Animistic Beliefs is best enjoyed in a sweaty basement — surrounded by half-naked, half-leather-clad bodies all bouncing to the relentlessly fast unsh-unsh-unsh of the duo’s beat. This may sound purely hedonistic. But for Animistic Beliefs (and their audience), it’s political too.
The duo is made up of Linh Luu and Marvin Lalihatu based in Rotterdam. Their stage name is a nod to animism, which centres around equality and balance, particularly when it comes to nature. Animism opposes the hierarchical, capitalist and colonial systems that prevail in the west, and it echos in everything Linh and Marvin do. Their intricate rhythmic patterns take their cue from Linh’s and Marvin’s respective Southeast Asian roots. Their live sets are anarchic and improvisational, tailored to the audience’s energy rather than preconceived plans. Oh, and those synths you hear? They’re from a self-soldered modular synthesisers. It’s rare to meet people so thoughtfully and unapologetically themselves. But Linh and Marvin seem both introspective yet candid, as they chat about their recent journey of self-discovery, their upcoming album release on Naafi (a Mexican musical collective aiming to decolonise the dance floor), and the upcoming Dekmantel set at which you can all of the above.
I read that you’ve known each other since secondary school. But how did your musical collaboration start?
Marvin: Way after secondary school, actually. We were both in this synthesiser-DIY-nerdy club, making our own instruments together. The club also organised events to showcase the things we’d make, which is how we started working and playing together.
Your stage name Animistic Beliefs refers to the concept of animism. Could you tell me a bit more about that?
Marvin: Animism is an umbrella term for a variety of different religions, mostly practised by tribes all across the global south. It’s about balance and respect for nature. It doesn’t centre humans, like most other religions do. For example, the image of the Christian god is human. But that’s not the case in Animism, where it’s mostly about the balance of everything.
What does animism mean to you?
Marvin: To us, it translates into being more aware of mother nature in general, into being anti-capitalist and striving towards decolonising the planet. We try to incorporate these values into the stories of our music.
I’m actually reading a book right now that explores a shift happening in the renaissance, how western culture started to treat nature as inferior — something to be dominated, shaped and used as a resource. Whereas before, mother nature was seen as something you lived with, to be nurtured and respected.
Marvin: Today’s religions are very hierarchical. God is super-human, then humans come and then animals. It’s like they’re less important in some way. That’s not the case with animism, which sees everything as equal. You’ve got to keep that balance, not take too much and give some back as well.
Like you just said, you also solder your own hardware and synths. Does playing these self-soldered synths feel different than for example playing a store-bought Roland or Yamaha?
Linh: Yes, to me it just feels nice when you’re playing something you’ve made yourself. But also the modular for example, has different components so you can properly design your own synth - making it a unique thing.
Do you change the modular synth whenever you have different performances?
Linh: To be honest, I’d love to do that. But now the rig is set up in a way that facilitates changing really quickly. Because we do everything on the spot and improvise a lot, it needs to be quick and intuitive at the same time.
On the note of your very intuitive, improvisational process — how do you incorporate that intuition and improvisation when playing a bigger production (say, at Dekmantel)?
Marvin: It depends on the show. We derive from the energy of the crowd, right?
Linh: Yeah, I think it doesn’t really change our intuitive on-stage process, whether we’re playing bigger shows or smaller ones. Of course, we indeed feel the energy of the crowd, what they like and how they respond to things, but that’s true for every set. In essence, every different crowd makes for every different set.
Do you have anything set in stone before starting a set?
Marvin: We do have a red thread or flow in mind, but the music is always new.
I see you’re often performing under cache/spirit lately, which is an audiovisual project in collaboration with Jeisson Drenth. What’s inspired the choice to work with this new medium?
Linh: I think everything with Jeisson went very organically. We first started working together for our video, An Eye for A.I.. Afterwards, we became friends and worked together on the audiovisual live show, which debuted at Trauma Bar. Later, Covid urged us to do things in a different form, that’s when we started with the installation.
Marvin: It all happened during Covid, which gave us a lot of time to examine what we were doing. We already wanted to change our project drastically, as we also changed a lot as people.
Changed in what way?
Marvin: We both came out as queer some years ago. We got new friends, new lovers — (laughs)! We just felt more comfortable sharing who we are. With that, we felt a big need to share our cultural heritage as well and to inspire other Southeast Asians. Because we’re both Southeast Asian. Although that already manifested in the music we’re making, we felt the need to show it in video and installation too.
I think your music usually really invites you to dance. Would you say the same is true for cache/spirit?
Marvin: We have the cache/spirit installation, which has really hard dance moments as well. But, there are also a lot of ambient, poetry and introspective moments. The live show is very loud, hard and fast again.
Linh: Cache/spirit as the installation is very emotional, manifesting the rage and joy that comes from research and the discovery of self. We also do a listening session in the installation, which is more of an ambient, ritual vibe. We all sit on the floor, candles are lit etc. But yes, then we also have the really hard, danceable live show.
Marvin: But you learn a few things along the way.
Marvin: The visual show explores our backgrounds, there’s some text, there’s a poem in the middle. It’s not too in your face, but it does convey a message.
Linh: A lot of people have said it felt a bit educational, without being too preachy. Like: ‘There was a message, I was dancing, staring at a screen… but also felt like I learnt something’.
I read some of your texts for cache/spirit, where you also discuss your cultural identity and roots. This obviously plays a big part in your work. But, how do you translate it into the music?
Marvin: A few years ago, we simply tried to make techno music. That drastically changed.
Linh: Now we’re more true to ourselves. We always were, but we didn’t feel comfortable enough to show it in the music before. I think, I’ve been digging into my heritage as a way to understand myself, how my past inspired who I am today — and how the lives and histories of my parents, from fleeing Vietnam to coming here, have impacted me as a person. My search for self also made me more proud of my heritage. I want to show it, share it and inspire other people with it.
Lastly, let’s circle back to act on Dekmantel. Despite your love for improvisation, do you have anything planned for us?
Marvin: We’re doing a live show, so we are going to improvise. But everything we talked about, our change, our new music, will all come together at the end of August. That’s when we’ll release our new album via Naafi. It’s the first recorded music we’re bringing out after those changes. And you’ll hear bits and pieces of that at Dekmantel as well.