de-VICE #2

neil landstrumm / scandinavia

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de-VICE #1

text by andrez bergen - march 2006


I first stumbled across Scottish producer Neil Landstrumm about 10 years ago when I picked up his record 'Inhabit The Machines' (1996) through British label Peacefrog (previously responsible for early releases from Luke Slater, Dan Curtin and Paul Johnson).

And to be honest, the EP hasn't left my record box since; it's that kind of vinyl. It bled out the pre-existing definition between the completely different American and UK skools of techno; it was subby, stark, funky - and, on top of all that, there was a diabolical sense of humour at work.

Precisely my cup of tea.


"It's a bit of a silly record really," Landstrumm says on his Scandinavia website. "[A] Sort of pastiche Scottish-Chicago techno. Basically me saying dumb 'Armani-isms' into a pitch shifter. Contradictory to the very serious intellectual techno music that was popular around this time. I hate when music takes itself really seriously. We were 24 hour party-people so it made sense to make party records."


Amidst a wad of follow-on EPs and remixes were the albums 'Bedrooms & Cities' (1997), 'Pro-Audio' (1998), and 'She Took A Bullet For Me' (2001), along with the soundtrack for 'The Fourty Million Dollar Beatnick'.

Apparently not one to rest on his (artistic) laurels, Landstrumm unleashed this material through a wad of vital electro and techno labels - from Tresor, Sativae, Ferox and Sonic Groove, through to Si Begg's Noodles and Cristian Vogel's Mosquito imprints. And then there was Landstrumm's own label: the equally relevant Scandinavia, which continues to impress in 2006.

But wait - yes, there's more. Neil has also cut tracks under aliases like Navario Sauro and Polaris, as Shit & Cheap (with Mat Consume), as Blue Arsed Fly (with Cristian Vogel), and with Tobias Schmidt as Sugar Experiment Station - they recorded one very memorable John Peel Session on BBC Radio 1 back in 1999, and just last year released the enigmatic 'Sweet Fang' EP through Scandinavia. And finally...? Landstrumm recently spent six years living, working and gigging in Brooklyn U.S.A., but has now returned to his roots in Edinburgh.

Am I gushing...? Well, yeah, I am. Because I've dug this guy's disparate tunes for a decade now, and continue to do so (his downloadable track 'Kids Wake Up' on his website is equally a killer), and ever since I first got in contact with Neil several years ago he's proved to be one of the most approachable guys in the electronic set, and one willing to share his time doing annoying interviews like the lengthy one that follows (below). And he's the complete antithesis of the unmentionables who have dicky attitudes and lug along egos the size of Ben Hur.

The guy has come a long, long way from the wayward young electronic geezer who started out in 1994 in Edinburgh club Sativa - alongside Dave Tarrida and Toby Smith, a.k.a. Tobias Schmidt.

de-VICE caught up him in March 2006 - scroll on down...



The most inane question first: who actually is Neil Landstrumm...?

I'll let you know when I find out... somewhere around the label owner, music maker and car fetishist mark...

How and when did you actually discover the fine art of making electronic music?

I learned to play the drums at high school, so moving onto electronic drum machines was the natural next step.
About 1990, after going to a Happy Mondays gig at Glasgow's SECC,  I was totally inspired by all the rave and bleep records I heard the Hacienda DJs playing. It made me want to go out and research this new music and find out how it was made...
A few mates were into it also, so we slowly discovered what machine made what sound and went on from there. Warp, Djax, Plus-8, R&S, etc - I loved that period in the music; so exciting and new; fresh records every week to inspire.
I always felt like different countries records had a unique style and sound which were trying to communicate something about what was going on there. I think that's been somewhat lost with the advent of 24 hour information through the Internet. However, loads of new music is evolving from the Internet too, so that's cool too.
I discovered a lot of technique and methods from talking to other people also interested in making electronic stuff at the time, Tobias Schmidt being my main collaborator.

What changes have transpired in your mind, not to mention your ability, since that humble beginning?

Seeing how other producers make music is always a learning experience. Makes it more fun too. Less of a slog sometimes... There's been a move back to bands and separate producers in recent years, which should be mirrored in electronic music. You get a variety of inputs with both creativity and production methods which makes the whole process more special.
Sometimes I suffer from being one dude in a studio syndrome, but I have always worked a good few sessions a year with Tobias Schmidt, Cristian Vogel, Si Begg...


Why do you continue to make music?

