Formed in 2009, Damien Dubrovnik is Christian Stadsgaard (Copenhagen, 1975) and Loke Rahbek (Copenhagen, 1989), a Danish electronic duo. Having performed all over the world, the band’s live work is known for its expressiveness, incorporating elements of performance art and body acoustics. They challenge raw audio signals with austere but dynamic sound textures.
While individually active with various solo projects and other collaborations, Damien Dubrovnik is the duo’s longest running project, with published work that includes six LPs, after cassette releases and compilations on their own founded Posh Isolation record label. We met Christian and Loke after their sound check at Bozar electronic arts festival in Brussels, where they performed.
Since when are you in relation with music and when did you start to produce music?
Christian: For me it came quite late, I was doing something else – however, I was always into it. Finally I started making music around 2002, before then it was just me messing around. Now it’s my main job and we “survive” doing music.
Loke: I started with music when I was around 16. I was mainly getting into noise shows and this kind of stuff, but also spent many years doing many kinds of different music.
Do you have a standard musical academic background? I have read that Loke comes from the visual arts – painting, if I am not wrong.
Christian: I have an academic degree, but it has nothing to do with music.
Loke: No, I quit school when I was 16. About painting, I don’t think I could say that I was a painter, this was just my aspiration when I was young, what I wanted to do.
I am curious about the names you use, they are all related to Croatia: Dubrovnik and Loke’s beautiful solo project Croatian Amor. What is your connection with this country?
Loke: It’s kind of secret; we cannot reveal that.
Let’s talk about you. How do you define yourselves? Experimental electronic musicians, noise musicians, sound artists…?
Christian: I would say electronic musicians.
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Which was your first cathartic sonic experience?
Loke: When I was still in my teens, it was a show that Christian had set up in Copenhagen. He used to make these monthly small events with noise and experimental music. There were 30 people in a small basement room and the volume demanded that you either had to witness it or you had to leave. The performance forced anyone in the room to decide, “do I want to be here and experience this or not?” I stayed — I am still there.
Christian: This is going to make you happy because it was a performance by Spanish music composer Francisco López —from Madrid— around year 2000. This was the first pure drone noise experimental performance that really made a difference for me. I was into that kind of music beforehand, but that was the concert that blew my mind and made me go for it. I have seen him afterwards, but it has never been as good as that one
Which are you music references? I mean musicians that interest you from the past and the present.
Loke: I like Coil.
Christian: For me, Leonard Cohen and Merzbow.
How is your creative process?
Loke: I often have loose ideas and this sort of ghost of a piece in my mind, and then it’s like when you have to fill it with all the colours because it floats around in your mind. We do work on our own initially, and then we get together and put things in common. When you work with people, the original something can turn out in something completely different and this is a very liberating process, because you don’t run your face against the wall all the time. Also, for the after-editing and collaging we don’t need to be together. This is the good thing about electronic music.
Is all the music you create electronic? Did you ever work with modular analogue synths?
Loke: Yes, of course, we use everything from a smartphone to piano, modular synthesizers, and field recording as well.
Christian: Basically, we use everything; from the sound of two rocks hitting each other to sounds produced by software systems.
Your live shows are famous for their intensity, incorporating performance art and body acoustics into the sound. Do you improvise a lot?
Loke: To a certain degree we do, not in the live performances but during the making of the music. There is a large part that somehow happens in this sort of frame of improvisation, even though we always have basic guidelines. From there you mess around and you think that it sounds amazing. Afterwards, when you have the wav files in your computer and you sit and listen to them, maybe it’s not that amazing, it’s the opposite, so then you edit and re-edit it again. Definitely, there is a lot of this free flowing in the making of the music. As none of us has any formal music background, we can’t say, “this note goes in here.” We don’t understand the meaning of that, so we have to find another way to communicate, and it’s easily done through this free will.
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At the beginning, experimental music was kind of a minority thing. Now more and more festival/events combine experimental, noise electronic music with commercial EDM. What do you think of this?
