Exclusive interview with Subheim for Quiet Cast 001
QCR: Thanks for the mix - We are super proud to have you launch our new series. You have given us a fantastic journey through deep dark soundscapes harsh bass-driven electronica and transcendent neo-classical, I am on my 6th listen and still can’t get enough. Where was the mix recorded and what would you like listeners to know about it?
Subheim: Thanks for inviting me, this was fun! I recorded the mix in my home studio in Berlin. Initially, I was worried it would be a slow process since I haven’t done anything similar in ages but once I got in the flow, it came out very naturally. I find restrictions very helpful when it comes to any sort of creative output, and so being "limited" to pick titles mostly from the QuietCalm store was a good thing. There’s also all this new material of mine, I was thinking of ways to share some of it publicly before I have a new release out - the mix was a perfect opportunity to do that.
QCR: Give us some info on the tracks you chose.
Subheim: My first thought was to make a purely ambient mix, then figured that'd be boring. I wanted it to be a little collection of music I love, tunes that are somewhat representative of the flavor and mood I'm usually drawn to as a listener. Also, I found that some of the calmer Subheim stuff I’ve been working on fit perfectly so I added those too. Eventually, the outcome is a collage of different genres, from synth-heavy stuff to neoclassical... there's even some 90s Greek electronica in there. But there's a certain vibe throughout the mix that glues it all together I think. Something about city life, where everything is fast-paced and inevitably evokes a need to escape, to be somewhere else... someone else.
QCR: You have released three full-lengths and two Ep’s in the last eleven years all of which are still being discovered by new fans today (your titles are always hard to keep in stock). How do you feel when you look back on your work over the last decade.
Subheim: Hmmm, not an easy question :) Eleven years is a long time, and a lot has changed since the first record. I’d say the circumstances surrounding each release were very different, I was 23 when ‘Approach’ came out, I didn’t have a job...most of my free time I’d spend trying to put a few songs together… I didn’t really know what I was doing, some of the tunes on that record were attempts to sound like bands I was listening to at the time. I didn’t know much about music production or how to replicate sounds I heard elsewhere, I guess that was beneficial because the end result may have many flaws but also its own character.
A few years later, I found myself getting perhaps a little too much into movie soundtracks which led to the second record being a weird combination of cheese and ambient. I still have mixed feelings about that album, there are tunes on it that I’m really proud of and others where I ask myself “what were you thinking?!”
I’m much happier with everything past that point, the third record ‘Foray’ as well as the two EPs. I felt that with those I managed to develop a more cohesive sound and identity in the last 5-6 years. There’s always going to be something to look back at and think “I could have done this differently” but I’ve learned to come to terms with these thoughts and simply use them as a way to learn so I can do better next time. I find that pondering on past mistakes can quickly get counterproductive, I try to avoid that as much as I can.
QCR: Digging deep into your past you started and co-ran Spectraliquid? A label responsible for releasing one of my all-time favorite LP’s - Blackfilms self-titled debut. How do you view the label today and do you think you will ever start your own label again?
Subheim: Haha I don’t do the oil drumming anymore, that’s for sure. I guess over time the core focus of my gigs has shifted, it’s less about the man on stage and more about the overall atmosphere. I’ve been going back to making my own visuals for my sets, so that the audience has something interesting to look at while listening to the music. There’s usually loads of fog...I come from goth rock and metal, I guess some things don’t change.
In terms of what to expect musically, I’d say it’s a combination of released material both older and newer as well as work in progress or finished tunes that haven’t yet seen the light of day. I try to blend everything together in a way that feels like a narrative from start to end rather than just a sequence of songs. I cheat a lot though, for instance, if I can’t figure out a smooth transition I’ll just introduce a ton of crackle, noise and reverb between parts. These days I like to use a guitar on stage, I think playing an instrument live makes things more interesting than just being a guy with a laptop. I have a show coming up in Berlin on September 3rd, really looking forward to that.
QCR: Tell us about your work at Ableton and where you see the future of electronic music going.
Subheim: I work in the Sound Team mainly, that’s the people that make, improve and expand the devices, sound features and content that comes with Ableton Live. I like being surrounded by creative folk who are very invested in what we’re trying to achieve collectively, I don’t think you find that in many companies. It’s a lot of hard work, often comes with conflicts and disagreements but there’s a sense of unity as well. I sometimes complain it doesn’t leave me with enough brainspace to produce music but I’m working on that, I think it’s more a mindset thing and about becoming more selective with how I choose to spend my time outside of work.