Well, it fluctuates. I only write music when I feel I have something to say with it - if I am not feeling it, I just don't... It's weird, I can sit in front of a keyboard and drum machine and literally not be able to bring my fingers to the keys, or be frantically programming and writing on a good day...
Jermey Blake, a visual artist I have worked with, talked about creativity as a muscle you have to use it to keep it pumping... once it stops or stutters, it becomes weaker. True, I think. Ups and downs; flow and constipation sums it up pretty much.
I continue, I guess, because people want me to also... When fans write emails or come to gigs and enjoy the music, it makes all the dark days and bad gigs go away.

You've released through labels like Peacefrog, Tresor, Mosquito, Sativae, Scandanavia... why move around the traps? And who do you think suited you the best?

I have always been into many strains of music, and many different labels' output. When you start out, it's not simply a case of sticking with one label - you want to try lots of different angles to see what is successful.
The relationship between an artist and a label is a fairly fickle one and only lasts if there is mutual respect and good business between both parties. The other choice is do-it-yourself, or you simply put music out with your mates (which tends to be better and more fun all round in the long run).
Scandinavia is more of a personal music agenda rather than a label;  to release uncompromising music without much concern for commercial viability. Not the most profit-making venture I have made, but one which seems to gather fans and be in front of most emerging scenes as they appear. I am proud of the fact that nearly all of the Scandinavia back-catalogue is as good today as it was when it was released.
Most of the artists give me music which stands the test of time and is ahead of the curve creatively. The downside is most people don't "get it", but that's a small price to pay for the fans who are down with Scandinavia in an almost cultish fashion.The back-catalogue, now mainly deleted, is traded for pretty high prices on eBay when they appear, so that's also a good sign.


Around 1997/98 you were referred to in the same breath as other guys like Cristian Vogel, Dave Tarrida, Si Begg, Tobias Schmidt, Jamie Lidell, Subhead, and Tube Jerk. How'd you feel about that at the time?

Most of us each knew each other pretty well anyways as friends, so it became a natural social group of electronic mavericks. Everyone was pushing the same knobs and buttons and trying to reach the same goal of getting our music out there. 
It felt good, and continues to feel good to be part of a group going against the mainstream grain - and getting away with it for so long.

What are your thoughts on these other artists' individual developments since then?

Everyone has moved on, geographically and creatively. I am still in constant contact with most, and some have gone on to be very close friends.
We are all still at it, though, making music and gigging, so we must be doing something right. It's been interesting to see how each artist has developed and moved on, trying different genres or mediums.
I am amazed that most of us have kept our love of electronic beats and stuck at it, because I'm sure there have been times for all of us where we absolutely hated it and wanted to give up...!  Again, everyone has good years and bad, so it all seems to even out in the long run. The music always comes first and that's what is most important.

Now, in 2006, would you draw parallels between yourself and any other particular producers?

Not really actually. I have always just concentrated on keeping myself going and doing my own thing; not really getting caught up in what everyone else is doing. 
I think you have to be like that to stay the course somewhat. Bloody minded and dogged perseverance, etc... There are so many ups and downs in the this game it's very easy to become distracted.


What was the story behind Sugar Experiment Station, and is this an ongoing project?

Sugar Experiment Station has been going for a very long time. In fact, really since about 1993 when myself and Tobias Schmidt were playing live together at the Sativae club [in Scotland] and beyond in those early days.
We get together several times a year and do a session. Of late we have been trying out lots of different styles away from electronic stuff just to keep things fresh. We have released as SES some of the best work on Scandinavia, and certainly some classics in our "wonky" field.
SES live is always a pleasure and uncompromising. We  just released Scan024=SES 'Sweet Fang' EP at the end of 2005,  so there's fresh stuff out. Vinyl distribution is so bad now it probably didn't make it to Oz, but look for it.
John Peel included the session which SES did for him in 1998 in his biography, which was an amazing honour and like the gig at the BBC's Maida Vale studios itself, certainly one of the highlights of our respective careers.

The same question regarding 'The Fourty Million Dollar Beatnik' soundtrack...

The Beatnik project was a soundtrack for an artist friend of mine, Jeremy Blake's gallery show in LA. He is old mates with many of the original Washington DC dischord hardcore scene - Fugazi, etc. Mike Fellows is a long time friend of Jeremy and an incredible musician in his own right. He played in Royal Trux, Silver Jerws etc and recently has a hit with his 'The Mighty Flashlight' project.
We all just locked ourselves into my studio in Brooklyn for a few days and this project came out of it; I assembled, arranged and produced it all with creative input from both Jeremy and Mike. I am really happy with it and think again it stands the test of time... Very Californian desert music, tripped out and cool.
Jeremy is very successful now and moving into the film industry, so you may see us rear our ugly heads again for another soundtrack.