Loke: Well, nowadays all events are a combination of many kinds of music. There are so many of these affairs right now, where you will see the most experimental music and avant-garde compositions next to a stage where there will be an African band playing that will be also next to a dance floor where a mainstream DJ will be taking the decks.
Christian: It’s been like that for as long as I can remember, since the late 1990s, there are different electronic music events where there’s techno in one room and computer music in another.
Music as an art discipline should be a reflection of how life and technology are part of our lives; therefore the use of technology to create music nowadays is quite natural, isn’t it?
Christian: Well, I don’t think there is any reason to limit yourself in the use of sounds you can have available. For some people it can be good to have that kind of dogma, but not for us. Using a smartphone as an instrument feels very natural, because it’s part of our everyday lives.
Loke: With the kind of music we make there is no limitation, actually all tricks are allowed, so… why not? Of course, if you want something to sound like a tape, it is better to use an old tape recorder than a smartphone; if you want a super sharp sound, it is better to use a sophisticated software. In my experience when you combine the two of them, when you put together the tapes with the smartphone and synthetics sounds, it’s where it starts to feel good. I think using only analogue instruments is a kind of nostalgia and it’s just like walking backwards.
Christian: In fact, it is amazing what you can do with technology and what it has brought to music in a user-friendly manner. You can make quite complicated sound structures with very easy user-friendly software. I think that detractors of, let’s say, computer generated music are not as many today as they were a while ago. Things have become much easier for everybody.
And talking about technology, what is your opinion about the ways of consuming and distributing music nowadays? I.e. digitalization, web downloads, etc.
Christian: We think it’s great. I wish I were a teenager now.
Do you have any problems with people hacking your albums and making them available free of cost for everybody?
Christian: We don’t have any problems with that. It’s 2016 and it’s part of the process.
Loke: I think no one makes money by releasing music anymore and it’s better if people listen to our music than if they don’t.
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Let’s talk about the music itself. I refuse to believe in all these statements made when talking about music… it seems it is all about emotions. There is a lot of technique, as we said before, which requires a high rational or intellectual component. What is your view on that?
Loke: I think it is always a combination of both, isn’t it? It doesn’t have a lot of artistic merit to see someone screaming or crying their heart out on stage just because they are really sad. On the other hand, is not very captivating to see a computer doing algorithmic music combinations in scene, it is kind of cold. I mean, we have to find ourselves in between those two bits. When we take something to the stage, it always has an emotional element, and then we refine it and make it presentable.
Taking into that music is the most abstract of the arts. Could you put your music in words?
Christian: I don’t know if language is limiting music, but I just don’t think that it’s my job to describe and define my music, and it’s not relevant for me. It has to be listened to, that’s all.
Loke: If you make the music, you are not supposed to describe it, and it doesn’t really matter if I say it sounds like stab wounds or like the Amazonian jungle. What difference does it make? But OK, I will say that it’s beautiful electronic music. I think this is a tough question, can I ask if you ask this to other musicians and what do they say?
Yes, I’ve asked this question many times. They say different things; from dark to sad, joyful, etc. — mostly, the emotions involved.
Loke: You know, there is that tendency when people talk about their process of creation that is a kind of stigma. For instance, “I made this album about my depression, about being a misanthropist, being out of love, or whatever.” For me, it’s like when you pour water into something and it goes to every hole that there is in there. I feel that this is what music does to me. It sits in where I have space for it to sit in. And if I don’t have room for it, it just flows by me. But if there is a hole where it can sit, it sits there and I don’t need anyone to tell me where that hole should be.
Christian: I like this idea, if I take music as an open text, basically it can fit into whatever hole it needs to fit in in any listener.
Damien Dubrovnik and Posh Isolation are focusing on art and aesthetics a lot. I assume it’s a very important aspect to you. Therefore, which are your references in visual arts and cinema?
Loke: I have been directly influenced by the Viennese Actionism, then the multifaceted French writer Antonin Artaud, and also Yves Saint Laurent.
Finally, could you please tell us what you normally listen to at home?
Loke: Yesterday I listened to this American contemporary classical music composer called Nico Muhly.
Christian: I don’t know, I have to check my Spotify.
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