An intricately detailed album, the record combines a laid-back club feel with subtle melodies and mysterious field recordings. It also marks one of the first full-length releases on Pampa Records, DJ Koze’s own imprint. We sat down with Robag to speak about his recent activities, the evolution of his album and how to bring creativity to bloom.
Thora Vukk seems to be popular with critics and fans alike.
Yes, and that’s wonderful. Although since the first reviews everybody thinks that I’m living in the Spreewald (a biosphere reserve located 100 km south-east of Berlin). One journalist started to spread this false report, and since then I keep receiving calls from people, who seek recovery in nature and want to visit me. But I’m back in Jena, my hometown.
Are you involved in Freude am Tanzen and Musik Krause, the Jena-based labels?
No, not anymore. I worked for years in every department. I did promotion, bookkeeping, acted as A&R and what not. But it became too much for me. I had so much to do with DJ’ing and the production of my own tracks. So in 2006 I tried to slow down a bit, but as most of the releases went well, my radius as a DJ expanded more and more. I couldn’t shoulder all this stuff, but I tried nevertheless. And then, suddenly, the battery was empty…
…this is where you suffered a burnout.
Right. And in fact, some of the people who want to visit me in the Spreewald ask for this reason – because they stand close to a burnout, too. It’s so weird: The moment it actually happens you don’t notice anything. You have ideas, you have the energy, and all of a sudden the pressure knocks you down.
That said, Thora Vukk seems to symbolize a personal cut. It’s not a dance-floor record – it sounds more like kind of a living-room-experience.
I have to say that Thora Vukk is actually the Whignomy Brothers album that I wanted to produce a few years ago when I signed to Mute Records. It never got a release though since it fell into the time when my burnout started. That’s why I gave Mute two remix albums (Remikks Potpourri, Remikks Potpourri II) and a 12-inch, and after that I gladly got out of the contract without repaying or owing anybody money. Then I restarted releasing singles on Musik Krause and Freude am Tanzen. The album wasn’t relevant for me anymore, so I postponed it. And yet last year I though that I wouldn’t ever nail it! The fact that it is now finished is – amongst other things – because of Stefan Kozalla aka DJ Koze, with whom I exchange a lot of ideas.
He encouraged you to do a second proper album?
In a way, yes. I gave Stefan two tracks – the title track ‘Thora Vukk’ and ‘Wupp Dek’ – just to show him, to let him know what’s going on with me. And he said: “Gabor, this is a 12-inch on Pampa.” And I said okay, let’s do this!
So you got back into an unhealthy work mode?
First I started to whine about all the parallel issues coming up: I agreed to do about fifteen remixes plus some records on Freude am Tanzen, Musik Krause, Circus Company and Movida. Besides that I had to deliver exclusive tracks for Kompakt and several other labels. And then a solo record on top? I said to Stefan that I need some air to breath at first. But in some strange way I felt it was time to do something different after all these dance-floor tracks. Something more calm. And that was actually the idea with the Whignomy Brothers album. So I somehow managed to find a sound about which Stefan said: “Gabor, this is you again!” I wanted to do something different than just acoustical club snapshots.
Yet with Wuppdeckmischmampfflow, your recent Mix-CD on Kompakt, one could get this feeling.
And this mix has in fact a lot to do with the calmness of the Spreewald. Yet the cover shot, which I took myself and which shows an alley of birches, originates from there. I lived on a farm – together with a pig named Edgar. The owner asked me to take care of him, because he’s really into action, and as you can imagine, there is not much action on an old farm in the Spreewald. So I took care of the pig, which means I fed him at six in the morning, at noon and in the evening. It was also great that there was neither Internet nor a telephone line. The first days I brought into affect the calmness of the place, and lastly I sat down to create the mix. Within one week it was done.
The detailed field recordings on Thora Vukk indicate a fine ear for nature and its noises. Is it important for you to sensitize yourself before you start working?
Yes totally. But that’s nothing new to me. I paid attention to the sounds surrounding me from very early on. My first tracks were spiked with samples – for example this very first 4/4-track that came out on Freude am Tanzen under the name DJ Gabor: It consisted entirely of the sound of coke cans.
That reminds of Matthew Herbert’s approach.
Yes, although I have to admit that for me personally Herbert’s stuff is too far out, too arty. It’s almost a bit too weird and crazy for me. I can’t connect to it in terms of…
Well, yes, in a way. I love to have the straight connection. That’s, by the way, the reason I prefer to play in small clubs. Furthermore I don’t want it to become too abstract, because I don’t do the music just for myself. For me there’s nothing more beautiful than seeing, hearing or reading that somebody lets my music slip into his everyday life and that people start to interpret the stories behind the track.
What’s your story behind the tracks?
I have my stories, but they’re private. I give those tracks away like a colouring book, and I also deliver the pencils. What happens next is up to the listener. My own stories are nothing special, and besides that I could only tell them in the moment of their emergence. When I’m totally into it, when I’m isolated from the rest of the world.
How long do you isolate to create an album or a mix. Weeks? Months?
It depends. As we all know creativity isn’t downloadable. Some days I realize after ten minutes that I can’t find any access and that my ideas stagnate. There has to be a flow, but once I have this flow, I can work for days and nights without even thinking about something else. It was by the way Koze who felt that I’m about to fall into such a flow. And this flow persisted until the very last track on Thora Vukk called ‘Ende’. There is a choir of friends and colleagues on that track which was pretty hard to finish.
Was it of personal importance for you to have them all on the record?
Of very big importance. I had like forty voice samples that everybody had recorded in different rooms and at different speeds. As I tried to combine them it sounded just awful. A second try in November led to the same result. But time was running and I had to finish it at the very latest on December 24th. This might sound like some pr-joke but, believe it or not, I finished the choir, the track, and thus the record on Christmas Eve.
You work better under pressure?
Not necessarily. But pressure is indeed a great way to bring my creativity to bloom.
Robag Wruhme – Thora Vukk , album ‘Thora Vukk'(Pampa Rcords)
SD…to feed the soul