Edinburgh versus Brooklyn: in a nutshell, what's the difference, and what's the same, for you?

Almost impossible to compare... I like them both equally, but for entirely different reasons.  I think Hollis - in Queens - is where my heart lies in New York, though... I make frequent returns to NY to keep it fresh. I wish Edinburgh was in New York, actually! 
New York is constantly inspiring and invigorating due to the mash-up of cultures and people but Edinburgh is laid-back, and the countyside simply stunning.


On a different level, what exactly does Scandinavia really mean to you, and what's happening with the label?

Scandinavia means the world to me. It's an abstract idea for a company that is a space and platform for experimental music and image. The label stops and starts certainly with vinyl releases... It's become so hard to sell vinyl it's almost a joke now.
But I release more and more live sets and odd tracks through the Scandinavia online music database and that makes up for it. In fact that is where the pop part of the Scandinavia art is now - the Internet affords easy and wide distribution of music completely worldwide.
My live sets get massively downloaded all round the world, so that keeps the Scandinavia sound alive. The label had three 12-inch releases last year, so it's still active. I reckon there will be an album this year, and certainly a couple of 12-inches. The next is Scan025 - A.L.E.X.E from Berlin.
Also in the pipeline is my Factory Records remix 12-inch. The Happy Mondays' 'Hallelujah' (Landstrumm Bleep Mix) and my Joy Division 'She's Lost Control' cover version featuring Tommy from The Magnificents, Scan-021, also on the label.

On your Web site you describe your sound as "sub-lo bass n bleep,metallic and melodic clangs and odd funky percussive swing lines". Would you care to add to this?

Add what exactly? Isn't that enough guff? Ha ha... It's just how it sounds, I guess. I'm not one for pigeon-holes, really. I like the fusion of loads of different electronic music styles. I always seem to end up in a sort of bleep, rave, grimey mess though...

Do you prefer to make more abstract sounds to listen to and chew over, or stuff aimed at an up-for-it dance floor?

Both... One leads to the other... experimental research breeds good interesting dance floor stuff.
I find it a bit frustrating at times when some people just want the same old cheese the whole time... In the early '90s people were more open to anything, but that was choked out of them by greedy distributors and crap promoters of weak club nights. Personally, I think people are cheated by distributors a lot of the time. They stifle quality labels by not trying hard enough, and then choke the market with their own shit quality easy labels that are destined for bargain-bin fodder in a year.
It's a vicious cycle really... Boom and bust.

What kind of of music are you most interested in listening to at home at the moment?

Everything and anything... no rules here... All I can say is John Peel is sadly missed

When will you release your next record(s)?

Well, definitely something on Scandinavia fairly soon. Planet Mu is on the cards. Rag and Bone records, and probably Tresor...
All of these are in the pipeline but nor confirmed. I have a stack of fresh tracks at the moment and would like an album, but it has to be 100%  ready and quality before it comes out... Keep checking the Scandinavia site for more info: http:/

What are your thoughts on sampling? Is it an art-form or musical theft?

Can be both. I do it, but I think I make more out of it than just a sample. You really have to look at early hip hop to see the real art-form of it, though.
It's easy to do great evil with a sample now, or with Ableton Live. It's made it so easy to loop it and make it fit without effort. Sampling does bring new life to old tracks, though, which shouldn't be overlooked.

People like Si Begg, Luke Vibert, Kid Koala and Cassetteboy - and yourself, on tracks like 'Blam The Target' - have done some hilarious samples over the years. Is humour important in music?

Absolutely... As soon as you intellectualize music, game over. Humour's what it's all about - take it too seriously and you look like a knob pretty much. I'm glad you think 'Blam The Target' is funny. It's a Scottish piss-take on Chicago dance mania ghetto style music. I have total respect for that genre, so its OK to make fun of it I think...  It's just silly humour - after all, it's party music, right? Not chin-stroking noodling here...

Fame or respect? Which one, and why?

Respect always, but a bit of fame helps get gigs and pays the bills!

How do you prefer your mushrooms to be cooked?

Garlic, butter, olive oil. Bit of pepper. I like a nice meaty Portobello mushroom.

m'sieur landstrumm himself...


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