It’s hard to tell where electronic music is going these days. There’s so much good stuff out there and also the distribution model has changed significantly. It’s interesting to see many electronic music artists moving away from releasing on labels. Instead they choose to do it on their own or start a label that focuses primarily on releasing their own material. I admire that.
QCR: One thing I have always noticed about your music is how popular it is on youtube. It’s not hard to find people waxing lyrical about its transcendent power in the comments section under videos or to find it scoring video from the beautiful to the absurd (your music features heavily in this amazingly ridiculous documentary about how the Illuminati control the music industry). How do you feel when you see how your work is received and used once it leaves your hands?
Subheim: I’m fairly relaxed about how my tunes are used unless it’s for something I fundamentally disagree with (e.g. racist propaganda). That Illuminati video cracks me up...there’s something genuinely funny about conspiracy theories. Over the years, people have used my music in all kinds of ways, sometimes it’s really cool projects like projection mappings and dance performances... other times it’s badly shot short films with terrible actors or tasteless low budget showreels. I’m cool with all of this really as long as it’s harmless and a bit silly... I mean if you believe in UFOs who am I to stop you from using my music in your videos.
I think what matters to me the most is knowing that there are listeners out there who connect with what I do on a deeper level. I’ve received messages from people saying my tunes have helped them get through difficult situations...illness, family problems, drug issues, alcoholism. That’s the kind of feedback that makes it all worth the effort, it gives it some purpose.
QCR: What do you have on the horizon - can you give us any information about the new album and any other releases you might be working on.
Subheim: I’m working on the fourth LP, I made promises I’d have it out in 2019 but that’s not very likely to happen. I am hopeful it’ll be ready next year, it’s already been four years since ‘Foray’ came out, I feel it’s time for something new. I’m not working on anything else at the moment, I need the focus to try and translate a ton of emotions, events, lows, highs and experiences of the recent past into a handful of songs.
Subheim: I’m so glad we got to release that Blackfilm album, it’s such a beautiful record. That was an interesting time... I loved running a label but if I had a time machine, I would go back to 2007 and change its name to something less psy trance. I didn’t have a day job at the time so I was able to focus my efforts on the label 100%, I think it was a way for us to tell the world that we are here and we have something to say. It also felt like the right time, there was definitely a gap for this kind of sound in Athens’ music scene, I think the only other crew that was promoting similar events was Creative Space.
I look back at that era with a mix of nostalgia and pride, but I don’t think it’s something I would want to do right now. So much is different now and I feel I’ve been out of the loop for too long to even know where to begin. I’m still very close with some of the people whose music we released back then, I’m happy about that.
QCR: You now find your home on the fantastic Denovali Records - how did this partnership come about?
Subheim: I first started working with them on a Business to Business basis, back when the label was active. We’d stock their titles and they’d stock ours. So they knew a little bit about me and my music. The first time we actually got to work together was when they expressed interest in repressing ‘Approach’ on vinyl, that was around 2011 I think. Several years later, a friend was over at my place browsing my record collection when he stumbled upon that vinyl and asked me “maaaan you are on Denovali!! That’s one of my favorite labels”. It was funny cause he’s a proper hardcore/punk fan, I was surprised he actually knew the label but it goes to say how broad a palette of genres these guys are offering. That night I wrote Thomas an e-mail, a few months later I joined their roster. They take care of licensing, releases and booking for me, which is great as I wouldn’t be able to do so myself due to lack of time. It’s been a permanent home since 2015 and it’s likely to remain this way, all the new stuff I’m working on is intended to be on a Denovali release.
QCR: I have been lucky enough to see you live twice - Once at Machinenfest (right after ‘No land called home’ came out) and again a couple of years later in the hold of a boat moored on the Seine in Paris. Both shows were quite different from each other. I remember your performance at Machinenfest involved you striking a full-size oil drum on stage. What can people expect from your live shows these days?
QCR: Finally, what pieces of music would you recommend to people right now? What is exciting your ears and what have you had on constant rotation?
Subheim: I love the new Lorn stuff...well, pretty much everything he’s done. Other artists on constant rotation: Stereo Nova, John Maus, Chelsea Wolfe, Banks, Deru, Alessandro Cortini, Low, Ioanna Gika.