stick.
Do you think electronic music should be taken out of context (out of the club)? Should we reassess dance music?
Well, electronic music had always existed outside of the club. But the dancefloor certainly helped it flourish and develop into so many genres and subgenres. The experience with Vinyl Sessions taught me that people can dance to almost anything, even field recordings. Rhythm is a powerful tool and if you go off the beaten path you can make people dance in ways they haven’t danced before. A banger will always be appealing. But a bang with a twist can become a memory.
What is your music criterion?
I like to get suprised by things, be it composition, choice of instruments, special sounds, even gimmicks. And I really dislike recipe tracks.
How would you define your sound?
I’d say it’s all in the name. A series of sounds from different worlds, articulated in a new harmony. Sometimes I visualize it as Howl’s Moving Castle.
How can you explain the existence of this increasingly present parallel between antiquity and novelty?
I believe there’s a natural cycle of revisiting the roots. We purge some of the past and we keep some to seed the future. I also think it has to do with the pursuit of identity in this globalized context. It can be a personal attempt to discover yourself or it could be a curiosity to understand others. At the same time, we produce and consume new on a fast pace and large scale. We have the tools to keep the production flowing and it’s increasingly easier to produce more of the same. So there’s a point where originality is needed again and you have to start looking for inspiration. The past is full of forgotten gems ready to shine again and many artists look into that. Reviving a piece of cultural heritage (be it local or global) is powerful because of its relatability - it could be understood and loved by many people.
Do you think DJs can ever be true artists, or how would you describe their role?
The role of the DJ lies somewhere between what he wants to communicate to the public and what the public expects to hear. And that will determine the level of artistry.
As a DJ, you are an entertainer and an educator. In order to perform either of these parts properly, you need to be a good communicator - you have to know what you want to tell, how to package it, how and when to deliver it. Therefore you have the power to stimulate and control emotions, to trigger the imaginary.
Are you particularly permeable to your environment, creatively speaking? If so, how does it influence your DJ focus? And as a producer?
Yes, I could certainly say I am permeable to the environment I live in. The more circles I visit, the more I absorb and transform. Everything that I create is a reaction to stimuli - sound, images and ideas. I don’t really start with a blank canvas, I’m usually waiting for triggers. And as these change, my sound changes, even though it may retain a certain signature.
Do the travels and your altered living conditions have an influence on the way you are producing?
Articulat is a relatively new project so I didn’t get to travel much with it. I think it takes a few more releases to get a better defined shape and notoriety. But being an expat gets me to travel quite often between the birth country (Romania) and the home country (Netherlands). And you will find both in my music.
As for the altered living conditions, I must say it’s not really helping with production, but it gives me time to rest, reflect and reinvent. So I am trying to appreciate that side of the coin.
What can you tell us about Reflections? How did it come about? What did you want to transmit?
07AM played an important role. Since it was made as a collection of different stories, it made me wonder which way should I go next. So I decided to explore storytelling itself, as a concept. I figured that a story could be told with explicit or abstract instrumentals but it could also be told using voices - with or without words. And even more fascinating would be to set up the stage for the listener to create its own story.
The first 2 songs, Chemare (Calling) and Blestem (Curse) are built as explorations of voice and lyrics, both sampled from the same old Romanian folklore track Cine iubește și lasă (Who loves and leaves), performed by Maria Tănase at the beginning of the 20th century. She has a powerful voice, with a unique signature, which has been fascinating me for a long time. Chemare (Calling) relies a lot on the vocal presence as it continuously changes the atmosphere between ominous and nostalgic. The voice doesn't say a word but keeps on telling. Blestem (Curse) releases the voice and builds an instrumental composition to reflect the lyrics and accompany them throughout the narrative. The song is a mystical summoning of the higher forces to cast a curse on the one who betrays love and breaks the sacred bond of word. It is an unleash of nature, of the physical exterior, as a reflection of internal torment.
Gare Du Nord is almost a choreography project. It sets the stage in high detail and gives a sense of space and materiality. You can ride along or stand by and observe the motion but most importantly you can write your own plot.
Reflections track is almost a literal approach to the term. At its core, this track is made up of a naked sound which is relentlessly projected around the room. It’s a lot of damage, with minimum tools and it’s so abstract that you can imagine almost anything. You can picture a Mad Max car chase or you can imagine The Battle of the Argonne (Magritte).
Who or what influenced you to get into the music industry?
I wanted to see how people respond to what I’ve created. I was never really interested in the music industry, but I have been fascinated by the music community. And that’s what I like to think I am part of to this day, the community rather than the industry. What have been the most influential factors on your career so far?
My background in architecture has always played a significant role in how I make music. I haven’t had any music studies and I never played any instrument. But I understood music as a design process. Architecture and music have many things in common if you look at it from this perspective. They both use rhythm, texture, harmony, proportion,dynamics, and articulation (wink). And they both strive to convey emotions.
To get the time and inspiration for such an adventure you need the right environment to grow and the right people around you to support. For that matter, Rotterdam has brought for me all I needed.
How do you search for the music that you play in your sets, and how much time do you spend looking for music?
Lately I’ve been giving much attention to Bandcamp. There’s an incredible amount of high quality, original material there, often from artists who are barely known and you can spend all your free time digging for new music.
Where was your favorite place to play, what was your most interesting gig, and for what reason?
Most places brought their own unique memories so I would like to go down the memory lane for a moment - the block parties at MONO, playing in the Laundry Room during BAR’s final birthday party, DJing in a row at DAK rooftop parties, the pole dancing night in Sjatzi, the Control Landing parties in the forever-to-be-missed Le Vagabond, the house parties on Middellandstraat, the Post-Office all nighters and the Vinyl Sessions at Panenka Bar, Rotterdam. Always to be remembered.
What makes you happy?
What was the last record store you visited and what did you keep from there?
The last record that I particularly remember was bought from Relish in Prague. It’s an album from a local band called Zabelov Group, released by Minority Records. Look it up, EG is called and it’s a very creative piece of work.
How do you deal with C19 confinement with your work?
Since everyone is working remotely, my music room became an office room as well, so it’s hard to spend after hours there. It’s not the space to retreat in but to leave from when work is done. It also pushes me to revisit forgotten parts of the record collection, in an attempt to detach from computer screens. So I guess that’s a positive note.
Has this situation influenced your creative perspective? What social and musical implications do you think this situation can lead to?
As more time passes by, I am starting to think this leads to a profound change in how we experience music gatherings and dancing itself. We’re already developing new proximity reflexes which may become difficult to unwind later. I guess we’ll have to re-learn some things and invent new ways to party (have you seen the drive-in rave party in Germany?). On the other hand, we have an impressive capacity to forget so this might all be soon just a distant cloudy memory. I can also imagine that it will shape the music taste. Even simply because some music will fit your living room space and lifestyle better than other. For instance, it’s hard to accommodate big room music in a small room apartment so you might end up searching for a good album instead of a heavy banger.
What tracks would you recommend us to liven up the confinement?
I would recommend Lemon Jelly - Lost Horizons and Lemonjelly.ky. These two albums should make you warm and fuzzy inside.
What projects are you working on at the moment?
I am currently doing the final polish for a new EP which I am really excited to bring out. I’ve been diving into older Romanian cinematography (before 1989) and I’ve found some new inspiration there. I’ve also looked into different dance rhythms so I’m quite curious to see the reactions.
Apart from this EP, I’ve been cooking some new production ideas and there’s possibly a collaboration coming up soon. And of course, I’m preparing the next Articulat radio show which I run every two months on Operator Radio, Rotterdam.
Keep listening, plenty of new things to come!